… and they could have figured it out…

As genealogists, we learn to use all kinds of tools in our research.

IsereWe use land records and probate records.

We seek out court minutes from dustry corners of old courthouses and personal papers long ago left behind in libraries and historical societies.

We look to records created by cemeteries and churches and the military and government at all levels.

We use 21st century tools like DNA testing.

And we even do something it seems is fairly rare these days.

We use the grey matter between our ears.

We think.

So The Legal Genealogist is feeling just a little snarky this morning. Twice yesterday I came across one-liner notes on websites that left me shaking my head. Because both of them suggested that the web writers didn’t know the answer to a question that we, as genealogists, could have answered in minutes.

Because, you see, we use all kinds of tools in our research.

Including things like newspapers.

One of the unanswered questions came in a web piece called “15 Of The Rarest (And Most Mind Blowing) Photographs In History” and the particular photo was the “Construction Of The Statue Of Liberty (1884).” The caption read, in part, “What’s even more amazing about this image is it shows the statue being constructed in Paris. We wonder how they delivered it to America.”1

But we know … and they could have figured it out … if they’d looked at the newspapers of the day.

Even a quick look at the newspapers of June 1885 would have shown the web writers that the statue arrived in the waters off Sandy Hook, New Jersey, on the 17th of June 1885 in the French man-of-war, the Isere.2 It was one of the biggest stories of its time… and it isn’t hard to find.

Now perhaps it isn’t fair to be snarky to a website that uses the web address www.lotwot.com. I suspect that isn’t exactly a website dedicated to scholarship.

But I was both thrilled and disappointed to come across a new-to-me blog called Et Seq., the blog of the Harvard Law School Library. I was thrilled because it includes features on some really interesting holdings of the law school’s library, including a pair of broadsides from a 1941 Harlan County, Kentucky, election for magistrate. They’re part of the library’s Historical & Special Collections among the professional papers of Professor Zechariah Chafee.3

I was disappointed because, in the course of discussing the broadsides — which really are amazing, and (not surprisingly) resulted in a libel suit — the article reported: “we have not been able to locate the results of this Harlan County election…” to see which of the two candidates (J. B. M. Howard or John Keller) had been elected as the magistrate.

But we know … and they too could have figured it out … if they’d looked at the newspapers of the day.

Even a quick look at the newspapers after that 1941 election would have shown the web writers that the magistrate in Harlan County in 1942 was one John Keller.4

Now admittedly it may not be that even the best of law librariies have subscriptions to newspaper databases.

But we do, don’t we?

Because, you see, we use all kinds of tools in our research.

And we think about all the ways we can find the answers we need.


 

REMINDERS: Today is the early bird deadline for registration for the 2015 Ohio Genealogical Society conference — Ohio: Your Genealogical Cornerstone — in Columbus, April 9-11. Registering today saves you $40 on the full conference fees and also gets you an advance electronic copy of the syllabus and first dibs on workshops and other events that might sell out. Information on OGS 2015 is here and you can register online here.

And registration for the April 15 Tech Day at NERGC 2015 — Navigating the Past: Sailing into the Future — in Providence, Rhode Island, is already full for both tracks. But there’s still space available in the Librarians’/Teachers’ Day Track and in the workshops during the April 15-18 conference — things like Military Research, Mechanics of Writing, Document Analysis and Griffiths Evaluation. Information on NERGC 2015 is here and you can register online here for the whole conference and for special add-ons like the workshops.


SOURCES

  1. 15 Of The Rarest (And Most Mind Blowing) Photographs In History: Construction Of The Statue Of Liberty (1884),” LOLWOT (http://www.lolwot.com/ : accessed 17 Mar 2015).
  2. “Arrival of the Big Statue,” New York Tribune, 18 June 1885, p. 1, col. 1; digital images, Library of Congress, Chronicling America (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/ : accessed 17 Mar 2015).
  3. Jane Kelly, “852 Rare: Libelous Kentucky Broadsides,” Et Seq., posted 17 Feb 2015 (ttp://etseq.law.harvard.edu/ : accessed 17 Mar 2015).
  4. See e.g. “Draft Dodger Is Arrested in Harlan,” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 10 June 1942, p. 3, col. 6 (“… charged before Magistrate John Keller …”); digital images, GenealogyBank (http://www.genealogybank.com : accessed 17 Mar 2015).
    Also, ibid., “Sheriff Turns Lawyer For A Day,” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 16 June 1942, p. 3, col. 5 (“… Magistrate John Keller’s court today …”).
Posted in General, Methodology, Resources | 4 Comments

Join the AOTUS’s transcription project

His name is David Ferriero, and he goes by the acronym AOTUS.

