One of the most important parts of writing the book “Palmetto Pioneers” was research. Studying the location of my chosen ancestor became an important next step.
But let’s take a step back. I didn’t begin looking at the locations. I began reviewing what I already knew about my main character, Mary. I went back to my original research, first to my paper files, then my online files, such as her family’s Ancestry tree.
This review identified all the places she had lived or traveled. This was easy because Mary lived in Colleton District, South Carolina and traveled by wagon with her parents and extended family to Jefferson County, Florida. It appears she lived there for the rest of her life, so I only had three locations to research, but one of which was fluid.
I asked questions. Where was she married (Jefferson County, Florida marriage record)? When and where were her children born (census records which showed when and where she lived)? Where and when did she die? I also looked for land, court, and probate records.
An important part of this process was making a timeline for the family. It had three columns—one for the event, one for the date, and another for the place. It helped tremendously when trying to find events or write about them in the correct order they happened.
It also showed flaws in the research. Not everyone’s memory is the same for any event, and people make mistakes when recording important dates. Timelines helped me find the discrepancies and then helped me either fix the discrepancies or explain them in the book.
These earlier steps, used to analyze Mary and those around her, brought me to the next part of my research.
Where did these events take place? And what did I know about them?
Using census records for her father and the other Walker heads of household in the family, we know she came from South Carolina, most likely Colleton District, southwest of Charleston. But what did I really know about that area? This became an important question for the next step.
I began with the courthouse in Colleton County, but before making a trip up there, I researched the courthouse itself and where I could expect to find records. Right away, I discovered that though the courthouse itself did not burn during the Civil War, its records did. Because they were on the path of Sherman, they sent their records for safekeeping to their capital, Columbia. After marching through Colleton County and leaving its courthouse untouched, Sherman made a beeline to Columbia and burned the capitol and Colleton’s records there.
However, I learned that there are land records in neighboring counties that show lands near the county lines. They reflect who owned the land across the line. Barnwell County’s records for Lightsey lands showed the Walkers were their neighbors in Colleton County. I also learned that people have donated records from their families to a local Genealogy Room, which was in the same building as Colleton’s extension service. There is also a genealogy room at the county library.
This led to my favorite pastime—travel. Add a trip to a genealogical site, and for me it is a match made in heaven. I chose one of the old routes, certainly not an interstate highway, and I drove from Monticello to Walterboro, wondering if these families may have used a trail or road nearby.
Using all this information, I made several trips to Walterboro, the county seat, and to the location of the Walker lands near Carter’s Ford on the Little Salkehatchie River. This location research was invaluable to the story, especially when the family still lived in South Carolina. It was wonderful to walk where they had walked almost two hundred years before, but why did they leave? Studying their first location could help provide answers.
The Florida State Genealogical Society featured a speaker last month during their Poolside Chat series. Diana Elder suggested in her presentation entitled, “Locality, Locality, Locality: Putting Your Ancestors in Their Place,” that one should create a “locality guide.” I wish I had listened to this about six years ago. It would have saved me later headaches.
I should have created a “Colleton County Locality Guide,” with a section for “Background Information,” showing “Quick Facts” such as laws that changed the economic environment for the family and their dates, purchases of property, natural disasters in their area, when South Carolina became a colony, and so forth. One event I found was the building of a nearby railroad, which might have changed the family’s mind about moving since the railroad provided better opportunities to reach new markets.
In the Locality Guide, “General Collections” shows where to find information as well as “Online Research Guides” and “Maps and their Dates”. Here, one records maps that show the changes in state and county lines. Within Colleton County, they divided the county into parishes. The family lived in the St. Bartholomew Parish, but did they always? The guide is used to collect all the information found about a location.
The Walker Migration Route
Another important research project was trying to find how they got to Jefferson County, Florida, from Colleton District, South Carolina. I knew the names of several trails between the two areas, and I began my research quest by studying those trails.
Later, though, I discovered that the best place to begin this research was Family Search Wiki. Simply enter the words “migration” and the location to find the different trails and roads in an area. It gives you a list of trails and roads plus maps and other resources.
