Kay Haviland Freilich wrote and article entitled, "Skill Building: Background Information: An Overlooked Research Tool" which appeared in the September 2005 issue of On Board: Newsletter of the Board for Certification of Genealogists pages 17 and 18. She wrote about the importance of knowing the background information on our ancestors time and place. She zeroed in on learning the laws, geographic and political jurisdictional changes, and the creation of records. This is the sort of thing librarians have training in, searching for background information. How do they do it?
Here's an idea to learn from a competent professional librarian how they approach a problem and what resources they would consult. First you need a "problem" for them to work on. Here's the fictional case:
"William Gifford leaves a younger son, possibly named John, to run his farm and store in Stephentown, New York in 1768 and follows his eldest son William Junior to Raleigh in what is now, North Carolina where he buys a second farm, and opens another store. He dies near Culpepper, Virginia while travelling home from the marriage of his youngest son in 1773."
Now the questions:
- For each locality how do we determine the county and township parameters in 1768-73?
- Which court would have jurisdiction over his estate for the purposes of probate?
- How would the property be divided? What rules apply?
- What was a legal age for marriage in in Virginia?
- Would tax records in New York identify the son (the tenant of his father)
This would be an interesting exercise for a university law or history librarian, and result in an eye-opening presentation for a genealogy group. What do you think?