Action needed in advance

So those of us who tested on 23andMe before the whole kerfluffle with the FDA and access to health reports are finally seeing some action in transitioning our accounts over to the new 23andMe reporting system.

The Legal Genealogist finally got the email yesterday saying my own account will be one of the ones shifted over to the new system “by the end of August.”

Gee… and it only took three years…

23.emailThis all began, you may recall, back in 2013 when 23andMe somehow managed not to fully cooperate with the FDA in getting approval for its health reports, after itself initiating the process to seek FDA approval.1 By the time the dust settled, 23andMe had had no choice but to suspend its health testing,2 leaving the genealogy part intact… but going nowhere.

It took 23andMe another two years — until late 2015 — to clear up its disagreements with the FDA and relaunch a very-much-modified version of its health testing system,3 all the while leaving the genealogical testers pretty much floundering on their own. And that sense of floundering wasn’t eased when, in November 2015, 23andMe put a big purple notice on all the old test kits results that said some key features (like the ability to send messages to those who’d chosen to test anonymously) were being disabled.4

In the months since that big warning sign went up on older accounts, those of us who tested on the old system have been wondering just what was going to happen — and just how useful 23andMe would be for genealogical research once the transition was complete. Now, it seems, we’re about to find out.

First, as far as the health-related information is concerned, we’re told that what 23andMe is going to do is archive our old health-related information in a PDF report. It’ll send us that report (or at least a link to that report) and that’s the only place that information is going to be available. And it’s only going to be available if we take some action in advance.

And, the email says, there are a couple of things we all need to do before that change-over occurs:

1. We need to answer some questions on our ethnicity — whether our ancestry is European or African, for example. That information is going to be permanently archived in a report and we won’t be able to change it after the archive is created.

2. We need to look at the existing health reports and see whether any of them are locked reports. Those who tested under the old system were analyzed for risks of things like Parkinson’s Disease or Alzheimer’s and the results are considered sensitive — meaning they’re things we may not really want to know. So we’re given the option: to look at that specific report, or to leave it locked. These locked reports are not available under the new system (since they don’t have FDA approval) so this is a now-or-never choice. If we don’t unlock it before our accounts are transitioned, we’ll never see the results.

3. We need to decide whether we want the health results at all. As 23andMe puts it: “Your opt in or out status for health results. If your profile settings are set to ‘waive access to health results’ when the Reports Archive is generated, you will not receive an archive.”5

The emails have an action date — mine was 9 June 2016 — and a clickable link to the kit profile to make the needed changes, and of course anybody who tested under the old system who’s changed email addresses needs to log in to 23andMe and bring things up to date.

Second, once these older accounts finally are transitioned, we’ll be able to see firsthand how much genealogical utility remains in the 23andMe system. It’s clear that some features useful to genealogists are going to be lost completely — Countries of Ancestry, for example, and the ability to see fully-identical regions (areas inherited identically from both parents, so the individuals are full siblings) versus half-identical regions (segments inherited from only one parent, which could reveal a half-sibling relationship). And, of course, the price tag — ouch. It’s a lot more expensive now at $199 so getting new matches may not be so easy.

But there are also aspects of the new system that look promising: there’s a new in-common-with reporting system that looks like it could be very useful, for example.6

So if you, like me, tested before November 2013 on 23andMe, go ahead and take action on the ethnicity and health reports part — and then we can all mark our calendars to see just what happens “by the end of August.”


  1. See Judy G. Russell, “Fooling with FDA,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 26 Nov 2013 ( : accessed 28 May 2016).
  2. Ibid., “23andMe suspends health tests,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 6 Dec 2013.
  3. Ibid., “The changes at 23andMe,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 25 Oct 2015.
  4. Ibid., “Now… and not now,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 6 Dec 2015.
  5. I was genotyped on the v3 chip, what do I need to know about transitioning to the new 23andMe?,” 23andMe Customer Care ( : accessed 28 May 2016).
  6. See Kitty Cooper, “A Triangulation Feature on the New 23andme,” Kitty Cooper’s Blog, posted 6 May 2016 ( : accessed 28 May 2016).
Posted in DNA | 4 Comments

A family matter

So here’s a question for you…

What exactly do these two people have in common?


You may recognize the person on the left. The Legal Genealogist. Blogger. Speaker. Genealogist with a law degree.

Let me introduce you to the person on the right. Tamara Rasheed. Author. Speaker. Budding genealogist.

So… What exactly do these two people have in common?

Well, an interest in genealogy, of course.

But not just genealogy in general.

Genealogy very much in particular.

As in, one particular piece of family history.

One, it would appear, that was lost to my family and to Tamara’s family somewhere back in Mississippi, sometime in the 19th century.

Because, a preliminary analysis of DNA evidence suggests, somewhere back in Mississippi, sometime in the 19th century, ancestors of mine were also ancestors of hers.

And, if history is any guide, slaveowners on my side. Slaves on hers.

We’re just starting the process of trying to prove where our family lines intersect, but the preliminary evidence points strongly towards my Gentry line in early statehood Mississippi.

