Registration opens tomorrow

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

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

Are you starting to feel distinctly left out on your genealogical education for 2016?

Don’t be! There’s one great big option that opens tomorrow, Wednesday, February 10th, for the six classes of the June session at GRIP — and those classes are going to fill up fast.

GRIP, of course, is the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh, going into its fifth season at LaRoche College in Pittsburgh. Co-directors Elissa Scalise Powell, CG, CGL, and Deborah Lichtner Deal have a terrific line-up of courses offering in-depth immersion for an entire week — this session runs from June 26th to July 1st — in a topic that just might be what you’re looking for.

Here’s the line-up, and since The Legal Genealogist has a new course, I’m gonna lead with that one:

Women and Children First: Research Methods for the Hidden Members of the Family
Coordinator: Judy G. Russell, J.D., CG, CGL, with instructors Cathi Desmarais, CG; Kelvin Meyers; Michael Ramage, JD, CG; Richard G. Sayre, CG, CGL; and Marian L. Smith of USCIS.

The women of our families – mothers, sisters, wives – and the children they bore and raised comprise far more than just a hidden half of our families: women and children greatly outnumbered the menfolk. Yet they left fewer traces in the records and researching these family members effectively poses challenges for any genealogist. This course will begin to answer the question of why we should – and how we can – research women and children first.

Mastering the Art of Genealogical Documentation
Coordinator: Thomas W Jones, Ph.D., CG, CGL, FASG, FUGA, FNGS

Documentation lies at the heart of respectable genealogy. Without clear and complete citations to supporting sources no family compilation or report can be credible. Therefore, all serious genealogists document their work. Students taking this course will learn how to understand their sources well enough to describe them. Then they will learn how to apply that knowledge to crafting citations. This hands-on course will help students gain understanding of how to create conventional citations with artistry, clarity, completeness, conciseness, and competence.

Fundamentals of Forensic Genealogy in the 21st Century
Coordinators: Catherine B. W. Desmarais, CG; Kelvin Meyers; Michael Ramage, J.D., CG, with instructors Amber Goodpaster Tauscher, Bethany Waterbury

Come explore your potential role in the fast-growing field of forensic genealogy. The instructors – all experienced, practicing forensic genealogists – will cover a broad spectrum of topics including the types of work in which forensic genealogists engage, skills in “reverse genealogy” (descendant research), work products, and an exploration of the Genealogical Proof Standard as it relates to forensic genealogy. Throughout the week, students will research an actual case as a practicum, putting what they learn into practice immediately. Additional case studies also will be presented.

Family Archiving: Heirlooms in the Digital Age
Coordinator: Denise May Levenick, with instructors Shelley Ballenger Bishop, Pam Stone Eagleson, CG, Sierra Green, and Judy G. Russell, JD, CG, CGL

Did you inherit the Family Bible? Or, were you tasked with emptying a family home filled with photos, documents, and memorabilia? Ancestral artifacts, whether found in private or public collections, can extend family trees, confirm kinship, and enrich family histories with social context and personal stories.This course will offer researchers of all skill levels guidance in understanding, preserving, and incorporating family collections in legacy family history projects. The course is designed as a workshop. Illustrated lectures and informative case studies will lay the foundation for new skills and techniques to be practiced in classroom and individual projects. Attendees are encouraged, but not required, to come to GRIP with the idea for an archival project; throughout the week they may develop a project plan and practice necessary skills, so they are ready to move forward when returning home.

German Research Resources
Coordinators: F. Warren Bittner, CG, and Baerbel Johnson, AG

This intermediate German course will teach tools for finding places in Germany, and introduce a wide variety of records types: civil records, maps, online sources, land records, citizenship records, etc.

Pennsylvania: Research in the Keystone State
Coordinators: Sharon Cook MacInnes, Ph.D. and Michael D. Lacopo, D.V.M., and instructor Richard G. Sayre, CG, CGL, FUGA

We have designed our course for intermediate and above researchers who understand how the Genealogical Proof Standard forms the foundation for solid research but may not know much about Pennsylvania resources. Our goal is to present a practical, in-depth, and fast-paced exploration of Pennsylvania record groups with a bit of fun and hands-on exercises thrown in.

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

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

Tomorrow’s registration is only for the six courses to be offered at LaRoche College in June. And there will be more to come in July!

Good luck getting into the course you want!

Posted in General | Leave a comment

What that meant, what it means

By the time you read these words of The Legal Genealogist, it will be sometime Monday, February 8th, in my home country of the United States.

