What is genealogy?
Genealogy is the study of an entire family. Genealogy includes brothers, stepmothers, great-uncles, and even double third cousins twice removed. Usually a genealogist chooses an ancestor, researches every single descendant available, looks for the ancestor’s parents, and then starts the process again with a different ancestor. Genealogical research is different from creating a pedigree, or family tree, which only includes blood ancestors. Genealogy is, therefore, more inclusive; if continued for a long enough time and in enough branches, it can potentially connect an entire community.
How to start
Normally, genealogists begin with themselves and work backwards. If you are doing genealogical research on yourself, write down as much as possible about an ancestor, beginning with your personal knowledge. After exhausting each source—older relatives of your ancestor, public documents, published sources—move to others in your family.
Your research should be well documented, not using leaps of faith based on shoddy evidence. For example, one genealogist thought she was related to Martha Washington because the same surname was found in both families. Try to find at least two sources for each fact. Many counties have two or more totally unrelated families with the same surname so check the age, spouse’s name, etc.
Pedigree charts have blanks to fill in the names and dates of the person that you are researching. The father’s ancestor is always on the top and the mother's is always on the bottom. (download the Lumbee Tribe's combined application for tribal enrollment and lineage chart)
- Name - Write down all possible names. Did the person ever go by a nickname, by initials, or by a middle name? Some people are listed by different names on different documents. If female, what was her maiden name? Note that some American Indians chose new names to reflect a life-changing experience.
- Birth and death dates - This information helps clarify, for example, which John Locklear you’re looking for. Compare the person's birth date to her/his parents’ marriage dates to ensure that you have listed the correct parents.
- Cause of death - May indicate a family-linked disease or allude to a historical or life event, such as war or a logging accident.
- Birthplace and death place - Indicates migration patterns.
- Burial place - People are usually buried near their kin and in places with special meanings, such as a church, religious cemetery, or the family land.
- Marriage dates - Make sure you locate all marriage dates. Compare them to dates of any children’s births. You may find another marriage or an illegitimate birth.
- Divorce dates - Many North Carolina divorce records are available at the North Carolina State Archives. They list reasons for divorce and include spouses’ testimony.
- Children - Record children’s names and birth dates. Since people tend to name their children after family members, this may indicate ancestral names. Some families use a special ancestor’s name repeatedly.
- Education- Some Lumbee children attended Freedmen’s Bureau schools. Others attended privately financed subscription schools. Still others attended either all-Indian or Indian and Black schools within the "colored" school system provided for by North Carolina's 1875 statute. When the Lumbee became a state-recognized tribe (under the name Croatan Indians) in 1885, funds were appropriated for a normal school for the Croatans. In 1887, the normal school was founded; but for the first two decades, instruction was at the elementary school level. By 1889, there were enough Indian schools for North Carolina to pass a law forbidding Black children from attending Indian schools.
- Religion - Which denomination's church an ancestor attended tells you a lot. This information may lead to possible sources for church and tombstone records as well as, potentially, the person's social status. Church records usually contain baptism date and lists of elders. Some denominations also record birth dates, parents’ names, marriage dates, death dates, etc.
- Occupation - Many 19th century men were farmers, but some held a public position such as preacher, teacher, or merchant. Women usually ‘kept house,’ but a few had occupations, such as farmer or spinster.
- Siblings - See “Children”
- Race - 1835 amendments to the North Carolina Constitution created the category "free persons of mixed blood," which governments began applying to the Lumbee and other assimilated American Indians. Prior to 1850, the census allowed three racial options: white, free person of color, and slave. After 1850, the Free Census choices for race were white, black, and mulatto. Mulatto is defined as the child of a Caucasian and a person of African descendant; however, anyone of dark skin color, such as Indian-Caucasian mixes, assimilated American Indians, and Mediterranean descendants, might have been recorded as mulatto. Indians were not considered U.S. citizens and, therefore, were often not listed on the U.S. Federal Census. Instead, separate censuses were held for each Indian nation. Although the Lumbees always identified themselves as Indian, for many decades there wasn't such a category for census-takers and others who created documentation.