The first of that line to reach Mississippi, my fourth great grandfather Elijah Gentry Sr., was a Revolutionary War veteran who arrived in what was then the Mississippi Territory just before the War of 1812.1

Elijah Sr. and the next in my line, my third great grandfather Elijah Jr., both served in the War of 1812 in the 1 Regiment, Mississippi Territorial Volunteers.2 Elijah Sr. died around 1818, in what was later Monroe County, Alabama,3 when Elijah Jr. was wrapping up an early career as a circuit riding Methodist Episcopal preacher.4

By 1820, the younger Elijah had married and was enumerated in Wayne County, Mississippi, with a young family.5 Hinds County was formed in 1821,6 and Elijah was on the tax rolls there in the 1820s where — by 1825 — he was recorded as owning one slave.7

By 1830, another new county had been formed — Rankin County8 — and Elijah was there with his family … and with four slaves (one male 36-54, and three females aged 10-23).9

His slave ownership continues to be carefully documented thereafter:

• In 1840, he was in Winston County and owned seven slaves (two males under 10 and one 35-55, and one female under 10, two 10-24 and one 25-34).10

• In 1850, he was in Neshoba County and owned 14 slaves: six males ages 40, 12, four, three, two and one, and eight females ages 32, 31, 18, 15, 10, five, five and one.11

• In 1860, he was still in Neshoba County, and owned 21 slaves — 12 black females, ages 40, 40, 27, 24, 19, 15, 11, 8, 7, 4, 4 and 1, 8 black males, ages 22, 14, 12, 11, 7, 5, 4 and 3, and one mulatto male, age 3.12

And somewhere, likely right around that third great grandfather, the DNA suggests that one of the Gentry family did more than merely own a slave. Whether it was Elijah himself or one of his sons, the evidence surely suggests that some Gentry ensured that Gentry DNA is present in both of our lines.

That evidence suggests that Tamara and I are somewhere in the general neighborhood of third to fifth cousins. She shares segments ranging from 12 to 34 centiMorgans with nine members of my family who descend from Elijah Gentry through three of Elijah’s children and a smaller segment with a descendant of yet a fourth of Elijah’s children.

Now without something of a paper trail, without some documents to back up our theories, the DNA by itself is evidence, not conclusive proof, of our mutual descent from this man. But it is surely something more than mere coincidence that Tamara’s paternal great grandmother was one Gladys Gentry of Hinds County, Mississippi.

There’s more work to be done — records to find and sift through — to determine exactly how Tamara and I are related. We both recognize that it’s still possible that it will turn out that it isn’t through the Gentry line at all.

But as she and I are turning to that paper trail now … we do so with an eye on a dream. It’s a dream articulated by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his speech at the Washington Monument on August 28th, 1963. It’s a dream, he said he had, “that one day… the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”

So maybe it won’t be the sons, Dr. King.

Maybe this time it’s going to be the daughters who will sit together.

And, like good daughters everywhere, we’re inviting everyone from every part of the Gentry family to come to this table, to join us as we work together to try to shed light on our common ancestry.

Because, as we sit here today, in 2016, it’s a family table.

And we can’t wait to find out just how our branches of this family tree intertwine.


  1. His Revolutionary War service is documented in two stub indents dated 18 July 1785, for “duty in the Militia as Private since the reduction of Charlestown” and “Duty in the Militia as Sargeant before, & since the reduction of Chas Town,” South Carolina Commissioners of the Treasury, Stub Indents, Lib U, Nos. 654-655, Elijah Gentry, 17 July 1785, South Carolina State Archives, Columbia.
  2. Compiled service records, Elijah Gentry, Pvt., and Elijah Gentry Sr., Pvt., Captain Samuel Dale’s Company, 1st Regiment Mississippi Territorial Volunteers, Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations, War of 1812; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1762-1984, Record Group 94; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  3. Monroe County AL Orphans Court orders, 11 May 1818, estate of Elijah Gentry.
  4. See Methodist Episcopal Church, Minutes of the Annual Conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church for the Years 1773-1881 (New York : p.p., 1883), 298.
  5. 1820 U.S. census, Wayne County, Mississippi, population schedule, p. 99 (penned), Elija Gentry; digital image, ( : accessed 12 September 2002); citing National Archive microfilm publication M33, roll 57.
  6. Act of 12 February 1821, in Laws of the State of Mississippi (Columbia: P. Isler, state printer., 1822).
  7. Hinds County, Mississippi, Tax Lists, 1823-1825; Box 3654, Mississippi Department of Archives & History; digital images, ( : accessed 27 May 2016). See particularly the list of 1825, page 2, line 12, entry for Elijah Jentry.
  8. “An Act, to divide Hinds County…,” Laws of Mississippi (1828).
  9. 1830 U.S. census, Rankin County, Mississippi, p. 165 (stamped), Elijah Gentry; digital image, ( : accessed 12 September 2002); citing National Archive microfilm publication M19, roll 71.
  10. 1840 U.S. census, Winston County, Mississippi, p. 265 (stamped), Elijah Gentry; digital image, ( : accessed 10 September 2002); citing National Archive microfilm publication M704, roll 219.
  11. 1850 U.S. census, Neshoba County, Mississippi, slave schedule, p. 2 of 16 (unpaginated, dated 2 Aug 1850), Elijah Gentry, owner; digital image, ( : accessed 5 August 2002); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 387.
  12. 1860 U.S. census, Neshoba County, Mississippi, Twp. 12, Range 10, slave schedule, p. 30 (penned), Elijah Gentry, owner; digital image, ( : accessed 23 Feb 2007); citing National Archive microfilm publication M653, roll 601.
Posted in My family | 28 Comments

Changes in terms of use announced

The genealogical community spoke… and a genealogical company listened.

