…get discounts on registration!

For so many reasons, we all can’t wait for February to end.

Snow, cold, ice, slippery roads, all the things that winter brings and that make getting around so very difficult are heading out as February draws to a close.

But the end of February brings the end to something else too — and this is something we don’t want to miss: early bird discounts.

East and west — in New England and in Oklahoma — early bird registration discounts end on Saturday, February 28th, and savvy genealogists don’t want to let these opportunities slip away.

East: NERGC 2015

You might think that NERGC stands for New England Regional Genealogical Conference, and you’d be partially right. Because it also stands for excellence in genealogical education … and for fun.

NERGC_Logo_2015NERGC 2015 — “Navigating the Past: Sailing into the Future” — is the largest regional genealogical conference in the northeastern United States, and it’s taking place April 15-18, 2015, at the Rhode Island Convention Center, Providence, Rhode Island.

Roughly 1,000 genealogists will take part in more than 95 sessions ranging from methodology to ethnic genealogy to technology and online resources.

The conference is headlined by Lisa Louise Cooke and by The Legal Genealogist, but there are so many great speakers who’ll be there. There isn’t enough room here to list them all, but the line-up includes D. Joshua Taylor, Laura Prescott, Blaine Bettinger, Marian Pierre-Louis, Maureen Taylor — oh, so many!

Regular registration for this amazing conference is $150 but you can save $30 by taking advantage of the early bird registration discount. The early bird rate is just $120, but it expires Saturday, February 28, 2015.

So head on over to the NERGC website — http://www.nergc.org/ — and get ready for some fun with me and Lisa Louise Cooke and so many others. You can register, select your agenda, plan for lunch and dinner all on-line.

West: Oklahoma Genealogical Society

For folks further west, in the Sooner State, early bird registration runs through Saturday, February 28th, for the Oklahoma Genealogical Society’s Genealogy and the Law Day, to be held on Saturday, March 28th, in Oklahoma City.

ogs-logo1Members and non-members of the Oklahoma Genealogical Society alike can save $10 by registering by the end of the day Saturday at the OGS website here. The early bird rate is $40 for OGS members, $45 for a second family member in a family membership, and $50 for non-OGS members. After Saturday, registration goes up to $50 for members, $55 for a second family member, and $60 for non-member.

This seminar — “Genealogy and the Law: From Finding the Evidence You Couldn’t Find to Enriching Your Family Story” — is one I’m really looking forward to. My roots run deep in Oklahoma: my great grandfather was one of the successful bidders in the Big Pasture sealed bid land auction just before Oklahoma statehood, so I am so very honored to be the featured speaker for this event.

It’ll be held at the Oklahoma History Center, 800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive in Oklahoma City, and we’re going to explore topics from the rogues and rascals of our families to using tax records and indirect evidence and even how knowing the law makes us better genealogists.

Come on out and join me and OGS on March 28th — and act now to save $10 on your registration.

Posted in General | Leave a comment

You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to

The son of The Legal Genealogist‘s niece is a little boy named Jack.

Jack.1He is my brother’s first grandson, the light of all of their lives, and a total charmer whom I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time this week, just in time for his first birthday.

Which goes a long way towards explaining the dearth of blog posts lately.

But his very existence creates a question…

Is he my great nephew (or great-nephew) or my grand nephew (or grandnephew)?


(Drum roll please…)


Despite a rather persistent effort by genealogists to standardize the reference,1 the simple fact of the matter is that either term is just fine, thankyouverymuch.

The dictionary definition of great-nephew — at least from Merriam-Webster — is “grandnephew,” giving a first reference year for the usage of 1581.2

But that same dictionary — after defining grandnephew as “a grandson of one’s brother or sister” — gives the first reference year for that usage as circa 1639.3 Which means that great-nephew came first and grandnephew is a Johnny-come-lately.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines great-nephew as “A son of one’s nephew or niece”4 and grandnephew as “Another term for great-nephew.”5

Now there are good reasons why genealogists want to standardize the reference one way or the other — to reduce confusion and clarify relationships.6 But just as some of us say jean-ee-ology and some of us say jen-ee-ology, some of us are going to say great nephew and some of us are going to say grand nephew.

Which makes me a great aunt.

Or, at my own aunt would say, whenever any of the children of her nieces and nephews would ask if she was their great aunt, “Honey, I’m your greatest aunt.”

Cue the music: You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to…


  1. See e.g. Amy Johnson Crow, “Great and Grand Aunts,” Ancestry blog, posted 25 Oct 2013 (http://blogs.ancestry.com/ : accessed 23 Feb 2015).
  2. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (http://www.m-w.com : accessed 23 Feb 2015), “great-nephew.”
  3. Ibid., “grandnephew.”
  4. Oxford Dictionaries Online (http://oxforddictionaries.com/ : accessed 23 Feb 2015), “great-nephew.”
  5. Ibid., “grandnephew.”
  6. See generally Robert Resta, “And Bob’s Your Uncle: A Guide To Defining Great Aunts, Great-Great Grandparents, First Cousins Once-Removed, and Other Kinfolk,” The DNA Exchange, posted 16 Apr 2013 (http://thednaexchange.com/ : accessed 23 Feb 2015).
Posted in General | 22 Comments

That cousin

The Legal Genealogist is swooning.