That’s Archivist of the United States to anyone not in the know.

He’s America’s Collector in Chief, the head of the U.S. National Archives (NARA), and he’s looking for some help.

1000pagesThis week — March 15-21 — is Sunshine Week for government: the annual nationwide celebration of access to public information. It’s “a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.”1

And, Ferriero thought, how better to promote access to public information than to help transcribe some of the most interesting — and, by the way, genealogically useful — documents of our nation’s history?

So this week NARA’s AOTUS has a Transcription Challenge going on. Citizen-archivists are challenged — okay, invited — to join in the challenge to transcribe any one (or more!) of millions of pages of handwritten or typed documents held by NARA and available through its online catalog.2 By tagging and transcribing the documents, our work will make the information accessible through the catalog system. So the end result will be both text and, in effect, an every-name index to the transcribed documents.

And oh… the documents… they really are fun.

Here are just a few of the things you can choose to get involved with:

Papers of the Continental Congress, including handwritten depositions from men who were there at the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

Record Books of the Confederate Government, a wide variety of handwritten books from the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Offices of the Confederate Government that are just chock-filled with information about soldiers and civilians caught up in the Civil War in the southern states.

Harriet Tubman Davis’s application for a widow’s pension based on the Civil War service of her husband Nelson — 100 pages or more of personal and family history of people born in slavery who served in freedom.

Records Relating to the Prosecution of Al Capone… or Bonnie and Clyde… or James “Whitey” Bulger… or a host of other federal criminal cases.

“Spirited Republic” records, from NARA’s exhibit highlight the government’s role in alcohol. Lots of alcohol labels and records for you to transcribe, including a Shamrock Brew Label.

Declassified records, a wide variety of records that used to be considered secrets of the United States. And CIA records too.

The goal is to have 1000 or more pages of historical documents transcribed during the week. The Legal Genealogist thinks this community can knock that goal out of the ballpark. Even the documents called advanced in this challenge are well within the average genealogist’s capabilities — we deal with bad handwriting all the time!

All you need to do is register for an account with the National Archives (it’s just a username and password deal), choose your target document and get started. The documents can all be downloaded or read online, and entering the tags (names, places and the like) and the transcription is really easy.

Just yesterday I transcribed one of the depositions from the Battle of Concord.3 Today I’m going to tackle one of the pages from the Record Books of the Confederate Government — how can you not want to help with a record that reads, in part: “The sentence of death pronounced by a General Court Martial against Private B B Knight Company D 42d North Carolina Infantry is remitted. He will be released from confinement and returned to duty”!?!4

So come on out and join AOTUS — and me — and genealogists and historians across the country and transcribe a page or two.

You can read more about this challenge in Ferriero’s own words at his blog, AOTUS.


SOURCES

  1. See “About,” Sunshine Week (http://sunshineweek.org/ : accessed 16 Mar 2015).
  2. See generally David Ferriero, “Participate in the #1000pages Transcription Challenge,” AOTUS: National Archives (http://blogs.archives.gov/aotus/ : accessed 16 Mar 2015).
  3. The National Archives Catalog, digital image, The National Archives (http://www.archives.gov/research/catalog/ : accessed 17 Mar 2015), “Deposition #18 of B(rad)bury Robinson, et al. Regarding the Events of April 18 and 19, 1775 at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts Bay Colony”; Massachusetts State Papers, 1775 – 1787; Papers of the Continental Congress, 1774 – 1789; Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention, 1765 – 1821, Record Group 360; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  4. The National Archives Catalog, digital image, The National Archives (http://www.archives.gov/research/catalog/ : accessed 17 Mar 2015), “A&IGO – Special Orders, 1864”; Record Books of Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Offices of the Confederate Government, 1874 – 1899; War Department Collection of Confederate Records, 1825 – 1927, Record Group 109; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
Posted in General | 13 Comments

Free webinar tomorrow

It’s a rare case where straightforward, simple, direct evidence gives us all the information we need to solve a genealogical puzzle.

Between records that have been lost over time, records that were never created in the first place and records that are just plain wrong, we often find ourselves struggling to figure out our families and often overlook key clues in the information we’ve already gathered.

