The criminal mind

The Legal Genealogist is at sea. Literally, not figuratively. It’s the FGS Cruise to Alaska, and internet connectivity is … well … spotty at best.

pedestrian-criminalSo we’re filling in with some of the language of the law — part Latin, part Greek, part Anglo-Saxon, and all confusing.

Now seriously… who would have thought there would be special terms for crimes or criminals like these?

ABEREMURDER. (From Sax. abere, apparent, notorious; and mord, murder.) Plain or downright murder, as distinguished from the less heinous crime of manslaughter, or chance medley. It was declared a capital offense, without fine or commutation, by the laws of Canute…. Spelman.1

ABIGEUS. Lat. (From abigere, to drive away.) In the civil law. A stealer of cattle; one who drove or drew away (subtraxit) cattle from their pastures, as horses or oxen from the herds, and made booty of them, and who followed this as a business or trade. … The term was applied also to those who drove away the smaller animals, as swine, sheep, and goats. … In the latter case, it depended on the number taken, whether the offender was fur (a common thief) or abigeus. … But the taking of a single horse or ox seems to have constituted the crime of abigeatus. … And those who frequently did this were clearly abigei, though they took but an animal or two at a time.2

AFFRAY. In criminal law. The fighting of two or more persons in some public place to the terror of the people. It differs from a riot in not being premeditated; for if any persons meet together upon any lawful or innocent occasion, and happen on a sudden to engage in fighting, they are not guilty of a riot, but an affray only; and in that case none are guilty except those actually engaged in it.3

BALNEARII. In the Roman law. Those who stole the clothes of bathers in the public baths.4

BARRATRY. In maritime law. An act committed by the master or mariners of a vessel, for some unlawful or fraudulent purpose, contrary to their duty to the owners, wheieby the latter sustain injury. … In criminal law. Common barratry is the practice of exciting groundless judicial proceedings. … In Scotch law. The crime committed by a judge who receives a bribe for his judgment.5

BERNET. In Saxon law. Burning; the crime of house burning, now called “arson.”6

CHAUD-MEDLET. A homicide committed in the heat of an affray and while under the influence of passion; it is thus distinguished from chance-medley, which is the killing of a man in a casual affray in self-defense.7

DEFRAUDACION. In Spanish law. The crime committed by a person who fraudulently avoids the payment of some public tax.8

DEPOPULATIO AGRORUM. In old English law. The crime of destroying, ravaging, or laying waste a country.9

HAIMSUCKEN. In Scotch law. The crime of assaulting a person in his own house.10

HAMESECKEN. In Scotch law. The violent entering into a man’s house without license or against the peace, and the seeking and assaulting him there. … The crime of housebreaking or burglary.11

HAMFARE. (Sax. From ham, a house.) In Saxon law. An assault made in a house; a breach of the peace in a private house.12

HLAFORDSWICE. Sax. In Saxon law. The crime of betraying one’s lord, (proditio domini) treason.13

HUSBREC. In Saxon law. The crime of housebreaking or burglary.14

LASCIVIOUS CARRIAGE. In Connecticut. A term including those wanton acts between persons of different sexes that flow from the exercise of lustful passions, and which are not otherwise punished as crimes against chastity and public decency. …. It includes, also, indecent acts by one against the will of another.15

PIACLE. An obsolete term for an enormous crime.16

PICAROON. A robber; a plunderer.17

REPETUNDARUM CRIMEN. In Roman law. The crime of bribery or extortion, in a magistrate, or person in any public office.18

SACRILEGE. In English criminal law. Larceny from a church. … The crime of breaking a chuich or chapel, and stealing theiein. … In old English law. The desecration of anything considered holy; the alienation to laymen or to profane or common purposes of what was given to religious persons and to pious uses.19

STELLIONATE. In Scotch law. The crime of aliening the same subject to different persons.20

So… got any picaroons in your family tree?



  1. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 6, “aberemurder.”
  2. Ibid., 7, “abigeus.”
  3. Ibid., 51, “affray.”
  4. Ibid., 116, “balnearii.”
  5. Ibid., 122, “barratry.”
  6. Ibid., 130. “bernet.”
  7. Ibid., 198, “chaud-medlet.”
  8. Ibid., 347, “defraudacion.”
  9. Ibid., 346, “depopulatio agrorum.”
  10. Ibid., 559, “haimsucken.”
  11. Ibid., 560, “hamesecken.”
  12. Ibid., “hamfare.”
  13. Ibid., 574, “hlafordswice.”
  14. Ibid., 584, “husbrec.”
  15. Ibid., 688, “lascivious carriage.”
  16. Ibid., 897, “piacle.”
  17. Ibid., “picaroon.”
  18. Ibid., 1023, “repetundarum crimen.”
  19. Ibid., 1057, “sacrilege.”
  20. Ibid., 1124, “stellionate.”
Posted in Legal definitions | Leave a comment

Abbreviations often found in the law

The Legal Genealogist is at sea — literally, not just figuratively — with the Federation of Genealogical Societies Alaska cruise. So the focus of posts while internet connections may be — shall we call them fluid? — will be on the arcane language of the law…

It’s hard enough trying to understand a legal Latin phrase like cum testamento annexo — a phrase that denotes an estate where there is a will, but there isn’t any valid executor (because no executor was named, or the executor isn’t qualified, or the executor declines to serve), so the court has to appoint an administrator.1

abbrevBut when all you come across in the document is some sort of abbreviation — like C.T.A. — instead, it’s even harder to figure things out.

