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.