Learning how to make the most of our data, to use it effectively in research, is a critically important skill. So tune in tomorrow night with the Board for Certification of Genealogists for a free webinar that will offer step-by-step approaches to using inferential and analytic thinking to solve some of genealogy’s most perplexing problems.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, March 17, at 8 p.m. Eastern (7 p.m. Central, 6 p.m. Mountain, 5 p.m. Pacific), BCG’s free webinar series features James M. Baker, Ph.D., CG, in his presentation “Elementary, My Dear Watson! Solving Your Genealogy Puzzles with Clues You Already Have.” He’ll talk about how naming patterns, birth/marriage witness data, inheritance data, sibling research, timelines, family migrations and more can all contribute to a successful resolution to our problems.

A frequent presenter at local, regional, and national events, Jim earned a Ph.D. in sociology and social psychology from the University of Utah, and served as an adjunct member of the faculty at UCLA and USC. Now retired from an aerospace and business management career, he says his most fun job ever was being the “piano-man” at Shakey’s Pizza Parlor.

Jim became a Board-certified genealogist in 2011 and specializes in German, Midwest U.S., and early American research. He was an officer of the Sacramento German Genealogy Society (SGGS) and has contributed numerous articles to its quarterly, Der Blumenbaum. He also has written articles for the National Genealogical Society Quarterly and the National Genealogical Society (NGS) Magazine, in which he employed the problem-solving skills he’ll be demonstrating in the webinar.

So join us tomorrow and learn from Jim about solving genealogical puzzles with the clues you already have. The webinar series is free to all genealogists who want to improve their skills.

To register and receive your unique link to the webinar, head over to this post at SpringBoard, the BCG blog, and read down in the post there to the registration link.

We’re still working on making recordings of the BCG webinars available to those who can’t attend in real time; stay tuned at SpringBoard for updated information on that — and on announcements of future webinars in this free series.


CG or Certified Genealogist is a service mark of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, used under license by Board-certified genealogists after periodic competency evaluation, and the board name is registered in the US Patent & Trademark Office.

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Free webinar tomorrow

It’s a rare case where straightforward, simple, direct evidence gives us all the information we need to solve a genealogical puzzle.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABetween records that have been lost over time, records that were never created in the first place and records that are just plain wrong, we often find ourselves struggling to figure out our families and often overlook key clues in the information we’ve already gathered.

Learning how to make the most of our data, to use it effectively in research, is a critically important skill. So tune in tomorrow night with the Board for Certification of Genealogists for a free webinar that will offer step-by-step approaches to using inferential and analytic thinking to solve some of genealogy’s most perplexing problems.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, March 17, at 8 p.m. Eastern (7 p.m. Central, 6 p.m. Mountain, 5 p.m. Pacific), BCG’s free webinar series features James M. Baker, Ph.D., CG, in his presentation “Elementary, My Dear Watson! Solving Your Genealogy Puzzles with Clues You Already Have.” He’ll talk about how naming patterns, birth/marriage witness data, inheritance data, sibling research, timelines, family migrations and more can all contribute to a successful resolution to our problems.

A frequent presenter at local, regional, and national events, Jim earned a Ph.D. in sociology and social psychology from the University of Utah, and served as an adjunct member of the faculty at UCLA and USC. Now retired from an aerospace and business management career, he says his most fun job ever was being the “piano-man” at Shakey’s Pizza Parlor.

Jim became a Board-certified genealogist in 2011 and specializes in German, Midwest U.S., and early American research. He was an officer of the Sacramento German Genealogy Society (SGGS) and has contributed numerous articles to its quarterly, Der Blumenbaum. He also has written articles for the National Genealogical Society Quarterly and the National Genealogical Society (NGS) Magazine, in which he employed the problem-solving skills he’ll be demonstrating in the webinar.

So join us tomorrow and learn from Jim about solving genealogical puzzles with the clues you already have. The webinar series is free to all genealogists who want to improve their skills.

To register and receive your unique link to the webinar, head over to this post at SpringBoard, the BCG blog, and read down in the post there to the registration link.

We’re still working on making recordings of the BCG webinars available to those who can’t attend in real time; stay tuned at SpringBoard for updated information on that — and on announcements of future webinars in this free series.


CG or Certified Genealogist is a service mark of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, used under license by Board-certified genealogists after periodic competency evaluation, and the board name is registered in the US Patent & Trademark Office.

Posted in General | 2 Comments

Case shows limits of familial DNA

At first blush, it seems alarming: DNA contributed as part of a genetic genealogy program being used by the police to track down a murder suspect.

LouisianaHardly the use we expect when we do a DNA test to help track down our ancestors and, some might say, an invasion of privacy — even shades of Big Brother!

