Speak out on the closing of the Georgia Archives
In the summer of 1839, Mathew Johnson married Mary “Foore” (Fore) in Union County, Georgia, in a civil ceremony performed by Justice of the Peace Robert “Byears” (Byers).1Judging from census records, Mathew was about 26 when they married, a shoemaker born in Virginia around 1813.2 Mary, often called “Polly,” was about 21 at the time.3
The Johnson family moved to Pulaski County, Kentucky, before the 1850 census, sometime between the birth of daughter Louisa in Georgia around 18454 and the recording of the Pulaski County tax roll in 1847.5 Polly’s parents, Jesse and Nancy Fore, and many of her Fore siblings made the same move around the same time.6
Judging from the tax rolls, Mathew died sometime between 1863 and 1864 — he was the taxpayer listed in Pulaski County in 1863;9 in 1864, the taxpayer was Mary Johnson.10 By 1870, Polly and several of her children had moved to Parker County, Texas.11
One of those children, daughter Martha, called “Mattie,” married Martin Gilbert Cottrell in Parker County on 27 August 1874.12 It’s always been easy to get a copy of the marriage record for these great grandparents M.G. and Mattie — my genealogy-sidekick-cousin Paula and I have hit the courthouses in Texas on more than one occasion and Paula scoured the Parker County records one time she was there without me.
But I for one hadn’t attacked the Georgia records until fairly recently. Oh, I had a note in my database that a marriage of Mathew Johnson and Mary “Poore” in 1839 was recorded in a very small book entitled Union County GA Marriages that reportedly had no author, publisher or copyright information recorded. And I had another note that another Fore researcher had gotten a letter from a Judge of the Union County, Georgia, Probate Court confirming the Johnson-“Poore” marriage in 1839. But I didn’t have the record itself.
So when I first turned my attention to Mathew and Polly, I was so pleased to find the document you see here. It’s a digital image of page 43 of Union County Marriage Book 1-A. It’s clear from the record that the bride’s last name is recorded as “Foore,” not “Poore,” and that they were married there by a Justice of the Peace on the 18th day of either July or August 1839. The preceding entry is for the 18th of July13 and the following for the 19th of August,14 so either month is possible. Looking at the record and the handwriting, my guess is that it was in July, on the same day — and involving the same deputy clerk and same Justice of the Peace — as the earlier entry.
I found the document easily accessible on a website called the Georgia Virtual Vault, the digital collections of the Georgia Archives, parts of the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office. And with it in hand, I started drawing up a list of questions I wanted to answer about Mathew and Polly and her family in Union County and others who might lead me to Mathew’s family in Virginia and… and… and…
At the same time, I started putting together my laundry list of other Georgia research I needed to do. My third great grandfather Elijah Gentry was born in Georgia, and his father — an earlier Elijah — was reportedly involved in land deals, tax records, jury lists and more in Wilkes, Jackson and Clark Counties. By now, I have a very long list of Georgia records I need to look at for answers to my questions about my family.
Some of the answers, I’m sure, I’ll find eventually in microfilmed records at the Family History Library. And some may still be at the courthouses in Union and Wilkes and Jackson and Clark Counties. But some, I have no doubt, have been given over into the custody of the Georgia Archives.
And that, my friends, is where my family and all other families with ancestors from Georgia are about to hit a wall.
That’s because, on Thursday of this past week, the Georgia Secretary of State announced that he didn’t have the money to keep the Georgia Archives open. Here’s the official explanation:
The Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget has instructed the Office of the Secretary of State to further reduce its budget for AFY13 and FY14 by 3% ($732,626). As it has been for the past two years, these cuts do not eliminate excess in the agency, but require the agency to further reduce services to the citizens of Georgia. As an agency that returns over three times what is appropriated back to the general fund, budget cuts present very challenging decisions. We have tried to protect the services that the agency provides in support of putting people to work, starting small businesses, and providing public safety.
To meet the required cuts, it is with great remorse that I have to announce, effective November 1, 2012, the Georgia State Archives located in Morrow, GA will be closed to the public. The decision to reduce public access to the historical records of this state was not arrived at without great consternation. To my knowledge, Georgia will be the only state in the country that will not have a central location in which the public can visit to research and review the historical records of their government and state. The staff that currently works to catalog, restore, and provide reference to the state of Georgia’s permanent historical records will be reduced. The employees that will be let go through this process are assets to the state of Georgia and will be missed. After November 1st, the public will only be allowed to access the building by appointment; however, the number of appointments could be limited based on the schedule of the remaining employees.
