Help Wanted: Calling All Staats males from the DE, Albany, or NJ Staats families!

Okay, so this gig doesn’t pay much. In fact, if you’re looking for cash, you’ll be sadly disappointed. However, if the satisfaction of helping to sort out the origins of the Staats family in America floats your boat, you’re in luck. Colleague and potential cousin Dottie Staats Kerns has done a fabulous job getting a large number of Staats males from the West Virginia families to test. Purchasing the kits with her own money, she has gotten enough samples from each of the early WV branches that you can start to see the patterns– which line is more closely related to which. You can also see that they are all related to each other, although the exact relationship can’t be determined from the test. None of this replaces the paper trail and traditional research techniques; it’s just another tool in the toolbox. I don’t view these tests as an “answer,” but rather as a way to help guide us towards more evidence that will help guide us to evidence with which to draw a strong conclusion.

All of the WV DNA samples closely match the samples submitted by descendants of Jan Pieterszen Van Huysen family of Gowanus, (the patriarch of the Gowanus Staats family). So far, only one person from the Albany branch has tested. That test did not match the Gowanus branch tests even remotely. However, one test for comparison is simply not enough to draw any theories or conclusions. I won’t get into the details of how yDNA testing works, but at its most basic level, yDNA is passed from father-to-son, essentially unchanged. Ultimately, after analyzing certain “markers” along the DNA strand and how many times a pattern at that point is repeated, it’s statistics. By comparing data between tests, you can estimate 1) whether or not two males are related, and if so, 2) The number of generations within which they likely share a common ancestor.

No one from my branch, the Delaware branch, has tested at all. I don’t think anyone from the New Jersey branch has tested, either, but I could be wrong about that. I would love to get someone from my same DE line to test to help get a better idea where I fit in, but I am ultimately interested in helping build a database of ALL of the Staats families as a tool to help sort out the origins of each. I am especially interested in the Delaware branch, and have reached out to descendants of those families individually. However, I can’t write to everyone, and posting here is my way of hoping to cast the net a little wider.

What’s the catch? There really isn’t one. I have two testing kits at the ready. If you are a Staats male from any of these families and willing to help, I will send you the kits and instructions (it’s just a cheek swab that you rub around, stick in a plastic container, and mail it back to the company in the provided envelope. There’s no charge to you, and you can test anonymously. If you have any other question, please feel free to ask me.


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Is Your Genealogy Hearsay?


I am always looking for parallels between legal research and genealogical research. In my evidence and torts class this week, we studied Ohio’s Rules of Evidence regarding the admissibility of hearsay evidence. It was a loooong stretch of class, and then suddenly we got to what I mentally labeled the “genealogy exceptions.” I woke back up. The “genealogy exceptions,”  as I call them, are hearsay statements that are admissible in court, and they include a large sampling of records that we normally use, or should be using as genealogists.

We’ve all heard “Objection, your Honor. Hearsay!” on TV, but what does it really mean? According to the Ohio rules, “‘Hearsay’ is a statement1, other than one made by the declarant2 while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted.”3 In other words, hearsay is a statement by someone without first-hand knowledge of an event, that is given as evidence to support a specific claim.

Start with the general presumption that hearsay is inadmissible. As an example, assume Witness A saw a van run a red light, causing an accident. Witness A then tells Person B (who was not at the scene, and had no personal knowledge of the incident) what they saw. In general, the testimony of Person B will be inadmissible, at least when it is offered as evidence of the truth of the matter– in this case, as evidence of the cause of the accident. There are exceptions…there are a lot of exceptions, but in general, if you didn’t see, hear, or otherwise personally experience something, and you’re not the one making a statement, your statement is not admissible as evidence.

What are some of the exceptions that allow statements by someone other than the declarant to be admissable? Here are a few from Rule 803 I think you’ll recognize:

(8) Public records and reports. Records, reports, statements, or data compilations,
in any form, of public offices or agencies, setting forth (a) the activities of the office or agency,
or (b) matters observed pursuant to duty imposed by law as to which matters there was a duty to
report, excluding, however, in criminal cases matters observed by police officers and other law
enforcement personnel, unless offered by defendant, unless the sources of information or other
circumstances indicate lack of trustworthiness.

