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Who was Henry Campbell Black… and why should we care?

The second question has an easy answer: as genealogists, we should care because he authored the first1 and second editions2 of the absolutely classic Black’s Law Dictionary, now in its ninth edition.3 It’s a comprehensive dictionary of legal terms — many of them critical to the records we work with day in and day out — that gives new meaning to the concept of “Gold Standard.” Let me put it this way: if a legal term you’re trying to figure out isn’t in Black’s, then it’s probably spelled wrong.

This one dictionary has been cited by the U.S. Supreme Court in roughly 250 cases, the first time in 1901 for Black’s definition of “common law.”4 I wouldn’t even try to guess how many times it’s been cited in American courts overall — in just my own state of New Jersey, I found 770 cases.5

So it’s a book that every genealogist should own, and I personally recommend the first 1891 version because it’s the one written closest to the time that the records we usually work with were created. You can have your very own copy of a reprint in hardback from Amazon. It’s only $195. Or you can do what I did, and pick up the CD version from Archives CD Books USA. For $29.95, you get both the first and second editions, fully word searchable. Best buy you’ll ever make. And if you absolutely can’t scrounge up the money right now, Google Books has the 1910 (second) edition free.

But what’s really fun about this is that the answer to the first question pretty much tells us why we have this wonderful dictionary at all.

The fact is, Henry Campbell Black was a legal nerd. No two ways about it. He was trained in the law, but left the practice after barely five years. He lived with both his parents until his father’s death, then with his mother until her death, and didn’t marry until he was a few months short of his 50th birthday. He was only 31 years old when the first edition of his dictionary was published, and he spent the rest of his life writing scholarly works on the law. The guy was a serious law geek.

Henry (sometimes called Campbell) was born in Ossining, Westchester County, New York, 17 October 1860.6 His Scottish-born father John Henry was an educated man who was rector of Christ Church in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, when he fell for a vestryman’s daughter. He and Caroline Campbell, daughter of Francis C. and Jane Campbell, were married in Williamsport on 3 November 1853. John Henry served as rector of churches in New Jersey before accepting a call to St. Paul’s Church in Ossining in 1857.7

The Blacks appeared on the 1860 census in Ossining. John Henry was shown as age 36 and Caroline as 31; no children were recorded in their household.8 The Blacks had two other children, at least one born after Henry (a daughter, Caroline, was recorded on the 1880 census with the family9), but Henry was their only surviving child.10

Young Henry was educated at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. He received a bachelor’s degree in 1880 and a master’s degree in 1887. He studied law in Pennsylvania and was admitted to practice there in 1883. But in the late 1880s, he abandoned active practice and Pennsylvania, never to return to either. He and his parents moved to Washington, D.C.11

John Henry died in 1893.12 In 1900, Henry and his mother maintained a house on 14th Street in Washington, D.C.; he was recorded as a 39-year-old lawyer, Caroline as a 74-year-old capitalist. And living with them, as a boarder, was 32-year-old Bertha Brown, a native of New York.13 In 1910, the census recorded Caroline, then 84, as head of household, Henry as a 44-year-old lawyer, and Bertha as a 44-year-old lodger.14 And on 23 April 1910, the Washington Post reported that a license to marry had been issued to Henry C. Black and Bertha A. Brown.15 The wedding — a double wedding with the bride’s sister marrying a doctor — took place at the Black home on 26 April 1910.16 Caroline died in July 1911.17 Henry and Bertha continued to live in Washington, D.C.18

And during all those years in the Nation’s capital, Henry Campbell Black wrote. And he wrote. And he wrote. Enter his name into the search box at Worldcat. You’ll end up with more than 1,000 entries. He wrote articles. He wrote treatises. He was given an honorary doctor of laws by his alma mater Trinity College in 1917.19 Starting that year, he edited a magazine called “The Constitutional Review.”20 He was still writing, still editing, practically to the day of his death on 19 March 1927. By that time, he was no longer a lawyer but the “law author and editor of the Constitutional Review.”21

