Happy Cinco de Mayo

Today is Cinco de Mayo, the fifth of May, celebrating the defeat of the French Army at the Battle of Puebla in Mexico in 1862. That wasn’t the end of the war with the French — they weren’t out of Mexico until 1867 — but it was a good start.

Pen on calendar page closeupIt’s “seen as a day to celebrate the culture, achievements and experiences of people with a Mexican background, who live in the United States”1 — and it is not an official holiday, anywhere.

Yesterday, on the other hand, the fourth of May, was Rhode Island Independence Day. It marks the passage of an act by the Rhode Island colonial legislature declaring Rhode Island an independent state on May 4, 1776.2

And it is an official state holiday in Rhode Island, so state and municipal offices may be closed.3

Which means, of course, that today would be just dandy as a day to set out to do research, except maybe you’d want to watch out for parades and street events in areas celebrating Cinco de Mayo. And yesterday would have been a lousy day to set out to do research in Rhode Island, but perfectly fine everywhere else.

So… what other gotchas are waiting out there, ready to catch us unaware when we set out to research?

The Legal Genealogist has already written about federal holidays and how — and when — they came to be, in “The law of holidays.”4 So we won’t revisit those. But state holidays… oh my there are a lot of those…

Here’s the list, according to TimeandDate.com:

Alabama:

• Robert E. Lee’s Birthday, state holiday celebrated January 19 or on the Monday of the federal Martin Luther King Day holiday.

• Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras, last day before Lent (some counties only).

• Confederate Memorial Day, fourth Monday in April.

• Jefferson Davis Birthday, first Monday in June.

Alaska:

• Seward’s Day, last Monday in March.

• Alaksa Day, October 18 (or closest business day to that date).

Arizona:

• Civil Rights Day, third Monday in January, in conjunctionm with Martin Luther King Day.

Arkansas:

• Robert E. Lee’s Birthday, state holiday celebrated January 19 or on the Monday of the federal Martin Luther King Day holiday.

• Daisy Gatson Bates Day, third Monday in February, with Washington’s Birthday.

California:

• Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12.

• César Chávez Day, March 31.

Connecticut:

• Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12.

• Good Friday, last Friday before Easter.

Delaware:

• Good Friday, last Friday before Easter.

District of Columbia:

• Emancipation Day, April 16.

Florida:

• Robert E. Lee’s Birthday, state holiday (but not paid holiday for state workers) celebrated January 19 or on the Monday of the federal Martin Luther King Day holiday.

• Good Friday, last Friday before Easter.

• Confederate Memorial Day, fourth Monday in April.

Georgia:

• Robert E. Lee’s Birthday, state holiday celebrated January 19 or on the Monday of the federal Martin Luther King Day holiday.

• Confederate Memorial Day, fourth Monday in April.

Hawaii:

• Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole Day, or Prince Kuhio Day, March 26.

• Good Friday, last Friday before Easter.

• Kamehameha Day, June 11.

• Statehood Day, third Friday in August.

Idaho:

• Human Rights Day, January 19, in conjunctionm with Martin Luther King Day.

Illinois:

• Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12.

• Casimir Pulaski Day, first Monday in March.

Indiana:

• Good Friday, last Friday before Easter.

• Lincoln’s Day, Friday after Thanksgiving.

• Primary Election Day, first Tuesday after first Monday in May in odd-numbered years.

Kentucky:

• Good Friday, last Friday before Easter.

Louisiana:

• Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras, last day before Lent.

• Good Friday, last Friday before Easter.

Maine:

• Patriot’s Day, third Monday in April.

Maryland:

• American Indian Heritage Day, Friday after Thanksgiving.

Massachusetts:

• Evacuation Day, March 17.

• Patriot’s Day, third Monday in April.

• Bunker Hill Day, only in Suffolk County, June 17.

Mississippi:

• Robert E. Lee’s Birthday, state holiday celebrated January 19 or on the Monday of the federal Martin Luther King Day holiday.

Missouri:

• Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12.

• Truman Day, on or about May 8.

Nebraska:

• Arbor Day, last Friday in April.

Nevada:

• Nevada Day, last Friday of October.

New Hampshire:

• Civil Rights Day, third Monday in January, in conjunctionm with Martin Luther King Day.

New Jersey:

• Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12.

• Good Friday, last Friday before Easter.

New Mexico:

• President’s Day, Friday after Thanksgiving.

New York:

• Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12.

North Carolina:

• Good Friday, last Friday before Easter.

• Confederate Memorial Day, May 10 (May 11 if May 10 is a Sunday).

North Dakota:

• Good Friday, last Friday before Easter.

Pennsylvania:

• Good Friday, last Friday before Easter.

Rhode Island:

• Rhode Island Independence Day, May 4.

• Victory Day, second Monday of August.

South Carolina:

• Confederate Memorial Day, May 10.

Tennessee:

• Good Friday, last Friday before Easter.

Texas:

• Confederate Heroes Day, January 19.

• Texas Independence Day, March 2.

• Good Friday, last Friday before Easter.

• San Jacinto Day, April 21.

• Emancipation Day, June 19.

Utah:

• Pioneer Day, July 24.

Vermont:

• Town Meeting Day, first Tuesday of March.

• Bennington Battle Day, August 16 (or preceding Friday if a Saturday).

