Don’t forget to vote!
Do you have politicians in your family tree? Now that the election is upon us, I thought it would be fun to look at the ancestors that have chosen to serve in that way. I have three in my tree that I know of.
Service in State Congress
In his obituary, I found out that John Zurcher, my great granduncle, served in the North Dakota House of Representatives from McHenry County for two terms.
I wondered if I could find out more about his service. I tried multiple websites looking for North Dakota congressmen, but the one I found only went back to the year 1997. Since John Zurcher was born in 1878, I was sure he served earlier than that.
Most sites were related to the U. S Congress, not state congress.
Next, I called the North Dakota State Historical Society. It turns out that North Dakota does not have a congressional historian or congressional archives. However, Jim Davis, Head of Reference, was able to direct me to the North Dakota Bluebooks in Digital Horizons, their digital collections area. These Bluebooks record information about the state’s political, economic, social, cultural, and environmental history.
The 1989 North Dakota Centennial Bluebook had an entry with John Zurcher’s name verifying his service.
Mr. Davis also offered the possibility that he might have a bio on John. The next day he not only sent me the Legislative Index Card that he had on John,
he found a biography in the 1989 McHenry County Centennial Book, 1885-1895. On top of that, that same page contained another family in my line, the Sherman Welstad’s, as well as Sherman’s parents.
Additionally, I found a newspaper article verifying his service in one of the library’s newspaper databases.
A treasure trove of information.
My sister-in-law’s father also served in North Dakota. Once again I contacted Mr. Davis, and he was able to provide Charles Warner Litten’s Legislative Index Card,
his congressional photo,
his 1973 Bluebook entry
and his 1989 North Dakota Centennial Bluebook entry where I learned he was the Majority Leader (Republican), and served as a delegate on the 1971-1972 Constitutional Convention.
I also had a legislator in another state. Gustave A. Wickman was my children’s great-great grandfather. Once again, it was his obituary that alerted me to his service.
Gustave served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for one term, from 1917-1918. Pennsylvania does have a state congressional historian and he was able to send me this information which included a bio and information about bills he sponsored and committees that he served on. The historian was able to e-mail me this document in just a short time.
Gustave A. Wickman – (R) Allegheny County
Born: April 4, 1868, Germany.
Education: Public schools; studied at the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pa., where did not finish on account of ill health.
Career: Moved to the United States from Germany when he was eleven years old; finished his trade apprenticeship as a printer in Johnstown, Pa.; moved to Pittsburgh for his studies but did not finish due to ill health; he was very interested in the political economy; as a printer and general newspaperman, he has was connected with several Pittsburgh daily papers and for many years was with the Pittsburgh Leader; he was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in November of 1916, for the 1917-1918 session and served only that term; he was not eligible for re-election in the 1918 General Election.
Ways and Means (1917)
Labor and Industry (1917)
Public Health and Sanitation (1917)
Legislative Apportionment (1917)
1917 House Bills – Sponsor
HB 234: An act providing a means to fix responsibility on general contractors sub-contractors agents or receivers for the payment of bills for materials and wages contracted for or hired for the building of houses or improvements the construction of railroads and any other building or construction for which material shall have been supplied and for which labor shall have been hired and such service given.
Referred to Committee on labor and Industry but never went up for consideration in the House (February 6, 1917).
HB 1152: An act providing that persons associations and corporations owning occupying or controlling premises upon which any contractor or sub-contractor shall be permitted to do certain classes of construction work shall be liable for the wages of all employees engaged in such work and for the cost of all materials supplied for such work unless the contractor or sub-contractor shall file a bond for the immediate payment of wages and the cost of material when due providing that a contractor shall be liable for the wages of employees of any sub-contractor and for the cost of materials furnished to any sub-contractor unless such sub-contractor shall file a bond covering the same such sub-contractor or sub-contractor to file a bond specifying the form and amount of such bond and permitting person furnishing labor or materials to sue in such bond to recover wages and the cost of such materials.
Referred to Committee on Labor and Industry. Reported as committed on April 4, 1917. Passed first reading April 9, 1917. Passed second reading April 11, 1917. Postponed for the present April 25, 1917. Passed third reading and defeated on final passage May 1, 1917. (88-66). Vote Reconsidered and recommitted to committee May 2, 1917. Re-reported as amended June 8, 1917.
I was also able to find documentation online of his service, but there I was only able to document his name, birth date, years of service, and county he served.
Service in US Congress
If you have someone in your tree that served in the US Congress, you are in luck. That resource is well developed.
This is the search page to enter your ancestor’s name. Abraham Lincoln is not in my tree that I’m aware of, but since he’s well known, let’s use him as an example.
The next screen shows the selections.
Scroll to find his name.
Clicking on Lincoln’s name takes us to his home page that includes a mini-bio.
Clicking on the Bioguide button takes us to the Biographical Directory of the US Congress, which is the source for this site.
We are able to see his voting records:
We know from his bio he was in the 30th Congress from 1847-1849-2 terms in the House of Representatives.
Clicking on one of the red highlighted links, you can scroll down to find Abraham Lincoln, from the Whig Party in Illinois, voted Yea.
Or, if you click CTL+F, the find box will appear, you can enter ‘Lincoln’, and it will highlight his name.
Going back to the top of the page, we can find out how the vote was split among the parties. It appears it was evenly split between yeas, nays and no votes. The result of the vote is unknown (at least on this site).
You could also search by party affiliation. We see here the Silver Republican Party. Additional parties that can be searched include: Whig, Jackson, Federalist, Adams, American, Unionist, Anti-Masonic, Progressive, and to further confuse the issue, Democratic Republican.
Perhaps one of these issues your ancestor voted on is related to a specific issue that is close to your family’s interests. Both bills Gustave Wickman put forth related to general contractors and sub-contractors. I don’t know why those particular subjects mattered to him.
Do you have politicians in your family tree? Whether you consider them heroes or black sheep, researching their political service will only add to their story.
Who’s in your tree?