Government Information


George W. Bush on the rugby pitch

Our posts rarely stray outside of Forsyth County, not because we are not interested in extra-county matters, but because there are way too many in-county stories for us to ever cover. But right from the start in the 1750s, the annual Moravian diary reviews began with world events and proceeded to the local, because the Moravians, as do we, understood that everything human is connected.

So, yesterday, my friend Steve Wishnevsky began a thread on Facebook about politicians, and particularly, U.S. Presidents, who might have suffered brain damage from playing football. I couldn’t resist, for two reasons.

1. We tend to see our Presidents only as political animals and as people of a certain age, forgetting that they were once much younger and perhaps less political, and maybe even knew how to have fun.

2. And of course, there is a local connection, as always…all roads lead to Winston-Salem.


JFK, age 9, Dexter School, 1926

Here is your local connection. Ernie Shore, a native of Yadkin County, an honors graduate of Guilford College in engineering and sheriff of Forsyth County for 36 years, previously was a star pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. When he and his roommate Babe Ruth got a divorce because Babe would not stop using Ernie’s hairbrush, Ernie moved into the household of “Honey Fitz” Fitzpatrick, the father of Rose Fitzpatrick Kennedy, and became essentially a family member. As such, he was one of the first people to see Baby Jack Kennedy when he was born. When JFK made a campaign stop at the Triad airport in 1960, he gave Ernie a big bear hug and called him “cuz”.


Herbert Hoover did not play football, but he was the first future US President associated with the game. Here we see him, third row in the suit, as manager & treasurer of the 1894 Stanford team that lost to the University of Chicago in the first postseason intersectional college game, 24-4, at the Haight Street grounds in San Francisco on Christmas day. Four days later, Stanford won a rematch at the Athletic Park in Los Angeles, 12-0.

That being said, our Presidents have had sporting interests from the very beginning. Aside from walking and horseback riding, which were a natural part of life for all our early Presidents, John Quincy Adams had an avid interest in billiards, as did Chester A. Arthur and James Garfield. Andrew Jackson was actively involved in horse racing, as were other early Presidents. Abraham Lincoln was a wrestler. Rutherford B. Hayes was a croquet player. Those who have only indulged in croquet as a casual backyard sport are unaware that the real game is a blood sport.  Croquet was wildly popular in the latter part of the 19th century. We have a picture of Salem Female Academy girls holding their mallets from the 1890 era. No doubt other Presidents from that time played as well, along with their first ladies.


Teddy Roosevelt was a boxer and jujitsu enthusiast, although his favorite sport was tennis. But he forbade photographs of him playing tennis, because he saw it as an effeminate sport. He built the first White House tennis court and the game became so popular with his close advisers that they became known as “the tennis cabinet”. His cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, contrary to popular belief, was not born with polio. In his early years he was a multi-sport star. As President, he had an indoor swimming pool installed at the White House, which he used for therapy. That area is now the press briefing room.


Franklin Delano Roosevelt, front and center, with his Groton teammates, c 1899

Many 20th and 21st century Presidents have been golfers. Woodrow Wilson played more rounds of golf than any other President. Dwight Eisenhower was runner-up. His vice -president, Richard Nixon was another golf lover who also spent a lot of time in the bowling alley in the White House basement. JFK was into sailing, swimming and touch football. Lyndon Johnson enjoyed hunting and fishing. Jimmy Carter, a high school basketballer, later took up jogging, and also spent time as President playng tennis, canoeing and fishing. Ronald Reagan was a swimmer and lifeguard. George Herbert Walker Bush was captain of his college baseball team and a pilot.


Dwight D. Eisenhower, third from left in the back row, with his 1910 Abilene, Kansas high school teammates. He also played at West Point.


JFK, 2nd from right, with his Choate teammates. He also played football and rugby at Harvard. His brother Ted once got into three fights during a Harvard rugby match and was ejected.

During his time as a Rhodes Scholar, Bill Clinton played on the Oxford College rugby team. His successor, George W. Bush was also a rugby man, playing at Phillips Academy and Yale. President Obama plays some golf, although not nearly at the Wilson/Eisenhower level. His favorite game is basketball. He is known for hosting a weekly invitational match of unusual intensity.


Richard Nixon played football at Whittier College


Ronald Reagan played at Eureka College. He was also the captain of the swimming team.

But our greatest Presidential athlete is undoubtably Gerald Ford. Ford played center and linebacker on the Michigan football team which won two unofficial national championships by going undefeated in 1932 and 1933. In 1934, he was voted Michigan’s football MVP. That same year he played in a couple of post season all-star games. While in law school at Yale, he was an assistant coach of the Yale football team and head coach of the freshman boxing team. During World War II, he coached all nine sports teams at the U.S. Navy pre-flight school in North Carolina.


