I realize county boundary changes can create genealogical research challenges, but there are times when it seems like some individuals think those changes are the solution to every research problem. It’s not. Just because an approach works sometimes or because you heard a professional use it a few times does not mean that the approach works all the time.

An individual was having difficulty locating the birth certificate of their ancestor in a rural Illinois county in 1902. The first two responses to their question were: “did the county boundary change?”

It is important to be aware of county boundary changes. There is no doubt about that, but context matters. By 1902 in most US states east of the Mississippi River (and quite a few others to be honest), county boundaries, except for the very minor tweaking, were pretty much set. And people knew for the most part just about where those lines were. County boundary changes can be a problem, but usually (with exceptions) they are problems in the early days of settlement in an area. Most county boundary issues with records after the early days of settlement involve people moving across them or living near them instead of the lines changing.

In 1902 Illinois was not newly settled. Oklahoma, New Mexico, and other areas were more recently settled and more likely to have boundaries that were a little more in flux.

Failure to locate a birth record in 1902 in Illinois is most likely the result of the event not being recorded, the family living briefly in a location unknown to the researcher (and in a different county), or the name having been rendered on the certificate in such a way that makes interpretation and location difficult.

One approach cannot be used to solve every problem. That’s true in life and in genealogy research as well.

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