Genealogy Research in the Colonial Period

The eighteenth century, or as it is commonly known the Colonial period of history in America, is one of the harder time periods to research. This is primarily due to the fact that there are so few records that are available to most researchers. These records for most of us are confined to the eastern seaboard of the country. This is where the English made their biggest impact in colonization. However, the fact remains that many of us are not English in background; therefore, we find little information that fits our heritage.

For most of us who research, the English records are most easily found in the various court records of each county, or at least after the counties were formed. Like in Virginia there were Shires prior to the county formations. We tend to forget that the English were not the only people in the colonies at the time. The French were in what is now called Canada and down the Mississippi River all the way down to New Orleans. Then there were the Spanish in Florida and all across the south tier of states that border the Gulf of Mexico. The Spanish were all over the lower western states along the Rio Grande River as well. These latter two sets of records are much harder to locate and to have them translated into English. Many of the French records will go back to the first part of this Colonial period and the Spanish much earlier than the French.

There is one source often overlooked by many researchers and this is the “Draper Collection”. This collection of records covers most of the latter period in the eighteenth century and primarily in the southern states. The records were collected by Lyman C. Draper just after the beginning of the nineteenth century. This collection primarily covers the period from the French and Indian War up to the time of the War of 1812, or roughly 1755-1815. Draper was most interested in the Trans-Allegheny West area of the country which included western Carolinas and Virginia with some portions of Georgia and Alabama, the Ohio River Valley and parts of the Mississippi River Valley.

In this collection you can find items such as pension records for both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, especially for those soldiers that served or were living in the west. In an effort to gain the most information, he acquired marriage records, pension records and some letters from the soldiers as well.

In order to utilize these records, there are a number of guides to the entire collection as well as guides to sections of this collection. The collection is organized into 491 volumes divided into 50 series arranged by geographic area, subject and individuals. The bulk of this material is the correspondence Draper had with many of the individuals and his research notes into the subject at hand. Few of the original documents are held in the collection. Since the Historical Society of Wisconsin holds this collection, as Draper was their first corresponding secretary, they have made the entire collection available on microfilm with different guides and calendars of several of the major series and several volumes of published documents from the collection. This means that many fair size or large libraries in the country have these microfilms. There are at least 90 libraries across the country with the full collection and many smaller libraries have some of the collection. Make sure you ask at your local library. Some of these larger libraries will loan various volumes on inter-library loan. It was available online for a short time earlier this year, but it has been taken down. You may want to search online from time to time to see if it returns.

If you decide to research this information make sure that you consult some of the guides first to understand just what you want. There are guides to the Frontier Wars Papers, Kentucky Papers, Tennessee and King’s Mountain Papers or even the South Carolina Papers. There are also papers of individuals collected into a single volume such as George Rogers Clark, Preston and the Virginia Papers, David Shepard, or the Thomas Sumter Papers. In minor collections there are things like the George M. Bedinger, Daniel Boone, Samuel Brady and Lewis Wetzel Papers. The full listing of all of the collection is found in the various guides.

As an example of these papers, this one appears in the Kentucky Papers. “July 20, 1850 [30CC83] – Cincinnati Daily Times – Notice of the purchase by an eastern company of 350,000 acres of land on the Kanawha. The land to be settled by New Englanders; proposed improvements. Newspaper clipping. 1 page”. Another page containing personal data is from “May 1850 [11CC41] [Shane, John D.] Interview with Capt. J. H. McKinney, Bourbon County, KY. McKinney’s mother dead; pamphlet published by his father, John McKinney giving an account of his life; the latter’s trips to Missouri; site of schoolhouse where fight with wildcat occurred; David Spurgin mentioned. A.N. 1 page”. If you were a McKinney descendant, would you not like to know the story of the wildcat fight?

Study the guides carefully and then proceed to find the microfilm and the gold mine of information available to you.

Happy Hunting!!

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