MyHeritage has thoroughly revised its terms of use for its newly-announced DNA Matching service — and the terms that the community may have had qualms about are now gone. Even the problem with what permissions are required and what’s merely requested has been addressed.

thumb-upThe Legal Genealogist wrote about the earlier, more restrictive terms of use for the about-to-be-launched DNA matching service in Sunday’s blog post, MyHeritage DNA matching & terms of use.1

Terms of use, remember, are “the limits somebody who owns something you want to see or copy or use puts on whether or not he’ll let you see or copy or use it.”2 In this case, the terms of use govern whether we can use the MyHeritage DNA matching service3 and, if we do, what rights we’re giving MyHeritage.

The first concern the community had was the fact that it wasn’t clear that — to use the DNA matching service — a user only had to agree to the terms of use; the separate document called a Consent Agreement that applies to research uses of the DNA results isn’t required at all. And that lack of clarity has now been addressed by adding the word “mandatory” in parentheses after the terms of use.

Second, MyHeritage has completely deleted the paragraph that users were giving it the right to “transfer, lease, rent, sell, share and/or or otherwise distribute de-identified information to third parties for any purpose, including without limitation, internal business purposes.” Even though the old paragraph said the information would only be aggregated with data from others and that all personal identifiers would be removed, it’s a huge step forward for user privacy that there can’t be any sharing of this information with unspecified third parties.

Third, and related to the change above, MyHeritage has taken out the language that gave it a “transferable … license to use your DNA Results” — so it’s crystal clear that there isn’t going to be any use or sale or sharing of DNA results with third parties unless MyHeritage comes back to users and gets specific permission. (Or of course unless you opt in to the Consent Agreement and the research project — your choice.)

Finally, you can now withdraw your permission to MyHeritage to use your DNA data for matching purposes at any time. The old language gave MyHeritage a “perpetual … license to use your DNA Results” — meaning a license that lasted forever — and that word perpetual is now gone. So you can change your mind at any time.

So … what do we have here?

A company that listened.

And then acted.



Without playing games or making excuses.

Without even blaming the lawyers who, let’s face it, even The Legal Genealogist blames for most things like this.

How… refreshing…


  1. Judy G. Russell, MyHeritage DNA matching & terms of use The Legal Genealogist, posted 22 May 2016 ( : accessed 26 May 2016).
  2. Ibid., “Reprise: a terms of use primer,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 29 Apr 2015.
  3. See “MyHeritage is Adding Free DNA Matching,” MyHeritage blog, posted 19 May 2016 ( : accessed 21 May 2016).
Posted in DNA, Terms of use | 4 Comments

The meaning of a word

It’s a powerful word.

A fascinating word.

To a law geek like The Legal Genealogist, a lovely word.

And it’s a word, I suspect, most of us misuse just a wee bit on those occasions when we do use it, depending on time and place.

mayhemThe word: mayhem.

It popped up yesterday in that definitive treatise on the common law — Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book Four: Of Public Wrongs — and I wasn’t at all surprised to find it explained there that the law regarded mayhem as a criminal act.1

Well, duh…

I mean, when you think about how mayhem is defined in early American statutes — as, for example, in Indiana law, where you would commit mayhem if you were to “unlawfully disable the tongue, put out an eye, slit the nose, cut or bite off the nose, ear, lip or other member of any person, with intent to disfigure or disable such person”2 — how could it be anything other than a crime?

But Blackstone went on, and — of course — we’re all going to read right along with him3 — to find that the definition we’re used to from those early American statutes isn’t really what mayhem was, originally.

That slitting the nose, bitting off the nose, biting off the ear bit?

Not part of the original concept of mayhem at all.

See, mayhem wasn’t outlawed because the police were out to protect individuals from the terrible injuries that might be caused to them. It was outlawed to protect the Crown from the loss of the military or physical service of the person so injured. It was:

an offence tending to deprive (the king) of the aid and assistance of his subjects. For mayhem is properly defined to be, as we may remember, the violently depriving another of the use of such of his members, as may render him the less able in fighting, either to defend himself, or to annoy his adversary. And therefore the cutting off, or disabling, or weakening a man’s hand or finger, or striking out his eye or foretooth, or depriving him of those parts, the loss of which in all animals abates their courage, are held to be mayhems. But the cutting off his ear, or nose, or the like, are not held to be mayhems at common law ; because they do not weaken but only disfigure him.4

Got that? Originally it didn’t include plain old ordinary disfigurement at all.

The first change in the concept was when the law added in the notion of “beating, wounding, or robbing a man, and then cutting out his tongue or putting out his eyes to prevent him” from being able to testify against the bad guys.5

Then in the time of Henry VIII, the law was changed again to add in cutting off an ear or slitting or cutting off the nose, or in fact doing just about anything with an intent to maim or disfigure the victim.6

And oh, by the way, it’s also a civil injury. Meaning it’s the kind of thing you can sue somebody for if he does it to you.7

Lovely word, mayhem.

With little twists in the meaning depending on the time and the place.


  1. William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book the Fourth (Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1769), 205; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 25 May 2016).
  2. §13, Chapter XXVI, “An Act relative to Crime and Punishment” (10 Feb 1831) in “The Revised Statutes of the State of Indiana” (Indianapolis : Douglass & Noel, Printers, 1838), 209-210; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 20 Oct 2015).
  3. What? You don’t read Blackstone for fun and profit? What’s the matter with you anyway?
  4. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book the Fourth, at 205-206.
  5. Ibid., at 206.
  6. Ibid., at 207.
  7. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book the Third, 7th ed. (Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1775), 121; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 25 May 2016).
Posted in Legal definitions | 2 Comments

A five-minute survey

Not for nothing has New York been called the “black hole” of northeast genealogy.