Virginia:

• Lee-Jackson Day, state holiday celebrated on the Friday before the federal Martin Luther King Day holiday, honoring both Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

West Virginia:

• Lincoln’s Day, Friday after Thanksgiving.

• West Virginia Day, June 20 (June 21, if June 20 is a Sunday).

So…. what did we miss?


SOURCES

  1. Cinco de Mayo in the United States,” Time and Date (http://www.timeanddate.com : accessed 4 May 2015).
  2. Phoebe Bean, “Happy R.I. Independence Day!,” A Lively Experiment blog, posted 4 May 2015, Rhode Island Historical Society (https://rihs.wordpress.com/ : accessed 4 May 2015).
  3. Rhode Island Independence Day in the United States,” Time and Date (http://www.timeanddate.com : accessed 4 May 2015).
  4. Judy G. Russell, “The law of holidays,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 18 Feb 2013 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 4 May 2015).
Posted in General | 24 Comments

Michael’s progress

It was back in February, when the Federation of Genealogical Societies was holding its 2015 conference side-by-side with RootsTech, that Michael Hall made the decision.

MHallHe wanted to do something more, something different, to support the “Preserve The Pensions” campaign that has been a key project of the Federation of Genealogical Societies.

This is a massive effort, trying to digitize all of the War of 1812 pension records held by the National Archives. These records, documenting more than 180,000 pension applications for War of 1812 soldiers and their families, are among the most heavily requested documents at the National Archives and, because of their use, their age and their fragile nature, they are at serious risk. So they really need to be digitized to protect them forever.

The campaign to get them digitized carries an overall price tag that runs into the millions of dollars. And we’re just a little more than half-way there.

This is the hard part of any fundraising campaign. The initial “let’s do it” fervor has died down, people kind of get tired of seeing the “donate now” buttons, other things come up that need and deserve our support.

So, Michael thought, how could he help bring this campaign a little further down the road?

It isn’t that he hasn’t already done a lot. Michael — who works at FamilySearch — has hand-crafted miniature War of 1812 figurines and sold them at every major conference to help raise funds for the pensions. He’s bringing hand-crafted War of 1812 sailor figurines to the National Genealogical Society conference in St. Charles starting next week.

But he wanted to do something more.

So… he thought … what if he did something really different? What if he said he would run, bike or walk 1812 miles in the next 12 months? Would anybody sponsor that?

And The Legal Genealogist couldn’t turn down that challenge. “Sure,” I said, “my readers and I will.”

So it’s now May. And, Michael reports, he has been one busy guy.

What/When February March April Total
Swim Miles 1.25 0.5 0.5 2.25
Bike Miles 80 240 168 488
Run Miles 49 97.3 99.1 245.4
Grand Total Miles 130.25 337.8 267.6 735.65

How is Michael doing this? Well, just as one example, on April 25th, he ran the Interfaith Society Services Center, South Shore “Helping our Neighbors in Need” 5K race in Quincy, Massachusetts in behalf of those in need of food and clothing.

The photo here shows him getting ready to start that five kilometer race. And while running the race, he reports, he “wondered how many of the War of 1812 veterans were often without the essentials of basic food and clothing, especially later in life. For many of the veterans the pension was their only lifeline to survival.”

And, he says:

The weather was a bit on the chilly side with a very strong breeze coming off the ocean, thus making the wind chill factor quite cold. My thoughts go to those brave Marines and Sailors that manned ships like the USS Constitution in much worse weather than what I experienced. Perhaps another way that we could honor these veterans who battled the elements is by contributing to the War of 1812 Preserve the Pension Project in our own battle to prevent the forces of nature destroying the precious pension applications entrusted to all of us at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

So… wanna come along with me and Michael on this journey?

There are two ways to contribute. First, you can join in with The Legal Genealogist and other blog readers by contributing through PayPal. Use your PayPal account to send a gift of cash, and the email account to send it to — and every penny will be accounted for and transferred regularly to Preserve the Pensions — is legalgenealogist (at) gmail.com. (Make sure you substitute the @ symbol for the word in the email address!) We’re going dollar for dollar for Michael’s 1812 miles — and if enough folks pitch it, maybe we’ll go two dollars for every mile — or more!

If you don’t use PayPal or you’d simply prefer, you can go directly to the Preserve the Pensions website and click on the red Donate Now button (or just click here to go directly to the donation form page). Enter all your information and then, under Honors and Tributes, click on the “As a tribute to a living person” radio button and enter “Michael J. Hall” in the box there.

Remember, every dollar we contribute is matched by Ancestry.com and becomes two dollars — and we’re going to need all the dollars we can get to bring this project all the way home. Every dollar contributed means two pages of a pension file can be digitized — and with matching funds from Ancestry.com, that becomes four pages saved.

Let’s root for Michael, and bring this all the way home.

Posted in General | 6 Comments

Reporting DNA issues accurately

In genealogy, we get this point: facts matter.

In genealogy, the point shouldn’t have to be repeated: facts matter.

And in genetic genealogy, the point really shouldn’t have to be repeated: facts matter.

LouisianaParticularly when the “fact” being bandied about is one that might cause some of our cousins to stop dead in their tracks and perhaps even refuse to consider being DNA-tested for genetic genealogy.