But it will already be Tuesday, February 9th, in Australia.

Which is where The Legal Genealogist will be, by the time you read these words.

I will have been transported — by means of a very large very modern airplane operated by a company called Qantas — from my home to the Land Down Under, where I will be for most of the next month.

Map1First, I’ll be in Brisbane, visiting fellow genealogists. Then a bunch of us will fly to Auckland, New Zealand, where Paul Blake and I will present on Saturday, February 13th, at the Central City Library in Whare Wananga.1

And then… and then…

On Sunday, February 14th, along with dozens of other enthusiastic researchers, we set sail on the Celebrity Solstice for the 10th Unlock the Past Cruise. Stopping in nine ports, we sail from New Zealand to Perth, Australia, arriving there on the 3rd of March.2

From there, it’s on to Brisbane again for a final set of presentations, and back to the United States on March 6th.


Talk about being transported!

But that, of course, is not what used to be meant by being transported to Australia.

Not at all.

Transportation, as a legal matter, is “a species of punishment consisting in removing the criminal from his own country to another, (usually a penal colony,) there to remain in exile for a prescribed period.”3

Somehow I don’t look at the next few weeks as a punishment…


  1. See “Judy Russell and Paul Blake down under,” Auckland Council Libraries ( : accessed 7 Feb 2016).
  2. See “10th Unlock the Past cruise – New Zealand to Australia,” Unlock the Past ( : accessed 7 Feb 2016).
  3. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 1184, “transportation.”
Posted in General, Legal definitions | 2 Comments

Innovator Showdown Winner

It’s Sunday morning in Salt Lake City and The Legal Genealogist is wiped out.

TapGenesIt’s the end of RootsTech week, and there isn’t much in genealogy that can wear you out more than trying to keep up with a mere 25,000 other people at the Salt Palace Convention Center for a week learning about what’s new.

This week offered me a whole new challenge as I was invited to be one of the finalist judges in the 2016 Innovator Showdown — a competition among developers for new apps, new software, new products to aid the genealogical community.

And today I want to introduce you to the Grand Prize winner of the Showdown — a Chicago start-up called TapGenes.

Now… before the genetic genealogy community gets too excited … this is not — at least not yet — a replacement for 23andMe or raw-data-plus-Promethease. Yes, it is designed to be a place where family health information can be correlated — but not yet fully integrated with DNA results.

Still, it’s an intriguing concept and it’s going to be very interesting to see where this newcomer ends up.

Here’s what the company has to say about how it works:

What is TapGenes?

TapGenes helps you crowdsource your family’s health information, helping you understand the thread that ties your family’s health together.

Discover your family’s health story

We’re referring to what makes you YOU…and how your entire family is connected.

Not just physical traits and natural abilities, but valuable health information to preserve for future generations.

TapGenes offers you the convenience of keeping all your family health history in one safe and secure place.

In our digital age, we think paper seems so antiquated. So we’ve excelled at creating an easy-to-understand Family Health Tree where all that ‘runs in your family’ is recorded.

And most importantly, preserved. Access this information whenever you need to – just think, your family history could be a mere tap away!

Invite the whole family…

Every family member who becomes part of your Family Health Tree gets an unparalleled Personal Health Portrait that can be accessed anywhere any time.

Be prepared for life’s unexpected moments.

Easily share health information with your family, doctor, school nurse, or babysitter.

What’s the best benefit you ask?

Having your family history on TapGenes not only allows you to safeguard it, but also share it if you choose.

After all, this is data that’s personal and private so know that you’re free to share the information with doctors, school nurses or caregivers or whoever you designate.1

The company website goes on to say that: “Our mission is to help you understand the unique and personal connection between your family’s health, lifestyle, and the surrounding environment.
We created TapGenes to provide you with the tools you need to be prepared for any situation and to help you use knowledge about your family’s health to live better and make more informed decisions when it comes to planning for the future (whether that’s starting a new family, deciding on a treatment pathway, or thinking about retirement).”2

Nobody who’s involved in genetic genealogy, and most genealogists overall, fails to understand the link between family history and disease. It’s been one of the driving factors in our community’s opposition to closing the Social Security Death Index — because so much mortality information that we need to trace family health issues can be tracked there.3

So collecting all that data, in one secure place, accessible to the whole family, is a great concept. And, while TapGenes says (correctly) that you don’t have to do DNA testing to learn about family health history, the company notes that “seeing what runs in your family and your personal risk factors may prompt you to want to learn more about whether genetic testing, and which one, might be right for you. We have resources to help you with that!”4

Just how the DNA integration will work, how the security will be handled… well, those are issues to be fully developed as this start-up gets more than just getting started.

