FAMILIA-L Archives

Archiver > FAMILIA > 2008-05 > 1211652356

Subject: [FAMILIA] Burned Counties
Date: Sat, 24 May 2008 11:05:56 -0700

Information Series on Genealogy %%%%%%%%%%%
This article is another of a series that I will present to the group for
information, education, or to enlighten.

List Administrator

Burned Counties

by Michael John Neill
The courthouse burned. What do I do? Research in "burned counties" that
have suffered a record loss may be possible, but it requires persistence
and a willingness to turn over as many stones as possible. This week we
take a look at some techniques that may be helpful.
Get Beyond the Destruction
Determine exactly what records were destroyed. Was it the entire
courthouse? Was it a certain office in the courthouse? Were some records
housed offsite and not destroyed? Do not assume that all county records
were burned just because someone told you so, or because you read it on a
message board or website.
Were any records re-recorded after the incident? Deeds and other records
of property ownership may have been recorded again after the fire.
(Remember landowners generally kept the original deed; the courthouse has
a copy.) For records that were created in the normal course of business
after the destruction, keep an open mind. Pay particular attention to
deeds and other documents where ownership of property might have been an
issue, especially ownership before the fire. These documents may
specifically mention former owners or imply who those owners were.
Settlements of estate or some court records may mention events and
relationships as they were before the records' destruction. Search
carefully for estate settlements of any family members who died without
descendants—even if the death was fifty or more years after the records
were destroyed. These records could be located a significant distance
from the burned county. The records of the disbursements from their
estate may mention heirs and or relationships dating back a hundred
Get Beyond the Immediate Family
Researching the complete family becomes even more important during the
time period of the fire as well. Some family members might have
eventually lived in areas where records were not destroyed or might have
left behind records with more detail. These documents may refer to
individuals who lived in the "burned county." Since our search must
necessarily broaden, it is imperative that a research log be kept so that
records on a specific relative are not over looked.
Search the Family History Library Card Catalog for information on records
in the county. The Family History Library has an extensive collection of
microfilm and while they do not film every piece of paper in the
courthouse, there may other materials. Look for printed or published
materials in their collection and then go beyond that to original records
wherever possible.
Get Beyond Relatives
It is not just the extended family who should be researched. Pay special
attention to neighbors, associates, fellow church members, and others
with whom your ancestor might have been affiliated during his time in the
county. Information on where they were from may help you locate where
your ancestor was from as well.
Get Beyond the County
Search state and federal level records as completely as possible. Are
there any wars that involved family members? Are there pension records
from those wars and have they been accessed? They might mention your
relative or provide clues as to his or her existence.
Get Help Beyond Yourself
Have local historical societies and genealogical societies been contacted
for potential information in their collection? They may also be aware of
"hidden" sources that were not destroyed, additional sources that have
been located recently, or unique approaches for the area. A posting to
the appropriate county message board or a listserve is an excellent idea.

Have you searched any regional or nearby university archives? They may
have unpublished manuscripts or other written material that may be
helpful in your search. Try searching WorldCat for the county of interest
to see what materials appear in the catalog. Bear in mind though that
oftentimes a manuscript collection may be incompletely cataloged in
WorldCat or not cataloged at all.
Are there any published county histories or scholarly studies of the
county that may shed light on certain families, migration patterns, etc.?
Search WorldCat and see if local libraries have such materials.
Also read genealogical journals that contain scholarly research articles.
Sometimes these articles discuss families in burned records counties or
provide background on methodology that is also effective in areas that
have suffered a record loss.
Have all church records been exhausted? In burned record counties, church
and other private records become increasingly important and should not be
overlooked. Church records should be accessed even if your ancestor was a
member of a denomination that typically did not keep excellent records.
If contacting the local church is unproductive or impossible, contact the
regional or national archive of the denomination.
If the time period is a little bit earlier, consider searching
Revolutionary and War of 1812 pension records for others who settled in
your ancestral area. Even if these records do not mention your ancestor
specifically, they may provide general information on migration in and
out of the area.
In Conclusion
Do not assume that what you have been told was destroyed was actually
Research the entire family and ancestral associates
Look for records created after the record destruction
Learn the county history
Network with others working in same area
Contact local organizations and repositories for more information
Research in burned counties is more difficult than in others--no doubt of
that. But with an exhaustive search plan, it can sometimes be done. Get
beyond the destruction to think of what other records and materials might
have been created and learn how to use and access those records.

This thread: