Wrestling With FamilySearch Record Collections That Use the Russell Index

The Russell Index. Just mentioning the name causes some to shudder. The skeleton key symbol emblazoned with its cryptic “l-m-n-r-t” message. The dreaded columns and rows.  Letters and numbers all over the page. Noooooo! If you do research in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, among others, you are going to have to master this index. I’m here to tell you, though, folks – this is one of my favorite indexes. With just a little bit of practice, I guarantee you’ll learn to love it, too. There are different variations of this index, but each revolves around the use of five key letters that follow the first letter of a given surname.

Russell index books are organized into individual volumes, according the initial letter of a surname. You may also find volumes that combine several initial letters into one volume. For example, you might find a single volume that contains all those surnames beginning with H, I, and J. Once you have the volume in hand that contains the surname you are interested in, ignore the first letter of the surname and identify the first key letter contained within that name. The Russell system uses five key letters: L, M, N, R, and T. If I am looking for the surname “Johns,” I first select the volume that contains the “J” surnames. Next, I need to identify the first key letter in “Johns.” That key letter is “N.” Once we know the key letter, index entries are going to be organized by first letter of the given name. If the surname doesn’t contain any key letters, use the “Misc.” column. Simple enough, right?

Using the chart below, what section would contain entries for Samuel Johns?1 (answer in the footnote)



This all seems rather complicated. How can I claim this is one of my favorite indexes? While not a true “sounds-like” index, the use of key letters groups similar-sounding surnames in the same section. This makes it easier to search for alternate spellings of names, as they are all in one place. For example, if I am looking for transactions for Rueben Summers, I will find them all in section 152, regardless of whether the name is spelled “Summers,” “Sommers,” “Summer,” or “Sommer.” What if I don’t know the given name that I’m looking for– only a surname? The Russell Index simplifies that search, too. Using the index above, if I’m looking for entries for an unknown Summers, I can start at section 12, go to 22, then 32, etc. In a general index that’s organized by surname, then by first name, and then chronologically by date, you would likely have to scroll through many, many more pages to find every entry of interest.

So how does this work online with FamilySearch record collections? Many of the collections that have been digitized and put online are not indexed, and you have to browse through them similar to the way you would scroll through using the actual microfilm. Many of the films (and therefore the digitized images of that film) contain more than one volume. Therefore, the inside cover of each index book – the page that usually contains the index key- might be found anywhere within the digital collection.

*Most* collections start at the beginning of a volume, in which case it’s fairly easy to find the index key, as it is usually within the first few images of the collection. If that’s the case, be sure to note the number of the image that contains it so you can go directly back to it if necessary. I’ve also found it useful to print out a key for the Russell Index variations that I most frequently use rather than have to keep going back and forth when searching for different names; it’s a real time-saver.

Need more Russell Index practice? Use the Russell index above to look for the following folks– the first few governors of Ohio.

Edward Tiffin?2
Thomas Kirker?3
Samuel Huntingdon?4
Return Meigs?5
Othniel Looker?6
Unknown Worthington?7

Just to make sure you don’t cheat and look directly at the answers, below is a Russell Index variation that uses two key letters instead of one. It works exactly the same way, but breaks the indexes down into more manageable chunks when there are lots of entries.


See? The Russell Index is NOT that scary. Take a deep breath, read the instructions, and then show Russell who is boss!

  1. Section 153. The only key letter is “n.” Following that column down to given names that start with “S” gives us the answer. []
  2. Tiffin, 53 []
  3. Kirker, 164 []
  4. Huntingdon, 153 []
  5. Meigs, 146 []
  6. Looker, 124 []
  7. Worthington, all those sections ending with 4 []
Posted in Thoughts and Musings | Comments Off

Attention Ohio Residents: New Gambling Law Passed in the Northwest Territory

betting,blackjack,casinos,chips,gambling,games,leisure,luck,playing cards,poker,recreation

In 2013, gaming in the (former) Northwest Territory is a hot topic. Casinos, internet cafes, or Keno games dot our Territory and can be found in just about every city, town, village, or station. Here in Cleveland, the opening of the Horseshoe Casino was big news. The new Racino just opened at Thistledown Race Track. How would these enterprises have fared in 1790 under the laws of Northwest Territory? They would have been shut down, lost their license, and been ordered to pay $100 “to the use of the territory,”1

In August of 1790 in Vincennes, the “act for suppressing and prohibiting every species of Gaming for Money or other Property, and for making void all contracts and payments made in consequence thereof, and also for restraining the disorderly practice of discharging Fire Arms at certain hours and places.” was passed.2 The preamble to the act details why such an act was necessary:

WHEREAS the population, happiness and prosperity of all countries, especially infant communities, necessarily depend upon the sobriety and industry of the people, and their attention to the moral and political duties of life, without which neither the great ends of society can be answered, nor the blessings of good government be felt. And whereas many pernicious games have been publickly practised in this territory, tending to the corruption of morals and the increase of vice and idleness, and by which the honest and unsuspecting citizen may be defrauded, and deserving families be reduced to beggary and want.3

The act  stipulates that:

if any person or persons within this territory, shall on his, her or their own account…publickly set up, permit, or tables, suffer, or cause or procure to be publickly set up, permitted or suffered, any species of gaming…whereby money or other property shall be betted, won or lost, or…may derive any benefit or advantage, in money, goods or other property, as a consideration for permission to play or bett thereat, each and every such person so offending shall forfeit and pay for every such offence…the sum of two hundred dollars.”4

