Question: I’ve hit a brick wall with my North Carolina ancestors in the early 1800s. How can I find clues to their parentage?
Identifying relationships can be tricky before modern vital records and censuses that named everyone in the household. Ideally, you’d be able to find a will or other estate document listing your known ancestor as the child of the testator, or deceased. Ancestry has North Carolina wills and probate records, 1665-1998. The Family History Library (FHL) has microfilmed abstracts of many North Carolina wills, and FamilySearch has digitized estate files, 1663-1979.
You also can find clues to familial relationships in land records. These records are less likely to explicitly state two individuals’ parent/child relationship, but they can suggest candidates to investigate. The FHL has microfilmed North Carolina land records, and Ancestry has land grant files, 1693 to 1960. The latter site’s civil action court papers, 1712 to 1970 might offer clues in a similar fashion.
Don’t overlook North Carolina marriage records, which date to colonial days. FamilySearch has two large collections of county marriages, covering 1762 to 1979, and 1759 to 1979, as well as a smaller database of civil marriages from 1763 to 1868. Ancestry has a marriage database, 1741 to 2011. Even if the marriage record doesn’t list the couple’s parents, it might contain clues such as the names of bondsmen, who were often siblings or in-laws. You might get truly lucky and find a bondsman with the same last name as the groom, and listed as a “Jr.” If you can prove the groom and the bondsman are brothers, you then also have the groom’s father.
For more help with your early American ancestors, download our Early American Research Strategies Web Seminar. You’ll learn what records are available and how to find them for Colonial, Revolutionary, and pre-1850s American ancestors. Plus, uncover the secrets to advancing your early American family history research with this 1-hour webinar.