Before you began your genealogy research, you first acquire the desire of learning more about your family. It begins as an interest but as you research further, the interest grows. Similar as a seed planted along your personal trail, the names of long ago are written down on sticky notes, absorbed in your head and the records never give you enough data to satisfy your need. This is the beginning of a genealogy tree. The branches extend and beckon to be recognized. Tax records, censuses, land grants, late nights, endless caffeine and eyeglasses all await you. It’s a passion that only fellow genealogists understand. “I’ve finally found the maiden name of my 6th great grandmother!!!!!” Many don’t understand your excitement, but other researchers do and while they are enjoying the moment with you, they are also anxious to hear the surname to see if it may link to their family too. Genealogy is an amazing route to travel and contains so much more than estate files and sticky notes. So, Welcome, pull up a chair and enjoy your visit. North Carolina is one of the most fascinating states to conduct genealogy research. You can find records dating to the mid 17th century. You only have to know where to look and how to look. Let’s begin.
Researching without the correct name will only lead you to outer space. You have a surname, but you have to consider spelling variations of the name. For instance, Kramer, Cramer, Cromer and Crommer are all the same surname. You can research databases using the Soundex Code. This will give you much more information that you can sift through in order to pinpoint and identify the individual you are currently looking for. All through history, individuals have been named at birth and known by friends and other acquaintances by a totally different name. Nicknames exist today just as they did centuries ago. Immigration from another country not only required the immigrants to take an oath of allegiance, in some cases, it required the immigrant to change his or her last name. Having the Right name is vital before you research in North Carolina or anywhere within the world.
Majority of piedmont early settlers migrated from the northern colonies during the mid 18th century, such as Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maine and Virginia. When they arrived to North Carolina from these areas, they settled primarily in the area, east of the Yadkin River and west of the sandhills area near present day Fayetteville and Sanford. County tax lists and early land grants will give you the exact location of your early piedmont ancestor. Every early county tax list is not online and sadly, some of these are lost forever due to courthouse fires or other circumstances. County history is extremely important to your research. Without the history and timeline of the county, you are researching in the dark. To understand North Carolina county timeline, click here. Majority of land grants are available and many of these are online. Searchable databases can be located at North Carolina Land Grants and at North Carolina State Archives. Estate wills and court records can give you the location as well. Once you have the correct name and the correct location, you then can establish a research trail. Keep in mind the changing boundaries of the state and counties as you move along your research timeline.
It’s important to create a timeline for the ancestor you are searching for. If you’re not sure exactly what the timeline is, begin with what you know. If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s not to guess on genealogy data. Guessing is left for the lottery, the percentages are basically the same. Once you know the timeline, look for historical events within the timeline. For instance, what was going on in the area at the time. This will heighten your search techniques and allow you to search certain criteria. North Carolina Encyclopedia is a great source for this as an online tool. Your local library and historical societies are great choices as well.
History of Online Research
Majority of researchers of present day, typically research online. And, YES, there are many different ways to research online today versus 20 years ago. The websites that were available then were very few and the information was mainly donated by volunteers or librarians who wanted to make the information available, freely with no obligations. As the years progressed, a few genealogy companies began to emerge and these companies began collecting this data for commercial use. Volunteers began to disappear and genealogists began to keep their records private because they didn’t intend for the information to be used on a commercial revenue basis. As the volunteers were eliminating their data on the internet, a monopoly of genealogy companies began to make themselves known and fees began to surface for subscriptions, memberships and more. The majority of the free sites that remained online became unknown to the future researcher. These sites were no longer being updated and many were left abandoned. A few sites that remained were the exception, the #1 site- Rootsweb and the #2 site- The Genealogical Society of Utah, now known as Family Search. Both have been transformed over the years. The #1 North Carolina site was, The American History Project. It was filled with link after link of county records. It was a volunteer program and many county documents were stored on the #1 site of Rootsweb in order to gain popularity and to take advantage of the free pages offer with Rootsweb. But this all changed when Rootsweb was sold in 2008. Many volunteers who were actively donating data online left the site for good and slowly began disappearing from the internet. Other commercial companies began to appear and the online genealogy world forever changed from that point onward. The history of online genealogy allows a better understanding of online techniques in today’s market. I refer to online genealogy as a market, because it has vastly changed during the past 20 years and now resides within commercial trade as millions and millions of revenue are reported for large genealogy companies.