With a complex legal and political history (it was Dutch before it was English,1 and its court system is about as complicated as it’s possible to be2) and more than its fair share of records losses (including a catastrophic fire at the State Capitol3), there’s good reason why researching in New York can be tough.

surveyFortunately for folks with New York ancestors, there’s help: the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society — NYG&B for short — has been around since 18694 to help New York researchers find their way through to the best that New York has to offer.

If you have New York ancestors, you probably already know just how helpful NYG&B can be.

And if you have New York ancestors, NYG&B could use your help for a change.

And it will only take about five minutes of your time, sitting at your computer, at your convenience.

Here’s the story.

Like any long-established research organization, NYG&B occasionally needs to stop, take stock of where it is and where it’s headed, and make sure it’s addressing the needs of the community it’s trying to serve.

Right now, under the direction of newly-appointed president D. Joshua Taylor, NYG&B is in the midst of a strategic planning process — and it wants to hear from you! There’s a five-minute survey you can do online to help NYG&B to be able to help you better.

So take a few moments — tell the NYG&B about your research interests, provide feedback on existing resources, and share your suggestions.

You can access the survey online here.

Together, maybe we can add a little more light to that black hole…


  1. See e.g. “Dutch New York: Rediscover 400 Years of History,” ( : accessed 24 May 2016).
  2. James D. Folts, “Courts, State,” in Peter R. Eisenstadt and Laura-Eve Moss, editors, The Encyclopedia of New York State, (Syracuse, N.Y. : Syracuse University Press, 2005), 416.
  3. See “The Capitol Fire,” New York State Assembly ( : accessed 24 May 2016).
  4. See “History of the NYG&B,” New York Genealogical and Biographical Society ( : accessed 24 May 2016).
Posted in General | Leave a comment

Updated matching in Family Finder test announced

No, it’s not Sunday, so it may seem a bit odd for DNA to be the focus of the blog today. But there’s a change coming to Family Tree DNA‘s matching system for its Family Finder test that’s being announced so…

Call it DNA Tuesday.

Here’s the deal.

FTDNA_logoThe Family Finder test is Family Tree DNA’s autosomal DNA test — the kind of test that works across genders and helps you find cousins in recent generations.1 In the process of detecting cousins, Family Tree DNA (and every other DNA testing company) sets certain threshold limits — the minimum amount of shared DNA required for two people to show as a match.

And those limits are changing.

Here’s what Family Tree DNA has to say about it:

You asked for it – we listened!

For several years the genetic genealogy community has asked for adjustments to the matching thresholds in the Family Finder autosomal test. After months of research and testing, we will be implementing some exciting changes.

Currently, the current matching thresholds – the minimum amount of shared DNA required for two people to show as a match are:

• Minimum longest block of at least 7.69 cM for 99% of testers, 5.5 cM for the other one percent

• Minimum 20 total shared centiMorgans

Some people believed those thresholds to be too restrictive, and through the years requested changes that would loosen those restrictions.

Very soon, the following changes will be implemented to the matching program.

• No minimum shared centiMorgans, but if the cM total is less than 20, at least one segment must be 9 cM or longer.

• If the longest block of shared DNA is greater than 9 cM, the match will show regardless of total shared cM or the number of matching segments.

The entire existing database will be rerun using the new matching criteria, and all new matches will be calculated with the new thresholds.

Most people will see only minor changes in their matches, mostly in the speculative range. They may lose some matches but gain others.

So… what does this all mean? We’ll know more when we see it in action, but most of us can expect to lose a number of false positives — matches that really aren’t matches but just appear to be so because of a bunch of small chunks of DNA that don’t really show common ancestry. These have been called pile-up regions — areas of DNA where it seems like just about everybody we match has the same small chunk(s) of DNA and those chunks just pile up without meaning common descent from any identifiable people.

And some minority populations — African Americans in particular — should gain important matches that were being excluded because of the previous matching limits.

All in all, it’s a welcome development, it should produce more accurate matching, and it’s good to know the genetic genealogy companies are continuing to work to make the matching systems better.

To read more about this change in the matching system, you can read other bloggers’ posts today: Debbie Cruwys Kennett’s blog post, “New match thresholds for Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder test,”2, Roberta Estes’ post, “Family Finder Matching Thresholds Changing at Family Tree DNA,”3 or Blaine Bettinger’s post, “Family Tree DNA Updates Matching Thresholds.”4


  1. See generally Judy G. Russell, “Autosomal DNA testing,” National Genealogical Society Magazine, October-December 2011, 38-43.
  2. Debbie Cruwys Kennett, “New match thresholds for Family Tree DNA’s Family Finder test,” Cruwys news, posted 24 May 2016 ( : accessed 24 May 2016).
  3. Roberta Estes, “Family Finder Matching Thresholds Changing at Family Tree DNA,” DNAeXplained ( : accessed 24 May 2016).
  4. Blaine T. Bettinger, “Family Tree DNA Updates Matching Thresholds,” The Genetic Genealogist, posted 24 May 2016 ( : accessed 24 May 2016).
Posted in DNA | 2 Comments

Being there when you can’t be there

Every year, every conference, it’s the same-old, same-old.

“I can’t get time off from work.”