Tavern keepers were also held responsible for any sort of gambling in their establishments or on their property, and were subject to a one hundred dollar fine for any offense.5 Interestingly, tacked onto this legislation was an additional regulation regarding the discharging of firearms. Anyone shooting their gun within a quarter of a mile of the nearest building of a city, town, village, or station would be fined between one and five dollars. Shoot your gun “after the setting of the sun and before the rising of the same” and you can expect another fine of the same amount.6 The exception to this law is one that provides insight into the daily lives and regular threats to those intrepid, early settlers of the Northwest Territory. It tells us a little bit about what was important to our frontier ancestors:

nothing herein contained shall be deemed or construed to extend to any person lawfully using fire-arms as offensive or defensive weapons, in annoying, or opposing a common enemy, or defending his or her person or property, or the person or property of any other, against the invasion or depredations of an enemy, or in the support of the laws and government; or against the attacks of rebels, highwaymen, robbers, thieves, or others unlawfully assailing him or her, or in any other manner where such opposition, defence, or resistance is allowed by the law of the land…. 

Provided also. That nothing herein contained shall be construed in or extend to prevent the necessary military exercise…firings of, or the discharging of cannon or small arms, by any soldiers or troops in the service of the United States…. 

[nor] to the act of killing or destroying…mad or wild animals of the brute kind lurking among, in or near, or preying upon or threatening to prey upon and devour any kind of animal stock, or the corn, grain, and other produce in, of or belonging to any plantation…nor to the hindrance of any person shooting at or killing any of the larger kind of game or wild animals, such as buffaloes, bears, deer, hares, rabbits, turkies, swans, geese that may happen at any time to come in view, or be passing or feeding near any city, town, or other place as aforesaid7.

  1. Theodore C. Pease, The Laws of the Northwest Territory, 1788-1800  (Springfield: Trustees of the Illinois State Historical Library, 1925.), 31; digital images, Internet Archive, Ebook and Texts Archive (http://archive.org/details/texts: accessed 30 Jun 2013). []
  2. ibid. []
  3. ibid., 30 []
  4. ibid. []
  5. ibid., 31 []
  6. ibid., 33 []
  7. ibid., 33-34 []
Posted in Thoughts and Musings | Comments Off

Meet More of Your Ancestor In Original Records

I need to apologize to my 4th great-grandmother in advance – sorry 4th Great-Grandma Staats, but thank you for the record I use in this example. 

This particular example is brought to you by the fabulous record-keeping of the Quakers, but the lesson applies to any records that we use in genealogy. Always, always, always seek out the original record, or at least as close to the original as you can get. You never know what you are going to find until you look. Or, as J.R.R. Tolkien said much more eloquently than I, “There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.”

Anyone who has done Quaker research is probably familiar with William Wade Hinshaw’s spectacular, multi-volume  abstractions of Quaker Monthly Meeting minutes – and they are spectacular. From my experience, while most everyone has used this resource, it’s a resource that provides enough information that most people don’t ever pursue those original meeting minutes. Pursue those original meeting minutes. Here follows a perfect example of why we need to do this. First, here is the Hinshaw entry in which Margaret (Chandler) Staats is disowned from the Redstone MM (near Brownsville, PA):

William Wade Hinshaw, Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy, Vol. IV: Ohio Monthly Meetings (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co. 1944), 80; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com accessed: 31 Jan 2009).

William Wade Hinshaw, Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy, Vol. IV: Ohio Monthly Meetings (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co. 1944), 80; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 31 Jan 2009).


The original Monthly Meeting records in the case are not accessible, but early transcriptions of the original are held at the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania (or at least were at the time of filming). They have been filmed and are available though any FamilySearch family history center. When I consulted the original record, this is what I discovered:

Redstone Monthly Meeting, Brownsville, Pennsylvania, Minutes of the Men's and Women's meetings, 1793-1862., "Margaret Staats, formerly Chandler" disownment (1800); Redstone Monthly Meeting (Brownsville, Pennsylvania), citing typescript records at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; FHL microfilm 382,817.

Redstone Monthly Meeting, Brownsville, Pennsylvania, Minutes of the Men’s and Women’s meetings, 1793-1862., “Margaret Staats, formerly Chandler” disownment (1800); Redstone Monthly Meeting (Brownsville, Pennsylvania), citing typescript records at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; FHL microfilm 382,817.


Which of these records, in the process of reassembling your ancestor’s lives, gives you a better picture of them as people? People with real lives and real problems. People who made mistakes. People who had the strength of character to overcome. People who helped make you who you are today. Always, always, always look for the original records. Their stories are there, waiting to be told. I just hope Grandma Staats doesn’t get mad at me for telling this part of hers. But you know what, it’s yet another example of a strong woman in my family standing up to adversity. Thirty-eight years later, her daughter, Edith (also my ancestor) fought an even tougher fight as a single, nineteen year-old mother with an out-of-wedlock child, and Margaret would take the stand in her daughter’s defense. (see “‘Because I Know He Is': Edith Staats vs. Jesse Pickering, 1838

How can I not be proud that these people are my ancestors? Rock on, Margaret and Edith, rock on.

Posted in Thoughts and Musings | 1 Comment

Corbit v. Corbit: Oh, the Family Stories Court Records Tell

While looking for case law to sort out an entirely different issue related to recording of deeds, I came across this fascinating story.1 It did nothing to help me in my particular dilemma, but illustrates what an underutilized source court reporters really are. I have no relation to this family, but can only imagine how excited I would be if I did, to add this to my family story.

