Monday, September 25, 2017

Grinding Genealogical Research to a Halt

When observing the progress of genealogical research begins to take on the same aspect as watching the making of sausage, it may be time to move on to a more appetizing topic—at least one with the promise of a more interesting story line. Before that point, however, I will add one more post to outline some markers so I can find my way through this research maze again, once I can travel to a repository with useful material.

An idea occurred to me, while puzzling over my William Tilson, the young man who took a wife in colonial Massachusetts and thought it was a good idea to immediately forsake family and friends and move to the wilderness of southwest Virginia. That idea was that it might be useful to go about building an inventory of what could be found online, concerning colonial land grants subsequent to the French and Indian War but preceding the American war of independence.

A technique I've always found useful, at least for online searches on the usual genealogical websites, is to skip the front-door entryway where the dialog box asks for input of the name you're seeking. Instead, look for the map representing the countries of the holdings in that organization's repositories, and click through to the location in question.

In this case, since I'm researching land grants in colonial Virginia, I checked first to see whether these records would show under the entry for what is now the state of Virginia, or whether they'd be under the former governmental entity (which in that case would be Great Britain). For both and, the two organizations where I looked, records were available for Virginia, the state, predating the American Revolution.

Looking at the online holdings at for Virginia, I did see land and probate records predating 1776. The collections on their list, however, were small, and nothing showed up for my Tilson question.

Same for the Virginia records at FamilySearch, though the number of collections with any records predating 1776 was less than that at Ancestry.

Not to be deterred with this disappointing start to my survey, I moved on to the Wiki tab at FamilySearch, where I asked for any records involving land grants linked to the French and Indian War and the colony of Virginia. The wikis at FamilySearch can be a useful resource for those just learning how to research a specific genealogical topic—as I am here, wandering around the colonial wilderness in southwest Virginia, far from those research topics of warm-fuzzy familiarity—but some entries may be more thorough than others.

I checked the wiki on Virginia Land and Property, which provided some background information and several links to resources at Ancestry, plus a list of Family History Library microfilms. Since I'll be in Salt Lake City for the Institute of Genealogy next January, this will become part of my to-do list for research at the library then.

In a very substantial listing at the wiki for Virginia Military Records, I found a brief section on the specific time period involving my William Tilson. It mostly contains a bibliography, but even the few references listed there may come in handy, so I'll note them, as well.

Since I also need to get up to speed on what repositories there are for Virginia records, I also checked out the wikis on the Library of Virginia and the various other archives in Virginia. May as well know more about who the main players are in this research game.

Though I thought this should be my last post on the Tilsons in Virginia—at least, until I find something more substantial to report—it turns out I have one more observation to make. With that—which I'll save for tomorrow—we'll proceed to another aspect about my Virginia ancestors who moved on to brighter futures in 1800s Tennessee.


Above: Example of the search page after having highlighted the region on the map identified for further research. Inset labeled "Virginia" pops up, once the country (or region) has been clicked and the specific location selected. Then, clicking on "Start researching in Virginia" leads to first a list of the top few collections for that jurisdiction, then can expand to show all the holdings for that location.  


  1. Since the records you are searching for happened (if at all) before Virginia existed, and it was all Great Britain ... have you thought of looking on the TNA website ? Their records (for anything, pretty much) go back 100s of years - before America was discovered even.

    1. You bring up a valid point: records are often held by the governmental entity responsible for the gathering of those records in the first place. And for colonial Virginia, that would be Great Britain, alright!

      Thanks for the website link, which I'll definitely consult. Fortunately, though, it appears there are resources here in the States to access those colonial records, as well, so the research strategy will likely become a two-pronged approach.


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