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It strikes again!

The Legal Genealogist often uses one particular branch of the family as examples in lectures: the Bakers of Virginia-North Carolina-Texas.

This is on my maternal grandfather’s side: we descend from David Baker (1749 VA – 1838 NC), through Martin Baker (1797 NC – 1868 TX, David’s oldest son by his second wife), then Martha Louisa Baker (1832 NC – 1913 TX) who married George Washington Cottrell, then Martin Gilbert Cottrell (1855-1946 TX) and then his youngest son, Clay, my grandfather.

I use this family for so many reasons: they’re — sigh — a great example of family stories that turn out not to be true in the least; they’re also — double sigh — a great example of the need to do burned county research; they have all kinds of same-name-same-guy questions, and so on…

And every so often when I’m talking about the Bakers, serendipity strikes.

I’ve written before about the cousin who isn’t — a Baker who isn’t one of my Bakers but was absolutely critical in disproving a family story of descent from an early Massachusetts colonist. Tony Baker happened to be in the audience at RootsTech some years back when I spoke of the DNA test he took that helped me clear up that little misunderstanding of our history.1

And this past Saturday, serendipity struck again.

I was out in Loveland, Colorado, deeply honored to have been the speaker for the Larimer County Genealogical Society’s Conference for a Cause — every penny of the profits is going to help digitize local newspaper archives. And in the first of four presentations, I happened to mention the Bakers in a reference I made to the first Burke County, North Carolina, court clerk.2

During the break, up comes a couple. Joel and Londa Melahn. And Londa says, “Hi, cousin!” and shows me a chart. I descend from David’s oldest son by that second wife — and she descends from the youngest son by that second wife. Her third great grandfather Charles Baker was high sheriff of Yancey County, NC, and later moved to Texas to live practically next door to his older brother, my third great grandfather Martin Baker — and Londa descends from Charles’ daughter Rebecca.

Cool! Fifth cousins!

We chatted for a few minutes, and one of them — Joel, I believe — asked about the story that’s been passed down in the Bakers about David’s father being killed while making gunpowder for the patriot forces during the Revolutionary War.

Whoa… That’s an example I was about to use in the very next presentation: it’s a great example of negative evidence, the kind of evidence that should be there if a story (or theory or hypothesis is true) and when it’s not there we can draw an inference that the story/theory/hypothesis isn’t true.3

“Sit tight with that,” I said. “Wait ’til the next lecture.”

Serendipity in the Bakers!

What I’d forgotten was that I used one more example in that lecture on negative evidence. But there it was in all its glory:

Charles Baker census

Yep. That’s Londa’s branch of the family on the 1850 census of Yancey County, North Carolina.4

It’d be serendipity all by itself that — years ago when I first put that lecture together — I chose that branch of the family and Charles’ occupation as an example of direct evidence: the record directly answers the question of what Charles did for a living.5

It was a double dose of serendipity when we all realized that I’d chosen the question of where the family was living when one of Charles’ children was born as an example of indirect evidence: the fact that the child was born in North Carolina only tells us where the mama was at that moment, not that the family was living there at the time.6

And the child I picked, all those years ago in constructing that lecture?


Londa’s second great grandmother.

Serendipity in the Bakers — in spades!

There are times I just love being a genealogy speaker.

Saturday was one of those times.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Baker serendipity,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 30 Sep 2019).


  1. Judy G. Russell, “The cousin who isn’t,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 8 Feb 2014 ( : accessed 30 Sep 2019).
  2. I hate him. That’s a whole ‘nother story, but his minutes really lack detail and it annoys me greatly. If I ever meet up with him, boy is he ever getting an earful…
  3. See Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards, 2d edition (Nashville, Tenn. : Ancestry, 2019), 81-82 (glossary entry for “negative evidence”).
  4. 1850 U.S. census, Yancey County, North Carolina, population schedule, p. 450A (stamped), dwelling 925, family 967, Charles Baker household; digital image, ( : accessed 30 Sep 2019); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 649.
  5. See Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards, 75-76 (glossary entry for “direct evidence”).
  6. See ibid., 80 (glossary entry for “indirect evidence”).
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