Head over heels over a male of the species.

And he’s not even tall, dark and handsome.

He’s short, sandy blond and adorable.

He’ll be a year old tomorrow, and he’s my brother’s first grandchild.

His name is Jack.

Br0020-40And I am not taking time from meeting Jack to write a blog post.

But I can’t leave this space vacant, so here’s the answer to a question asked by reader Joe Fibel after the blog post “Reprise: duty came first” this past Saturday.1

There, I had described the late George Thomas Cherryhomes of Young County, Texas, as a shirt-tail cousin of mine, and Joe hadn’t come across that reference before.

Now don’t go reaching for Black’s Law Dictionary here, okay? This isn’t a legal term, but a plain ordinary term you’ll find in plain ordinary dictionaries.

A shirt-tail cousin is a distant cousin2 or, more generally, someone who is “distantly and indefinitely related (as in) a shirttail cousin on her father’s side.”3

And I love the way Rhonda McClure explained it in What Makes a Cousin? in 2001:

Often I have received questions asking how a person is related to the sister of their husband’s brother-in-law and other obscure relationships. The answer is there is no relationship. When a marriage is the only connection between two individuals, then there is no cousinship in the true sense of the word. The most you can claim with this person is a shirt tail cousin. The cousinship is riding on the shirt tails of someone.4

Shirt-tail relatives. A term that definitely does NOT include my great nephew Jack. To whom I am returning. Immediately.


  1. Judy G. Russell, “Reprise: duty came first,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 21 Feb 2015 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 23 Feb 2015).
  2. Collins Online Dictionary (http://www.collinsdictionary.com : accessed 23 Feb 2015), “shirt-tail cousin.”
  3. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (http://www.m-w.com : accessed 23 Feb 2015), “shirttail.”
  4. Rhonda McClure, “Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: What Makes a Cousin?,” Genealogy.com, posted 25 Oct 2001 (http://www.genealogy.com/ : accessed 23 Feb 2015).
Posted in General | 11 Comments

Those dratted ethnicity percentages

It’s a question that just won’t go away.

percentNo matter how many times The Legal Genealogist warns — and most others interested in genetic genealogy agree — that the ethnicity estimates provided by DNA testing companies are not all that accurate,1 people still want to know:

• What’s the best testing company to find out where in Africa my people came from?

• What’s the best testing company if I think I have Native American or American Indian ancestry and I want to know what tribe?

• What’s the best testing company if I’m English, or German, or Russian, or Italian, or…?

I really do understand the desire to know. I am sitting at an airport waiting to board a flight that will take me to meet a great nephew2 for the first time, and like many of the youngest members of my family he is adding an amazing element of diversity to our family’s ethnic mix. This little boy is contributing Korean genes to our mix, joining a cousin who has brought in African genes and others whose origins are spanning more and more of the globe.

Someday, I surely hope, young Jack will want to know more about his ancestry, and I hope will want to look at the clues hidden in his genes. And, I expect, I will hear the question from him that I hear from other researchers today: “what’s the best testing company for…”

Maybe by the time Jack is old enough to ask the question, and understand the answers, there will be an answer to that question that will satisfy him, and me, and you, and everyone else who wants to know about the evidence of our ancestry that may be found in our genetic makeup.

But the simple fact is, that day isn’t here yet.

We have to keep in mind what these admixture tests do: they take the DNA of living people — us, the test takers — and they compare it to the DNA of other living people — people whose parents and grandparents and, sometimes, even great grandparents all come from one geographic area. Then they try to extrapolate backwards into time. Nobody is out there running around, digging up 500- or 1,000-year-old bones, extracting DNA for us to compare our own DNA to.

So coming up with these percentages in these tests requires this fundamental assumption: that the DNA of the reference populations — those groups whose parents, grandparents, great grandparents and more all come from the same area — is likely to reflect what we might see if we could test the DNA of people who lived in that area hundreds and thousands of years ago.

In other words, these percentages are:

• estimates,

• estimates based on comparisons not to actual historical populations but rather to small groups of people living today, and

• estimates based purely on the statistical odds that those small groups tell us something meaningful about past populations.

In fact, because of these limitations, the very best we can get right now shouldn’t even be called an estimate of the percentage of our genes that come from a specific country. At best it might be called a guesstimate.

The reality is that these percentages are dynamite at the continental level: European versus African versus Asian. And they’re pretty good at identifying descent from populations that are fairly isolated and not mixed with other similar populations. But for the most part they’re really a crap shoot when you try to distinguish, say, English from Irish from Welsh.

These limitations are true of all of the testing companies. I’ve tested with them all, and my own results are — literally and figuratively — all over the map. I’m German with some companies, not German at all with another. Largely Scandinavian with one, only slightly Scandinavian with the others.

Just as one example, 23andMe says I am a little more than four percent Scandinavian. Family Tree DNA says I am about 12 percent Scandinavian. And AncestryDNA says I am more than 30 percent Scandinavian. I have no known Scandinavian ancestors. None at all. So which company is right? Or are they all wrong? I don’t know, and unless they start digging up those old bones, I’m not convinced I’ll ever know for sure.