But it really is an interesting concept, it fills a need, and it’s getting a boost from the genealogical community with the cash prize from the Innovator Showdown.

It’ll be fascinating to watch what happens.


  1. About Tapgenes and you,” TapGenes ( : accessed 7 Feb 2016).
  2. Ibid., “Mission Statement.”
  3. See e.g. Judy G. Russell, “SSDI: The art of the possible,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 4 Apr 2012 ( : accessed 7 Feb 2016).
  4. FAQ: About TapGenes,” TapGenes ( : accessed 7 Feb 2016).
Posted in General | 2 Comments

Another way to be here

The excitement is building in Salt Lake City with RootsTech due to open tomorrow morning.

Thousands of genealogists and family history enthusiasts are converging on the Salt Palace Convention Center for one of the biggest genealogy programs offered each year.

And where are you?

Stuck at home hundreds or thousands of miles away?

Feeling left out?

Don’t be.

Yesterday, The Legal Genealogist gave you the streaming schedule for the presentations that you can watch live from the comfort of your computer chair (see here for more info).

Today, I want to tell you about one more thing you can do from home — and this one is both participatory and offers lasting value for the entire genealogical community.

FreedmenIt’s an Index-A-Thon, it’ll happen Thursday evening, February 4, 2016, with livestreaming starting at 6:30 Pacific, 7:30 Mountainb, 8:30 Central and 9:30 Eastern.

And it kicks off Black History Month as we all pitch in to index records from what’s become known as the Freedmen’s Bureau — the U.S. Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, established in 1865 by Congress to help former black slaves and poor whites in the South in the aftermath of the Civil War.

Anyone who’s here in Salt Lake City can register here for one of a limited number seats in the computer labs to index in person.

And anyone, anywhere, around the world, can index from home with nothing more than a computer, a FamilySearch account (yep, it’s free) and the indexing software (yep, it’s free, too). There’s a video done by FamilySearch’s Thom Reed that you can see here to give you info on how to do it, and on how to join in on the Index-A-Thon Thursday night.

So… why Freedmen’s Bureau records? Because, simply put, these records are amazing, for descendants of all the slaves and all the slaveowners who struggled to redefine themselves, their lives and their communities after the Civil War.

And for descendants all of the members of those communities who weren’t themselves slaves or slaveowners but whose lives were impacted by that struggle to redefine life after the war.

And for descendants of the legions of southerners who weren’t slaves or slaveowners before the war, but who simply needed government help after the war.

And for descendants of the legions of government workers and officials and teachers and relief workers who worked for the bureau.

In other words, for just about anyone whose ancestors lived or worked in the south in those years right after the Civil War.

The records reflect a massive effort by the federal government first and foremost to assist the newly freed slaves in their transition to lives of their own. There are records of labor contracts as the freedmen sought employment, rather than servitude, after the war. There are the first ever real vital records for this community, as the freedmen sought to obtain recognition of their marriages and the legitimacy of their children.

There are records of schools for the freedmen and free children — often with the first ever records of those children and their accomplishments.

And there are records of the terrible clashes between the members of a society accustomed to being served and those no longer obligated to serve, and the role of the Freedmen’s Bureau in trying to obtain justice for the freedmen in a system stacked against them. It provides a view of the southern legal system that can’t be found in the records of the southern courts — an unparalleled opportunity to see how the system worked, and how it didn’t, in those years.

For descendants of slaves and slaveowners, the records help break through the issues of a system that left slaves with first names only — if even those were recorded — before the 1870 census. African-American research is dramatically aided by access to these records.

But the records are more than that. They reflect a massive effort also to stabilize the southern economy and bring the former rebel states back into the Union. So you’ll find evidence of relief provided to huge numbers of southern residents devastated by the war, and the interactions of ordinary citizens with government.

And why the indexing? Because just having these records digitized isn’t good enough. Finding our needle in that government haystack is always a challenge — and these records are too valuable not to be mined for every single clue they offer to every American family with southern ties. Getting the names indexed so we can all find the right records for our research is key.

The goal for Thursday night is 900 batches in 90 minutes.

It’s doable — if we all pitch in.

And besides… what else do you have going Thursday evening? A political debate?

Come on and join in.

It’s fun.