It’s the story of Robert Corbit, born about 1790. Robert had accumulated quite a large real and personal estate.  He executed three deeds in 1871, at the age of 81, in which he divides his property between three sons, George, Adam, and James. The problem is that he had eleven living children at the time, and had long professed his desire that his children share and share alike after his decease. What happened?

You’ll have to read the court decision to know the answers. I call it a court decision, but that’s not really doing it justice– it’s a piece of prose. It’s a really, really well-written piece of prose. It may be a stupendous example, but even if it were less-well written, it is still a really good reminder of the sort of information we might be able to find about our own ancestors when we dig into these court reporters. The best part: many are available free to search and download on Google Books!

Do read the case. It’s fabulous. And then try to find your own family story in court reporters. Happy hunting!

  1. Corbit v. Corbit, 7 Ohio Dec. Reprint 692 (1879). []
Posted in Thoughts and Musings | Comments Off

The Osborne Family: A St. Patty’s Day Tribute

Rather than indulging in green beer and other St. Patty’s Day shenanigans, I thought it better instead to briefly thank at least one of my many Irish families that left their homes, made it to America, and managed to survive in a challenging New World. The Osborne family that settled in Summerfield, Noble, Ohio is one of those families. Since Osborne happened to be my grandfather’s middle name, when I first became interested in genealogy, it was one of those surnames in which I just had a natural interest. I became even more interested thanks to the following passage from the History of Noble County (Archelaus Osborne is my gg grandfather):

The Osborns of this township were among the early Irish settlers coming originally from County Donegal The family consisted of Samuel Osborn Sr and six children— Mary, William, James, Samuel, Catharine (Crawford), and Elizabeth (Fearus). Of these two are living, both in this township. The family left Ireland in 1817. The father died in 1820 six weeks after coming to this country.

James Osborn, born in Ireland in 1798, came to America with the family and located with them in what is now Marion Township when all was wilderness. In 1830 he married Eliza Lingo/ Their children now living are Samuel M., Archelaus, and Hester A (Calland) in this county, and Ellen (Wilson), Kansas. The father died in 1883. His widow is still living with her son Archelaus.

The latter was born in 1840, and in 1862 enlisted in Company D, Ninety-second Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and was mustered out at the expiration of his term of service. He was in the battles of Chickamauga, Mission Ridge, the Atlanta campaign through the Carolinas, etc. In 1867 he married Eliza M. Hamilton. Six children, five living, viz: Anna L., Luella, James H, Charles E. and Hattie H.1

This passage, one of the very first things I found when I began researching, sent my imagination racing. Ireland? Donegal? I wanted to know more. As I learned a little bit more about these sorts of county histories and the fact they weren’t always accurate, I wanted to see if I could verify any of the information it provided. As luck would have it, I was able to find the passenger list for the Samuel Osborne family, entering the port of Philadelphia on the Schooner Jefferson 19 Jul 1820– just as the family history claimed. Some details are incorrect. Samuel Sr. should be 50, not 40, and his wife’s name is Ruth, not Mary. The three eldest children’s birth dates are all off by 2 years, but all of the children appear, in birth order, in the passenger record. Coupled with the family history stating that this is when the family arrived, it’s hard to conclude that this is any family but them:2



So that piece of the story seemed to be accurate, but what about the part where Samuel Sr. died six weeks after arriving in the country? For a newbie genealogist, without a single clue as to where he may have died, the fact that it was 1820, after all, and that Philadelphia was a mysterious land, it was a daunting task. Several years later, FamilySearch came to my rescue. An entry for Samuel Osborne appears in the “Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Death Certificates, 1803-1915″ database. The Samuel in this record died 31 Aug 1820– exactly six weeks and three days after Samuel arrived on the Schooner Jefferson, and likely from a disease he contracted on that voyage to America.3



Samuel is buried in St. George’s Methodist Cemetery in Philadelphia.

The interesting thing is that although only in the country for a less than two weeks, the Samuel Osborne family actually appears in the 1820 Census, all of the children’s ages match, and all eight of the people in the household are “foreigners not naturalized”.4



Note their neighbor, William Springsteen. Maybe I can one day claim that my 4th grandfather once lived next door to Bruce Springsteen’s 3rd great grandfather!

So left alone with six children, albeit grown children, Ruth and the family made their way west into what was then Monroe County, Ohio, and what is now Summerfield, Noble, Ohio. Presumably, this was a path taken by other families that they knew. It’s unclear exactly when they arrived in Ohio, but Ruth purchased property there in Aug 1823.5 There were several Irish families arriving at this time, and eventually, when I actually have tome to research my own family, will begin to explore some of the connections between them.

The Noble County history goes on to say of son Samuel Osborne:

Samuel Osborn Sr was born in Ireland in 1800 and came to this country with the family. In one fall he walked from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and thence to Ohio where he entered the land on which he afterward located, then back to Pittsburgh, and again to this township. Such feats of pedestrianism would be considered marvelous in these days, but the pioneers were a hardy race and not afraid to encounter hardships.6

I can’t document that Samuel did in fact make the journey that this history claims. However, given everything else in the article is accurate, I am willing to go ahead and believe (though not actually assert) that this is true enough– it makes for a better story that way.