So here are some of the more common abbreviations we run across as genealogists trying to parse through the legal language of land and court records:

B.F. = bonum factum, a good or proper act, deed, or decree.2

Ca. resp. = capias ad respondendum, a judicial writ used to begin an action and which directed the sheriff to take the defendant and keep him, so that he would be in court to answer the plaintiff’s claim.3

Ca. sa. = capias ad satisfaciendum, a judicial writ which directed the sheriff to take the defendant and keep him, so that he would be in court to satisfy damages or a debt against him.4

C.A.V. = curia advisari vult, the court will be advised, will consider, will deliberate.5

cert. = certiorari, a common law writ from a higher court to a lower court to produce the record of a case.6

C.T.A. = cum testamento annexo, with the will annexed.7

D.B.E. = de bene esse, in anticipation of (used for proceedings such as a deposition or statement taken in case of future need).8

D.B.N. = de bonis non administratis, of the goods not administered, used in connection with an estate not fully settled.9

Et al. = et alii, and others.10

Et seq. = et sequentia, and the following.11

Et ux. = et uxor, and wife.12

Fi. fa. = fieri facias, a writ directing the sheriff to levy on goods and chattels of a judgmnent debtor.13

H.A. = hoc anno, this year.14

H.T. = hoc titulo, this title.15

Hab. Corp. = habeas corpus, a variety of writs intended to ensure the presence of a party before a court or judge.16

Hab. fa. or hab. fa. pos. = habere facias possessionem, the court process used to place a party in actual possession of land.17

Hab. fa. seis. = habere facias seisinam, the court process used to cause a successful party to have seisin of lands recovered.18

Imp. = imparlance (legal French, not Latin!), time to answer a pleading by the other side in a court case, so effectively a continuance to another day.19

L.S. = locus sigilli, the place of the seal.20

N.A. = sed non allocatur, the disagreement of the court with the arguments of counsel.21

N.B. = nulla bona, no goods were found, marked on a fieri facias when nothing was found by the sheriff to satisfy a debt.22

N.P. or Ni.Pri. = nisi prius, jury trial or a court in which a jury trial court be held.23

P.P. = propria persona, in his own person.24

Q.t. = qui tam, action brought by an informer under a statute setting a penalty for violation, and allowing a reward to the informer for bringing the action.25

Q. warr. = quo warranto, writ used to inquire into the right of a person to hold an office, franchise or other entitlement.26

Re. fa. lo. = recordari facias loquelam, a writ to remove a case from equity courts to the law courts.27

Sci. fa. = scire facias, writ based on the record, today an order to show cause.28

sc. or ss. = scilicet, to wit, that is to say, words used in introduction.29

vac. = vacatur, a rule or order vacating a proceeding.30


  1. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 308, “cum testamento annexo.”
  2. Ibid., 112, “B.F.”
  3. Ibid., 188, “capias ad respondendum.”
  4. Ibid., 188-189, “capias ad satisfaciendum.”
  5. Ibid., 162, “C.A.V.”
  6. Ibid., 187-188, “certiorari.”
  7. Ibid., 162, “C.T.A.,” and 308, “cum testamento annexo.”
  8. Ibid., 315, “D.B.E.,” and 321, “de bene esse.”
  9. Ibid., 315, “D.B.N.,” and 321, “de bonis non administratis.”
  10. Ibid., 438, “et al.”
  11. Ibid., 439, “et seq.”
  12. Ibid., 439, “et ux.”
  13. Ibid., 489, “Fi. Fa.”, and 491, “fieri facias.”
  14. Ibid., 554, “H.A.”
  15. Ibid., 554, “hoc titulo.”
  16. Ibid., 554, “habeas corpus.”
  17. Ibid., 555, “habere facias possessionem.”
  18. Ibid., 555, “habere facias seisinam.”
  19. Ibid., 593, “imparlance.”
  20. Ibid., 682, L.S.
  21. Ibid., 1074, “sed non allocatur.”
  22. Ibid., 793, “N.B.”
  23. Ibid., 798, “N.P.,” and 816, “nisi prius.”
  24. Ibid., 863, “P.P.”
  25. Ibid., 970, “q.t.”, and 983, “qui tam.”
  26. Ibid., 986, “quo warranto.”
  27. Ibid., 996, “re. fa. lo.”, and 1004-1005, “recordari facias loquelam.”
  28. Ibid., 1065, “sci. fa.”, and 1065-1066, “scire facias.”
  29. Ibid., 1063, “SC.”, and 1117, “ss.”
  30. Ibid., 1209, “vacatur.”
Posted in Legal definitions | 8 Comments

Measures of time

The Legal Genealogist is at sea — literally, not just figuratively — with the Federation of Genealogical Societies Alaska cruise. So the focus of posts while internet connections may be — shall we call them fluid? — will be on the arcane language of the law…

It’s amazing, sometimes, just how much the notion of time is reflected in the language of the law.

clockPoking through the law dictionaries, a single day was used as a referent in so many different terms and concepts.

