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Q. My great-great-grandfather James W. Crutchfield was born in Orange County, NC, on July 6, 1811. I can’t find his parents or siblings.
A. Consider several questions first. How do you know James W. Crutchfield’s date and place of birth?
- identifying James’s siblings
- identifying his parents
- finding evidence of his second marriage
- A helpful tool in studying any ancestor is a chronological profile of that person’s life. In the case of James, list in chronological order everything you know about him along with the sources that gave you each piece of information. Consider the reliability of each source. Most genealogical problems are solved through the use of original records and records contemporary with the events in the ancestor’s life. Use the list of what you know about James to help you study him further. The known events in his life and the date and place of each are the places in which to look for him in further records.
- Look for James in these places in (a) records he created (such as buying or selling land), (b) records created about him (such as widow’s pension or probate records), and (c) records that mention him in other capacities (such as witness, surety, or neighbor of someone else). Consult references such as Ancestry’s Red Book (now part of Ancestry.com’s free wiki) and Helen Leary’s North Carolina Research (North Carolina Genealogical Society) for ideas about available sources in North Carolina and your specific counties. This kind of search may involve not only reading indexes to records, but also reading page by page through such things as deed, probate, court, and tax records.
- Study James’s children as thoroughly as possible in historical records.
- While reading these records, develop a list of people with whom James associated—children, neighbors, friends, people for whom he witnessed documents, people who witnessed his documents, etc. Many people with whom ancestors interacted were their relatives and in-laws. Developing and studying this list of people may help you identify possible relatives or in-laws. This could lead you to his siblings and/or parents.
- Keep an open mind to all kinds of potential answers. Be open to looking at records in neighboring counties. As you study the records, record the source of every piece of information you accumulate and make note of records that do not give you information. You may or may not find records that say “James W. Crutchfield was son of …” or “brother of …” or “married on xxx date.” You may need to piece together the answers from different records. That’s often the case in genealogy, but it’s the way we learn lots about our ancestors.