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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Burned Courthouse - Obstacle or Excuse?

From time to time, in talking about missing ancestors, I hear the comment that "of course, I can't find any records because the courthouse burned down." For the most part, I view this as an excuse to give up, not a real obstacle to finding an ancestor. But the question is a real one: what is the impact of the loss of the courthouse records in any given county? Is my perception that this "problem" is highly overrated, an accurate impression?

Let's get some basic sources for help first, before I go into a deeper analysis. I suggest starting with the FamilySearch Research Wiki article, "Burned Counties Research." You may also want to have a look at the Research Wiki article, "United States, How to Find Genealogy Records." Where there has been a fire or other disaster, whether in a city or a county, is also referred to as a "lost record locality."

The first consideration to compensate for the lost records is to determine the exact time frame involved in the loss. Next, determine, if possible the exact type of records lost and whether any partial records were preserved. Then determine what surviving records can be used to determine the content of the destroyed records.

Land records, even if destroyed, need to be reconstituted because people still have to buy and sell real property. Look for records in private record repositories such as title insurance companies and abstractors offices.

My example is Appomattox County, Virginia. This county was created in 1845 and the record is that "all records in the courthouse were destroyed by fire on 1 February 1892." See Library of Virginia, Research Notes Number 30, Lost Records Localities: Counties and Cities with Missing Records. So what other records are available for that time period and which records have been reconstituted? You will probably note that the time period includes the years of the U.S. Civil War.

Records kept by concurrent jurisdictions and entities would have records covering the place and time involved. Let's see what records are in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah for Appomattox County. In searching for records in the Library for that county, I find the following records:

Virginia, Appomattox - Cemeteries ( 4 )
Tombstone inscriptions of the Hunter-Marshall family cemetery, Appomattox County, Virginia
Author: Nowery, Sharon Lee; Hunter-Marshall Family Cemetery (Appomattox County, Virginia)

Tombstone inscriptions from graveyards around Altavista, Virginia, in Campbell, Bedford, Pittsylvania and Appomattox counties
Author: Fauntleroy, Juliet, 1871-1955; Daughters of the American Revolution. Colonel Charles Lynch Chapter (Altavista, Virginia)

The Confederate cemetery at Appomattox
Author: Schroeder, Patrick A. (Patrick Andrew), 1968-; Appomattox Court House National Historical Park (Appomattox County, Virginia); United Daughters of the Confederacy. Appomattox Chapter (Appomattox, Virginia)

Juliet Fauntleroy papers : Jones Memorial Library (MS 1387)
Author: Fauntleroy, Juliet, 1871-1955; Jones Memorial Library (Lynchburg, Virginia)

Virginia, Appomattox - Church history ( 2 )
History of Wesley Chapel Methodist Church, 1828-1939
Author: Chilton, Harriett A.; Wesley Chapel Methodist Church (Appomattox County, Virginia)

History of Salem United Methodist church, Appomattox County, Virginia, 1837-1984
Author: Chilton, Harriett A.; Salem United Methodist Church (Appomattox County, Virginia)

Virginia, Appomattox - Church records ( 1 )
Register of Old Concord Presbyterian Church, Appomattox County, Virginia, 1826-1878 : baptism 1826-1876, membership 1826-1878, obituary 1829- 1854
Author: Chilton, Harriett A.; Wilkerson, Mitzi Chilton; Old Concord Presbyterian Church (Appomattox County, Virginia)

Virginia, Appomattox - Dwellings ( 1 )
Historical notes of Appomattox County, Virginia
Author: Farrar, Stuart McDearmon

Virginia, Appomattox - Gazetteers ( 1 )
Lynchburg, Virginia city directories
Author: Jones Memorial Library (Lynchburg, Virginia)

Virginia, Appomattox - Genealogy ( 2 )
Appomattox County : history and genealogy
Author: Featherston, N. R., Nathaniel Ragland

Appomattox County, Virginia
Author: Heritage Book Committee (Appomattox County, Virginia)

Virginia, Appomattox - History - Civil War, 1861-1865 ( 1 )
The Appomattox paroles, April 9-15, 1865
Author: Nine, William G.; Wilson, Ronald G

Virginia, Appomattox - History ( 4 )
Petitions to form Appomattox County, Virginia, from Buckingham, Campbell, Charlotte and Prince Edward counties, 1825-1845
Author: Chilton, Harriett A. 