At a time when many are stressed out over politics, I thought it would be nice to take a look at another side of those evil politicians. On, and here is the king in his football gear:



The President having fun at Soldier Field in Chicago during a major NATO conference

So we woke up this morning to find the government shutdown beginning. I thought I knew what that meant. “It won’t affect me,” I said. “Because I only work with the past.”

Smugness = dumbness, I quickly learned. Here’s how.

The phone rings. Some guy is interested in finding out if his ancestor served in the Civil War. He has no idea if he did, or on which side. There is a standard answer to that question.

We go to the National Park Service’s database known as “Soldiers & Sailors”. There we type in a name and the database gives us a list of all people with that name who served on the Union or Confederate side in the war.

If it is a common name, that can lead to a bit of work, but eventually we will probably narrow it down to the person in question and be given important information such as units served in and thence to more specific information. Usually works like a charm.

So I asked the caller for the name of his ancestor, as I navigated to “Soldiers & Sailors”, only to be confronted with this:

There are other ways to get at this problem, but they will require a lot more work, which cannot be done on the phone. So the patron suffers and we resign ourselves to who knows how long without the “Soldiers & Sailors” database. Hooray for politics!

A few years ago, as we were preparing to move the North Carolina Room to its new home on the ground floor at Central, we were forced to take on a daunting task. It involved an area known simply as “Jerry’s Closet”, a large, murky, mysterious room in which a wide variety of semi-unclassifiable items had been stored over a period of thirty years or so.

Each day, some new delight emerged from the darkness. A baseball autographed by people that none of us had ever heard of, and a baseball bat to go with it, inexplicably sawed off to billy club length. Copies of pamphlets whose titles did not appear anywhere on WorldCat. A plank with a brass label stating that it was a part of the original deck of the battleship USS North Carolina.

Then one day, our newest colleague, Audra Eagle, said “Come look at this. What do you think it is?”

A good-sized parcel, swathed in brown wrapping paper, lay astride a couple of cardboard boxes. We carefully peeled back the paper to reveal a large brown ledger book.


“What is it?” was the immediate question. Only one way to find out. We opened the book.

Streaming across the top of the double page spread was the legend:

TAX LIST in_____Township, _____ County, for the YEAR 1890.


As you can see, the blanks were not filled in. But a quick scan of the alphabetically listed names in the leftmost column was all that was needed. We were looking at the 1890 Forsyth County, NC tax book.

I checked a few more pages, just to make sure. All of the key names were there: Alspaugh, Atkins, Bahnson, Bitting, Blair, Blum, Brown, Buxton, Carter, Clement, Conrad, Davis, Fogle, Fries, Glenn, Gorrell, Goslen, Gray, Hairston, Hanes, Hege, Hill, Hinshaw, Leinbach, Lemly, Liipfert, Manly, Miller, Montague, Morgan, Nissen, Norfleet, Ogburn, Patterson, Pitts, Reynolds, Shaffner, Spach, Starbuck, Vogler, Watson, Williamson, Wilson.

Each listing showed the address and value of real property; a categorized listing of personal property, including buildings, furniture, clothing, cows, horses, mules, hogs, right down to the last billy goat gruff. For those engaged in agriculture, business or industry, the values were given for the tools of the trade and any inventory on hand. Other special township taxes – school, road, railroad were added. And the poll tax, $2 per person. And a final accounting. The largest tax payer was not Reynolds, Gray or Hanes, as you might expect – it was F&H Fries of Salem.

But the pages were old and fragile. You could see that if you touched them in the wrong place, an invaluable piece of information could crumble forever. So we reluctantly closed the book, rewrapped it and gingerly transported it to a shelf in our newly built locked cage.

For those not actively involved in genealogy and local history, the import of this discovery might be a bit fuzzy. One of the most important historical resources in the United States is the decennial US census, beginning in 1790 and continuing every ten years thereafter. Through some unbelievably careless mistake, the 1890 US census records were consumed by fire, leaving us with an unbearable 20 year gap in the record.

Many communities across the nation have used a variety of local records, including tax books, to partially reconstruct that lost census. Tax books are not a perfect solution, because they do not include the names of children or spouses. In fact, our tax book contains very few listings of women at all. But they are better than nothing. By adding other records such as estates and wills and obituaries we can at least partially make up for the missing census.

We knew the potential of this old tax book, but we also knew that we could not allow anyone, even ourselves, to turn those pages for fear of the damage that would inevitably occur. We also knew what the solution was…digitization. But we had neither the equipment nor the money to make that happen. So the 1890 tax book slumbered peacefully in its new home in the locked cage for a few more months. But it was not forgotten. We talked about it regularly, floating ideas on how we might accomplish its digitization.

