Sometimes I find it.
Sometimes I don’t.
The reasons records are lost are numerous. Any number of disasters can befall documents of great genealogical significance. For example:
- Fires, floods, and the civil war have been notorious for destroying the records of local government which help us trace land and lineage.
- Apathy and ignorance, i.e. “I don’t want that old bible/diary/grave map! What would I do with it? Just throw it away. Nobody wants it anyway.”
In May of 1864, in Caroline County Virginia’s courthouse “Most loose records and deed books prior to 1836 and will books prior to 1853 were stolen, mutilated, and/or destroyed by Union troops who ransacked the courthouse...” [emphasis mine]
Just this year, in a small rural courthouse, the county clerk told me, “People just take stuff. We’ve had lots of our records stolen.”
Because people can be thoughtless and selfish.
About 6 months ago, I found a document, in a county courthouse, which had the signature of my great-great grandfather. It was consent for his then-19 year old daughter, Ida Bell to marry 32 year old Albert Payne. And he didn’t just sign it. He wrote all 32 of the words out and then signed it. I was shocked to tears, I had believed all these years he had been unable to read or write. A functionally illiterate farmer. Like many of his peers.
Not so, perhaps.
As I held that brittle piece of 127 year old paper, obviously composed with a stub of pencil, I felt a flash of what must consume the Thieves of the Records. My great great grandfather held this paper! Everybody else does it, I should just take it. Immediately, my guardian angel, who had apparently been hovering in anticipation of my momentary departure from good sense, Gibbs-slapped me in the back of the head. Ashamed of even having the thought, I took a picture of it, carefully refolded the precious record and placed it back into the document holder.
Perhaps someone from the Payne side of the family might need to see that document someday.
On the drive home, I reflected on how close I came to becoming one of those for whom I have no respect.
It was a close call, but the Thieves of the Records will not count me in their number.