The Case for Surname Research in Virginia Genealogy

You will want to consider doing Surname Research as you look for your hard-to-find Virginia ancestors.  

Because…Virginia landowners held acreage in several counties at the same time, based on the old English pattern of  dividing land holdings into multiple estates so that no one man could amass enough local power to challenge the Crown.  The benefit to the landowner–he could vote in every county where he met the acreage requirement.

Because...Virginia families were large, and extended, and related over county and parish boundaries.

And because...Property Records are the single most important source category in Virginia–so the Murdoch McKenzie with land in Montgomery County and Mecklenburg County and Fauquier County and Culpeper County could be the same Murdoch McKenzie.

State-wide  indexes that cover all of these counties and single sources that cover one or more of these counties will identify the entries for all  McKenzie men (including those with other spellings).  And you can determine whether they are related based on these considerations:

  1. Search the marriages first.  Get the names of those men who marry girls with your surname of interest.
  2. Then search the census records and tax rolls.  Extract all the people who have your surname of interest, including the men who marry the girls.  In fact, you can sort the marriages to match the census dates and watch for those households as you go through the records.  
  3. Be sure to include  census records prior to 1850 and the 1880 census where you can pick up children that identify the place of birth for their parents. 
  4. Do an interim analysis:  __Compile tentative family units.  __Identify re-marriages.  __Determine which families move away, which ones stay.  __Identify “Gretna Green” marriages and those households that begin in some other place.  __Identify middle names that could be surnames.  __Identify unusual given names–especially valuable if the surname is common in that set of records:  Swinford, Mahlon, Perrable, Permit, etc. 
  5. Set aside family units that don’t fit into your family pattern:  birthplaces are different, given names of children don’t match, generations are different, no children of the right sex, etc.
  6. Now, outline searches in other records:  __wills, __cemetery stones, __deeds,  __court minutes,  __church records, and so on.
  7. Compare what you found in the records with what your family already knew.  What oral traditions can you corroborate, match, support, or document?  

In order to draw valid conclusions, you need access to all of the persons with your surname.  If you have only one Charles, be sure there is only one Charles in that county.  

Those family units where the names and other facts match, will be the family units you zero in on to prove connections to your pedigree.   Your favorite Virginia genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS  I discovered a Murdoch McKenzie who died in 1797 on Orkney, Scotland.  Family tradition says that the Murdoch living in Culpeper County Virginia, mentioned above,  was born in Scotland–he was not Scots Irish.  And Mecklenburg County Virginia is on the way inland from North Carolina where a large migration of Scots from the Orkneys settled in the mid-1740’s.  Could he be a namesake?  Stay tuned, I’m searching.

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