So what’s the answer to the “what’s the best company” to test with question? It has to be the same answer I give about any DNA testing: test with every company you can afford to test with. You will see differences in the ethnicity estimates from each company you test with, and you can make your own decision about which set of estimates you think most closely approaches the truth.

If one of the three major testing companies detects 0.01 percent Native American and you want to believe it, you will choose that company’s results. If another detects 2.2 percent sub-Saharan African and you want to believe that, you will choose that company’s results.

In the final analysis, because the science is simply not there yet to support percentages at the country or tribal level, we’re all left choosing to accept what we want to believe.

And that’s the best we can do with tests that just aren’t all that good at detecting ethnicity on a country-by-country basis. And I can only repeat what I’ve said before: DNA testing for genealogical purposes is a wonderful tool. But people get disappointed when they see these percentages and they don’t match up to their own paper trail and don’t match up from company to company. And when they get disappointed, they may lose interest in genealogy or in DNA testing. And when they lose interest, we lose out on the paper trail information they might add to our mix.

Bottom line: We need to educate our friends and our families, our DNA cousins, to the limits of what these percentages can show — and to show them all the other things DNA testing really can help with.

Because friends don’t let friends do DNA testing only to get these percentages.


  1. See e.g. Judy G. Russell, “Admixture: not soup yet,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 18 May 2014 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 22 Feb 2015).
  2. Grand nephew if you prefer.
Posted in DNA | 32 Comments

RIP George Thomas Cherryhomes

“Faithfull and forgiving but duty came first.”

Those are the words on the tombstone of George Thomas Cherryhomes at Oak Grove Cemetery in Graham, Young County, Texas.

He was born, the engraving says, on 8 November 1870. He died 100 years ago this coming Tuesday, on the 24th of February 1915.

And he died because, as the words on his tombstone say, “duty came first.”

Tom, as he was called, was a shirt-tail cousin of mine, the husband of Ida Bell Baker (1876-1921), my maternal grandfather’s second cousin. He and Ida were married on 5 March 1894 at her parent’s home five miles west of Graham.1 By 1900, they’d had two children, and they were farming next door to Ida’s parents.2

By 1910, there were four Cherryhomes children ranging in age from 4 to 14, and Tom was still shown as a farmer, doing general farming.3 One more child was born, in 1911.4

But sometime between the enumeration of that census in April of 1910 and the early days of 1915, Tom began doing something other than farming. At some point before a fateful night, 100 years ago, in February 1915, he had become a deputy sheriff in Young County. And he was on duty in the early morning hours of 24 February 1915.

Some days earlier, a local politician, former county judge E.W. Fry, had been charged with forgery. Tom and a special deputy, Riley Dollins, were assigned to guard the Young County Courthouse in Graham and prevent anyone from taking anything from the building, “it being feared that some effort would be made to secure some of the official records.”5

At about 3:30 a.m. on that Wednesday, the lawmen heard noises from the area of the cistern outside the courthouse. They went to investigate and were confronted by four armed men, who ordered them to surrender. Contemporary accounts quoted Tom as saying he’d “never” throw up his hands. He and Dollins opened fire; the armed men returned fire.

According to one account, Tom emptied two pistols at the armed men and Dollins shot six rounds with a shotgun. But “the intruders … had the advantage since Cherryhomes and Dollins were illuminated by the exterior lights of the courthouse…”6

Tom yelled to Dollins that he’d been hit, and Dollins helped get him to the local telephone exchange building. A posse followed the tracks to a local church and then followed buggy tracks to the home of the local politician, E.W. Fry, where they found one Pat Carlton in critical condition with a gunshot wound and Fry’s brother Pete with a scalp wound.7

Tom lived for only 12 hours after being shot. Carlton died later in the day; the Fry brothers and two other men were arrested, charged with murder, and taken to Wichita Falls, county seat of nearby Wichita County, because of tensions running high in Young County.8

They were tried there in April 1915; Tom’s statement that he had “done his duty as he swore to” wasn’t allowed to be read to the jury.9 But the doctor who treated him was allowed to testify that Tom said he “stood until his ammunition gave out, like he said he’d do.”10 Tom’s widow did testify. “Do the best you can and raise the children the best you can,” she said he’d told her in his last hours. Daughter Gladys also testified, breaking down in tears.11

But the evidence wasn’t enough: at the end of the trial, presumably because there was no proof that anyone other than Carlton had fired any shots, all four of the defendants were acquitted.12

Former Judge Fry stood trial twice on the forgery and other charges. In June 1915, the jury couldn’t agree on a verdict. In October, he was convicted. In his second trial, one of his co-defendants J. B. Lischke, testified that he’d been at the Fry home, say Judge Fry masked and then went with others to the area of the courthouse where the shooting occurred.13 He was sentenced to two years in prison.14

Tom’s tombstone stands today in Oak Grove Cemetery in Graham, only blocks from the site of the courthouse he died protecting. And, on it, the words recognize that, for Tom, “duty came first.” In recognition of that devotion to duty, his name is engraved today on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. On the Memorial website, the description reads: “Deputy Cherryhomes was shot while as a result of a gun fight while he was protecting county records. Records were being audited for possible embezzlement charges of local judge.”15

George Thomas Cherryhomes.

