In several states and major cities, today is Election Day. Back home in the Catskills where I grew up, there are several local races for supervisor, judge etc. This got me to thinking about two things a) how my family and ancestors viewed voting and b) whether any of my ancestors ever ran for an elective office.
Starting at an early age, I was reminded that the ability to cast a vote in this country was not only a right but a responsibility. My great-grandmother, Therese McGinnes Austin, was not only very vocal about her political beliefs (which were decidedly right of mine - she despised FDR and was a big Goldwater fan in the 1960s) but about the responsibility of voting. I also learned this from my mother, Jacqueline Austin MacEntee, in not only what she said, but by what she did. I would go with her to vote as a child, even if the election was just for the school board and budget in March.
I am proud to say that I've never missed an election, no matter how small or how trivial I thought the issues were, since I was able to vote in 1981. I was not old enough to vote in the 1980 Presidential election but I did see the first Presidential debate of 1980 in Baltimore between Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and John Anderson (remember him?). I was going to college in Washington, DC at the time and I managed to get tickets through a political club at school.
Voting in California was so much easier and I really miss it: more than 50% of voters use absentee ballots. Absentee voting is not restricted to those who can prove that they will be away on business, out of the country etc. In California you can file for permanent absentee status. Basically you are voting by mail. In addition, California pioneered early voting where you could go down to your city hall and vote in person up to 2 weeks ahead of time - even on a Saturday or Sunday! I just don't know if there would be enough safeguards for this to work in a city like Chicago where the saying is "Vote early and vote often."
I was so committed to voting last November that I managed to vote during the day while I was moving to my new home here in Chicago. I just think more people would vote if voting were easier and if the candidates stuck to the issues that matter to and interest voters. No half-truths or double-answers. No issues driven by donors with the most money. Allow voting by mail, by phone or by internet. And make Election Day on Sundays the way it is in most European countries.
I haven't had any ancestors run for or get elected to what I would call "major offices" such as governor, House of Representatives, Senate, or President. Many of my ancestors and even current relatives have run for offices such as school board, assessor, tax collector etc.
John Doig Dence from Lowville, New York was my 1st cousin 4 times removed and lived from 1873 to 1956. Here are details of his various elected offices from History of the North Country, Henry F. Landon, 1932, p. 1557-1558:
"President of Dence Lumber Corporation (1932). Educated at Lowville Academy, graduated from Ives Seminary (Antwerp) 1891. Taught school for short time, then became clerk at V. L. Waters dry goods store from 1892-1896. Then became associated with Leroy Crawford of Chases Lake and engaged in general mercantile and lumber business for 15 years. Formed partnership with Royal J. Fenton in 1907. Dence became president of Lumber Co. in 1909. Until 1929 Dence also involved in feed and milling business in Lowville, being vice president and director of C. W. Nole, Inc.
In 1907 and 1909 elected member of Lewis County Board of Supervisors as representative of town of Watson. During 1912-1914 he served as trustee of village of Lowville, 1914 elected as water commissioner of Lowville. Also sealer of weights and measures in Lewis County. He was delegate to National Republican Convention at Cleveland OH in 1924 at nomination of Calvin Coolidge.
He was affiliated with Lowville Lodge, F and AM no. 134; Lowville chapter R. A. M. no. 223; Watertown Commandery K. T.; and Media Temple, Watertown. Also member of Lowville Club where he was past president, and during 1930 was president of the Kiwanis club. In 1922 he was president of the Chamber of Commerce. He is a member of United Methodist Episcopal Church.
Until 1926 he was recognized as one of the leading land owners of the North Country. In that year he disposed of most of his holdings to H. D. Cornwall of Beaver Falls."
Peter Peterse Gansevoort from Albany, New York was my 3rd cousin 7 times removed and lived from 1788 to 1876. Here are details of his various elected offices from Hudson-Mohawk Genealogical and Family Memoirs, edited by Cuyler Reynolds (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1911), Vol. I, pp. 65-72:
"Judge Peter Gansevoort, son of General Peter and Catherine (Van Schaick) Gansevoort, was born in Albany, December 22, 1788, and died at his home in that city, January 4, 1876. His higher literary education was acquired at the College of New Jersey, Princeton, where he graduated, and afterward he attended the celebrated Litchfield Law School; still later read law in the office of Harmanus Bleecker, and was admitted to the bar about 1811. His practice for many years was very considerable, and he ranked among the prominent members of the profession. For some time he acted as private secretary to Governor DeWitt Clinton, and then on his military staff as judge advocate general from 1819 to 1821. In 1830-31 he was a member of the assembly, and then a senator for four years, 1833 to 1836 inclusive. In all matters of public interest he took an active part, and was thoroughly attached to all that concerned his native city. He was a trustee of the Albany Academy for fifty years, and for twenty years was chairman of the board. In 1840 he was one of a committee, with Stephen Van Rensselaer, John A. Dix and others, to organize the Albany Cemetery Association, and to select grounds for the cemetery. He was a trustee of the cemetery until his death, and took a warm interest in arranging and beautifying the grounds. For many years he was a director of the New York State Bank, and occupied other positions of trust. Although his military service was short, he took a warm interest throughout life in military matters.
Among the public positions held by General Gansevoort was that of first judge of the county court of Albany county from 1843 to 1847, the duties of which office he discharged with great fidelity and to the entire satisfaction of the legal profession and the public. He carried marked traits of his ancestry with him through life, and was a most thorough representative of the Dutch element of his native city. He was the very embodiment of high-souled honor and integrity, pure in private life, and devotedly attached to his country and its institutions. On more than one occasion he visited the countries of the Old World in search of health and instruction, but always returned home with his love for his own government strengthened by comparison with those abroad. He was a man of courtly manners and commanding presence, and in society was very genial and engaging. His kind heart and generous impulses made him a favorite with all classes of men, and he lived without enemies, and no one is left of all who knew him who does not mourn his death and honor his memory."
Photo: Left to right back: Bridget Farren McGinnes, Loretta McGinnes Murtha, Alice McGinnes Mehl. Seated: Evelyn Mehl. About 1923.