Edgecombe County, North Carolina was formed in 1741 from Bertie County. The county seat is Tarboro. Parts of Edgecombe were later divided into Nash, Halifax, Wilson, and Martin counties, and thus are valuable to researchers of those areas. Edgecombe was an established, relatively affluent county, and many of it residents later moved west and south, particularly to Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, and Florida. Because of its relative prosperity, people traveled frequently and often owned property in several counties or even states.
This database is abstracted from a book published by the Tarboro Historical Society in 1881 (with an addendum in 1920), called Early Families of Edgecombe County, North Carolina, Its Past and Present. The book is divided into two sections: the first is a general history of Edgecombe County, and the second is a biography of about 2,000 families in the area. It is a valuable and scarce resource for genealogists studying the region and its families, and it is invaluable for filling in the blanks in state and federal records. Because of its narrative nature, the book often answers questions not addressed in census and state records. It is an excellent supplement to more traditional, available records.
The book covers approximately 280 years and roughly five or six generations. There were a relatively small number of families at any one time, and even fewer names. There are, for example, a LOT of Mary Barneses and John Ruffinses. In such cases, even the most insignificant bit of information is important in tracking a particular individual. Case in point: There are six Samuel Moores all living at the same time; they are differentiated only by the names of theirs mothers (two of them have a John Moore for a father): Mary, Margaret, Nancy, Harriet, Sarah, and Jinsey.
It is always important for genealogists to assess the reliability of any source. The second portion of the bookthe biographical sectionprobably has the same level of reliability as federal census records. The information apparently was given by those included, who purchased their place in the book by subscription. However, they may have been mistaken about the personal information of family members outside their immediate family; they may have guessed at the dates of grandparents or other ancestors, estimated the births and maiden names of siblings, or ignored stepchildren and the former spouses.
In the first section of the bookthe narrative sectionthe reliability of
the information, though more interesting, is even more uncertain. Parts of the
information are undeniably reliable: excerpts of newspaper articles and
funeral speeches, lists of church members and high school graduation lists,
guest lists from weddings, and accounts of participants in clubs, masonic
societies and lawsuits, etc. Other information is more problematical.
It is hard to know exactly how the information was collected. The
introduction to the book reveals that it was ". . . compiled by the Ladies'
Tarboro, NC Genealogy and Library Association for the Preservation,
Dissemination and Exultation of the History of Edgecombe Co., NC." It seems
that each participating "lady" chose a topic or area of interest and wrote
about it extensively. Thus, we have the 1843 county fair in full detail
(including examples such as "John Smith with his wife, Sarah, and six
childrenElizabeth-9, John Jr.-8, Andrew-5, Mary-4, Henry-2, and new baby
Georgeall with that famous red hair, claimed first prize in the relay
contest."), but no mention of any other of the 159 county fairs. One high
school graduating class might have been examined in detail, while others were ignored. Guest lists
of weddings, socials, and picnics are also given, with the participants
described in detail--often in very unflattering ways (one family was
described as having many daughters, all too ugly to find husbands).
Murders, tragedies, families feuds, and the moral failings of the unemployed
and imtemperate were examined minutely. There is likely a great deal of
truth in most of these stories, although like most gossip, accuracy takes a
back seat to scandal.
It is important to realize that information has been entered into the database exactly as
it was found in the book. For example, one wedding date is given only as Feb 31. On a
few occasions, people were given dates of death that preceeded their dates of
birth, or they were listed in a CSA unit when they lived and died in the
18th century. Sometimes a man listed with a certain wife, birth and
marriage dates, children, and father will have a different mother on two
separate pages. These obvious errors have also been included, as printed in the book. It
is up to the researcher to decide their veracity.
A couple of further notes:
The term guardian does not necessarily mean legal guardian, although it
might. It simply describes a person with whom a child lives who is not its
parent. It might be a relative, a foster parent paid by the county, or an
employer. "At age eleven, Mary Barnes went to live with Jacob Barnes, Sr."
would translate into "Guardian: Jacob Barnes, Sr." This would indicate
that the Mary Barnes found under Jacob Barnes, Sr. in the census is not his
daughter, as might be assumed, but it does not indicate that Mary's parents are
dead. She might have been apprenticed, orphaned, or simply helping her
sister-in-law with a new baby. Because the earlier censuses do not delineate
relationships, it is helpful to know that Mary is not the daughter of Jacob
as might be assumed, although she is listed in his household and bears the
Whenever race was indicated, it has been noted in the "Other Notes/ Race/ Military Service" column. The biographical section has a section at the back devoted
to "Coloured Families." The book and the database assume that everyone not
labelled "Negro" is white. HOWEVER, some of the people mentioned in the
narrative section are not caucasian, but Native American, black, or bi-racialand not
identified as such. If a researcher is perplexed because it seems an
individual must be black but is not designated as such, the researcher is
very likely correct.
Also remember that people were more casual when defining relationships back then. A
stepmother, aunt, or foster mother might be called mother; a cousin or in-law
might be called sister. Each bit of genealogical information is exactly as was found in the
book, so researchers will need to verify relationships found here.
The book from which this database was abstracted came from a collection long held by my family. The books spent decades in boxes in basements and attics and were subjected to harsh conditions, including a
flood. Some of them are in very bad condition, held together by rubberbands or in shreds. Until recently I was unaware of how hard to find some of the books might be. It may be the only other copies can be found in old book shops or from out of print dealers.
For inquiries regarding a specific entry in this database, the provider, Cynthia Herrin, can be contacted by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.