In reality, the case — involving a New Orleans filmmaker — shows exactly why this isn’t likely to be a common investigative technique by the police, and how in fact DNA testing for genetic genealogy is so different from DNA for police purposes that it really shouldn’t be a reason for anyone to decide not to be tested for genealogy.1

The story ran in the New Orleans Advocate this past week, and you can read it online. The reporter, Jim Mustian, did a pretty good job of explaining just what happened in this case.2

In 1996, a teenager named Angie Dodge was murdered in Idaho Falls, Idaho. The investigation suggested that several attackers were involved, but the evidence didn’t lead to a solid identification of one key suspect — a suspect who left DNA evidence on the scene.

In 2014, the police in Idaho tried something new in their effort to crack this cold case: they compared the YDNA signature of the DNA left at the scene with the publicly available YDNA databases used by genetic genealogists.

They got a partial match — one that cleared the person who had tested but implicated someone somewhere in his family tree, some male relative with a similar YDNA signature — and asked a court to order the genetic testing company to provide them with the name of the person who had tested.

The court gave them the order to get identity of the person tested, and the police then mapped out five generations of males in that family to see if anyone might have ties to the murder. And, they discovered, there were several reasons to look particularly at the son of the man who had tested.

That son — New Orleans filmmaker Michael Usry Jr. — had had reason to be in the area of the murder around the time of the murder. He had sisters attending school there. He had friends who lived there. And he had built a career around making dark films that, according to the news article, often seemed gratuitously violent.

The police then went to a court in New Orleans where Usry lived, and laid out their case. They asked the court to agree that there was probable cause to require Usry to give a DNA sample for testing. Based on all of the factors outlined by the police, the court agreed that Usry should be required to provide a sample.

The news story tells the rest of the tale. Pay special attention to the headline:

New Orleans filmmaker cleared in cold-case murder; false positive highlights limitations of familial DNA searching.3

The test proved, definitively, that Usry wasn’t the source of the DNA sample left at the scene. Quickly, easily, and without any doubt, it cleared him. So the fear some folks have of being falsely accused because of DNA? That’s poppycock. Even in this case where the police had all kinds of other reasons to look at one specific suspect, the DNA cleared him.

But the test proved something else, of importance to our cousins who sometimes fear what could happen if they test for genealogy. It also proved, definitively, why going to genetic genealogy databanks isn’t going to be the first choice of police agencies. Why, in fact, it’s likely to be one of the last choices.

The simple fact is that the tests we take for genealogy aren’t all that useful to the police. Our tests tell us how we are like other people — other family members who share common ancestors with us. The tests the police really want — tests of what are called CODIS markers — focus on parts of the DNA that make us unlike other people and set us apart as individuals.

And notice that the YDNA alone here wouldn’t have been enough to convince that Louisiana judge to force Usry to test. It was only when the DNA signature was combined with proof that he’d been in the right place at the right time, and more, that there was even an argument that there was probable cause to make him submit to testing.

And if the police do have probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and that you committed it, they can walk into any judge’s office in this country and get a search warrant that will let them pick you up, trot you down to the nearest medical facility, and take whatever blood or saliva they want for a DNA sample and they’ll use their own lab, not that from a genetic genealogy company, to do the tests they want.

So when that cousin asks you, once again, whether his genetic genealogy test can be used by the police, remind him, once again, that except in really extraordinary cases where the crime is very serious and the police have no clues at all, the chances that the police are going to turn to genealogy DNA databanks are pretty slim.

This Big Easy case shows that using genetic genealogy tests isn’t easy for the police. Our tests are so different from what the police need for a criminal case that, quite frankly, the police don’t particularly want our results — and when they have probable cause to think we’ve committed a crime, they don’t need them.


SOURCES

  1. Unless, of course, you really have committed a crime you don’t want detected, in which case you probably shouldn’t be doing any voluntary DNA testing of any kind. Just sayin’.
  2. Jim Mustian, “New Orleans filmmaker cleared in cold-case murder; false positive highlights limitations of familial DNA searching,” New Orleans Advocate, posted 9 Mar 2015 (http://www.theneworleansadvocate.com/ : accessed 14 Mar 2015).
  3. Ibid.
Posted in DNA | 9 Comments

Happy birthday, Diana!

There are some birthdays, particularly as we get older, that are just plain boring.

You know the ones I mean.

No Medicare. No Social Security. No new benefits of any kind. Not even a new discount.

Just the inexorable march of time.

Yesterday was not one of those birthdays for The Legal Genealogist‘s sister, Diana.

Neither of us looks entirely sure about this new arrangement...

Neither of us looks entirely sure about this new arrangement…

I probably shouldn’t give too much away here.

After all, she knows where I live.

And she knows all the things I’ve ever done that have gotten me — and her — in trouble.

