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I’ll drink to that!

This year has been a tough year of transitions.

Shifting from a regular work schedule to a contract basis.

Teaching genealogy more than law.

Traveling. Oh yes traveling. Almost everywhere this year.

Classic margarita cocktail with lime slice and salty rim. IsolatEven today The Legal Genealogist is off again — to Bucks County, Pennsylvania, this time, to talk about widows and orphans and the law and genealogical records.

It’s getting close to the time when I can total up the won-or-lost columns and put this year into my personal record books.

It’s been fun.

It’s been exhilarating.

It’s been exhausting.

And at some point, maybe even after I get home tonight, I’m going to sit down, put my feet up, and indulge in a little something celebratory.

Something more than slightly alcoholic in nature.

Something that wouldn’t have been possible… well, wouldn’t have been legal… but for Utah.

Because exactly 81 years ago yesterday Utah became the 36th state to ratify the 21st amendment to the United States Constitution. The amendment that ended Prohibition.1

Prohibition began on 17 January 1920, one year after the 18th amendment calling for the ban on “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States” was ratified by the states.2

That amendment had passed Congress in December 1917, and was ratified when, on a single day — 16 January 1919, it was approved by North Carolina, Nebraska, Missouri, Wyoming, and — fittingly — Utah. Utah was only the 35th state to vote to enact the amendment; the state that put it over the top was Nebraska.3

From a genealogist’s standpoint, the 18th amendment was a marvel. An absolute explosion of criminal cases flooded the courts, 1500 new enforcement agents were hired by the federal government, and records were created everywhere. In my own family, I’ve found prison records of at least four cousins in Alabama for bootlegging4 and I’m sure I haven’t even scratched the surface.

Just as one example, the National Archives has a set of records called Identification Card Files of Prohibition Agents, compiled 1920 – 1925, documenting the period 1919 – 1925.5 If you need more, NARA also has a whole set of records about official corruption — payoffs from bootleggers to police and local officials — in the Seattle Washington area.6

And if that’s not enough, think of the possible local records you might find. The Denver Public Library has a scrapbook on the career of James W. Melrose, a Colorado State Prohibition Agent, kept by his daughter.7 The Western Reserve Historical Society in Ohio has records of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union of Lake County, Ohio.8 The Library of Virginia has an entire set of records from the Virginia Prohibition Commission, set up by statute in 1916 to control “the sale and use of ardent spirits.” 9

So there’s a lot to be grateful for, as a genealogist, when thinking about Prohibition.

And maybe tonight, one very grateful Legal Genealogist will raise a glass to Utah, and its vote 81 years ago yesterday, on 5 December 1933, to ratify the 21st amendment: “The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.”

I’ll drink to that.

Note: This post is a reprise of an earlier blog posted 6 December 2012.

  1. Amendment 21, United States Constitution.
  2. Amendment 18, United States Constitution.
  3. Wikipedia (, “Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” rev. 3 Dec 2014.
  4. See generally Judy G. Russell, “Consequences of crime,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 30 Mar 2012 ( : accessed 5 Dec 2014). In addition to Quitman and Ross Battles, Jeff and McKinley Battles also spent time in the same prison system for the same offenses.
  5. Identification Card Files of Prohibition Agents, compiled 1920 – 1925, documenting the period 1919 – 1925; Records of the Internal Revenue Service, 1791-2006; Record Group 58; National Archives II, Washington, D.C.
  6. Seattle Conspiracy (Olmstead) Investigation, 1931 – 1935; Investigative Case Files, compiled 1924 – 1933; General Records of the Department of the Treasury, 1775 – 2005; Record Group 56; National Archives, Seattle.
  7. A. Brown, “Prohibition in Colorado,” Western History & Genealogy Blog ( : accessed 5 Dec 2012).
  8. Woman’s Christian Temperance Union records, 1916-1924; Western Reserve Historical Society; Cleveland, Ohio.
  9. Virginia Prohibition Commission Records, 1916-1934, Accession No. 42740; State Records Collection; Library of Virginia, Richmond.
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