Friday, July 26, 2019

Genealogy by Locality Immersion

Whenever I come upon a new chapter in my genealogical pursuits, I try to immerse myself in the place where I'll be researching. To track the paths my Tilson and Davis families took through the generations, that means I'll be spending time acquainting myself with the southwestern frontier of Virginia.

Some states are easy to research—particularly those where the researcher has lived, for instance, or those frequented while visiting a family member over the years. Others, however, present challenges when they are both unknown territories and places where the researcher has little chance to travel. Virginia, for me, is one of those places. I've only set foot in the place once in my life (that I know of), and that was only to make a stop at Arlington National Cemetery on a high school bus tour heading to our nation's capital. Other than that dim memory, I know little about the state of Virginia—except that a lot of my mother's ancestors once claimed Old Dominion as home.

To learn that, say, my Tilson ancestors once lived in Washington County, Virginia, tells me nothing. I have to look it up on a map. And then to learn that, over the decades, Washington County's boundaries were carved and reshaped and the land my ancestors once inhabited might later have fallen under another county's jurisdiction only stymies this Virginia-challenged researcher even further. Thus the need to add historic maps to my arsenal of necessary tools for research.

When I begin researching new territories, not only do I need these sets of maps and other data about the geography, but I rely heavily on learning by wandering around. In other words, I look up the terms I'm curious about—or have already encountered by venturing out in this new research territory—by googling them and following the links.

Not that I don't already have a protocol for reliable resources to provide initial orientation. My go-to sources for first-glance reviews of places like this new territory of Washington County, Virginia, include Wikipedia entries for the cities and county (including previous counties and subsequent new counties formed), Linkpendium overview for the main county and sub-headings, and wiki entries for the same. Of course, I'll also consult Cyndi's List and even the old GenWeb page.

But stretching further by also searching via browsers online helps find the many other resources which don't come up as the first or second choices in a Google search. Some of these discoveries can turn out to be gems, such as this website entry on the cemetery where many related Tilson family members were buried, or this small, privately-created website including data on pioneer families of Washington County.

Of course, I've already worked on this particular stopping place in the saga of the Tilson migration from their New England roots to their early-1800s settlement in Tennessee. But now I need to take a closer look at one specific stop in their journey: their years lived in Washington County—and subsequently Smyth County—in Virginia. In particular, the search now moves to a quest for documentation, whether tax records or church records. The clues I've garnered, thanks to the uniquely-named Saint Clair's Bottom Primitive Baptist Cemetery where several Tilson family members were buried, may indeed provide me a resource for further information on my branch of that family.

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