“My kids are still in school.”

“I can’t travel.”

“I have family responsibilities.”

streamThe Legal Genealogist feels your pain, especially in early June each year when there are so many genealogical education events we all want to attend.

I can’t get everywhere I want to be, either. And haven’t yet learned to be in two places at one time. (I hope to see some of you at the Ontario Genealogical Society Conference in Toronto, June 3-5, and I’m excited about that — but it does mean I’ll miss the Southern California Genealogical Society’s Jamboree and DNA Day this year.)

So here’s an option for folks like me who can’t be at the Southern California Genealogical Society’s Jamboree and DNA Day this year.

There’s a livestream of many of the sessions.

On Thursday, June 2, 2016, six sessions focusing on DNA testing will be live-streamed. Each of them is $20, or you can get the whole package for $99. Information and registration be found on the Registration & Viewing Portal page for 2016 Genetic Genealogy: The Future of the Past.

The sessions are:

• 8:30-9:30 a.m. PDT: Tim Janzen, MD, presenting Family Finder, 23andme, and Ancestry DNA: An Introduction

10-11 a.m. PDT: Paul Alan Woodbury presenting Developing a DNA Testing Plan

11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. PDT: Emily D. Aulicino presenting Verify, Correct, and Expand Your Lineage through DNA Testing

2-3 p.m. PDT: Katherine Hope Borges presenting Why Y? Case Studies for Y-DNA Solutions

3:30-4:30 p.m. PDT: Diahan Southard presenting Circles or Triangles? What Shape Is Your DNA?

5-6 p.m. PDT: Blaine T. Bettinger, PhD, JD, presenting Genetic Genealogy: Year in Review 2016

That’s great. And it’s not even half of what’s going to be available. And — even better — the rest of the livestreaming is free. Thanks to the sponsorship of Ancestry, you can watch as many as 14 sessions on Friday, June 3 through Sunday June 5, absolutely free. You just have to register in advance at the 2016 Jamboree Live Stream Registration Page. Even the breaks and lunchtimes will be filled, with videos from Ancestry’s training team — all free.

The Friday, June 3, sessions to be livestreamed are:

1-2 p.m. PDT: James M. Beidler presenting German Immigrant Waves: Contrasts and Sources

2:30-3:30 p.m. PDT: Elissa Scalise Powell, CG, CGL, presenting Problems and Pitfalls of a “Reasonably Shallow” Search

4-5 p.m. EDT: Paula Stuart-Warren, CG, FMGS, FUGA, presenting Tracking Migrations and More: The Records of Old Settlers Organizations

5:30-6:30 p.m. PDT: George Goodloe Morgan presenting Principles of Effective Evidence Analysis

The Saturday, June 4, sessions to be livestreamed are:

8:30-9:30 a.m. PDT: Lisa A. Alzo, MFA, presenting Getting Started with Eastern European Research

10-11 a.m. PDT: Cyndi Ingle, presenting Be Your Own Digital Archivist: Preserve Your Research

11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. PDT: C. Fritz Juengling, PhD, AG, presenting German Names: Their Origins, Meanings, and Distribution

2-3 p.m. PDT: J. H. Fonkert, CG, presenting Using Military Pension Files to Fill Gaps in Family History

3:30-4:30 p.m. PDT: Thomas Wright Jones, PhD, CG, CGL, FASG, FUGA, FNGS, presenting Maximizing Your Use of Evidence

5-6 p.m. PDT: Michael D. Lacopo, DVM, presenting German Genealogy on the Internet: Beyond the Basics

The Sunday, June 5, sessions to be livestreamed are:

8:30-9:30 a.m. PDT: Peggy Clements Lauritzen, AG, presenting The Firelands, the Connecticut Western Reserve and the Ohio Territory

10-11 a.m. PDT: Tessa Ann Keough, presenting Avoiding Shiny Penny Syndrome with Your Genealogy

12:30-1:30 p.m. PDT: Barbara M. Randall, presenting All Aboard: Staying on Track with Your Research

2-3 p.m. PDT: Debbie Mieszala, CG, presenting U. S. Passport Applications

Now remember, you have to register and pay for the livestreamed presentations from the Thursday, June 2, 2016 Genetic Genealogy: The Future of the Past.

And you still have to register in advance for the free livestream for the Friday-Sunday, June 3-5, 2016 SCGS Jamboree.

Not a bad way to spend some time in early June.

Being there when you can’t be there.

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Read the fine print

The genealogy website MyHeritage announced this week that it’s launching a new DNA matching service. Using raw DNA files from testing companies such as Family Tree DNA, AncestryDNA or 23andMe, and family tree files uploaded by its users, the company will match users to others in its database. (Update: MyHeritage has amended its terms of use — see the updated post here.)

And before you even think about doing this, make sure you understand the terms of use — and that you do NOT have to agree to the Consent Agreement to participate.


That warning has to come even before explaining what the service is here, because — the way the upload page is presented right now — it’s got a built-in “Gotcha!” that needs to be fixed even if the rest of the program is perfectly fine. The Legal Genealogist repeats: you do NOT have to agree to the Consent Agreement to participate.

I’ll explain what that is once we all understand what this matching service is all about.

The main benefit of the new MyHeritage matching service is that you’ll be able to combine the DNA matches with MyHeritage’s other matching technologies, such as Smart Matches™ and Record Matches, and, because of the size of MyHeritage’s international user base, potentially link up with more — or at least other — cousins to work with on your research.