There's little doubt the mud was my idea, not Diana's.

There’s little doubt the mud was my idea, not Diana’s.

She is older than I am and suffers from all of the usual complaints of the oldest child: she was the rule-follower, I was the rule-breaker. You could eat off the floor on her side of our shared bedroom, you couldn’t see the floor on my side. I would head off to do something dumb, she would dutifully follow along to try to keep me out of the worst of trouble, and usually end up in trouble right by my side.

I’m sure she remembers all those times.

Like the time our mother had taken the younger kids to visit her parents in Virginia during the school year, leaving Diana and me behind. I slipped on the ice when we were walking to school and decided that was an omen: I wasn’t going to school. The neighbor who was watching us decided to call the police when her boys came home for lunch and told her they hadn’t seen us at school.

Or the time I decided it was too nice a day to have to go to school and we should play in the field near the house instead. After all, we could hear the school bells and just go home on time by listening to the bells. I hadn’t counted on the fact that you’d get home 15 minutes too early if you didn’t remember there was a warning bell first…

My first friend.

My oldest friend.

Still friends... after all these years... I guess she's forgiven me!

Still friends… after all these years… I guess she’s forgiven me!

My lifelong friend.

My sister.

Happy birthday, Diana!

Posted in My family | 12 Comments

Excluding and including the Indian

There is a curious phrase in the Constitution of the United States.

It appears in Article I, section 2, and it appears again in the 14th Amendment.

In Article I, the Constitution provides that

Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.1

In the 14th amendment, that provision — setting up the allocation of congressmen among the states — was changed.

Sundancer PaintingSection 2 of the 14th amendment provides that “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state, excluding Indians not taxed.”2

So what exactly does the Constitution mean when it talks about “excluding Indians not taxed”?

The Legal Genealogist can’t give you a definitive answer.

Neither can anybody else.

The fact is, the term is never defined. Not in the Constitution. Not in the statutes. Not in the case law interpreting that provision of the law.3

In fact, the only place you may find a working definition is in the instructions that were given to census takers.

Now remember, first of all, that this particular provision of the United States Constitution is why we have census records at all. Although we, as genealogists, use these records routinely as part of our research, they really weren’t created for our benefit. The singular reason for counting the number of people around the country is to apportion the members of the House of Representatives among the states.

So it actually makes sense that the one place we might find a working definition of a term that appears primarily with respect to the census is in the census instructions.

The first time the term was included was in the instructions to Marshals for the 1830s census. There it simply says: “Your assistants will also bear in mind to include all persons of a family (except Indians not taxed) where members thereof on the 1st day of June, 1830.”4 The 1840 census instructions were the same.5

In 1850, enumerators were simply instructed that “Indians not taxed are not to be enumerated in this or any other schedule.”6

In 1860, enumerators were told that “Indians not taxed are not to be enumerated. The families of Indians who have renounced tribal rule, and who under State or Territorial laws exercise the rights of citizens, are to be enumerated.”7

So in 1860, for the first time, we get a working definition — by working backwards. If “Indians not taxed are not to be enumerated” but Indians who have renounced tribal rule and exercise the rights of citizens under state or Territorial laws are to be enumerated, then “Indians not taxed” must be those living within tribal rule and not exercising the rights of citizens under state or Territorial laws. In other words, those on reservations.

In 1870, the instructions for that census told the census takers:

“Indians not taxed” are not to be enumerated on schedule 1. Indians out of their tribal relations, and exercising the rights of citizens under state or Territorial laws, will be included. In all cases write “Ind.” in the column for “Color.” Although no provision is made for the enumeration of “Indians not taxed,” it is highly desirable, for statistical purposes, that the number of such persons not living upon reservations should be known. Assistant marshals are therefore requested, where such persons are found within their subdivisions, to make a separate memorandum of names, with sex and age, and embody the same in a special report to the census office.8

The definition was finally made express in the instructions of 1880:

By the phrase “Indians not taxed” is meant Indians living on reservations under the care of Government agents, or roaming individually, or in bands, over unsettled tracts of country.

