By Jeannette Holland Austin
It is easy to trace several families through modern birth, death and cemetery records. Also, the availability of 20th century census records is pretty smooth. However, when the time-frame includes records prior to 1850, difficulties begin to arise. The next step after the census, are court house records. That is, deeds, estates, wills, marriages, tax digests, receipts, vouchers, sales, inventories, annual returns and so on. However, the loss of court house records through fires and mishandling of storage, not to mention the War of 1812 when the British burned census records in Washington, D. C. There comes a time when the genealogist must become analyze the situation and determine where next to search. Therefore, with the absence of records, it behooves the genealogist to cast his eyes in a broader spectrum, noting the names of relatives, neighbors, witnesses, and so on and following that trail. A great deal of activity occurred within communities themselves between the families, i.e., weddings, funerals, land purchases, and so on. Religious communities moved in unison across the map. Too, the history of the region, names of early settlers, persons listed in the tax digests and original land grants, all of these factors form the pieces of a puzzle begging to be resolved. If one simply reads the wills of unrelated persons (within the community), a pattern of friendships and relatives emerges. Whose lands did your ancestor's adjoin? The answer to that question might be discovered in the tax records as well as in the last will and testament of one of the neighbors. The Vestry records of churches measure parish land boundaries, howbeit their vague measures and descriptions. The list of names is a beginning. Deed records also provide descriptions, mention dates and the grantees of original land grants, and so on.
County and Probate Records to Help you Find your Virginia Ancestors