As MyHeritage puts it, you can “review your matches’ family trees (excluding living people), and filter your matches by common surnames or geographies to focus on more relevant matches. This new technology will also enable you to prove and disprove other types of matches (such as Smart Matches™ and Record Matches) and connect with new relatives in order to collaborate. You’ll benefit from our vast international user base of 82 million registered users, plus the 10 million additional registered users on, and get matches you would not receive otherwise.”1

The company notes that “DNA and traditional genealogy methods, such as family trees and historical records, go hand in hand. DNA can sometimes help where traditional research encounters a dead end, while traditional genealogy is often required to pinpoint an exact relationship path discovered by DNA.”2

At the moment, only data uploads are active — the matching service hasn’t launched yet. Users who get in on this ground floor can upload their data for free and the matching service will remain free for them even if, as seems likely, the DNA matching service becomes a premium feature down the road.

Sounds good. And it’s likely to be good. But with this and any service like this, it’s essential that we’re all sure we read, understand and are comfortable with those pesky legal details called terms of use.

Terms of use, remember, are the limits somebody who owns something you want to see or copy or use puts on whether or not he’ll let you see or copy or use it. These are limits that are different from copyright protection, since the law says what is and isn’t copyrighted and you can own a thing without owning the copyright. So this isn’t copyright law; it’s contract law — you and whoever owns the thing you want to see or copy or use reach a deal.3

And when it comes to a system like this one, terms of use also govern whether we can use the MyHeritage DNA matching service and, if we do, what rights we’re giving MyHeritage.

And that’s where that built-in “Gotcha!” comes into play: the upload area on MyHeritage has two sets of terms and two “I have read and accept” checkboxes. Only one — the DNA Terms of Use — is required to participate. The other one — the Consent Agreement — is not required. But if you go ahead and check that checkbox, thinking that it is required, you’re giving up rights to MyHeritage that you might not want to give up.

The Consent Agreement is for a program “designed to facilitate DNA-based research (both internal and through third-party organizations) based on the DNA Results uploaded or transferred to MyHeritage” and it “collects, preserves and analyzes genealogical lineage, historical records, surveys, genetic information, and other records (collectively, “Research Information”) provided by users in order to conduct research studies to better understand, among other things, human evolution and migration, population genetics, regional health issues, ethnographic diversity and boundaries, genealogy and the history of the human species. Researchers hope that the Project will be an invaluable tool for a wide range of scholars and researchers interested in genealogy, anthropology, evolution, languages, cultures, medicine, and other topics.”4

MyHeritage says, plainly, in the Consent Agreement, that “(p)articipation in this Project is purely voluntary and may be revoked at any time” — so again it isn’t required to participate in DNA matching, and if you accidentally checked that checkbox already, you can get out of it now. If you do choose to participate, you’re authorizing MyHeritage and its unidentified “third-party organizations” to access your personal information, in combination with your DNA data. It won’t publish any identifying information without your specific express permission — but it will use it for research.

There’s nothing wrong with this kind of a research project. AncestryDNA has one, too. So does 23andMe. But it should be clearer from the outset that you don’t have to participate in the research project in order to use the DNA matching service.

As for the terms of use for the service itself, again, we need to read, understand and be comfortable with what they provide before participating. Here are the basics, drawn from the terms of use dated 1 May 2016, that apparently can only be displayed once you’re on the website and logged in there (I couldn’t find any externally accessible link):

• You give MyHeritage permission “to analyze and match the DNA Results using methods available now and developed in the future, to disclose the results of the matching and analysis to you, to disclose the matches to others that your DNA has matched and provide them the opportunity to contact you through the Website.”

• You can remove your DNA results from your profile page, but your permission to MyHeritage to use them is forever: “you grant MyHeritage a perpetual, royalty-free, world-wide, transferable license to use your DNA Results, and any DNA Results you submit for any person from whom you obtained legal authorization as described in this Agreement, and to use, host, sublicense and distribute the resulting analysis to the extent and in the form or context we deem appropriate on or through any media or medium and with any technology or devices now known or hereafter developed or discovered.”

• You give MyHeritage the right to “transfer, lease, rent, sell, share and/or or otherwise distribute de-identified information to third parties for any purpose, including without limitation, internal business purposes. Whenever we transfer, lease, rent, sell, share and/or or otherwise distribute your information to third parties, this information will be aggregated and personal identifiers (such as names, birth dates, etc.) will be removed.”

• You give up all claims against MyHeritage arising from the DNA matching service: “You hereby release the Company from any and all claims, liens, demands, actions or suits in connection with the DNA Results, including, without limitation, errors, omissions, claims for defamation, invasion of privacy, right of publicity, emotional distress or economic loss. This Agreement continues even if you stop using the Website or DNA Services.”

• If there is a dispute, it has to be litigated in Israel under Israeli law: “This Agreement and any dispute regarding the DNA Services, shall be exclusively governed by the laws of the State of Israel, without regard to conflict of law provisions, and you agree that any legal proceeding in connection with the execution, performance and/or enforcement of this Agreement shall be brought exclusively to the courts located in Tel Aviv, Israel.”


• If you do something with respect to the DNA results that gets MyHeritage into any kind of legal jam, you’re on the hook to MyHeritage: “You agree to indemnify and hold MyHeritage, its subsidiaries, agents, licensors, managers, and affiliates, and their respective officers, agents, partners and employees, harmless from any loss, liability, claim, or demand, including reasonable attorneys’ fees, made by any third party due to or arising out of your use of or access to the DNA Services, your violation of this Agreement, breach of this Agreement and/or any breach of your representations and warranties set forth above and/or if any DNA Results that you post on the Website or through the DNA Services causes the Company to be liable to any third party.”