See what I mean? A law geek. And aren’t we all glad he was…


SOURCES

  1. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891).
  2. Black, A Law Dictionary, 2d ed. (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1910).
  3. Bryan A. Garner, ed., Black’s Law Dictionary, 9th ed. (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 2009).
  4. Western Union Tel. Co. v. Call Publishing Co., 181 U.S. 92, 102 (1901).
  5. The most recent citation was in State v. Regis, __ N.J. __ (2011); Rutgers-Camden Law Library, New Jersey Court Resources (http://lawlibrary.rutgers.edu/courts/supreme/a-81-10.opn.html : accessed 5 Jan 2012).
  6. Roger K. Newman, editor, The Yale Biographical Dictionary of American Law (New Haven : Yale Univ. Press, 2009), 49, “Black, Henry Campbell.”
  7. Edward Henry Eckel, Chronicles of Christ Church Parish, Williamsport, PA, 1840-1896 (Williamsport, Pa. : p.p., 1910), 21; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 5 Jan 2012).
  8. 1860 U.S. census, Westchester County, New York, population schedule, p. 125 (penned), dwelling 500, family 708, John Black household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 5 Jan 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication M653, roll 880; imaged from Family History Library microfilm 803,880.
  9. 1880 U.S. census, Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, Williamsport, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 71, p. 525D (stamped), dwelling 158, family 179, Caroline Black in J. Henry Black household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 5 Jan 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 1153; imaged from FHL microfilm 1,255,153.
  10. Henry’s mother was shown as the mother of three, one surviving, in both 1900 and 1910. 1900 U.S. census, Washington, D.C., population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 12, p. 11A (stamped), dwelling 138, family 188, Caroline C. Black; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 5 Jan 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T623, roll 158. Also, 1910 U.S. census, Washington, D.C., population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 212, p. 203A (stamped), dwelling 126, family 251, Caroline C. Black; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 5 Jan 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T624, roll 155; imaged from FHL microfilm 1,374,168.
  11. J.L. Suter, American Biographical Directories, District of Columbia: Concise Biographies of its Prominent and Representative Contemporary Citizens, and Valuable Statistical Data, 1908-1909 (Washington, D.C. : Potomac Press, 1908), 41; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 5 Jan 2012).
  12. Eckel, Chronicles of Christ Church Parish, Williamsport, PA, 1840-1896.
  13. 1900 U.S. census, Washington, D.C., pop. sched., ED 12, p. 11A (stamped), dwell. 138, fam. 188, Henry C. Black household.
  14. 1910 U.S. census, Washington, D.C., pop. sched., ED 212, p. 203A (stamped), dwell. 126, fam. 251, Caroline C. Black household.
  15. “Licensed to Marry,” The Washington Post, 23 April 1910; digital image, “Historical Newspapers, Birth, Marriage, & Death Announcements, 1851-2003” database and images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 5 Jan 2012).
  16. “Double Wedding Ceremony,” The Washington Post, 28 Apr 1910, p. 28, col. 5; digital images, Newspaper Archive (http://www.newspaperarchive.com : accessed 5 Jan 2012).
  17. “Died,” The Washington Post, 13 July 1911; digital image, “Historical Newspapers, Birth, Marriage, & Death Announcements, 1851-2003” database and images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 5 Jan 2012).
  18. 1920 U.S. census, Washington, D.C., population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 295, p. 80A (stamped), dwelling 2, family 34, Henry C. Black household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 5 Jan 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T625, roll 212.
  19. “Trinity and Dr. Black,” Case and Comment: The Lawyer’s Magazine, (May 1917) 23: 258; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 5 Jan 2012).
  20. Who’s Who in the Nation’s Capital, 1921-1922 (Washington, D.C. : Consolidated Pub. Co., 1921), 35; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 5 Jan 2012).
  21. “Rites for Dr. Black to be Held Today; Editor of Constitutional Review to Be Buried in Rock Creek Cemetery,” The Washington Post, 21 March 1927; digital image, “Historical Newspapers, Birth, Marriage, & Death Announcements, 1851-2003” database and images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 5 Jan 2012).
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