Marriage Records Survey: Durham County, North Carolina

I visited the Durham County Register of Deeds, 200 East Main Street, Durham, NC 27701-3649 to survey their marriage records. The office is quite accessible. It is in the middle of downtown Durham, with ample, reasonably priced parking in a parking structure next door. The Register of Deeds is in the basement of the old courthouse, directly across the street from the modern Durham County Government Building.

Access to the records is remarkably open. The records room is located behind the public reception area. One of the clerks lets you in to examine the records on your own. There is good light in the street-level basement where the marriage records are in open filing cabinets. A table, chairs, pencils, and scrap paper are available to researchers.

The records range from 1897 to the present. Because of institutional segregation, African-American and white marriage records are separate from 1897 until 1975. Older records are in plastic sleeves, one to a record. More recent records are in manila pouches, one per month of records.

Read more

Categories Uncategorized

Mental Health Records Access

Book Cover: Annie's Ghosts
Annie's Ghosts

Steve Luxenberg writes in the Detroit Free Press about the over-the-top protections afforded to the dead in his article “Dead and gone and still private: Medical record laws need updating.” Suffice it to say that medical, and especially mental health records are locked up far longer than is necessary. As far as I am concerned, people whose entire immediate family are dead should have any of their data made public. The only reason for privacy is the protection of living persons; the rest is history, and history should be made public, not hidden.

As Mr. Luxenberg points out, we have a radical lack of privacy in some arenas — witness Facebook — but medical and mental health records are another story. So, with a couple of clicks, I can find out what your street address and phone number are, but it takes a court order to find out about a person who died in a mental hospital more than 100 years ago.

I’m going to take a look at Luxenberg’s book Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret.

Categories Uncategorized

Chronicling America API

Ed Summers, whose digital life is at, and who is a software developer on the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America project, noticed my “Chronicling America” blog entry of the other day, where I talked about predictive URLs I found on the site.

He pointed out that Chonicling America has a published API (application programming interface) that explains how one can access the content of Chronicling America. The API is at:

Read more

Vital Records Checklist

I am taking the NGS Home Study Course in American Genealogy. While I am covering ground I have covered before, I get a lot out of doing this in a focused way. One method they are applying is a simple checklist of records, whether we are talking about census records, vital records, or anything else one might look for as one conducts a “reasonably exhaustive search.” While I have done this before, the process has led me to come up with a handy overview of where I stand with vital records. Below is my checklist, with the living people in my pedigree removed.

Read more

Chronicling America

The Library of Congress’s Chronicling America website has lists of newspapers, searchable and navigable by title, as well as tens of thousands of images of newspapers from 1880 to 1922 from 15 states (plus the District of Columbia):

  • Arizona
  • California
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Kentucky
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • New York
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia, and
  • Washington.

The site catalog is very handy for finding out about local newspapers that might be available through inter-library loan (ILL) on microfilm and by other means in libraries across the country.

You can even predict the URL for a county you are interested in. For example, the URL for Monroe County, West Virginia is:

And the URL for Valley County, Nebraska is:

So, the pattern comes down to:

Prefix: [which, itself is not a workable URL]

To this, you append the state, a slash, then the county, and a slash.

State (with spaces replaced by %20, the HTML code for a space): some%20state/

County (with spaces replaced by %20, the HTML code for a space): some%county/

Happy hunting!

Research in the States

The National Genealogical Society publishes a series of books entitled Research in the States. Each volume covers the history, laws, records and research facilities of a state. It provides guidance for online resources as well.

Titles available to this point include:

  • Arkansas by Lynda Childers Suffridge, BSE, MSE
  • Colorado by Kathleen W. Hinckley
  • Illinois by Diane Renner Walsh, CG
  • Maryland by Patricia Obrien Shawker, CG
  • Michigan by Shirley M. DeBoer, CG
  • Missouri by Pamela Boyer Porter, CG, CGL and Ann Carter Fleming, CG, CGL
  • New Jersey by Claire Keenan Agthe
  • North Carolina by Jeffrey L. Haines, CG
  • Ohio by Diane Vanskiver Gagel
  • Oregon by Connie Miller Lenzen, CG
  • Pennsylvania by Kay Haviland Freilich, CG, CGL
  • Tennessee by Chuck Sherrill
  • Virginia by Eric G. Grundset
  • West Virginia by Barbara Vines Little, CG

These books are available in print as well as in PDF format. They are approximately 50 pages each. Some states are addressed within the covers of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ).

For my own research, I have picked up the PDF versions of the Virginia and West Virginia books, in PDF format. As a member of the NGS, I have also downloaded the PDF version of the latest issue of the NGSQ, Vol. 98, No. 1, March 2010, which includes “Research in Nebraska” by Roberta “Bobbi” King.

I have devoured each of these books, taking notes about sources, methods, how records changed, and so on, in order to get the most out of my research time.

