Sunset at Gowanus Bay

Sunset at Gowanus Bay
Sunset at Gowanus Bay, Henry Gritten, 1851

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Brewer-Lanier Research: Online Sources

Published sources for researching descendants of George Brewer of Brunswick County, Virginia were covered in the posts of December 18, 2014, and December 21, 2014. As pointed out in the posts, most of these sources have limited value for those who need to assemble and accurate pedigree to accompany their genetic testing done through the Brewer DNA Project. Marvin T. Broyhill's two supplements to his Brewer Families of Colonial Virgina, 1626-1776, are the more useful works consulted, but they are still not a substitute for the original documents. Fortunately there are original records, as well as credible indexes and abstracts of original records, available online. This post will largely provide links to many online sources that I have become aware of in only a few weeks of looking at the family of George Brewer of Brunswick County, Virginia.

We start with Family Search, the website of the Family History Library. This website is free. You do not necessarily have to register to use it, however, I have found that access to some, albeit a small number, of original images does require registering an account and logging in. But again, this is free. Beginning in the late 1800s as the Genealogical Society of Utah, the Family History Library has been microfilming all manner of records related to genealogical research, where ever possible, all over the world. Only a few years ago they began the task of digitizing and indexing the immense collection, and began placing images and indexes/databases online. Broyhill and the others did not have this convenient access to records, and their published works show it. That excuse does not exist today.  (See the post of December 15, 2014 for how I normally use Family Search).

Virginia Indexed Historical Records and Virginia Image Only Historical Records. The page is essentially split in two. At the top are indexes that can be searched with the search tool. The bottom section contains record collections that have not yet been indexed but can be "browsed." All of the state pages that follow use this format. When using the indexed records I generally search through one specific database at a time. Select "Show all 59 Collections" and the full list for Virginia will be visible. They are arranged alphabetically, and in the case of the Virginia collection you will have to scroll down through all the collections titled "United States..." Among the collections found here are:

Virginia Births and Christenings, 1853-1917

Virginia Marriages, 1785-1940

Virginia Deaths and Burials, 1853-1912

Others that I have not yet explored including a few of small indexes for Historical Society Papers, Orange Co. Marriages and Surrey Co. Marriages. The "Image Only Historical Records" collection includes a section of Probate and Court Records. Although there presently is no collection for Brunswick County, Virginia, there is one for Isle of Wight County. Hopefully, Brunswick County will be added in the future.

North Carolina Indexed Historical Records and North Carolina Image Only Historical Records. The indexed collections include:

North Carolina Birth Index

North Carolina Marriages, 1759-1979

North Carolina Estate Files, 1663-1979

The "Image Only Historical Records" include North Carolina Probate Records, 1735-1970. These records are broken down by county. The will of George Brewer's son, Henry Brewer, was found in the Chatham County collection and will be the subject of a future post.

The state of Tennessee was essentially created out of North Carolina, and apparently many descendants of George Brewer (and certainly other unrelated Brewer families of North Carolina) settled there beginning in the early 1800s. Tennessee Indexed Historical Records and Tennessee Image Only Historical Records, has a few Birth, Marriage and Death Indexes. In the "Image Only Historical Records" under Probate and Court, are

Tennessee, Probate Court Books, 1795-1927

Tennessee, Probate Court Files, 1795-1955

In the above two collections I was able to locate the estate papers of Jones Brewer, in Robertson County, he being a grandson of the above mentioned Henry Brewer and a great-grandson of George Brewer. I have no doubt that anyone willing to take the time will find other records that were missed by some of the earlier Brewer researchers.

Georgia Indexed Historical Records and Georgia Image Only Historical Records include a large collection of probate images under Georgia, Probate Records, 1742-1990.

Regardless of which state you need to search for records in, start at the Search Historical Records page, scroll down to the Research by Location map and click on the United States and select your state from the drop down menu. My understanding is that many descendants of George Brewer found their way to Kentucky and Ohio. These two states are among the most difficult to research in, especially when the focus is a very common surname like BREWER. Beginning in the early 1800s, new settlers came to these states, not just from the south, but also from Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware, and even New England. I have found numerous instances of BREWER families living in the same counties and even towns, who are completely unrelated, and have origins in very different locations. Research in Kentucky, Ohio, and I would add Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Missouri, is difficult, and you will not be successful unless you are willing to spend the time needed to examine original records. My experience with compiled genealogies, and especially "Family Trees" found online, that cover families with common names (like BREWER) in the above mentioned states are full of errors, cannot be trusted, and need to be used only as a clue to where actual original records might be found.

