Historical County Boundary Lines

It’s important for researchers to understand how county level records are kept when there are boundary changes involved and to be aware of those new boundary lines.

James Holland is an excellent example of why this knowledge is important. He was born in Kentucky about 1791 and settled early in Howard County, Missouri. He owned land in Howard, Chariton, Linn and Sullivan Counties, Missouri and he lived in the land that he owned. Although he was a resident of all four counties, he never moved.

How is this possible? The county lines changed. In 1820, Howard County, Missouri, established in 1816,  covered a good amount of the northwest portion of Missouri.

On 16 November, 1820, a section of eastern Howard County was set off and became Chariton County. James was living in the northern portion of the new Chariton County.

On 1 January 1837, Linn Count was formed from part of the old Chariton County. James was now a resident of Linn County, which at the time, was quite a bit larger than the newly reduced-in-size Chariton County.

Missouri was experiencing rapid growth in this era; on 14 February 1845, Sullivan County was formally organized and James Holland became a resident of this new county.

James Holland purchased his original tract of land in Howard County, Missouri, which is where the sale is recorded. James died, probably in Sullivan County, Missouri between 1860 and 1870. It is there that the sale of his land to others would be found because the land was located in Sullivan County at the time of his death. There are no land purchases or sales by James Holland recorded in Chariton or Linn Counties because he remained on the land that he originally purchased.

This post is without images simply because I have not been able to find images of these boundary changes. However, I purchased an indispensible reference book years ago that I still use to this day – Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses, 1790-1920 by William Thorndale and William Dollarhide. I believe the book may be out of print now as Genealogical Publishing Company does not have it in its catalog. Amazon shows used paperback copies starting at $39.00. I have read that ProQuest has exclusive rights to the PDF version of the book, but I don’t subscribe to that site and have not seen the PDF.

Map of US.org has a free interactive version of these county line changes through the years. The Missouri map spans 1804-1889, which is the year of the last county formation in the state. There is also an 1810-1880 census year overlay map of modern counties that can be viewed.

The Atlas of Historical County Boundaries provided by the Newberry Library also provides images of these line changes.

Wherever your research may take you, keep in mind that at least a basic knowledge of boundary lines will help guide your research.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.