Posted in General | 3 Comments

You don’t have to miss everything

It’s RootsTech week in Salt Lake City, and genealogists from all over the world are descending on the convention center, the Family History Library and all the other facilities in anticipation of the opening sessions on Wednesday.

RTAnd you’re sitting there at home, hundreds or thousands of miles away, feeling left out of the party.

Fear not. You too can be at RootsTech — or at least part of it.

Because there are streaming sessions starting Thursday that will be available to anybody with a computer and an internet connection. And you don’t even have to be able to watch in real time: after the conference, recordings of the streamed sessions will be posted on the website for a limited time.

So… what’s the schedule for streamed sessions this week? Here’s the line-up, with all times given in Mountain time:

On Thursday, February 4:

8:30 a.m.-10:00 a.m., Thursday General Session, featuring Steve Rockwood, Paula Madison, and Bruce Feiler

11:00 a.m. 12:00 p.m., 7 Unique Technologies for Genealogy Discoveries, presented by Mike Mansfield

1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m., Best Websites and Apps for Local History, presented by Amy Crow

3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m., What’s New in Family Tree in 2016, presented by Ron Tanner

4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m., Virtual Family Reunions, presented by Joseph Richardson

On Friday, February 5:

8:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m., Friday General Session, featuring Josh and Naomi Davis (Love Taza) and David Isay

10:30 a.m. 11:30 a.m., RootsTech Innovator Showdown Finals, where yours truly The Legal Genealogist will be one of the judges

1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m., Proven Methodology for Using Google for Genealogy, presented by Lisa Louise Cooke

3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m., Finding Elusive Records on, presented by Robert Kehrer

4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m., My Ancestors Are from Britain—What Do I Do Next?, presented by Myko Clelland

On Saturday, Februry 6:

8:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m., Saturday General Session, featuring Michael Leavitt

11:00 a.m. 12:00 p.m., Photos—Emerging Technologies in Photography, presented by Jens Nielsen

1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m., Become a Master Searcher on Ancestry, presented by Anne Mitchell

3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m., Homespun and Calico: Researching our Foremothers, presented by Peggy Lauritzen

4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m., Using the Genealogical Proof Standard for Success, presented by James Ison

All you’ll need to do is open up the home page for RootsTech at, and sit back in your computer chair.

If you’re here in Salt Lake City and you want to hear other presentations by The Legal Genealogist, I’m presenting More Than Just Names: Advanced US Census Research on Wednesday, February 3, at 4:30 p.m.; Mothers, Daughters, Wives: Tracing Female Lines, on Thursday, February 4, at 1:30 p.m.; and NARA Mythbusters: Your Family IS in the Archives, on Friday, February 5, at 1:30 p.m.

Posted in General | 5 Comments

One hundred years ago…

By this time tomorrow, The Legal Genealogist will be standing in Pearl, Mississippi.

Pearl. On the Pearl River. In Rankin County.

Where my third great grandfather once rode circuit as a Methodist Episcopal preacher and where he was one of the original county commissioners.

SBBuchananBut that’s a story for another day (and I’ll be telling part of it to the Mississippi Genealogical Society at its seminar tomorrow — come on out and join us! Walk-ins are welcome at the Clyde Muse Center, Hinds Community College, Rankin Campus, in Pearl, with doors opening at 8 a.m., tomorrow, Saturday!).

Today’s story is of another Rankin County resident… someone who would have smiled to read one particular statute that appears in that old book I’ve been poking around in this week.

In relevant part, the statute, passed by the Mississippi Legislature in June 1822, reads:

That no person shall hereafter be admitted an attorney or counsellor at law, in any court within this state, unless he be a citizen of the United States, and approved by such court for his good character and learnning, and the name of every person admitted shall be put in a roll or book to be kept in each court for that purpose…

It shall be the duty of the supreme court, at the commencement of each term thereof, to appoint three distinguished attorneys and counsellors of that court, who… shall examine in open court every applicant for license to practice… and if after such examination, … and if the judges of said court shall be satisfied that the applicant is of good character, a citizen of the United States, and above the age of twenty-one years, they shall give to him a license under their hands, and the seal of the court, to practise as attorney and counsellor at law, in any court of law or equity, of this state…1

You notice the underlying issue that’s key to this, right?

You did note that no person could be a lawyer in Mississippi unless he be a citizen, and if approved the court shall give to him a license.

Male pronouns. Male lawyers. Male court, for that matter.

And it wasn’t until 100 years ago this year that that changed.

