Married in 1820, by Michael John Neill

The problem was simple–”My ancestors were married in Kentucky in 1820 and I have no idea how to find their parents.” Unfortunately, there was no straightforward answer. Pre-1850 research in states that were not recording births and deaths can be challenging, particularly if the area was still a “frontier.” This week we look at some suggestions for one researcher dealing with a couple who married in 1820.

Learn
Knowledge of local records is helpful. If you are unaware of the types of records kept in Kentucky in the early nineteenth century, read the appropriate chapter of Red Book or the Kentucky Research Outline from the Family History Library. Even if you have researched in this state for a while, a review of the materials may help you notice a source that has been overlooked. It is also advisable to see if genealogical periodicals have published articles on similar families.

The Census
Try to locate the couple in every census from 1820 until their deaths. Depending upon the exact date of the marriage, the couple might have been living with their parents as single children at the time of the 1820 census, or in their own household. Look for households bearing that surname (or the wife’s maiden name) that include a male and female of the correct age. Even if they were married before the census date, they could have easily been living with one set of parents on the enumeration date.

In later censuses, it’s possible that you’ll find that a parent moved in with them, although in enumerations before 1880 those relationships will not be stated. In census records before 1850, the appearance of an “older” male or female may suggest Grandpa or Grandma has moved in.

In every enumeration that you locate the married couple, look several pages before and after the entry for an older couple with the same surname as the husband or the maiden name of the wife. Of course, these individuals may also be uncles, aunts, cousins, or totally unrelated people, but you’ll want to cover all bases.

Online Family Trees
Consider performing searches on WorldConnect, FamilySearch, and the Public Member Trees at Ancestry. Bear in mind that these compilations are secondary sources and should be validated and confirmed with other records, so do not simply copy information from these trees into your own family file. However, they may give you clues and you may find names or e-mail addresses of other researchers who have more information.

Tax Records
The census taker might occasionally miss people, but chances are the tax man will catch up with them. Look at tax lists in the county (and in collar counties) for two or three years before and after the marriage. Ferret out names of potential fathers of the couple. Many tax lists for the 1820s era have been microfilmed and are available at the Family History Library, and through it, at a local Family History Center. It may also be possible to obtain them through interlibrary loan. Some have even been transcribed and placed on the Web.

Pay particularly close attention to arrangement of the names. If the names appear to be alphabetical, clues as to the neighborhood will be lost. Otherwise, people whose names are near each other in the records are likely living within close proximity to each other. Once you locate name in a published or transcribed record, look for copies of the original, which will most likely be in microfilm format.

Court and Land Records
Records of court actions involving your ancestor may mention other family members, particularly if that court action involved the settlement of an estate. Court, land, and probate records should be searched for the potential parents. In some cases, this may be an extensive search (especially in cases where you are searching for a Smith who married a Brown). The search should start with probate records and continue to other court and land records. These records are generally county records and “Red Book” can provide more information.

Researchers should determine if any of these records have been published. One place to begin searching for printed local records (such as probate, court, and land records) is by searching WorldCat.

Did You Get All of the Marriage Records?
Marriage records in Kentucky in 1820 may also include marriage bonds in addition to a reference in the marriage register. These bonds would have likely been signed by a family member (or at the very least someone who knew the bride or groom well enough to know that there was no legal impediment to marriage). Unfortunately, not all locations will have marriage bonds and not all of the places that required them will still have extant copies.

There’s More?
There are other sources that might answer this 1820s question, but these are some good first steps. It really boils down to learning about the extant records in the area of research and finding out names of contemporaries of the couple who are old enough to be their parents. The next step is to exhaustively search available records in an attempt to determine which contemporaries are the likely parents. We have scratched the surface here in an attempt to get the researcher started. But just scratching the surface has the drawback that the itch to know the answer may not be cured.

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Michael John Neill is a genealogical writer and speaker who has been researching his or his children’s genealogy for more than twenty years. A math instructor in his “other life,” Michael taught at the former Genealogical Institute of Mid-America and has served on the FGS Board. He also lectures on a variety of genealogical topics and gives seminars across the country. He maintains a personal website
at:
http://www.rootdig.com

5 thoughts on “Married in 1820, by Michael John Neill

  1. I’ve been amazed at the amount of information I’ve been able to find in published family histories.

    Some of those published in the late 1800s led me to information I would never have found otherwise, especially since I am dealing with a burned courthouse in the area I need to search.

    Land records let me know which last name to search for, and a published history of that family filled me in on everything else.

    In one case, the sister I was researching married a Horton. It turned out that she had another sister who married the Horton fellow’s brother. I would never have known about this sister if I hadn’t found the Horton genealogy.

  2. Reading this article has re-motivated me to keep trying to find the parents of George Bennett. He married in 1799 in Virginia, was born in 1769 in Pennsylvania.I found his name on a tax record and also the name in a listing of Virginia’s militia–just bare bones info. He had apprenticed as a blacksmith (family lore) and no land records were found. Due to the scarcity of records of this early date and not being allowed to access some fragile volumes in Frederick County,VA, I fear I may have reached a dead end. Still reading this article has encouraged me to re-examine what I have found and see if some new idea may occur to me, despite that I have made this search, on and off, for some 20 years.

  3. A TIP FOR FINDING BAPTISM RECORDS, ESPECIALLY IF NO BIRTH RECORD IS AVAILABLE, AND MARRIAGE RECORDS. I KNEW THE COUNTY, STATE, AND RELIGION. I GOOGLED LUTHERAN CHURCHES,CHESTER CO. PA 1750. THE DATE LIMITED THE POSSIBILITIES. I PULLED UP THEIR WEBSITES. I CALLED ONE CHURCH AND THE SECRETARY LOOKED UP AN ABSTRACT OF THE BAPTISM RECORDS, AND YES, THE NAME WAS THERE. SHE CALLED BACK A FEW DAYS LATER AND READ THE RECORD TO ME! SHE SENT ME A COPY OF IT. NO MARRIAGE RECORDS WERE AVAILABLE.

    I CALLED ANOTHER CHURCH FOR THE MARRIAGE RECORD AND WAS TOLD THAT THEY WERE AT THE LUTHERAN SEMINARY IN PHILADELPHIA. I CALLED THERE AND WAS READ THE RECORD. DID I WANT A COPY OF THE COPY OR OF THE ORIGINAL? THE ORIGINAL, OF COURSE! IN THE SPACE
    OF 30 MINUTES I HAD THE NAMES AND PROOF OF PARENTAGE! AND IN A WEEK I HAD THE PROOF IN HAND! (THE SEMINARY RECORD COST $25)

    I ALSO LEARNED THAT ONE OF THE LUTHERAN CHURCHES THAT I CALLED,
    ALONG WITH A NEARBY BRETHREN CONGREGATION, HAD BUILT AND SHARED
    A CHURCH BUILDING AND PROPERTY FROM THE MID 17TH CENTURY UNTIL THE LATE 20 CENTURY. EACH HAD KEPT ITS OWN RECORDS. I ALSO LEARNED THAT IT WAS COMMON PRACTICE FOR SMALL CONGREGATIONS TO DO THIS.

  4. I am excited to see this. I have two ‘brick walls’ from Kentucky and though I have researched everything I can think of for twenty-five years, I have been unable to find parents for either. Thanks ever so much. This may give me just the tips I need.

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