Sometimes, doing things differently…

is the right thing to do.

All summer I-15 has been under construction to add a HOV lane and sufficient shoulder areas to accommodate the need to pull over on the side of the road for emergencies. This was a stretch of 13 miles. Now that this stretch of road is almost finished, they have extended the work area both north and south creating a construction zone of almost 35 miles in length.

Driving along this narrowed and tight strip of highway brought back to my mind the research I did in West Virginia for a hard-to-find ancestor, who said he was Irish. Other researchers had linked him to upstate New York and a James Ferguson who immigrated directly from Scotland. Documentation linking from West Virginia to this James was missing. So I back-tracked to West Virginia where the ancestor lived and went there to find the documentation I needed to match his statement that he was Irish.

At the West Virginia Archives in Morgantown, I discovered the road records. I have searched county and state road records before. The men who were recorded in those records were volunteers required to give hours each month toward the building and maintenance of the local roads. It was their civic duty and they were credited, sometimes in lieu of local taxes.

The records I searched on this research trip–I am one of the few professional genealogists who still takes time to visit personally the archives and libraries where hard-to-find ancestors lived–were private construction records of the company hired by the State of West Virginia to build the roads in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. They called these roads turnpikes.

The owner of the company resided in Baltimore and signed contracts with local residents to construct 25 to 30 miles of road in increments of 10 miles at a time. These contracts were as valuable as county tax records and state tax duplicates. They listed each crew by name and then calculated their wages, paid weekly per mile of completed road.

The ancestor, his brothers, and his sons served on those road crews and signed their names to receive their wages each week. I could match the construction contracts to the census and tax records with the bonus of signatures. And then eventually match the signatures to passenger lists. This hard-to-find family came to America through Baltimore, not New York. And the James Ferguson who arrived in upstate New York with his family, died there.

The road records were the company archives, deposited in the state repository. They had been submitted to the state legislature as evidence of the work completed so state funds could be used to pay for the construction. What if…?

What if these records exist for other states where turnpikes were built? Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS There are so many records tucked away in the shelves and vaults of government buildings, that even I forget to look when I am researching. My only salvation is to build checklists and bibliographies as I go. And then keep them for future research in those same places.

PPS In this era of online databases presenting researchers with such an array of information to choose from, it is very easy to attach the wrong person to your ancestor. To build a correct lineage, you need to match what you know as you go along. List the different pieces of evidence for your ancestor on a clean sheet. And tick these pieces off as you proceed through the sources. Do not assume that some of the pieces may not belong just because they don’t line up with what the databases say. Remember, online databases are works in progress. What is not there today, may be there next week.

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