Sunday, May 23, 2021

Ancestors & Bankruptcy? 7 Great Genealogical Finds

Vermont Watchman and State Journal
Montpelier, Vermont, 
16 May 1842

What Can Bankruptcy Records Tell Us?
a3Genealogy attorney clients, corporate clients and even the media often have us digging into and copying bankruptcy records. What do they know that most genealogists overlook?  Bankruptcy records are filled with genealogical information, and they go back in time that can be quite useful in uncovering ancestors, their whereabouts, their secrets, and their heirs!

It was clear when the a3Genealogy research team was led to a full newspaper page of 1842 bankruptcy cases, that something had gone awry. Yes, the 1841 Act was in effect and obviously quite welcomed. It followed the Panic of 1837. 

Where to Begin
Start with understanding the applicable Bankruptcy Act. 

Bankruptcy practices are not new.  As Jake Ersland reminds us in his Prologue article, "By 1900, Congress had passed four separate bankruptcy laws - The Bankruptcy Acts of 1800, 1841, 1867, 1898.  Read: Using Bankruptcy Records for Genealogical, by Ersland.  

7 Great Finds 
  1. Names: family and associates
    Our ancestors often went into business with relatives. It's a great way to get a list of unknown persons and connect the dots.  This is why genealogy researchers use bankruptcy records also for communities. One bankruptcy can affect an entire community. It's a great way to understand roles in the family, the community and the industry. With one research project we were unable to unscramble a close family and associates. The names proffered by the bankruptcy docket and case file led us to a list of persons; mostly related. It also allowed us to do newspaper searches on the interested parties.  Ultimately, we were able to divide the correct father - son family units. 
  2. Addresses / Property

    After the Civil War, the 1867 Bankruptcy Act was used to recover financial losses across America.  It is through the use of this Act that we often can follow an elusive ancestor.  After bankruptcy, due to financial devastation caused by the war, many "picked up" their belongs and moved to more prosperous towns.  Bankruptcy papers may provide their new residence or relatives in another town. Or a connection through a testimony or deposition or witness that helps corroborate data. This may connect researchers to a the correct family unit.
  3.  Heirs
    Financial problems were known well before bankruptcy laws. Prior to these acts we followed bankers, Even so the notices were the same: in newspapers, and in the court records. It is in these records that we were able to learn of the son in law telling the story, the death of the business partner and the name his father - the ancestor of the client. 

  4.  Occupations 
  5.  Divorces
  6.  Court Records for Details
    It was through a Newspaper article that we realized that Morris was in trouble. It led us to the his bankruptcy infraction in 1923.  Perjury charges included family affidavits and testimonies, witnesses for and against Morris' character and information on his family life
  7. Reasons for Moving
    It's not often that our missing ancestor joined the Circus, but when named in a bankruptcy case, the descendants understand a lot more about his lifestyle and sudden disappearance. It's the story we've heard and it always begins with "and the Circus  came to town..."

Be Historically Correct  

Kathleen Brandt
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