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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Dr. Anna Julia Cooper

Dr. Anna Julia Cooper
Dr. Anna Julia Cooper

“The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class — it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity.”

— Dr. Anna Julia Cooper

At the NGS Family History Conference on Saturday, I was lucky enough to attend the Wake County luncheon.

The conference includes several opportunities to hear speakers over lunch for a fee. The fee includes the price of the lunch and also serves as a fund raiser for the organization that has put together the event. These are almost always lectures, and while the lectures are more entertaining and light than those offered at the rest of the conference, they are lectures.

The Wake County Genealogical Society (of which I am a not-very-active member) chose to do this differently. Instead of having one speaker, they had a troup of actors performing a play tailored for the occasion. The play was based on the lives of historical personages of Wake County. While there were some rough edges to the performance, with some dropped lines, it was a very powerful performance. Especially of note were the portrayals of Joel Lane, founder of Raleigh and Dr. Anna Julia Cooper. Of these, the presentation of Dr. Cooper was the most affecting.

Dr. Cooper was an educator and writer. She was the fourth African-American woman to receive a doctorate degree, and did so at the age of 65, shattering barriers of race, gender and age. She was born in slavery and lived to the age of 105, dying in 1964. She lived American history from the Civil War to Civil Rights.

To read more about Dr. Cooper, see the Wikipedia article on her life, or read her most famous book, A Voice from the South on the University of North Carolina’s DocSouth website.

Image © University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text. Cooper, Anna J., 1892, A Voice from the South, Xenia, Ohio: The Aldine Printing House, Documenting the American South. University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2000,

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Kindle DX E-Book Reader

Last week, Amazon announced the impending release of their third generation e-book reader, the Kindle DX. (See the New York Times article on the announcement.)

The Amazon Kindle has created somewhat of a sensation with what are thought to be “iPod-like” sales numbers. (Amazon has so far succeeded in keeping the actual sales numbers private.) Amazon does say a couple of interesting things, however, about the number of books that Kindle readers buy. According to Amazon’s figures, purchasers of Kindle e-book readers buy as many traditional books as they did before, and are supplementing their purchases of books on paper with purchases of e-books.

Stepping away from the hype, the Kindle comes in for considerable criticism, mainly around the issue of digital rights management. Just as with early versions of the Apple iPod, the Amazon Kindle has been created with very tight digital rights management, which limits customers from sharing their books with other Kindle owners, giving their books away after they have read them, donating them to a library, and so on, which are standard ways people think about books. Not only is a Kindle owner prevented from downloading and reading a Kindle book on any Kindle they do not personally own, if Amazon ever stopped supporting the Kindle, there is no clear method to allow anyone to read the books they have “invested” in.

There was also some misguided flak from the Authors Guild about the computer voice that can “read” books to you on a Kindle. The novelist, e-book proponent, and Kindle critic, Cory Doctorow wrote an illuminating piece in The Guardian about how wrong-headed the Guild was in opposing the “read-to-me” feature of the Kindle (which also exists on every computer with a recent version of Adobe Acrobat Reader).

“But why should genealogists care?” you might ask. While there are 275,000 titles available, very few of those are specifically genealogical in nature. The main market for the Kindle and its readers is contemporary best-selling fiction and non-fiction. While there’s some overlap there, with some novels illustrating the time periods of our ancestors’ lives, and some non-fiction best sellers being excellent volumes of history, the connection seems tenuous.

The real benefit for genealogists in the Kindle is that its platform is not entirely closed. In addition to reading books formatted for the Kindle itself, it can also read books from the public domain converted into Mobipocket format. Tens of thousands of these books are available on several sites including, and But, since these books are also mainly not of interest to genealogists, a more compelling feature of the Kindle is that (in its first two versions) it can convert PDF and Word documents to Kindle format. The conversion is not perfect, though, and some files simply don’t work.

Kindle DX and Genealogy: Here’s where the Kindle DX comes in. The Kindle DX reads PDF files natively. This means that genealogists will be able to download any PDF file they have access to, whether it’s a public domain PDF of a local history from the 1890s downloaded from Google Books or their genealogical society’s newsletter, and take it with them in a device that is about the size of a piece of paper and 1/3 of an inch thick. Since the device has 3.3 GB of storage, there’s plenty of room for books. The Kindle is nearly instant-on (try that with your Vista laptop!), and less of a strain on the eyes than a computer monitor because it’s not backlit. The Kindle also allows for easy bookmarking, highlighting and copying of portions of text. It keeps track of where you were the last time you opened any document.

So, you heard it here first, the Kindle DX will be an attractive addition to the genealogist’s gadget bag, limited only by its $489 list price.

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Top 10 Genealogy Websites

Today, Randy Seaver posted to his blog Genea-Musings his list of top 10 favorite genealogy websites.He mentions that he’s taking off from a trend we’ve seen on Facebook, of the “5 items I have” known, seen, met, and so on. And, of course, list making is a long and honored tradition.

Without too much further rambling, I’ll share my own top 10 list of genealogy sites.

This list, like any “best of” list will change from day to day. What it looks like today will certainly not be identical to how it would look tomorrow or would have looked last week. All the relevant list caveats apply. So, here goes:

  1. ($, portions free) (including ) — The amount of data here is vast. As are the tools, from their genealogy software, FamilyTreeMaker, to DNA research.
  2. ($, portions free) — The folks at Footnote simply understand Web 2.0 and provide something between Ancestry, Flickr, and Facebook. Meanwhile, their partnership with the National Archives continues to reap rewards for users of the site.
  3. (free, with a donation model) — This site is weirdly compelling. It’s a powerful way to gather data, with the vast majority of information contributed by “caretakers” of the family records, and yet these adding up to virutal graveyards.
  4. (free) — An amazing and ambitious portal into LDS records and genealogy tools.
  5. Steve Morse’s One-Step Website (free) — I find the search algorithms here very helpful to break through problems where I don’t know enough to search a site directly (or don’t know what particular misspelling is in my way). Steve’s site runs multiple searches behind the scenes so that you don’t have to do them all in a manual fashion.
  6. EOGN — Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter ($, portions free) — Dick Eastman inhabits the center of the space where genealogy and technology intersect. If you’re interested in that overlap, and you happen not to have seen this blog, you really ought to take a look. Eastman keeps me up-to-date on technology I can use in genealogy.
  7. GNIS (free) — The USGS Geographical Names Information System. This is very handy for finding out the location of streams, churches, and so on. If it was ever listed on a US Geological Survey map as a feature or place, it’s in this database.
  8. (free) — This is a locale-based listing of available sites. I find it helpful to look here when I start working in a new county or state. The site helps me find location-specific online resources I might not find any other way.
  9. — Like Ancestry, this is a great site, full of powerful databases.
  10. ($, portions free) — I’m really impressed with how the folks at GenealogyBank do simple things. For example, their free Security Death Index results you the birth and death dates, just as many other sites do, but they also calculate the age at death. Additionally, they use the “Last Residence” zip code to provide lat/long data you can use to quickly map the location.

But I’d be interested in knowing what’s on your list, and learning about new sites that will end up being on my list next time I compile one.

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