When the answer “isn’t there”

The answer to the question wasn’t there.

Not in those minutes of the May 1793 term of the Court of Common Pleas in Hunterdon County, New Jersey.

Reader Pat Steinkerchner had carefully copied the entire set of minutes because of the reference to her ancestor John Chamberlin in as many as three entries on one page.

In the first entry, he and two others were shown to the right of the name Joseph Hoogler of Alexandria Township. To the right was the designation “Do,” meaning “ditto,” and the reference at the top was “securities.”1

Hunterdon minutes

Securities, remember, are effectively the co-signers on a bond. In this context, it’s used to mean “one who becomes surety or guarantor for another”2 — and that’s defined as “one who at the request of another, and for the purpose of securing to him a benefit, becomes responsible for the performance by the latter of some act in favor of a third person, or hypothecates property as security therefor.”3 So these guys were backing up the first guy to do something.

The second entry was much the same: he and two others were shown to the right of the name Spencer Carter of Bethlehem Township, with that same “Do” to the right.4

And the third was the same sort of thing: his name and that of two other men shown to the right of the name Aaron Van Sickler of Alexandria Township, with that same “Do” to the right.5

Pat couldn’t figure out from the information given in the minutes just what John Chamberlin was serving as security for. So she asked The Legal Genealogist to take a look and see if there was something she was missing.

And the answer, quite simply, is nope. She hadn’t overlooked a thing. Nowhere in those minutes is there even a hint as to why the men on the left needed the men on the right as securities. Each entry had an amount with it, but it’s a very small amount and, like the rest of these entries, it’s not explained.

In fact, you can read every word of every page for every day in that court term and the answer simply isn’t there.

Now what?

At first I was as stumped as Pat was. And was thinking of simply adding this as another example of a court clerk who couldn’t be bothered to write down important details in the minute book.

Except that I’m stubborn.6

So I looked at all of the minutes of that court for the entire year of 1793.

And there wasn’t a hint as to who those men were and what the security was for.

There wasn’t even another example of the kind of list that appeared in those minutes.

Now I was really stumped… and thinking even more of names to be used to describe said court clerk who couldn’t be bothered to write down important details in the minute book.

But I still wasn’t ready to give up. And it occurred to me that if this list appeared only in the May 1793 minutes, then maybe… just maybe … there’d be something similar in May 1794.

Bingo.

An almost identical list, with some of the names on the left being repeated: Aaron Van Sickler of Alexandria, for example. Spencer Carter of Bethlehem.7

Only now there was one more piece of information inserted in the very first entry before all the Do (ditto) references: All of those people listed in the left hand entries were being “Licensed to keep Tavern.” And those on the right hand side were their securities, or sureties that they’d live up the conditions of their tavern licenses.

The exercise — and it was a good one for me — reminded me of one of the basic rules in genealogical research:

Turn the page.

Turn all the pages.

Because somewhere in the records there is going to be an answer — or, at least, there’s a fighting chance until we get to the very last page.


SOURCES

  1. Hunterdon County, New Jersey, Court of Common Pleas, Minute Book 14: 442, Minutes of May Session 1793; Hall of Records, Flemington; digital image provided by Pat Steinkerchner. These minutes have now been digitized and are also available at FamilySearch. See id.; digital images, “Minutes, 1714-1908,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 14 Nov 2018).
  2. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 1073, “security.”
  3. Ibid., 1142, “surety.”
  4. Hunterdon Co. Court of Common Pleas, Minute Book 14: 442, Minutes of May Session 1793; digital images, “Minutes, 1714-1908,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 14 Nov 2018).
  5. Ibid.
  6. German on my father’s side, Scots-Irish on my mother’s side, what else could I be?
  7. Hunterdon Co. Court of Common Pleas, Minute Book 15: 10-12, Minutes of May Session 1794; digital images, “Minutes, 1714-1908,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 14 Nov 2018).
Print Friendly, PDF & Email