Since FY08, the Office of the Secretary of State has been required to absorb many budget reductions, often above the minimum, while being responsible for more work. I believe that transparency and open access to records are necessary for the public to educate themselves on the issues of our government. I will fight during this legislative session to have this cut restored so the people will have a place to meet, research, and review the historical records of Georgia.15
Some may say we should have seen this coming. Even before 2011, the Archives’ hours had been slashed to three days a week and, in June of last year, the hours were cut to two days a week — Fridays and Saturdays.16 And the Georgia Virtual Vault — the Archives’ website with the Johnson marriage record? It went belly-up with technical problems some weeks ago17 and heaven only knows when — or if — access will be restored.
Now all of us with roots in Georgia — one of the 13 original colonies with records dating back to its official settlement in 1732 — we can all sit back and moan and groan.
Or we can do something about it.
At a minimum, we can add our voice to the petition drive now underway to keep the Georgia Archives open. It’s one of the easiest online petitions you’ll ever come across. And when you sign, tell them why keeping the Archives open is important to you — and, if you’re not a Georgia resident, how your dollars will stay home if the Archives doesn’t draw you to spend them in Georgia.
And we can write to the Governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal. We can write to the members of the Georgia General Assembly — its State Senate and House of Representatives. My letter talks about my ancestral roots in Georgia, about the records I want to see, and why I want to see them. And how seeing the records means I will be spending money in Georgia, on hotels, food, and more, and not just at the Archives but at all the places where I can discover that my family lived.
And we can all recognize that this isn’t Georgia’s problem alone. This sort of “who cares about old documents anyway” attack on record access occurs over and over at every level of government from the local library right up to the federal government.
The problem is Georgia today. It could be anywhere — in your backyard — tomorrow. Don’t stand by silently and let it happen.
- Union County, Georgia, Marriage Book 1-A: 43, Mathew Johnson-Mary Foore, no. 44, 1839; Office of the Judge of the Probate Court, Blairsville, Georgia; digital image, Georgia Virtual Vault (http://cdm.sos.state.ga.us : accessed 19 Mar 2012). ↩
- 1850 U.S. census, Pulaski County, Kentucky, population schedule, Somerset, p. 2 (back) (stamped), dwelling/family 27, Mathew Johnson household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 14 Sep 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 217. See also 1860 U.S. census, Pulaski County, Kentucky, population schedule, Somerset Post Office, p. 2 (penned), dwelling/family 8, Matthew Johnson household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 14 Sep 2012). ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- See 1850 U.S. census, Pulaski Co., Ky., pop. sched., Somerset, p. 2 (back) (stamped), dwell./fam. 27, Louiza Johnson. ↩
- Pulaski County, Kentucky, Tax List, 1847, alphabetically arranged, p. 33, entry for Matthew Johnson; Kentucky State Historical Society, Frankfort; FHL microfilm 8211. ↩
- See ibid., p. 21, entries for Jesse Fore, Jesse R. Fore and George W. Fore. See also 1850 U.S. census, Pulaski Co., Ky., pop. sched., Somerset, p. 7 (back) (stamped), dwell./fam. 106, Jesse Fore household. ↩
- See 1850 U.S. census, Pulaski Co., Ky., pop. sched., Somerset, p. 2 (back) (stamped), dwell./fam. 27, Napolean B., Sarah, Louiza and James Johnson. ↩
- See 1860 U.S. census, Pulaski Co., Ky., pop. sched., Somerset P.O., p. 2 (penned), dwell./fam. 8, William, Mary, Martha and Nelly Johnson. ↩
- Pulaski Co., Ky., Tax List, 1863, alphabetically arranged, p. 38, entry for Matthew Johnson; FHL microfilm 8212. ↩
- Pulaski Co., Ky., Tax List, 1864, alphabetically arranged, p. 40, entry for Mary Johnson. ↩
- 1870 U.S. census, Parker County, Texas, population schedule, Fort Worth Post Office, p. 381(B)(stamped), dwelling/family 376, Mary Johnson household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 14 Sep 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication M593, roll 1601; imaged from FHL microfilm 553100. ↩
- Parker County, Texas, marriage license and return, M G Cottrell and Mattie Johnson, 27 Aug 1874;l County Clerk’s Office, Weatherford. ↩
- Union Co., Ga., Marriage Book 1-A: 43, Milton Brown and Mary Conner, no. 43, 1839. ↩
- Ibid., James Rea(de?) and Polley Sotheran, no. 45, 1839. ↩
- “Georgia Closes State Archives,” WSAV-TV (http://www2.wsav.com/news : accessed 14 Sep 2012). ↩
- “Secretary of State Kemp Announces Reduced Public Hours at Georgia Archives,” press release, 10 June 2011, Secretary of State News (ttp://www.sos.ga.gov : accessed 14 Sep 2012). ↩
- See the undated statement on the home page of the Georgia Archives (“The Virtual Vault is currently experiencing technical difficulties. Searches may not function properly. We apologize for the inconvenience”). ↩