Expert answers on Pennsylvania genealogy.
Q. According to his Civil War records, my great-grandfather was born in 1824 in Fayette, Pa., but I can’t find his family. What records could help me?
A. First, ascertain what place the Civil War papers reference: More than likely, the location is Fayette City, a Fayette County borough. But the papers could be referring to the county (which also has a hamlet named Fayette Springs), and there are three Fayettevilles, in the counties of Allegheny, Franklin and Lawrence.
Because Pennsylvania had no civil vital records in this era, you need alternative strategies to find a birth record. Check the 1830 census and look for families with the same or phonetically similar surnames (especially if the family was of German descent—spelling variations may be extreme). Remember that this was still a “stroke mark” census—your ancestor should be in the category of “five and under 10” years, not listed by name.
If this search helps narrow the possibilities—or if “Fayette” remains the only clue—the next step is to look for baptisms in church and pastoral records, many of which have been abstracted or even published. The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Pennsylvania Department is the leading western Pennsylvania library. You can access helpful information and its card catalog online
If you can’t identify abstracted or published records, you might have to dig for records at individual churches. You can try county histories—such as Franklin Ellis’ 1882 work, History of Fayette County, Pennsylvania,
available at the University of Pittsburgh Library
. The Fayette County Genealogy Project
also has lots of information.
From the November 2009 Family Tree Magazine