- Parents’ names - This gets you to a new generation. Now, start the process again for these ancestors.
All information, from all sources, must be examined critically. Memory is not always correct, and some people blatantly lie in interviews and on public documents. A good researcher never accepts someone’s word without double checking additional sources. If two (or more) versions arise, both versions may contain truth and should be cited so that the reader can decide. One thing that confuses researchers is that county lines change.;
For example, Robeson County was established on Jan. 6, 1787, carved from Bladen. An additional problem arises with paper sources: They burn. The Civil War destroyed many documents, as have subsequent courthouse fires.
Types of sources:
- Your Personal Knowledge
- Older Relatives and Other Family Members- Many families have a family historian who loves to talk over lunch, paid for by the researcher.
- Books- Genealogy books are listed under surname in the CS 71 section of libraries using Library of Congress call numbers. Additional genealogies are found, among other places, in books published by the publishing company, Heritage Books. Many researchers have already transcribed or excerpted names from some of those hard-to-read 18th and 19th century county court documents and other primary sources. Books related to Robeson County, NC can be located in the F262.R6 section of libraries using Library of Congress call numbers. A carefully constructed Advanced Search in a library's online catalog, or in the WorldCat database, can help you find all of the types of books mentioned here, plus more. Ask a librarian to help you construct an Advanced Search.
- Newspapers- Historical newspapers often listed birth, death, and wedding announcements. They also listed the social activities of the elite and the criminal activities of the not-so-elite. Click this link to generate a list of Robeson County newspapers available on microfilm at the State Library of North Carolina's Government and Heritage Library. Hint: To see the complete list, search by County; select Robeson; and use the Date Range search, starting in 1751 and ending with the latest year.
- Tombstones- Give birth and death dates. Some also provide spouse and/or parents’ names. Members of fraternal societies such as the Masons will have the society's symbol on the stone. People buried nearby are often relatives and offer clues as to the person’s extended family, so examine surrounding stones too.
- Death Certificates- Found in Robeson County Register of Deeds Office. Death certificates have been required since 1911 and give a bounty of information: birth and death dates, birth and death places, parents’ names, parents’ birthplaces, spouse’s name, whether or not the spouse is alive, Social Security Number, veteran status, occupation, cause of death, burial place, and informant’s name. Address: Robeson County Register of Deeds | Courthouse Room 102 | 500 N. Elm Street | Lumberton, NC 28358 | (910) 671-3044
- Marriage Certificates - Found in Robeson County Register of Deeds Office (some are microfilmed). Post-1870 marriage certificates also are excellent sources. Marriage certificates tell you maiden names, ages, birthplaces, parents’ names, place of wedding, and officiator of the marriage. Pre-1870 North Carolina marriage certificates were not regulated and vary in information provided.
- Birth Certificates- Found in Robeson County Register of Deeds Office. Birth certificates were first required in 1913, although many rural families ignored them until the 1950s. Birth certificates include date of birth, how many children born [single, twins, etc.], name of parents, marital status of mother, occupation of parents, age of parents, address of parents, name of doctor or midwife, total number of children mother has delivered, and number of her living children. If a mother is unmarried, the father’s name cannot legally be included on the birth certificate unless he is present at the birth to testify that he is the father. Husbands do not have to be present.
- Delayed birth certificates were created for those who did not get one at birth so that these individuals could obtain passports, Social Security benefits, and other government documents. Delayed birth certificates may be made one day later or decades later. They list the same information.
- Federal Census of Population- Found on microfilm by county. By Constitutional mandate, every ten years a census must be taken. The first census was in 1787; thereafter, the census was taken every ten years beginning in 1790. A fire destroyed the 1890 census. Only statistical census information is available for the first 72 years after each census is taken [to protect individuals’ privacy]. Fairly accurate print indexes are available for most federal censuses for most counties, making searching for ancestors easier. These indexes will give you the page number in the county’s census and sometimes the household number.
