I know George Washigton Foulk’s (b. 1774, PA) parents are out “there” somewhere. I have reason to believe they are in Pennsylvania. But I’m not sure where. A clue may be found in mapping where the “Foulk” surname can be found in Pennsylvania pre-1800.
The idea behind a population density map of any kind is to take data reflecting a segment of the population, i.e. all Chinese, all women, all boys age 18 or older, and count the number of occurrences of that population per geographic area, i.e. county. There’s a classic map of the number of slaves found in the 1860 slave “census.” It paints a very “black and white” picture of 1860 America. You can see the map via this blog post.
We can use the same technique to map our ancestors by surname.
Pennsylvania Births Series Books by Humphrey
For the George Washington Foulk parentage research problem, I turned to the Pennsylvania Births series of books by John T. Humphrey, which I described in my last blog post. The books didn’t provide me of a birth record of either George or George’s children. (bummer) But it did enumerate lots of “Foulk” families in Colonial Pennsylvania, and segmented them by religion and county. That’s helpful. If I can’t find George by name, maybe I can learn where the greatest concentrations of Foulks are, and narrow my research to those areas.
After coming through each book in the series and counting the number of “Foulk” and “Foulke” instances, I got a pretty clear idea of where they were and where they were not. (I kept the counts separate for each of the two spelling variations thinking family clusters would retain the same spelling and that might be another clue. And it might tell me when the “e” was dropped. At least our family doesn’t use it today, though others might.)
Pre-1800 the concentration of “Foulks” was quite clear:
- Bucks County – 103
- Montgomery County – 57 (births)
- Philadelphia County – 3
- Delaware County – 2
- Chester County – 1
- and none to be found in the other counties in southeast Pennsylvania
I presented the information in table form here, but it is well worth literally mapping the density of whatever data you have on an actual map. Geography is everything. Indeed, Bucks and Montgomery Counties are adjoining, further the communities where the Foulks settled are just across the county line!
Interestingly, all but the two in Delaware County spelled the name “Foulke.” The “e” must have been dropped after 1800.
What About Religion?
I mentioned earlier that this tool combined with this book series clued me in on what faith tradition they held. If I look at the source documents for these birth records, all of them came from Quaker Monthly Meetings. I suspected they were Quakers, and this lends a bit of evidence to my suspicion.
Again, although George isn’t listed, I can focus my search on Quaker records in Montgomery and Bucks Counties.
There’s More Information to Be Found!
Using the Humphrey’s books with their list of children and their birth dates we can extract another nugget of information from these records. My question was, okay, they are in Montgomery and Bucks Counties, but did they settle there at the same time (maybe two factions of the same family) or did they settle in one place and migration to another. Local histories may tell us, but the birth records offer a clue.
The first birth in Montgomery County of a “Foulke” was in 1684. The first birth recorded in Bucks County of a “Foulke” was in 1714. To me that looks like they moved from Montgomery to Bucks, having first settled in Montgomery. This is consistent with Foulke history, which tell of them coming from Wales to Gwynedd, PA in Montgomery County. And it tells me there probably wasn’t a concurrent migration to Bucks County.
But! My Family Isn’t in Colonial Pennsylvania
This tool can be used with other record groups well beyond the nature and scope of the Humphrey Books. You can use census data, church records, cemetery transcriptions, tax records, or anything that offers a surname population that you can extract and map.
I will say that if you’re going to try this with census data, go straight to Heritage Quest. It’s an online census database, just like www.ancestry.com, but you can get data like that which you’d need for this exercise that you won’t get on Ancestry. When you search a name in a state and by year, the first results screen lists a count of that surname by state and county! How easy is that! You can access Heritage Quest through a public library including Midwest Genealogy Center and their online databases for subscribers.
There you have it – another arrow in your quiver. Try it. I think you’ll be delighted at how easy it is, and how much you can learn.