Deputy Sheriff.

Young County, Texas.

End of Watch February 24, 1915.

My shirt-tail cousin, for whom “duty came first.”

Rest in peace, Tom. Rest in peace.


First published 23 February 2013; repeated to honor the 100th anniversary of Tom’s death.
Courthouse photo used with permission of Dorman Holub.
Tombstone photo used with permission of Kay Douglas.

  1. Oak Grove Cemetery, Young County, Texas, Ida Bell Baker Cherryhomes; digital image, Find A Grave (http://findagrave.com : accessed 22 Feb 2013). The information as to the marriage was supplied by Young County GenWeb coordinator Dorman Holub, whose wife is a Baker cousin.
  2. 1900 U.S. census, Young County, Texas, Justice Precinct 1, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 161, p. 228(B) (stamped), dwelling/family 84, G.T. Cherryhomes household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 22 Feb 2013); citing National Archive microfilm publication T623, roll 1681; imaged from FHL microfilm 1241681.
  3. 1910 U.S. census, Young County, Texas, Justice Precinct 1, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 270, p. 207(A) (stamped), dwelling /family 4, G. T. Cherryholmes household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 22 Feb 2013 2013); citing National Archive microfilm publication T624, roll 1595.
  4. Texas Birth Index, 1903-1997, database, entry for I.B. Cherryhomes, 1911; Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 22 Feb 2013).
  5. “Three Shot at Graham,” Wichita Daily Times, Wichita Falls, Texas, 24 February 1915, p.1.
  6. Clifford R. Caldwell and Ronald G. DeLord, Texas Lawmen, 1900-1940: More of the Good & the Bad (Charleston, SC : The History Press, 2012), 388-389.
  7. Ibid.
  8. “Four Charges of Murder Follow Graham Tragedy,” Wichita Daily Times, Wichita Falls, Texas, 26 February 1915, p.1.
  9. “Dying Man’s Words Barred From Trial,” Galveston (Texas) Daily News, 10 April 1915, p.2; digital images, NewspaperArchive.com (http://newspaperarchive.com : accessed 22 Feb 2013).
  10. “Witness Says Plan Was To Get Records,” Galveston (Texas) Daily News, 11 April 1915, p.4; digital images, NewspaperArchive.com (http://newspaperarchive.com : accessed 22 Feb 2013).
  11. “Court Has Statement Of A Man Now Dead,” Galveston (Texas) Daily News, 13 April 1915, p.3; digital images, NewspaperArchive.com (http://newspaperarchive.com : accessed 22 Feb 2013).
  12. “Fry Et Al Freed At Wichita Falls,” Abilene (Texas) Daily Reporter, 18 April 1915, p.1; digital images, NewspaperArchive.com (http://newspaperarchive.com : accessed 22 Feb 2013).
  13. “Testimony Barred at Murder Trial May Be Admitted,” Wichita Weekly Times, Wichita Falls, Texas, 1 Oct 1915, p.1.
  14. “Judge Fry Is Found Guilty, Given Two Year Sentence,” Wichita DailyTimes, Wichita Falls, Texas, 4 Oct 1915, p.1.
  15. George Thomas Cherryhomes,” National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (http://www.nleomf.org/ : accessed 22 Feb 2013).
Posted in My family | 4 Comments

Free webinar next week

One of the most challenging aspects of genealogical research is putting together all the bits and pieces of evidence we collect to reach a sound conclusion and to tell a compelling story.

Dealing with complex evidence is sometimes frustrating, but always pays off richly as it allows us to meet the Genealogical Proof Standard and ensure that the information we pass on to our families is right.

But how do we do it?

Tune in with the Board for Certification of Genealogists next week in a free webinar to find out!

BittnerTuesday, February 24, at 8 p.m. Eastern (7 p.m. Central, 6 p.m. Mountain, 5 p.m. Pacific), BCG resumes its free webinar series as F. Warren Bittner, CG, presents “Complex Evidence: What it Is, How it Works, Why it Matters.”

As Warren notes, the genealogist’s goal is to establish identity and prove relationships. Complex evidence is often the only way to do this. In his presentation, we’ll be able to follow a case study of clues from multiple sources to solve a problem, learning more about the process along the way.

For those who may not be familiar with Warren, The Legal Genealogist can assure you that you’re in for a treat. He was a classmate of mine in Elizabeth Shown Mills’ Advanced Methodology and Evidence Analysis course at the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research at Samford University in 2010, and I’ve heard Warren speak many times at national conferences and institutes.

Not only is Warren a great speaker who blends good stories with some wonderfully useful facts but he knows how to speak in plain clear terms that make it easy to follow the trail and learn how to repeat it yourself.

So join us next week and learn from Warren about complex evidence and how to use it in your genealogical research. The webinar series is free to all genealogists who want to improve their skills.

To register and receive your unique link to the webinar, head over to this post at SpringBoard, the BCG blog, and read down in the post there to the registration link.

