Family historians dread some situations more than others. Among those they dread most is the need to research roots in a "burned county" where fire has destroyed records normally used to trace ancestors.
They include the many courthouses in the South burned by General Sherman's troops during the Civil War.
Burned counties are a big problem for everyone hoping to research their family history in years before the war. This would include the enslaved, poor and others who did not file records in a courthouse. Documenting these lives frequently depends on information found in the records of those who did have papers on file at the courthouse.
A burned courthouse signifies a records gap and the need to seek substitute sources for information recorded before the courthouse burned. It's important to note, however, that not all records in a courthouse were necessarily destroyed, and some were re-registered at courthouses or among papers donated to historical societies.
If your roots extend into Orangeburg County and ones nearby, it's well worth your time to consult the A.S. Salley Archives in the city of Orangeburg, Evelyn Weathersbee, its director says.
Among its collections are a significant number of original copies of burned documents. Some are from parts of present-day Aiken, Barnwell, Calhoun, Lexington and
Since 1963, the A.S. Salley Archives, named for the late South Carolina historian and operated by the Orangeburg County Historical Society, has collected documents inherited by descendants. They are the types of documents sometimes re-registered after a courthouse has burned.
Wayne Hughes, an archive volunteer, says it has about 2,000 such documents in its walk-in safe, 60 percent of them pre-Civil War. Among them are deeds, land surveys and papers relating court cases affecting estates. Main parties, witnesses and others affected are provided along with their places of residence. Also at the archive are Confederate pension records for veterans from the Orangeburg area.
All of the papers give useful details for genealogists, Weathersbee says. The most requested resources include newspaper clippings about long ago births, marriages and deaths; family Bibles that date from 1866 to 1909; compiled genealogies of area families; and cemetery surveys.
The archive, which started collecting records generated by African-Americans 10 years ago, will focus exclusively on African-American cemeteries in its next survey, Weathersbee says.
Currently, African-Americans do use some of the same records as white families to document their pre-Civil War ancestry, Hughes says.
As with most repositories, it's best to call before a visit to ensure they have what you need.
A.S. Salley Archives is at Middleton and Bull streets in Orangeburg. Hours are 9 a.m.-noon Tuesday; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesday; and by appointment. Call Evelyn Weathersbee, 803-535-0022.
Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705 or firstname.lastname@example.org.