A couple of weeks ago, our fearless leader, Billy King, and our newly minted archivist, Melodie Farnham, transported the 1890 tax book to the Wilson Library in Chapel Hill, where Nicholas Graham and his fabulous staff at the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center took over.

On Tuesday, April 3, Nicholas sent us a link to a sample page of the newly digitized tax book. It was, simply, perfect, and we let him know. Two days later, April 5, Nicholas sent us the link to the entire book at its new permanent home on

So now you can go to the 1890 Forsyth County Tax Book and find out how much F&H Fries paid in taxes that year. And you can check out 46 year old Harvey Alexander, a landowner in Happy Hill, the county’s oldest black neighborhood, and see how many cows and horses and hogs that he owned (no billy goats, gruff or otherwise) and what they were worth tax wise.


For this and much more, give thanks to Jerry Carroll, Audra Eagle Yun, Melodie Farnham, Billy King, Nicholas Graham and his outstanding crew, the unknown donor of the tax book and the taxpayers, then and now, of Forsyth County and the state of North Carolina. Our heritage is alive and well.

Check it out here:

1890 Forsyth County, NC Tax Book

Viewing, scanning and saving images from the North Carolina Room’s vast microfilm collection has become even easier with the arrival of the newest version of the ST View Scan microfilm reader/ printer. The NC Room has three traditional reader/printers that do not digitize and one older ST View Scan that does but this new machine makes looking at full pages of newspapers and scanning them easier than ever. Controls for enlarging, focusing, cropping, saving and printing are all computerized and accessible from the screen with a click of the mouse. A dedicated printer provides crisp and clear copies. The microfilm collection includes over a century of local and national newspapers as well as county estate and marriage records that are valuable when searching for family history. The NC Room also has many state and federal documents on microfiche which can also be used on all the microfilm reader/printers. When you have a chance, visit the NC Room and try out the newest technology for accessing some our oldest information.

This bit of good news came to our attention this week from Amy Rudersdorf, manager of the State Library of NC’s Digital Information Management Program:

What newspapers were published in or near Brevard, North Carolina, in 1910? That’s a big question and if you’ve ever had to try to answer it, you know that you are in for a little research. Well, the Government & Heritage Library at the State Library of North Carolina just made that question, and others like it, easier to answer.

The North Carolina Newspaper Locator database, reflecting the microfilm holdings of the Government & Heritage Library, contains listings for nearly 2,000 unique newspaper titles dating from 1751 to today.  Free to all and of particular interest to North Carolina genealogists and historians, this database locates newspapers in time and geographic space. Users can search for titles by specific counties or those surrounding them, city, date or date range, or by a newspaper title itself.  Once a newspaper has been located, users may request the microfilm reels through their local library’s interlibrary loan service. We lend newspaper microfilm to libraries throughout the continental United States.

The power in the database lies in the ability to expand a county search to neighboring counties. For example, genealogists looking for marriage and death newspaper announcements may know where an ancestor lived, but that doesn’t mean finding the announcements is straightforward. The NC Newspaper Locator searches not only by city, but also automatically by county. And, it gives users the option to expand their search to all surrounding counties. This gives a researcher more time to spend perusing appropriate newspapers for family information.

So what about 1910 Brevard, North Carolina, newspapers? A quick search of the NC Newspaper Locator finds that the Sylvan Valley News was published in Brevard, in Transylvania county, from 1900 to 1916. Even better, at least five other newspapers were published in the North Carolina counties surrounding Transylvania in that same year (Asheville Gazette-News, French Broad Hustler, Waynesville Courier, Western Carolina Enterprise, and Western North Carolina Times).


Our colleague Fam has discovered a very valuable link from the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office, a listing of documents related to National Historic Places in North Carolina. Scroll down to Forsyth County, or whatever county you want, and see the wealth of information that is available.

Local author J. Jackson Owensby will present his latest book, discussing major historical documents from the founding of our nation and their relevance to our society today. Mr. Owensby sets the stage for his program as follows:

THE CONSTITUTION FOR THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: crafted by a small group of wise patriots who had to overcome fierce opposition, ratified by the early colonists and adopted as the ‘Law of the Land’, the Constitution established the future of the United States of America and solidified its place as the premier nation on earth.

Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay: three men heavily involved in the drafting of the Constitution and deeply committed to its ratification published “The Federalist”, a series of newspaper articles known today as “The Federalist Papers.” The articles clearly delineate the necessity for a rule of law for the new nation. Their explanations and their reasoning are as sound today as they were two and a quarter centuries ago. Learn once again the foundation for the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

Join us for lively and informative discussion of the events, debates and thinking that went into the formation of one of the most enduring and inspiring documents ever crafted over the course of history: the Constitution of the United States of America.

Central Library
Sunday, December 5th at 2:00 pm

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