What I will assert is that the article is dead on when it states that the pioneers — my pioneers– were a hardy race, and I owe my very existence to their hardiness and ability to overcome hardship. And I would rather fill myself with all the pride that instills than any amount of green beer on St. Patty’s Day.
Though having finished today’s chores, I am definitely going to toast my Irish ancestors with a frothy pint. Cheers to the Osbornes and all those like them!

  1. L.H. Watkins, History of Noble County, Ohio: with portraits and biographical sketches of some of its pioneers and prominent men (Chicago: L.H. Watkins & Co., 1887), p. 391-2. []
  2. “Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Passenger Lists, 1800-1882,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org: accessed 16 Mar 2013), Samuel Osborne family (1820), image 400. The original record was accessed via microfilm, but the copy made here is from the FamilySearch online record collections. []
  3. “Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Death Certificates, 1803-1915,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 16 Mar 2013), Samuel Osborne, 1820, image 302. []
  4. 1820 U.S. census, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania population schedule, Penn Twp, p. 39A (handwritten), line 12, Samuel Osburn; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 16 Mar 2013); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm M33, roll M33_109. []
  5. Ruth Osborne (Monroe Co., Ohio) patent no. 819; U.S. Bureau of Land Management, “Patent Search,” digital images, General Land Office Records (http://http://www.glorecords.blm.gov: accessed 16 Mar 2013). []
  6. History of Noble County, Ohio, p.392. []
Posted in Thoughts and Musings | Comments Off

Tough Choices, Goals, and Dreams

For the first time since starting this blog, I didn’t post at the beginning of the new year- reviewing my successes (or lack thereof) in meeting the previous years goals, and then laying out new ones for the twelve months ahead. It’s party because I was a little too busy to sit down and think it through, and partly because I was really conflicted in my planning. Whatever the exact goals, educational choices are going to impact the success of those goals.

In today’s genealogical world, there are so many opportunities to continue your education, meet other rabid genealogists, and really build some wonderful relationships. Questions have arisen such as: “Should I go to a conference or an institute,”  “which certificate program is right for me,” or “which certification/accreditation program might be the best fit?” It’s awesome that we have all these choices these days, although choosing one likely means you can’t choose the other. And that’s not to say you have to shell out a lot of cash to continue your education. The number of opportunities to learn for free or next-to-free has skyrocketed. ProGen, webinars, discussion groups, and other educational opportunities are all vying for our available “GenEd” time. Of course, there’s non-genealogy programs that also serve to enhance our skills and opportunities,

So it really comes down to choices – careful consideration of what you hope to accomplish, and what steps will ultimately give you the best shot at realizing those goals you’ve set.  I don’t believe there’s a science for this. If there was, being successful would be as easy and effort-free as following a flow chart. With all that in mind, here are some of my choices for the upcoming year. These aren’t my goals or dreams laid out in print, but rather some of the educational steps that I am taking towards those goals:

What I will be doing:

I’ve returned to school full-time to get my paralegal certificate. I’ve picked up quite a bit of forensic genealogy work over the past year, and having a certificate (and hopefully a credential at some point) that the legal profession recognizes can only help form relationships in that world. It can only help my research skills , knowledge of how the law influences records, and how to more effectively work the courthouse.

I filed for an extension for my BCG portfolio, and plan to finish this summer. It’s this decision that has driven many of the “things I’d love to do” into the “things I’m not going to do” category. Over spring break and the summer, I will be travelling to the places where the subjects of my case study and kinship determination lived to wrap up some holes in my research. This is probably the single most important genealogical think I will do this year.

I’m attending the Ohio Genealogical Society Conference in Cincinnati. This year’s conference features a great lineup of speakers. Oh, and I’m also a trustee now, so I kinda think I’m supposed to be there. I didn’t really attend last year’s conference for more that a few hours, as I couldn’t get out of work. However, those few hours seem to have been pretty productive, as they ultimately led to three articles for Family Tree Magazine, and a fourth that I’m supposed to be finishing as we speak.

I want to keep up with my volunteer commitments. With any luck, I can do all the above without either failing at one of them or having a nervous breakdown. Currently, I am the Great Lakes APG Chapter representative, seminar chair for the Western Reserve Historical Society’s Genealogy Committee, an OGS trustee-at-large, and newsletter editor for the East Cuyahoga County Genealogical Society newsletter. I also have a couple of smaller roles within those organizations.

What I won’t be doing

Having chosen the course above means I can’t choose some other things I’d dearly love to do. I won’t be:

Attending Samford. My top educational choice would have been Tom Jones’ writing class. Second would have been ESM’s advanced methodology class. I just felt that it was more important to take advantage of the time I have off over the summer, and money I have available, to finish my BCG portfolio work. I would also have to miss paralegal classes to travel and be gone that long. For that reason, I also will not be

Attending GRIP this summer. I would have loved to have taken Craig Scott’s military records class, or Rick Sayre’s land class, I do plan to stop over for dinner and an evening lecture – probably Michael Hait’s Monday evening lecture. Some of the research I have to do is in western PA, so I can do all that and get an early start researching on Tuesday morning.

So there you have it. It’s not a list of educational goals, but a list of educational actions – those actions that I thought the most likely to get me somewhere near where I hope and dream to eventually be. Let’s hope, that in the words of the Knight of the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, that I’ve “chosen wisely.”

Posted in Misc., Thoughts and Musings | 1 Comment

Q&A with Judy Russell: A Conversation About The Upcoming WRHS Seminar, “Genealogy And The Law”

Disclaimer: I am the seminar chairperson for the Western Reserve Historical Society and also chapter representative for the Great Lakes APG chapter. I also think Judy is pretty awesome.