Usually, I began by googling the name of a town, river, road, trail, or anything else on which I needed more information. It usually sent me to other sources, such as maps, gazetteers, trails, and so forth.
Several gazetteers became important. You can find them using Family Search Wiki. Search for “gazetteer”(singular) and then enter the location you wish to find. We can find the digitized ones this way, but I found some that were not digitized in the bibliographies of other historical works. Always check their sources. It will surprise you what you uncover.
Maps became very important to the story. They showed me how they got to Florida.
I began with trails, because they built most of the older roads on old Indian or military trails. I found some on old maps, especially the earliest maps. William Dollarhide has done much work in identifying old trails throughout the nation. His books were very important to my work. I also used diaries and journals to learn what they saw on the trails and roads when they migrated south. In the book, what the Walkers saw on their journey south was in those diaries and journals.
Something I did not use is the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) on the United States Geographical Survey (USGS) website. I discovered it well after I had finished my research. Here you can search for the names of trails, and also towns, post offices, lakes, and rivers nearby.
Once I had sufficient information about the trails and roads available, I analyzed them for the families’ most likely route. Because they drove a foundation herd of cattle with them, I cut two of the more popular routes from the list—not enough water.
The next step was to study her final home. Why did the family choose Florida? What else was out there? Newspapers seemed to be a good place to start, and there were Charleston papers that they may have read. Mary’s father and uncles were educated men. I discovered a wealth of information about moving to Florida, some of it from the South Carolina papers in their era.
I also had records already in my files. Federal censuses showed us when they made the move. Some children were born in South Carolina, and others in Florida. Land records showed us when the land was available for the family to buy. The Walkers came here before the land was available in the area they settled. They probably squatted on that land and made improvements that gave them the first dibs.
An early probate record for her grandfather told a story about how hard it was to live with local diseases such as malaria. Court records showed when they made their trips eight miles away to the county seat. All of this was important because vital records mostly did not exist. There were no death records or birth records in territorial Florida. There were only church records and Bible records, but few.
I mentioned a boundary issue earlier while they were in South Carolina. Though the boundary did not change, some in Colleton County were lucky to live near the boundary of another county, whose records did not burn. Atlas of Historical County Boundaries is a website by The Newberry Library which shows how a county’s boundary changed. It also shows state boundaries, too.
When the Walker family moved to Florida, it appears another group of Walkers moved just north of the state line in Georgia—an area less than ten miles away. We know from DNA they are kin to each other and from census records; they lived in Colleton District, too. We could never determine if they made the trip down together, though.
Later, Historygeo.com showed me who first bought the lands next to them once they bought land and settled in Jefferson County. History Geo even showed me how far away two massacred families lived during the Second Seminole Indian War. Using the sound of a gunshot, I determined which of them the family could hear from their home. I decided all of this using locality research.
Finally, I spent a lot of time studying the history of Jefferson County. It provided clues why they came when they did. For example, our state government only recently formed Jefferson County. It was less than two years old. Its land was just becoming available for sale from the state.
Historical books for a county can be important. Being from the county, I am a local and I knew which books to use. However, the National Genealogical Society has a series of books entitled “NGS Research in the States.” There is one for Florida, and it tells you where to go to find information on any county in the state. I also visited Family Search Wiki to look at their state timelines. It provided me a beginning for my in-house state events timeline.
In Jefferson County, the WPA did a research project in the 1930s, and they generated a book. We call it the Green Book. It includes first-hand stories from the children of these early settlers. A University of Florida professor wrote another county history book in 1976. Contracted by the Jefferson County Historical Association, it is an excellent source. Add to these the various diaries and journals kept, and they provided plentiful information about what Monticello and Jefferson County looked like when the Walkers arrived.
Locality research was vital to the book and an understanding of who these people were and what happened to them. It helped me determine who they were in South Carolina, how they got to Florida, and what impact they had on their new community once they arrived. Location research provided a wealth of information. I could not have written “Palmetto Pioneers” without it.