Friday, February 17, 2012

52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy - Historical Documents

Week #7 – Historical Documents Week 7 – Historical Documents: Which historical document in your possession are you happy to have? How did you acquire this item? What does it reveal about your ancestors?


I've been researching my families for over twenty years.  As you can imagine, I've accumulated quite a few copied documents on both families.

When I began the research on my birth family, I was told (or was it warned) about one of my great-grandfathers.  He was a passionate man - quick tempered and violent at times.  There were two proven murders and rumors of three more.  Family stories ranged between him being coldhearted and loving his family and friends so dearly that he was willing to commit murder for them.  He was acquitted on the first murder, but the second one proved to be a bit more troublesome. 

As the family story goes, a cousin of my great-grandfather's was arrested for moon-shining.  This was in the early 1920's and times were hard.  Knowing that corn was more profitable in a jug than a bushel basket, the men in East Kentucky provided for their families the best they knew how.  My great-grandfather made his way down the mountain to pay his cousin's bail.  He approached the sheriff and his deputies and stated his intentions.  He was told that he would have to wait until his cousin had gone to court to take care of that.  A friend of my great-grandfather's soon arrived and said that my great-grandmother, who was seven months pregnant at the time, needed him and he was to come home.  Again and again, he tried to give the bail money to the arresting officers.  Again and again, he was denied.  All the while, the friend was urging him back to the mountain and his wife's side.  Angry words were yelled and guns were drawn.  My great-grandfather shot and killed the sheriff.  He was arrested and served in the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Frankfort.

Over the years, I gathered bits and pieces of this story.  A descendant of the man he killed contacted me and she shared with me more on the events that left a family without their husband and father.

I visited the Kentucky State Library and Archives in March 2011.  As well prepared as I thought I was, I spent six hours wandering around.  I felt like a kid in a candy store and didn't know which bin to get into first.   I made notes for subsequent visits, looked at more microfilm than I care to admit and generally had a wonderful, if not fruitless, time.  The one thing I did manage to do was look at the court transcripts of my ancestor's trial.  Turning those ninety-year old papers was almost a religious experience.  For those minutes, there were no other researchers around me.  I was alone with him and learning his story, his real story.  As I read, parts of the family story were bolstered, while other parts were proven wrong.  I ordered a copy and headed to my next destination.

A few weeks later, my copy of the transcripts arrived.  I spent all night reading and rereading it.

I found that he was wounded several times in the shooting.  I found that it wasn't his wife, but the cousin's wife who was needing help.  I found that the testimony of the event grew more gruesome as each one told what happened that day.  I found that there were two trials as the jury in the first couldn't come to a decision.

I love the family story that was handed down, but to hold these documents in my hands and learn what really happened?  That means more than words can say!

No comments:

Post a Comment