Saturday, October 6, 2012

Your Ancestors and the Law

When I was in the Advanced Methodologies course at Samford this past June, I mentioned in a blog the Congressional Serial Set, and the possibility that your ancestor may have had dealings with Congress and therefore be mentioned in it. We wouldn't normally think of our ancestors having any dealings with such a high authority, but remember the United States was not always such a populated place. Again, you may think, "Well my people were just simple farmer folk in the wilds of (fill in the blank). What would they have to do with such a high branch of government?" I understand your point, but in times after war for example, people needed compensation for one reason or another. Maybe their case made it to Congress. It's worth a look. Another possibility is the state government.

This past week I started a new volunteer project at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. You may recall the last project I worked on was scanning and creating a database for bible records found in surname vertical files. This new project is proofreading an index/database created from Acts Passed at the Regular Session of the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee. Specifically, this week I worked on the Sixteenth General Assembly and what they produced in 1825. It turns out that it is pretty fascinating stuff, and your ancestor (if they lived in Tennessee) could be named in it.

There are a lot of individuals named in these Acts. One man was declared an "idiot", that his slaves (listed by name) would be sold, and the proceeds from the sale would be used to care for him. Other people are listed as changing their names. If there were issues regarding land, that couldn't be resolved at a local court, then your ancestor may be mentioned. Slaves are listed by name to be freed, surveyors are listed, individuals owing money for various reasons are listed, commissioners for turnpike roads are listed... you get the idea. Your ancestor could be listed!!

The point is, you should check out your state's Acts to see if your ancestors are listed. Even though they may have been simple farmer folk, there could have been land disputes. Maybe your ancestor was hired as an additional road commissioner, or maybe your ancestor was once a slave owned by a legally declared "idiot." You never know.


  1. Good advice. Name changes, especially. And slaves listed by name. I'll look for Acts Passed by the General Assembly of SC, or the equivalent. Thanks for this post!

  2. I found a namr change in NY. Only record I found for him in NY. Great write up.

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