Millions of North Americans have ancestry from the American frontier. The geography I’m speaking of would include; Vermont, Upstate New York, Ohio, western Pennsylvania, western Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and western North Carolina. Other areas could also qualify. The time frame would be the 1770s and as late as the 1830s in some areas.
Families were obtaining, protecting, and working land. Land was life. Disease and conflict were everywhere. There were few if any doctors, ministers, schools, newspapers, and roads. Families settled in clusters for protection. To identify where the cluster was originally from would be to find out where your ancestor was from. This works well in Irish and Scots-Irish research. So always look for the neighbors of your ancestors.
The county officials registered marriages, land deeds, slave sales, probated estates, collected taxes, and held court. All of this generated records. Yet, they cannot be judged by the same standards as “Back East” where society was stable.
The federal censuses may be incomplete, which leaves tax lists as the better record. Land records are also a major source. However, probates and church records are often non-existent, or at least sketchy.
With frontier cases, I head straight for the land and tax records. Everything else hinges off those two. If the federal censuses exist, then that is frosting on the cake! If they don’t, then I build my case on land and tax records.
Be careful and do not believe online pedigrees. Always prove these pedigrees by looking at primary sources. Don’t expect frontier research to be like “Back East.”
Tomorrow I will discuss the unique aspect of frontier religion, and how that affected record keeping.
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