Much of Day One in Alabama, a Thursday, was devoted to family history, first at the Montgomery County probate offices and later at the state archives.
It had been a while since I delved into my father’s side of the family. And, for some reason, I forgot to bring along some records I had gathered on my great-great grandfather, James. I knew this much, that he was born in 1802 and for much of his life resided somewhere in Montgomery County.
Probate wasn’t much help. I had hoped to find James’s will, if he had one, or some other records that might indicate where his property once layed. The clerk, “Sheilah,” disappeared in a backroom and emerged to tell me it would be difficult to find records without more information from me. No name indexes at all, she said. So I walked up the street a few blocks to Archives.
On the way, I stopped to take a few photographs. I had noticed earlier a building at a corner with a sign etched in a nearby wall, “Southern Poverty Law Center.” The SPLC brings lawsuits against the actions of hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist organizations. I have been a member now for a number of years. The SPLC’s co-founder and leader, Morris Drees, has had his life threatened many times and the building is under tight security. My presence and camera soon drew attention. A security guard came to stand at a corner across from where I was unloading my long lens. Soon another guard appeared on the opposite side of the street and then out came a third man in plain clothes that I assumed to be the security supervisor. All three kept their distance but it was obivous I was being surveiled. I took a few photos and left without incident.
At Archives, I pored over numerous Montgomery County indexes. They covered the waterfront. Marriages, deaths, cemeteries, census records. I found little I didn’t already know. Shortly before closing at 4:30, I discovered in yet another index that James had left a will and it had gone to probate in 1857. In short order, I found a microfilm copy of the will and made a copy of it. Unfortunately, the will did not disclose the location of the land. One of my goals in Alabama was to set foot on the land he owned almost 200 years ago.
Just as I prepared to leave, a clerk suggested a website. Since most of the land in Alabama was originally owned by the federal government, she told me I should go to the Bureau of Land Management site at glorecords.blm.gov/detail/patent and do a search for James.
That evening back at the motel, I did as suggested and, lo and behold, found James’s land, purchased in 1837. Not only did it provide details of where the land was but provided a proactive map.
I was sure then that tomorrow I would be standing on James’s land southeast of Montgomery near a community known as Pine Level.