County Idiosyncracies

One of the first things I learned many years ago as a fledgling genealogist was to watch for changing county boundaries and names. In fact, my copy of Dollarhide and Thorndale’s Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses 1790-1920 (Out of print but widely available in libraries) is showing wear from being consulted repeatedly.

Even today we have some geographical obstacles in genealogical research. Names of countries around the world have changed — your old childhood globe is definitely out of date. County seats for some counties have been located in various cities and towns over the years. Some counties have had two county seats/courthouses at the same time. Until 1963, Lawrence County, Arkansas had two county seats, Powhatan and Walnut Ridge. Lee County, Iowa has two county seats, Fort Madison and Keokuk.

The Minneapolis StarTribune recently carried a story about towns that even today are in two counties and are working on being attached to only one county. It’s not just confusing to genealogists, but adds work for the county and city officials.

Learning the history of the people and the government of U.S. counties is vital to our searches.

© 2008, Paula Stuart-Warren. All rights reserved.

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