Notes from the past…

Using Google Books in your genealogy research: an example

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A couple of years ago, I blogged about the 1886 adventures of my 3GGM and the Texas Supreme Court. I had put her name into the search box on the Google News Archive page and found a transcript of the Court’s decision in the case of Kennedy vs Upshaw. Wow! Pretty exciting!

Only problem was… I couldn’t understand much of the paper’s language! Apparently lawyers speak (and write) something other than English :)

In a nutshell: the lower court determined that part of the will was a forgery and therefore invalid and my 3GGM appealed, with the case eventually reaching the Texas Supreme Court.

Flash forward to yesterday.

I was updating my 3GGM Susan William Lee Martin in my RootsMagic database and did a routine Google search, looking for anything new.

To my surprise and delight, Google Books found another transcript of the Texas Supreme Court’s decision in this case, more of a review actually, written in plain English!

From this new “translation”, I learned the case apparently dealt with a codicil to the last will and testament of my 3GGM Susan William Lee Martin’s father, James Harris Martin. In the original will, James Martin’s estate was equally divided between my 3GGM and his other daughter. The codicil (a document that amends a previously executed will) added about 2 weeks before James’ death and witnessed by Susan Martin and her husband Dr N B Kennedy and signed in the Kennedy home, changed the distribution of the estate. Susan would continue to get her 50% of the estate, with the other 50% to be divided between Susan’s 2 kids and the other daughter!

James Harris Martin was apparently quite ill at the time the codicil was signed (according to his attending physician’s testimony) and his hands were very shaky. Martin’s signature on the codicil was “written in a smooth and regular hand”, unlike the signature on the original will, thus it came into question and was determined to be a forgery.

The Supreme Court did not question the final verdict in the case, but did find several mistakes in the way the trial was conducted and returned the case to the lower court for retrial.

What was the genealogical value of these documents?

The transcript that I found 2 years ago gave me the full name of James Harris Martin ( I previously had James H Martin, from his 1850 Federal Census entry) as well as the date and location of his death (28 Mar 1883 in Hillsboro, Texas). Armed with these new details, I was able to locate Martin’s burial location and headstone photo at Find-A-Grave, which contained his exact birth date, 21 Jun 1807. All that from a court transcipt… AWESOME!

And what genea-goodies did I get from yesterday’s “translation” document? Remember the other daughter who was originally supposed to get half of Martin’s estate? Martin’s 1850 Federal Census enumeration lists his kids as Susan W L and Sarah A D (apparently this family had a thing for 2 middle names!). Susan was of course my 3GGM and I have been able to follow her life and amass quite a bit of data on her. But what of Sarah A D Martin? We all know the difficulties in tracking down female family members, especially from this time period. I have found essentially nothing on Sarah and even thought she might not have survived childhood, as frequently happened in those days.

Thanks to Cases Argued and Decided in the Supreme Court of the State of Texas, Volume 66 , Sarah A D Martin is now Mrs S. A. D. Haigler! I now have her married name! This is a major find for me, as hopefully it will begin a new line of research!

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One thought on “Using Google Books in your genealogy research: an example

  1. I have found a tremendous amount of genealogy information from Google Books. See my blog about Google Books and Genealogy. The blog is about how to structure some queries using the Google Books search engine and some of what I found.

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