At $8 for the PDF and $14.50 for the printed version (members price; non-members pay $10 and $17.50), these are an incredible value, allowing you to focus your research. Highly recommended.

Diaspora: The Social Network

Diaspora: Personally Controlled, Do-It-All, Distributed Open-Source Social Network from daniel grippi on Vimeo.

A new technology startup is taking form which might have interesting implications for the online genealogical community.

The gravitational pull of Facebook towards some source of revenue from the wildly popular service, has had the company recently forcing users to manually opt-out of sharing with everyone on the Internet the data they may have intended to share only with their friends.This has created an uproar, perhaps not heard by all users of Facebook, but one in which many Facebook users are threatening to quit the service on May 31st.

In response to these privacy concerns, four software engineers in their late teens and early twenties are proposing an open source social network called Diaspora, that would remain private and secure, and would be hosted on your own “node”, on your computer, not on corporate computers. They went to to try to raise $10,000 in seed money; so far, they have raised $174,950 from 5,270 people. They are also getting laudatory coverage in the New York Times, and elsewhere.

Why this might be important for anyone who shares information on the Internet, and especially for genealogists, is that instead of handing your research, photos, notes, and so on to a corporation designed to turn everything it does into money for itself, you would keep your data and share it as you would like, with whom you would like. As a distributed network, each user/webmaster would have the benefit of running independently of anyone else, and deploying features or methods of sharing content if and when they wanted to do so.

Stewart Brand said about the Internet that “information wants to be free,” as the Internet activist and novelist Cory Doctorow says, this is not really the case. In fact, it’s more important to note that people want to be free.

Diaspora is still in the formational stages. We will have to see where it goes, and where these idealistic college kids take it, but I. for one, will be watching, with the idea of freeing my information, and freeing my own expression on my terms, not on those of Facebook, Twitter, or those of any other corporate entity.

The Acquittal of the Slaves, Ira and Stuart

I may be onto something with the slaves in the Graham family of Monroe County, West Virginia.

A couple of days ago, I posted a piece about the slaves mentioned in David Graham’s History of the Graham Family (1899). These included a woman named Dianna and called “Dine.” I noted:

Dianna, or “Dine” was given to Florence Graham, and lived to see the end of slavery. Since David Graham says in 1899 that she “died only a few years ago,” she is probably in the census in 1870 and 1880.

Looking further, I found on Google Books the volume Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia1 by Cornelius C. Watts, Attorney General and Ex Officio Reporter. I will transcribe and post the case, “Graham et. al. v. Graham et. al.” on this site. It is 27 pages long, spanning pages 598-624 of the Report of Cases. For now, though, the important thing is that the case proves that Dianna (or “Dinah,” as she is called in the case) was the mother of two slaves, Ira and Stuart.

The names Ira and Stuart are familiar to me, as they are the slaves who were charged with the murder of my 3rd great grandmother, but quickly acquitted. Here are some notes I took from the county court records, on microfilm at the Library of Virginia.

16 October 1854
The attorney for the Commonwealth by consent of the Court saith that he will not further prosecute on behalf of the Commonwealth against Stuart (a Slave the property of Joseph Graham) charged with murder.

Therefore it is ordered that he be discharged from his imprisonment.

16 October 1854
Ira a slave (the property of Joseph Graham) charged with Murder was led to the bar in custody of the jailor of this Court and thereof arrigned and pleaded not guilty, diverse witnesses being sworn + Examined; the prisoner fully heard; upon consideration whereof the Court is of the opinion that the prisoner is not guilty of the murder aforesaid, it is therefore considered that the prisoner be discharged from his imprisonment.2

So, Dianna was the mother of Ira and Stuart, who were acquitted of murder in 1854. But, can I find them in the 1870 census? Tune in tomorrow….

1 Cornelius C. Watts. Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, Vol. XVI, 1879-80, Wheeling: W. J. Johnston, 1881.
2 County Court Order Book 6, Monroe County, VA (now WV), 1848-1854, p. 638, 16 October 1854. Microfilm reel 10, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.

Digital Archiving

Blanche Gregg Koutsky's Children (My First Cousins Twice Removed)

How to Make and Store Digital Backups of Your Audio, Video, and Photography

As a genealogist and the family’s historian, you have probably gathered, received, and in every way imaginable simply ended up with boxes of videotapes and audiocassettes. Almost certainly you have even more photographs. In addition to archiving and preserving these records, you want to make them available to your family and to other researchers.

In any archiving process, it is important to determine what is of value, what should be preserved, and what should be relegated to the recycling bin. Once you have whittled the piles down to the genealogically and historically interesting photographs, film and video, and audio recordings, you might ask yourself: “Now what?” This article will attempt to answer that question for the digital archiving of audio, video, and photography.

Since you want to both preserve this material and make it available to family and other researchers, the best approach is to reproduce it in a computer format — to digitize it. You can do this at home, as a do-it-yourself project, or you can have someone else perform it as a service for you.