So… read these documents carefully. Make sure you understand what they say. If you’re not comfortable with them, don’t upload your data. Once you upload it, you can stop it from being displayed, but otherwise can’t stop it from being used.

And again… you do NOT have to agree to the Consent Agreement and the research project in order to get in on the DNA matching.


  1. MyHeritage is Adding Free DNA Matching,” MyHeritage blog, posted 19 May 2016 ( : accessed 21 May 2016).
  2. Ibid.
  3. Judy G. Russell, “Reprise: a terms of use primer,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 29 Apr 2015 ( : accessed 21 May 2016).
  4. DNA Informed Consent Agreement,” 1 May 2016, ( : accessed 21 May 2016).
Posted in DNA, Terms of use | 6 Comments

Gaining a War of 1812 ancestor

Every so often, you just have to check the records again.

A name you thought you searched thoroughly once… well, you just need to do it again.

And again.

And again.

In part, it’s because there are more and more records coming online.

In part, it’s because each and every one of us is learning every day, and in learning we become better, more disciplined, more thorough researchers.

And maybe, just maybe, something that we didn’t see the first time, didn’t find the first time, wasn’t online the first time … maybe it’s there now.

Boston.1812Case in point: The Legal Genealogist‘s fourth great grandfather, Boston Shew, born around 1790 in North Carolina.1 He took out a marriage bond in Wilkes County in October 1816 to marry Elizabeth Brewer;2 later census records support the conclusion he and Elizabeth actually did marry.3

By 1820, Boston had two children under age 10 in his household — one boy and one girl.4 By 1830, there were two boys and four girls.5 In 1840, there were three boys and five girls.6

By 1850, Boston had moved his family to Cherokee County, Alabama. There, the census and other evidence lets us put names on the sons who had been so steadily recorded as tick marks in earlier years: Simon, the first-born, born around 1819 in North Carolina;7 Daniel, the second son and my third great grandfather, born around 1826 in North Carolina.8

But something happened to their mother, Boston’s wife Elizabeth, between 1850 and 1860. We don’t know what, but by 1860 Boston was struggling to try to establish and support a very young second family in Arkansas.9 And we’re not sure what happened to Boston and his second wife; we only know that his sons by that marriage were back in Cherokee County, Alabama in 187010 — and that there are no later records of Boston or his second wife.

Great information… a lot of detail… and yet there was something that I missed the first or second or fifth time around.

Something I picked up in yet another sweep of the records yesterday.

Something that, to me, is monumental.

As you can see from the carded record here, Boston served in the War of 1812.11

He and his brother Simon — his bondsman on his marriage bond to Elizabeth — both served in Captain Ambrose Carlton’s company of North Carolina militia. And he and Simon both got — and sold their rights to — warrants for bounty land. Boston assigned his right to 160 acres to Miner W. Gibson,12 and Simon assigned his right to 40 acres to Sophia C. Jones13 and his right to 120 acres to Edward A. Temple who, in turn assigned it to Robert Coles.14

All of the patents say the same thing that this service index carded record shows: they served in Captain Ambrose Carlton’s company of North Carolina militia in the War of 1812.

Now… that’s pretty much all that’s available online right now.

But it’s sure more than used to be available online … and it’s pointing right at some potentially terrific records.

While Boston didn’t live long enough to qualify for a service pension,15 there should be a bounty land file at the National Archives, a compiled military service record, perhaps a unit history.

Yes, it pays to check the records again, every so often.

And again…

And again…

And again…


  1. See 1850 U.S. census, Cherokee County, Alabama, population schedule, 26th District, p. 6(A) (stamped), dwelling/family 75, Boston Shew household; digital image, ( : accessed 12 July 2002); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 3.
  2. Wilkes County, North Carolina, Marriage Bond, 1816, Boston Shew to Elizabeth Brewer; North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
  3. See, e.g., 1850 U.S. census, Cherokee Co., Ala., pop. sched., 26th District, p. 6(A) (stamped), dwelling/family 75, Boston and Elizabeth Shew.
  4. 1820 U.S. census, Wilkes County, North Carolina, population schedule, p. 494 (stamped), Boston Shew household; digital image, ( : accessed 25 July 2002); citing National Archive microfilm publication M33, roll 83.
  5. 1830 U.S. census, Wilkes County, North Carolina, p. 335 (stamped), Boston Shew household; digital image, ( : accessed 14 July 2002); citing National Archive microfilm publication M19, roll 125.
  6. 1840 U.S. census, Grayson County, Virginia, p. 305 (stamped), Boston “Shoe” household; digital image, ( : accessed 20 Nov 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication M704, roll 555
  7. 1850 U.S. census, Cherokee Co., Ala., pop. sched., 27th District, p. 136(B) (stamped), dwelling/family 1054, Simon Shew.
  8. Ibid., dwelling/family 1055, Danl Shew.
  9. 1860 U.S. census, Izard County, Arkansas, Franklin Township, population schedule, p. 349 (stamped), dwelling 150, family 148, Boston Shew household; digital image, ( : accessed 5 Oct 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication M653, roll 43.
  10. 1870 U.S. census, Cherokee County, Alabama, Leesburg, population schedule, p. 268(B) (stamped), dwelling/family 23, B and J D Shoe in R M Hale household; digital image, ( : accessed 5 Oct 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication M593, roll 7.
  11. Index to Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Soldiers Who Served During the War of 1812, microfilm publication M602, roll 188 of 234 rolls (Washington, D.C. : National Archives and Records Service, 1964); digital images, Fold3 ( : accessed 20 May 2016), carded record of Boston Shoe, Private, Capt. Carlton’s Company, North Carolina Militia.
  12. Boston Shew, warrantee (Cass County, Nebraska), land patent no. 22890, 1 August 1860; “Land Patent Search,” digital images, General Land Office Records ( : accessed 20 May 2016).
  13. Ibid., Simon Shew, warrantee (Clarke County, Iowa, land patent no. 97173, 1 October 1855.
  14. Ibid., Simon Shew, warrantee (Ringgold County, Iowa, land patent no. 38814, 1 July 1859.
  15. Service pensions from the War of 1812 didn’t begin until 1871. See “An Act granting Pensions to certain Soldiers and Sailors of the War of eighteen hundred and twelve, and the Widows of decease Soldiers,” 16 Stat. 411 (14 Feb 1871).
Posted in My family | 6 Comments

