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Organizing our genealogy files is a good thing

The Legal Genealogist‘s files are a mess.

I keep telling myself that I need to really go through and organize the records I have, record them properly and get them entered into the database.

And I keep saying that I’ll get around to it.

And that keeps coming back to bite me, hard, somewhere I’d rather not be bitten.

The plan for this morning was to write about a really cool document being featured today in the Today’s Document from the National Archives series.

It’s titled the “Tally of Electoral Votes for the 1800 Presidential Election, February 11, 1801,” and it’s the tally of the 138 electors casting ballots between the Democratic-Republican slate of Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr and the Federalist slate of John Adams and Charles C. Pinckney.1

All 73 of the Democratic-Republican electors voted for Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr; all 65 of the Federalist electors cast their ballots for John Adams, with 64 also voting for Charles C. Pinckney and one from Rhode Island for John Jay.2

Only there was a hitch.

At the time, the votes were not distinguished between President and Vice President.

Which meant there was a tie.

Between Jefferson — the Democratic-Republican candidate for President — and Burr — the Democratic-Republican candidate for Vice President.

That’s why the election was thrown into the House of Representatives and, ultimately, why the Electoral College system was revamped through the adoption of the 12th Amendment in 1804.3

Now we all know that the House of Representatives “cast thirty-five ballots over five days to break the tie and finally, on February 17, 1801, on the thirty-sixth ballot, the House elected Thomas Jefferson to be President.”4

And my really cool genealogical lesson for the day was going to focus on checking to see if any of our ancestors were involved in any way in this or other elections that would help us flesh out our family histories. I even had a great example I was going to use: my own fourth great grandfather David Baker of North Carolina was involved in this very contested election!

No, he wasn’t one of the electors representing North Carolina in the Electoral College itself.5 But the electors from North Carolina were chosen by popular election in local districts.6

And David Baker was involved in that process!

I think.

I mean, I know that somewhere in my files, either paper or digital, there’s that document showing that David was either a candidate for elector or, much more likely since he was a local justice of the peace, a judge in the election itself. It might be an election tally in Burke County, North Carolina, where David lived at the time. Or maybe it’s a digital image from one of the newspapers of the day reporting on the selection of local electors in North Carolina. Or maybe it’s something I dreamt up in the middle of a fevered dream one night.

Because, for the life of me, I cannot find hide nor hair of that document this morning.

It doesn’t help that I still have digital images from a North Carolina research trip in 2009 that are named wonderfully useful things like IMG_1998.JPG. Or that I have way too many digital folders labeled Miscellaneous Original Records.

And it’s not at all helpful that I have a couple of dozen — I won’t even bother to count ’em — different folders with Baker somewhere in the folder title.


My files are a mess.

So today’s lesson isn’t going to be about finding and incorporating cool records of important elections in our family histories, though we all really should do that. I mean, how cool would it be to document that a fourth great grandfather was a candidate or a judge of election in that wacky election of 1800?!?

Instead … sigh … today’s lesson is on getting those records properly cataloged, entered and indexed so that we can find what we need when we need it to be able to document that a fourth great grandfather was a candidate or a judge of election in that wacky election of 1800.

I’m certainly going to do that.

Just as soon as I get around to it…

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “A lesson in why…,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 17 Feb 2020).


  1. Tally of Electoral Votes for the 1800 Presidential Election, February 11, 1801; Record Group 46, Records of the United States Senate; Center for Legislative Archives; National Archives; digital image, Today’s Document from the National Archives, ( : accessed 17 Feb 2020).
  2. Ibid.
  3. See generally Wikipedia (, “Twelfth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” rev. 13 Feb 2020.
  4. Tally of Electoral Votes for the 1800 Presidential Election, February 11, 1801,” Today’s Document from the National Archives.
  5. For the names of the electors of 1800, see The Annals of Congress, House of Representatives, 6th Congress, 2nd Session, at 1023; digital images, “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875,” Library of Congress, American Memory ( : accessed 17 Feb 2020).
  6. See Deborah Kalb, editor, Guide to U.S. Elections, 7th ed. (Los Angeles : CQ Press, 2016), 861.
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