And it was changed by a woman from Rankin County.

A woman named Susie Blue Buchanan.

She was born April 2, 1882, in Brandon, county seat of Rankin County, the oldest of 10 children of William and Margaret Buchanan. She graduated from Brandon High School and went on to college, as Mississippi Synodical College, East Mississippi Female College, Harris College and finally Millsaps College.2

First she taught school, but later went to work for her lawyer-judge father William Buchanan in Brandon. There, she “read law with him and his partner, J.R. East. After her father’s death in 1912, she continued studying with East.”3

And whatever she did, she did well: “Buchanan received her license to practice law in December of 1916; she became the first woman to join the Mississippi State Bar Association in 1918. She was also the first woman to practice law before the Supreme Court of Mississippi. … From 1924 until her death in 1938, Buchanan served as the deputy chancery clerk of Rankin County.”4

When Susie Blue Buchanan took the oath as an attorney in Mississippi, the headlines read: “First Girl Lawyer is Admitted to Supreme Court of Mississippi.” Since 1999, the Mississippi Bar’s Women in the Profession Committee has given the Susie Blue Buchanan award to other trailblazing women attorneys in the Magnolia State.5

It’s going to be such an honor to follow along behind, in Susie Blue Buchanan’s footsteps, in the county where my own kin lived, with the Mississippi Genealogical Society tomorrow…


Image: Courtesy of Gwen Langley Pittman.

  1. §§1-2, Chapter 41, The Revised Code of the Laws of Mississippi… 1823 (Natchez: Francis Baker, 1824), 244; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 29 Jan 2016).
  2. Lyn Wilkerson, Slow Travels-Mississippi (Jacksonville, Fla.: Caddo Publs., 2010), kindle edition, unpaginated.
  3. Nomination, Stevens-Buchanan House, National Register of Historic Places, U.S. Dept. of Interior; digital images, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
  4. Wilkerson, Slow Travels-Mississippi.
  5. See Amanda Green Alexander, “Women in the Profession,” The Mississippi Lawyer (Winter 2012-2013), 9-16.
Posted in General, Statutes | 6 Comments

The stories in the law book

There are always stories to be found in those dusty old law books.

Sometimes the most powerful and compelling stories of all.

And all we need to do is look for them.

Case in point: a set of pages in the back of a volume entitled The Revised Code of the Laws of Mississippi, a book of laws in effect in that State as of the end of the year 1823,1 in which The Legal Genealogist was poking around in anticipation of this Saturday’s seminar at the Mississippi Genealogical Society in Pearl.

PriLawsStarting at page 558 and running through to page 650 is what the compilers of these laws referred to as a Summary of Private and Local Acts. These were the statutes passed not to affect all of the citizens of Mississippi generally, but rather for the benefit of some individual or individuals, or for some local purpose like setting an election.

The laws begin with a group authorizing the sales of real estate by executors, administrators and guardians. There, you can find, for example, that the executors of Hannah Curtis were allowed to sell lands that she owned when she died, including “an undivided share of a tract of land which she claimed, (as one of the heirs or legatees) of her deceased father, Samuel Sweezey.”2 Not a bad find, for a few lines of text: the existence of a will, likely of a widow, and the name of her father.

You can learn, in those same real estate sale pages, that Amy Blanchard was the widow of Thomas Blanchard of Adams County, that Jane Green was the widow of Henry Green of Jefferson County,3 that Eliza Darrach was the widow of James Darrach of Claiborne County,4 and that Nancy Carrill was the widow of William Carrill of Adams County, and that William left children including Thomas, Manoria, Charity, Eliza Ann and Polly.5

Reading on, you can find that freedom was granted to many of the residents of early Mississippi in the form of divorces:

• Elizabeth Hutchins was divorced from John Hutchins, and allowed to sue him to “recover the property which of right belongs to her, and which was given for advancement in marriage.”6

• Elizabeth Whittle was divorced from Richard Whittle, and Richard had “no right to any real or personal estate acquired by said Elizabeth, since the year 1787, nor to any estate real or personal, given her in marriage.”7

• John Peake was divorced from his wife Phebe.8

• Elizabeth Roach was divorced from Benjamin Roach, and her name changed to Elizabeth Greenfield.9

And that’s not all. Read on, and you find that freedom from the sting of illegitimacy was granted to other residents of the state:

• Sarah, John and Peggy Irons and Crawford, Polly and James McGalgin Davis all had their last names changed to Sprowl as they were recognized as the natural children and legitimate heirs of John Sprowl.10