(9) Records of vital statistics. Records or data compilations, in any form, of births,
fetal deaths, deaths, or marriages, if the report thereof was made to a public office pursuant to
requirement of law

(10) Absence of public record or entry. To prove the absence of a record, report,
statement, or data compilation, in any form, or the nonoccurrence or nonexistence of a matter of
which a record, report, statement, or data compilation, in any form, was regularly made and
preserved by a public office or agency, evidence in the form of a certification in accordance with
Rule 901(B)(10) or testimony, that diligent search failed to disclose the record, report, statement,
or data compilation, or entry.

(11) Records of religious organizations. Statements of births, marriages, divorces,
deaths, legitimacy, ancestry, relationship by blood or marriage, or other similar facts of personal
or family history, contained in a regularly kept record of a religious organization.

(12) Marriage, baptismal, and similar certificates. Statements of fact contained in a
certificate that the maker performed a marriage or other ceremony or administered a sacrament,
made by a clergyman, public official, or other person authorized by the rules or practices of a
religious organization or by law to perform the act certified, and purporting to have been issued
at the time of the act or within a reasonable time thereafter.

(13) Family records. Statements of fact concerning personal or family history
contained in family Bibles, genealogies, charts, engravings on rings, inscriptions on family
portraits, engravings on urns, crypts, or tombstones, or the like.

(14) Records of documents affecting an interest in property. The record of a
document purporting to establish or affect an interest in property, as proof of the content of the
original recorded document and its execution and delivery by each person by whom it purports to
have been executed, if the record is a record of a public office and an applicable statute
authorizes the recording of documents of that kind in that office.

(15) Statements in documents affecting an interest in property. A statement
contained in a document purporting to establish or affect an interest in property if the matter
stated was relevant to the purpose of the document, unless dealings with the property since the document was made have been inconsistent with the truth of the statement or the purport of the document.

(16) Statements in ancient documents. Statements in a document in existence twenty
years or more4 the authenticity of which is established.5

Notice that almost every exception contains the language “statements of fact, ” and any of the documents listed here will contain them. What we can’t tell from any single individual document is whether or not a given statement of fact it contains is correct. If I’m a lawyer, I’m most interested in winning. The “correct” statement is whichever one most benefits my client. If other statements disagree, I’m going to be looking to keep them out of evidence or otherwise explain them away however I can. As genealogists, though ,we want to bring as many of these “statements of fact,” from as many different admissible sources as possible.6 We need to be able to examine and cross-examine (forgive the pun) each source to see what information it contains. We need to look at the information that each source contains, and what sort of evidence that information provides to help solve our case. Then we need to correlate all the various pieces of evidence from all the different sources7 to come up with the best possible argument to “prove” our case. As genealogists, we only win when we are the most accurate we can be given the all evidence available.

What does all this have to do with genealogy? It means that, in general, all those Ancestry, FamilySearch, WikiTree, or family history books are hearsay. Don’t admit them to your personal Court of Genealogy. The author or compiler of that tree, in most cases  1) did not have first-hand knowledge of the events about which which he is making a statement, and 2) is making that statement in order to offer evidence evidence to prove an assertion. The assertion in this case is kinship, asserting the correctness of a pedigree chart or family group sheet. What evidence IS admissible are all those sorts of documents that we should be using– the exceptions listed in Ohio Rules of Evidence.

Astute readers may point out a flaw here: I claimed that evidence from online or published family trees is not admissible, yet under exception 803(13), genealogies are admissible. True enough, you can admit them if you choose. But our goal as genealogists is truth, and we are looking to find and admit as much evidence as possible to get that goal. In the process of collecting evidence from all those other documents, that online of published family tree is either going to become superfluous to your argument, or it is going to be shown to be incorrect. If all you have is that genealogy, your chances of winning a case aren’t real good. That’s not to say that the genealogy won’t, in some cases, save you time building your case by pointing you to the actual admissible evidence from which the genealogy was compiled, but that is something better left in your notes than in your finished argument.

You ARE going to write out your proof argument, right? Not many court cases are won by plopping down a stack of papers on the judge’s bench and hoping that he has time to analyze it all and come to the same conclusions you did. Similarly, no matter how carefully a genealogist enters information into a database, no matter how meticulous and correct the source citations are– no one will be able to automatically divine how you determined that John, not Joseph was the father of your ancestor, or that he was married to Mary Williams, not Mary Smith. With three different documents giving two different dates, how did you conclude that the one that didn’t match was the correct date? You need to explain how all that evidence and its analysis fit together to arrive at the sound conclusion you’ve reached.8 It’s this written process of analysis and correlation that helps separate sound research from document-collecting.