Present Day Online Research
As stated earlier, online research has grown tremendously over the years. It’s amazing to discover the changes through the years. You may have an online subscription to the many corporations now involved with genealogy or you may rely on your own personal online search engine to obtain records. Online genealogy companies will inform you what they have on their database. You may be able to locate the majority of your family on one site and you may not. It all depends what the company has available for you online. A multitude of records are available by using certain simple keywords and a variety of search engines. All that is required to perform a simple online search like this is to insert keywords for the search engine to do it’s job. Direct free search engines for North Carolina are North Carolina Genweb and North Carolina Genealogy Society just to name a few. There are more of these free databases online and they can be found if you insert the keyword, “free”. Also, use several search engines, there are many out there in the internet world and each one is slightly different from the other. The results from these different search engines will amaze you with the results. Keywords are vital on getting the results you want. Think about what you are searching for and enter the keywords that speak this for you. Sometimes too much information is just too much data to go through. Concentrate on what’s important and narrow your search in this manner.
Online Family Trees
The trees located online can be used as “Hints & Clues”. The trees themselves are not sources and should not be used this way with your own personal lineage. You discover someone’s tree and it names an ancestor you have been looking for. After the excitement calms down, look for the source that proves the information. If you don’t see it, the new discovery is just a simple clue for you to investigate further if you wish. It’s not a legal binding document, a family Bible or proof that states this particular person is your ancestor. 95% of online trees contain incorrect data, lineage failures and fabricated information. You may contact the person who owns the tree and they inform you they received the information from a book, for instance. Get the name of the source so you can verify the information. Many family genealogy books have errors as well, look for the legal proof. Without the proof, it’s a simple clue.
Following The Legal Trail
Each and every family that lived in the piedmont area of North Carolina associated with the current government in some form. They paid taxes, submitted information to census takers and acquired a means of making a living such as farming. Births occurred along with deaths and many owned land. All of these actions are intertwined with government documents which creates a legal trial to follow. These type of documents are available for research on many different levels. The NC Archives houses all of these documents from each and every county of North Carolina and even those counties that no longer exist today. County government documents can be located at the current county seat courthouse. Even city and town documents can be located in individual settlements and historical societies. Several North Carolina books have been published during the past 100 years that pertain to these documents such as tax lists, will abstracts and much more. 33 counties suffered lost records due to fires, etc. For the piedmont area, Guilford county is among the worst as far as records destroyed or lost. The legal trail leads to proof of your ancestor’s existence and lineage to you.
Snail Mail & Email
The older genealogist loves snail mail. You arrive at the mailbox and guess what, the will of 4th great grandfather has arrived. You now hold the legal document proving his existence and the names of his wife, children and witnesses to the death event. Handwritten or typed letters say so much about your passion and drive to locate the answers you seek. This works especially well with older family members who may hold the key to your research. The piedmont area has the best hospitality and loves to share with others. Librarians and the archivists located at the NC State Library do respond to snail mail requests on a regular basis. Please provide them with as much information as possible when submitting a request. The state archives will charge you for the copies and out of state residents will also pay a search fee. To read more about the fees, click here. Local historical societies will respond to your request by snail mail as well. These societies are comprised mostly of volunteers who are eager to respond to your request. Email communications are a vital tool to genealogy research. Email can allow documents to be attached for quick viewing and filing on your computer. Everyone has access to email these days and it’s a quick communicator that provides privacy unlike social media sites or message boards online.
The piedmont area of North Carolina holds many details within it’s history. The past can come alive as you research your ancestors in this area and learn how they lived and where. Land grants of long ago can lead you to the original homestead and possibly a family cemetery in the woods. Words can’t describe the feeling as you walk along the same land as your ancestors did over 250 years ago.
For links to local piedmont area historical societies and county databases, visit the NC Genealogy Links page. The page is updated on a weekly basis, so visit it often for new surprises and links. The next blog will continue the discovery of early land grants in Rockingham County. Wishing you all great success with your research and share your great discoveries and adventures with Piedmont Trails. As always, your support is greatly appreciated here and your presence is greatly valued. May sunny days follow you along your journey.