27 January 2011

Growing Through Learning

As a rebellious teenager I was not an enthusiastic student. The run-of-the-mill curriculum in Texas was boring even all those decades before the war between science and religion in schools. As an adult taking evening classes after a full workday I came to appreciate formal education. I take pleasure in learning from great teachers in a classroom environment.

The importance of learning advanced and efficient techniques from an experienced practitioner cannot be overstated. Rapid advances in computer technology meant spending much of my previous career in training classes. My genealogical experience has been much the same. Newly discovered records, access methods, and evolving standards and research techniques have led to great progress in genealogical research. Trying to keep up through magazine articles and blogs is practically impossible when client projects and volunteer activities need our attention. But good professionals and advanced researchers understand the importance of allocating time and money for education.

This month I attended the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) sponsored by the Utah Genealogical Association. I took the "Advanced Methodology" course coordinated by Thomas W. Jones, Ph.D., CG, CGL, FASG, FUGA. Some sessions were presented by Rick Sayre, CG, and Claire Bettag, CG. These are all top-tier speakers in the genealogical community. No one in the class was disappointed. Even sessions on topics I had attended before had updated material that I would have never known about if I didn't place such a high priority on continuing to educate myself. Practical hands-on exercises helped cement the concepts being taught.

For my money, institutes are a much better investment than conferences. Conferences are great for networking and getting an introduction to a topic. Institutes give in-depth exposure in a cohesive, coordinated group of sessions. In 2003 I took the "Advanced Methodology" course taught by Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, at the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR). Although the two courses have the same name and cover some of the same topics, any serious genealogist should consider taking both courses. Mills and Jones are both highly-respected researchers using advanced techniques. But different examples and different viewpoints expose us to more ideas. We learn not everyone works the same way. We see things that will improve our work procedures and some things that may not work so well for us. We can synthesize all we learn and come up with a procedure perfect for our own situation.

So, do you prefer the icy conditions at Salt Lake City's SLIG in January with the bonus of having the Family History Center a block away? Or the hot, humid atmosphere of Birmingham's IGHR in June with the bonus of a great university and law library? Or a third option, Washington, D.C.'s National Institute of Genealogical Research (NIGR) in July with access to the National Archives? There are "bonus points" for achieving a trifecta and attending all three institutes in one year. IGHR and SLIG both offer classes for researchers at all levels from beginner to advanced and professional. NIGR is designed for experienced researchers.

CG, Certified Genealogist, and CGL, Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists® (BCG), used under license by professionals who pass periodic competency evaluations by the Board.

© 2011, Debbie Parker Wayne, All Rights Reserved

07 January 2011

NARA: 1940 Census and Accessing Textual Records Stored Off-site

Two of my favorite blogs have articles related to records of the U.S. National Archives (NARA). Be sure to check these out for important information if you haven't seen them yet. If records you need are stored off-site, you will need to request retrieval to save frustration if you travel to Washington D.C. then can't view those records in the time you have available. Knowing where to look for upcoming information needed to prepare for 1940 census research is quickly becoming a priority; only fifteen more months until the 1940 census is available to researchers.

NARAtions: The Blog of the United States National Archives has an article titled "Are you interested in knowing which records from NARA’s DC-Area Textual Services Division in Off-Site Storage?" explaining how some records may take up to 72 hours to retrieve. A PDF list of records stored off-site is available at http://www.archives.gov/dc-metro/records-in-offsite-storage.pdf.

Rebecca Warlow of the National Archives explains NARA's plans for the release of the 1940 census in a comment to one of Dick Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter post titled "NARA to Release 1940 Census Records?". Be sure to scroll down to Ms. Warlow's comments to get the facts. The other comments are also interesting and informative.

