About that spelling…
It was created by statute in December 1833, effective in 1834, carved out of lands that — before then — had been part of Burke and Buncombe Counties. The 65th of North Carolina’s counties, it sat all the way over on the western border, tucked tightly into the mountains up against Tennessee, “beginning on the extreme height of the Black Mountain.”1
And it was home to many of The Legal Genealogist‘s ancestors and kinfolks — at least until yet another new county was carved out of those western North Carolina mountains in the 1861.2
There’s just one little problem.
The name of this newly-created county.
Which may be one of the best examples I can come up with of the reason why we’re taught as genealogists not to get hung up on the spelling of names until they truly became standardized. Why we should never overlook that Smith census entry when we’re looking for our Smythes.
If you go to the very first page of the very first set of minutes of the very first session of the Court of Common Pleas and Quarter Sessions of this newly created county, meeting on the third Monday of January 1834, the caption at the top reads: “State of North carolina, Yancey County. 1834.”3
If you go to the very first United States census after the new county was created, and browse the records of North Carolina, the entry page for this set of records is clear: “Yancey Co.”4
If you go to the website of the government of this county today, the banner at the top reads: “Yancey County, North Carolina.”5
The county was, after all, named “in honor of Bartlett Yancey, a Congressman who served from 1813 to 1817.” 6
Except for that one minor little problem.
The law that created that new county? The official source for its creation? The Acts Passed by the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina at the Session of 1833-34, printed at Raleigh by the Printers to the State in 1834?
That doesn’t say Yancey County at all.
In fact, if you search for the word “Yancey” in the digitized version of this volume at the website of the Digital Collections of the State Archives of North Carolina and the State Library of North Carolina, it returns a message: “0 Results found.”
That’s because the act itself is titled: “An act to erect a new county by the name of Yancy.” The body of the statute says, in relevant part, that “part of the counties of Burke and Buncombe … is hereby erected into a separate and distinct county, by the name of Yancy…”7
And it’s not just once, mind you. Not even just in that one act. It’s spelled Yancy in an act regulating court sessions for the Superior Courts of the Sixth Judicial Circuit.8 And in an act supplementing the act creating the county.9 And in the statutes of the next session, providing “for the holding of a Superior Court in the County of Yancy”10 or for a tax to pay bounties on wolves,11 among others.
And there are other examples as well in other statutes in other years.
Now… nobody today doubts that the name of this county is Yancey County. Nobody in 2021 is paying taxes to or serving on juries in Yancy County.
But the original source — the official law of North Carolina creating this jurisdiction — spells it the way it sounds.
Just as all those record-keepers and census-takers and officiating preachers did for our Smythe-Smith Baecker-Baker ancestors.
Non-standard spellings can be found in all kinds of records.
Which means — sigh — it’s up to us always to play the name game in our research.
Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “The name game,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 10 May 2021).
- “An act to erect a new county by the name of Yancy,” eff. 13 Jan 1834, Chapter 83 in Acts … of the State of North Carolina… 1833-34 (Raleigh: Lawrence & Lemay, 1834), 145-146; digital images, North Carolina Digital Collections, State Archives of North Carolina and State Library of North Carolina (https://digital.ncdcr.gov/digital/ : accessed 10 May 2021). ↩
- See “An Act to Lay Off and Establish a New County by the Name of Mitchell,” 16 Feb 1861, Chapter 8 in Public Laws of the State of North Carolina, … 1850-’61 (Raleigh: State Printer, 1861), 14; digital images, North Carolina Digital Collections, State Archives of North Carolina and State Library of North Carolina (https://digital.ncdcr.gov/digital/ : accessed 10 May 2021). ↩
- Yancey County, North Carolina, Court of Common Pleas and Quarter Sessions Minute Docket 1834-1844, p.1; digital images, “United States, North Carolina, Yancey – Court records,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 10 May 2021). ↩
- Entry sheet for Yancey County, North Carolina, 1840 U.S. census; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 10 May 2021); imaged from NARA microfilm M704, roll 374. ↩
- “Yancey County, North Carolina,” Yancey County Government (https://yanceycountync.gov/ : accessed 10 May 2021). ↩
- “Yancey County (1833),” North Carolina History Project (https://northcarolinahistory.org/ : accessed 10 May 2021). ↩
- “An act to erect a new county by the name of Yancy,” Chapter 83 in Acts … of the State of North Carolina… 1833-34, 145-146. ↩
- Ibid., Private Laws, Chapter 28, at 43. ↩
- Ibid., Chapter 85, at 147. ↩
- Chapter 14, Acts … of the State of North Carolina… 1834-35 (Raleigh: State Printer, 1835), 17; digital images, North Carolina Digital Collections, State Archives of North Carolina and State Library of North Carolina (https://digital.ncdcr.gov/digital/ : accessed 10 May 2021). ↩
- Ibid., Chapter 167, at 92. ↩