The other large online source for genealogical and historical records is This is a pay site and a paid subscription is required to access most, but not all, of the databases. Some are free. The subscriptions, especially the annual subscription plans are expensive. The monthly subscription to the U. S. Collection is, as of this writing, $19.99. The way I approach it is to plan in advance a list of persons or problems I'm working on, then wait for a month when I will know I have the free time to spend on research, and purchase a one month subscription, and try to get all of that research done in that month. You do have to remember to manually cancel your subscription though, before your month ends. will otherwise extend your subscription for another month and charge you another $19.99. and Family Search apparently collaborate on many indexing projects and a lot of the databases at are also on Family Search although with slightly different titles.

From the main page, select Search to arrive at Search Historical Records. As with using Family Search, I prefer to narrow my search for an individual by location, and if you scroll down on the Search page you will see a map and list of all 50 United States. Selecting North Carolina, for example, will bring up all of the databases for North Carolina. You will see that the list is quite extensive. I don't doubt that any researcher of their Brewer ancestry, spending a month with these collections, will find more records than Marvin T. Broyhill or Ben R. Brewer ever looked at themselves. You can also download and save images (at both and Family Search) to your own computer. The quality will be much better than and digital photo or scan that you might get of the same record at a local Court House or State Archive. I would also point out that's collection titled, U.S. Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, 1800-1900, includes the complete file for each applicant, some of which can run to over 100 pages. Images of each document within each file can be downloaded.

A word of caution when using Use, or consult, the user submitted "Family Trees" with care. One of the world's great collections of fiction is found in these "Family Trees." My experience has been that many who submit, or create a tree with, are not even aware of the errors, or probable errors, within their trees. Some even seem oblivious when errors are pointed out to them. Information taken from an online "Family Tree" is not sufficient for proving a pedigree for use with the Brewer DNA Project.

Another website I have used is the Atlas of Historical Counties Boundaries interactive website. When researching the colonial descendants of George Brewer it is critical to understand how the various counties in Virginia and North Carolina were created out of each other and how their boundaries changed over time. This website allows you to see these changes as they occurred. From the main page select the state of interest, say Virginia, and go to the Virginia page. There are a few sub-categories with descriptions to chose from. Move your cursor over View Interactive Map to arrive at the Interactive Map page. The tools in the right hand margin allow you to manipulate the map. As an example, under select map date, enter Jan 1, 1720, then refresh map, and you will see that no such place as Brunswick County, Virginia existed at that time. Now enter Jan 1, 1721, and you will see how the original, large, county of Brunswick was created out of the older Prince George County. Enter Jan 1, 1732, and you will see how additional land was annexed to Brunswick Co., from neighboring Surry and Isle of Wight Counties. Jump ahead to Jan 1, 1747, and see that Brunswick Co. lost most of its land to the new Lunenberg County. Some of George Brewer's children moved into neighboring North Carolina, and the interactive map will be useful for visualizing how counties like Orange, Chatham, Moore and others were formed.

Finally, back to the Family Search website. Although a terrific amount has been placed online by the Family History Library, the majority of their microfilmed records are still only accessed by either visiting the main library in Salt Lake City, or by utilizing one of their numerous Family History Centers around the country (in fact around the world). Finding what films are available is done by utilizing the FHL Catalog. To see what is available for Brunswick Co., Virginia, enter into the "Places" filed under "Search by", United States, Virginia, Brunswick, hit search, and you'll be taken to this page. Since much of the proving of relationships in the families descended from George Brewer, at least during the colonial period, involves the examination and interpretation of land records, researchers will want to consider the nine categories that are found under the "Land and Property Category." Of course, consulting the original probate records is also important, and so the six categories under "Probate Records," are indispensable. Marvin T. Broyhill, in his Supplements to Brewer Families of Colonial Virginia, does provide some information on where many of the land and probate records that he had abstracted are located. Use Broyhill's supplements to help you narrow down which films to order.

The above is only a start. No doubt there are other sources that can be found that will be of help to you when compiling your pedigree for the Brewer DNA Project. The next post will cover just what we are looking for, and expect, from a submitted pedigree.

1 comment:

  1. I would love to learn the truth, my G Grandmother was Sarah Jane Brewer Lott!


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