SpringBoard, an official blogger for the 2017 National Genealogical Society (NGS) Family History Conference, is pleased to offer a review of this BCG Skillbuilding lecture, presented 12 May 2017.

 F311, Barbara Vines Little, CG®, FNGS, FVGS “Recreating Your Ancestor’s Neighborhood”

By Jean Atkinson Andrews, CG®

Description: When researchers hit a brick wall, the advice is usually the same–consider the neighbors. But first, we have to find them.


“Neighbors tell us a lot of things . . . “ where they came from, who they married, and who they were. Neighbors’ stories may tell what it was like for our family.

Barbara Vines Little is a Virginia research expert, but the contents of this lecture can be used by anyone, anywhere because it focuses on resources and document types applicable to many problems of identity or location. Barbara’s approach has been developed over forty years of experience using land plats, maps, and other types of documents to identify and place ancestors and their neighbors.

Maps–You Need Them . . . and you may have to create your own!

While many ancestors can be traced back into the mid-1800’s with relative ease, before 1840 trails can grow cold, especially in frontier areas. Historical and topographical maps can help. Topographic maps help measure distance, locate the nearest waterways, and show high and low terrain. In the past waterways were roads, not barriers, and people used them all the time.

Also neighborhoods are not only defined by geographical proximity. Churches, collateral relatives, work, and school or fraternal groups can all constitute a neighborhood. Within the lecture, Barbara offers numerous suggestions, resources, and examples of using on-line map tools and websites she has found.

Deed and land maps help us understand when and how an area was settled, and estimate when an ancestor might have arrived. Often settlement in a frontier area begins when wealthy men start buying large tracts for speculation. This is followed five to ten years later by families purchasing smaller tracts, usually along the rivers first, and settling on that land.

Understanding patterns of settlement helps you find out who else may have been there with your ancestor, and who was not. It can also tell you if he was one of the first settlers in an area, or if he waited awhile before moving in. Other documents which may help locate neighbors are tax lists and road orders. Tax lists may help you identify renters, when people moved in and out, or when they died. Road orders can tell you proximity, because residents worked the road they lived on or near.

The lecture ends with many document and map suggestions from Barbara’s decades of research experience. Some of these are familiar, others may be little known to even experienced genealogists. All of them are worth considering to solve a difficult problem.

Information on purchasing this lecture can be found at Playback Now www.playbackngs.com.

The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.