In the pre-1866 period in Hampshire county, there are no usable,
extant records. This means the direct approach is unworkable.
If you are not fortunate enough to stumble across another
researcher working your family with family papers to fill the
gaps, you must do serious in-depth research.
This type of research is often referred to as "Saturation
Research." In doing saturation research one does *exactly* what
the name implies: one saturates oneself in the records of the
This is always time-consuming, always produces eye-strain and
backaches and headaches, always turns up some tidbits of trivia,
and sometimes pays off royally.
Let's say I'm searching for the parents of one Mary Elizabeth
Carlile, born 1856 died 1900. This birthdate is before
Hampshire's records become legible (the 1853-55 records exist,
but are simply not legible on microfilm and are nearly as bad in
the originals). The death date falls within the legible, extant
records, but for the year of her death the record did not ask the
names of her parents.
I gather up all known documents which refer to her. These are :
her marriage certificate, the 1880 census, her gravestone, a
cemetery readings book, a letter from her youngest son, and notes
from an interview with her second daughter's oldest daughter.
These documents share a lack of information on her parents.
Do an inventory of all records which exist in the county for the
time period from 5 years before her birth to 10 years after her
death. Consult the WPA inventories, the county clerk's office,
the state archives, the state University, and the LDS' FHLC.
Combine these lists into one inventory.
Prioritize these records. I prefer to move from least to most,
so I read the smaller record groups first. Others make judgments
about which record groups are MOST likely to have the information
sought and read those first. You may prefer to simply
alphabetize them with County Court Minutes coming before District
Court Docket, and both before Tax records which are before Wills.
Begin reading these records according to your own priority list,
noting on your list whether you found a lead and the date of
finishing the record group. Then move on to the next item, until
you either find Mary Elizabeth's parents, you go blind, or you
run out of records.
Many who do this kind of research make copious cross-referencing
notes on 3x5 cards; some simply key each record into a document,
index the document, print it off and publish it.
Whichever method you prefer, it is VITAL that you keep lists
of names; this method repays you best when you find the link by
collateral names. (In other words, in Mary Elizabeth's case, I
am more likely to find her in a GARRETT document than in CARLILE
document, and more likely in Frederick co VA than in Hampshire co
WV, because the suspected mother was married to a Garrett in
Frederick county around the time of her projected birth.)
Switch your focus to a neighboring county and Repeat from Step 2
NOTE that this can take decades, involves mountains of tedious
documents, with poor handwriting, bad microfilming, obscure
phrasing, and ad hoc spelling. Note too that few if any
professional genealogists will undertake such a project for you,
but if they do, expect to pay at least $25 an hour.
A Partial Inventory for Hampshire County
- Sage & Jones, Early Records...
- Minutes of the County Court (County Commission)
- County Court Dockets and Records
- District Court Dockets and Records
- Probates, wills, inventories, and estate settlements
- Real Property records (deeds, plat maps, etc)
- Personal Property Tax records
- Real Property Tax records
- Business records
- Contemporaneous newspapers
- Congregational and clergy records of ALL churches
- Club and/or association records (Elks, VFW, etc)
This sounds like a short list, but ... One newspaper of the four
that serve her area covers 18 reels of microfilm. A second
newspaper provides an additional 6 reels.
What am I looking for in these records?
You're looking for a clue. Very similar to finding a gold needle
in a haystack. Or, similar to the old math problem: Your fact is one of an unknown number of kinds of data which contain an
unknown number of facts hidden in an unknown number of drawers --
how many facts must you read to find a match?
Collateral relatives often appear in funeral writeups where the
names of those attending are listed. A man you never heard of
may have left his granddaughter Mary Elizabeth a spoon or his
love. Mary Elizabeth is named in a lawsuit, among the heirs of
someone or the next, Dec'd, who are suing the trustee or
You know her maiden name, you know her husband, you know where
they lived after their marriage and who were their neighbors on
the 1880 census. You are now hunting for something where she,
her husband, or a child is mentioned as being related to some
Sometimes, what you think is a needle turns out to be a pin, or
worse, a petrified straw.
Why not hire this done?
First reason, few professionals will agree to do it.
The second one is, no one knows as much about your family as you
and your family know. To demonstrate this, ask one of your
family, preferably one who does not do genealogy, to make a list
of all his or her family members. Now ask another relative to
make a similar list. And finally, YOU make a list of all the
"family" of both of those relatives. Notice the differences --
these are the things that someone doing saturation research needs
Consider, if you will, Great-Grand-Aunt Tillie. Tillie
was born a Blueknows; she's married to Butch Rowlph. But what
about her first marriage to Bill Baily, which lasted 5 years,
until he died in the Great War? Granted they had no children,
but the year before Bill was killed, his maternal grandmother
died and left Bill and Tillie something valuable for their oldest
daughter. And grandma pointedly mentioned Tillie's father,
No one knows as much about your family as you do. YOU might pick
up that Charles V. has been a family name for 3 centuries, and
when the name shows up on another family surname, YOU would
pursue it -- but would you remember to tell another researcher to
watch for it? And if you did, would the other researcher
remember it as he/she was reading along?
is neither easy nor fast. At best it is lengthy, time-
consuming, back-breaking task. At worst, it is all that and
Is Often a Necessary Evil.
/OR/ use your browser's BACK button to return.
© 1998, 2000 Cheryl Singhal