This method is comprised of essential research techniques developed over the past thirty years during my personal research. I’m happy to share these techniques with you for your own family tree. These steps will point you to an online direction as well as an on ground direction. Our ancestors left clues and hints in many different formats all through the years. It is up to the genealogist to find these items and attribute them to the family tree. If you have questions about these techniques, don’t hesitate to ask. Simply Contact Piedmont Trails and I will respond as quickly as time allows.
Enjoy Your Journey To The Past,
1-NAME****The most important item to have on hand prior to using Footstep Tracking is the actual name of your ancestor. If you don’t have this, you have a few other options. You can begin with the name of the closest relative to the particular ancestor in question or you can begin with the surname only. For example, you can concentrate on the name of the father or brother or uncle. You will notice that I’ve not mentioned female relatives and this is due to name changes associated with our female ancestors. If you begin with surname only, you will be overwhelmed with the data. Trying to pinpoint the records you need for your research will be very time consuming. You also need to take in consideration the use of nicknames, aliases and variations of spellings. The research will be limited without the knowledge of the legal name of your ancestor. So, make sure you begin with a factual, proven legal name.
Where can I find the legal name of my ancestor?
The legal name will be located on any legal document. Examples of these are birth and death certificates, land deeds and court documents. Researching prior to the American Revolutionary War, the colonial records were kept in accordance to the county seat at that particular time period. A marriage license is considered as a legal document but only after that particular state began recording birth and death records as legal certificates. This will vary with each state. More on this as we go through the step-by-step process.
2-LOCATION****Determining the location of your ancestor is the next step. This should be a fairly easy step if you know the legal name of your ancestor. The location of the document retrieved, proving the name, will state that your ancestor was in this particular location on this particular date.
3-TIMELINE CREATION****With steps 1 and 2 complete, you now can begin creating a timeline with the information you know. Only insert the facts associated with steps 1 and 2. The timeline is critical with your research otherwise, you will be randomly searching through records without applying your organizing skills.
With these crucial steps taken, you can now begin the process of following your ancestor’s footsteps through the past. As in John Doe’s case above, you will see question marks placed on the years we know nothing about him. Everyone knows that a federal census was taken during the year of 1790, but John Doe is not present on this census so far. You begin by eliminating the known source such as the 1790 census. Begin in the first known area of Surry County, NC as named on the land deed. While searching through the 1790 census in this location, also note any Doe surnames living in the area and look for numbers in the census per family. The 1790 census questions were as follows:
- Number of free white males under 16
- Number of free white males 16 and over
- Number of free white females
- Number of other free persons
- Number of slaves
The census questions vary from decade to decade and understanding the answers will guide you to actual age of your ancestors, death dates and much more. Every genealogist should know census history. You should have data for your ancestor for each decade year. For example: 1790, 1800, 1810, 1820, 1830 and so forth.
Fill in the blanks of your timeline by researching the location and the records that are available. Now is the time to get to know the actual location on a more personal level. The best way to do this is by studying older maps to understand what roads were available, what small communities existed, and businesses such as mills, taverns, local stores, post offices, courthouses and churches. In the example above, John Doe acquired land in Surry County during the year of 1791. The county seat of Surry at this time was Rockford and the present day county seat is Dobson. Research begins in Dobson by searching for records associated with the Rockford time period. As you can see, learning the history of the location will greatly benefit your research in moving forward.
What is next?
Now you can get the details by researching on a local level. If you don’t live close by the area, no worries. You still have the capabilities of researching from hundreds of miles away. Start by using the example, with the land deed of John Doe. The deed gives specifics of his land location. For example, banks of Arrarat River and Tom’s Creek. Using the modern topo maps, you pinpoint down the location of the land. Using the example of John Doe, we find that his property was located approx. 10 miles from Rockford and located in present day Shoals Township and near present day Highway 268. You begin an online look for local historical and genealogical associations that concentrate their attention on this particular area. You have the Surry County Genealogical Society, Horne Creek Living Historical Farm and Shoals Baptist Church. You also conduct an online library search for historical data about the area. As with any research pertaining to North Carolina, I always suggest The North Carolina Gazetteer by William Powell. Local churches are great resources and this gives me the opportunity to discuss marriages. Getting back to marriage bond records, proof of identity was not required in the past as it is today. Using an alias name to marry was used long ago. Therefore; I don’t regard these early records as proof of a name for my ancestors. But, I do acknowledge the marriage according to these early records.
Once you’ve obtained a list of the local organizations, you contact them either by visiting in person or by using your communication tools. I still use the snail mail today simply because it works. I cannot tell you how many copies of documents I’ve received all through the years from my personal mailbox. I also use email and although it is somewhat less personal, I’ve achieved great success with it as well. Of course, I urge everyone to visit the location in person. But, as today’s schedule reminds us, this at times, simply cannot be achieved. It’s important to not overlook important contacts. For example, churches, older businesses and local historians. To locate these older establishments, contact local societies and newspapers. A local reporter of a newspaper can reveal sources that you may not think of. Once you’ve made contact with a historian reporter, you will always remember them. Each contact you make will reveal more and more clues and hints to tracing your ancestor’s footsteps.
4-TRACING MIGRATIONS****Majority of our ancestors moved at some point to other states, territories, etc. Understanding the circumstances of the time period will greatly enhance your research and determining why and where your ancestors traveled. The western migration occurred from 1785 and did not end until the late 19th century. We all have ancestors who migrated to a new area, but locating them during this time period can be difficult. Understanding the traveling patterns will guide you through this process. If your ancestor moved during the years soon following the American Revolutionary War, you know that the move would have been to the most recent addition of territories to the new nation. Such as, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and Tennessee. As states and territories are opened and added, migrations ventured further west, south and north. Determining the years of migration will enable you to determine the roads taken and the area of settlement. I list these migration trails and describe the history associated with them on the Migrations Page.
5-Filling in the Blanks****By using these techniques, you will come across records that you will never see online. As I’ve stated numerous times, 20% of genealogy records can be located online. This means that 80% of genealogy records are found out in the field. They are located in archives or in local records. I have even found records held by personal historians who resided in the local area. Your contacts should be limitless and you should never restrict your research to online services who require subscription fees. These same records that you are paying for are accessible freely as they should be. All “legal” genealogy records are free to the public. That’s a very important rule that many of today’s genealogist seem to forget. Now, records from church organizations and business transactions are the sole property of that organization or business. Other records that would fall into this category would be funeral homes and newspapers. As you discover these items, you will fill in the blanks located on your timeline. Your timeline will reveal what you have on hand and what exactly you’re looking for.
What do I do if I can’t find the records I’m looking for?
If you’re having difficulty finding records for your ancestor, let me know. I’m here to answer any questions regarding this process. I’ve learned all through the years that it takes a group of dedicated researchers to actually prove a family tree. The sole proof doesn’t stem from DNA alone or the paper trail alone. The family tree stands on it’s own and represents a unity of fruit which is the result of the branches down through the roots. Genealogy is a difficult path, but it is a well rewarded path when you take in the experiences and the adventures it offers.
ENJOY YOUR JOURNEY TO THE PAST !!