The case in point this week is a report from the Electronic Freedom Foundation about a “shocking story” that — the EFF report said — “details the very real threats to privacy and civil liberties posed by law enforcement access to private genetic databases and familial DNA searching.”1

Now The Legal Genealogist wants to make two things clear up front:

(1) I am a big fan of the Electronic Freedom Foundation most of the time. It does very good work to protect privacy at a time when privacy interests are under attack from all sides. But I understand that the EFF has a bias, in favor of individual privacy, and as a result sometimes doesn’t see the forest for the trees.

(2) I am also a big fan of DNA testing and understand how valuable it is for genealogy. Because of that, I understand that I have a bias, in favor of DNA testing, and may not always see the forest for the trees either.

So I struggle, as our entire community is struggling, to balance privacy against the desire to have more people do DNA testing since it’s a simple truism: the more people who test, the more information we have that could prove to be genealogically useful.

It’s a debate that needs to take place, and is taking place, both inside and outside the genealogical community. There are new standards being developed for genetic genealogy that consider privacy rights2 and existing general standards for genealogists that emphasize the privacy rights of living individuals.3

What isn’t helpful is when something like this EFF story comes along and shades the truth to an extent that people are misled about how their DNA data can — and can’t — be disclosed to the police.

This “shocking story” from EFF is one out of Louisiana that I wrote about here weeks ago: “Big Easy DNA: not so easy.” It’s the case of police in Idaho trying to solve a cold murder case using DNA.4

To me, it was a classic case showing why the kind of DNA testing we do for genealogy isn’t useful to the police and won’t be the first thing the police think of even in these horrible, difficult, cold-case situations. The reality is that the testing we do is so different from the testing for police purposes that it’ll be a very rare case where it’s even tried.

To the EFF, this is an astounding invasion of privacy, with a genealogical testing company simply handing over its confidential patron data to the police. According to the EFF:

Without a warrant or court order, investigators asked the lab to run the crime scene DNA against Sorenson’s private genealogical DNA database. Sorenson found 41 potential familial matches, one of which matched on 34 out of 35 alleles—a very close match that would generally indicate a close familial relationship. The cops then asked, not only for the “protected” name associated with that profile, but also for all “all information including full names, date of births, date and other information pertaining to the original donor to the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy project.” … Sorenson linked the crime scene DNA to DNA from a man born in 1952.5

If you read that to say that Sorenson handed over its protected data about the person who matched the crime scene sample just because it was asked to do so, you read that the same way I did. The same way, I suspect, the writer intended us to take it.

Because — if that’s what happened — it would be an invasion of privacy, a breach of the agreement Sorenson made with its patrons to hold their data confidential. One of the most essential protections available to Americans is the right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures of our information and data — and to have a neutral and objective judge review any search in advance, issuing a warrant authorizing a search and seizure only when the evidence supports it.6 A warrantless hand-over of confidential data would be a grave problem indeed.

The problem, of course, is that’s not what happened.

It is true that the police submitted the crime scene sample to the Sorenson lab — now owned by Ancestry. It’s true that the lab disclosed there were matches, including one close match.

It is not true that the police simply asked Ancestry to hand over the identifying information about the close match and that Ancestry simply gave it to the police when they asked.

What really happened is that the police went to a judge, presented the information that they had, and got a court order directing Ancestry to hand over the identifying information about the match. That’s clear in the New Orleans newspaper story the EFF story is supposed to be based on.7

All that the lab simply gave the police was the fact that there was a match. No names. No addresses. No identifying information. The identifying information was not given to police until a court ordered that it be given.

Score one in this round for the Constitution: the police did exactly what they should do, and went to a judge; Ancestry did exactly what it should do, and refused to hand over the information without a court order from the judge.

When they got the information about the close match, the police didn’t run right out and arrest the person whose DNA was sampled. He didn’t fit the profile of the likely killer. Instead, they began an investigation into the closest male relatives of the match.

And they found one who was definitely a person of interest. It wasn’t just, as the EFF report says, that he had Facebook friends from the area where the killing had occurred or that he was a movie maker whose films depicted violent killings.

The police also confirmed that the person of interest — Michael Usry — had two sisters who had attended school in the area of the killing not long after the killing. They confirmed that he was of an age to have been in the area at the time. Others involved in the case had identified a “Mike” as involved and had given a physical description. Michael Usry is known as “Mike” and he generally matched the physical description.

Armed with this information, the police did not run right out and arrest Usry. Instead, they took their information to another judge and asked for another court order: one that would compel this person of interest to provide a DNA sample to compare specifically to the crime scene sample.

You see, the police knew darned good and well that you can’t make a positive one-to-one identification based on genetic genealogy testing. We, in genetic genealogy DNA tests, look for markers that make us like other people. The police, in forensic DNA tests, look for markers that make us unique — that set us apart from everyone else.

The judge gave the police the warrant they asked for, they got the DNA sample from the person of interest, they did the one-to-one comparison the law would require as proof of identity — and it cleared the filmmaker.

Score one for the Constitution — and for science — here too.

Usry was never arrested.

He was never charged.

He was never jailed for a single moment.

The science cleared him of involvement in the crime.

And every step of this case was reviewed by and passed on by a neutral and objective judge. None of his private data, or his father’s private data as the person who took the genetic genealogy test, was simply handed over to police. A judge ordered everything that was done. All of that is also clear in the news article the EFF piece is supposed to be based on.

