Wagon Wheel graphic - by Linda Nims             As the Wagon Wheel
Turns to Genealogy

by Lowell G. Childress,
President, WCH&G Society

History, Geography & Maps


When all else fails go to History. Some of the best sources are encyclopedias, almanacs, atlases, and diaries, telephone books, city directories and biographies. All too often we overlook the fact that many others are mentioned with dates in biographies. Just hope they are indexed.

In history we find that the Dutch and Polish founded the first factories for the burning of potash about 1620 in the United States. If your family is Italian and was Virginia pioneers, look for books on the art of glassmaking. A history of silk would show you that French artisans were attracted to the New World early because of the mulberry trees.

History of transportation should not be overlooked. There are excellent books on railroads, automobiles, canals, whaling, ships, and the making of sturdy wagons of all kinds.

Other records of great importance are the files of students going through our educational systems. The importance of keeping records not only of students, grades and teachers but also of those concerned people who served on school boards and stoked the fire for the schoolteacher was early recognized.

Another place that you can look are penal institutions and mental hospitals that have fairly good records.

In your looking you can find many secrets - the lure of gold and silver that brought not only gamblers and opportunists but also poets and shopkeepers. Gamblers and ladies of the evening were also parents and in the roaring histories of this period many names are mentioned. The more secure we become, the more we enjoy a racy ancestor. Some people are really hurt if they cannot find a pirate in their family history.

It was in the mid-1700's before coal replaced wood for heating homes and factories. If you think your ancestors were miners, look for mines in history.

Never overlook the fur trader - he was very important to Europe. Beaver was used for hats. Deer skins were important, the buckskins are still used today by the ceremonial cavalry. Early colonists' clothes were of deerskin. If you think that your progenitor could have been active in the fur trade, do not overlook the term "peltry" trade.

The French adopted the ways of the Indians more freely that the Dutch or English. Many French traders took Indian wives. If your family settled early between the 38th and 41st parallel in Virginia, look to any publication that mentions the London Company. The London Company was established in 1606 and was out of business in 1624. It is called the "parent of Virginia." If you think your family came north of the 38th but south of the 45th parallel, check everything that tells about the Plymouth Company. It was 1635 before it was "only a breathless carcass."

Keep in mind that only men came in 1607, and by 1624 there were 7,000 people in Virginia. A good reference for those days is "Adventures of Purse and Person" by Annie Lash Jester and Martha Woodruff Hiden. In 1619, the first young maidens came from England.

In 1620 the English Calvinists in Holland, after harsh toil sailed for Plymouth. There were 102, but half of them died from cold and scurvy. They landed in Massachusetts.

In 1624 the Dutch fur traders came to Manhattan Island and by 1625 only about 1/7th of them survived.

Before the end of June 1620, a group of 400 Puritans arrived, landing at Salem. By 1630, there were 900 settled at Salem.

The first English Catholics arrived and they were all gentlemen; this date was 1634. Church records may be your only clue so do not overlook this very important source.

From the years between 1628 and 1640, we find 20,000 of the sturdiest people of England arriving. There were 1200 ship landings and remember the Puritans did not come as individuals but whole communities.

In 1642, a civil war in England stopped the Puritan migrations, but now the Cavaliers are in danger so they arrive and most of them settle in Virginia. They brought with them the first wealth to that area. Their friend, King Charles was beheaded in 1649, so they brought their money and became large landowners in Virginia. Up to this time Virginia was a poor state.

In 1681 we have William Penn coming with his Quaker principles, along with people from Holland and Sweden. I mention some of these dates because ship records may be your only link to the old country.

Mr. Oglethoorpe of Georgia, either to save his skin or kindness of his heart established an area for debtors to have in the new country, which was between him and the Spanish in Florida.

If you know the mother country of your ancestors this might help you a little. In 1683, Germans came from Crefeld to William Penn's domain. In 1700, we find many Germans in the Mohawk valley in New York, New Brunswick, New Jersey, and most of them in Pennsylvania....before the Revolution. Ben Franklin said that at least one third of the people in Pennsylvania were from Germany. In 1739, the first German newspaper was published in Germantown. Look in the records of the Lutherans, Moravians, Mennonites, and United Brethren. In the National Geographic (Dec. 1970), the Moravians buried their dead, not by families, but by choirs, sex, age, and marital status.


When you look at Geography as a source of information, remember that the French came only in small numbers and you will not find them looking for gold or silver. Look to the water because they were fishermen and great fur traders. They usually adopted the Indian ways and lived with them without conflict. Keep in mind that it was 1718 when the French started coming to New Orleans.

The Spanish did come early to the New World, but they had several abortive adventures prior to landing in Florida. The first settlement was in 1565 in St. Augustine.

Before the revolution came the Scotch-Irish, they were very aggressive and more Scotch than Irish. Most of them were Presbyterians and many of them went to New Hampshire, Ulster and Orange Counties in New York. Many went to Pennsylvania and valleys in Virginia, the Carolinas into Georgia and Kentucky before the English said they could cross the big mountains and go west.

As late as 1759, Bostonians considered that one whose grandfather had been a laboring man was not fit to hold public office. If you owned a horse and wanted to match it against that owned by a gentleman, you could not do so out of your own class. All these historical facts serve as clues in your search.

Some early settlers came because their landlords sent them. They were without surnames, so they were given names of their native villages.

Remember that the early buffalo and Indian trails should be studied, since these were the paths for migrations. Waterways were not used as much as some think, since portage was always a grave problem.


For your first study in Maps, you can go to the National Geographic. They have old as well as new maps.

The Army Map Service, Washington, D.C. has "Corps of Engineers" maps with the scale of 1:250,000. These are named by the largest city in the area.

The next map you should examine is a standard quadrangle U.S. Dept. of Interior Geological Survey Map with a scale of 1:63,360, which means one-inch equals one mile. These can be ordered from Geological Survey, Federal Center at Denver, Colorado 80225 or from the U.S. Geological Survey, Washington, D.C. These maps even show houses, schools, churches, small roads and creeks. If you are looking for an old cemetery, please buy one of these maps before going into the area.

Another reference aid is: Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses, 1790-1920 available from Dollarhide Systems, Box 5282, Bellingham, WA 98227. These maps have created a highly accurate set showing census boundaries and modern county lines. While these maps will be used most often to gain a general sense of where county boundaries were positioned each census year, they can also help identify "gores" where the change in boundary lines resulted in a no-man's land. Sometimes the census entries for gores will be found recorded in one county, sometimes in an adjoining one, and sometimes records will be taken separately. Where the census is indexed on a statewide basis this will not create a major search difficulty, as the index will show where the family is recorded.

Lowell Gene Childress
Webster County Historical & Genealogical Society

Webster County Historical and Genealogical Society
Lowell G. Childress , President
P.O. Box 215
Dixon, Kentucky 42409-0215

Wagon Wheel graphic created by Linda Nims, expressly for WCH&GS

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