Thomas Eubanks, a Georgia man, married twice and fathered six children. There was nothing remarkable about his life, so his descendants might not think to look for him in the records of the Georgia Supreme Court.
Its very title makes this lofty venue sound far beyond the realm of regular folk.
But most court cases are brought by ordinary people - albeit, usually under extraordinary circumstances.
Thomas probably would have been embarrassed by the circumstances that etched his name in the state supreme court files. He'd actually been dead for several years before his two sets of children, one from each marriage, went to court over whether or not his second marriage to Elizabeth Wilson in 1828 was legal.
By his first marriage, Thomas had three children: Asa, Ambrose and Alfred. Alfred died intestate (without a will) and without a wife or children. So the law required his estate be equally divided among his siblings.
He had two full siblings (Asa and Ambrose) and three half siblings: David, George and Sarah. By law, half and full siblings inherited equally, so Alfred's estate was to be divided into five equal parts.
The law did not allow a man's illegitimate children to inherit from his legitimate children. So Asa and Ambrose hatched a plan: "Let's have David, George and Sarah declared illegitimate and all of Alfred's money will be ours."
If they could prove that their father was never legally married to the mother of David, George and Sarah, those three would then be illegitimate offspring, unable to inherit from their legitimate half brother. Asa and Ambrose would get Alfred's estate.
As genealogists we benefit when siblings and others behave badly.
The case of Eubanks v. Banks, 34 Ga. 406, appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court from Morgan County in 1866, included lots of evidence that allows descendants to prove relationships and discover interesting tidbits about their relatives:
•Thomas Eubanks' second wife was Elizabeth "Betsey" Wilson at the time of the marriage, but her maiden name was Yarbrough. She was the daughter of Joseph Yarbrough. She had two brothers, Frederick and Mathew.
•In 1818, Betsey married William Wilson at her father's house in Fayetteville, N.C.
•Within the year, Betsey had a daughter, Isabel.
•In 1819, William left Betsey and moved to Tennessee, where he lived for the next 19 years. William and Betsey never divorced.
•Thomas and Betsey married in 1828 at the home of Thomas Lasseter, a justice of the peace in Chatham County, N.C.
•At some point, Wilson also remarried and by this wife (not named in the court case) he had five children.
•Ambrose married Harriett (maiden name not disclosed in the case) about 1820 in Chatham County.
•Sarah Eubanks married James Hatch.
Asa and Ambrose's strategy quickly becomes obvious. When the court delivered its opinion, it expressed displeasure over Asa and Ambrose's behavior. The justices called the lawsuit a "disreputable attempt ... by the older set to bastardize the younger," and declared the three younger siblings to be legitimate and entitled to inherit from their half brother.
I hope you're now chomping at the bit to find these cases in your own family history. Next week I'll give you a step-by-step guide for research in courts.
Final summer workshop
The last of my summer workshop series will be held at the SouthShore Regional Library from 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday. "They Came to America: And Then What?" will include ports of immigration and the migration routes researchers should explore to find ancestors after they got off the boat. The lecture will cover the naturalization process and how to find citizenship papers.
Registration at the library check-out counter opens at 1 p.m. Thursday. Seating is limited to the first 25 people who get tickets. If you have questions, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.