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For my history, my records, my people

The Legal Genealogist is in Georgia today, at the spring conference of the Georgia Genealogical Society — “Your Ancestors and the Law.” We’re going to talk about private laws, African-American research, our family black sheep, copyright and more.

Thank_you_pinned_noteAnd, at some point today, I hope I have the opportunity to say a heartfelt “thank you” to Georgia, to the Georgia Genealogical Society, and to hundreds, even thousands of Georgia genealogists, historians, archivists and citizens who stepped forward three years ago… who spoke out for our history, for our records, for our people.

At least two of my ancestral lines came through Georgia:

• Around 1787, Elijah Gentry Jr. was born, most likely in Wilkes County, Georgia. His birthplace was listed as Georgia in census records in both 18501 and 1860.2 He was my third great grandfather. His father — Elijah Sr., my fourth great grandfather — was recorded as a juror in Wilkes County, Georgia, around the time Elijah Jr. was born.3 The family didn’t leave Georgia for Mississippi until after an 1805 poll tax payment in Clarke County.

• 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).4 They were my second great grandparents. The Johnsons and Mary’s parents — my third great grandparents Jesse and Nancy Fore — were enumerated in Union County in 1840.5

I have a lot of work left to do on these lines. They are among the reasons why I own a t-shirt that reads: “So many ancestors, so little time.”

I want to know more of Mathew and Mary’s early life together. Perhaps if I can find out how they met, I can begin to trace Mathew back. All I know about him is that he was a shoemaker, born in Virginia, and died young.

I want to know more about the Fore family and their time in Georgia. Where did they come from? What brought Jesse to that part of Georgia from South Carolina where he had served in the militia during the War of 1812?

And there is a whole raft of questions that I have about the Gentrys and their time in Georgia. Members of that family were Virginians back into the 1600s, and my branch resettled in South Carolina in time for Elijah Sr. to serve in the militia there during the Revolution. What brought them to Georgia? What did they do here? Perhaps I can even, finally, identify Elijah Sr.’s wife, and Elijah Jr.’s mother.

I can look forward to working on every one of those questions in large measure because of the people I want to say thank you to today.

Because they are the ones who stepped forward, three years ago, and saved the Georgia Archives.

It’s hard to believe, now, how close we came to disaster back in 2012. How the Georgia Secretary of State announced that, because of budgetary constraints, the Georgia Archives was about to be effectively closed. How even before 2012 the hours had been cut to two days a week and how even the online access system was in disarray.6

It’s hard to fathom now, when we look now at a gorgeous facility with hours Tuesday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., or when we look at a fully functional website with its links to a growing Virtual Vault of digital documents, just how near that near miss was.

How close we came to losing a major archives in one of our original 13 states — a repository of colonial-era and early American records.7

It’s only because people stepped forward back in 2012, banded together, spoke out, and refused to take no for an answer that the Georgia Archives is today what it is today. It’s only because our community joined with other like-minded people to preserve and protect our heritage here in Georgia. It’s only because people cared.

And it’s hard to say thank you enough for those efforts, joined in by so many. Folks who stood up and spoke out for our history, for our records, for our people.

And, because of them, I still have a chance to go after my history… my records … my people.

Thank you, Georgia.


  1. 1850 U.S. census, Neshoba County, Mississippi, population schedule, p. 119(A) (stamped), dwelling 74, family 79, Elijah Gentry; digital image, ( : accessed 12 July 2002); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 378.
  2. 1860 U.S. census, Neshoba County, Mississippi, Twp. 12, Range 10, population schedule, p. 153 (penned), dwelling 988, family 1022, Elijah Gentry; digital image, ( : accessed 28 Sep 2002); citing National Archive microfilm publication M653, roll 681.
  3. Marie DeLamar and Elisabeth Rothstein, The Reconstructed 1790 Census of Georgia (Baltimore, Md. : Genealogical Publishing Co., 1985), 170.
  4. 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 ( : accessed 1 May 2015).
  5. 1840 U.S. census, Union County, Georgia, p. 13 (stamped), Mathew Johnson and Jesse Fore; digital image, ( : accessed 5 May 2004); citing National Archive microfilm publication M704, roll 52.
  6. See e.g. Judy G. Russell, “Archives and ancestors,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 15 Sep 2012 ( : accessed 1 May 2015).
  7. The threat to Georgia’s archives is — unfortunately — not all that unusual. For example, the Indiana Governor this year proposed to eliminate all funding for the genealogical collections at the Indiana State Library. We must all be vigilant to protect our history, our records, against these threats.
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