Saturday, October 16, 2010

Can’t Find Records? Use Formation Maps

Chasing Counties
My Virginia Genealogy

 The most frustrating, hair pulling genealogy research issue is not being able to find records, that “should be there.”  But the question to ask is: Has every portal been opened, no matter how small or how far? 

The first step of preparing for your research is educating yourself on the area.  When was the state/county formed? From which counties or territories was the area created? And, what was going on politically that may have affected records for your time period? 

Keep in mind, just because a county changed, or a new one was created, doesn’t mean the records migrated. 

County Formation Maps
Let’s take a simple state –Virginia, not so simple when it comes to finding genealogical records. Have you seen the Virginia County Formation Maps? If you don’t research the map changes for the span of years you are researching, you probably have not opened a portal or two.  This could explain your missing ancestor’s records. (Note:  these county formation maps are available for all the states, and are interactive with notes online).

Chasing Your State and County Records 
Boutetourt County in Virginia, for example, is one challenging area. Botetourt was nothing more than a open territory (see image above) created from Augusta in 1769.  In 1772, part of Botetourt was given to Fincastle.  In 1777, part of Botetourt was given to Greenbrier.  Later, Fincastle was split, Greenbrier was divided, and so forth. So where did your ancestor’s records land?

Like counties, boundaries of states were transformed through history. Kansas gave some of its boundaries to Colorado supposedly because they didn’t want the gold found within their boundaries; Missouri extended its already large state by acquiring the Platte Purchase in 1836; and Virginia split in 1863 creating West Virginia.

And let’s not forget the western state of Idaho that was treated like an unwanted burden.  First it was part of the Oregon Territory; then divided between the Washington Territory and Oregon Territory.  Then when Oregon became a state, what would become Idaho was attached to Washington. With the discovery of gold, a lot of politics and being bounced around, Idaho finally became its own territory in 1863.  Whew, and that was the short version.

The goal here is to verify the surrounding states and counties, political reasons that may have influenced the moving of your records and open new portals to find those records that you need.

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Friday, October 8, 2010

Know Your Local History

200 Years on Troost Exhibit

The Kansas City Public Central Library sponsored the “200 Years On Troost” exhibit from August 14 – October 17, 2010.  This exhibit chronicled “the history of Kansas City’s Troost Avenue from its beginning as a 365-acre slave plantation to its emergence as a business hub in the early 1900 to the sense of community that exists there today.”

Sure these sorts of exhibits can often be scant in details, but if you read for the clues you can find a wealth of knowledge or at least questions, that once answered, may lead you a bit closer to your ancestor.

Deciphering This Exhibit
Native Americans Research?
  • Looking for Osage Nation ancestors?  Have you tried the records around Rich Hill, Missouri?
  • What was the migratory path of the Osage Nation? 
African American Research?
  • Why were your ancestors in Kansas City on the 1870 census? Be sure to check their addresses.  This could be the clue to a slave master.
Affluent Research?
  • Have you wondered how your ancestors owned KC’s prime real estate? The history of an area often reveals information of its affluent citizens.
Newspaper Research
  • What were the biases and opinions of the local newspaper editors?  This clue can lead you to the social history of an area.  I suggest researchers delve into the developers’ and editors’ ideas and backgrounds. These community leaders set the tone for a region. 
  • Did the research on your ancestor’s compared to the local social norm of the time, reveal them to be rebels, or operate contrary to the local prescribed standards?

Uprooting Clues
200 Years On Troost

Troost Ave
According to the 200 Years On Troost exhibit, Troost Ave was originally the hunting trail and path to the Missouri River used by the Osage Nation. The Osage Nation was misplaced from their ancestral village “Places of Many Swans” near Rich Hill, MO.

Between 1830 -1839 over 75 thousand eastern Native Americans were relocated to south west of the Mississippi River.   So from this exhibit, we know that for a short while, at least, the Osage Nation citizens were in the Kansas City area. Most would assume they migrated from the east directly to the other side of the Mississippi River. 

Prominent Citizen Benoit Troost
The extinguished Benoit Troost, a dutch doctor, purchased part of Gabriel Prudhomme’s estate in 1846.  The Troost estate stretched from present day Broadway to Troost Ave., and as far north as the Missouri River to Indiana Ave.  Although this seems irrelevant, narrowing land plots is very handy with genealogical research. Did your ancestor live on this plot?

The Dr. who also was significant in establishing Kansas City’s first newspaper, the Kansas City Public Ledger in 1850, also assisted in developing the Kansas Hannibal and St. Jo (Joseph) Railroad in 1855 that serviced Kansas City to Cameron, Missouri.  He and his wife had eight (8) slaves. 

