After the Revolutionary War, many people desired to move west and obtain inexpensive land in the vast areas acquired by their new country between 1783 and 1803. The period following our nation's struggle for independence witnessed one of history's greatest migrations as a large percentage of United States citizens and foreign immigrants moved from the Eastern Seaboard to the territories.
Few records were kept until an orderly form of government was established. Of course, record destruction took its toll. Therefore, many of our most difficult genealogy problems occur when researching the period of the first territories of the United States. And, as luck would have it, many of the missing federal censuses are for territories before they became a state.
One of the best resources for this period is The Territorial Papers of the United States (listed below) which contains a wealth of information on many thousands of individuals, making it an excellent substitute for lost census records. Numerous records not originated by states or counties are contained in these volumes:
United States, Department of State, compiled and edited by Clarence Edwin Carter, The Territorial Papers of the United States Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1934-1962. 26 volumes. National Archives microfilm publications: M0721
vol. I, The Territorial Papers of the United States, General
vols. II & III, The Territory Northwest of the River Ohio, 1787-1803 [Includes Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota.]
vol. IV, The Territory South of the River Ohio, 1790-1796 [Includes Tennessee.]
vols. V & VI, The Territory of Mississippi, 1798-1817 [Includes Alabama and Mississippi.]
vols. VII & VIII, The Territory of Indiana, 1800-1816 [Includes Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and part of Minnesota.]
vol. IX, The Territory of Orleans, 1803-1812 [Includes Louisiana.]
vols. X, XI & XII The Territory of Michigan, 1805-1837 [Includes Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota.]
vols. XIII, XIV & XV The Territory of Louisiana-Missouri, 1803-1821 [Includes Missouri, Arkansas, and the states north and west that were in the original Louisiana Purchase.]
vols. XVI & XVII The Territory of Illinois, 1809-1818 [Includes Illinois, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota.]
vol. XVIII The Territory of Alabama, 1817-1819 [Includes Alabama.]
vols. XIX, XX & XXI The Territory of Arkansas, 1819-1836 [Includes Arkansas and part of Oklahoma.]
vols. XXII, XXIII & XXVI The Territory of Florida, 1821-1845
These books are one of the most underused resources for the U. S. territorial period because many researchers are unaware of their existence. Also, they are usually found usually in larger libraries. Many territorial records were filmed by the National Archives and are available at the Salt Lake City Family History Library and its various Family History Centers. There are few inventories and no indexes to the filmed records. They may contain information not published in The Territorial Papers of the United States.
Because there are so many volumes, it is very time-consuming to search them all, especially for common names. However, one should review each book because many people migrated through several territories.
To make using The Territorial Papers of the United States more convenient and time saving, the names and relevant information attached to each name has been extracted to help one determine if the name has any meaning to their research.
To find this resource, go to www.censustrail.com, where the extractions from all the volumes are combined. This may help determine residence when one record doesn't list a locality, but another does. This remarkable database can be used from any personal computer. It also provides multiple ways to search the data, including Soundex. This is helpful because the variety of spellings for names is unusually large. In addition, it provides a means of searching names by the boundaries of a territory or by the state, later carved from the territory. Although there is a fee for using this Web site, it is small compared to the wealth of information now contained therein and which will be added to from time to time.
Many of the names in these volumes are contained in petitions submitted to various governmental agencies. While most often just a name is given, there are many things you can learn about the persons listed. Some example are:
1. The text of the petition often contains clues that provide details about one's ancestors.
2. The migration trail of an ancestor through multiple territories or states may be found.
3. Insights into personal feelings, cultural settings, literacy, hardships, and historical details about an individual.
4. Names of potential family members that also may have signed the petition.
5. Information about individuals who lived in the area prior to its becoming a part of the United States.
6. While not on the Web site, the signature in the original petition can be used to compare with other known signatures of your ancestor to help identify individuals. This is especially helpful with common names. The Web site www.censustrail.com is very helpful in knowing what petitions to search for to see the original signature.
Many other records besides petitions are contained in these volumes, such as an 1809 census for Madison County, Ala.
A partial solution to your research problems for this period may be found in the information contained in The Territorial Papers of the United States.
Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2004.
*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.
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