Among them:

ARURA. An old English law term, signifying a day’s work in plowing.1

CARUCATA. A certain quantity of land used as the basis for taxation. As much land as may be tilled by a single plow in a year and a day.2

DAYWERE. In old English law. A term applied to land, and signifying as much arable ground as could be plowed up in one day’s work.3

DIETA. A day’s journey; a day’s work; a day’s expenses.4

FALCATURA, a day’s mowing.5

HERPICATIO. In old English law. A day’s work with a harrow.6

HUEBRAS. In Spanish law. A measure of land equal to as much as a yoke of oxen can plow in one day.7

JORNALE. As much land as could be plowed in one day.8

JOURNEY. The original signification of this word was a day’s travel.9

JUGERUM. An acre. As much as a yoke (jugum) of oxen could plow in one day.10

JUGUM. In the civil law. A yoke; a measure of land; as much land as a yoke of oxen could plow in a day.11

JURNEDUM. In old English law. A journey; a day’s traveling.12

MANNING. A day’s work of a man.13

OPERATIO. One day’s work performed by a tenant for his lord.14

ZYGOCEPHALUM. In the civil law. A measure or quantity of land. … As much land as a yoke of oxen could plow in a day.15


  1. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 93, “arura.”
  2. Ibid., 175, “carucata.”
  3. Ibid., 320, “daywere.”
  4. Ibid., 367, “dieta.”
  5. Ibid., 473, “falcare.”
  6. Ibid., 570, “herpicatio.”
  7. Ibid., 583, “huebras.”
  8. Ibid., 652, “jornale.”
  9. Ibid., “journey.”
  10. Ibid., 660, “jugerum.”
  11. Ibid., “jugum.”
  12. Ibid., 664, “journedum.”
  13. Ibid., 750, “manning.”
  14. Ibid., 851, “operatio.”
  15. Ibid., 1253, “zygocephalum.”
Posted in Legal definitions | 4 Comments

Real versus personal property

You have to love it when the legal question involved in a case is this one:

Is gold dust personal property?

As The Legal Genealogist is off at sea on the Federation of Genealogical Society cruise to Alaska, this is one of those questions that had to have an answer in the language of the law.

a nice mound of gold nuggets.Because gold mining was one of the things that brought people to Alaska in the past.

And in discovering the answer to this question, you also come across the answers to genealogical questions.

At least if you descend from the McCarty family of Alaska.

The case was In re McCarty’s Estate,1 and it was decided by one of the first federal judges ever to sit in Alaska. James Wickersham was an Illinois native who came to Washington Territory as a young lawyer and ended up as an Alaska district court judge, appointed by President McKinley.2

And reading Wickersham’s opinion in the case, we learn that Daniel and Sarah McCarty were husband and wife, and that Daniel had located a placer mining claim on Fairbanks creek in 1902.3 In 1904, Daniel had quitclaimed the upper half of the claim to Sarah.4

We learn that Sarah then entered into a contract for the extraction of placer gold from her claim, with 60% going to a contract miner and 40% to Sarah, and that the contract miner worked the claim in 1904 and 1905. From the start of the contract until 23 September 1905, Sarah’s 40% of the claim produced more than $65,500 worth of gold dust.5

We also learn that Sarah had four children — two by Daniel (Daniel G. McCarty and Florence McCarty Wobber) and two by an earlier husband (Thomas A. (Evans) McCarty and Mrs. Jessie Schmitz) — and that she died, without leaving a will, on 9 February 1905.6

Daniel was named administrator of Sarah’s estate. After expenses, some $59,585.93 was left for distribution to her heirs.7 He paid out $7,474.49 to each of the four children and kept $29,647.97 for himself. The contract miner abandoned Sarah’s claim in October 1905, and Daniel gave his interest in that claim to the four children in November 1905.8

Three of the four children signed off… but the fourth — Jessie Schmitz — didn’t like the deal. She sued to make her stepfather give up the gold dust he had kept for himself, arguing that the children were the only legal heirs to Sarah’s estate. The probate court agreed with Jessie, and Wickersham was then called on to decide the appeal.9

Now the probate law in effect at the time gave half of the personal property of an intestate decedent — a person who died without a will — to the surviving spouse. It also distinguished between personal property and real property by defining real property as “all lands, tenements, and hereditaments, and rights thereto, and all interests therein,” and personal property as “all goods and chattels, moneys, credits, and effects of whatever nature not included in the term ‘real property.’”10

The law was clear that “(l)and included within a placer mining location, the mining claim, is real property. … (and) (g)old dust extracted therefrom and reduced to possession is personal property.”11

So the issue in the case came down to this:

Was the whole of the gold dust so received by the administrator “personal property”? It is conceded that, if it was, the surviving husband was entitled to receive one-half thereof … It is urged, however, that the status of the property was fixed, at the moment of the death of Sarah J. McCarty, as real estate, and continued to have that character for the purpose of distribution, because the gold dust was separated from the real estate after her death. Being real estate at her death, it continued of that character for purposes of distribution.12

Wickersham came down on Daniel’s side. He concluded that, as administrator, all Daniel got was the proceeds of Sarah’s contract with the miner, not any interest in the land. So what he got was gold dust, not land. “The surviving husband was entitled to receive and retain one-half the gold dust extracted from the upper half of Discovery claim, … after the expenses of administration had first been paid, and the order of the probate court to the contrary was error.”13

And Jessie? Well, the court said, “There is nothing to show that Jessie Schmitz was induced to change her position, to surrender her rights, or to lose an advantage by any act of the administrator or any one else interested in the estate.”14

