by Diane L. Richard | Jul 12, 2012
What if you only know "born North Carolina" from the Census? Is it possible to figure out where in North Carolina? This is one of the frequent questions that I am asked in my role as a professional genealogist. Feel free though to substitute any other state into the question. With the 1850 census as the first census that provided the names of all of those in a household as well as age and birthplace, this is often the first clue to where ones ancestors were born and often it's NOT where they are found living!
Given that most state records are organized and often retained on a county level, it is often not feasible, as in North Carolina, to search through the records of all 100 counties to find someone.
Does this mean that it's hopeless to try to learn "where" in North Carolina someone came from? No! Though, it will take perseverance and you might have to "rely" on some serendipity to be successful in such an endeavor.
First, let's talk about what our "general" research game plan might be to solve this particular issue. Then we'll look at an example of a "success!"
Now, let's look at an example of where we successfully learned "where" in North Carolina someone's family came from. Recognize that only a "few" highlights are shared here. Much, much more research than is reported here was performed!
Provided information for Marshall James (possibly born c1809 North Carolina)
The research objective: Trace paternal James line to North Carolina and other locations if possible in the years prior to 1840.
Below is an edited version of the research sequence. The first focus was for "low hanging fruit" followed by delving into the harder-to-research and/or harder-to-access records ...
Fill in the gaps in the census records. The 1850 census shows Marshall James in Fayette County, Alabama with a wife Mary. This census shows that all of the family was born in North Carolina though this conflicts with the 1860 census where the parents are listed as North Carolina-born and the younger children (John and Selena) are listed as Alabama-born.
Military Records were looked into.
Looked at other North Carolina-born individuals living in Fayette County, Alabama in 1850 and discovered that there were quite a few!
Essentially, at this juncture, there was nothing found to link Marshall James back to a specific location in North Carolina, nor to link his North Carolina-born neighbors to him (besides the coincidence of birth state).
Next up - the in-laws! It was suggested that Marshall's wife was the daughter of Hardaway (aka Hardy) Harton. Though we found no "direct" connection in Alabama records between the James and Harton families, we decided to "pull that thread" further by just focusing on Hardy Harton and family as "if" he was Marshall's father-in-law. What did we learn?
It's clear that the purported in-laws, the Hartons, lived in Anson County, North Carolina through the death of the Hardy Harton in 1838 and then migrated to Fayette County, Alabama where the family already had land.
With this information, it made sense to look into the records of Anson County for the James family. Do recognize that Anson is a "burnt" county and though the record losses challenged us, they did not defeat us.
These, other land entries (see grantee index with notes below), and other records tell us that there is a Marshall James found in the records of Anson County, that he witnessed deeds by the Harton family and that both he and the Harton family seemed to "sell off" their Anson county land holdings c. 1838/1839.
Combining the above information with other extant Anson County records, the timing of "when" Marshall shows up in Alabama, his wife being named Mary, that the will of Hardy Harton (probated in both Anson, North Carolina & Tuscaloosa, Alabama) mentions a daughter Mary James, that the surviving Harton family members all move to Fayette County, Alabama by 1840, etc, provide strong evidence that "the" Marshall James found in Anson County, North Carolina is one and the same as the Marshall James found in Fayette County. Not an airtight case and a strong one.
The James family was then pursued in the records of Anson and a successor county, Union, and there is again strong evidence, though no proof, that the father of Marshall James is Reuben Henry James, his mother was Delila and he had siblings Jordan, James L., John L., Selina and Julia. More research is needed to "cement" these connections and then see if we can prove that Henry James "is" Reuben's father.
Research into Marshall James in Alabama was less than fruitful when it came to "connecting" him to any family or close associates and neighbors. Pursuing his in-laws ended up being the "key" to placing him back in North Carolina, in Anson County.
This illustrates that it is possible to research an "unknown birth place" by using what information you have, filling in all possible details on your target person/family in the time period when found and when they could have migrated, and examining the details of other individuals living in the "neighborhood" and born in a comparable time period in the same place. In this case, it was the in-laws which provided the information needed to get back to North Carolina. Of course, now we are faced with the records of a burnt "North Carolina" county and creating a watertight case and there is still the satisfaction of successfully identifying "where in North Carolina" the James family appears to have moved from!
Though researching an ancestor "born in xx" and found elsewhere can be challenging - it is do-able. And, remember, it will probably take equal measures of perseverance and serendipity!
Start your free trial today to learn more about your ancestors using our powerful and intuitive search. Cancel any time, no strings attached.