Wednesday, February 21, 2018

AmericaGen Chapter 3: Where Did Joseph Horton Live Before Moving to Knox County?

Reference: Greenwood, Val D. “Surveying, Analyzing, and Planning.” In The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, 4th ed., 57-78. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 2017.

I was not introduced to the concept of formal research plans until I was in a ProGen Study Group. Although the author mentions the ProGen approach is different, we still followed the same steps of setting a goal, identifying what we already know, conducting a preliminary search, and identifying sources to search.  The main difference is our plan was written in a more formal style, as we were learning to write on a more professional level.

For my ProGen assignment, I focused on Joseph Horton, who I discussed in the Chapter 2 homework.  (You may be tired of hearing about my Horton clan before long, but that's who I have spent all of my research and writing time on for the last nine months!) Writing out the formal research plan helped me focus on specific documents to search. The first part of the plan, listing my research goal, background information, and known facts:

Goal: Determine where Joseph Horton lived before he moved to Knox (later Roane) County, Tennessee

Background: Joseph Horton died testate in Roane County, Tennessee in 1813. Based on the year one of his daughters married (1800), Joseph was likely born before 1765 in some place other than eastern Tennessee. Based on migration patterns into East Tennessee, it is possible that Joseph lived in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia or in western North Carolina prior to coming to Knox County. Determining where he lived before he came to Tennessee may help me identify his parents, wife’s maiden name, and other relatives.

Known facts:

  • Signed petition in Knox County in 1799
  • Listed as a resident of Roane County in 1802
  • Died testate about 1813
  • Named following heirs in his will:
o   Mary Horton, wife
o   James, youngest son
o   Joseph, son of James
o   Hannah Terry, daughter
o   John Horton, son
o   Polly Gladden, daughter
o   Nancy Cooner, daughter
o   Heirs of William Horton, son
o   Sally Coulter, daughter
o   Rebecca Burk, daughter (m. Robert Burke, 1802, Roane County)
o   Peggy Breshear, daughter (m. Bazil Brashear, 1800, Knox County)
o   Phebe Walker, daughter (m. William Walker, 1802, Roane County)

Alternate Spellings: Hortin, Whorton, Whortin

The sources I want to search are then listed in a table with columns for what, why and where.

Without replicating the table, I’ll hit some of the highlights that relate to this chapter:

  • Because Roane County was formed from Knox County in 1801, and a Joseph Horton signed the petition to create Roane County, my research plan needs to include relevant sources from Knox County.
  • Knowing that the 1830 census is the earliest surviving census for Knox and Roane Counties helped me focus my search on other relevant records from the time Joseph was in East Tennessee.
  • Deed records, Knox County: Joseph owned land in Roane County, but the deed from when he purchased the land was not filed in Roane County. It’s quite possible he purchased the land when it was still part of Knox County.
  • Deeds, Greene and Hawkins County: Parent counties of Knox. To be considered if no deeds for Joseph Horton are found in Knox County.
  • 1850 and 1860 census, Roane and Knox County: Search for Joseph’s children to get approximate birth years and place(s).
  • Hamilton District Superior Court included both Knox and Roane Counties during its existence from 1793-1809. These court records need to be searched for any Hortons and related surnames. A searchable index is available at

The research plan is an “organic” document, meaning it is revised as I go along. As I look at each record, I record the results in the research plan. (I’m terrible at keeping a research log, so this serves that purpose, as well as documents why I wanted to look at a particular record set).  I also update the plan if new evidence suggests new jurisdictions or documents to consider.

I’ve found that creating and following a research plan is extremely helpful, especially with thorny research problems that are not easily solved.  I’ve used the planning techniques I learned in ProGen on several other complex problems, and although the questions haven’t been fully answered yet, I am making progress.


  1. I am starting to use Research Plans and can definitely see the benefit! You are doing a great job. I do have one question... you said "Based on the year one of his daughters married (1800), Joseph was likely born before 1765 in some place other than eastern Tennessee." Is there perhaps a typo? If a daughter married in 1800, I'd 'guess' that she'd be near 20 years old so he'd be born about 1780. Or, do you know which # of child she is and are using those years to calculate his birth?

    1. His daughter that married in 1800 did not need parental consent, so she was no younger than 21 years old. The one who married in 1800 probably was not the oldest, as I suspect some of the children married before Joseph moved to Tennessee (based on not finding their marriage records in Tennessee). So that puts him his year of birth no later than 1765, but that admittedly is on the very late end of the range.

      That was what I knew when I wrote this in my original research plan. Now I know two daughters married in 1779, putting his estimated birth year even earlier, as they would have been born no later than 1768 (again, neither needed parental consent for the marriage bond to be issued). Based on that information, his latest year of birth is 1750, and again, that's on the outside range.

      I hope that makes sense!

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  3. I like your format in the blog. Tables are nice, but they aren't supported in the Notes field of my genealogy software. That's where I like to keep a running journal of how my questions about a person developed and what I decided to research in order to answer them. As you say, it's an organic document a bit like a lab notebook.