And, Judge Wickersham added, in a comment that deserves prominent play in any history of this family: “She has taken all she could get, and at all times demanded more.”15


  1. In re McCarty’s Estate, 3 Alaska Rep. (Wickersham) 242 (3d Div. Fairbanks 1907); digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 26 Aug 2015).
  2. James Wickersham,” Tanana-Yukonm Historical Society ( : accessed 26 Aug 2015).
  3. “In the United States, a placer claim grants to the discoverer of valuable minerals contained in loose material such as sand or gravel the right to mine on public land.” Wikipedia (, “Gold placer claim,” rev. 3 Aug 2015.
  4. In re McCarty’s Estate, 3 Alaska Rep. (Wickersham) at 243.
  5. Ibid. at 244.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid. at 245.
  9. Ibid. at 246-247.
  10. Ibid. at 251.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid. at 254.
  14. Ibid. at 253.
  15. Ibid.
Posted in Court Cases, Legal definitions | Leave a comment

A sale on mtDNA tests

There’s a sale going on right now at Family Tree DNA on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) tests.

mt.saleUntil midnight central time tomorrow night — Monday, August 31 — you can get 20 percent off on mtDNA tests through Family Tree DNA.

This is not a test to do if all you’re thinking about is finding new cousins to compare your family history with or what your possible athnic origins might be. That would be one of the autosomal DNA tests, like Family Finder from FTDNA or the test from AncestryDNA or 23andMe.

And this is not a test to do if what you’re thinking about is tracing your surname — your father’s father’s father’s line. That would be the YDNA test from Family Tree DNA.

But if you have a specific family mystery on the maternal side of your family, this is a test that can put it to rest for once and for all. It’s a test that looks deep into your mother’s mother’s mother’s side of your family tree.1 And despite the fact that it’s a bit of a pricy test — the full mitochondrial sequence will be $159.20 even after the discount is applied — it’s worth its weight in gold if mtDNA can answer that question for you.

What question?

Well, you might remember a minor little issue from 2013 about the identification of some bones found under a parking lot in Leicester, England. Could it be, everyone wondered, that the final resting place of Richard III had been found? It was mtDNA testing that provided the DNA piece to the evidentiary puzzle: by comparing the mtDNA in the bones to mtDNA of direct maternal-line descendants of Richard’s mother, Cecily Neville, it was possible to determine that the skeleton was that of the English king.2

And it works for ordinary people, too. One way that The Legal Genealogist was able to use it for was disproving an old family story in one branch of my Gentry family about my third great grandmother being a full-blood Catawba tribeswoman from North Carolina. Had that story been true, then all of this woman’s direct maternal-line descendants would have had a Native American mitochondrial haplotype. And tests proved that wasn’t the case.3

Another way you can use mtDNA is to determine which of two wives you may descend from if you know a particular ancestor was married more than once and you’re not sure which wife is in your line. Since all of the direct maternal line descendants will have the mtDNA of the wife they descend from, then as long as you can find candidates to test in that direct maternal line (the son or daughter of a daughter of a daughter of a daughter, for example), you can slot yourself into the right wife’s family.

So if you have a family history mystery that can be solved by mtDNA, now is the time to act. Go get those tests done — and save 20% in the process. Just place your order and pay before 11:59 PM Central Time August 31, 2015.


  1. See ISOGG Wiki (, “Mitochondrial DNA tests,” rev. 24 Aug 2015.
  2. See Judy G. Russell, “Rewriting history through DNA,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 3 Feb 2013, and “And the answer is…,” posted ( : accessed 28 Aug 2015).
  3. See ibid., “No, no NA,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 23 Aug 2015.
Posted in DNA | 4 Comments

Images of The Last Frontier

In case you hadn’t noticed… The Legal Genealogist heads off — today! — to board the Jewel of the Seas for the Federation of Genealogical Society cruise to Alaska.

And, of course, it wouldn’t be a good trip, off to distant climes, without at least considering what resources might exist there that we can all use without major concerns about copyright and terms of use, right?


Two really major options.

First, Alaska’s Digital Archives.

Housed on servers at the University of Alaska, this is “a single easy to use location for institutions across this state to share their historical resources” with the goal of “support(ing) the instructional and research needs of Alaskans and others interested in Alaska history and culture.”1

And what will you find there? A wealth of historical photographs, albums, oral histories, moving images, maps, documents, physical objects, and other materials from libraries, museums and archives throughout Alaska. Including, just as a couple of examples, these images:


Skagway District Recorder’s office2


First church and school building at Juneau, Alaska; Built by the Presbyterians in 1881.3

Collections in the Digital Archives are drawn from a number of partner institutions, identified on the Archives’ website as the Alaska State Library-Historical Collections, University of Alaska Anchorage, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, Alaska State LAM Interactive Exhibits, Alaska State Museum – Sheldon Jackson Museum – Sitka, Seward Community Library Museum, University of Alaska Museum of the North, Alaska Moving Image Preservation Association, Sitka Tribe of Alaska & Sitka Historical Society, NARA–Pacific Alaska Region (Anchorage, Alaska),4 Alaska State Archives, Igiugig, and Petersburg Public Library.5

There are terms of use on the website, linking primarily back to the websites of the contributing partners. So make sure to check out any restrictions on the use of the images. For those from the Alaska State Library, for example, images may be used “by individuals, schools or libraries for personal use, study, research or classroom teaching without permission. Any fair use, as defined by copyright law, is acceptable.”6

Second, the Prints & Photographs Division of the Library of Congress. Which has a simply amazing collection of images of early Alaska, including, just as one example:


Frank H. Nowell, “Miners and Merchants Bank of Alaska,” 19057

In all, there are 6,728 results for Alaska in the Prints & Photographs catalog, including but not limited to:

• 705 images of the Aleutians.

