West Virginia Genealogy Research and Working with Changing County Boundaries

As many American’s know, the state of West Virginia was formed in 1863 from the state of Virginia during the Civil War. Those researching their West Virginia roots prior to that year, may wonder which counties to search and what records are available. We have some tips to make your West Virginia research a little easier!

West Virginia genealogy research

The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Boston Public Library collection, Wikipedia Commons.

County level research is important when trying to find the vital records of our ancestors. Birth, marriage, and death records typically are found on the county level. This means you will need to obtain a copy of these types of certificates from the local courthouse or other county repository, such as a county archives.

But what happens when the state or county wasn’t around when your ancestor lived there? Such is the case with this Genealogy Gems reader. Here is her question regarding West Virginia research:

I have a 3rd great-grandfather I am trying to find with his parents who may have been born in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. He was born in 1814. My question is that Greenbrier County was in Virginia at the time of his birth. Now it is in West Virginia which was made a state in the 1860s, so where do I look for his records? Finding his parents has been a brick wall! What would you suggest?

Birth Records in the 1800s

The first thing we want to address is the hope that this reader will find a birth record for 1814. Early birth records of this time-frame were typically kept by the churches in the form of christening or baptismal records. Civil registrations of births, which were created by the local or federal government, were not kept regularly for American states until much later. The earliest cities and states to require civil registration can be seen here, but a few examples include: New York in 1880, Virginia in 1853,and Florida in 1865. [1]

Because birth records can not always be located in church or civil registration for this early time period, we suggest using alternate records as your supporting evidence. Substitute birth records might be, but are not limited to: school records, censuses, pension records, marriage records, and biographical sketches. (Click these links to learn more about each type of record.)

West Virginia Genealogy Research: County Level

Next, let’s discuss the uniqueness of researching in West Virginia. West Virginia was created in 1863 out of the state of Virginia. Many of the counties that were once in Virginia, kept the same name and retained their records when they became part of West Virginia.

There is a wonderful resource in the book titled “Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources” which was edited by Alice Eichholz. This book has a chart for each U.S. state listing the year each county was formed and from what parent county. To find the chart, flip through to the West Virginia section. Each county is listed in alphabetical order. In this case, we would locate “Greenbrier” and take note that according to the chart, Greenbrier County, West Virginia was formed in 1778 by portions of both Montgomery and Botetourt County, Virginia. A chart like this is helpful for any genealogist in determining which counties should be researched.

Greenbrier County, West Virginia: A Timeline of Changing County Boundaries

I took the liberty of looking further into Greenbrier County, West Virginia by examining more closely the changing county boundaries of this county over time. I did this by using the chart I mentioned above found in the Red Book. First, I found Greenbrier county and it’s parent county, then, I searched the list for further instances when parts of Greenbrier county were used to form newer counties. You see, we want to see the changes of this county’s boundaries so that we know what possible places to look for records. Let me show you what I found. We are going to need a time line for this!

  • 1778: Greenbrier county was originally formed in 1778 from two parent Virginia counties: Montgomery and Botetourt.
  • 1788: part of Greenbrier County, Virginia became Kanawha County
  • 1799: Greenbrier shrunk further when a portion of its boundaries became Monroe County, Virginia
  • 1818: Nicholas County, Virginia formed from Greenbrier
  • 1831: part of Greenbrier created the new county of Fayette, Virginia
  • 1863: Greenbrier county, Virginia became part of the State of West Virginia
  • 1871: Summers County, West Virginia was created by a small portion of Greenbrier

As you can see, our Genealogy Gems reader may need to visit and research several county repositories both within the state of Virginia and West Virginia.

Greenbrier county is rather unique, as it had boundary changes quite regularly. It may be difficult to visit each of these county courthouses, spanning many miles apart, in hopes of finding targeted records for their ancestor. For this reason, our reader may wish to begin at the West Virginia State Archives. At most state archive repositories, records for all the counties can be easily looked at via microfilm. This may save valuable travel time. (Note: Before visiting any state archives facility, call ahead to verify what information and records they have, so that you do not have a wasted trip.)

There is also a free guide at Family Tree Magazine for West Virginia genealogy research that we highly recommend.

More on Advanced Research Strategies

Creating a FAN club tipsChanging county boundaries is just one area that must be mastered to ensure accurate genealogy research. Here are 3 more articles that will help you beef up your genealogy research skills:

The Genealogy FAN Club Principle Overcomes Genealogy Brick Walls

Missing Census or Missing Family: Legacy Tree Genealogists Answer

Resolving Three Common Conflicting Evidence Problems in Genealogy

ARTICLE REFERENCES

[1] Johni Cerny, “Births and Deaths in Public Records,” originally written in “The Source: A Genealogist’s Guidebook to American Genealogy,” online article, Ancestry Wiki, accessed 20 Feb 2017.

Mexican Genealogy: Finding Abuela in New and Updated Genealogical Records for Mexico this week

Find your Abuela (the Spanish word for Grandma) in a wide variety of Catholic Church records for Mexican genealogy at FamilySearch. Also in new and updated genealogical records, collections from Norfolk, England; Victoria, Australia; and Quebec, Canada.
finding_abuela_Mexico genealogy records

Mexico – Church Records

Abuela Francisca Ramos. Photo used with permission from the family.

