I belong to a lost family.
Back in the days B.C. (before computers) it was easier for this to happen. There wasn’t immediate electronic access to multitudes of records. It took a drive to the courthouse, or a train ride to another state. Lots of letters were sent – sometimes answered, sometimes not. It was much harder to gather and evaluate information.
Under these conditions three big books were written about one of my family lines. Thousands of records were accumulated, recorded and lovingly analyzed, and, even though he was in plain sight, they never found my 3th great-grandfather.
So, here’s my story:
At the end of the year 1836, there were two men named Henry Dacus who lived in Tipton County, Tennessee.
The first Henry was selling off all the property he had purchased in Tipton County in 1831, (the property descriptions match exactly) and was making ready to move. Henry was not a literate man. He signed all of his transactions with an “X”. The papers for the last of his sales were taken to the courthouse early in 1837 by the men I believe to be his father and his brother, Alexander and Lewis Dacus, because Henry had already moved with his family to Hickman County, Kentucky where he died in 1843.
The second Henry purchased his first piece of property in Tipton County toward the end of 1836, signing his name to the agreement, and over the next few years he continued to purchase more property there. His signature was always “Henry A. Dacus.” This Henry died in Tipton County somewhere between 1870 and 1880. Two different people – right?
Imagine you’re a genealogical researcher in 1970 and have made the decision to research your family line. Your family tradition says that your second great grandfather James Alexander Dacus came from Tipton County, Tennessee and moved to Yell County, Arkansas with his new wife when he was 20. (around 1840) You call the library in the closest big town and ask the librarian to look up “Dacus” in the 1830 census index book for Tennessee or drive to the appropriate office of the National Archives and look at Tennessee microfilm.
You find that there are 4 families with that surname in Tipton County in 1830. (One man is named Henry). Only one family is recorded in 1840, but three of the four are there again in 1850 (One is again named Henry). In 1860 Henry is still there. Would it occur to you that you needed to look for Henry in Hickman County, Kentucky as well? I don’t think so.
I happened on this problem after Ancestry had started posting all the censuses on-line. I was looking for my own second great grandfather William Dacus, who showed up in Yell County, Arkansas at the beginning of the Civil War – age 45. (I knew to look there because my grandmother said her mother was born in Dardanelle, AR in 1869 and her grandfather was born in Tipton County, TN @ 1820). Included in William’s family record in the 1870 Yell County census was a Johnnie Dacus, 21, from Kentucky, and, being perennially curious, I decided to check the 1850 and 1860 censuses in Kentucky to see if I could find his family there – I did – on line – no phone calls – no train trips. I located his family in Hickman County, KY and then could back track to find all the other information – William, William’s father Henry (there you are at last!) who died in 1843, court records, all the family names, the works.
I look at those three books and see all the times my family was explained away or puzzled over and set aside because of the lack of access to records. The big problem is that people are still using these books to substantiate their research and I find I still belong to a lost family no matter how many letters I write, or how many times I explain.
Don’t misunderstand me. There’s lots of great material in these volumes. Lots of hard work went into assembling them, BUT we have so much more information available to us now. There are now so many more ways to answer puzzling questions than there were 40 years ago. I guess the message is to rejoice in all the information we now have to work with and take the time and effort to be curious enough to ask the puzzling questions.