In the wake of last week’s mid-term election, Judy Russell (The Legal Genealogist) challenged her readers to document their own ancestors’ forays into politics. I thought it sounded like a great way to dust off my blog and start writing again.
I know of two ancestors who ran for office, but having recently moved (and not fully unpacked) I could only lay hands on an artifact for one of them. I dug out my box of mementos of my grandfather, George Ivan Sansbury, to find this card promoting his candidacy in 1956 for District 2 County Commissioner in Dale County, Alabama.1
My father remembered riding around with his dad when he passed out these cards. The only thing I knew was Grandpa had lost and I would have to add a search for details about this race to my genealogy to-do list.
Before I posted, I decided to try a newspaper search. The papers most likely to have covered this primary, The Southern Star (Newton, Alabama) and The Dothan Eagle (Dothan, Alabama), are only available online (at Newspapers.com) through 1937 and 1951, respectively. But I lucked out and found enough information in The Montgomery Advertiser to know who ultimately prevailed. (I have a Publisher Extra subscription to Newspapers.com, which provides access to much more recent editions of certain publications. For the Advertiser, available issues span 1858 to present day!)
First, I learned from an election preview article that Grandpa was one of two candidates hoping to unseat the incumbent commissioner.2
I could not find any reporting on election results for this particular primary race when I searched for “Sansbury.” Searching for “Allen P. Curry” and “Allen Curry” turned up a variety of references to actions undertaken by Dale County officials, among other things, but, again, no election results. So then I searched for the other candidate, first using “Merlyn Borland” and then just “Borland,” figuring the surname is unique enough that I wouldn’t be overwhelmed with the results. Finally I hit pay dirt! A December article indicated Borland would take office in January, succeeding Curry.3
Note that this piece wouldn’t have turned up in the earlier searches because:
- Curry was identified by his initials and I hadn’t thought to search that way;
- Borland’s first name was hyphenated and split between two lines; and
- Borland’s first name was spelled differently than in the first article and I wouldn’t have predicted that alternate spelling.
This was a good reminder that when it comes to newspaper searches, one often has to try multiple approaches to overcome problems in the original publications (like typos and line breaks) and limitations of OCR (optical character recognition) technology.
As for my genealogy to-do list, obviously there are other potential record sources to explore. Eventually, I’d like to learn more about what was going on in the community at the time that may have prompted my grandfather to run and, of course, I’d like to find the vote totals.
Even though he lost his one and only bid for public office, I’m proud he took it on. George I. Sansbury served his community and country in many other ways, including as a military policeman in the U.S. Army, a surveyor for the county, and a rural mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service. To steal a phrase from his campaign card, his active support is much appreciated.
#genealogy #sansbury @legalgen
1. George I. Sansbury election campaign card, 1956; privately held by Jen Sansbury, [address for private use], Texas, 2018.
2. James H. Kelley, “Dale Commissioners Race Develops Most Candidates,” The Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Alabama), 1 May 1956, Newspapers.com (http://newspapers.com: accessed November 2018), page 6, col. 1, para. 4.
3. Stuart X. Stephenson, “The Passing Throng,” The Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Alabama), 10 December 1956, Newspapers.com (http://newspapers.com: accessed November 2018), page 20, col. 1, para. 13.