“A Search Strategy This Useful Shouldn’t Be Kept Secret” Charlie Brown

Before beginning in-depth Virginia research on a difficult-to-find ancestor try this:

  1. Separately chart all surname entries in any census year for the county or district where your ancestor lived.  Even if the surname is a common one, this exercise by hand or on your computer will highlight the people in that locality who carry your name of interest.
  2. Sort alphabetically by given name.
  3. Draft a list of these characteristics:  a.  birthplaces, alpha list;  b.  persons of other surnames living in these households with their birthplaces, alpha list by birthplace.  These places can be plotted on a county boundary map showing the migration patterns of these families.  c.  other persons recorded on the same page or in the same district with these same birthplaces, alpha list by name.  These names identify possible kinship networks:  families or persons traveling together and those associated with each other.  d.  persons with surnames repeated as given names in the same family.  Example:  Swinfield Hill, Swinfield Thomas, Swinfield Topping.  These names highlight important naming patterns within families who are related to each other or are living in proximity to each other.  This is especially true with celebrity names–Thomas Jefferson, “King Carter,” etc .
  4. Sort these family charts alphabetically by head of household.  Match with marriage entries.
  5. Sort these marriages by census year.  The marriage is the beginning of the family unit.  Sort all of those who will appear as a married family unit in 1850, 1860, 1870, etc.  And don’t overlook those family units begun before 1840, 1830, 1820, etc.  Then search the census records for each family unit.
  6. Compare the families for similar migration patterns, kinship networks, and naming patterns.  These families are often related.  This way you can build a family history as you go.

If the census records have not survived for the time period you need, use tax rolls, military lists, cemetery records, or other record category that has survived intact.  Virginia has suffered much record loss.  And for most counties, there is one good resource available to match and compare with a non-county record.  Your favorite Virginia genealogist, Arlene Eakle http://www.arleneeakle.com

PS  Hang tight.  I will have other strategies that work well in Virginia.

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