- Prior to 1850, only the name of the Head of the Household was taken along with numbers of people for various age groups.
- For 1850 and 1860, the population census was divided into free and slave. The Free Federal Census records each free household member by name along with the occupation of the free occupants over the age of thirteen. It also listed state of birth, literacy, age, and estate value. The Slave Federal Census does not give the slaves’ names; it lists only the names of the owners, the number of the owners’ slaves, the number of slave houses and the slaves’ age, sex, and race. Slave censuses are not usually indexed.
- Additional censuses for industry and agriculture exist. These tell you what industries existed in the county. The agriculture census tells you the head of livestock and lbs. of produce of each farmer, including absentee landlords, in the county. These are not indexed.
- For the 1880, 1910, 1920, & 1930 censuses, use the Soundex, which is an indexing system based on the sound of the surname rather than the spelling of the surname. A chart with the Soundex rules & code is taped on the microfilm cabinet. The premise is that census takers misspelled surnames. With similar sounds grouped together under a number (ex. b, p, v, f = 1), researchers will locate the desired surname more easily. Using the Soundex chart on the microfilm case, convert the surname into the 4 digit code. The first digit is the first letter of the surname. The remaining three digits are numbers based to the surname’s 2nd, 3rd, and 4th consonants. This way if John Hay’s ancestor spelled his name Hey, Karen Maynor’s ancestor spelled his name Maenor or Dean Grimes spelled her name Grymes, you can still locate them. Also, if there aren’t 3 consonants, the remaining digit will be filled with an ‘0'. For example, Hay= H000. All N.C. residents with a surname fitting that code will be grouped together alphabetically by first name. Look for that 4 digit code in the Soundex microfilm reels and then the individual’s first name within the code. The corresponding card will provide you the census’s county and page number that the individual is listed in. (This is very helpful if the person was transitory between various counties).
- Wills- Found on microfilm by county. A two-volume North Carolina testator index for 1665-1900 has been published. If a person owned land or property, s/he sometimes made wills which the county recorded after the individual’s death. This usually provides spouse’ name, children’s names, slaves’ names and land holdings. Sometimes wills will indicate family dynamics [some people explicitly exclude a relative; others will specify what a child will inherit if s/he takes care the widow/er], uses of land [‘my son Billy Bob gets the 25 acres partition with the corn mill on it], and treatment of slaves [many owners gave the slaves permission to choose their next owner; others specified that the slaves were to be auctioned].
- Estate Probate- Found on microfilm by county. If a person owned land or property, he or she sometimes did not make wills which wrecked all sorts of havoc for the family members. If he or she died owing money, the property, including personal items, were sometimes sold off so that proceeds were given to the debtors. The remaining money was distributed to the descendants. Widows were not considered the owners of their property so their entire household could be sold away from them and these records exist. Sometimes, the descendants of people with wills sold the property so that it could evenly be distributed to heirs.
- Widow’s Allowances - At North Carolina State Archives in Raleigh; may be found on microfilm by county. After the Civil War, widows were allotted money from their deceased husbands’ estates so that they could eke out a living. Estate probates and household evaluations [how many minor children lived at home, et al.] were made so the court knew how much the widow should be allotted annually.
- Court records - Found on microfilm by county. This includes everything from land transactions to murder cases: bastardy bonds, law suits, adultery cases, divorce cases, emancipation suits, guardianship, road crew lists, jury lists, patroller lists, lunacy records, and criminal cases.
- School Board Records- Found on microfilm by county. Information varies from county to county, year to year. Some list students, district committee members, local issues of the day; others only list how much they paid the school board.
- School Records- Difficult to locate because most were destroyed. These include students’ ages, their grades, their guardians’ names, their attendance and the teachers’ comments (usually on weather).
- Church Records - Usually located at church or the church district’s office. Church records provide valuable information depending on denomination. In general, of the major denominations, Catholics, Episcopalians and Quakers have the most explicit records; Baptists the least. Church records may include birth dates, attendance, baptism dates, reprimands for misbehavior, marriage dates, death dates, names of children.
