Land Evidences and Geographic Clues: Mapping As a Research Tool

It’s probably our most common research problem: A variety of records contain the same name; do those records refer to one person or to two or more? I’ve referred in the past to examples of solutions that differentiated men of the same name, including “Untangling the 15 Henry Hoffs of York County.”[1] There are instances, however, when the solution proves that one man was indeed in several, somewhat disparate places during the same time period.

In a passing comment in a 1944 The American Genealogist article, Donald Lines Jacobus noted that “in Virginia in the early decades, . . . often the first two to four generations of Virginia families have to be built on land evidences.”[2] More broadly, “land evidences” are useful in constructing families in all of the colonies during the colonial period.

In the most recent issue of the NGSQ, Rachal Mills Lennon phrases it somewhat differently: “[L]ocalizing actions helps sort identities, eliminate outliers, and find community clues to identity, family, and origin. Reconstruction of identities and kinships rests more on geographic clues than on wills, probates, deeds, court suits, or marriage records.”[3]

Lennon’s case study centers around Solomon Harper, who first appeared in South Carolina’s Lowcountry in 1768. Previous research had determined that twenty-two subsequent records in Charleston and far-flung locations in Beaufort District and Colleton District referred to as many as four different people, but that research had accomplished no more than the compilation of an odd assortment of records. Which of those records applied to their ancestor, and which to someone else? No one knew.

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