• William Murfee’s name was changed to William Knowland and he was recognized as the legitimate child of Pharoah Knowland.11

• Catherine Lewis Hartley was recognized as a natural child and lawful heir of William Lewis.12

At the same time, “Alexander Foster, Elizabeth Jacobs, Peggy Jeffres, Rebecca Foster, Moses Foster, William Foster, Hugh Foster, James Foster, and Mary Foster, children of Moses Foster, by a Choctaw woman, are declared to be released from their civil disabilities, so far as to enable them to inherit real and personal property, according to law, sue and be sued, give testimony in courts of law and equity, and the males to vote at elections and serve in the militia as other citizens of the state: Provided, that the said Alexander, Elizabeth, Peggy, Rebecca, Moses, William, Hugh, James, and Mary, shall, as soon as they arrive at the age of twenty one years, go into the county court of Claiborne county, and there, by some proper instrument of writing, signed by each of their names, discharge themselves from all their Indian privileges, and signify their assent to the provisions of this act….”13

Even more powerful stories appear in the pages under the heading “Persons Emancipated”:

• William Barland of Adams County was allowed to set free “a female, named Elizabeth, and her twelve children” all of whom were acknowledged to be William’s children: Andrew Barland, Elizabeth Barland alias Elizabeth Germain, Margaret Barland alias Margaret Henderson, James Barland, William Barland Jr., Adam Barland, David Barland, George Barland, Alexander Barland, John Barland, Agnes alias Anna Barland, and Susanna Barland.14

• Mary, late the slave and wife, now widow, of Ben Vousden of Adams County, a free person of color, and their five children Louisa, Rachel, Sandy, Mary Ann and Benjamin, were all freed, but the children were subject to being bound out until age 21 for the son and 18 for the daughters “to be treated and provided for in all respects as apprentices” and recognized as heirs to Ben’s estate.15

• A mulatto girl Isabella, daughter of John Baptiste Nicaisse was freed as long as her father posted a bond that she would not become a public charge.16

• And perhaps the most remarkable of all: John Hopkins, Esq., of Jefferson County, was allowed to set free a girl named Lucinda Jefferson, and the girl was “invested with all the rights, privileges and immunities of any other free white female in this state.” The statute reported that Hopkins “did, some years ago, purchase the said girl as a slave, whom he then believed and still believed to be the offspring of free white parents, who had, by fraud, been made to pass as a slave; And the said John Hopkins having represented to the general assembly, that it is his wish that the said girl be restored to her natural and civil rights.”17

Yes, indeed, there are always stories to be found in those dusty old law books.

Sometimes the most powerful and compelling stories of all.

As long as we take the time and look for them.


  1. The Revised Code of the Laws of Mississippi… 1823 (Natchez: Francis Baker, 1824), 418; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 27 Jan 2016).
  2. Ibid., 558.
  3. Ibid., at 559.
  4. Ibid., at 563.
  5. Ibid., at 568-569.
  6. Ibid. at 571.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid., at 573.
  9. Ibid., at 575.
  10. Ibid., at 576.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid. at 577.
  13. Ibid., at 577.
  14. Ibid., at 578.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid. at 579.
  17. Ibid., at 580-581.
Posted in General, Resources, Statutes | 6 Comments

Nope, it’s NOT all online

There’s a really interesting statute that was passed by the Mississippi legislature in 1819, dealing with the licensing of physicians and surgeons.

None of us, The Legal Genealogist included, tend to think of medical licensing going back that far, but — poking around in the early Mississippi laws in anticipation of the seminar of the Mississippi Genealogical Society on Saturday1 — the law is quite clear that, in Mississippi:

if any person or persons in this state shall, from and after the time this act takes effect, presume to set him or themselves up surgeon as a physician or surgeon, and shall positively practice, without having previously received a license from the board of medical censors, organised in conformity to “An act, to regulate the admission of physicians and surgeons to the practice of medicine and surgery in the state of Mississippi,” passed the twelfth day of February, 1819, he or they shall, for every such offence, and on conviction thereof, pay a sum not exceeding five hundred dollars, recoverable before any court having competent jurisdiction of the same.2

The person bringing the complaint could get half of the fine, and the Board of Medical Censors was supposed to meet twice each year to determine who could and couldn’t practice.3

And it’d be really neat to read that “An act, to regulate the admission of physicians and surgeons to the practice of medicine and surgery in the state of Mississippi,” passed the twelfth day of February, 1819, wouldn’t it?

