Sunday, January 16, 2011

My Joshua Tree, Part I

Last week I mentioned my great-great-great grandfather Joshua Perry (1805-1866) & his wife Louvicia Anne Wade Perry (1806-1884).  Joshua is currently one of my “brick walls” in my family history.  I’ll come back to him again and again, so I’ll start with what I’ve found out that leads me back to him and why I can’t get any farther back.

My grandfather was Frank Maxwell Perry (1910-1970).  Though I haven’t yet gotten copies of my parents birth certificates from them (they are still living), I have little doubt of this.  So though I haven’t yet documented this link, it’s a given.  And starting with my grandfather we immediately come up against a problem in researching family history in Georgia.  The state of Georgia did not require birth and death certificates until 1919, and compliance was spotty until at least 1928, and not universal until the 1930’s (Red book: American state, county & town sources by Alice Eichholz;1992, Ancestry Publishing, p 147; link is to Google Books).  There were a few larger cities who required birth and/or death certificates as early as 1880’s, but my Perry clan lived in rural southwest Georgia.  Another great source would be family Bibles with contemporaneously recorded births and deaths, but so far I’ve had no luck locating such volumes.

This leaves me with secondary sources.  My initial guide for the ancestors of my grandfather were family memories of my mother and her cousin, and some family trees put together early in the 20th century by some of their aunts and great-aunts.  Since I can’t document these relationships with primary sources I am forced to rely on secondary sources, census records, marriage records, tombstones and newspaper accounts.  In the case of my Perry family the census records have proved invaluable.  The census is of course not 100% reliable, but when you add the weight of multiple census years to your other sources you can come to some pretty reliable conclusions about lines of descent. 

I can find my grandfather on both the 1930 and 1920 censuses; he was born after the 1910 census was taken.  From these two I can get his siblings’ names (John I Jr, Ruth and William P; Uncle Bill was listed as William T in the 1920 census, but that’s a perfect example of how you must treat information on the census forms as valuable, but in need of verification).  From these two forms I also get confirmation of the fact that my great-grandmother (Lyda) was living in 1920, but that my grandfather had remarried by 1930 (to Lula M).  If I go back one more decade I can find my great-grandparents living together on the 1910 census.  I happen to know that great-grandmother Lyda had in fact died and that my great-grandfather John Isaiah Perry married Lula Mae Mullis.  Proving it becomes interesting.

(Remember, you can click on these images to see a larger one.)

I’ve mentioned before the website Georgia’s Virtual Vault from the Georgia Archives and the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.  In addition to the Confederate Pension records we looked at last week they have digitized copies of most of the surviving marriage books from the State of Georgia through the early 1900’s.  The exact dates covered vary by county, and the quality of the digitized images varies as well.  But it does save a lot of driving (or writing) to obtain copies of the marriage records registered with the county offices.  

 Just click on the Marriage Records from Microfilm link on the left side of the screen.  This brings up the page with an explanation of the sources of the microfilmed books and a search section at the bottom.  These books are not digitally indexed, so the Advanced Search isn’t useful here.  I generally select the county I want to look in and click Search, which brings me to a page listing all the marriage books available for the selected county.  Drawing on family history again, I know that my Lyda Ellen Maxwell (my great-grandmother) was from Decatur County, so that is where I believe she was married.  The problem is that the Decatur County marriage books on the Virtual Vault website end with 1905.  Checking into Mitchell County, I can see marriage books for 1867 through 1928 for White residents (1909-1924 for African American licenses), but though I’ve searched I can’t find a license issued to John I Perry for either marriage in Mitchell County.  So I’ll have to order these licenses or wait until I can go search for them myself.

There are a couple of things to notice here.  First, white and African American (or “colored”) marriage licenses were recorded in separate books in most counties well into the 20th century.  This is another legacy of the Civil War, and evidence of the legal segregation practiced throughout much of society after the War ended.  Second, the microfilms of the marriage books in Mitchell County don’t start until 1867.  One reason could be that the books just weren’t microfilmed when the others were.  Often you can find indexes to these books, and in some cases you can find the microfilms on the Family History Library website and order them through your local Family History Center.  But sometimes the records simply no longer exist.  Every state has counties that have suffered the loss of records because of fire or flood at the county courthouse.  In the South, however, particularly in Georgia, fire is a particularly pervasive cause of the loss of county records.  In a few instances it was the actions of Union troops, but there have been reports and suppositions that some residents of some counties burned the records themselves, figuring that the Yankees couldn’t tax what they didn’t know about!

In Part II of My Joshua Tree, I’ll look at Death Certificates.

Here’s your summary:
  • Georgia’s Virtual Vault is a digital document resource from the Georgia Archives and the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.  In it you can find a number of documents that qualify as primary sources of information.
  • Google Books can be a great resource.  They have digitized many genealogy books, and even if only part of the book is searchable it can save you a trip to a library or a purchase/search if you can check whether the book contains information pertinent to your search.  The also sell digital copies of many books, provide links to purchasing sources, and link to WorldCat to make a library search quick and convenient.
  • There is a compiled list of Georgia courthouse disasters available from a USGenNet page, among other places, Destruction of Georgia Courthouses at  This list is based on information available from the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.
  • I'm not doing a "Genealogy 101" because many other do the introductory teaching so much better.  There are many books, but I've also been enjoying the pod casts from Lisa Louise Cooke, Family History: Genealogy Made Easy.  They are very informative, even if you've been involved in family history for a while.  For internet research tips, I've been reading Genealogy Online, Eighth Edition, by Elizabeth Powell Crowe (2008, McGraw Hill) and can highly recommend it.  I got my copy from the local Barnes & Nobel, but also has it.

Later y’all,



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