Graham, et. al. v. Graham, et. al.

My most intractable genealog­i­cal brick­wall is the parent­age of Rebecca Martha Gra­ham (1831−1880).

Rebecca’s mother Jane Gra­ham (1811−1854) is dis­missed by her brother David Gra­ham (1821−1914) in his “His­tory of Gra­ham Fam­ily” (1899) with the fol­low­ing sen­tence: “Jane, the sec­ond daugh­ter of Joseph Gra­ham, died unmar­ried” (80).

On Google Books, how­ever, I have found doc­u­men­ta­tion for a case that might lead to the miss­ing father of Rebecca Martha Gra­ham. The case is “Gra­ham, et. al. v. Gra­ham, et. al., Decided May 1, 1880, The West Vir­ginia Supreme Court of Appeals.”

As I men­tioned, Rebecca was the daugh­ter of Jane Gra­ham and some unknown para­mour. On 1 Nov 1853, Rebecca mar­ried Henry Lake Miller (1817−1900). Around the time of this mar­riage, Rebecca inher­ited $3,000 from her father (I pre­sume this was mainly land) who died in Missouri.

in 1854, Jane died a vio­lent death, for which her brother James Gra­ham (1813−1889) was put on trial and acquitted.

Lit­i­ga­tion on the Gra­ham v. Gra­ham chancery case began in 1859, and the case did not make its way com­pletely through to the West Vir­ginia Supreme Court of Appeals until 1879, being decided in 1880. Unfor­tu­nately, Rebecca died one month and 11 days after win­ning her judg­ment. She died of dysentery.

But what was the case about? Rebecca Martha Graham’s grand­mother, Rebecca Gra­ham (1786−1876) had received “prop­erty” (land and a slave named Dinah) in the will of her father, James Gra­ham (1741−1813). The rel­e­vant por­tion of the will reads:

I give unto my Daugh­ter Rebeckah Gra­ham and her chil­dren, that plan­ta­tion where she now lives known by the name of Stephen­sons Cab­bin [sic] also I give unto her and her chil­dren my Negro girl named Dinah, the Land and Negro never to be dis­posed of out of the Fam­ily nor the increase of the Negro if any she has.

Because the elder Rebecca Gra­ham was mar­ried, her hus­band Joseph Gra­ham had “own­er­ship” of this prop­erty. After he died, his widow sold the two chil­dren of Dinah (Ira and Stu­art), and the bulk of the remain­ing chil­dren sued for a por­tion of the proceeds.

Whether or not this case yields the name and any par­tic­u­lars about Rebecca Martha Graham’s father, I’m sure it will be a case that reveals a great deal about rural ante­bel­lum West Virginia.

The main reminder here, how­ever, is not to for­get key sources, such as court cases. While not as often used as some other sources, such as vital records or cen­sus records, the records of court cases can be quite revealing.

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