Many researchers struggle to trace their female ancestors. Moving into the pre-1850 census records and the search gets even harder. Tougher still is tracing are our ancestors who were children prior to the 1850 U.S. census.
While the search for young children in early records is hard, it is certainly not an impossible search. If you suspect your ancestor had young children or are researching your ancestor as a young child, you owe it to your research (and them) to check all possible records.
Using Pre-1850 Records To Find An Ancestor’s Children
This article primarily addresses U.S. records. If you are research ancestors outside of the U.S., seek out that country’s equivalent to the records. Additionally, contact a country’s national or local archives for assistance.
Genealogy Tip: Regardless, of where you search for your ancestors, take time to know what records exist and what information those records were recording! (I’m stepping off of my soapbox, now.)
Wills and Estate Records
Check the parent’s (or suspected parent’s) will. Minor children can be listed in a parent’s will. Reference to unborn children can even be found. Additionally, check the will of a minor child’s grandparent. More than once, I’ve found the connection I was looking for in the grandparent’s will.
Information on minor children will also be found in subsequent estate records. If a minor child’s father passed away without a will, the resulting estate records name the children and designate the distribution of the estate and name a guardian if required.
Guardianship and accounting by the child’s guardian can be found in county court records.
Baptism and death records for minor children may be found in church records. Catholic parish records can be especially helpful here. Researching Baptist or Methodist records are not likely to yield any results. If you research Quaker ancestors, the Quaker records are helpful.
New England researchers will find town and church records beneficial! One such example are the Massachusetts Compiled Birth, Marriage, and Death Records, 1700-1850 . [I really wish my Southern ancestors had this!]
Bastardy Bonds and Apprentice Bonds
Bastardy bonds and apprentice bonds are useful in determining one or both parents of an illegitimate child. Bastardy bonds are against the mother so you need to know the mother’s name., The father is sometimes named in these bonds if the mother is willing to name him.
Apprentice bonds are also helpful. If your ancestor was apprenticed as a child (and this could be done at a very young age) the bond often will list the parent’s child. For example, Dulaney Swinney was apprenticed to Atkin McLemore in Granville County, NC in 1756. Dulaney was noted to be the son of Moses Swinney. Remember though, an apprenticed child was not necessarily an illegitimate child. If the child’s named parent is the mother or the child has the mother’s surname, then the child may have been born out or wedlock.
Family Bibles are an excellent source for finding minor child, especially if the child died young. Realistically, the family Bible can be the only place a young child was documented.
The Family Cemetery
The family cemetery or the family cemetery plot in a larger cemetery can provide evidence of children otherwise previously unknown. Stand back and just look. What is the placement of that gravesite telling you? If you are able to visit the family cemetery in person or virtually (See CemeteryCensus.com or FindAGrave), look closely at all of the gravestones. Make note of any markers for children you had not previously known.
This tombstone of the Ladsen children of Charleston, SC lists 6 of the family’s children who all died young. Most died younger than 10 years old. The tombstone may be the only record of them.
Finding children using pre-1850 census records is challenging, but you do have options.
Other Posts of Interest:
- What Is That Family Cemetery REALLY Telling You?
- Finding Children Between the Census Years
- Searching For Ancestors in the Catholic Heritage Archive
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