So let me repeat, again, what I said back when this story first broke:

If the police have probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and that you committed it, they can walk into any judge’s office in this country and get a search warrant that will let them pick you up, trot you down to the nearest medical facility, and take whatever blood or saliva they want for a DNA sample and they’ll use their own lab, not that from a genetic genealogy company, to do the tests they want.

So 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.

This Big Easy case shows 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.

And what none of us need — and none of us want — is reporting that ignores what really happened.

Facts matter.

And the facts here don’t show me that we in the genetic community have cause for alarm at all.


SOURCES

  1. Jennifer Lynch, “How Private DNA Data Led Idaho Cops on a Wild Goose Chase and Linked an Innocent Man to a 20-year-old Murder Case,” Electronic Freedom Foundation, Deeplinks blog, posted 1 May 2015 (https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/ : accessed 2 May 2015).
  2. See Genetic Genealogy Standards, PDF (http://www.geneticgenealogystandards.com/ : accessed 2 May 2015).
  3. National Genealogical Society, Standards for Sharing Information with Others (http://www.ngsgenealogy.org/cs/standards_for_sharing_information : accessed 2 May 2015).
  4. Judy G. Russell, “Big Easy DNA: not so easy,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 15 Mar 2015 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed date).
  5. Lynch, “How Private DNA Data Led Idaho Cops on a Wild Goose Chase and Linked an Innocent Man to a 20-year-old Murder Case.”
  6. United States Constitution, Fourth Amendent.
  7. See Jim Mustian, “New Orleans filmmaker cleared in cold-case murder; false positive highlights limitations of familial DNA searching,” New Orleans Advocate, posted 9 Mar 2015 (http://www.theneworleansadvocate.com/ : accessed 14 Mar 2015).
Posted in DNA | 5 Comments

For my history, my records, my people

The Legal Genealogist is in Georgia today, at the spring conference of the Georgia Genealogical Society — “Your Ancestors and the Law.” We’re going to talk about private laws, African-American research, our family black sheep, copyright and more.

Thank_you_pinned_noteAnd, at some point today, I hope I have the opportunity to say a heartfelt “thank you” to Georgia, to the Georgia Genealogical Society, and to hundreds, even thousands of Georgia genealogists, historians, archivists and citizens who stepped forward three years ago… who spoke out for our history, for our records, for our people.

At least two of my ancestral lines came through Georgia:

• Around 1787, Elijah Gentry Jr. was born, most likely in Wilkes County, Georgia. His birthplace was listed as Georgia in census records in both 18501 and 1860.2 He was my third great grandfather. His father — Elijah Sr., my fourth great grandfather — was recorded as a juror in Wilkes County, Georgia, around the time Elijah Jr. was born.3 The family didn’t leave Georgia for Mississippi until after an 1805 poll tax payment in Clarke County.

• In the summer of 1839, Mathew Johnson married Mary “Foore” (Fore) in Union County, Georgia, in a civil ceremony performed by Justice of the Peace Robert “Byears” (Byers).4 They were my second great grandparents. The Johnsons and Mary’s parents — my third great grandparents Jesse and Nancy Fore — were enumerated in Union County in 1840.5

I have a lot of work left to do on these lines. They are among the reasons why I own a t-shirt that reads: “So many ancestors, so little time.”

I want to know more of Mathew and Mary’s early life together. Perhaps if I can find out how they met, I can begin to trace Mathew back. All I know about him is that he was a shoemaker, born in Virginia, and died young.

I want to know more about the Fore family and their time in Georgia. Where did they come from? What brought Jesse to that part of Georgia from South Carolina where he had served in the militia during the War of 1812?

And there is a whole raft of questions that I have about the Gentrys and their time in Georgia. Members of that family were Virginians back into the 1600s, and my branch resettled in South Carolina in time for Elijah Sr. to serve in the militia there during the Revolution. What brought them to Georgia? What did they do here? Perhaps I can even, finally, identify Elijah Sr.’s wife, and Elijah Jr.’s mother.

I can look forward to working on every one of those questions in large measure because of the people I want to say thank you to today.

Because they are the ones who stepped forward, three years ago, and saved the Georgia Archives.

It’s hard to believe, now, how close we came to disaster back in 2012. How the Georgia Secretary of State announced that, because of budgetary constraints, the Georgia Archives was about to be effectively closed. How even before 2012 the hours had been cut to two days a week and how even the online access system was in disarray.6

It’s hard to fathom now, when we look now at a gorgeous facility with hours Tuesday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., or when we look at a fully functional website with its links to a growing Virtual Vault of digital documents, just how near that near miss was.

How close we came to losing a major archives in one of our original 13 states — a repository of colonial-era and early American records.7

It’s only because people stepped forward back in 2012, banded together, spoke out, and refused to take no for an answer that the Georgia Archives is today what it is today. It’s only because our community joined with other like-minded people to preserve and protect our heritage here in Georgia. It’s only because people cared.

And it’s hard to say thank you enough for those efforts, joined in by so many. Folks who stood up and spoke out for our history, for our records, for our people.

And, because of them, I still have a chance to go after my history… my records … my people.

Thank you, Georgia.


