Friday, July 02, 2010

52 Weeks of Genealogy Sources: Week 12, Jury Duty Excuses

This week's source seems apropos since I have jury duty next week.  I came across the following example when I was doing research at the California State Library a few years ago for my book, Cemeteries of the Eastern Sierra.  I was looking at a collection of records from the Mono County courthouse and thought these were a unique and interesting resource.

This collection, called "Excuses of Jurors" (Box #27, folder 16) is unique in that it includes hand written letters from residents to the court asking to be excused for jury duty.  Some of the letters include the names of other people, including friends, the judge and notaries, and provide a snapshot of the person's life.

The above example from a man in 1903 begs to be excused  due to "Having been eaten out by grasshoppers last year and not wishing to go through that same misfortune this year. I have commenced to cut my hay which is laying in the field.  And my absence from my property at this present time will cause me great financial loss."

Financial loss was but one excuse for missing jury duty, there were also people who asked to be excused for health reasons.  One man went to the courthouse and testified to the judge that his friend "he believes him to be now, in feeble health having Chronic Diarrhea, that he is in the opinion of the ..unable  to attend as a juror, without endangering his life and impairing his health." (September 28, 1880).  Such a find for a genealogist might help to explain a death or decline in health in an ancestor.

These jury excuses show that people have always been people.  You may need to be excused from jury duty and so too did your ancestor.  These excuses prove once again that doing a search for all kinds of documents will provide you with the gems you want to enhance your family history research.

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