We’re still working on making recordings of the BCG webinars available to those who can’t attend in real time; stay tuned at SpringBoard for updated information on that — and on announcements of future webinars in this free series.

CG or Certified Genealogist is a service mark of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, used under license by Board-certified genealogists after periodic competency evaluation, and the board name is registered in the US Patent & Trademark Office.

Posted in General | 12 Comments

Following up

Yesterday, The Legal Genealogist took on the topic of the copyright that genealogical speakers have in their lectures, slides and handouts. The impetus was last week’s combined Federation of Genealogical Societies and RootsTech conference, and the seemingly rampant view there that it was perfectly okay to copy everything a speaker did and pass it along to friends.1

copyrightAnd, as often happens, shortly after the post appeared a question popped into my email box that shows that we’re just not doing a good enough job of educating people about the law and the ethics of copying other people’s work.

The question came from a reader who was honestly perplexed about the whole issue. She was very careful to cite her sources, she said, and she thought that was enough.

“If we credit the speaker or lecturer, and share it with a friend or group, are we infringing on your copyright?” she asked. “Must we ask permission if credit is given?”

The question is a common one, and it underscores what is perhaps the most common misconception about copyright law: lots of people think that there can’t be a copyright issue if we credit the creator of the work.

It’s just not so.

Giving credit to the person who created the work we’re using — whether it’s a photograph or a lecture — is an essential part of good genealogical practice. But it’s not a substitute for paying attention to, and abiding by, copyright law. Giving credit saves us from a claim of plagiarism — of passing off someone else’s work as our own. But it won’t save us from a lawsuit for copyright infringement, since copyright protects an entirely different interest.

Let’s define terms.

Plagiarism is “the act of using another person’s words or ideas without giving credit to that person.”2 When we reproduce work someone else has created, we avoid plagiarism by putting the creator’s name on it, giving credit where credit is due.

Copyright, on the other hand, is “the legal right to be the only one to reproduce, publish, and sell a book, musical recording, etc., for a certain period of time.”3 Note that phrase: “the only one to reproduce” the work. Not “the only one unless credit is given.” The only one, period.4

Think about it for a minute. Say you’ve just taken a prize-winning photograph. What copyright does is say that, for some period of time, you’re the only one who gets to decide whether it’s copied, under what circumstances, and by whom. Nobody can take your photograph and use it to, say, advertise a commercial product — and get away with it just by making sure your name is still attached to the photo.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t carefully and consistently cite everything we use as genealogists. To the contrary, full, accurate source citations are an element of the Genealogical Proof Standard.5 Our own genealogical work does not meet the best practices of our field if we don’t cite our sources.

Giving credit to others whose work we rely on is also part of the ethical standards of genealogy. Every single code of ethics governing our field requires that we give credit:

• Board-certified genealogists pledge that: “I will identify my sources for all information and cite only those I have personally used.” And they pledge that: “In citing another’s work, I will give proper credit.”6

• Members of the Association of Professional Genealogists promise to “Give proper credit to those who supply information and provide assistance.”7

• The ethics code of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies provides that “If data presented relies on work already previously undertaken, the credit for such work should be given to the originator.”8

• The National Genealogical Society’s standards for genealogical research provide that“ family history researchers consistently … state carefully and honestly the results of their own research, and acknowledge all use of other researchers’ work.”9

But giving credit isn’t the same as respecting another person’s copyright.

They’re two entirely different concepts, and we are not protected from a copyright infringement suit just because we gave credit to the creator of the work.


  1. See Judy G. Russell, “Copyright and the genealogy lecture,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 18 Feb 2015 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 19 Feb 2015).
  2. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (http://www.m-w.com : accessed 19 Feb 2015), “plagiarism.”
  3. Ibid., “copyright.”
  4. There are statutory exceptions, and the big one is fair use. See 17 U.S.C. §107. That’s a topic for another day, and not what we’re dealing with here.
  5. See Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards (Nashville, Tenn. : Ancestry, 2014), at 5 (“The Genealogical Proof Standard requires complete and accurate citations to the source or sources of each information item supporting a claim that a conclusion is proved”).
  6. Board for Certification of Genealogists, “Code of Ethics and Conduct” (http://www.bcgcertification.org/ : accessed 19 Feb 2015).
  7. Association of Professional Genealogists, “Code of Ethics” (https://www.apgen.org/ : accessed 19 Feb 2015).
  8. International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies, “IAJGS Ethics for Jewish Genealogists” (http://www.iajgs.org/ : accessed 19 Feb 2015).
  9. National Genealogical Society, Standards For Sound Genealogical Research (http://www.ngsgenealogy.org/ : accessed 19 Feb 2015).
Posted in Copyright | 11 Comments

The same rules. Really.

The Legal Genealogist was dismayed to hear the comment, made by one of the many thousands of people who attended last week’s combined Federation of Genealogical Societies – RootsTech conference in Salt Lake City.

But no, dear conference goer, actually, it’s not okay.

It’s not okay to use your cellphone or your tablet to record every word a genealogical speaker says at a conference lecture.

It’s not okay to take pictures of every slide (or even any of the slides).

