Monday, May 20, 2013

Paul Graham's Georgia Courthouse Disasters

Courthouse disasters are the stuff of legend. My grandmother believed the records of all four of her grandparents had been destroyed; in fact, none were.

Paul K. Graham, CG, AG -- one of a handful who holds both genealogical credentials -- has documented 109 disasters, many causing record losses, in 75 of Georgia's 159 counties since the American Revolution. Each county's brief narrative has a source list attached, although specific statements of fact are not directly documented. (To put it technically, he has provided direct evidence of negative evidence!) Two counties have claimed disasters for which there is zero contemporary evidence (Emanuel and Polk), whereas two others have massive record loss with no documentation of how it happened (Bryan and Union).

The book's value is enhanced by maps showing the areas affected beyond the named county. Although 1864 was the worst year for Georgia courthouses, overall 95 of the 109 disasters came from things like arsonists and faulty heating equipment, not the Civil War.

To a researcher who rarely does Georgia, this looks like an enviable resource. Graham prudently did not attempt to record exactly which records had been lost in each county (indeed, in multiple-disaster counties, later fires obliterated evidence of the damage done by earlier ones). Graham says he has given up an ambitious scheme to produce similar books for the other states. Perhaps this handsome little book will inspire imitators.

Unfortunately disasters come in other flavors. Those of us following the ongoing saga of the Georgia Archives' near-death experience, or the Indiana State Archives' chronic neglect, can only hope that some 22nd-century genealogist will not have to chronicle 21st-century record losses caused by underfunding (instead of war), mismanagement (instead of tornadoes), and ignorant politicians (instead of arsonists).

Paul K. Graham, Georgia Courthouse Disasters (Decatur GA: The Genealogy Company, 2013).

Harold Henderson, "Paul Graham's Georgia Courthouse Disasters," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 20 May 2013 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.] 

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