Except for one little problem.

The digitized version of this particular volume, digitized by Harvard University and online at Google Books, doesn’t include pages 409-417, containing all or parts of chapters 80-91 of The Revised Code of the Laws of Mississippi… 1823. Including, if the index to the volume is correct, the section we’d like to read with that 1819 act.


Oh, you can look at HathiTrust, if you’d like, and you can look an Internet Archive as well. There’s no alternative version of this book on either of those digitized services either.

Now there’s no doubt there are print versions of the 1819 act in law libraries all across the United States.

But if you’re looking for that one statute, sitting at home at 3 a.m. in your bunny slippers, the fact that it’s only been digitized once, by one library, and is online from one service, means the answer is not going to be found.

It’s simply Not All Online.

Not when it comes to records.

Not even when it comes to the laws.


  1. Come on out and join us! Walk-ins are welcome at the Clyde Muse Center, Hinds Community College, Rankin Campus, in Pearl, with doors opening at 8 a.m., this Saturday, January 31st.
  2. Chapter 92, The Revised Code of the Laws of Mississippi… 1823 (Natchez: Francis Baker, 1824), 418; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 26 Jan 2016).
  3. Ibid., §§2-3.
Posted in General, Primary Law, Resources, Statutes | 6 Comments

NO DNA info requests

In the brouhaha last year about law enforcement trying to use genealogical DNA information to solve a very old, very nasty murder case, The Legal Genealogist made one prediction:

Law enforcement wouldn’t do it very much again, since it was a very complicated and very expensive failure.1

Ancestry.trI posited that, while the test in that case proved the individual the police were interested in — a man named Michael Usry — was not the killer:

the test proved something else, of importance to our cousins who sometimes fear what could happen if they test for genealogy. It also proved, definitively, why going to genetic genealogy databanks isn’t going to be the first choice of police agencies. Why, in fact, it’s likely to be one of the last choices.

The simple fact is that the tests we take for genealogy aren’t all that useful to the police. Our tests tell us how we are like other people — other family members who share common ancestors with us. The tests the police really want — tests of what are called CODIS markers — focus on parts of the DNA that make us unlike other people and set us apart as individuals.

Guess what?

I was right.

Yesterday, the Ancestry family of companies issued what it called a transparency report, detailing all of the information requests it had received from law enforcement agencies for any type of information for all of 2015.

Not surprisingly, “All of the requests we received in 2015 were related to investigations involving credit card misuse and identity theft, and, where required by law, we provided responsive information to these requests,” Ancestry said. “We received no requests for information related to the health or genetic information of any Ancestry member, and we did not disclose any such information to law enforcement.”2

In its overview, Ancestry said:

• Ancestry received 14 law enforcement requests for data about members in 2015.

• Ancestry provided information in response to 13 of those 14 requests.3

And, it clarified:

• “Ancestry did not receive any requests relating to the health or genetic information of any Ancestry member in 2015.”

• “In our history, we have received just one request relating to DNA information—a 2014 search warrant ordering us to provide the identity of a person based on a DNA sample that had previously been made public for which the police had a match. We disclosed information in response to that valid warrant.” (That, by the way, was the Usry case I wrote about.)

• “As of December 31, 2015, Ancestry has never received a classified request pursuant to the national security laws of the United States or any other country. In other words, Ancestry has not received a National Security Letter or a request under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.”4

So — one more time — when that cousin asks you, once again, whether his genetic genealogy test can be used by the police, remind him, once again, that except in really extraordinary cases where the crime is very serious and the police have no clues at all, the chances that the police are going to turn to genealogy DNA databanks are pretty slim.

The fact simply is that using genetic genealogy tests isn’t easy for the police. Our tests are so different from what the police need for a criminal case that, quite frankly, the police don’t particularly want our results — and when they have probable cause to think we’ve committed a crime, they don’t need them.

Yesterday’s report bears that out: law enforcement isn’t fishing in our genealogy results.

Unless, of course, we’re committing credit card fraud or identity theft… and then all bets are off.


  1. See e.g. Judy G. Russell, “Big Easy DNA: not so easy,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 15 Mar 2015 ( : accessed 25 Jan 2016).
  2. Ancestry 2015 Transparency Report,” ( : accessed 25 Jan 2016).
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
Posted in DNA | 5 Comments

Nuncupative wills in Mississippi

It’s to a different kind of will that The Legal Genealogist calls attention this morning: not the usual written form that we hope to see with our ancestors carefully setting out spouses and children and grandchildren and who is to receive what ouf ot the estate.

