Digging deeper with Census Records: Part 4

Recognising family groups

As mentioned previously ( Post: What’s in a maiden name), marriage records are important for a number of reasons. Two invaluable pieces of information marriage records provide are 1) the maiden name of the bride; and 2) in most cases, the maiden name of the bride’s mother.

Maiden names allow you to build a bigger picture of your family’s history. In my family’s case, certain names occur with consistency. Taking the Roanes for example, the family name of Hill, Carpenter, Byrd (or Bird), Richardson, Broaddus, Waring, Johnson, Holmes, Baylor, Braxton and Green occur over and over again, generation after generation in any number of combinations. Again, it’s worth bearing in mind that these were members of rural communities, an important genealogy and family research factor I mentioned in the first post in this series.

Roane cousins from different branches of the male Roane lines married. That’s one of the easiest ways to spot marriage between cousins. What’s more subtle and more challenging to spot is kinship through a family’s female lines. In my case,  by discovering women’s maiden names – and the surnames of their mothers – I’ve been able to recognising recurring last names…and establish degrees of kinship amongst cousins who married from different family branches.  The names listed in the above paragraph appear frequently.

Here’s a fictitious example: Nancy Roane marries Joe Richardson.

  • Nancy’s parents are Samuel Roane and Betty Broaddus
  • Joe’s parents are Charles Richardson and Nannie Green

Now, looking at both their parents:

  • Samuel Roane’s parents are Edward Roane and Annie Green
  • Betty Broaddus’s parents are Alan Broaddus and Sophie Richardson (Joe Richardson’s aunt)
  • Charles Richardson’s parents are Lawrence Richardson and Lena Roane (Samuel Roane’s great-aunt)
  • Nannie Green’s parents are Ollie Green (second cousin to Annie Green, Samuel Roane’s mother) and Kate Holmes

This is an extreme example. However, what this boils down to is Nancy and Joe are cousins. Charles Richardson (Joe’s father) and Samuel Roane (Nancy’s father) are also cousins. Stretch this example a few generations back and the same surnames criss-cross through time – different lines of a family coming together in marriage.

I’ve spent a great deal of time tracking down marriage records for my family tree. And whether it’s my Roane, Sheffey, Turner, Mathews/Mathis, Harling or Josey ancestors, I’ve noted the intricate patterns of their extended families. So when I scan a county’s census record I slow down – without even thinking about it – as soon as I begin to see associated names to the family I’m researching. It’s like Pavlovian conditioning.

If I’m researching my Roane ancestors, as soon as I see the names Hill, Carpenter, Green, etc I slow my scrolling down to a dead crawl. And usually a relevant Roane family group soon appears.

The same holds true for the Sheffeys: when I start seeing surnames like Byrd, Richardson, Hill, Ward and Johnson, my scrolling grinds to a snail’s pace and usually a relevant family group appears. With the Joseys it’s name like Padgett, Smallwood, Calvert and Barbee. With the Harlings, it’s names like Matthews/Mathis, Peterson and Fuller. These names are red flags that tell me to slow my scanning speed down.

And these tend to be families that live quite near to one another and subsequently appear together in census returns decade after decade after decade (until the 1920s when family groups began to move elsewhere within the US). This is where knowing maiden names pays off. The family living next door to your (rural) ancestors weren’t just neighbours…they were more than likely kin; especially if they remain living to one another through the 19th Century.

Keeping with the Roanes, have a look at the two census returns below. The first is Essex County, VA in 1870, the second is Newtown, King & Queen County, VA in the same year. Keep in mind the surnames Hill, Carpenter, Byrd (or Bird), Richardson, Broaddus, Waring, Holmes, Baylor, Braxton and Green. How many appear in both? And how close do they live to the Roanes?

That’s digging just beneath the surface in terms of scanning census records.

That’s it from me until just after Christmas.  So to new-found family and followers of the blog…my best wishes for a very happy holiday.

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