FamilySearch has updated and added thousands of new Catholic church records in their Mexican genealogy databases. These church records cover many areas of Mexico, but in particular, the Hidalgo, Puebla, Jalisco, and Guanajuato databases have all reached over 1 million records. The years covered will vary, but the earliest records are from the 1500s and as recent as the 1970s.

These Catholic church records include baptismal records, marriage records, deaths, and other miscellaneous records that may contain valuable genealogical data for your ancestors. Check out the following databases for Mexican genealogy below:

England – Norfolk – Church Records

Several collections for Norfolk, England have been updated at Findmypast this week. Among them are first, Norfolk Bishop’s Transcripts Baptisms 1685-1941. Norfolk Bishop’s transcripts for baptisms contain over 647,000 records. Each entry includes an image of the original document and a transcript of the vital details. The amount of information found in the transcript will depend on the age and condition of the original document. Most will include a name, baptism year, baptism place, and the names of parent’s. Images may reveal additional information such as your ancestor’s birth date, father’s occupation, and the name of the officiating minister.

The second database is titled, Norfolk Bishop’s Transcripts Marriages 1685-1941 and contains over 157,000 records. Each record includes a transcript and may include the birth year, date of marriage, place of marriage, and the name of their spouse as well as an image of the original document.

Thirdly, the Norfolk Bishop’s Transcripts Burials 1685-1941 collection will allow you to search over 434,000 Bishop’s transcripts of Norfolk burials to discover your ancestor’s final resting place. Transcripts will also reveal when they died and their age at death. Images of original documents may reveal additional information such as the name of the minister who performed the ceremony, your ancestor’s date of death and, occasionally, their cause of death.

Finally, the Norfolk Electoral Registers 1832-1915 containing over 4.5 million records may be just want you are looking for. Electoral registers were first created in 1832. Every year, a new electoral register was created to list the name of every individual eligible to vote. Voting was closely linked to the possession of property; therefore, the registers described the type of property owned or rented by the individual.

Electoral registers are an invaluable resource to trace your ancestors between the census years. Each entry in the Norfolk Electoral Registers 1832-1915 will include an image of the original register and a transcript of the facts listed. Transcripts will list your ancestor’s name, the place they registered, the district and the year they were registered. Images will provide additional information such as you’re their address and the type of property they owned or rented.

Australia – Victoria – Birth Records

Also at Findmypast, over 104,000 records have been added to the Victoria Births collection. These civil registration records may reveal your ancestors birth place, birth year, parent’s names and registration number. The entire collection now contains over 1.9 million records spanning the years 1837 t0 1917.

England & Scotland – Newspapers

Over 1.6 million articles and 13 brand new titles have been added to Findmypast’s collection of historic British Newspapers. The new additions cover the North West and South East of England, a number of Scottish counties, Nottinghamshire, and Bournemouth. The new Scottish titles include the Haddingtonshire Courier, Linlithgowshire Gazette, Ross-shire Journal, Rothesay Chronicle, Kinross-shire Advertiser, Peeblesshire Advertiser, and the Scottish Referee.

Canada – Quebec – Various Record Collections

The Drouin Institute has been in the genealogy business for over a hundred years. The Drouin Collection, which is available on Ancestry as well as on GenealogyQuebec.com, was microfilmed in the 1940s and digitized in the 2000s by the Institute. The Drouin Collection contains the civil copy of all parish registers (baptism, marriage, and burial records) from Quebec from 1621 to the 1940s. It is just one of many of the collections you will find from the Drouin Institute.Quebec genealogy
In total, GenealogyQuebec.com offers many databases to research and reaches near 43 million images and files.

To access the Drouin Institute record collections, you will need to visit GenealogyQuebec.com. It is subscription based website. Subscription information can be viewed here.

LAFRANCE
 
The LAFRANCE is the most popular and comprehensive tool available at GenealogyQuebec.com. It is a very detailed, high quality index of the Drouin Collection, and also provides the original document. Here is an example of what the LAFRANCE looks like from our users’ perspective:
Quebec genealogy site
Vital records for Quebec genealogy

Currently, the LAFRANCE covers the entirety of the 1621 – 1849 period for Catholic baptisms and burials, as well as, the 1621-1916 period for Catholic marriages. In addition, the LAFRANCE covers the 1760 – 1849 period for Protestant marriages.

The LAFRANCE’s index is particularly valuable and appreciated by English speakers, as it negates the need to read and understand French in order to obtain all the relevant information from a record.

WWI Holdings

The Library of Congress has launched a comprehensive portal to its extensive WWI holdings. This one-stop portal is designed to help you search WWI subject material with ease. Search things like propaganda posters, letters, diaries, newspapers, and more. It is a wonderful site for not only the genealogist, but the avid historian as well.