• 646 images of the Yukon.

• 321 images of Skagway.

• 325 images of Denali.

• 549 images of Fairbanks.

• 426 images of Nome.

Not every image in the Library of Congress collections is completely free of copyright restrictions. Just because the Library of Congress has something and makes it available, doesn’t mean you don’t still have to look at whether the item is in copyright:

As a publicly supported institution, the Library generally does not own rights in its collections. Therefore, it does not charge permission fees for use of such material and generally does not grant or deny permission to publish or otherwise distribute material in its collections. Permission and possible fees may be required from the copyright owner independently of the Library. It is the researcher’s obligation to determine and satisfy copyright or other use restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the Library’s collections. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Researchers must make their own assessments of rights in light of their intended use.8

Its Prints and Photographs Division has an entire webpage, “Copyright and Other Restrictions That Apply to Publication/Distribution of Images: Assessing the Risk of Using a P&P Image,” to help guide users through the ins and outs of deciding whether an image is fair game for our use.

However, any image that doesn’t have copyright restrictions is free for us to use, since the terms of use of the Library of Congress are pretty simple: (1) don’t violate anybody’s copyright; (2) don’t invade the privacy of individuals whose information might be found in the Library materials; and (3) don’t mess with the Library’s website itself.9


Image: Frank H. Nowell, “Miners and Merchants Bank of Alaska, Nome, Alaska, Sept. 23rd – 1905,” Frank and Frances Carpenter collection, Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division

  1. About the Archives,” Alaska’s Digital Archives ( : accessed 25 Aug 2015).
  2. Skagway District Recorder’s office,” Case & Draper Collection, Photographs, 1898-1920, ASL-PCA-39; Alaska Digital Archives ( : accessed 25 Aug 2015).
  3. First church and school building at Juneau, Alaska; Built by the Presbyterians in 1881.,” Case & Draper Collection, Photographs, 1898-1920, ASL-PCA-39; Alaska Digital Archives ( : accessed 25 Aug 2015).
  4. Now in Seattle: “The research room at the National Archives at Anchorage was permanently closed June 21, 2014, and the records were transferred to the National Archives at Seattle.” “Anchorage, Alaska,” ( : accessed 25 Aug 20915).
  5. See “Collections,” Alaska’s Digital Archives ( : accessed 25 Aug 2015).
  6. Rights Statement, Copyright Notice & Disclaimer Only for the Alaska State Library,” Alaska Digital Archives ( : accessed 25 Aug 2015).
  7. Frank H. Nowell, “Miners and Merchants Bank of Alaska,” 1905; Carpenter Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress ( : accessed 25 Aug 2015).
  8. Library of Congress, “About this Site,” Legal ( : accessed 25 Aug 2015).
  9. See Judy G. Russell, “Library of Congress terms of use,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 18 Jul 2012 ( : accessed 25 Aug 2015).
Posted in Resources | 7 Comments

A really useful tool for AncestryDNA

No, it really isn’t Sunday — even in the midst of the FGS cruise preparations, The Legal Genealogist isn’t that confused.

It’s just that there’s a development at AncestryDNA that ought not to wait until Sunday, when DNA is usually the topic for discussion.

ICWBecause there’s a really useful new tool provided by AncestryDNA for its users. One of the first really useful tools we’ve been given.

It’s an in-common-with tool called Shared Matches, and it became available for the first time yesterday.

Up until now, the only real matching information we’ve had about our DNA cousins who’ve tested at AncestryDNA has been (a) whether or not someone was a match at all and (b) if that match had a family tree on Ancestry, whether anyone in our family tree matched someone in the match’s family tree.

Now, with this new tool, however, you can look at anyone in your match list — whether that person has a family tree online at Ancestry or not — and see who else has taken an AncestryDNA test who matches both you and the match you’re looking at.

And, if you’re lucky enough to have a living parent (or parents), it will sort your matches into those who are shared with (in common with) your mother or your father.

Being able to sort matches into groups and target your research accordingly is a critical part of effectively using DNA evidence. Knowing that, for example, there are three other people (who don’t have trees online) who are solid genetic matches to both you and a first cousin can help you enormously in focusing your research on the line you share with that cousin. It’s a very different connection when you contact a match and say “would you happen to be descended from the Elijah Gentry family of Mississippi?” rather than “would you mind putting a tree online so we can see where, perhaps, we might have common ancestors?”

Now don’t go overboard in getting excited. This isn’t any kind of a panacea. AncestryDNA warns specifically that “It’s important to remember that you, your match, and your shared match won’t necessarily have the same common ancestor.” It’s entirely possible — even though I match person A and person B and person A matches me and person B — that I match person A on his and my mother’s side and we both match person B on our fathers’ sides.

But it’s a good solid start, and the first of its kind from AncestryDNA which, up until now, has been playing its cards close to its matching-tree vest.

