About those lawbooks…

What exactly did Elizabeth Wright do for a living around 1867?

You won’t find the answer in the 1850 census, even though you can find her in the 1850 census of St. Louis, Missouri. She was recorded as 38 years old, born in Scotland, and the head of a household with two little girls, Marian, age 7, and Grace, age 4, both born in Missouri. The occupation line is blank.1

Fast forward to 1860, and she’s recorded as Elizabeth “Right” in San Mateo County, California, age 45, born in Scotland, with two girls, Marian, age 15, and Grace, age 13, both born in Missouri. The occupation line is indexed at Ancestry as public shafter.2

Wright census

The Legal Genealogist begs to disagree, but… hey, if an indexer read that as public shafter, well… what can I say?

Come forward and you can find her in 1870. She was in San Francisco, shown as age 50, born in Scotland, with Marian, age 25, and Grace, age 23, both born in Missouri. The occupation line: keeping house.3

So… what exactly did Elizabeth Wright do for a living around 1867?

The census doesn’t give us an answer, does it? No matter what she was doing in 1860 or in 1870, that doesn’t give us evidence of what she was doing in 1867. We need something else to tell us that detail.

The usual suspects for occupational information outside of the census are city directories, and they do exist in San Mateo but not before around 1889 and they’re not online before the 1907 edition anyway. The only Elizabeth Wright in the 1867 or 1868 San Francisco city directory is shown simply as a widow.4

What else could tell us what she did for a living?

You know what I’m going to say, right?

Always, always, always look at the laws.

So many times the clue we’re looking for will come in the public laws of a jurisdiction — the laws passed that impact all residents or citizens equally — or in the private laws — the laws passed for the benefit of a single individual or group of individuals.5

And so it is in the case of Elizabeth Wright.

Because on the 27th of March 1868, the California State Legislature enacted a law to provide for the payment of Mrs. E. Wright “the sum of three hundred and seventy dollars in gold or silver coin.”6

Why?

As “salary due her as teacher in Jefferson School District, Number One, in San Mateo County.”7

Bingo.

Always, always, always look at the laws.


Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “In gold or silver coin,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 1 Nov 2019).

SOURCES

  1. 1850 U.S. census, St Louis City, Missouri, population schedule, p. 221B (stamped), dwelling 582, family 722, Elizabeth Wright household; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 31 Oct 2019); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 417.
  2. 1860 U.S. census, San Mateo County, California, Redwood City, population schedule, p. 91 (stamped), dwelling 374, family 358, Elizabeth Right household; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 31 Oct 2019); citing National Archive microfilm publication M653, roll 65.
  3. 1870 U.S. census, San Francisco County, California, 12th Ward, population schedule, p. 116 (penned), dwelling 842, family 818, person; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 31 Oct 2019); citing National Archive microfilm publication M593, roll 85.
  4. The San Francisco Directory … 1867 (San Francisco: Henry G. Langley, 1867), 509, entry for Elizabeth Wright; digital images, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 21 Oct 2019). See also ibid., The San Francisco Directory … 1868 (San Francisco: Henry G. Langley, 1868), 584, entry for Elizabeth Wright.
  5. See “About Public and Private Laws,” GovInfo.gov, U.S. Government Publishing Office (https://www.govinfo.gov/ : accessed 24 Oct 2019).
  6. “An Act to provide for the payment of Mrs. E. Wright salary due her as teacher in Jefferson School District, Number One, in San Mateo County,” Chapter 338 in The Statutes of California … 1867-8 (Sacramento : D.W. Gelwicks, 1868); digital images, Google Books (https://books.google.com/ : accessed 31 Oct 2019).
  7. Ibid.
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