Staying on top of records access issues

The Legal Genealogist has said it before and will say it again and again:

As genealogists, we need to be in the forefront of records access issues. If we can’t see the documents that give us the evidence we need, of relationships and more, then our research results will suffer.1

It really is up to us, as individuals and as a community to stay on top of records access issues, to understand them, and to speak out whenever the need arises.

Alert IconIssues like the loss of access to the last three years of the Social Security Death Index.2

Issues like the Kansas Supreme Court rule on marriage records that went into effect in October of last year, that means that marriage information that had been publicly available for decades is no longer accessible.3

Issues like the new European Union rules on privacy that may threaten even Holocaust research.4

These and so many other issues come up, all the time, and threaten our ability to access the information we want and need.

Now I know it’s easy to say that we need to stay on top of these issues.

But today, thanks to the work of others, it’s also a whole lot easier than it used to be to do.

Thanks, in particular, to the work of others that we can take advantage of — delivered right to our email in-boxes.

First, head on over to the website of the Records Preservation & Access Committee (RPAC), at Use the Subscribe to Blog via Email link in the upper right hand corner to have new posts from RPAC delivered right into your email from this joint genealogical committee focusing on nothing but records access issues.

RPAC’s sponsoring members are the National Genealogical Society (NGS), the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS), and participating members are the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG), the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen), the American Society of Genealogists (ASG), ProQuest and

Second, head on over to the FGS website itself, and to the additional blog RPAC has available there at There you can read through older posts that will explain a lot of the background of some ongoing issues. I don’t think you need to subscribe to posts at this older site, but you can if you want to be sure not to miss something that accidentally gets posted only at this older blog rather than the new one. Use the icon on the right hand side of the black navigation bar at the top.

More importantly, however, this site is a resource for explanations and materials before the launch of the site.

Finally — and boy is this ever a “last but not least” part of staying on top of records access issues — the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) has an announcement list, the IAJGS Records Access Alert. When it was started up some time ago, it was only open to select groups. But at the IAJGS 2015 October Board meeting, IAJGS made the wonderful decision to open the Alert list to anyone who is interested in records access.

Subscribing to this list is a little more complicated, so let me run through the steps:

1. Head over to this link to sign up.

2. Enter your email address in the first box for the sign-up.

3. Enter a first name, a last name and an organization in the second box. You can use your local society as your organization — and you can use Legal Genealogist if you don’t belong to a local society.5 (John Doe Legal Genealogist will work, but only if your name is John Doe…)

4. Optionally, you can choose a password so nobody else can change your subscription — but be aware this isn’t much of a security check, and the password may be emailed to you occasionally, so don’t use the one you use for, say, your banking.

5. Check the radio button if you want to get one daily digest (on those days when there may be more than one announcement).

6. Wait until you get a confirming email from the list, and then click on the link in the email to validate your subscription.

That’s it: you’ll then be subscribed, and get the announcements from the list. It’s only for announcements, not discussion. This isn’t a chat list so the only email you’ll get will be the announcements and alerts. That means, of course, that you’re only going to get an email when there’s something important to be aware of, and not just on a routine daily or weekly basis.

Be aware, of course, that the best source of information about threats to records access is the community itself. It really is a “see-something-say-something” situation. If you become aware of an issue with records access in your areas, you can let RPAC know at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , and you can alert IAJGS at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Records access isn’t something we can take for granted — and it’s not a responsibility we can leave to someone else. We all need to stay informed and to speak out when necessary.

Join in by staying aware… and staying alert.


  1. See, e.g., Judy G. Russell, “Staying alert,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 3 Nov 2015 ( : accessed 19 May 2016).
  2. See ibid., “SSDI access now limited,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 30 Dec 2013. And see 42 U.S.C. §1306c.
  3. See “Kansas Supreme Court Rule would redact Marriage Certificates,” RPAC blog, posted 1 April 2015 ( : accessed 19 May 2016).
  4. See Sam Sokol, “Could new European digital privacy laws hurt Holocaust research?,” Jerusalem Post, posted 27 Oct 2015 ( : accessed 19 May 2016).
  5. Yes, I do have permission from IAJGS for you to do that!
Posted in General, Records Access | 2 Comments