SOURCES

  1. 1850 U.S. census, Neshoba County, Mississippi, population schedule, p. 119(A) (stamped), dwelling 74, family 79, Elijah Gentry; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 12 July 2002); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 378.
  2. 1860 U.S. census, Neshoba County, Mississippi, Twp. 12, Range 10, population schedule, p. 153 (penned), dwelling 988, family 1022, Elijah Gentry; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 28 Sep 2002); citing National Archive microfilm publication M653, roll 681.
  3. Marie DeLamar and Elisabeth Rothstein, The Reconstructed 1790 Census of Georgia (Baltimore, Md. : Genealogical Publishing Co., 1985), 170.
  4. Union County, Georgia, Marriage Book 1-A: 43, Mathew Johnson-Mary Foore, no. 44, 1839; Office of the Judge of the Probate Court, Blairsville, Georgia; digital image, Georgia Virtual Vault (http://cdm.georgiaarchives.org:2011/cdm/ : accessed 1 May 2015).
  5. 1840 U.S. census, Union County, Georgia, p. 13 (stamped), Mathew Johnson and Jesse Fore; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 5 May 2004); citing National Archive microfilm publication M704, roll 52.
  6. See e.g. Judy G. Russell, “Archives and ancestors,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 15 Sep 2012 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 1 May 2015).
  7. The threat to Georgia’s archives is — unfortunately — not all that unusual. For example, the Indiana Governor this year proposed to eliminate all funding for the genealogical collections at the Indiana State Library. We must all be vigilant to protect our history, our records, against these threats.
Posted in My family, Records Access | 1 Comment

Law Day 2015

It’s May 1, officially declared as Law Day in the United States,1 and for this self-proclaimed law geek it’s definitely my kind of holiday.

LawDay2015Law Day as a day to celebrate the rule of law and its role in creating and protecting American freedoms was first recognized in 1957 with a proclamation by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In 1961, a joint resolution of Congress called for an annual proclamation of Law Day, and this year’s proclamation can be found here.

Each year the American Bar Association chooses a different theme for Law Day. And for 2015, it’s Magna Carta: Symbol of Freedom Under Law.2

The Magna Carta. Written 800 years ago this year. Forced on a King by his barons when he seemed to be ignoring their rights — and the rights of all people — under the law.

Much of what was written in the Magna Carta — in England in the year 1215 — seems to have little application to us here — generations away in the 21st century and an ocean away in the United States.

But some of it still forms the fundamental foundation of our laws:

• “In future no official shall place a man on trial upon his own unsupported statement, without producing credible witnesses to the truth of it.”3

• “No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.”4

• “To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.”5

And we can see its effects in the earliest elements of our laws.

Just as one example, since The Legal Genealogist is winging off to Atlanta today, to join the Georgia Genealogical Society at tomorrow’s “Your Ancestors and the Law” conference, consider the 1777 Georgia Constitution. Here are some of the provisions of that document that might not exist, but for the Magna Carta:

ART. LI. Estates shall not be entailed; and when a person dies intestate, his or her estate shall be divided equally among their children; the widow shall have a child’s share, or her dower, at her option; all other intestates’ estates to be divided according to the act of distribution, made in the reign of Charles the Second, unless otherwise altered by any future act of the legislature.

ART. LIV. Schools shall be erected in each county, and supported at the general expense of the State, as the legislature shall hereafter point out.

ART. LVI. All persons whatever shall have the free exercise of their religion; provided it be not repugnant to the peace and safety of the State; and shall not, unless by consent, support any teacher or teachers except those of their own profession.

ART. LIX. Excessive fines shall not be levied, not excessive bail demanded.

ART. LX. The principles of the habeas-corpus act shall be a part of this constitution.

ART. LXI. Freedom of the press and trial by jury to remain inviolate forever.6

In short, much of what we are as a nation — much of the law we have — much of the record base we have because of the law — can be traced back to the Magna Carta.

And that, to this genealogist, is worth celebrating.

Happy Law Day 2015!


SOURCES

  1. See 36 U.S.C. §113
  2. See “Law Day: Research Guide,” Library of Congress (http://www.loc.gov/ : accessed 30 Apr 2015). See also American Bar Association, “Law Day 2015” (http://www.americanbar.org : accessed 30 Apr 2015).
  3. Magna Carta, paragraph 38; translation, “The Text of Magna Carta,” Fordham University Internet History Sourcebooks Project (http://legacy.fordham.edu/Halsall/index.asp : accessed 30 Apr 2015).
  4. Ibid., paragraph 39.
  5. Ibid., paragraph 40.
  6. Georgia Constitution of 1777, in Francis Newton Thorpe, The Federal and State Constitutions Colonial Charters, and Other Organic Laws of the States (Washington, D.C. : Govt. Printing Office, 1909), II: 777, 784-785; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 30 Apr 2015).
Posted in General | 2 Comments

The pony homesteads

Tucked away in the records of Elbert County, Georgia, are some of the neatest genealogical records imaginable.