And it’s not okay to take the handout prepared for the lecture and reproduce it to share it with others.

3D White People. Man Giving A ConferenceThe conference goer last week couldn’t make it to a particular session. But she’d heard good things about that presentation. So she asked someone who had attended to give her a copy of the handout so she could share it with the members of her home society.

When another attendee suggested that perhaps that wasn’t appropriate, she was quite indignant.

“I paid for the conference,” she said. “So it’s okay.”

No, dear conference goer, actually, it’s not okay.

What the lecturer has — with respect to the lecture itself, the slides used to illustrate the lecture on the screen, and the handout — is a copyright.

And when you, dear conference goer, tape or photograph or copy the lecturer’s work, what you’ve done isn’t okay — it’s a copyright violation.

Copyright under United States law exists the minute the lecturer prepares that lecture: the text, the slides, the handout are all covered the instant they exist in some tangible form.1

It’s not necessary for the lecturer to register the copyright in the U.S. Copyright Office.2

It’s not necessary for the lecturer to make an announcement that the lecture is copyright-protected or to include a copyright statement (or that little &copy symbol) on the slides or on the handout.3

All that’s necessary is that the work be the original work of the person creating it and that it be in some tangible form — which includes even a digital file that exists nowhere except on the lecturer’s computer hard drive.4

And once it exists in that format, the lecturer owns the copyright for the lecturer’s lifetime — and the lecturer’s estate or heirs own it for another 70 years after the lecturer’s death.5

That original work of the lecturer is the lecturer’s intellectual property. It’s no different from any other type of copyrighted material. It’s hard work to produce a good lecture, and it gets the same protection as a book or a movie or any other creative endeavor.

If you, dear conference goer, sat in a movie theater and taped the movie, and then shared it with your friends, the studio that produced the movie could — and would — sue you for at least the statutory damages provided for in the law: up to $150,000 for a single violation if a court were to find that the violation was willful and up to $30,000 otherwise.6

You face exactly the same penalty if you sit in a lecture and tape it or photograph it or copy the handout and share that with your friends. And keep in mind that the societies that put together conferences and publish the syllabus materials in book or booklet form or as a downloadable PDF file have a compilation copyright in the entire book/booklet or file.7

The same goes for a webinar or other presentation that was videotaped or audiotaped: it’s all under copyright. And just as buying the book doesn’t give us the right to copy it and give copies to our friends, buying a lecture tape (audio or video) doesn’t give us the right to copy that and share it with our friends either.

It’s not just that it’s legally wrong; it’s ethically wrong too. The ethical standards of our field are clear about this point as well.8

So no, dear conference goer, actually, it’s not okay to simply take a lecturer’s work. If you want to copy any part of a lecture, or the lecturer’s handout, ask for permission. And if the lecturer is kind enough to grant permission, stay within the scope of the permission granted (as an example, if the lecturer says it’s okay to use one photo, it means one photo).

Getting permission, and staying within the terms of what the lecturer permits, is the right thing — and the legal thing — to do.


  1. U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1: Copyright Basics, PDF version at 2 (http://www.copyright.gov : accessed 17 Feb 2015) (“Copyright protection subsists from the time the work is created in fixed form. The copyright in the work of authorship immediately becomes the property of the author who created the work”).
  2. Ibid., at 3 (“No publication or registration or other action in the Copyright Office is required to secure copyright.”).
  3. Ibid., at 4 (“The use of a copyright notice is no longer required under U. S. law, although it is often beneficial.”).
  4. See 17 U.S.C. § 101 (“Definitions: fixed”).
  5. U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1: Copyright Basics, PDF version at 4 (“A work that was created (fixed in tangible form for the first time) on or after January 1, 1978, is automatically protected from the moment of its creation and is ordinarily given a term enduring for the author’s life plus an additional 70 years after the author’s death.”)
  6. See 17 U.S.C. § 504(c) (“Statutory damages”).
  7. See U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 14: Copyright in Derivative Works and Compilations, PDF version at 1 (http://www.copyright.gov : accessed 17 Feb 2015).
  8. See e.g. Board for Certification of Genealogists, Code of Ethics (http://bcgcertification.org/ : accessed 17 Feb 2015) (“I will not reproduce for public dissemination, in an oral or written fashion, the work of another genealogist, writer, or lecturer without that person’s written consent. In citing another’s work, I will give proper credit.”).
Posted in Copyright | 94 Comments

Registration opens tomorrow

So you didn’t make it to the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy in January.

And you didn’t register for the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research for its June offerings.

And after getting all the news out of FGS 2015 and RootsTech last week, you’re starting to feel distinctly left out on your genealogical education for 2015.

Then it’s time to put on your sneakers and pack a lunch. Because registration opens tomorrow, Wednedsday, February 18th, for the six classes of the July session at GRIP — and those classes are going to fill up fast.

GRIP, of course, is the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh, going into its fourth season at LaRoche College in Pittsburgh. Co-directors Elissa Scalise Powell, CG, CGL, and Deborah Lichtner Deal have a terrific line-up of courses offering in-depth immersion for an entire week — this session runs from July 19th to July 24th — in a topic that just might be what you’re looking for.

