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Methods I Used To Eventually Find My Revolutionary War Patriot

When I started on my paternal Alexander family research, I first recalled what my "Papa" had told me " many times in fact " he and I were born in the same house in Loup County, Neb. I actually did not know the name of my great-grandfather, but I foun


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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Sarah Culton
Word Count: 909 (approx.)
Labels: Census 
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When I started on my paternal Alexander family research, I first recalled what my "Papa" had told me " many times in fact " he and I were born in the same house in Loup County, Neb. I actually did not know the name of my great-grandfather, but I found it on the death certificate for my grandfather, James Andrew Alexander. He was born in Webster County, Mo. and died in Nebraska. His father's name was given as George W. Alexander and he married Eliza Ann Baker. Both James and George W., and their families were found on the Webster County, Mo., 1850. According to George W.'s Civil War enlistment papers, he was born in Maury County. Tenn. I was then able to find my great-great-grandfather, James, back in Maury County, Tenn.

An 1808 marriage certificate for James Alexander and Matilda Kilpatrick was found in the "loose records" at the courthouse in Columbia, Maury County, Tenn. David Alexander signed as bondsman. At the time of their marriage, he and David were farming land in nearby Bedford County. This land was part of a Revolutionary War land grant which had been issued to their father, Matthew Alexander, and which bordered another Revolutionary War land grant where Joseph Kilpatrick and his family were living. Matthew Alexander was living in Sumner County, a short distance to the north. He named a son, James, in his will of 1823. It appeared quite obvious I had found the correct James Alexander, and his father!

In response to my "good news," my sister screamed, "Oh no, Matthew's son, James, was enumerated on the 1820 census for Sumner County and our James was enumerated on the 1820 census for Maury County. If you don't know any better than that, you had better get out of genealogy!" That was all I needed to hear, and I proceeded to investigate the matter. This is what I found: The 1820 Maury County Census included James Alexander and Henry Branch, living next to each other. Another record shows Henry Branch married to Matilda's sister, Errexine. James' household had two males less than ten, one male more than 45 years of age, two females less than ten and one female between 26 and 45.

I found the 1820 Sumner County listing for the James Alexander household to be the same, except (1) one of two children was listed as under 10 in Maury County, but was listed as between 10-16 in Sumner County; and (2) two female children were listed as under 10 in Maury County, but listed as three female children under 10 in Sumner County. In other words, one boy had his 10th birthday, and one baby girl was born, between the time the family was "picked up" on the census in Maury County on or after the first Monday in August of that year, and the time they were again "picked up" on the census in Sumner County on or after the first Monday in May the following spring! To me this looked like a positive indication that my James and his family were
actually in both counties in 1820.

Dan Burrows' article on Census Records " Getting the Most Out of Them, explains that some families were recorded on two different census records in two different locations in the same year. The mobility of American families combined with the length of time needed to complete a census led to this problem. Before 1850 census records were completed within 9 months, in 1950 the time was reduced to 6 months and by 1870 they had to be completed within 1 month. Knowing the beginning dates for collecting data each census year can be very helpful. From 1790 to 1820 it was the first Monday in August, from 1830 to 1900 it was June lst, in 1910 it was April 15th, in 1920 it was January lst and from 1930 to the present it was April lst.

To leave no stone unturned, I proceeded on, and this is what I found: Sumner County records show that Matthew Alexander owned land on Desha Creek which flows into Bledsoe's Creek and then into the Cumberland River, and paid poll and property taxes through the year of 1818. In the year of 1816, his son, James Alexander, was charged poll tax only while there during the litigation over his War of 1812 pay. Then James was in Maury County in 1817 and 1818 on property obtained from Joseph Kilpatrick. He was back in Sumner County in 1819. He was charged both poll and property taxes there, but none in Maury County. He moved his family to Sumner County from Maury County in 1820, getting "caught" twice on the census records. He was charged both poll and property taxes on 178 newly surveyed acres in 1820 and 1821. The distance "as the crow flies," between the property in Sumner and Maury Counties was about 60 miles. Perhaps that was a reasonable distance for a "restless mid-life man" of his time.

It was only by obtaining copies of original public domain records that I was able to accomplish this task. What I have written here is only a brief summary of some of the methods I used to learn about my Alexander family. This article presents some of the highlights of how I conducted my research. In sharing my family history experience, I feel I have shared a part of me. It is my hope that it serves you well.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2004.

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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