What was the condition of the slaves? Did he breed them? Did they work on his railroad? Did Troost use his newspaper to further any local causes? Did his ideas affect your ancestors?

Kansas City Father Gabriel Prudhomme
As mentioned before, Benoit Troost purchased part of Gabriel Prudhomme’s estate.  The fact that Prudhomme was even mentione in this exhibit sparked interest to his importance. A bit of research, led me to more of KC’s history.

Kansas City, Mo emerged from the farmland of Gabriel Prudhomme.  This farmland was the original KC.  However, seven years after Prudhomme’s death in 1838, fourteen investors purchased his estate.  The Prudhomme farm was 257 acres, and also had a rock ledge from which he operated a ferry. In November of 1831, within a few months of owning this farm, Prudhomme was killed in a barroom fight.

Editor Notes: Father David Paisius Altschul began researching Troost Avenue more than 25 years ago and ultimately decided to document its history in the exhibit 200 Years on Troost. Know that one hour exhibits can lead to hours of research, and an abundance of knowledge.

Happy researching.
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Friday, October 1, 2010

Ex-Slave Alias

Civil War Surname Changes for Slaves

 Sherri, a genealogist and friend from Topeka, inspired me today to repost this. One of her African American ancestors, who lived during the civil war era, has a military headstone but yet no records have been located to support his military participation.

Now there are many reasons for this, and it is impossible to list or address all of them.  But three of the top ones are listed below:
  • The headstone was placed in error, or by descendants based on family stories. This is a common.   Even in Lyons Kansas my grandfather has a permanent WWI placard placed on his "resting place." Yet, he didn't serve one day in the military due to a physical deformity. 
  • Records are harder to obtain for African American soldiers who served with Confederate troops, and for ex-slaves prior to the Civil War. But might I add, not impossible.
  • Many African Americans served under alias names (or changed their names) after serving, making tracing them more difficult. 
During the Civil War
Alias surnames and new given names were actually adopted, especially for slaves during the Civil War.  The common belief is that the "surname" of slaves changed with new slave masters, but this actually should be taken as a possibility, but not a rule.  During the Civil War, slaves were often substituted to serve for their master or an arrangement was made for them to serve for another.  This was common practice for southerners to meet a requirement of military service and they could do it with as little as the promise of freedom upon return.  If an agreement was made by the slave-master to "rent" out a slave to do military service for another often the slave used the surname for whom they were fighting during their military service of the Civil War. Sometimes, this was a temporary name change.  As in the case of Nelson Strader, discussed below, many returned to their former master's name after the war. This was all possible because after the Civil War ex-slaves could choose whatever name they wanted.  

After the Civil War
Willis Mills became Willis Cox, Nelson Mason became Nelson Strader and Minor Wair (Weir) became Minor Underwood. What do they all have in common? They were ex-slaves. And, besides legal marriages, legitimacy of children, and access to land titles, after the Civil War ex-slaves were allowed to choose their own surnames.

It is thought that slaves held on to their slave master names, but actually only about fifteen percent did so. The others chose surnames of a previous slave master or the surname of a famous person. Often slave children separated from their parents may have, after emancipation, taken the surname of a parent’s master, as did Wills (Mills) Cox.

(Written in lead: "...I used to belong to Mills as a slave and after I was discharged my father belong to Cox. I drop the name of Mills and taken Cox after my father name. I use Mills only in pension affairs because Mills is on the record and Cox is now my Citizen name...")

Even other’s were purchased for the purpose to fight in the Civil War and were promised freedom after their service. Many of them adopted the surname of their emancipator, or as did Nelson (Mason) Strader who returned to the surname of his former master upon completion of his Civil War duties.
Nelson Strader fought for Mr. Mason, arranged by his master. (last para: "I was never married to the soldier only by slavery custom. I belonged to Fielding Vaughn of Green Co. Ky and my husband Nelson Strader belonged to Lewis Strader also of Gren Co. Ky. Both of our masters are now dead.")

And, others just chose a surname that they liked, as did Minor (Wair/Weir) Underwood. Minor was purchased by William Weir to take fight in his stead, and upon completion of the agreement and the end of the civil war, he embraced the name Underwood once he arrived in Kansas with the Exodusters. His original slave master was not Underwood, nor was he ever owned by an Underwood.

The details of an ex-slave's name change are most often found in Civil War pension records.

Kathleen Brandt
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