Indians not in tribal relations, whether full-bloods or halfbreeds, who are found mingled with the white population, residing in white families, engaged as servants or laborers, or living in huts or wigwams on the outskirts of towns or settlements are to be regarded as a part of the ordinary population of the country for the constitutional purpose of the apportionment of Representatives among the states, and are to be embraced in the enumeration.9

In 1890, the census definition was the same: “By the phrase ‘Indians not taxed’ is meant Indians living on reservations under the care of Government agents or roaming individually or in bands over unsettled tracts of country.”10

In 1900, a separate population schedule was used for Indian families “both those on reservations and those living in family groups outside of reservations.”11 And, the census takers were told, “An Indian is to be considered ‘taxed’ if he or she is detached from his or her tribe and living among white people as an individual, and as such subject to taxation, whether he or she actually pays taxes or not; also if he or she is living with his or her tribe but has received an allotment of land, and thereby has acquired citizenship. … An Indian on a reservation, without an allotment, or roaming over unsettled territory, is considered ‘not taxed’.”12

That same system was followed in 1910.13 There was no separate Indian schedule in 1920.14

And in 1924 the reason for the distinction disappeared. On 2 June 1924, a statute became law in the United States. It provided, simply, that “all noncitizen Indians born within the territorial limits of the United States be, and they are hereby, declared to be citizens of the United States.”15

And, with that law, the taxed-versus-non-taxed distinction ceased to exist.


SOURCES

  1. Article I, §2, Constitution of the United States (emphasis added).
  2. §2, Amendment 14, Constitution of the United States (emphasis added).
  3. See generally Felix S. Cohen, Handbook of Federal Indian Law (Washington, D.C. : Government Printing Office, 1945), 89; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 12 Mar 2015).
  4. Jason Gauthier, Measuring America: The Decennial Censuses From 1790 to 2000 (Washington, D.C. : U.S. Census Bureau, 2002), PDF at 7.
  5. Ibid., at 8.
  6. Ibid. at 10.
  7. See “Special Instructions, Schedule No. 1, 1860 Census: Instructions to the Marshals,” set out at Minnesota Population Center, University of Minnesota, IPUMS USA (https://usa.ipums.org/ : accessed 12 Mar 2015).
  8. Gauthier at 15.
  9. Ibid. at 18.
  10. Ibid. at 24.
  11. Ibid. at 43.
  12. Ibid. at 44.
  13. Ibid. at 56-57
  14. Ibid. at 58.
  15. “An Act To authorize the Secretary of the Interior to issue certificates of citizenship to Indians,” 43 Stat. 253 (2 June 1924).
Posted in Constitutions, Legal definitions, Resources, Statutes | 4 Comments

The first one, that is

Have you, as a genealogist, offered up your most sincere thanks to the members of the United States Congress?

1Stat101The Legal Genealogist has — a statement that may surprise those of you who’ve managed to figure out that this distinctly apolitical writer isn’t entirely fond of those who inhabit the halls of the Capitol building these days.1

But I have indeed offered up my most sincere thanks to the members of the United States Congress.

The members of the first United States Congress.

The ones that passed the Act of 1 March 1790.

The Act entitled: “An Act providing for the enumeration of the Inhabitants of the United States.”2

The very first United States census act.

It was enacted 125 years ago this month (edit: 225 — never was very good at math…), and provided in part

That the marshals of the several districts of the United States shall be, and they are hereby authorized and required to cause the number of the inhabitants within their respective districts to be taken; omitting in such enumeration Indians not taxed, and distinguishing free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, from all others; distinguishing also the sexes and colours of free persons, and the free males of sixteen years and upwards from those under that age;3

Every person who was a member of a family was supposed to be counted in that family, even if he wasn’t at home when the census takers arrived to take the count.4 There was supposed to be a separate column for those who lived in a particular district but didn’t have a settled place of residence.5

Every person over the age of 16 was legally required to cooperate with the census taker, and “obliged to render … a true account, if required, to the best of his or her knowledge, of all and every person belonging to such family…”6

Census takers were to be paid at the rate of one dollar for every 300 persons in the cities and one dollar for every 150 persons in the countryside.7 But if the population was really thin, then more could be paid but not more than one dollar for every 50 people.8

The chief census taker in each district was to be the U.S. marshal, and he was to file the returns on or before the first of September, 1791.9 Their pay for this ranged from a low of $100 in the district of Delaware to a high of $500 in the district of Virginia.10

Now this wasn’t exactly a charitable act, and it wasn’t for the benefit of future generations of genealogists. The United States Constitution provides that

Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three years after the first meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent term of ten years, in such manner as they shall by law direct.11

But because of that method of apportioning the members of Congress and beginning with the statute of March 1790, we as genealogists can celebrate the census.

So go thank the United States Congress.

The first one.


