Counties Have Ancestors

Before you go too far in planning your trip, be sure you are headed for the right county. Counties are the political subdivisions of states. Their current boundaries are not necessarily the ones they've always had. New counties were carved out of one or more old ones, or counties were absorbed by adjacent counties. Disputes and/or new surveys redrew the lines between counties. Why should you care? Because the records of your ancestors are in the counties as they were when they lived there.

Some states have forms of government other than counties. Some New England states are organized around towns, rather than counties. In Virginia there are numerous independent cities, completely autonomous from the counties they adjoin. Louisiana counties are called parishes. Read up on the political divisions of the state as you start your research there. Skipping lightly over the preparation can lead to many disappointments, not the least of which is to find you are in the wrong county.

Your ancestor may have spent his entire life on the same piece of land yet have resided in two or more counties due to boundary changes. If you don't know about the parent county, you can miss all the valuable records he left there. To know where to look, you must find the dates the counties were organized and the names of the parent counties.

If you are looking for 1905 records in the present day Wyoming County of Teton, you need to know that the county was formed in 1921 from Lincoln County and the records you want may be in the parent county of Lincoln.

To find parent counties, consult Everton's Handy Book for Genealogists or Ancestry's Redbook. For boundary changes, see William Thorndale and William Dollarhide's Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses, 1790-1920.

While you are zeroing in on the county, also find the county seat; that's usually where the county records are kept.

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