So far, working backwards from my grandfather Frank Maxwell Perry (1910-1970) to my great-great-great grandfather Joshua Perry (1805-1866) & his wife Louvicia Anne Wade Perry (1806-1884), I’ve used a combination of census records and death certificates to document the relationship of Frank to his father John I Perry (1878-1956) and his first wife Lyda E [Maxwell] Perry (1890-1922). Only two generations to go until I hit my brick wall.
I have family members’ notes, but I also have John I. Perry’s death certificate, which indicates that his parents were William Preston Perry and Elizabeth Margaret Cutts, and that he was born in Edison, [Calhoun County], Georgia, on 10 October 1878. A quick search of census records in Ancestry.com gives me the census records I need, covering 1900, 1880, 1870. I’m continuing to work backwards from what I know, as is recommended by all the experts. I work on multiple lines simultaneously, which isn’t recommended, though. Remember the 1890 census records were destroyed by fire in 1921.
Looking at the 1900 census, the household includes the following: William P Perry, age 60, born May 1840, wife Elizabeth M, 46, b Jun 1854, son John J [sic], 21, b Oct 1878, daughter Roser L, 19, b Oct 1880, son Jessee [sic] G, 17, b Jun 1883, daughter Annie B, 14, b Dec 1885, daughter Kittie C, 13, b Jun 1887, daughter Betha M, 11, b Feb 1889, and daughter Ella B, 2, b Oct 1897. Additionally, William P and Elizabeth M had been married for 29 years, and Elizabeth had 12 children, 9 of whom were still living.
On the 1880 census the family consisted of W.P. Perry, age 40, wife Elizabeth, 26, son Willie, 11, son Frank A, 7, son Henry, 5, son Charlie, 4, son John, 2, and mother Lovisa, age 74. And on the 1870 census it was William P Perry, 30, Louvisa A, 64, Francis M, 23, and William T, 1.
This could be confusing, but I’m cheating here. I’m trying to verify a family history that says Frank Maxwell’s father was John Isaiah and John Isaiah’s father was William Preston and William Preston’s father was Joshua. Additionally, I know who they married. William Preston is said to have married two sisters, Georgia F. Cutts, who died young, and then her sister Elizabeth Margrette Cutts. But as we discovered last week, there are no death certificates in Calhoun County, Georgia, prior to 1918, and no birth certificates either. I went looking for marriage certificates and ran into a familiar problem: Calhoun County was created from Early County in 1854, and the Calhoun County Courthouse burned down twice, in 1888 and again in 1920. While this usually does not result in a total loss of records, it appears that marriage records were particularly affected in one of these fires, because the first ones I can find for Calhoun County date from 1878.
One source of documentation we haven’t yet looked at is wills. Many types of courthouse records exist beyond the marriage licenses I’ve already become familiar with. Most of those are not yet available on-line, though. So I went to my local Family History Center and ordered a microfilm from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. This is a wonderful resource, and the volunteers are very helpful. I’m not talking here about the standard Family Search, that lets you search for records on an individual, but about the library of county records. Here’s a link to the county records for Calhoun County, Georgia. From here I found the film containing the documents I wanted to review or covering the years I wanted to search, and ordered them through my local Family History Center (soon to be renamed Family Search Centers; you’ll also be able to order and pay for microfilms directly through the Family Search website later this year, and have them shipped to your local Center).
In this case, I had found out about a will for Isabella Cutts that mentioned my great-great grandmother Elizabeth by Googling her name. This led me to a posting on GenForum from Genealogy.com at http://genforum.genealogy.com/ga/calhoun/messages/39.html that consists of will abstracts of Calhoun County wills. One thing to remember about will books is that they are transcriptions by a clerk of the court of the original document, and thus should be treated with caution. However, they are much more reliable generally than an abstraction or a further transcription into print. In this case, the document, as hard as it is to read, says in part “One share to Mary J. Joiner wife of W. B. Joiner to be hers absolutely and one to Elizabeth W. [sic] Perry wife of W. P. Perry to be hers absolutely” and a little further down it’s made clear that Elizabeth is her daughter, “…... one share shall be given as herein before mentioned to my said daughters each to wit One to Amanda One to Mary J and One to Elizabeth.”
One last point in this rather long post. I used the wonderful resources at FindAGrave.com to search for William P. Perry and both of his wives. I found William and Georgia, the first wife, right away, in the Salem Cemetery in Edison, Calhoun County, Georgia. And there were pictures of their tombstones. On Georgia’s tombstone it says, “In Memory of Georgia F. Wife of W. P. Perry, Born Nov,. 10, 1849, Died Oct. 21, 1869”. Secondary and circumstantial evidence, to be sure, but it adds to the weight of the body of evidence. Elizabeth’s tombstone is actually in Sale City, in Mitchell County. I’ll have to follow that thread, and deal with Joshua’s tombstone, in the next installment.
Here’s your summary:
- The Family History Center, the Family History Library and Family Search, a closely related set of resources from LDS, are invaluable. You should find your local Center, and get to know both the individual search and the library search. The volunteers at your local Center will be glad to help you.
- There is a compiled list of Georgia courthouse disasters available from a USGenNet page, among other places, Destruction of Georgia Courthouses at http://www.usgennet.org/usa/region/southeast/gajackson/destchse.html. This list is based on information available from the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.
- Accurate official vital records are pretty much a 20th century invention in Georgia, and enforcement of the requirements was lax until the late 1920’s. Nevertheless, with perseverance many documents that qualify as primary sources can be found.
- Don’t forget to Google your ancestors’ names. Yes, you’ll get a lot of chaff, but if you learn to use Advanced Search, and add keywords and place restrictions, you’ll be surprised at what you can find. Remember, even if you can’t use an index as a primary source it’s still a valuable pointer to the sources themselves.
- FindAGrave.com is an excellent resource online, not only for locating the place of burial, but particularly for obtaining pictures of your dearly departed. It's all done by volunteers, so if you make extensive use of the pictures, please consider volunteering in your own area to take cemetery pictures for others. And always give credit for any pictures you use in your research.