  1. defined as “(1) an oral or written assertion or (2) nonverbal conduct of a person, if it is intended by the person as an assertion.” Ohio Rules of Evidence, Ohio Supreme Court, Ohio Supreme Court and Ohio Judicial System ( accessed 7 Dec 2013); Rule 802(A). []
  2. A “declarant” is a person who makes a statement. Ibid., Rule 802(B). []
  3. Ohio Rules of Evidence, Rule 801(C). []
  4. …nice to know that my own marriage record is an “ancient document.” []
  5. Ibid., Rule 803(8-16). []
  6. This is the first piece of the Genealogical Proof Standard– a reasonably exhaustive search. For all GPS references, see “Genealogical Proof Standard,” Board For Certification of Genealogists ( accessed 10 Dec 2013). []
  7. Parts 3 and 4 of the GPS– Analysis and correlation of the collected information and Resolution of conflicting evidence. []
  8. Part 5 of the GPS–Soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion. []
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Ohio’s Orphans Court Records?

TOCIf you are like me, you scratched your head when you read something about Orphan Court records in Ohio. Isn’t Orphans Court something they have in other states, like Pennsylvania and Delaware? Yes, it is. But it’s also something that existed briefly in Ohio. Today, I had a chance to flip through an awesome, four-volume Ohio resource: Carrington Tanner Marshall’s History of the Courts and Lawyers of Ohio. If you are serious about Ohio research, and want to know the details of Ohio’s court system at any given time, this is the resource for you.

The Orphans Court was established June 16, 1795. Orphans Court was not a part of Probate Court nor even a separate judicial body, but instead, the functions of the court were performed by the Court of General Quarter Sessions. The court could supervise guardians, trustees, executors, administrators, and other people who cared for minors’ property. The court also had the power to recall administrators and enforce proper estate distribution.

The court was not the adversarial court we think of today, with plaintiffs and defendants arguing their positions. Rather, the court was inquisitorial. Judges were fact-finders, and their findings were considered proof. Orphans Court had the power to revoke rights of administration, and Probate Court had no alternative other than to appoint a new administrator or appeal to the General Court of the Territory.

So what’s become of these records? Within the territory that is now part of Ohio, there were nine counties, each of which had a Probate Court and an Orphans Court. According to the treatise, the only county whose Orphans Court records appear to survive is Washington County. Those records are held in Marietta College’s Special Collections.1

So the next time you are at a party and want to impress your friends, assuming your friends are total genealogy geeks like us, let them know about Ohio’s Orphan’s Court. If you want to be more geeky, be sure to check out this awesome resource for Ohio’s judicial history. I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy!

  1. All information in this post is from  Carrington Tanner Marshall, History of the Courts and Lawyers of Ohio, 4 vols. (New York : American Historical Society, 1934), 1:409. []
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Finding Ancestors In Ohio’s Local Government Records Program

Ohio_Counties_sUnder the direction of the State Archivist, the Ohio Network of American History Research Centers was formed in 1970. The goal of the program was to fund and provide designated places for county and local governments to deposit their records of historical and genealogical value so that they could be maintained and accessed. Originally, there were seven network centers, each covering a specific geographical area.

Unfortunately, the program is no longer funded, which has resulted in some centers returning their records to the Ohio Historical Society, as well as other interested local repositories. Nevertheless, the records are still available, and are a terrific and largely ignored source for family history researchers. Very little of these records have been filmed, much less placed online. With the closure of some of the centers, it may be a little work to track down what records went where, but it is well worth the effort.

The record groups deposited in these centers vary depending on time and location. Not every type of record is available for every area. When you’ve exhausted the usual sorts of records and plucked all the low hanging fruit, the records in this collection help answer the question “Where do I go from here?” Some of the records are lists of names, such as the quadrennial enumerations or poll books. They can place your ancestor in a certain time and place, at times when no other records might. Other records are more narrative in nature and can provide details that enrich your understanding of your ancestor.

Typical records come from almost every county government office, and include:
Tax Records, Militia Records, Enumeration of Soldiers and Sailors, Poll Books, Tally Sheets, Justice of the Peace Dockets, Quadrennial Enumerations, District Court Records, Supreme Court Records, Military and School Records, Records of Indentures /Apprenticeships, Ditch Records and Surveys, Boys/Girls Industrial School Records, County Poorhouse Records, Mothers’ Pensions, County Home Records, Burial Record of Indigent Soldiers, Tax Duplicate, Order Books, Civil War Enumerations, Township Trustee Minutes, Mayor’s Court, Intoxication Dockets, Cemetery Records, and many, many more.