For a more detailed explanation of the new tool, check out the blog post “See Your DNA Matches in a Whole New Way” by Anna Swayne.1 And there’s a video explanation: “AncestryDNA Matching Tools.”2

Again, this isn’t perfect. It’s not a chromosome browser. It’s limited to only the highest of your matches, not all your AncestryDNA matches. But it’s a really solid — and useful — tool for focusing your research using your AncestryDNA matches.

Try it out.


  1. Anna Swayne, “See Your DNA Matches in a Whole New Way,” Ancestry blog, posted 26 Aug 2015 ( : accessed 26 Aug 2015).
  2. AncestryDNA Matching Tools,” AncestryDNA YouTube channel ( : accessed 26 Aug 2015).
Posted in DNA | 10 Comments

Indulging the inner legal geek

So right after yesterday’s post ran about the odd Oregonian origins of Alaskan law, in pinged an email from one of The Legal Genealogist‘s cousins.

“There are two uses of ‘organic’ that made me pause,” wrote Cottrell cousin Bill Wheat. “First the ‘1884 Organic Act’, then the second ‘Organic Act’ of August 24, 1902. What made these acts ‘Organic’?”

Oooooh… fun question.

And I have every intention of indulging my inner legal geek here.

US.organicBy definition, organic law is the “fundamental law, or constitution, of a state or nation, written or unwritten; that law or system of laws or principles which defines and establishes the organization of its government.”1

That’s all very well and good — but the definition does seem to get a little circular.

Clearly, just by applying the definition, the Constitution of the United States itself would be part of the organic law. And, again by definition, a constitution is the “organic and fundamental law of a nation or state, which may be written or unwritten, establishing the character and conception of its government, laying the basic principles to which its internal life is to be conformed, organizing the government, and regulating, distributing, and limiting the functions of its different departments, and prescribing the extent and manner of the exercise of sovereign powers.”2

And fundamental law by definition is the “law which determines the constitution of government in a state, and prescribes and regulates the manner of its exercise; the organic law of a state; the constitution.”3

You see what I mean by circular here?

So… we need to get closer to the folks who were actually using the word.

And how can we do that — how could we know what Congress meant when it used the word “organic” in reference to a law?

There are two bits of evidence we can look to. First, we have evidence of what it meant by the phrase “organic law” when it revised the statutes in 1874 — codifying them into a whole and arranging them by topic. The Revised Statutes that resulted were published in a volume that included setting out what Congress called “The Organic Laws:” the Declaration of Independence; the Articles of Confederation; the North-West Ordinance; and the Constitution.4

Yep, the North-West Ordinance too. Because the term ordinance was sometimes used in the same way, to mean an organic law:

The name has also been given to certain enactments, more general in their character than ordinary statutes, and serving as organic laws, yet not exactly to be called “constitutions.” Such was the “Ordinance for the government of the North-West Territory,” enacted by congress in 1787.5

And that sends us down the road to what Congress meant in the Alaska acts and in many other similar enactments. It points us to evidence of what Congress meant by the phrase “organic act.” And there it clearly meant a statute that gave governmental powers to a geographic area like a territory.

Congress first appears to have used the word “organic” to refer to a territorial law in 1839, when it adopted “An act to alter and amend the organic law of the Territories of Wisconsin and Iowa.” The word organic doesn’t appear in the law, but only in the title of the law,6 and it doesn’t appear at all in the original act creating the Wisconsin or Iowa Territory.7

It first used the term in the language of a statute when it referred to “the organic law promulgated by General Stephen W. Kearny for the Government of (the) Territory of New Mexico” in 1854.8

President Franklin Pierce referenced it in a “Proclamation Respecting Disturbances in Kansas Territory” in 1856, calling on “the citizens, both of adjoining and of distant States, to abstain from unauthorized intermeddling in the local concerns of the Territory, admonishing them that its organic law is to be executed with impartial justice…”9

In 1866, Congress used it again in the title of “An Act amendatory of the organic Act of Washington Territory,”10 and the following year in the body of “An Act for the Admission of the State of Nebraska into the Union” (making it part of the organic law of the State that “there shall be no denial of … any … right, … by reason of race or color…”).11

That Congress generally meant the laws establishing the government of the territories when it used the term organic act is supported by the language of the U.S. Supreme Court when it referred to

that system of organized government long existing within the United States, by which certain regions of the country have been erected into civil governments. These governments have an executive, a legislative, and a judicial system. They have the powers which all these departments of government have exercised, which are conferred upon them by act of congress; and their legislative acts are subject to the disapproval of the congress of the United States. They are not in any sense independent governments. They have no senators in congress, and no representatives in the lower house of that body except what are called “delegates,” with limited functions. Yet they exercise nearly all the powers of government under what are generally called “organic acts,” passed by congress, conferring such powers on them. It is this class of governments, long known by the name of “territories,”…12

The Court also said that an “‘organized’ Territory is one in which a civil government has been established by an Organic Act of Congress,”13 and that “the general territorial system, (was) as expressed in the various organic acts…”14

So organic law in general is the law that sets up governments, and — as we use the term here in the United States — organic acts are the specific statutes that create governments in American territories — and begin building the country geographically — and organically.

It doesn’t get much geekier than that.