Here’s the line-up:

Law School for Genealogists
Coordinators: Judy G. Russell, J.D., CG, CGL and Richard “Rick” G. Sayre, CG, CGL, with instructor Marian L. Smith

Understanding the laws that affected our ancestors is essential for kinship determination and successful research. Law School for Genealogists covers the waterfront as to the elements of the law that directly impact genealogical research: the legal systems underlying the records; the court systems; record series resulting from the legislative and judicial process; and topical treatments of the law of wills and estates, property, marriage, divorce, military service, immigration and naturalization and more.

The class covers 19th through 21st century U.S. records and includes online resources. Prior to the course students will be able to send the coordinator a brief research issue of their own along with a listing of the U.S. places where their ancestors resided and what has already been researched. The course includes some “homework” that is optional but highly suggested. Students often find they like those learning exercises. An extensive syllabus including online resources is provided.

Advanced Research Methods
Coordinator: Thomas W Jones, Ph.D., CG, CGL, FASG, FUGA, FNGS, with instructors Judy G. Russell, J.D., CG, CGL, Pamela Boyer Sayre, CG, CGL, and Richard G. Sayre, CG, CGL

Participants will develop advanced genealogical research, analysis, correlation and compilation skills. Hands-on activities, using original records, will enhance this learning. Examples are drawn from American states and colonies and European countries. Before the course begins participants will complete two pre-course reading assignments. Four homework assignments, providing opportunities for advanced skill development, are optional.

Intermediate Genealogy: Tools for Digging Deeper
Coordinator: Paula Stuart-Warren, CG, FMGS, FUGA, with instructors Debbie Mieszala, CG, and D. Joshua Taylor, MA, MLS

Are you beyond the beginning stages of researching your family history? You probably have checked the basic records and done online searches but still have blanks to fill in. Maybe you need to gain more leads and judge the records but need some analytical skills for that. We will delve deeper into a variety of records, some that you may have never heard about, and where they may be accessed. During the week there will be some hands-on projects, small group discussions, and full class interaction as we develop research plans, delve into the records, and learn what may get those blanks filled in. The camaraderie of solving problems as a group leads us to great insight and also some fun.

Refresh, Rebuild and Recharge Your Genealogy Career
Coordinator: D. Joshua Taylor, with instructors Debra Mieszala, CG, Judy G. Russell, J.D., CG, CGL, and Paula Stuart-Warren, CG, FMGS, FUGA

The field of professional genealogy offers multiple opportunities to find career success. During the week we will examine the steps to building a career in professional genealogy, looking beyond client-based research to provide best practices for strategic planning, marketing, developing products, and related topics. Faculty includes those working in across various dynamics within the industry, including commercial entities, small-business owners, small-proprietors, non-profit and more.

Pennsylvania: Research in the Keystone State
Coordinators: Sharon Cook MacInnes, Ph.D. and Michael D. Lacopo, D.V.M.

The course is designed for intermediate to advanced researchers who understand how the Genealogical Proof Standard forms the foundation for solid research but may not know much about Pennsylvania resources. The goal is to present a practical, in-depth, and fast-paced exploration of Pennsylvania record groups with a bit of fun and hands-on exercises. With comprehensive overviews of the records in which your ancestor may appear, the course will delve into how and where those records can be accessed, and demonstrate how the records should be used to expand an understanding of your ancestor’s life. Every one of our Pennsylvania ancestors has a tale to tell, and with knowledge gleaned from the resources discussed, you can tell it.

Practical Genetic Genealogy
Coordinator: Debbie Parker Wayne, CG, CGL, with instructors Blaine Bettinger, Ph.D., J.D., and Patti Hobbs

DNA test results can be confusing and their application to genealogy unclear. This course is designed to provide the in-depth knowledge needed by those who wish to analyze results and further research goals for themselves, their clients, or a surname project. These three recognized experts in the field of DNA analysis will provide opportunities for practical, hands-on experience in analysis and correlation of DNA test results utilizing the latest tools and techniques and will give recommendations for further research.

Because this line-up is so solid, class space is going to go fast. If you want in, you need to be ready to go when registration opens tomorrow (Wednesday) at noon Eastern, 11 a.m. Central, 10 a.m. Mountain and 9 a.m. Pacific.

There are registration instructions on the website that you’re going to want to read through in advance so you can be ready to go when registration opens. But because a countdown timer has been installed on the registration page for this July week which will go automatically at the “zero hour” to the registration management system you won’t have to watch the clock, hit refresh, or otherwise fear that you will miss the “opening bell.”

Tomorrow’s registration is only for the six courses to be offered at LaRoche College in July. But there are still seats in some June courses — you can still register for those on the June registration page!

Good luck getting into the course you want!

Posted in General | Leave a comment

The conference news

It’s an exciting time to be a genetic genealogist.

utah-dnaThe DNA world continues to develop and evolve and nowhere was that more evident than in Salt Lake City this past week as announcement after announcement came from the major players in the genetic genealogy community.

The venue was the massive combined conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies and RootsTech, and what was announced shows just how much DNA has moved into the genealogical mainstream in just a few short years.