ElbertIn them, you can find that, in January 1874, Garnett Adams was the head of a family consisting of himself, a wife, and two minor children, and that he had 22 acres of land worth $110, one horse worth $80, a cow and calf worth $13, seven hogs worth $10.50, some corn and pork on hand, two beds with bedsteads and bedding, farming tools, ordinary cooking utensils and table crockery, wearing apparel and a family Bible he valued at exactly thirty cents.1

Or you can find that, in November 1882, L. A. Beasly was 30 years old, married to Letty, aged 30, with children Walton, 12, James, 10, Asbury, 8, Ella May, 5, Tissa, 3, and Yancy, six months of age. He claimed 50 acres of land, and five more acres for each child, one horse or mule, one cow and calf, 10 hogs, provisions, beds and bedding, a loom and spinning wheel and sewing machine, common tools, wearing apparel, a family Bible and family portraits, and school books for the children.2

Or you can find that, in March of 1879, Adam Daniel was 40 years old, his wife Becca was 35, and they had six minor children under the age of 16: Green was 15; Ben, 13; William, 11; Jennie, 9; Ella, 6; and the baby, Massa, was 11 months old. Daniel claimed a sorrel horse, a cow and calf, four hogs, $75 in provisions, two beds with bedding, a single barrel shotgun, wearing apparel, and ordinary household furnishings.3

What a window into the lives or ordinary every-day families of Elbert County!

So… what the heck are these records anyway, and where can you find them?

This particular set of records, from Elbert County — a county along the northeast Georgia coast — happens to be available online. The Legal Genealogist was doing the usual poke-around-in-the-records bit last night and came across them at FamilySearch.org.

And they tickled my fancy because of the title: the pony homesteads.

Now we all have a pretty good idea what a homestead is — at least when we’re talking about the federal Homestead Act of 1862 and the right of individuals to claim and settle on tracts of federal land.

But what’s a pony homestead?

It turns out that things are a bit different in Georgia:

The homestead laws of the State differ materially from those of most States, the exemption being … somewhat of the nature of a trust estate in charge of the court for the benefit of dependents… The aggregate value of the homestead is $1,600 and the ordinaries4 of the several counties have general and exclusive jurisdiction in setting it apart. The following persons are entitled to an exemption: Heads of families, guardians, trustees of families of minor children, aged and infirm persons, or persons having the care and support of dependent females of any age who are not heads of families. The right to the homestead may be waived except as to wearing apparel and three hundred dollars’ worth of household and kitchen furniture, and it is the custom to embrace such a waiver in all promissory notes. In lieu of the $1,600 homestead, what is known as the “pony homestead,” setting apart certain specific articles, may be taken. Should the husband refuse to apply for the exemption, it may be set apart out of his property on the petition of the wife or her next friend.5

Stated a bit more plainly, there were statutes and even constitutional provisions in Georgia that set aside certain property that a creditor couldn’t get to if the debtor ran into financial trouble. The debtor could give away — waive — the protections of most of the statutes and even the constitutional homestead — but not this particular smaller protection, covering up to $300 in household and kitchen furniture and provisions.6 The provision, and all of the homestead laws, were “enacted to prevent families from being thrown out of house and home, and thus keep them from becoming charges upon the public.”7

But to get the benefit of this and all the homestead exemptions, the debtor — the head of the household or other person claiming the protections of the law — had to file a schedule of property with the ordinary, the predecessor to today’s probate court. And it’s those schedules that you’ll find in this record set.

The statutory protections began as far back as the laws of 1822 and, at various times, included land, one farm horse or mule, one cow and calf, up to 10 hogs, household furniture, the arms and equipment needed by a militiaman, cooking utensils, wearing apparel, the family Bible, religious works and schoolbooks, family portraits, the library of a professional man, and a family sewing machine.8 Only up to $300 worth of household items was considered the pony homestead, totally exempt even from waiver, but the filings covered all of the exempt property.

Lots of these records still exist today, though only the Elbert County records are readily available online. The Family History Library catalog turns up 47 results when you search with the keywords “pony homestead.”

And, by the way, the law still exists, in largely unchanged form, even today. Chapter 13 of Title 44 of the Georgia Code sets out the exemption from levy for modern property — and it follows pretty much the same pattern, requiring pretty much the same records. 9

Genealogists of the future will be delighted…


SOURCES

  1. Elbert County, Georgia, Probate Court, affidavit of Garnett Adams, 19 January 1874; Probate Court, Elberton; digital images, Georgia, Elbert County Records, “Pony homestead exemptions box 20, A-G 1790-1900,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 29 Apr 2015).
  2. Ibid., affidavit of L. A. Beasly, 22 November 1882.
  3. Ibid., affidavit of Adam Daniel, 10 March 1879.
  4. Formerly the officer charged with handling probates, now the probate court.
  5. Department of Agriculture, Georgia: Her Resources and Possibilities (Atlanta: Franklin Printing & Publ., 1895), 10-11; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 29 Apr 2015).
  6. Preliminary Inventory WP-01, Georgia Department Of Archives and History, Atlanta (http://georgiaarchives.org/ : accessed 29 Apr 2015).
  7. Mathis v. Western Union Tel. Co., 94 Ga. 338, 346 (1894).
  8. See §3416 in Park’s Annotating Code of the State of Georgia, 1914 (Atlanta: Harrison Co., 1915), II: 1817-1819; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 29 Apr 2015).
  9. See Chapter 13, Title 44, 2010 Georgia Code, Justia US Law (http://law.justia.com : accessed 29 Apr 2015).
Posted in Legal definitions, Resources, Statutes | 4 Comments

Let’s review: terms of use

Three years ago, The Legal Genealogist began an occasional series on terms of use.

And every single time I sit down with anybody and talk about copyright issues and when we can and can’t use materials, the conversation bleeds over into terms of use: the rules that may apply to control how information and documents can be accessed online or in person or what use can be made of the information and documents after they’re accessed.

It’s clear that this is something that confuses people greatly, so let’s take a minute and revisit the basics on this issue of terms of use, particularly as it affects genealogists and the repositories — online and off — that we use on our research.