  1. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 856, “organic law.”
  2. Ibid., 259, “constitution.”
  3. Ibid., 526, “fundamental law.”
  4. The Organic Laws, in Revised Statutes of the United States, 2d ed. (Washington, D.C. : Govt. Printing Office, 1878), Part I, Title I, 1-32.
  5. Black, A Dictionary of Law, 855, “ordinance.”
  6. “An act to alter and amend the organic law of the Territories of Wisconsin and Iowa,” 5 Stat. 356 (3 March 1839).
  7. Wisconsin: 5 Stat. 10 (20 April 1836). Iowa: 5 Stat. 235 (12 June 1838).
  8. “An Act for the Payment of the Civil Officers employed in the Territory of New Mexico while under Military Government,” 10 Stat. 303 (17 July 1854).
  9. Proclamation 42, 11 Stat. 791 (11 Feb 1856).
  10. An Act amendatory of the organic Act of Washington Territory, 14 Stat. 77 (29 June 1866).
  11. “An Act for the Admission of the State of Nebraska into the Union,” 14 Stat. 391-392 (9 Feb. 1867).
  12. In re Lane, 135 U.S. 443, 447 (1890).
  13. United States v. Standard Oil Co., 404 U.S. 558, 559 n.2 (1972).
  14. See also Talbott v. Silver Bow County, 139 U.S. 438, 448 (1891).
Posted in Legal definitions | 2 Comments

The laws of Alaska

As The Legal Genealogist prepares for the Federation of Genealogical Society cruise to Alaska starting later this week, it’s clear that folks with roots in Alaska sometimes think that there are some amazingly strong parallels between the laws of Oregon and their own laws there in the Last Frontier.

AlaskaEvery time you look at, say, one of the early laws of Alaska as to justices of the peace, you might think that it seems to be identical or very nearly identical to the law in effect on the same such in Oregon.

And you’d be right.

Start with the fact that there wasn’t any American law governing Alaska of any kind before 1867. That’s when the United States bought Alaska from Russia for the grand sum of $7.2 million.1

At that point, Alaska became American territory — and essentially lawless.

Oh, the act of 27 July 1868 purported to extend some of the laws of the United States to the newly-acquired land — but only “the laws … relating to customs, commerce and navigation.”2

There was, then, no land law — no way to obtain legal title to land. No probate law, and no probate courts. “In short, there was neither civil nor criminal jurisdiction in any part of Alaska. Even murder might be committed, and there was no redress within that colony.”3

It wasn’t until 1884 that a general legal system was imposed in Alaska, by what’s called the 1884 Organic Act: “An Act providing a civil government for Alaska.”4 For the first time, there was to be a governor with authority to see that laws were enforced, a district court with civil and criminal jurisdiction, a clerk to record deeds, mortgages and mining claims — and, in a most unusual provision — a set of laws imposed on the territory:

the general laws of the State of Oregon now in force are hereby declared to be the law in said district, so far as the same may be applicable and not in conflict with the provisions of this act or the laws of the United States…5


Even today, two days by fast car away from Alaska and its capital.


There’s no definitive source explaining why Oregon law was chosen, rather than the law of any other jurisdiction. One source suggests that several aides of the then Secretary of the Treasury recommended that some of the laws of Oregon be adopted simply to avoid the expense of developing a new code for the new territory.6

Whatever the justification, Oregon law became the law of Alaska. But any changes adopted by Oregon weren’t included. And Alaska law continued to develop after 1884.

First came the Alaska Criminal Code, adopted by Congress 3 March 1899.7 A civil code followed in 1900.8

It was not until 1912 that Alaska was actually given some degree of self-government. In the second Organic Act, which became law 113 years ago yesterday, Alaska was finally given the status of a territory, with its capital at Juneau and the right to establish a territorial legislature.9

And, of course, it was not until 1959 that Alaska became a state, with all of the rights of self-government attached to statehood.10

With remnants, still, of early Oregon law…


  1. See Judy G. Russell, “Ceded territory,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 19 Aug 2015 ( : accessed 24 Aug 2015).
  2. §1, “An Act to extend the Laws of the United States relating to Customs, Commerce and Navigation over the Territory ceded to the United States by Russia, to establish a Collection District therein, and for other Purposes,” 15 Stat. 240 (1868).
  3. Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of Alaska, 1730-1885 (San Francisco: A. L. Bancroft & Co., 1886), 603-605; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 24 Aug 2015).
  4. “An Act providing a civil government for Alaska,” 23 Stat. 24 (17 May 1884).
  5. Ibid., §7.
  6. Claus M. Naske & Herman E. Slotnick, Alaska: A History, (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2011), 115.
  7. “An Act To define and punish crimes in the District of Alaska and to provide a code of criminal procedure for said district,” 30 Stat. 1253 (3 Mar 1899).
  8. Act Making further provision for a civil government for Alaska, and for other purposes, 31 Stat. 321 (6 June 1900).
  9. “An Act To create a legislative assembly in the Territory of Alaska, to confer legislative power thereon, and for other purposes,” 37 Stat. 512 (24 Aug 1912).
  10. “An Act To provide for the admission of the State of Alaska into the Union,” 72 Stat. 339 (7 July 1958), effective 3 Jan 1959.
Posted in Resources, Statutes | 6 Comments

And furthermore…

So yesterday, in the course of reviewing the DNA evidence that disproves persistent family lore of Native American ancestry, The Legal Genealogist whined about the fact that so many cousins want to turn third great grandfather Elijah Gentry into Jacob Elijah Gentry.

mid.namesWhy Jacob?

I have no idea.

