Saturday, November 20, 2010

What My Ancestors Did for Entertainment, or: Things You Don’t Want to Read About Your Great-Grandfather

Lawsuits. They loved lawsuits. Or at least the Floyds did. Or at least they sued one another, and other people, a lot. Why do something so much if you don’t derive some sort of pleasure from it?

“Mr. C. A. Floyd will please state…”

It must have come from the Floyds’ love of drama; many members of this family are known to have been “high-tempered” or “high-strung.” (Not me, though – my hair-trigger temper comes from the Brinlees.)

After my great-great grandfather George Floyd’s death, my great-grandfather Charles A. Floyd sued his stepmother Elizabeth Floyd for taking possession of a parcel of land that he felt was rightfully his. The court case dragged on for several years and apparently got quite heated.

Things you don’t want to read about in the cross-interrogation of your great-grandfather:

“Cross Interrogatory 4th:

"Mr. C. A. Floyd will please state whether or not he is acquainted with his own general character for truth and veracity in the neighborhood where he lives and if so state whether the same is good or bad; and also state whether or not his testimony has been impeached in any court of justice in the State of Texas; if so when and where and in what court was his evidence so impeached, he will please answer these questions without evasion.”


“It was attempted to impeach my veracity and [reputation], but it ignominiously failed. I have a list of one hundred and twenty of the names of some of the best citizens in my neighborhood – good men who live immediately around me, sustaining my character, and impeaching those four who are my bitterest enemies – who tried to impeach my veracity.”

[Charles’ reply appears to address the question, though that “four of my bitterest enemies” part is disturbing in a paranoid kind of way (shades of "the mess boys...").]

“Cross Interrogatory 6th:

Mr. C. A. Floyd will also state how many if any Bills of Indictment have been found against him for theft by the Grand Jury of Dallas County.”


“There are one or two. The Court and Juries decided that they were false, and they were not sustained.”

[Only one or two?]

“Cross Interrogatory 7th:

"He will please state also if he has been tried and convicted upon charge of theft in Dallas County and if so how many times at what times where and in what court of Justice.”


“I never was convicted on any charge at any time or in any place.”

[But you sure were tried a lot of times.]

“Cross Interrogatory 8th:

"He will also state whether or not he has threatened Elizabeth Floyd with violence if she did not deliver to him the property sued for in this cause, and if he did not threaten her with violence if she attended the trial of this cause.”


“I never even thought of making any threats against Elizabeth Floyd at any time, on any account.”

[Never even thought of it? Just a teeny bit?]

And Charles gave the following reply in response to interrogation about not suing his father George Floyd when the latter remained on a parcel of land that was included in the area partitioned among his sons:

“Interrogatories 7th and 8th:

If you did not take possession of all said portion, state why you did not? If because Geo. Floyd objected, state why you respected said objections?”


“I did not take possession of said twenty-five acres above-mentioned because my father refused to give it up, and I did not wish to have a law suit with my father, so I humored him.

[Didn’t want to sue his father? Um … then why did he and his brothers do that very thing right after their widowed father married a much younger woman following their mother’s death?]

And my cousin just e-mailed me with the wonderful news that she has 230 more pages of court documents to send me! Maybe those will have a clue as to who Charles A. Floyd’s “four bitterest enemies” were.

[The above excerpts were taken from the Dallas County District Court Case Papers for Case No. 4321, C.A. & A. E. Floyd vs Elizabeth Floyd et al, which my cousin Eunice kindly printed out from microfilm at the Dallas Public Library.]


  1. You have to love those old court records.

  2. You're going to have a lot of interesting reading :-)

  3. We all have our "guilty" pleasures... but I would think all those lawsuits would get expensive! I hope they won!

  4. Okay, so it doesn't show your great-grandfather in the best light but hey, you have some great documents. How much would you know about him if not for these papers? (And, of course, census records and any other easily available public documents.) It seems to me that the people who created problems, or made bad choices, or had awful accidents, are the ones for whom we can so easily find documents now. The people who led "good" lives hardly ever made it into the newspapers or courts.

    I'm looking forward to learning about what else you find in those 230 pages from your cousin.

  5. Love it. What great records! I read somewhere that our civil courts were a substitute for violence. Surely not completely, but the lawsuits may have been preferable to the alternatives. Doesn't sound like your ggrandfather would have settled for a couple rounds of fisticuffs.

  6. How many more pages??? Oh, be still my court case envy!

  7. Thank goodness some of our ancestors were litigious, or we wouldn't have such interesting records. I love Diane Rapaport's books on researching court records for genealogy. I've heard her speak several times.

  8. I don't know...I like to root for the underdog. He & his brothers didn't sue their father until AFTER marrying a much younger woman after their mother's death. I would ask soon after their mother's death? Did they think their father was not mentally competent following such an act? Did they suspect that this younger woman was after something that was rightfully theirs? There's usually much underlying such a thing...and perhaps he really DID have some enemies who loved to charge him with could be that they both claimed it was theirs and that made it "theft". Keep us posted. I wish I could find some court documents for a similar incident involving a divorce due to insanity/institutionalization and remarriage. There were land disputes over that one for years.

  9. this is good stuff. i wonder if i can find any documents on criminal or litigious relatives?

  10. Debra, to address your comments first - the thought definitely did occur to me. We actually aren't totally clear about this case or several others. Seems a lot of these people in the area liked to take things to court. What we do know about Charles and Elizabeth was that they didn't like one another! Elizabeth - Charles and Angeline did not win this case; I think they didn't sufficiently establish residence. Nancy - some of those 230 pages are clearer images of this case, plus some papers on the partition, etc. I'll be busy for a while. Kristin - I'll just be you that there are court documents on your ancestors somewhere. NR - I love the image of Charles with boxing gloves on! And to everyone - I'm really learning to appreciate court documents. Thanks for stopping by!