SOURCES

  1. Yeah, yeah, I know. I’ve made such a secret of the fact that today’s politicians of all stripes annoy me right down to my toenails. Sigh…
  2. “An Act providing for the enumeration of the Inhabitants of the United States,” 1 Stat. 101 (1 March 1790); digital images, “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875,” Library of Congress, American Memory (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/index.html : accessed 11 Mar 2015).
  3. Ibid., §1.
  4. Ibid., §5.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid., §6.
  7. Ibid., §4.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid., §3.
  10. Ibid., §4.
  11. Article I, §2, Constitution of the United States.
Posted in Resources, Statutes | 9 Comments

Always go for the originals

So The Legal Genealogist is chasing ancestors through the courthouses of Texas this week, and ran into something yesterday that was just a little surprising.

It shouldn’t have been, really — the telltale signs really are there — but it was still a little surprising.

You see, my favorite ancestor George Washington Cottrell — my scoundrel who managed to get himself indicted a half dozen times or so, the last time for murder1 — lived in Colorado County, Texas, in the 1840s.

That’s where he was first shows up in the Texas record books. He was married there in 18422, to a widow named Mary Gilbert, and was promptly indicted for bigamy and adultery there.3 The charges were dismissed after Wharton County was created from Colorado County,4 and we’d long thought that it was perhaps because it was no longer Colorado County’s problem and perhaps because the woman he married in 1842 died5 and he was no longer — if he ever had been — a bigamist.

Now I’ve seen those early Colorado County court minutes. They’re on microfilm at the Family History Library.6 And I knew that that first indictment had been, in the words of the court minutes, “squashed.”7

Except yesterday I discovered that what’s on microfilm isn’t quite what it’s cracked up to be.

Oh it reads Minutes, volume AB, for sure, just as the microfilm version does.

But there’s a word on the book in the Colorado County District Court Clerk’s Office that isn’t in the film description.

It’s the word “transcribed.”

book1a

Carefully and neatly copied, many years later, by a later and different court clerk.

Now in George’s particular case the entry in the original book, which still exists there in Columbus, Texas, reads exactly the same as the entry in the transcribed book.

But looking at the original volume it’s an absolutely safe bet that that may not be true for every entry in that book. The handwriting essentially guarantees that some things that made it into the transcription may not be exactly what was written the first time around.

All of which goes to point out why we all say, over and over and over, it’s so important to get out to the courthouses and libraries and repositories where the original records are located.

It’s not all online.

It’s not even all on microfilm.

And sometimes, as in Colorado County, what’s on microfilm isn’t even what was originally written.


SOURCES

  1. See Judy G. Russell, “Oh George… you stinker!,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 9 June 2012 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 10 Mar 2015).
  2. Colorado County, Texas, Marriage Book B: 38, Cotrell-Gilbert; County Clerk, Columbus.
  3. Colorado County, Texas, Criminal Court Minutes Book A&B, p. 208, Republic of Texas v. G.W. Cottrell, Criminal Cause File No. 251 (1843); District Court, Columbus; imaged on FHL microfilm 973588.
  4. Ibid., p. 217.
  5. Wharton County, Texas, Probate Court Minutes A: 2, September Term 1848; County Clerk’s Office, Wharton; FHL microfilm 1,012,393.
  6. FHL microfilm 973588.
  7. The word should have been quashed, but hey… Texans never do anything halfway.
Posted in General, Methodology | 8 Comments

What’s with the marker?

So The Legal Genealogist is in Texas, doing something that’s truly rare these days.

Looking into my own family history.

There’s not always a lot of time, when you write and lecture, to research your own family, so every chance you can get is a real treasure.

And sometimes a real mystery.

And, Lord knows, there are enough real mysteries in my family.

I wouldn’t mind solving a couple of those mysteries in the next day or two, with the aid of the Houston Genealogical Forum’s Marilyn Maniscalco Henley, who’s serving as driver, organizer and aide de camp extraordinaire.

But we sure didn’t get anywhere with one big mystery yesterday.

The mystery of how a Texas boy became a Yankee on his military grave marker.

GilbertMy grandfather’s brother Gilbert Fleetwood Cottrell was born 10 October 1892 in Wichita County, Texas, and died 11 July 1970 in Houston, Harris County, Texas.1 In 1913, he joined the Army2 and spent time in the Quartermaster Corps at Fort Yellowstone, Wyoming,3 before being ordered to the Philippines.4

He was still in the Army in 1920 when he was enumerated at Camp Zachary Taylor, Kentucky, as 27-year-old Gilbert F. “Cotterall”, a sergeant in the United States Army, born TX,5 and still in the Army when he married a Kentucky girl, Myrtie Hart, in Clark County, Indiana, on the 15th of May 1920.6

That relationship quickly soured, Bert left the Army and went back to Texas, and in 1922, he took out a marriage license in Victoria County, Texas, to marry a German girl, Hertha Musch.7 He and Hertha spent their entire lives in the Houston area, recorded there on the 1930 census8 and the 1940 census.9 Bert died there in 197010 and Hertha in 1990.11 They’re buried there, in the Earthman Resthaven Cemetery.12

I stood there yesterday, in the rain, at Bert’s grave in that cemetery. There is only a military grave marker for him and no marker at all for Hertha. Not surprising, perhaps, since they had no children to care to erect a stone, and no-one left to put up any marker after Hertha’s death.