In anticipation of Judy Russell’s upcoming Cleveland, Ohio appearances on April 12 and 13, 2013, I thought I’d share an interview I did with Judy that was originally published in the WRHS Genealogy Bulletin, republished here with permission.1 Yea, yea, it’s an advertisement, but ya know what? I really believe that providing top-notch speakers and presentations is pretty important to the advancement of our beloved field, so if posting about it helps further that goal, I’m willing to do it!

On Friday, April 12, the Great Lakes APG chapter is hosting Judy, who will be presenting “The ABC’s of DNA”. Information and registration can be found at: http://www.greatlakesapg.org/events.html

On Saturday, April 13, Judy will be at the Western Reserve Historical Society presenting “Genealogy and the Law”. Information and registration can be found on the WRHS website at: http://www.wrhs.org/calendar/Genealogy_Law

I’m so excited to be a part of the Cleveland genealogical community and to be able to offer excellent programming like this. Please come out and support us! If you think that this article would be of interest to your group or society’s readership, please feel free to reprint this (with proper attribution, of course.)


“Q&A with Judy Russell

By Chris Staats

The Genealogical Committee is looking forward to our Spring 2013 Seminar, Genealogy and the Law! The event features acclaimed speaker, Judy G. Russell, and will be held in the brand-new Learning Center Auditorium at the Western Reserve Historical Society on Saturday April 13, 2013 from 9 am to 4 pm. Judy will be presenting four presentations: Knowing the Law; Court Records and Family Stories; Widows, Orphans, and the Law; and Through the Golden Door: Immigration After the Civil War (1864-1924).

If you follow any genealogy blogs, you may know Judy G. Russell better as author of the Legal Genealogist blog.<http://www.legalgenealogist.com/>. She is an adjunct law professor at Rutgers University, as well as a BCG-certified genealogist. Recently, she was elected by her peers (some of the world’s premier genealogists) as the newest trustee and member of that board. More importantly, she’s as passionate about genealogy as they come, and equally as passionate about sharing her knowledge with others. This will be a unique opportunity to tap into the expertise that Judy not only offers as a lawyer and genealogist, but also as a terrific speaker. Judy was kind enough to field a few questions about the upcoming event to give people an idea what the seminar is all about, and what to expect on April 13th.

CS: Judy, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions for folks who want to learn a little more about the upcoming  Genealogy and the Law seminar. First question (and I’ll need you to put your right hand on Evidence Explained for this one): Do you swear to tell the whole genealogical truth and nothing but the truth?

JGR: To the extent that direct, indirect, or negative evidence of the truth can be found in primary or secondary information in an original or derivative source, I do so swear, your Honor, sir.

CS: Law is often perceived as a complex, confusing subject. Exactly how much  “legalese”” will someone need to know prior to attending the seminar? Will they need to have passed the bar exam, or maybe be a full-time law student in order to understand what you’re talking about?

JGR: None. Seriously. My job isn’t to speak legalese; it’s to translate it into plain ordinary every-day English. My goal is that nobody, not one single person, will leave the presentations with the question “what does that mean” unanswered.

CS: This topic is a bit of a departure from the many ethnic-based seminars WRHS has offered in the past. People who have German ancestors see an obvious return in learning how to do German research. If someone has Irish family, they’ll attend an event that offers tips and techniques to find them. The benefit of a legal discussion may not be as obvious. Can you explain a little bit about the importance of the interaction between genealogy and the law, and how that interplay helps people researching their family history?

JGR: The fact is, just about every record we use as genealogists – from birth and death certificates in the United States to the German civil registration records those of us with German ancestors love  – exists because some law required it. Understanding the law that existed at the time and in the place where our ancestors lived helps us figure out not just what records exist, but also what those records are really telling us, and – best of all – what other records might be hiding somewhere that will tell us even more.

CS: What sorts of resources can people expect to learn about that will help them tap into and make sense of all that information?

JGR: We’ll be covering a wide variety of resources ranging from reading and understanding legal documents (what in the world is a scire facias anyway?) to specific go-to sources for the laws in effect when our ancestors lived and the legal records created for and about our ancestors. All of the resources help us focus on how to use the information in a practical way in our own family histories. Just as a few examples, in Knowing the Law, we’ll talk about how knowing one simple fact about the law helps prove that a woman in a will record had to be a niece, not a daughter. In Court Records and Family Stories, we’ll see how court minutes can tell us not just about who our ancestors were but about how they lived. In Widows, Orphans, and the Law, we’ll cover everything from what a widow’s dower rights were all about to what happened to children when a father died – and how that changed as time went on. And in  Through the Golden Door, we’ll see how it became harder and harder for our immigrant ancestors to come through that golden door to America  – and where to find out what the immigration laws were when your ancestors wanted to come here.

CS: Speaking of courts, the courthouse environment — the security checks, the rules, the language, clerks who don’t “speak” genealogy, heck, even the architecture itself can be intimidating to a new researcher. Any tips for a newbie (or otherwise frightened researcher) headed to the courthouse?

JGR: A little bit of homework can go a long way towards making that trip a lot less frightening. Just finding out in advance which office in the courthouse has which type of record (or even if the records are at the courthouse at all, since some get moved to archives or libraries), what hours the office is open, and what restrictions there may be on access can save a lot of time and anxiety. There’s usually some information on the county website about that, but getting in touch with the local genealogical societies and local genealogical librarians for help with the “rules of the road” for a specific office in a specific courthouse is always a good idea when planning a research visit.

