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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Genealogy On Trial

In 1943, a federal court jury was asked to decide whether the late Mrs. A. V. Lane of Dallas was descended from royalty.

It all started when Mrs. Lane and her husband hired the American Historical Company of New York to prepare a history of the Lane and Hughey families. The volume was delivered after the couple's deaths, and their heirs refused to pay the remaining balance of $8,355, charging that the royal lineage presented was suspect, and that the cost was excessive. But the only question put to the jury was whether the genealogy was true.

"I submit to you the question of whether the book is true," Judge Atwell told the jury. "One side says it is true. The other says it is untrue. Neither side knows, gentlemen, because they were not there when the questioned events did or did not take place. They rely on historical works."
That put the issue down to the question of whether a certain Sir Oliver Carminow, chamberlain to Richard II of England a few centuries ago, married a certain Elizabeth Holland. [Dallas Morning News, May 7, 1943]
Genealogists were put on the stand by both the plaintiff and the defense. The publishing company's genealogist noted that Mrs. Lane had been admitted a member of the Plantagenet Society and the Daughters of the Barons of Runnymede based on the same information found in the book. The jury deliberated for twenty minutes before finding in the company's favor.

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