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Another great idea up in smoke

Okay.

The Legal Genealogist is now officially burned up.

I mean really.

Officially.

And … sigh … in one very important sense, even literally.

For one brief moment yesterday afternoon, sitting in the North Carolina State Archives, I thought I had achieved The Breakthrough.

Well, okay, so The Breakthrough on one of my (many) major research issues.

The dense smoke on a white backgroundYou see, I descend from Martha Louisa Baker who married George Washington Cottrell. The marriage was in 1854 in Johnson County, Texas.1 Or maybe 1853 in Parker County.2 Or maybe 1854 in Parker County. 3 Or maybe 1855 in Johnson County.4

No matter, it was sometime around then somewhere around there.

We think.

And we know that Louisa, as she was called, was the daughter of Martin Baker and Elizabeth Buchanan.

Well, at least, we’re pretty darned sure of that.

Even though the one child of the right age and gender in the Baker household in the 1850 census is enumerated as (sigh…) Margaret.5

Okay, so the fact is, I don’t have a single solitary record that puts her right into Martin’s family. No family Bible, no federal or state census, no birth or marriage or death record.

Lots of indirect evidence, and plenty to construct a proof argument.

But oh… it would be so nice to have just one piece of direct evidence.

And yesterday I thought I had it.

I came across a set of records yesterday that absolutely should have been the icing on this cake. They are school census records, and they begin in North Carolina as early as 1841.6

The law under which these census records were required provided that school committees would be elected in each school district around the state, and it specified part of the responsibilities of the members of the school committees:

The school committees shall, in one month after their term of office commences, report in writing to the chairman of the board of superintendents, the number and names of the white children in their districts, of six and under twenty-one years of age; and on failure so to do shall each forfeit and pay five dollars, to be recovered by warrant before any justice of the peace, in the name of the chairman of the county superintendents, to be appropriated to the use of the school district in which such failure shall occur.7

And the school census records I had originally come across for one county listed every head of household by name, and every child — boy or girl — in that household… by name.

Now Martha Louisa Baker was born in 1832.8 The family lived in North Carolina during at least some of the years when Louisa would have been over the age of six and under the age of 21. She should be on one of those school census forms, neatly enumerated with her similarly-aged siblings, for more than one year.

I thought I had this licked.

Except for one little detail.

The county where they were living during those critical years when Louisa should be on one of those school census forms, neatly enumerated with her similarly-aged siblings, for more than one year, was Cherokee County, way on the west side of North Carolina.

Yep.

You guessed it.

“During the Civil War (1860-1865), … the county courthouse… was burned by Union raiders.”9

The records loss for pre-war records? Pretty much total.

Oh, and for anything the Union soldiers didn’t get?

The courthouse burned again in 1895. And again in 1926.10

Sigh…

I love Southern research.

Another great idea up in smoke.


SOURCES

  1. Survivor’s Claim, 23 March 1887, Pension application no. 7890 (Rejected), for service of George W. Cotrell of Texas; Mexican War Pension Files; Records of the Bureau of Pensions and its Predecessors 1805-1935; Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  2. Ibid., Survivor’s Brief, 17 February 1890.
  3. Declaration of claimant, 21 Jan 1897, widow’s pension application no. 13773 (Rejected), for service of George W. Cottrell of Texas; Mexican War Pension Files; RG-15; NA-Washington, D.C.
  4. See Weldon Hudson, Marriage Records of Johnson County, Tx. (Cleburne : Johnson Co. Historical Soc., 2002).
  5. 1850 U.S. census, Pulaski County, Kentucky, Division 2, population schedule, p. 111 (stamped), dwelling/family 528, Margaret Baker; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 5 Aug 2002); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 217.
  6. See e.g. 1841 School Census, Wilkes County, North Carolina; North Carolina State Archives.
  7. See §38, Chapter 66, Revised Code of North Carolina (1854), 385; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 14 Nov 2014).
  8. Declaration of claimant, 21 Jan 1897, widow’s pension application no. 13773 (Rejected), for service of George W. Cottrell of Texas; Mexican War Pension Files; RG-15; NA-Washington, D.C.
  9. Cherokee County (1839),” North Carolina History Project (http://www.northcarolinahistory.org/ : accessed 14 Nov 2014).
  10. FamilySearch Research Wiki (https://www.familysearch.org/learn/wiki/), “Cherokee_County,_North_Carolina,” rev. 10 Nov 2014.
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