Read more

Categories Uncategorized

Slave History in the Graham Family

At the age of 78, David Graham wrote his History of the Graham Family (1899), where he apologized for including information on the slaves held by his ancestor, Col. James Graham, Sr. As a man born into a slave-holding family in 1821, David Graham’s prejudices are on display. He was already 44 years old at the end of the war, and likely already had his sensibilities formed. In 1899, 34 years after Appomattox, he writes:

To his descendants (for whom this book is especially written) it may not be uninteresting to know the names of the slaves and to whom they were given, especially to the younger generation, to whom may have been handed down the names of slaves owned by their immediate ancestors, without the accompanying information of from whence they came. To such it is hoped that a very brief sketch of his slaves and to whom, they descended will be fully pardonable and even appreciated.

Col. James Graham and his wife Florence Graham had ten children: six sons and four daughters (source: David Graham, “James and Florence Graham’s family,” in History of the Graham Family (privately printed, Clayton, West Virginia, 1899). According to the section “Slaves of James Graham, Sr.” of David Graham’s book, the slaves held by Col. James Graham, Sr. were given to his children as follows:

William (5 Dec 1765 – June 1836, m. 1809, Catherine Johnson): “To his son, William, he gave a negro man named Bob, who died while in his (William’s) possession.”

John (22 Dec 1767 – 1777; killed by Shawnee Indians)

Elizabeth (29 Mar 1770 – 1858captive of Shawnee Indians, 1777-1785; m. 1792, Joel Stodghill): “To Elizabeth Stodghill, his oldest daughter, he gave a negro servant whose name cannot now be recalled.

David (1772 – 1818; m. circa 1795, Mary Stodghill): “To his son, David, was given a negro man named Neese, and also a negro woman, whose name was Phillis. David also owned several other slaves.”

Jane (1774 – ?; m. circa 1792, David Jarrett): “To his second daughter, Jane Jarrett, he gave a negro named Rose. Rose lived a a very old age and died in the Jarrett family about 1850 to 1860.”

James (1777 – circa 1815; died of the milk sickness; m. 1800, Leah Jarrett): “A negro man named Plim was given to his son, James, Jr., at whose death he fell to his widow, who kept him till she moved west in 1827, when he was sold to James Jarrett of Muddy Creek. Jarrett was a brother of the widow.”

Samuel (1780 – ?; m. circa 1808, Sallie Jarrett): “To his son, Samuel, was given a negro man named Caesar, who remained in the family until about the year 1836, when he was sold, the widow of Samuel having about that time moved to Tennessee. Caesar spent the remainder of his days at Union, Monroe county.”

Lanty (1783 – 1839; m. 1814, Elizabeth Stodghill): “To the youngest son, Lanty, descended a negro named Ben, who, at the moving away to the west of Lanty’s widow in 1841, passed into the hands of Joel Stodghill, as did also the negress, Phillas, who belonged to David. Ben and Phillis were man and wife, after the manner of such relations as existed among slaves.”

Rebecca (1786 – ?; m. Joseph Graham, a cousin, in 1803): “To his third daughter, Rebecca, descended a negress named Dianna, which name was always abbreviated to “Dine”.  “Dine” lived to see slavery abolished and died only a few years ago.”

Florence (1789 – ?; m. William Taylor): “His fourth daughter, Florence Taylor, fell heir to a negro woman named Clara, who, when Florence moved to Indiana, was sold to Peter Miller of Monroe county.”

Recasting this another way, based on this document the known slaves of James Graham, Sr., were:

Bob who died while in the possession of William Graham.

An unnamed woman, who was given to Elizabeth Stodghill, neé Graham.

Neese (a man) and Phillis were given to David. (Phillas was later the property of Joel and Elizabeth Stodghill. Phillas was the wife of Ben.)

Rose was give no Jane Jarrett, neé Graham.

Plim was given to James Graham, Jr.

Caesar was given to Samuel, and after Samuel’s death, was sold to someone in Union, Monroe County, Virginia.

Ben was married to Phillas, above. Originally, he was given to Lanty, but after Lanty died, and Lanty’s widow moved west, Ben was the property of Joel and Elizabeth Stodghill.)

Dianna, or “Dine” was given to Florence Graham, and lived to see the end of slavery. Since David Graham says in 1899 that she “died only a few years ago,” she is probably in the census in 1870 and 1880.

Clara was given to Florence Taylor, neé Graham, who sold her to Peter Miller of Monroe County, before moving to Indiana.

Writing down that litany of “givens” and “owners” is yet another reminder of how inhumane the practice of slavery was; yet it was treated as such a “civilized” institution at the time….

There are interesting tidbits here. Since David Graham knew many of these people, there is some likelihood that many of the relationships are correct, even if dates might be incorrect for events that occurred so many years before her wrote his history. I’m intrigued by the possibility of doing descendancy research on some of the slaves, such as Dianna and Phillas and Ben, to see if I can link them to descendants who might be doing research, and struggling with the complexities of African-American research.