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As the population increased in the places your ancestors settled, counties were often subdivided, renamed and rearranged—potentially wreaking havoc with your knowledge of where to look for records.
Records generally stayed in the county where they were created. Let’s say your ancestor’s land purchase in Washington County is registered at the courthouse in the county seat of Springfield. Two years later, Washington County is carved up into three smaller counties. Your ancestor’s new county is Jefferson County, with Pleasantville as the county seat. The deed for his land purchase will remain in the courthouse in Springfield. If he sells the land, though, the transaction will be recorded in Pleasantville.
That’s why it’s important to know the history of county boundaries when researching early settlers. Before you launch a record search, find out what county or other entity had jurisdiction at the time the record was created. For easy reference, make a timeline of boundary changes affecting your ancestor’s place of residence during his lifetime, noting county names and county seats. Refer to the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries, Randy Majors’ Historical US County Boundary Maps tool, and state and local histories.
From the July/August 2013 Family Tree Magazine