Research for the day before Election Day

One hundred years ago, Opal Robertson Cottrell knew more about some terrible things than most of us would ever want to contemplate.

By that time, one hundred years ago, The Legal Genealogist‘s grandmother knew all about the terror a new parent feels when a first-born child isn’t doing well. She knew first-hand the grief of losing and burying that child. She knew the worry of watching a husband go off to war, and the responsibility of keeping things going on the home front while he was gone.

What she didn’t know — what she couldn’t have known at that time, one hundred years ago — was what it felt like on the day before an election to sit there and contemplate what candidates and what issues would merit her vote.

Because, at that time, one hundred years ago, she wasn’t eligible to vote.

She was, of course, female. And it wasn’t until that day, exactly one hundred years ago today, on the fifth of November 1918, that the state where she lived — Oklahoma — passed State Question 97, which extended suffrage to women.1

And, even had Oklahoma passed that referendum earlier, she wouldn’t have been able to vote at that time, one hundred years ago, in 1918.

She wasn’t yet 21 years old. She didn’t turn 21 until the 21st of August 1919.2 And it wasn’t until the passage of the 26th amendment to the Constitution, ratified on the first of July 1971, that 18-year-olds got the right to vote.3

In the 100 years between then and now, voters of all sizes, shapes, genders and ages have done something genealogists should adore.

They created records.

Alabama prison record

Voter registration records.4

Lists of voters.5

Records of being denied the right to vote.6

Records of getting the right to vote restored.7

These records didn’t start, of course, just 100 years ago. There are records involving voting here that go back just about as far as there were Europeans on this continent.8

So here, on this day before so many of us have a chance to exercise the right my grandmother didn’t have one hundred years ago, let’s take a look at the records our ancestors left when they did have that right.

Let’s all go see if we can find a voting record of one of our ancestors or, at least, one of our kinfolk.

And, of course, tomorrow… we can go out and vote and create records of our own.


SOURCES

Image: See note 7, below. My then-23-year-old cousin ran afoul of the distilling laws of Alabama in 1925. He was “pardoned with restoration of citizenship” in 1927 — meaning he got back the right to vote.

  1. Tally D. Fugate, “Oklahoma Woman’s Suffrage Association,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, Oklahoma Historical Society (http://www.okhistory.org/ : accessed 5 Nov 2018).
  2. See Virginia Department of Health, death certif. no. 95-011808, Opal Robertson Cottrell, 15 Mar 1995; Division of Vital Records, Richmond.
  3. The 26th Amendment,” Historical Highlights, United States House of Representatives (https://history.house.gov/ : accessed 5 Nov 2018).
  4. See, e.g., “Ohio, Cuyahoga County Records, 1880-1950”; digital images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 5 Nov 2018).
  5. See “List of registered voters, Washington County, Alabama, 1901”; digital images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 5 Nov 2018).
  6. See Hearings before the United States Commission on Civil Rights, 1960-1961, PDF, AtlasFamily.org (http://www.atlasfamily.org/ : accessed 5 Nov 2018).
  7. See e.g. Ross Battles, convict no. 13612, “Alabama, Convict Records, 1886-1952,” database and images, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 5 Nov 2018); citing Alabama Department of Corrections and Institutions, State Convict Records, 1889–1952, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery.
  8. See Ed Crews, “Voting in Early America,” Colonial Williamsburg Journal (Spring 2007), html version (http://www.history.org/foundation/journal/ : accessed 5 Nov 2018).
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