by Rocky Macy
A recent letter from a very distant cousin contained a lot of "how to" information for this columnist to use as I dug through the records of Newton County, MO, for our common roots. Although certainly not an expert on research methods, I do have down some of the basics. Buy as I perused my cousin's letter, I began to focus on some tidbits of advice that ought to be of use to any researcher. Please read on...
Our particular research problem is to find the parentage of my great-grandfather, Thomas Franklin NUTT, a concrete mason who spent most of his life in Neosho, Newton County, MO. Tom was born 20 Sep 1870 in Neosho, and died in that same city of 14 May 1958. He is listed on the 1880 census of Newton County as being a grandchild in the household of Henry and Celana (RUTLEDGE) NUTT. But who were his parents?
The first place to check for clues is with the older family members. My grandmother, Tom's daughter, told me many years ago that he said his father and another man had gone out west when Tom was very young, and that the other man had eventually returned alone. The other man reported that Tom's father had been killed by Indians. That is an interesting tale, but us ardent family researchers prefer to drape those tales over facts.
Finding the truth about Thomas Franklin NUTT's parentage will take some tedious digging, a lot of time, and perhaps a good stroke or two of luck as well.
My newly discovered cousin, a resident of Amarillo, TX, is urging me to walk down the street and get to work in our local courthouse. And that's sound advice because courthouses do have many types of records that are of value to family tree researchers. (It gets kind of personal here, too, because Tom Nutt helped to do the cement work on the Newton County Courthouse!)
Most courthouses hold probate records. Usually a researcher can find an index to wills and administrations, and then, with a modicum of luck and a good tailwind, find the actual will itself. Wills often list family members, show relationships, and may even tell such other extraneous facts as where the relatives resided. And, for those wishing to learn more than just names, dates, and places, wills, through their listing of properties, tell quite a bit about the deceased and how he or she lived.
Marriage records are also a good source of genealogy that can be found in courthouses. Usually these are indexed by both bride and groom. A quick tour of the Newton County Courthouse revealed that Thomas Franklin NUTT married Etta Orvilla GRIFFITH on 31 March 1893. But there were no listings that would have been his probable parents.
Unfortunately, people then as now, often choose to marry in a county other than the one in which they resided. The trick then is to find the right county, either through luck or locating a prepared index at a library that might point to the location of the marriage.
Land records, too, are maintained in most courthouses. They are usually indexed by buyer and seller. Those records serve as proof of where individuals were at certain times. After determining location, other records, such as censuses, can then be utilized.
Funeral homes and cemeteries have records that many researchers fail to utilize. One has to be somewhat dubious of family data gathered from these sources because the person making the report may not have known all the specifics that he or she is being asked to detail. Being asked questions at a time when the shock of a death is still impacting a family can also be a factor in the reliability of memory.
And there are libraries, social security records, and a myriad of other places to look. Being a family researcher is very much like being a detective - but instead of peering into keyholes, we are searching for clues to our own personal pasts. It is history with significance...the history of ourselves!