For the past few months I have been focused on learning and improving my research skills. It started with my annual trek to The Genealogy Research Institute in Pittsburgh and Judy Russell’s and Rick Sayre’s class on “Law School For Genealogists” and continues today with the DAR Genealogy Education Program courses.
Over the years I have done extensive research in the local courthouses, primarily focused on the genealogists favorites: probate records and land records (including tax records). This year I started looking into Criminal and Civil court records and have found some really interesting things, which leads me back to the course in Pittsburgh. I needed to understand what the records were really saying.
Putting the information I learned in Judy and Rick’s class to use, I found a whole new world of records has opened up. Federal court records, immigration records (more than arrival lists), and State and Congressional law, including private laws just for a citizen. Who knew? I thought it was boasting (or hot air) when, in a 2nd great grandmothers autobiography, she claimed she had Congress pass a law, just for her. To find out it could have happened, wow!
A friend asked me a simple question: “Why do you take classes?” My answer: “To better my research skills.” And she asked: “But why, aren’t your skills good enough?” This question really started me thinking. When do our genealogy skills become “good enough”? And I don’t have an answer for her question.
If there are records out there that I could consult, that would help me find a way around a brick wall, then I want to know about them. My Civil Court findings to date:
- Sued for paternity and support of an illegitimate child (one case in county court and one in Federal court)
- Sued by the local Poor House to support an indigent parent (lawsuit included a half-brother I had never heard of)
- A brother suing his brother-in-law and various counter suits over a fence and (drunken) party!
- An uncle sued for non-payment by the nurse who cared for a brother in his final days (this lawsuit proved a relationship which resulted in my membership in DAR)
- Sue or be sued for border disputes, land disputes, damages, etc.
- Make a verbal promise to support a cause and then lose ones business as a result of failure to carry through when sued 25 years later!
- Attempted to take oath of citizenship only to have the proceedings stopped by a Federal attorney, resulting in the denial of opportunity (still waiting for court records on this one)
I have only begun my searching through these record collections and I’ve turned up all of this? These records are sitting on a shelf gathering dust, whether I know about them or not. However it is my family these records are documenting, their life struggles, good and bad. Some of the lawsuits are petty, but they have shed light on why my 4th great grandfather had 2 separate 90th birthday parties (there was a whole column in the local newspaper devoted to the competing parties, with different relatives in attendance at each).
Those records are just sitting there waiting for us. What’s a little bit of time spent learning?