Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Virginia Puzzle

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History has more to do with genealogical research than most persons realize.  We tend to think only of those persons found in traditional history books.  But is is bigger than that.  While our forefathers were drafting the Constitution of the United States, they were surrounded by family, friends, neighbors expressing their own opinions.  All of these opinions notwithstanding, the feelings and ideas of every voice helped frame the Constitution.  Were these people any less than George Washington, Thomas Jefferson or John Hancock?  Someone influences. Others act.  But everyone does not make the history books.  Whatever was occurring at any given time in history, our ancestors were involved with the business of trying to resolve their problems, whether in peace or war.  We are a record keeping people.  Thus, there is tons of information in the records to assist us in discovering the names of our own people.  You might say "My ancestor must not have done anything special, because I cannot find him inn the records". Oh, but you can!  Even if he did not sign a deed or last will and testament, his neighbors did and frequently included his name as a neighbor or someone who married into the family.  One simply has to dig deeper than he ever dreamed he'd have to.  Old wills and estates are like gold.  If you find one with your ancestor's name on it, you have hit the motherlode of information!  Granted, the old wills are bulky, mostly over 50 pages long.  This is because their lifestyles were businesses.  Every item purchased, seeds planted and crops harvested was written down somewhere.  Frequently, these items are in the inventories and sales of estates.  One has to pay attention to the names of the purchases, then examine the marriage records to learn whether or not it was a family member, like a son-in-law.  Virginia Pioneers is in the process of digitizing all of Virginia's Wills and Estates (also some deed records).  Combing through 400 years of documents, page by page, is a bit much, however, the work is ongoing.  Even though most of these names are not my personal ancestors, this process alone has provided me with an interesting historical and geographical education on times past.  As the names are gathered, the puzzle comes together as to the hearts and minds of the first settlers.  The old wills (alone) provide more historical insight than any history book ever will.  One simply has to settle down comfortably in a chair and read the documents to get the flavor, and, particularly, answers.  The first settlers to Virginia left no bone unturned.  They detailed it all in the old Wills, down to naming distant relatives in foreign countries.  As one reads, studies and remembers, the puzzle works itself together.  The census records are fine, but before 1790, one must get down to business.  And business is researching the county records (and adjoining counties) where the ancestor resided.

Need more time to sort things out? A good deal for genealogists needing to read old Virginia Wills and other helpful family data. 6 months subscription to Virginia Pioneers for $54.00. Subscribe to Virginia Pioneers.net and view wills and other documents online

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