CS: Being World Series time, I wonder:  You have a law degree, have practiced, and currently teach in that field. You are also a BCG-certified genealogist, and if that wasn’t enough, a new BCG trustee as well. If we have a World Series of Research pitting the genealogists against the lawyers, what are the strengths of each team, and who are you rooting for?

JGR: Objection! No fair, your Honor! I’m a switch-hitter! Okay, okay. Truth be told, each side has one major strength that the other can learn from. The lawyers’ team has the edge on understanding what any particular record may be telling us, because of that team’s background in the language and interpretation of the law. But lawyers are out to win, and sometime the truth isn’t on the lawyers’ side. The genealogists’ team has the edge on understanding that we win as family historians any time we find out the truth about what happened – even if it isn’t what we want to hear. As for who I’m rooting for, I have the right to remain silent because anything I say will be held against me…

CS: Follow up question: Many people, especially in Cleveland, are not particularly fond of lawyers or the Yankees. How do you plan to overcome this on April 13th?

JGR: Considering the Yankees’ performance this postseason, I’m going to be bringing my own individual-sized serving of humble pie. As for the lawyer thing, look at it this way: I have an almost unlimited repertoire of lawyer jokes…

CS: Judy, thank you for your time and for giving us a little look at what we can expect this spring. We’re really excited to be able to bring you to Cleveland, and can’t wait for your presentation!

JGR: I’m really looking forward to this trip, and excited for the opportunity to present to such a great audience!

 CS: The pleasure is all ours, Judy!

Registration is already open for this seminar and can be done quickly and easily online today! Visit  http://www.wrhs.org/calendar/Genealogy_Law for full details, presentation descriptions, and registration.  We hope to see you there!

Chris Staats is Seminar Chairperson for the Genealogical Committee”

  1. Chris Staats, “Q&A With Judy Russell,” WRHS Genealogy Bulletin 31-4 (Dec 2012):40. To subscribe, visit http://www.wrhs.org/support/Genealogical_Committee []
Posted in Thoughts and Musings | Comments Off

Genealogy Mystery Theater: Addressing Identities

Merry Christmas everyone! I thought I’d try something new tonight. Once the presents are all unwrapped, the guests gone, and your belly full, I have a game we can play. You know those murder mystery theater things– ones where the audience gets to play along and guess the killer? That’s the idea here, only with genealogy mysteries. Hopefully a few of you will join in and play along. If there’s a good response, I’ll try and make this a regular feature and post pieces of problems that are common to research we all do. The level is beginning/intermediate, but anyone is welcome to join in!

What will you need to play along? For this mystery, you’ll probably need access to Ancestry.com and/or Fold3.com. I’ll give you one record and a problem to solve, and you’re all on your own to try and come up with a solution. Once you think you’ve got the answer, leave it in a comment along with a brief summary of why your answer is the correct one. If you don’t want to know the answer – or at least what someone else thinks is the answer – don’t look at the comments :)

Without further adieu, I present:

Addressing Identities- A Genealogy Mystery

Below is the 1850 New York, New York census record for John Cassidy and family.1 (Click for full size).

Of course, the 1850 census doesn’t record street addresses, but it’s interesting to know where our ancestors lived. More importantly, it’s also an important tool to sort out people of the same name. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to determine as accurately as possible the address where this Cassidy family resided. You may need to scroll a few pages backwards and forwards in the census to get your bearings. You can access the page on Ancestry here. Good luck! Bonus question: Which direction was the enumerator moving?


Did you find this interesting? Let me know your thoughts!

  1. 1850 U.S. census, New York, New York, population schedule, New York, dwelling 164, family 467, John Cassidy household; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 5 Sep 2012); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm M432. []
Posted in Fun!, How-To | Comments Off

New Presentation Topic Added: ” Where Does It Say That? Learning to Love Indirect Evidence”

Where Does It Say That? Learning to Love Indirect Evidence

Direct evidence, the sort of evidence that completely answers a research question by itself, is often scarce. It can also be wrong, or we may discover two pieces of direct evidence that conflict with each other. Without any documents telling us exactly what we want to know, how do we identify relationships that might not be stated explicitly, resolve conflicts between records, and arrive at sound genealogical conclusions? By collecting, analyzing, and correlating indirect evidence of course!The Henry McGinnis family of 19th century rural Pennsylvania provides an easy-to-understand example of using mostly indirect evidence to reconstruct a family which left precious little for descendants to work with.

Posted in Events, How-To, Thoughts and Musings | Comments Off

“Because I Know He Is”: Edith Staats vs. Jesse Pickering, 1838

Each time I post about this subject, I wrestle with whether or not I should be airing the family laundry here in cyberspace. However, as genealogists, we are most interested in the truth. Sometimes the truth is not what we would like it to be. It’s perhaps not like we had hoped it and envisioned it to be, and sometimes it makes us uncomfortable. The main characters in this family story have been dead over 100 years, and I think that this is not only a tale worth telling, but also a lesson in just how incredibly valuable– or perhaps invaluable– court records can be in conducting our research. How-many-ever years ago, this was my first foray into Common Pleas records. The moment I found this case in the index–a dusty book that was long forgotten and stuck in a little-used storage room– is to this day the single-most exciting find I’ve had.

