Back to the basics: Locality Guides

Don’t you just hate it when you have those “duh” moments?  Maybe you don’t ever have those, but I sure do.  Just this last week I was confronted with how much time I had wasted by not following one of the basic principles of genealogy.  Over and over again I have read that the first step in researching an ancestor in a new place is to study that place, what records are available, where are they, when was the county/state founded and what was it before.  I do practice this now, even writing up a one sheet locality guide when I begin on a new area.  I ran into problems this week because it wasn’t really a “new ” area for me to work on and so I didn’t think to approach it in the same way.  I have been researching the Murphey/Murphy clan in northwestern Louisiana for about 10 years now in an on again- off again type of way.  Since my mother-in-law had moved from her birthplace in the NW Louisiana/ SW Arkansas area in the mid 1940s sometime when she was just a teenager and refused to talk about her family at all I had none of the traditional first step sources of asking relatives that I could turn to to start.  So I began by entering  the names I had into internet search engines.  There were so many families and they moved with such ease back and forth over the borders of states and counties and I didn’t have very clear picture of which families were in which county/parish or even in which state at any period of time.  Several of the families had genealogists who were very knowledgeable and had posted sourced information online so for several years I busied myself with tracking down the originals of those sources and adding to them with my own research.  The Murpheys were one big brickwall.  The only reference that I could even find was an unsourced IGI entry and a rootsweb inquiry from 1998  that said that my husband’s great grandfather was “Coon” Murphey.  There was no “Coon” Murphey on a census record anywhere!  They were firmly situated on the back burner.

In 2011 I managed to track down the poster of that 1998 message and found that he was a grandson of “Coon” Murphey.  With the information and records he provided, the Murphey family jumped back onto my active research list.  With all this history in the area, when I began researching the family in depth in preparation for a trip to DC in November I did not take the time, or honestly even think to do a locality guide at this time.  What I did do was to start trying to place the various locations associated with the family on a map, since I want to particularly do land records research.  I had found an uncle of “Coon” on the 1840 Census, along with a lot of other families that the various brothers married into, but they were all in Claiborne Parish.  Not a single person of interest comes up in 1840 in Bienville Parish, where I know that they were founding members of a church in 1844.  Oh well, I guess they moved…. In 1850, Coon Murphey’s father and mother are in Natchitoches Parish, but Coon’s half siblings from his father’s first marriage were with their maternal grandfather back in Bienville Parish.  Coon’s paternal grandfather was in Bienville also as were his paternal aunts and uncles.  A warrant for military bounty land for service in the War of 1812 was awarded to John Murphey, Coon’s grandfather,  in Bienville in 1851.  I needed to find them all in 1860.  Hours and hours were spent trying every spelling combination possible to turn up anyone in 1860 with no luck.  Where could they all have gone?  

Finally, I did what I should have done in the first place and began to research Bienville Parish.  The first thing that I found was that Bienville was only formed in 1848 from the southern part of Claiborne.  The family was probably right near that church they helped found in 1844 all along.  With that little problem settled I kept reading the Family Search Wiki which had lots of good info, but moving on to the USGenweb site for Bienville Parish I came across this little nugget,  There is no 1860 census for Bienville Parish, which was either lost or destroyed.   

Lesson learned.  I will always begin with developing a locality guide whenever I start  research in a new area OR revisit a previously worked location that I have never developed a Locality Guide.