Let’s go back over the six basic questions.

What are terms of use?

Easy answer: they’re 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.

The phrase “terms of use” isn’t defined in the old legal dictionaries. The closest they come is the definition of “use” by Black to include “the right given to any one to make a gratuitous use of a thing belonging to another.”1 Wikipedia says terms of use, terms of service and terms & conditions are all the same thing (they are) and defines the phrase as “rules which one must agree to abide by in order to use a service.”2 That’s a pretty fair definition.

But, you’re thinking, if it’s rules, how can it be considered a contract? Nobody gave you a choice about the rules when you subscribed to, say, GenealogyBank.com or Ancestry.com, did they?

Actually, they did. Exactly the same kind of choice you have in a lot of things in life: take it or leave it. When you created your account with one of the many services we use around the web, commercial and non-commercial, there comes a point in the join-up or subscription process where there’s a button or a check box or something. It always says something like the example shown in the graphic below: if you click on it or check the box, you’ve agreed to be bound by what the terms of use are.

TOS

It’s a little like your relationship with the TSA. You don’t have to go through security at the airport. Of course, that means you don’t fly, either.

What kinds of places have terms of use?

Just about every place — online or off — has some kind of terms of use.

I haven’t found a single genealogical repository website that doesn’t have detailed terms and conditions posted on the website. Ancestry.com, findmypast.com, Fold3.com, GenealogyBank.com, MyHeritage.com, and more have terms and conditions.

Non-profit online repositories are no different. Check out FamilySearch.org or even EllisIsland.org if you don’t believe me. Government-related websites have them too. Look at the New York Public Library or the digital collections of the Omaha Public Library. And even places dedicated to the free exchange of information have ‘em — Wikipedia itself has terms of use.

Physical repositories are no different. In one way or another, they control access to and/or use of materials we need. Some of them relate to security. You can bring a computer, but not a computer bag, into the search room of the North Carolina State Archives. Some of them deal with how copies are made. You can’t use your own camera to copy a document at the West Virginia State Library and Archives (copying can only be done by staff, for a fee). And some restrict use of what you find: you need specific permission to publish anything you find in the Southern Historical Collection of the Wilson Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

What’s included in terms of use?

Are you really sure you want to know? Contract terms can be really ugly.

Let’s take an example that’s about as benign as I can imagine: the New York Public Library’s website. I love the NYPL. It’s a great institution with a great staff and they do about the best job of providing access to vast amounts of information to people in the City and environs that you can imagine.

And their terms of use for their website and image use scare even me.

     • You can use low resolution images from the website and library but they can “only be used for personal, educational, or research purposes. They may not be used for commercial purposes.”3

     • High resolution images require permission and payment of a fee. “(I)mages are not to be used in any manner without the express written permission from NYPL. All images are provided pursuant to this Policy and the written Licensing Agreement you will receive. Image usage without prior payment and NYPL’s express written permission is strictly prohibited.”4

     • “Images or image files … cannot be distributed or re-sold independent from the specific use for which permission is granted and may not be used in a manner allowing permanent storage or re-use by third parties. No Licensing Agreements may be sublicensed, transferred or assigned. You agree not to make, authorize, or permit any use of any image except as specifically set forth in the written Licensing Agreement that you will receive.”5

     • “Failure to comply with any of the provisions of this Policy statement and in the written Permissions statement that you will receive may result in immediate revocation of the Permissions granted.”6

     • If you and the library disagree, “A material part of this Agreement is our mutual agreement to arbitrate disputes,” (meaning you can’t sue them), “the agreement shall be interpreted under, and governed by, the laws of the State of New York” (even if you live in New Jersey or Connecticut) and “If NYPL is obligated to go to court, rather than arbitration, to enforce any of its rights, you agree to reimburse NYPL for its legal fees and disbursements if NYPL prevails.”7

     • If you and NYPL get into a legal tussle over using the website, you “agree not to commence any litigation relating to the use of any of the NYPL Websites, except in courts located in New York City. Users also waive any objections to venue of any such litigation in courts located in New York City and agree not to plead or claim that New York City is an inconvenient forum.”8

     • If something you do makes somebody else get into a legal tussle with NYPL, you agree “to defend, indemnify and hold NYPL and its Trustees, officers, employees and agents harmless from any and all claims, liabilities, costs and expenses, including reasonable attorneys’ fees.”9

YIKES!

And that’s from a library!

Commercial sites have terms like “even if you live in New York, we can sue you here in California and you can only sue us in California”, or “we can wipe out your account, delete everything you have online with us and if it turns out we’re wrong, we’ll apologize but you don’t get any money from us.”

Are terms of use enforceable?

Yup. As I said before, this is just a contract between you and the repository and courts enforce these just the way they do any contract. They look for evidence that you knew what the terms were and you agreed to them.

Most websites use the button or check box system. In court cases, it’s called a “clickwrap”10 or “click-through”11 because you can’t get to what you want until you click. And federal and state courts enforce clickwraps all the time.12

They even usually enforce them where you don’t have to specifically click through but the terms are clear on the website page where you sign up; that’s called a “browsewrap.”13

Can a website or repository change terms of use?

Yup. Most of the terms of use say they can and some even say they can do it without telling you they’re doing it. The argument is that if the original contract says they can change terms without telling you, then it doesn’t violate their end of the deal if they change the terms without telling you.

