Before the internet, before cars & plane travel, people tended to live, work, marry, & die in a fairly small area. They married the girl who lived a few miles away, and when they DID move, they tended to move to the same places others in their community had gone. For all of these reasons, it is important to know how to extract the most value out of various records.
Many of my Ohio ancestors lived in or close by to Township 5 North, Range 9 West, of the Ohio River Survey. This area on land was originally part of Washington County, when Ohio was organized. In 1817 this township because officially part of Morgan county, but the actual “organization” of the county didn’t happen until 1819, when records will start. At that time, the township was called Olive Green township, but between 1830 & 1840 the township name was changed to Jackson. In 1851, the township became part of Noble county. Through all the political map changes, the size of the township was not altered, which make it a bit easier to track people.
But while easier, it can be tedious. If you were paying attention, before 1819, records, such as marriage, census, taxes, & probate are filed under Washington County. 1819 to 1851 this township in Morgan county, and finally after 1851 it is Noble county. While the people might not have moved, their county seat where their legal business needed to be conducted did. That means multiple unique digital microfilm images to view, to check for relevant records.
Of course the purpose of this is to help uncover the story of the people of the area. We are fortunate that the Centennial of the United States, in 1876, really got people thinking about their history. It became a fad to publish a county history book, usually with the title “historical & biographical album,” and nearly every county had one published between 1875 & 1890. Another round started about 1900 – 1915. The publishers sent around staff members to collect data, (and advertising and pre-orders). Sometimes the same early history of the state was duplicated from county to county. While it is not always true that if you didn’t order a book your family didn’t get included, it certainly appears that pre-orders did help increase how much was said about your family. But overall, compared to other sources about who were “notable” people, the book publishers DID try to represent the community fairly accurately.
But those staff members were dependent upon the people they interview, who might fudge the truth, or simply not remember. The interviewers might not clearly understand the speaker. Their notes were set into type, and that’s yet another way for errors to creep in. So while these books, as published, weren’t ALL 100% accurate, they aren’t far off. It is often the only place the exact birth location or month/day is noted, and for many, the first hint of parent’s maiden names. Even with all the potential errors, when the oldest members of the community are interviewed about the early years, you have to give it some weight. When the text of the book identifies who was interviewed, that is even better.
For Jackson township, Noble County, Ohio – we have this beauty – published in 1887, and available in a variety of formats on the Internet Archive. History of Noble County, Ohio: with portraits and biographical sketches of some of its pioneers and prominent men. 1887. Chicago, IL: LH Watkins. (township starts on pg 544)
Aaron Hughs was probably the first settler of the township. He was a native of Hardin County, Va., and a thorough backwoodsman. He came to Ohio in 1804, and located on Will’s Creek, in Guernsey County. After making considerable improvements there, he sold out and removed to what is now Center Township, Morgan County. He sold his property on Will’s Creek for $500, and the money was stolen from him soon after, while he was stopping at a tavern. He lived two years on Olive Green Creek, in Morgan County, then sold out his improvement for $150, and with $80 of this, made an entry of the land in Jackson Township, on which he lived and died. The year of his settlement in this township was either 1811 or 1812.
He was chiefly engaged in hunting and trapping, and was expert in the use of the rifle. Equipped with a gun and a pocket compass and accompanied only by his faithful dog, he was at home anywhere in the forest. He killed deer and sold venison hams at twenty-five cents each; got $2 and upward for the scalp of each wolf killed ; and from skin, bounties and meat made more money than any pioneer could who devoted himself solely to farming. Hughs killed four large buck elk after coming to this township, and his son James killed another. These were the last elk ever seen in the western part of the county.
Aaron Hughs had a family of seven sons and five daughters. The names of his children were Phebe, Josie, Polly, Lucy, Rebecca, James, Amos, Gabriel, Aaron, Jonathan, William and John. Of these Gabriel is the only one now living in the county. William, John and Lucy still survive, and are residents of Iowa.
So how should you approach the details you find in the county history? Use the text as a road map. So it says my ancestor, Aaron Hughs, came from Hardin county, Virginia – first figure out if the county name is spelled right, and when it was created. The Wiki on Family Search is an excellent resource, as well at the Map of US – which shows boundary changes by date. For Virginia, that includes the area that became West Virginia, and it is there we find the best possibility – Hardy county, WV. This is a place then to look for Aaron Hughs as an heir in probate records, and for any land or marriage records as well. (See more * below.)
You can check the General Land Office website to see land patents – Aaron got his first bit of land in Jackson township patented in 1818 – it normally took several years for the paperwork to be processed, so that doesn’t contradict the history book. CV_Patent_0039-436
Aaron had 2 tracts of land in Twp 1 , Range 3 of the Ohio Military District – which he assigned to Jesse Waller & Richard Dickerson, which they patented in 1812/1813 – and another section patented in 1825 to Aaron Hughs in Twp 2, Range 2 all of which appears to correlate with the Wills Creek location. They were on both sides of the Creek, between Cambridge & Byesville. It is 20 miles south to the future Jackson township. Modernly, Interstate 77 connects Marietta & Cambridge, and Jackson township is just to the west. 1879 Plat maps for the county show a railroad that mirrors the modern interstate. (BTW – The Official Ohio Lands Book, published by the Ohio State Auditor, is a wealth of information.)
When the text says a lot of really interesting things that didn’t involve any public records, see if you can figure out from the text where the writers got the information. For Jackson Township, OH, we can determine that Gabriel Hughs, the son of Aaron Hughs, was still living. Several of the stories are directly attributed to Gabriel. So while we might not take this story at 100% gospel truth, we do know that it is the story or myth that Gabriel wanted to tell about his father. Other ways to corroborate the story are to look for old newspaper accounts – unfortunately, Chronicling America doesn’t have a lot of digitized papers in the area. Pre-1850 OH digitized papers are limited in where they were published, with the earliest starting in 1836, and none closer than about 40 miles away. So the chances that any exploit of Aaron Hughes (who died in 1844) would have been published in these papers is very small.
There WERE papers published in Marietta, 20 miles south, and on the Ohio River (so a major transportation route in the early days) as far back as 1803 – but while they exist in a variety of archives, they don’t appear to be digitally available. (Some microfilm copies exist.) Again, papers published in Morgan county (so after 1817) do exist, but accessibility is also an issue.
The Will of Aaron Hughes is available on Family Search under the Morgan county Probate records, as is the Estate Docket. The docket shows the dates each probate action was recorded – the settlement would be the most useful to see, but inventory, sales, & final settlement for that time period is not digitized. The children named in the will correlate perfectly, in name & order, except for one – in the will a daughter Drucilla had died, but left children. Josie, named in the history book, is likely in error. If Drucilla was dead by 1844 when the will was signed, Gabriel had 43 years to get confused.
Overall – I’d trust the stories told in this history book. I’d double check with the census to track Aaron Hughs in the areas he was supposed to be in. But considering that before 1850 can be really hard to research, I’m happy with this find.
*West Virginia was split off from Virginia during the Civil War, as much of that area had pro-Union opinion. But the records of Hardy County stayed with the county – and since Family Search microfilmed records on location, that is where any early 1800s records would be found, among the other West Virginia records. But Hardy was organized in 1786 from Hampshire county, which was created in 1753, mostly from Frederick but a little bit from Augusta county. Both of those counties were created in 1738 from Orange county, which was created in 1734 from Spotsylvania county. Spotsylvania’s western border in 1720, when it was created, is a fuzzy line, indicating the mountain ranges – Hardy county lies beyond, and anyone living in that area in 1720 was beyond the reach of normal law and probate.