As we gathered around the Just Genealogy fire pit in Second Life last Tuesday night, we turned our attention to the challenge facing 21st century researchers when attempting to determine the historical county or parish jurisdiction for a place in the US when our ancestors lived 150-200 years ago.
Suffice it to say one cannot just flip through a AAA-Atlas and for the current county of record.
Because the county and parish boundaries change over time, as the population of a state necessitates sub-dividing.
CASE IN POINT
Study the following example below from page 375 of The Handybook for Genealogists 11th edition, edited by Holly Hansen. Note that Barry County, Michigan was created from the original unorg[anized] terr[itory].
However, Bay County, Michigan was created in 1857 from parts of Saginaw, Midland and Arnac counties. If your ancestor lived in the place prior to 1857, you'd have to see which of those parent county courthouses may hold records for your ancestor.
It may appear that your ancestor moved around a lot when it comes to looking at US federal census records. However, William Thorndale & William Dollarhide's The Map Guide to US Federal Census 1790-1920 may help you understand otherwise. Each state is represented by a series of maps with the current counties outlined in white, while the counties for a particular census are designated in darker ink. Look at the Amazon.com preview pages of the book to obtain a better understanding of how useful this publication can be.
If you'd like to plot a specific place, using typical map coordinates, Goldbug's software program, ANI-MAP will prove useful to then view how the county jurisdictions have changed, year by year.
Genie Weezles suggesting looking at the Newberry Library Map Collection, with online maps that show the county boundaries at any given date since the county's inception.
To understand more about a county, its parent county and date of creation, the following links may prove useful:
- FamilySearch Wiki (includes the research outlines and much more)
- Ancestry.com Wiki (though in beta, it includes state and county info from Ancestry's Red Book)
Happy family tree climbing!
Your friend in genealogy.