MS.nunNope, this is a different breed of will entirely, called a nuncupative will.

By definition, that’s “a will which depends merely upon oral evidence, having been declared or dictated by the testator in his last sickness before a sufficient number of witnesses, and afterwards reduced to writing.”1

You can think of it as a kind of a dying declaration — the words spoken by a person who realizes that he or she is dying, doesn’t yet have a written will, but wants to say what should be done with his or her property.

It’s not valid everywhere, and never has been: “Such wills are valid only in a few states and only in very limited and unusual circumstances. The idea is that if someone suddenly becomes ill or in extreme danger, and can’t make a written will, his or her last wishes will be honored.”2

In New York, for example, a nuncupative will today is valid only if it’s the will of “a member of the armed forces of the United States while in actual military or naval service during a war, declared or undeclared, or other armed conflict in which members of the armed forces are engaged; a person who serves with or accompanies an armed force engaged in actual military or naval service during such war or other armed conflict; or a mariner while at sea.”3

The theory is that, today, there’s little reason why someone can’t get a will properly prepared. But that wasn’t always the case — and at times when many Americans weren’t literate, when lawyers and clerks were few and far between, and when formalities weren’t as likely to be followed, the law was more forgiving of nuncupative wills.

Case in point: the laws of early Mississippi — laws that The Legal Genealogist was poking around in last night in anticipation of this weekend’s visit to the Mississippi Genealogical Society in Pearl.4

From its earliest statutes, Mississippi recognized the nuncupative will, under very strict limits.

The statute provided in relevant part:

Sec. 18. No nuncupative will shall be established, unless it be made in the time of the last sickness of the deceased, at his or her habitation, or where he or she hath resided for ten days next preceding the time of his or her death, except where such person is taken sick from home, and dies before his or her return to such habitation ; nor where the value bequeathed exceeds one hundred dollars, unless it be proved by two witnesses, that the testator or testatrix called on some person present to take notice, or bear testimony, that such is his or her will, or words of the like import.

Sec 19. After six months have elapsed from the time of speaking the pretended testamentary words, no testimony shall be received to prove a nuncupative will, unless such words, or the substance thereof, shall have been reduced to writing, with in six days after speaking the same.

Sec. 20. No probate, of any nuncupative will shall be taken, or letters testamentary granted thereon, until after the expiration of fourteen days, from the time of the decease of the testator or testatrix, nor until the widow, if any, and next of kin, if resident in this state have been summoned to contest the same, if they think proper.5

So to be valid, this dying declaration had to be made during the deceased person’s last illness, at the person’s home unless the person was suddenly taken sick away from home. This limit was to ensure that people from distant areas couldn’t conspire to deprive the rightful heirs of their inheritances.

The amount of the estate couldn’t be more than $100 unless two witnesses were called in to hear the person’s dying declaration. No one witness was considered enough for a more valuable estate.

Nobody was allowed to come into court and testify about what the person had said in that dying declaration more than six months afterwards, unless the declaration was written down within six days after it was spoken. That, of course, was to limit the opportunity for mischief: “Yes, Daddy left all of his estate to me!” wasn’t going to fly once time had passed.

And nobody could rush into court with this oral declaratrion without giving notice to all the heirs, including the widow and next of kin, again to limit the chances of that “Daddy left all of his estate to me!” mischief.

And, by the way, Mississippi law today is very much in keeping with its counterpart of nearly 200 years ago: the Mississippi Code today provides basically the same thing (a nuncupative will is valid, under strict limits, with the same controls as were written into the law in the early 1800s).6

So don’t be surprised in a Mississippi probate case to find that a dying declaration served — and serves — the purpose of a will.


  1. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 835, “nuncupative will.”
  2. Is an Oral (Spoken but Not Written) Will Valid?,” ( : accessed 24 Jan 2016).
  3. New York Consolidated Laws, Estates, Powers & Trusts, §3-2.2.
  4. Come on out and join us! It’s going to be at the Clyde Muse Center, Hinds Community College, Rankin Campus, in Pearl, with doors opening at 8 a.m., this Saturday, January 31st.
  5. Chapter 9, The Revised Code of the Laws of Mississippi… 1823 (Natchez: Francis Baker, 1824), 33; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 24 Jan 2016).
  6. Miss. Code Ann. § §§ 91-5-15 through 91-5-19.
Posted in General, Legal definitions | 8 Comments