More on Mexican Genealogy

Mexican genealogyThe Mexican Genealogy Guide by David A. Fryxell from Family Tree Magazine will help you discover the bounty of records in Mexico. This digital download will help you understand naming practices, pinpoint ancestral whereabouts, and how to best navigate church records there.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

Got Criminal Ancestors? How to Investigate Their Crimes

Lydia thinks her great-grandfather was murdered–perhaps even by her grandfather! Here’s some advice for her and everyone researching “cold cases” for criminal ancestors on your family tree.

Cold Case investigate your ancestor criminals

I heard recently from Lydia with these intriguing questions:

My great great grandpa William John Gabriel Nelson disappeared one day, never coming home from work. It was family lore that he had been “shanghai’d.” But even as a child the story didn’t add up. [Through a] few other mentions of the account throughout the years, and recently reconnecting with cousins through Ancestry.com/DNA and your advice to just email DNA matches, I have a growing reason to believe my great-grandfather was murdered. An even bigger fear is that my grandfather may have been the one to do it.
 

All parties involved with this are now dead, so follow-up is impossible with them. But I’m wondering about contacting the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) or the library to determine if indeed there was a cold case, missing persons report or John Doe. Since this happened in the mid 1940’s, would I contact the LAPD or is this now a job for a historian?

As a citizen, Lydia can certainly contact the LAPD here. It might take a bit of persistence to get to the right person or resource. I would start by asking for how you can find out the status of a cold case from the year in question.

Here are 4 ways to follow up on your own criminal ancestors’ cold cases:

1. Look for cold case files online.

As I often say, all good searches start online because they will help you prepare to go offline. In other words, not everything is online, but searching online first will give you a lay of the land, revealing what is available, who to contact, and where to go in person. Start with a Google search such as LAPD cold cases.  The search results include several good leads:

cold case search

With a case like Lydia’s that is over 70 years old, I wouldn’t expect to pull it up in an online database (though you never know!) But I do see several sites here that provide phone numbers to gain access to those who can lead you in the right direction.

2. Search Google for clues.

Google Drive and other tipsUse Google’s powerful search technology to look for online mentions of the names, places, and dates of your particular case.

In Lydia’s case, she might begin with keywords relating to her great-grandfather’s disappearance, with his name, year, and the place he was last seen. Including descriptive keywords such as disappear, mystery, vanished or murder might also yield helpful results.

Learn more about effective search techniques in my book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Second Edition.

3. Check old newspapers.

Newspapers in your ancestor’s hometown (or further afield) may have mentioned the incident. With a common name like William (or Bill) Nelson, you may need to weed out the overabundance of unwanted results you get. Let me show you how I did this in GenealogyBank, a popular genealogical newspaper website:
genealogybank initial search
The initial results of searching GenealogyBank (above) for the terms William Nelson and Los Angeles brought up over 1,000 search results! (The red arrow points to the tally.) Since I don’t like wasting valuable research time on irrelevant results (who’s with me?!), I refined the search. I specified Nelson as a last name, William as a first name, Los Angeles as a keyword, and I added a date range: the decade during which he disappeared. Next, I limited my search to Los Angeles-area newspapers, shown below:
genealogybank refine search
This search narrows results down to under 200: a robust number, but at least manageable to look through for relevant material.
I want to be able to use these same search parameters in the future, so I click Save My Search. The search now appears in My Folder for future reference.
newspaper research at GenealogyBank

4. Look for criminal records.

If you knew (or suspected) that a relative was prosecuted for a crime, it’s time to start looking for records relating to the criminal case. There may be several kinds:

  • In cases of suspicious death (where there was a body, unlike Lydia’s case), look for any surviving coroner’s records.
  • If a trial may have occurred, research the jurisdiction to find out what court would have handled it, and then look for files relating to the case.
  • If an ancestor may have served time, look for prison records. Genealogy Gems Premium podcast episode 29 is devoted to the topic of prison records.

 

Get inspired!

Read this article about a woman who was researching not one but two mysterious deaths on her family tree.

 

Want to help investigators lay to rest their own cold cases?

Click here to read about the Unclaimed Persons Project and how you can help.

Unclaimed Persons Project

How to Unsend Gmail email message

Unsend gmail email messag
Have you ever clicked the Send button on an email message only to seconds later have a wave of regret fall over you? At a moment like that it would be very helpful to know how to unsend Gmail email messages. At one time or another we have all left out vital information, or sometimes worse, said too much. Now you can change your mind and undo what you did!

On June 22, 2015 Google announced the Undo Send feature for Gmail on the Web. By default the Undo Send feature is turned off (that is unless you are already using the Labs version.) To flip the switch and start undoing your sends, simply:

1) Click the Settings gear in Gmail

2) Under the General tab, scroll down until you see Undo Send

3) Click to check the Enable Undo Send box

4) From the drop down menu select how much time you will have to decide to unsend an email message

how to unsend gmail email message

5) Scroll down the General Settings page and be sure to click the Save Changes button at the bottom of the screen to activate your unsend Gmail email selection.

Save unsend gmail email messageNow if you want to unsend Gmail email messages you will be able to do so for the short amount of time you specified (in my example I selected 30 seconds)

unsend email in Gmail

Unsend Gmail email and get it right – the second time!

Resources:
How to use Google for Genealogy
The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Second Edition features an entire chapter on using Gmail effectively.

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