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Is this juror your guy or not?

So you’re sitting there with your court records for the early days of the State of Wisconsin… and you see someone you think is your guy on a list of jurors.

The Legal Genealogist is confident, of course, that you are reading court records, regularly, for evidence of your ancestors, and that you’d be thrilled to find someone you think is your guy on a list of jurors.

But is this guy really your guy, rather than some other guy of the same name?

What clues would you have to look at to help make that determination?

I’m sure it will come as a huge surprise (she sez, tongue tucked firmly into cheek) that one place we always need to look is in the statutes of the day.

And I was poking around in those statutes, again, last night, as I was getting ready to head off for the Gene-A-Rama 2016 of the Wisconsin State Genealogical Society, which gets underway in Wausau tomorrow.

And here’s what Wisconsin law said as of 1849.

First, to be a juror, there were things you had to be. By law, you had to be both a citizen of the United States and a “qualified elector of this state.”1 Which, at that time, meant that you had to be a male, age 21 or older, and either white or, if Native American, having “once been declared by law of congress to be (a) citizen” or a “civilized person … of Indian descent” and not a member of any tribe.2

So the guy on the jury list isn’t your guy if, say, he was born in Germany and hadn’t been naturalized yet. Or if he was African American. Or a member of any tribe. Or, of course, if he was 18 or 19 years old.

Second, there were things you couldn’t be, or you’d be exempt from jury service. And there’s a whole laundry list of people who were exempt by law from serving as jurors:

the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary and treasurer of the state, all judges of courts of record, acting commissioners of the board of public works, register and treasurer of the state land office, superintendent of public instruction, clerks of courts, registers of deeds, sheriffs and their deputies, coroners, constables, all officers of the United States, attorneys and counsellors at law, and solicitors and counsellors in chancery, officers of the university, officers of colleges, ministers of the gospel, preceptors and teachers of incorporated academies, one teacher in each common school, practicing physicians and surgeons, one miller to each grist mill, one ferryman to each licensed ferry, all superintendents, engineers and collectors of any canal or railroad authorized by the laws of this state, any portion of which shall be actually constructed and used, all members of companies of firemen organized according to law, all persons more than sixty years of age, and all persons not of sound mind or discretion, and persons subject to any bodily infirmity amounting to any disability ; and all persons shall be disqualified from serving as jurors who have been convicted of any infamous crime.3

So the guy on the jury list isn’t your guy if, say, your guy was 61 years old. Or if he was a clergyman. Or a constable. Or the clerk of a court or a lawyer.

He isn’t your guy if your guy was a fireman, or had any kind of disability, or had ever been convicted of a serious crime.

And he might not be the right guy if your guy was a teacher at a common school or a miller or a ferryman, depending on how many teachers the school had or millers the mill had or ferrymen the ferry had. (And you might look at the census for the county for 1850 to see how many teachers or millers or ferrymen there were to see if your guy might have been exempt…)

In this, as in so many cases, we can get the answers we need — or at least clues to finding those answers — in the laws of the time and the place.


SOURCES

  1. §1, Chapter 97, “Of Grand and Petit Jurors,” in The Revised Statutes of the State of Wisconsin … 1849 (Southport, WI: C. Latham Sholes, 1849), 510; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 6 Apr 2016).
  2. §1, Article III, Wisconsin Constitution of 1848, in ibid. at 9.
  3. §2, Chapter 97, “Of Grand and Petit Jurors,” in ibid. at 510-511.
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