A Legal Education

Today was the last day of the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, a week-long opportunity to study one subject in great depth.  I was fortunate enough to study with Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist, whose course was entitled: "Corpus Juris: Advanced Legal Concepts for Genealogists."  

From Federal and State statutes, to common law writs and prison records, we covered it all.  Well...no, not all -- I have a feeling we barely scratched the surface -- but certainly enough to introduce genealogists to the framework of legal research.

I had a chance to put some of this to use after class yesterday evening while researching at the Family History Library.  As I was scrolling through the chancery court minutes for Jefferson County, Tennessee, I found an entry for my 3rd-great grandfather, John Seabolt, dated 5 November 1868.  It was a bill for divorce, but what caught my eye was the term, "judgement pro confesso."  We had just spent the day going over many (many) common law writs, and this one hadn't come up.  

Jefferson County, Tennessee, Chancery Court Minutes, Vol. 4-5, 1865-1871,  filmed by the Tennessee State Library and Archives; FHL film #968283, citing Vol. 5, page 84.

The interesting part of the entry reads as follows:  "...it appears to the satisfaction of the Court that the petitioner is a man of good character and that at the time of the marriage of the parties, the defendant was pregnant by another without the knowledge of the petitioner and that about four months after the date of the marriage the deft. was delivered of a mulatto child, and it further appearing that both of the parties are white.  The Court is therefore pleased to order adjudge and decree that the bonds of matrimony are hereby dissolved..."

My first thought was that Sarah was guilty because of the rather obvious nature of the evidence, which might be considered the same as a direct confession of guilt.  I then Googled it, and Judy confirmed this in class, that "pro confesso" really means that the defendant was guilty simply because she didn't show up in court to dispute the case.  

Fascinating, right?

By the way, I am descended from John's first wife, Diana "X."  There are still family stories circulating about her inordinate pride at being an FFV (descended from the First Families of Virginia), so of course she is the one whose maiden name I can't find.