Granted, this is my own family so it’s likely more compelling to me than anyone else. However, more than all the combined documents I’ve found, more than any county history I’ve read, this court case makes my ancestors human–with all their strengths and weaknesses– in a way nothing has before or since. It’s a slice of life that gives me chills and I swear to you, I can see and hear this case as it’s being tried. I can hear the silence…the uncomfortable silence, as witnesses are brought before the judge and jury to testify for and against their children, friends, neighbors, and associates in rural Harrison County, Ohio that day in May of 1838.1

This is not a good guy/bad guy tale– simply a story of two people; one that also happens to be the story of how my branch of the Staats family came to be.


Edith Staats was the second youngest child of Elijah Staats and Margaret Chandler, born 12 Apr 1818 in Freeport Township in Harrison County, Ohio.2 The Staats family came to Freeport from Luzerne Township, Fayette, Pennsylvania in 1815.3 Jesse Brock Pickering was born two days before Christmas, 23 Dec 1818,4 a son of Abel Pickering and Nancy Brock.The Abel Pickering family was also in Harrison County by 1817, when Abel was taxed there.5 In the 1830 census, the families are enumerated a page apart – the Pickering family in the city of Freeport, and Staats family in Freeport Township.6

Jesse Brock Pickering married Elizabeth Manlove Whealdon one day before his 18th birthday, the 22nd of December 1836.7  Both the Whealdon and Manlove families were Quaker8, and migrated from Kent County, Delaware– just across the New Castle County line where Elijah Staats’s family lived. Their first child, Able, was born 22 Sep 1837.9 Elijah Staats’s wife, Margaret Chandler was also Quaker.10 These families were no doubt, well-acquainted with each other. 

This case focuses on the events of one day in June of 1837.11 Edith was a nineteen-year old single girl, and Jesse eighteen, married, his wife, Elizabeth expecting their first child in a few months. 

The State of Ohio on Complaint of Edith Staats vs. Jesse Pickering:
Court of Common Pleas May Term, A.D.1838. Bastardy.

Passages in italics are quoted from the Common Pleas Record entry. All other information is paraphrased from the same entry unless otherwise noted.12

Be it remembered that heretofore to wit on the fifth day of March in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty eight: John Knox Esq. one of the Justices of the Peace of Freeport Township Harrison County and State of Ohio filed in the Office of the Clerk of the Common Pleas Court of said Harrison County a transcript of the proceedings before him had in a certain action of bastardy…

On the sixth day of February 1838, Edith Staats an unmarried woman entered complaint under oath against Jesse Pickering the defendant setting forth that she, the said complainant is now pregnant and that he, the said Jesse Pickering is the father of said child.

A warrant was issued and Constable Cree returned the same day with Jesse Pickering. The defendant refused to make any compromise. It had been a cold Ohio winter13, and it was about to get even colder, as John Knox began the questioning:

Knox: What reason have you to believe that Jesse Pickering is the father of the child with which you are now pregnant?
Edith: Because I know he is.

There’s no hesitation, no beating around the bush, and indeed no sign of backing down. I picture Edith casting a steely stare directly at Jesse as she makes her statements.

Knox: When had he sexual intercourse with you?
Edith: The twenty fourth day of June.
Knox: Had he intercourse with you more than once?
Edith: No.
Knox: Where were you at the time you had sexual intercourse together?
Edith: At our own house (Staats’s)
Knox: Was it at night?
Edith: No, it was in the daytime.
Knox: Were any of the family at home?
Edith: No. There was nobody there but myself.

In that direct, no-nonsense line of questioning, Edith points to a single moment during that day, the 24th of June 1837. She points to one instance of weakness between two people who probably should have known better– who almost certainly did know better. Further testimony would reveal it was likely that Jesse and Edith had a previous, amorous past, but nothing leading up to that moment would prove to have as lasting an effect as that solitary encounter in June. An agent for Jesse, R.R. Price, took over the questioning:

Price: Was this before harvest or after harvest that this took place?
Edith: Before, in June.
Price: Was Mr. Pickering in the habit of paying his attentions to you at that time?
Edith: No, not after he was married. 
Price: Was there not any other young men paying their respects to you about that time?
Edith: No.
Price: Did you not, after Jacob was married, say that you would match them yet?14
Edith: No. I never said any such thing.

Having already withstood questioning by the Justice of the Peace, Edith is now facing these questions by the agent – presumably an attorney for Jesse. She never backs down, and fires right back. The agent’s questions imply less than subtly, that there was a previous relationship between Edith and Jesse, and perhaps a bitter ending when Jesse married another. It’s easy enough to picture, and clear where the attorney is going with the questioning – that she had a motive to lie. Next up, Jesse himself asks the questions:

Jesse: Do you not remember, Edith, at the time I came to your house to get a piece of paper, did you not consider me clear at that time?
Edith: No. You never denied it to me.
Jesse: You recollect the paper you gave me to clear up this do you?
Edith: No. I never gave you any.

Whereupon the said Jesse Pickering still continuing to refuse to compromise with the said Edith Staats he was required to enter into recognizance in the sum of three hundred dollars…

Standing tall in the face of questioning by a Justice of the Peace, an attorney, and Jesse himself, Edith persevered and took the case to court. As the record shows, Jesse never denied the encounter, but instead focused on a piece of paper– presumably a written statement by Edith absolving him of responsibility. The case went to trial and carried on for at least five days. Twenty three witnesses took the stand including Edith’s mother, and several relatives of both plaintiff and defendant15- this in a township of less than 1300.16 Anyone who’s lived in a town that small will understand– there are no secrets.

