In addition to Census records, there are also documents called non-population schedules. They often contain a great deal of information helpful to genealogists. Case in point: my great-great-grandfather Frank Gilley (ne Tindall) had a sizable farm in Coffee County, Ala., and I found an agricultural schedule that detailed what he was tending in 1880.
His 150-acre farm was mostly corn and cotton, but he also had some sugarcane (which yielded 20 gallons of molasses the previous year) and five hogs. I also noticed that my great-great-grandfather owned his farm, an important distinction to make given the social and political climate. The other thing I took note of was Frank Gilley’s neighbors. One name stood out to me in particular: Sam Matthews. I know my great-grandmother– Mamie Gilley Nance — was married to a Shelby Matthews before she married my great-grandfather, J.E. Nance. So maybe Sam is Shelby’s dad and that’s how they met?