Big news from AncestryDNA and Family Tree DNA dominated the landscape… but even 23andMe dropped hints of good things to come.

Ancestry’s DNA Circles

First out of the gate was AncestryDNA with its announcements that, first, it will begin selling testing kits in Australia and Canada this year after its successful launch in the United Kingdom and, second, it will expand on DNA circles by a system of tree matching using DNA — even if you don’t have a tree.

Kendall Hulet, Ancestry vice president for product development in charge of AncestryDNA, and his AncestryDNA team demonstrated the DNA Circles expansion to a group of DNA bloggers during the week, and explained that the aim of the new system will be to connect an individual who has DNA-tested to others likely descended from the same ancestors — even if the individual’s tree doesn’t show the connection.

The current DNA Circles system takes persons who do share DNA and combines them into groups based on data from their public Ancestry family trees. If I match you and you match me and we both have — say — John Smith as a direct ancestor in our online trees, we show up on AncestryDNA with a shared ancestor hint. DNA Circles then takes our group and matches it to other groups that also have John Smith in their trees but who may match only me or only you. It’s a way to build out groups of cousins who can work together to try to determine if we really do all descend from the same John Smith.

The expanded DNA Circles will take the DNA testing data alone and suggest groups that an individual could belong to, even if that individual has an incomplete tree online — or no tree at all. The intent is to group people where there is enough common DNA to say that it is likely that everyone in that circle is related through a particular ancestor or ancestral couple.

In other words, it’s a first-ever effort to link people to a family tree using DNA data by itself. (Added note: First ever by the corporate world, of course. Individuals have been doing this the hard way from the beginning!)

Hulet and Ancestry DNA Senior Product Manager Kenny Freestone added that there was, of course, no guarantee that the suggested relationship would be correct; it was — like the shaky leaf hints and shared ancestor hints — a research suggestion instead. And, they noted, only about two in seven AncestryDNA users will see a new suggested circle pop up: in the demonstration, for example, there were no new suggested ancestors in my lines.

The rollout of the new Circle system won’t be for some weeks yet and it will come at the same time as a new visual presentation for all Ancestry data that will include biographical information on these new suggested ancestral links.

Family Tree-Findmypast Partnership

Next up was the announcement by Annelies Van Den Belt, Chief Executive Officer of DC Thomson Family History, of a partnership between its service Findmypast and Family Tree DNA.

The exact details of the partnership will be fleshed out in the weeks and months to come, but starting immediately, Findmypast will be offering a special rate on Family Tree DNA tests as part of their premium service for annual subscribers, Findmypast First.

According to Van Den Belt, this new partnership is “just the beginning of Findmypast’s journey into DNA testing” for their customers, and D. Joshua Taylor, Findmypast’s Director of Family History said the partnership came about in part based on the recognition that “DNA testing has the potential to help everyone discover more about their family history, and to make even more connections in their research.”

Particularly in light of Findmypast’s European roots and strong English-Irish-Scottish-Welsh presence, this partnership may pay off strongly for Americans who’ve tested with Family Tree DNA and are looking for their British Isles roots.

Family Tree DNA links to family trees

Last but hardly least of the announcements was the announcement by Family Tree DNA yesterday that it has partnered with FamilySearch to provide direct links from Family Tree DNA to the FamilySearch Family Tree — and from that tree back to Family Tree DNA.

James Brewster of Family Tree DNA demonstrated the coming-soon linking yesterday in a presentation to the Federation of Genealogical Societies, “Five Fun New Ways to Improve Your Genealogical Research.” And it looks like it’s going to be terrific once it launches.

Anyone logged in to FamilySearch who drops down the Search menu will soon see a new menu choice: DNA. Clicking on that will present a user with the chance to search the database to see how many people with a particular surname have done a DNA test and how many people are in the family tree of a person who has done a DNA test.

For example, a search result could report that there were 1045 people with that surname in the Family Tree DNA database, that the surname appears in 14 countries, that 245 DNA projects are researching that surname and that there are 13,218 people with that surname in the family trees of people in the Family Tree DNA database. And every search report page will offer a link that allows the user to order a DNA test right then and there.

Anyone logged in at Family Tree DNA will be able to click on a link and connect testing data from Family Tree DNA to the FamilySearch Family Tree database. Anyone looking at matches at Family Tree DNA will see a new icon showing that a match has a family tree at FamilySearch — with direct links to individual entries at the FamilySearch Family Tree that match.

Users of the FamilySearch Family Tree will be able to link their Family Tree data with their Family Tree DNA test results and entries for individuals in the FamilySearch Family Tree will have links to relevant testing projects at Family Tree DNA.

Users of Family Tree DNA will also be able to link their data to trees at Geni.com and MyHeritage.

There’s more to come

It’s clear from discussions with executives of all of the DNA testing companies that there’s more to come and soon. Family Tree DNA will have new groups and a global search capability. AncestryDNA will have a visual presentation of data that makes seeing connections easy. Even 23andMe — which had no announcements during the conference — made it clear that there are good things just around the corner.

Stay tuned.

It’s such an exciting time to be a genetic genealogist…

Posted in DNA | 11 Comments