But what is surprising is what’s on Bert’s marker.

“Gilbert F. Cottrell,” the marker reads. Check. The date of birth: “Oct 10 1892.” Check. The date of death: “July 11 1970.” Check. Military service: “Sgt US Army World War I.” Check. And above the description of his military service, these words appear:

New Jersey

Say what?

Born in Texas. Raised in Texas. Lived in Texas. Died in Texas.

What in the world is with this New Jersey reference?

The cemetery records don’t explain how New Jersey came to be on Bert’s marker. Its copy of what looks like it might be the application for a military grave marker is so faded only a few scattered letters and words can be read. Like the first few letters of Bert’s last name. And, inexplicably, the words “New Jersey.”

And, of course, the digitized database of “Headstone Applications for Military Veterans” on Ancestry.com only goes up to 1963,13 and the later records — which used to be at the main facility of the National Archives in Washington, D.C., where they’d be fairly easy for me to get a copy — have been moved to St. Louis,14 where they’re not so easy for me to get access.

Now it’s possible, of course, that Bert served in New Jersey, or may have once re-enlisted in New Jersey, or was discharged in New Jersey, or just plain liked New Jersey.

But it’s a sure bet he never thought of himself as being from New Jersey.

And why New Jersey is on his grave marker… well, that’s still a mystery for another day.


SOURCES

  1. Texas Department of Health, death certif. no. 49224, Gilbert Fleetwood Cottrell, 11 July 1970; Bureau of Vital Statistics, Austin.
  2. Entry for Gilbert Cottrell, “Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010,” database and index, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 11 July 2014).
  3. See “Washington Army Orders,” Galveston (Texas) Daily News, page 4, col. 3 (“Privates Gilbert F. Cottrell and Charles M. Tellman, quartermaster corps, now in confinement at Fort Yellowstone, Wyo., are assigned to that post”).
  4. U.S. War Department, Special Order 198, 22 August 1914, in Special Orders, 1914, vol. 2 (Washington, D.C. : War Department, 1914); digital images, Internet Archive (http://www.archive.org : accessed 11 July 2014).
  5. 1920 U.S. census, Jefferson County, Kentucky, Camp Zachary Taylor, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 18, p. 268(B) (stamped), dwelling B79, family 159, Gilbert F “Cotterall”; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 15 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T625, roll 577.
  6. Clark County, Indiana, Marriage License and Return, Marriage Book 50: 482, Gilbert F. Cottrell and Myrtie Hart, 15 May 1920; digital images, “Indiana, Marriages, 1811-1959,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 11 July 2014).
  7. “Licensed to Wed,” Victoria (Texas) Advocate, 9 June 1922, page 2, col. 3.
  8. 1930 U.S. census, Harris County, Texas, Houston, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 142, p. 158(B) (stamped), sheet 18(B), dwelling 248, family 249, Gilbert F. and Hertha Cottrell; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 11 July 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication T626, roll 2351.
  9. 1940 U.S. census, Harris County, Texas, Houston, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 258-34, sheet 6B, household 138, Gilbert and Hertha Cottrell; digital image, Archives.gov (http://1940census.archives.gov : accessed 11 July 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication T627, roll 4191.
  10. Texas Dept. of Health, Death Certif. No. 49224, Gilbert F. Cottrell (1970).
  11. Social Security Death Index, entry for Hertha Cottrell, Houston, Texas, 1990; database and index, Mocavo.com (http://www.mocavo.com : accessed 11 July 2014).
  12. Earthman Resthaven Cemetery (Houston, Harris County, Texas; on North Freeway, approximately one mile north of the intersection with Sam Houston Parkway, Latitude 29.960995, Longitude -95.413649), Gilbert F. Cottrell marker. The records of the Cemetery reflect Hertha’s burial next to Bert.
  13. “US, Headstone Applications for Military Veterans, 1925-1963,” database and images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 8 Mar 2015).
  14. See “Personnel Record to Move to National Archives at St. Louis,” Archives.gov (http://www.archives.gov/ : accessed 8 Mar 2015).
Posted in General, My family | 8 Comments