© 2011, Debbie Parker Wayne, All Rights Reserved

01 January 2011

Texas Marriage Laws, 1836 (Gammel 1:1041)

The land we call Texas was first settled by Native Americans, then was part of Spain, France, and Mexico, before becoming the Republic of Texas. During the Spanish and Mexican years Catholicism was the official religion. Only Catholic priests could lawfully perform weddings. Due to the shortage of priests, settlers often married by bond or contract until a priest was available to sanctify the union of a couple.1

Shortly after declaring independence from Mexico, the Texians had to form a new government and enact new laws. The Spanish influence was still strong even though many of the Texians were Anglo. On 16 January 1836 the legislature passed an act setting up courts and defining duties of clerks and others.2 Section 9 of this act authorized "judges, alcaldes, commissarios, and regular accredited ministers of the Gospel, of whatever denomination" to celebrate the rites of matrimony in front of three disinterested and reputable witnesses. The officiant and two or more of the witnesses were required to sign copies of the certificate. One copy of the certificate was to be given to the bride, the other to be filed with "the archives of the municipality"3 (the county clerk after the new government was up and running). Notice that the officiant could be a representative of the government or a minister of any religion. A Catholic priest was no longer required. Interestingly, Spanish terms were still used for some officials: an alcalde was a mayor or the chief administrator of a Spanish town, a commissario was probably a commissioner. (See any Spanish-English dictionary or use http://translate.google.com/.)

Women had more recognition under Spanish law than under English common law.4 This Texas law specifically states the bride should be given the certificate. I interpret this as recognition that a woman could be entrusted with a legal document and might be more than a covered woman or a feme covert, even if she was married. A comparison to laws in many other states must be done before a definitive statement can be made as to the uniqueness of this statement in the Texas law. But a quick search in the online version of Hening's Statutes at Large for Virginia gets no hits for the word bride, except as part of a place named St. Bride's. The 1784 Virginia law states that a minister or congregation clerk must transmit a marriage certificate to the county clerk to be recorded, how much the county clerk should be paid to record the marriage, and the penalties for an officiant not filing the record in a timely manner.5 The law makes no mention of who else should receive a copy of the certificate, much less whether the bride might be given a copy.

A later clause in the 1836 Texas act described here legalized those contract and bond marriages that were not considered legal under Spanish or Mexican law:
all marriages heretofore celebrated by bond or otherwise, under the heretofore existing laws, are, in like manner, declared and decreed to be valid; provided, that all officers who have attended to the same, shall, on application of either party, or the friend of either party, file the bond or other evidence of such marriage, with the archives and records of the courts.
This law also declared "the issue of the parties legitimate."6 The declaration of legitimacy would minimize questions of inheritance that might arise later if the children had not been declared legitimate.

If a couple followed the law and filed a record with the county to legitimize a bond or contract marriage then ceremonies performed prior to the formation of The Republic of Texas may be documented in early county records. Don't assume a marriage date prior to 1836 means no record is available and overlook this possibility. Remember that some counties originally covered a much larger area than the modern-day county covers. Be sure you determine the county boundaries at the time of the early Republic to determine where to look for an early marriage record.

Mark M. Carroll, Homesteads Ungovernable: Families, Sex, Race, and the Law in Frontier Texas, 1823–1860, 8th ed. (Austin, Texas: Univ. of Texas Press, 2001), xi.
H. P. N. Gammel, comp., The Laws of Texas, 1822-1897, 10 vols. (Austin: Gammel Book Co., 1898), 1:1039-1046, "An Ordinance and Decree for opening the several Courts of Justice, appointing Clerks, Prosecuting Attorneys, and defining their duties, &c.," 16 January 1836; digital images, University of North Texas, The Portal to Texas History (http://texinfo.library.unt.edu/lawsoftexas/ : accessed 1 January 2011).
Gammel, The Laws of Texas, 1822-1897, 1:1041-1042.
Jean A. Stuntz, Hers, His,and Theirs: Community Property Law in Spain and Early Texas (Lubbock, Texas: Texas Tech Univ. Press, 2005), 29.
Freddie L. Spradlin, trans. "Laws of Virginia, October 1784--9th of Commonwealth," p. 505, Hening's Statutes at Large, Being a Collection of the Laws of Virginia, Virginia GenWeb (http://vagenweb.org/hening/vol11-26.htm : accessed 1 January 2011).
Gammel, The Laws of Texas, 1822-1897, 1:1042.

© 2011, Debbie Parker Wayne, All Rights Reserved