When the dust settled, the jury returned a guilty verdict. A notice of appeal was mentioned, but no appeal has been found.17 Based on comments included in the original case files for this case, the defense was trying to prove that Edith had relations with other men during the same time frame, but the testimony was disallowed. Original documents also included the doctor bill for the the birth of Alexander Allan Staats, my great great grandfather.18

What did one have to pay for child support in 1838? Jesse was ordered to pay $36 plus court costs up front, and  $0.75 per week for five years. It appears payments were made quarterly, but only though 1841.19


Edith married Daniel Toms in 1847.20 They had no children together. Alexander Staats went on to attend Marietta College, Starling Medical College, and graduated from the Cincinnati College of Medicine and Surgery. He served in the 88th OVI in the Civil War, and practiced medicine in Summerfield, Ohio until a short time before his death in 1913.21 Edith passed away in 1901.22 Family legend is that she kept a detailed diary, and that on her deathbed, she asked one of her granddaughters to read the diary and then destroy it. The rest is history…or more accurately, lost to history.23 The Alexander Staats family has many descendants still alive and kicking, including your author.24 I’ve taken a yDNA test to try and confirm the court’s findings  I’ve had three close matches. They are all Pickerings. And to think– it all goes back to that single fateful day, the 24th of June, 1837.

Ready to check into court records now and see what details they might hold about your own family? I hoped that you would be.


  1. Harrison County, Ohio, Common Pleas Record, E:313, May Term 1838, State of Ohio on Complaint of Edith Staats vs. Jesse Pickering, 26 May 1838; Harrison County Historical Society, Cadiz. []
  2. (Caldwell) Noble County Leader, 27 Feb 1901, p.2, c.1. []
  3. William Wade Hinshaw, Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy. Vol. IV: (Ohio Monthly Meetings) (1946), p. 352; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 29 Jan 2009). []
  4. Find A Grave.com, database (http://www.findagrave.com: accessed 10 Nov 2012), entry for Jesse Brock Pickering, memorial no. 38545482, citing Friends Church Cemetery, Springdale, Leavenworth, Kansas. []
  5. Further research is needed to confirm the organization of FamilySearch.org’s Ohio Tax records entries for Harrison County. Abel Pickering is listed as early as 1816 in Cadiz Twp, but that information is not consistent with deeds stating Freeport. []
  6. 1830 U.S. census, Harrison, Ohio, Freeport Twp, p. 226, line 13, Elijah Statts household; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 5 Dec 2012); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm M19, roll 133. For Able Pickering see 1830 U.S. census, Harrison, Ohio, Freeport Twp, p. 225, line 6, Able Pickering household. []
  7. Harrison County, Ohio, Marriage Records, B:486, Pickering to Whealdon (1836); Probate Court, Cadiz. []
  8. For Quaker references, see Hinshaw, Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy. Vol. IV: (Ohio Monthly Meetings). []
  9. For information on the Whealdon and Manlove families, including Able Pickering’s date of birth, see Jeffery Bryant, Descendants of Isaac Whealdon (http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~bryajw/whealdon/index.htm: accessed 5 Dec 2012). []
  10. Hinshaw, Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy. Vol. IV: (Ohio Monthly Meetings). []
  11. Harrison Co., Oh., Common Pleas Record, E:314. []
  12. ibid. []
  13. “Review of the Cincinnati Market,” Cincinnati Daily Gazette, 7 Feb 1837, p.3, c. 2; digital images, GenealogyBank.com (http://www.genealogybank.com: accessed 4 Dec 2012). []
  14. Jesse is mistakenly referred to as Jacob in this line of the transcription. []
  15. Harrison County, Ohio, Common Pleas Execution Docket, G:260, May Term 1838, State of Ohio on Complaint of Edith Staats vs. Jesse Pickering, 26 May 1838; Harrison County Historical Society, Cadiz. []
  16. 1840 U.S. census, Harrison, Ohio, Freeport Twp, p. 236 (stamped), population totals (bottom of the page); digital images, Ancestry.com (http://ancestry.com : accessed 2 Dec 2012); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm M704, roll 409. []
  17. Harrison County, Ohio, Common Pleas Journal, D:175, May Term 1838, State of Ohio on Complaint of Edith Staats vs. Jesse Pickering, 26 May 1838; Harrison County Historical Society, Cadiz. []
  18. Harrison County, Ohio, Common Pleas Case Files, May Term 1838, State of Ohio on Complaint of Edith Staats vs. Jesse Pickering; Harrison County Historical Society, Cadiz. []
  19. Harrison County, Ohio, Common Pleas Execution Docket, G:261. []
  20. Washington County, Ohio, Marriage records, 2:242, Daniel Tom-Edeth Staats (1847); Washington County Probate Court, Marietta. []
  21. L.H. Watkins, History of Noble County (Chicago: L.H. Watkins & Co,: 1887), p. 193. []
  22. (Caldwell) Noble County Leader, 27 Feb 1901, p.3, c. 1. []
  23. Unrecorded conversation between the author and Marguaritte (Cleary) Miller, granddaughter of Alexander Staats, 2005, Barberton, Ohio. The granddaughter referred to in the story was either Mrs. Miller’s mother, Elizabeth (Staats) Cleary or aunt, Violet (Staats) Reed. []
  24. Personal knowledge…at least I think I’m still alive. You guys really read these footnotes? []
Posted in Family Findings, Thoughts and Musings | 11 Comments