Subdivision 11

Unlike Area 51 or District 9, Subdivision 11 in Sussex County, Delaware, has no known association with aliens or UFOs.  It does, however, contain a large number of my relatives in the 1850 US census.

In the 1840 census in Sussex County, enumeration was by hundred.  In the 1860 census, enumeration was by hundred.  But in the 1850 census, enumeration was by hundred and by a geographic area referred to as the 11th Subdivision.  What was this exactly and why was it created for this one census? Google search and a review of 1850 census turned up nothing useful.  There is plenty of speculation about Subdivision 11 in the genealogy forums, but nothing concrete.  Being someone who likes to trace the movement of my ancestors over time, I find Subdivision 11  a bit irritating.

Comparing the 1850 census geography to a list of the hundreds in Sussex County and their year of establishment does provided a partial answer to this mystery.  The table below shows this comparison.

1850 Hundreds

The ‘1850 Census’ column identifies those hundreds enumerated in the census and we see that six of the hundreds are unaccounted for.  However, three of these were not established until after 1850. We can infer that the remaining three – Broad Creek, Little Creek and Northwest Fork – made up the 11th Subdivision in 1850. This makes sense to me.  My 3rd Great Grandfather appears in Broad Creek in 1840 and 1860 so it stands to reason that he would have lived in the Broad Creek portion of the 11th Subdivision in 1850.

That answers the ‘what’ but not the ‘why’ of this subdivision.  As part of my day job, I’ve worked with census data quite a bit over the years, and I know that census boundaries are adjusted from time to time in an attempt to even out the population included within the areas.  Areas with a lot of population growth are sometimes split and areas with low growth sometimes combined.  Looking at the map of the hundreds in Sussex County*, we see that these three hundreds were in the western and least populated portion of the county.  That’s my best guess as to why the 11th Subdivision was created – to make the enumeration workload more comparable to that of the more heavily populated eastern hundreds in the county.

Sussex Hundreds

If anyone reading this has more information or a better theory, I’d love to hear from you.

*This map fragment is courtesy of the David Rumsey Map Collection that I wrote about in an earlier article.

Finding Delaware Families

Delaware-Public-Archives-1.jpgResearchers of Delaware families are fortunate that the folks at Delaware Public Archives are willing and able to make so many of their holdings available on the internet.  Unlike most states that provide access to transcribed or index data, Delaware provides document images for birth, marriage, death along with several other record types.  Finding a fact without being able to examine at least an image of the source document is quite unsatisfying.  It’s not that I don’t trust the transcriber or indexer, but it’s unusual for everything to be transcribed from a vital record. There’s a lot of information to be gained by examining the hand-written bits and reading the marginalia.  Access to images has also allowed me to start a collection of ancestor signatures, clipped from witness and informant lines on documents (I do seem to have a number of ancestors named ‘X’, however).

My favorite online source for these images is the Delaware record collection at FamilySearch.org.  If you have a Delaware Library Card, you can also access these records (but only these records) for free on Ancestry.com, but I find FamilySearch to be a bit easier to navigate and a lot easier when it comes to downloading images for local storage.  This month, FamilySearch  started publishing Delaware Orphans Court Records.  As of today, they have part of Kent County complete and available.  They’re proceeding alphabetically by surname and you can currently find “Aa” through “Ki”.  I’ve recently learned through Public Archives that Land Records and Will Books are  in the works.  It’s a good time to be a Delaware genealogist!

I only recently became serious about genealogy and have enjoyed the advantages of online databases and search engines.  I’m able to accomplish more in a single afternoon than researchers of only a few years ago could accomplish in a month.  I know this to be true, because I’ve done my share of time working with paper and microfilm records, spending hours at a film reader to farm one small bit of ancestral information.

Which brings me to another big advantage of having most of my family roots in Delaware. If you also happen to live in the state, it’s impossible to be more than an hour away from the Mable Lloyd Ridgely Research Room of Public Archives in Dover, Delaware.  The librarians and assistants are helpful, efficient, and very willing to explain some of the finer points of their holdings.  To get the most out of a visit to the research room, I use the Public Archives Collection Gateway to identify the records I want to review. The ‘gateway’ allows you to search a large number of the public collections by the first and last name of your ancestor.  For me, the gateway  is the next step after I’ve gotten all I can from census records and the Delaware collection at FamilySearch.  Some of my most significant finds and a couple of brick walls have been knocked down by information I found through the collection gateway.  Public Archives maintains a list of the collections searchable thorough the gateway, and they update what is available on a quarterly basis, so you need to check back regularly.

A couple of tips on the records at the Public Archives – some of the most useful information for finding unknown family members is contained in the Orphans Court records, particularly if it deals with the division of property for the benefit of heirs.  Also note that while probate records sometime include wills, this isn’t always the case.  Wills are sometimes found in the ‘Will Book’, which isn’t available through the gateway.

Give the gateway a try.  If you find it useful, or if you have any tips to share, please let me know.