Strategies for Sorting Men of the Same Name: How Did I Work Through the Lawrence Thompson Project?

Today brings a final look at the “How did I do it?” steps as I tried to sort out Lawrence Thompson and his namesakes.

I began with just one research question – Was Lawrence Thompson the father of my husband’s 4X great grandfather, Ephraim Thompson?

My question was formed by finding that both Lawrence and Ephraim Thompson lived in Mercer and then Washington Counties, Kentucky in the 1790s. Lawrence appeared to be old enough to possibly be his father and he disappeared from the Kentucky records after the 1810 census.

Here’s one more look at my favorite “go to” resources to solve difficult genealogy problems. (Newspapers should also definitely be in this list if the time period is appropriate):

  1. Vital Records
  2. Census Records
  3. Probate Records
  4. Land Deeds
  5. Military Records
  6. Tax Lists
  7. Court Minutes & Court Orders
  8. Google Search
  9. Families Histories
  10. Naming Patterns
  11. Online Family Trees

My first steps in approaching a research problem depend on three variables – the original clues that led to my research question and, more importantly, the time period and location where I need to research.

Because I was looking for men living in Kentucky in the 1790s, tax lists, land deeds and probate records were my favorite starting points.

My husband has many ancestors who lived in Virginia and North Carolina in the 1700s. Those families moved west into Kentucky and Tennessee. Extensive past research experience in those places exposed me to many early tax lists.

Given the lack of birth and death records and spotty marriage records, I frequently head to tax lists as one of my first stops on the search trail.

In fact, my first encounter with Lawrence Thompson after locating Ephraim in the 1810 census of Washington County, Kentucky was in the tax lists.

When I realized that Lawrence was part of Ephraim’s FAN club, I both googled his name with “Revolutionary War Kentucky” in the search field and also checked the DAR patriot database for his name.

That is how I discovered that my ONE Lawrence was now THREE people – Lawrence of Madison County, Kentucky, Lawrence of Clay County, Indiana AND Lawrence of Sumner County, Tennessee, who was old enough to be the father of either of the Revolutionary War pensioners. Lawrence of Tennessee was born c1712, according to DAR records.

Realizing that I was already spread out into two counties in North Carolina, two counties in Indiana, several in Kentucky and at least one county in Tennessee, I decided to look for possible quick tips on the FamilySearch family tree.

Yes, the tree is riddled with errors, BUT it also has incredibly useful correct information and, with each passing day, more sources are being added to Collaboration and Comment notes.

A family tree for Thomas Thompson and Ann Finney popped up in Orange County, North Carolina, along with information about a 1987 family history written about them.

I couldn’t access the book, due to copyright, but was able to search for marriage records in Orange and Rowan Counties, North Carolina. That led me to the marriage bond identifying Lawrence, son of Thomas, as bondsman for Lawrence, son of John, who married in Rowan County in 1779.

Next, I returned to land deeds for Washington and then Mercer Counties, since Ephraim and some Lawrence lived there at least until 1810.

Other than proving that Lawrence and Ephraim knew each other (two land transactions were recorded between them in 1803 and 1804, no relationship stated), that path yielded no helpful information.

Most of North Carolina records are unlocked on FamilySearch, so I turned my attention to tax, land, probate and court records there. The 1987 Thompson book mentioned the line of Closs Thompson in the subtitle. He turned up in Caswell County, very close to Orange and Rowan Counties. One John Thompson and an Evan Thompson also turned up in those North Carolina records.

Further online searched turned up several mentions of these early men back in Pennsylvania and Virginia, in addition to the information that they had migrated to North Carolina in the early 1750s.

Those searches gave me a nucleus of four Thompson men – Thomas, Lawrence, John and Closs – who were close in age (born in the 1710-1720 time frame).

Further looks at the FamilySearch family tree filled in supposed relationships to these men, some of which I’ve already been able to document, others not yet – naming wives, children and residences.

By the time the “Thompson four” had been identified, the facts, records and clues were multiplying faster than I could keep up with them.

An Excel spreadsheet became my organizational tool. I don’t use Excel this way very often. I knew that one of my axes needed to be years and I chose 1710 to 1850 as the range.

My first inclination was to use men’s names as the second category, but I quickly realized that it would be much easier to check a location column for a detail than it would be to have to search all the Lawrences, all the Thomases, etc. That’s because it became apparent that the same man lived in two or three counties or states and shared the same given name with another family member.

Therefore, my file is set up with county/state across the top and the years down the side.

From that point forward, I tackled each location, collecting Thompson records. I didn’t record ALL that I found because there were other men with given names that didn’t appear in the family units I was finding. For example, there were Nathaniels and Alexanders that I skipped for the time being. Even in the 1700s, it appears there were unrelated Thompson men living in the same locales. I am sure that a few of the records I skipped could end up being part of this family.

There was a lot of jumping around from place to place as clues directed me to other records. I kept a list of each place and the records I wanted to read so I knew when I had to return somewhere to look at the next record set. I also noted the locked records, which will require either a family history center visit or a trip to Salt Lake in the future.

However, for my research question –  to identify the father of Ephraim Thompson – those other scattered Thompsons were irrelevant and no evident connection to my family was found.

I only mentioned a few sources on my suggestion list in passing in this series.Naming patterns didn’t help very much in this project, except that Ephraim was a unique name in this family and it only appears in the line of Lawrence Sr., born c1712.

I also haven’t said much at all about court minutes and orders, which happen to also be a favorite resource of mine.

I have found on multiple occasions that new tidbits were learned in those records. That’s slogging work because even if there is an “index” to them, I know from lots of experience that often the index can be very incomplete.  I read many pages of records in several counties and did find a few clues, especially in Sumner and then Smith Counties, Tennessee.

I also make it a habit to look for county court records, circuit court records and chancery court records, if they exist, because each court had different purposes. I’ve come across burned counties where the will I had hoped to find no longer exists, if there ever even was one, only to find that the heirs were unhappy or needed help dividing an estate. Chancery or circuit courts, depending on the location, is where those cases were heard.

If an executor or administrator was replaced, county court minutes might not only name the new appointee, but sometimes even say why the previous person was being replaced.

I hope my Lawrence Thompson project has given you some insight into approaching a reasonably exhaustive research, required by modern genealogical research standards.

Have I completed my research? No, because of the pandemic. There is more to do.

Have I proven that Lawrence Thompson is the father of Ephraim Thompson? Well, yes and no. My instincts and research results are all pointing to Lawrence Jr., son of Lawrence, born c1712.

However – and this is the most important lesson of all – without this project, if I had accepted Lawrence Thompson in Mercer and Washington Counties as Ephraim’s father, I very likely would have the correct family, but the WRONG man, a man that previously I didn’t know existed.




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