- Deeds - Found on microfilm by county. Tells you when who bought what from whom for how much. This will indicate if your person is landed, what the land is being used for [usually will state ‘improved’ or ‘with such and such building’], land value, and where the buyer is from. “Grantee”= person who received the land, “grantor”= person sold or gave away the land, and “mtg.”= mortgage. The government gives ‘land grants’ to citizens, especially if a citizen performed a military or civil service. Can also include slave bills of sale.
- Tax Records- Historical ones are difficult to locate because most were destroyed. Current ones available at courthouse. These provide a great deal of information about value of property. Taxable property has previously included land, sailboats, dogs, etc.
- Ancestry library edition. Online database, continually updated, from ProQuest.
—Perhaps the easiest way to obtain comprehensive information about a given ancestor is to search the person's name in the Library Edition of this online database. It includes "census (1790-1930), vital, church, court, and immigration records" from the U.S. and Canada, as well as much more. North Carolina researchers can visit these libraries and use the database: Appalachian State University, Durham County Public Library, Robeson County Public Library, and UNC-Pembroke. In addition, the National Archives and Records Administration notes that this database contains digitized versions of many of their holdings of interest to genealogists. Researchers can visit any NARA facility and have free, unlimited access to the database.
—For example, you can search this database by entering your ancestor's first and middle name (or middle initial); last name; place the ancestor might have lived (such as Robeson County NC USA), and then specify either specific life events you're interested in, or any life event. Results of one search might include: an entry from a decennial population census (both digitized and page-image versions); and entries from the Social Security death index; World War II draft cards; North Carolina's birth records; North Carolina's death records; phone directories; and a public records database that includes the person's work address and phone number.
- Cyndi's List, a comprehensive meta-site for genealogy websites. Over 300,000 categorized links.
- Genealogy Resources by Veritas Prep. This webpage has a concise but detailed introduction to why and how to do genealogical research, and to the importance of documentation and using credible sources. The introductory information is followed by links to eighteen well-chosen webpages related to genealogical research.
- History at Home: A Guide to Genealogy, by HomeAdvisor. This webpage Includes a brief overview of genealogy (how it's defined; the reasons someone might have for conducting genealogical research; and how to get started). The introduction is followed by nearly 30 links to other websites related to genealogy. These links include: a source for downloadable ancestry charts and forms; finding military and immigrant records; using DNA research; using maps in genealogy; getting started with oral history interviews; and more. Thanks to a group of students and their tutor for recommending this site (January 19, 2017).
- National Archives and Records Administration—Resources for Genealogists. This clear, well-organized site provides introductions to the NARA's extensive records, by type (census, military, immigration, naturalization, and land); lists of free resources available at the NARA; clear explanations of which resources are available online, and which are not; and numerous how-to guides.
- RootsWeb.com, a meta-site for connecting to other genealogy researchers. "The primary purpose and function of RootsWeb.com is to connect people so that they can help each other and share genealogical research."
- FamilySearch.org, the Church of Latter Day Saints genealogy website
- Family Tree Maker software from Ancestry.com
- Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina’s Office of the Tribal Clerk (provides the latest downloadable enrollment application and related information)
- Malinda Maynor’s Lumbee Genealogy Advice (Sounds of Faith project. Click on “Research Help”)
- Robeson County Genealogical Society
- County genealogical journals (often not indexed)
- Military records
- Cherokee Census Rolls
- Immigration & Naturalization records
- FBI files
- Newspapers (look for indexes or clippings files, for non-digitized newspapers; use keyword searches of the full text, for digitized newspapers)
- Oral histories
- Pension records
- Social Security application records
- Community or neighborhood archives
- Robeson Scribe
- Barnhill, Jane Blanks. Sacred Grounds: "Gone but not forgotten." St. Pauls, NC: Jane Blanks Barnhill, 2007. 374 p.
This page was compiled by Kathy Staley, formerly an archivist in the Appalachian Collection at Appalachian State University. It was updated by Glenn Ellen Starr Stilling in August, 2012.