Happy Hunting!

Network Centers

Note: Centers marked with a * indicate that they have returned records, or are in the process of returning records. Contact that center to determine where records of interest were sent.

University of Akron
Archives Services, Polsky Building
225 S. Main St.
Akron, OH 44325-1702
(330) 972-7670
Counties: Ashland, Coshocton, Holmes, Medina, Portage, Richland, Stark, Summit, Tuscarawas, Wayne
*Bowling Green State University
Center for Archival Collections
Jerome Library – 5th Floor
Bowling Green, OH 43403-0175
(419) 372-2411
Counties: Allen, Crawford, Defiance, Erie, Fulton, Hancock, Hardin, Henry, Huron, Lucas, Ottawa, Paulding, Putnam, Sandusky, Seneca, Van Wert, Williams, Wood, Wyandot

*University of Cincinnati
Archives & Rare Books Department
Blegen Library – 8th Floor
Cincinnati, OH 45221-0113
(513) 556-1959
Counties: Adams, Brown, Butler, Clermont, Clinton, Hamilton, Highland, Warren

Ohio Historical Society
Local Government Records Program (LGRP)
1982 Velma Avenue
Columbus, OH 43211-2497
(614) 297-2553–archives/online-collections-catalog
Counties: Delaware, Fairfield, Fayette, Franklin, Knox, Licking, Madison, Marion, Morrow, Pickaway, Union

*Ohio University
Alden Library, Archives and Special Collections
Athens, OH 45701-2978
(740) 593-2710
Counties: Athens, Belmont, Gallia, Guernsey, Hocking, Jackson, Lawrence, Meigs, Monroe, Morgan, Muskingum, Noble, Perry, Pike Ross, Scioto, Vinton, Washington

Western Reserve Historical Society Library
10825 East Blvd.
Cleveland, OH 44106-1788
(216) 721-5722
Counties: Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain (also records from other counties obtained prior to the formation of the LGR program)

Wright State University
Dunbar Library – Archives and Special Collections
Dayton, OH 45435-0001
(937) 775-2092
Counties: Auglaize, Champaign, Clark, Darke, Greene, Logan, Mercer, Miami, Montgomery, Preble, Shelby. (Also some records from Adams, Clermont, Hamilton, and Warren)

Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor
151 West Wood Street
PO Box 533
Youngstown, OH 44501-0533
(330) 743-5934
Counties: Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana, Harrison, Jefferson, and Carroll.

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Genealogists Should Abandon the “Brick Wall” Metaphor

Have you ever built a brick wall? Me neither, but I know a little about the process. A brick wall is solid. Creating one takes a lot of skill. It’s not just slapping some bricks and mortar together and hoping for the best. It’s not some Neanderthal tossing bricks on top of each other and expecting them to stick. There is both skill and planning involved to build a brick wall that’s solid and long-lasting. Doesn’t this sound more like the process by which we actually accomplish our research, not something that suddenly stops it?

For a mason, one of the first steps is to lay a level foundation so that everything you put on top of that initial course is also level and square. Having laid that first course, a plumb line and level ensure that each successive course is also level. A skilled mason knows how to both mix and apply the mortar that binds those bricks together. When does a brick wall end? In practice, it ends when the wall meets the blueprint specifications. In theory, if you were building a wall with the only specification being that you build a wall as high as possible, the wall ends whenever you run out of bricks, run out of mortar, or the don’t have the knowledge of the techniques to make a really tall wall secure. (Can you say “GPS”?)

The commonly accepted genealogical definition of brick wall is something impenetrable that stands in our way– something that keeps us from continuing our research. In reality, a “brick wall, or at least the process of building one, better describes the  research process than it does something we run into . In genealogy, we are working with that theoretical mandate that we continue building as high as we can. We want to start with as solid a foundation as we can, and we proceed from there. Continuing the analogy, when we get stuck, it’s not because we’ve physically hit something– it’s because we’ve either run out of bricks, we’ve run out of mortar, or our wall is so high that we don’t know how to keep it from wobbling.