Appomattox County : history and genealogy
Author: Featherston, N. R., Nathaniel Ragland

Appomattox County, Virginia
Author: Heritage Book Committee (Appomattox County, Virginia)

Historical notes of Appomattox County, Virginia
Author: Farrar, Stuart McDearmon

Virginia, Appomattox - Land and property - Maps ( 1 )
Buckingham and Appomattox counties, Virginia land ownership map, 1863
Author: Library of Congress. Geography and Map Division

Virginia, Appomattox - Land and property ( 2 )
Petitions to form Appomattox County, Virginia, from Buckingham, Campbell, Charlotte and Prince Edward counties, 1825-1845
Author: Chilton, Harriett A.

Historical notes of Appomattox County, Virginia
Author: Farrar, Stuart McDearmon

Virginia, Appomattox - Maps ( 3 )
Buffalo Ridge quadrangle, Virginia : 7.5 minute series, (topographic), SW/4 Shipman 15' quadrangle
Author: United States. Geological Survey; Virginia. Division of Mineral Resources

Gladstone quadrangle Virginia : 7.5 minute series, (topographic), SE/4 Shipman 15' quadrangle
Author: United States. Geological Survey; Virginia. Division of Mineral Resources

Buckingham and Appomattox counties, Virginia land ownership map, 1863
Author: Library of Congress. Geography and Map Division

Virginia, Appomattox - Military history - Civil War, 1861-1865 ( 5 )
The final bivouac : the surrender parade at Appomattox and the disbanding of the armies, April 10-May 20, 1865
Author: Calkins, Chris M.

Appomattox County, Virginia during the War Between the States
Author: Chilton, Harriett A.

Biography of Wilmer McLean
Author: Cauble, Frank P.; McLean, Wilmer, 1814-1882

Roster of the Appomattox Reserves : Company I of the Third Virginia Reserves, Confederate States of America, 1864-1865
Author: Chilton, Harriett A.; Confederate States of America. Army. Virginia Reserves Regiment, 3rd. Company I (Appomattox County)

The battles of Appomattox Station and Appomattox Court House, A Author: Calkins, Chris M. 

Virginia, Appomattox - Military records - Civil War, 1861-1865 ( 2 )
Roster of the Appomattox Reserves : Company I of the Third Virginia Reserves, Confederate States of America, 1864-1865
Author: Chilton, Harriett A.; Confederate States of America. Army. Virginia Reserves Regiment, 3rd. Company I (Appomattox County)

The Confederate cemetery at Appomattox
Author: Schroeder, Patrick A. (Patrick Andrew), 1968-; Appomattox Court House National Historical Park (Appomattox County, Virginia); United Daughters of the Confederacy. Appomattox Chapter (Appomattox, Virginia)

Virginia, Appomattox - Military records ( 1 )
Virginia, Appomattox - Obituaries ( 1 )
The Farmville Herald : index to births, deaths and marriages
Author: Andersen, William F., Jr.

Virginia, Appomattox - Schools ( 2 )
Some Appomattox County, Virginia school attendance rolls, 1907 through 1913
Author: Chilton, Harriett A.

C. H. Chilton's Union Academy records, 1860-1874
Author: Chilton, Harriett A.; Chilton, Chapman Hunter

Virginia, Appomattox - Social life and customs ( 1 )
Historical notes of Appomattox County, Virginia
Author: Farrar, Stuart McDearmon

Virginia, Appomattox - Taxation ( 3 )
Appomattox County, Virginia tax lists, 1845 : only extant record for the first year the county was established, includes land tax rolls, personal property tax rolls
Author: Chilton, Harriett A.

Personal property tax lists, 1845-1863
Author: Appomattox County (Virginia). Commissioner of the Revenue

Land tax lists, 1845-1863
Author: Virginia. Commissioner of the Revenue (Appomattox County)

Virginia, Appomattox - Vital records - Indexes ( 1 )
Appomattox County marriages, 1854-1890
Author: Jamerson, Vicki; Nash, Edith; Nash, Clyde

Virginia, Appomattox - Vital records ( 2 )
Appomattox County marriages, 1854-1890
Author: Jamerson, Vicki; Nash, Edith; Nash, Clyde

The Farmville Herald : index to births, deaths and marriages
Author: Andersen, William F., Jr.

Now, of course, this is only one repository, but it should be noted that many of the records listed above cover the time period when the courthouse records were "lost." I might also go look for newspapers from and around Appomattox county. This is only the barest beginning of the search. The point: You have plenty of places to look beside moaning about a burnt courthouse.

1 comment:

  1. Look for records in private record repositories such as title insurance companies and abstractors offices.
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    ReplyDelete