What to do when the records are gone:
Step One–Collect and summarize family sources. These constitute the beginning facts upon which your research will be based. Include the family records of siblings, spouses, parents, and family namesakes–not just your own. These records may be deposited in archives and libraries all over the country. You do not know when you will discover just what you need in a repository close to your home.
Step Two–Do a complete census search for family members in all the places they reside–where you have already found them and in places of origin they are alleged to be. If the census records are lost, use census substitutes like tax records, militia lists, and oaths of allegiance. Each new residence is another place to search.
Step Three–Who else are your family members associated with? Draft a time-line of residence. Note who else matches those same migrations and time periods. Then research the whole group together.
Step Four–Begin your searches in printed sources, with every-name indexes. Those counties that are badly burned often have the most printed records as genealogists strive to provide access to whatever is left. Then check re-constructed and re-recorded sources. These are usually the property records–those richest in proof of relationships and lineage.
Step Five–Create a Genealogy Records Inventory. Consider the records of surrounding counties–especially along the borders; privately held collections including title and abstract companies; other courthouses in the same county; other levels of jurisdiction–appeals courts, federal courts, district courts, state legislative records, and governor’s files; records printed before the destruction occurred; records copied by/for genealogists and historians with grandiose plans to research all the families or all the towns in the county. As you draft a records inventory before you search, include the collections made by others. In a time when copy machines and cameras did not exist, genealogists and historians acquired the originals or first-hand copies they made themselves or hired someone else to make for them. These copies, made before records were lost, give you access to ancestors thought lost.
Step Six: Search it all!
Your favorite Virginia genealogist, Arlene Eakle http://www.arleneeakle.com
PS I admit it takes real focus and commitment to finding the answer to actually search it all. The rewards, however, are a correct lineage and the identity of lost and hidden ancestors–worth the time and effort to do it right.