In this analogy, the bricks are either the sources or information we get from those sources; the mortar is the analysis that connects them; and the knowledge of construction techniques is the methodology we use to tackle the issue of stability or reliability. Therefore, “brick walls” should be something we actually try and create as genealogists, not something that gets in our way.

When we can’t reach anymore conclusions about our research subject, we haven’t hit a “brick wall,” we’ve simply run out of an ingredient required to build a solid structure. We need more bricks, mortar, or technique. If there’s no more to be had, then there’s no more to be had. We haven’t RUN into a wall– we’ve run OUT of stuff with which to continue building. Sometimes. we can find an alternative way to construct a solid wall, sometimes we just haven’t looked far and wide enough for more material, but other times we just don’t have what we need.

Now I don’t expect everyone in genealogy land to suddenly change their vocabulary, but it just struck me that the whole “brick wall” idea as we perceive it is a bad metaphor. When we’re stuck. we’re stuck — but there’s no wall in our way, it’s just that we can no longer build a solid one. Thoughts?

Posted in Thoughts and Musings | 4 Comments

Who Do Ewe Think Your Ancestor Is?

You’ve looked high. You’ve looked low. You’ve looked wide and far. You’ve examined every common record you think might contain information about your ancestors, their friends, their associates, and their neighbors– all without much luck. Have you tried the records of their sheep?

I admit, I was more curious than anything else when I filled out the call slip for “Record of Sheep Claims” for Jefferson County, Ohio.1  I didn’t have much expectation that the sheep would give much genealogical information. I was pleasantly surprised. While they don’t provide a ton of genealogical information, sheep claims are a good example of a record that connects people in time and place, and creates an association.

What is a sheep claim? In 1893, section 4215 of the Ohio Revised Code outlines how a farmer can claim damages caused by dogs killing their sheep: “Any person damaged by the killing or injury of sheep by dog or dogs may present a account of the injury done with damages claimed therefor verified by affidavit at any regular meeting of the trustees of the township where the damage or injury occurred.”2 Even better, the law required two witnesses “who are freeholders of the neighborhood where the injury was done…[and] shall be allowed fifty cents each and mileage as in other cases…” Witnesses had to testify to the amount of damage of the claim and that the damage was not caused by either the claimant’s dogs nor his dogs, but by unknown dogs.3

The statute goes on to explain that allowed claims were to paid out of a fund created by a per capita dog tax. In the event that the fund was insufficient to pay all claims, the claims would be prorated. These records, along with the trustee’s signature approving the claim were to be transferred to the county commissioners “in care of the county auditor who shall enter upon a book to be kept for that purpose.”4

Warning: These books are large. In order to read the actual record, you’ll need to click on the image to see it full-size, but you’ll see that the trio of Henry Kitheart, Joseph Kitheart, and Walter J. Hussey come in together twice. William McCue’s witnesses were J.C. More and W.W. Moore.5 We can’t tell exact relationships from this record, but it is evidence of some relationship. Again, these aren’t giving us volumes of information, but they list names that connect people in a specific time and place. It’s those associations between our ancestors and those people around him that help make our ancestor’s identity unique. If this is a record that might contain one of those associations, do you dare overlook it?


This record group, and many many more are part of the Ohio Local Government Records program, which consists of several archives that collect and preserve lesser-used, but certainly useful record groups. You can go to the Ohio Historical Society’s website to learn a little more about the places that are part of the Ohio Network Of American History Research Centers, including links to those centers with online listings of collections. Or if you’re not in a hurry, you can come out to the 2014 Ohio Genealogical Society conference on April 30 – May 3, where I’ll be presenting a program about these records.

  1. Jefferson County, Ohio, Auditor, sheep claims, LGR 247, 1 volume, 1892–1927; Youngstown Museum of Labor and Industry, Youngstown. []
  2. State of Ohio, General Assembly, Acts of the State of Ohio, Volume 40 (Norwalk: Laning Printing Co.,1893), 348-349; digital images, Google Books  ( accessed 21 Aug 2013). []
  3. ibid.  []
  4. ibid. []
  5. Jefferson Co., Ohio, sheep claims, 18-19. []
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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 []
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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 ( accessed 30 Jun 2013). []
  2. ibid. []
  3. ibid., 30 []
  4. ibid. []
  5. ibid., 31 []
  6. ibid., 33 []
  7. ibid., 33-34 []
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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, ( 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, ( 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.

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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). []
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