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Researching the Hidden Treasures of County Histories

It is always a welcome relief to find your ancestors in census records. The census tells us not only the state in which they lived but also the county. Have you ever wondered when that county was formed and why? Was your ancestor part of the forming of that county? It is time to unlock all of those secrets.


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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Priscilla Harden
Word Count: 695 (approx.)
Labels: Census 
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It is always a welcome relief to find your ancestors in census records. The census tells us not only the state in which they lived but also the county. Besides listing the names of all of those in the household, their occupations and ages, anything else about their way of life, or what it was like living there is missing.

Have you ever wondered when that county was formed and why? Was your ancestor part of the forming of that county? Who was the local doctor, who probably delivered all the children in the area? It is time to unlock all of those secrets.

There are several ways to do this. One way might be to visit your local library to see what is available there or through inter-library loan. Even though this is a good idea, and you may want to eventually look into this option, there is a quick way to gain information from your home.

With the field of genealogy booming on the Internet, finding the history of a particular county is so much quicker today and available at no extra cost. There are several different sites and ways to search for county histories on the Internet. A good beginning source is USGenweb at This link will take you to the opening page where you can search the entire state for your ancestor's surname, or you can select a state from a listing of states.

Once you get to a state you wish to research, take a moment to check out possibly interesting information like cemetery records, when the state was admitted to the Union, and of course be sure to check to see if there is a map of the state outlining each county. You may wish to take note on which counties border the county in which your ancestors were found in the census. Many times you may find your ancestors in different counties as communities grew and counties were split.

Now it is time to go to the exact county of your ancestors. There will be a listing of counties for you to choose from. Once at the site of the county, take time to review the history of the county; often pictures are available. Find out about the early settlers of the county. If none of these are your ancestors, it is possible that one of them married into your family. Every county history site is different and each one has a coordinator; it is the duty of the coordinator to update the information on the site and make it user-friendly and attractive.

Some of the county histories include information about cemetery records, marriage records, births and wills. Some even include information on other researchers who will do research for you on books they have relating to the county history.

Take a few minutes to orient yourself to the opening county page and what is of interest to you. You might also consider signing the guest book which usually also on the opening page. Often there is a search engine on the page which will aid you in searching for your ancestors by surname.

Be sure to add what you find out about your ancestors county history in your family history as it will make for a better family history story. Be sure, also, to document where you found the information.

When you find your ancestors in a census, take time to research the county history of where they are found. By looking at the occupations of your ancestors, it will give you a special interest in researching the history of the area, especially if they were a blacksmith, or possibly a lawman, or maybe the local grocer.

If you do use USGenweb, consider sending the information on your ancestors to be included in the site. In this way, you are putting your ancestors back in history where they belong, and also making your information available for others.

Finally, if the county site you are researching does not have a coordinator, you might find it fun to be the coordinator for that particular county, as your ancestors were a part of that county, and at the same time uncovering the hidden treasures of that particular county.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2006.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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