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More Ways to Find Your Ancestor’s Parent 

 Here are five crucial records that you can use to assist in identifying the parent of you ancestor:


Courthouse records


The answer to your genealogical problems could be hidden away among the courthouse records in the area where your ancestor lived. It might be time to take a break from online research to discover what do you have been missing. When you make a trip to the courthouse, you do not want to do it blindly.

You will want to find out as much as you can about what records are available and how they are organized: Visit the online website of the county or parish to see if it provides instructions for researchers or types of records available. Then, contact them to learn more.

Courthouse records provide another alternative to the unavailability of vital records. Some records that can help to identify parental relationships are:


•       naturalization

•       civil and criminal

•       wills and probate


Other records that may provide clues are:


•       land and property

•       guardianship

•       tax


Now, you can find some of these records among the online databases, but I want you to see what I found while researching at the Greenwood County Courthouse in Greenwood, South Carolina.


Using estate records


On this day, I was looking at their probate records between 1895 and 1946.  I was browsing through the index book:




This county was Abbeville County before 1897. I was excited because I had found out they did not move, but now it was Greenwood County. As I browsed through the book, I came across Lewis Johnson:


I first remembered that I had a Lewis Johnson (1865-1909) in my family. He was my great uncle, brother of Lula Johnson Vance. Their parents were Andrew Johnson and Jane Smith Johnson. His wife, Arie Anna Vance Johnson (1865-), was my great aunt. Arie Anna was the child of Beverly Vance and Matilda Dunlap Vance. I loved them because they were all family. I had traced them backwards and forwards. I was not going let one historical record slip by me.

Lewis and Arie Anna were on the Greenwood County, South Carolina 1900 Census:


You can see Arianna, Lewis’ wife. Her name was misspelled. Arie Anna was how she spelled it. I knew Lewis died before 1910. I knew that because he did not show up on the 1910 Census. 

Deaths were not recorded in South Carolina at that time. I decided to look up the Greenwood County Estate Packet 64-6 which was Johnson, Lewis.



When I got out the packet, I saw Mrs. Arie Anna Johnson, and the year filed was 1909. This was the right Lewis Johnson. It meant a lot to me. It was the first time someone had left a will. Do you ever think, "We don't have wills in our family." Well, you should check. I was surprised to see the top of the page. Lewis had made this out in Spartanburg County, South Carolina. That reveals another place for me to look.


Lewis willed that all his funeral expenses and just debts should be paid “with the most convenient speed.” He gave Arie Anna Johnson all his estate and property, real and personal. After his wife’s death, all his property would go to his children. They are: Arie Anna Martin, Charles Samuel, Carrie L., Elizabeth, Walter, Henry, Ulyses, Willie Evenor, and Hattie Johnson. Lewis empowered Arie Anna Johnson. It was witnessed on 10 September 1909.



 I have a lot to go through here with all the contents of the packet. One thing that I took away this day was the fact that casting your eyes upon the historical documentation on your own family feels much different than looking at an image on microfilm or computer screen. 


Granted, not everyone can travel to the places where the records exist, but this is my way of connecting with the people that I never knew in this life - - the people whom I have come to love and feel close to.   My reward is feeling their presence and help.


How finding the will led to a deed


Now, I knew that he had property. I decided to look at deeds. That is another misconception. Meaning, do you ever say, "We don't have deeds." Well, guess what? Property not paid off will be listed under mortgages. So, that is two ways to find your ancestor's parent. After I left the Greenwood County Probate Records Office where I had discovered the will, I visited the Clerk of Court down the hall.  I knew Arie Anna had been named the executor of his estate, so I figured her name would be among the records.

I started with searching the grantor deed indexes for the Johnson family surname. I discovered Arie Anna's name.  The corresponding book (17), page (280), and year (1911) appear on the index.

All the deeds have been digitized, so with the book and page number I went over to the computer where the copies of deeds are stored.  A clerk assisted me with locating the electronic folder.  This is where I learned what happened to Lewis' property:


"Whereas, my husband, Louis Johnson, died on the 1st day of Oct. 1909, leaving a last will and testament which has been duly probated in the Office of the Judge of Probate for G'wood County and whereas, under the said will I have been appointed executive and have qualified as such and...

Whereas one of the provisions of the said will empowers me to sell all real and person property for the purpose of paying debts and there is a mortgage on the said real estate which must be paid, and it is for the best interests of myself and children that the said real estate be sold then." 



About ninety acres were sold for $2730.00 to pay debts.  For me this finding raised more questions and avenues of research:


•       Locate the purchase of this property or mortgage by Lewis.  

•       Determine if Lewis' name is spelled L-o-u-i-s or L-e-w-i-s.  I cannot assume the spelling is L-o-u-i-s from the deed

because his wife's name is spelled wrong on the record.

•       Determine if an estate inventory exists.


At any rate, I am learning so much more about available records in Greenwood County by researching the holdings at the library and the courthouse.  I have found so many more records offline than there are online. 

I hope that everyone who reads this will take ample time to research the records in courthouses, libraries, and archives especially if online records have not enabled you to realize your research objectives.


 Church records


Church records can be helpful if vital records (birth, marriage, death) do not exist. The first thing that you need to know is the nomination of your ancestor. Next, find out how to research your ancestor’s denomination.

Membership records and records documenting marriages, baptisms, confirmations, or burials can help you reconstruct your ancestor’s family. You may even discover ancestors among the records of the clergy, donors, or history of the church.

Some repositories provide online finding aids and genealogy guides. Look for information about church records in the following places in the state or region where your ancestor lived:


•       university archives

•       historical or genealogical societies

•       church archives


Do not assume that your family was always Baptist if you come from a long line of Baptists. If your ancestor migrated to a new area, there might not have been a place to worship. The family may have attended the same church as others in the area even though they have held different beliefs.

While someone who believed her ancestor was Baptist and did not check the records of different denominations, the ancestor was found on the original church records of a different denomination. Unfortunately, there was no other place to meet, and there were no other authorized clergy members in the area.


Local manuscripts


Universities, libraries, and museums collect manuscripts. It is a definite long shot, but these manuscripts may mention a family name or help you learn more about your family, the organizations they were with, or the institutions they attended.

Begin by searching the online catalog of the university library in the area where your ancestor lived. Record types that you may discover include but are not limited to: 


•       journals

•       biographies

•       churches

•       genealogies

•       photographs

•       personal papers

•       business papers

•       organizations

•       schools


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