But there were, as of yesterday, 201 family trees on — 167 public and 34 private trees — that listed Elijah Gentry of Mississippi as Jacob Elijah Gentry.

Even more infuriating is that Ancestry itself has “compiled” those trees in its new “Life Story” feature to seemingly confirm that he really was Jacob Elijah Gentry.

They’re all wrong. Wrong about his name, wrong about his wife’s Native American ancestry — wrong, wrong, wrong.1

And, just for the record, my fourth great grandfather — Revolutionary War soldier David Baker of Culpeper County, Virginia, and Burke (later Yancey) County, North Carolina — was just David Baker.

Not David Hollis Baker, as some 580 family trees on — 454 public and 126 private trees — all seem to report, and as that blasted “Life Story” feature appears to confirm.

He was David Baker in his Revolutionary War service records.2 David Baker in his multiple land entries in Burke County, North Carolina, starting in 1778.3 David Baker in the United States census as early as 1790.4 David Baker when he took the oath of office as a Justice of the Peace in Burke County, North Carolina, in 1797.5 David Baker in the tax list of 1803.6 David Baker in his Revolutionary War pension application.7 David Baker when he signed his last will and testament in 1838.8

Always David Baker.

Never David Hollis Baker.

Except… sigh… in 580 family trees on, which is compiling all those wrong trees into a wrong “Life Story.”

Folks… stop it.

Stop all this middling along.

The reality is that middle names were rare in America before the 19th century.

As Robert W. Baird reports in “The Use of Middle Names”:

Prior to 1660, the Virginia Settlers Research Project found “only 5 persons out of over 33,000 had genuine middle names.” Not one person born by 1715 in St Peter’s parish of New Kent County sported a middle name. Surry County’s records, which are unusually complete for the latter part of the 17th century, record only one person who used a middle name. Other studies of public records confirm that seventeenth-century parents gave their children more than one name so rarely that the practice was essentially nonexistent.

Middle names began to find favor among wealthy extended families in the late 1700s. Aristocratic families increasingly began giving their children two names, so that by the time of the Revolution a quite small but detectable proportion of southerners carried middle names, mainly those from upper class families. A study of the births and baptisms recorded in the register of Virginia’s Albemarle Parish shows that about 3% of children born between 1750 and 1775 were given middle names.

… The practice did not really catch on with the middle class until after the turn of the century, and became increasingly common within a generation or two. Although only a small percentage of children born around 1800 were given a middle name, it had become nearly customary by the time of the Civil War. By 1900 nearly every child born had a middle name.9

That conclusion — that middle names for ordinary families didn’t catch on until later — is supported by Rhonda R. McClure in “A Look at Middle Names”:

Few Americans were giving their children middle names … until the German immigrants introduced this naming custom to America.

… (I)t was not until the early 19th century that the custom caught on with others. By the 1840s, it had grown into a popular practice. According to a study of college records, in 1840 about 92 percent of the students at Princeton had middle names. This custom would continue to grow and by World War I it was assumed that everyone in America had a middle name.10

And you’ll find many other references to middle names as infrequent before the 1800s if you’ll just stop and look.11

So do us all a favor and face the facts.

Adding a middle name to an ancestor where the records don’t even hint at a middle name does us all a disservice.

So stop it.

Stop middling along.


  1. See Judy G. Russell, “No, no NA,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 23 Aug 2015 ( : accessed 24 Aug 2015).
  2. Compiled Military Service Record, David Baker, Cpl., 3rd Virginia Regiment, Revolutionary War; Compiled Service Records of Soldiers who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, microfilm publication M881, 1096 rolls (Washington, D.C. : National Archives Trust Board, 1976); digital images, ( : accessed 23 Aug 2015).
  3. See e.g. Burke County, North Carolina, Land Entry No. 227, James Baker, David Baker, Charles Baker and John Baker (1778); North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh. Also, ibid., Land Entry No. 3239, David Baker (27 Jan 1797).
  4. 1790 U.S. census, Burke County, NC, p. 91 (penned), col. 1, line 1, David Baker; digital image, ( : accessed 23 Aug 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication M637, roll 7.
  5. Burke County, North Carolina, Court of Common Pleas Minutes, 23 Jan 1797; North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
  6. Burke County, North Carolina, Tax Lists 1803-1804; North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
  7. Affidavit of Soldier, 26 September 1832; Dorothy Baker, widow’s pension application no. W.1802, for service of David Baker (Corp., Capt. Thornton’s Co., 3rd Va. Reg.); Revolutionary War Pensions and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, microfilm publication M804, 2670 rolls (Washington, D.C. : National Archives and Records Service, 1974); digital images, ( : accessed 28 Apr 2012), David Baker file, pp. 3-6.
  8. Yancey County, North Carolina, Record of Wills 1: 30, will of David Baker, 26 Jan 1838; North Carolina State Archives microfilm C.107.80001.
  9. Robert W. Baird, “The Use of Middle Names,” Bob’s Genealogy Filing Cabinet ( : accessed 23 Aug 2015).
  10. Rhonda R. McClure, “A Look at Middle Names,” Twigs & Trees, posted 18 Apr 2002, ( : accessed 23 Aug 2015).
  11. E.g., Oren Frederic Morton, A History of Rockbridge County, Virginia (Staunton, Va. : McClure Co., 1920), 339; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 23 Aug 2015).
Posted in General, Methodology | 43 Comments