As you can see from my previous post on researching Al Capone’s jury, some of the questions that come through “Ask A Librarian” can be quite fascinating. Some on their face appear simple, but upon further research, reveal hidden depths.
A recent question involved a private law from the 71st Congress (1929-1931).* Private laws affect an individual, family, or small group. Private laws are enacted to assist citizens that have been injured by government programs or who are appealing an executive agency ruling such as deportation.
H.R. 5213, which eventually became Pvt. L. 71-71, involved a correction to the military record of Grant R. Kelsey, alias Vincent J. Moran. An alias! Why would someone have an alias? Luckily, there was a hearing with more information.
In Hearing No. 300 for the Relief of Grant R. Kelsey, the testimony revealed Mr. Kelsey enlisted in the United States Navy in 1901 after four years of honorable service in the Army. On shore leave in Manila, he became intoxicated and then was shanghaied onto a ship going to Australia. Shanghaied! To be shanghaied means being forced aboard a merchant ship to serve as a member of the crew. After arriving in Australia, he worked his way back to Manila in an attempt to rejoin his ship only to find out from his shipmates he had been declared a deserter.
Think the story can’t get any more interesting? It can! Remember the alias? When Kelsey returned to the United States in 1902, he reenlisted in the Army under the name of Vincent J. Moran and served for three more years. In 1930, this private law corrected his military record to reflect an honorable discharge from the Navy instead of desertion.
Private bills and laws are contained within THOMAS. You may select them from the Browse Bills & Legislation page or do a Bill Summary & Status Word/Phrase search for “private law,” the Congress number, and the private law number. However, THOMAS only begins including private laws with the 93rd Congress (1973-1974) so that’s why there are no links to the private bill itself or the hearing.
*The requester has kindly agreed to let me this share the information.