But the courts aren’t buying that part very often: not telling you may well mean the changes won’t be enforced.14

What can happen to me if I ignore terms of use?

You did read the “we’ll revoke your right to use this website, sue you in our local courts and make you pay our attorney’s fees” part, right? And the “you live in New York but can only sue us in California” part?15 That’s what can happen.

Now remember… these are contract terms, not copyright terms. Something can be completely free of copyright and still be restricted by contract.

Bottom line: read — and be sure you understand — the terms of use of any site you use before you use it.


SOURCES

  1. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 1204, “Use.”
  2. Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “Terms of service,” rev. 1 Feb 2015.
  3. New York Public Library, NYPL Website Terms and Conditions (http://www.nypl.org/ : accessed 29 Apr 2015).
  4. New York Public Library, Permissions Terms & Conditions (http://www.nypl.org/ : accessed 29 Apr 2015).
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. NYPL Website Terms and Conditions.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Specht v. Netscape Communs. Corp., 306 F.3d 17, 22 (2d Cir. 2002).
  11. Vernon v. Qwest Communs., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31076 (D. Colo. Mar. 8, 2012)
  12. See e.g. Kraft Real Estate Invs. v. HomeAway.com, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8282 (D.S.C. Jan. 24, 2012); Fteja v. Facebook, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12991 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 24, 2012); United States v. Drew, 259 F.R.D. 449 (C.D. Cal. 2009); Durrett v. ACT, 2011 Haw. App. LEXIS 767 (Haw. Ct. App. July 12, 2011); Fieldtech Avionics v. Component Control.Com, 262 S.W.3d 813 (Tex. App. 2008); Adsit Co. v. Gustin, 874 N.E.2d 1018 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007).
  13. See Ticketmaster v. RMG Tech., 507 F. Supp. 2d 1096 (C.D.Cal. 2007); Major v. McCallister, 302 S.W.3d 227, 229-231 (Mo. Ct. App. 2009).
  14. Douglas v. United States Dist. Court, 495 F.3d 1062 (9th Cir. 2007), cert. den. 552 U.S. 1242 (2008).
  15. See e.g. Fteja v. Facebook, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12991 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 24, 2012).
Posted in Terms of use | 5 Comments

NGS streaming, Jamboree early bird

Time’s almost up!

HourglassTwo of the very best opportunities to learn about genealogy, the right way, and to network with others who absolutely positively will not roll their eyes when you talk about your ancestors are the huge conferences of the National Genealogical Society — in St. Charles, Missouri this year — and the Jamboree of the Southern California Genealogical Society.

And you have to move fast if you want to take advantage of either of them.

For NGS, most of the in-person opportunities for the May 12-16 conference are already sold out. Hotel rooms are booked, workshops and lunches completely filled.

So… rather than lose out altogether, you can still register for either or both of the online streaming tracks that NGS will offer this year. But you have to act now. Now. As in not later than tomorrow, the 29th of April.

That’s the deadline to register for Live Streaming at #NGS2015GEN. The cost for either track one or track two is $65 for NGS members or $80 for non-members, and you’ll be able to view the presentations through the 16th of August. Or you can bundle all 10 presentations for $115 for NGS members and $145 for non-members.

Track One, on Thursday, 13 May, is The Immigration & Naturalization Process and features presentations by Jeanne Larzalere Bloom, CG (The Journey to America: Federal Passenger Ship Records); Julie Miller, CG (Becoming an American: Naturalization Records); John P. Colletta, PhD, FUGA (Discovering the REAL Stories of Your Immigrant Ancestors); F. Warren Bittner, CG (Bads, Bergs, Burgs, and Bachs: Finding Locations in Germany); and David Rencher, AG, CG, FIGRS, FUGA (A Methodology for Irish Emigration to North America).

Track Two, on Friday, 14 May, is Methodology Techniques, and features presentations by Alison Hare, CG (The Time of Cholera: A Case Study about Historical Context); Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG, FUGA, FNGS (The Problem-Solver’s Great Trifecta: GPS+FAN+DNA); Thomas W. Jones, CG, CGL, FASG, FUGA, FNGS (When Does Newfound Evidence Overturn a Proved Conclusion?); Michael Ramage, JD, CG (Forensic Genealogy Meets the Genealogical Proof Standard); and Angie Bush (Using DNA as a Genealogical Record).

The deadline is Thursday, April 30th, for the early bird registration discount at the Southern California Genealogical Society’s Jamboree, to be held June 4-7 in Burbank, California. June 4th is DNA Day Plus! and Jamboree itself is the 5th, 6th and 7th.

The early-bird discount can be combined with SCGS Member discounts and reduced registration fees for attending both the Genetic Genealogy:DNA Day Plus! and Jamboree conferences.

And by the way when SCGS says DNA Day Plus!, it really means PLUS! There will be in-depth workshops that day on much more than just DNA. I’ll be offering a hands-on court records workshop, my friend and colleague Jay Fonkert is offering a methodology workshop — there’s a lot to choose from.

Time’s running fast on both of these, so don’t miss out!

Posted in General | 2 Comments

Now get your testing done

Exactly 62 years ago yesterday, Cambridge University scientists James D. Watson and Frances H.C. Crick announced they were sure that the structure of DNA was the double helix — an event “considered by many to be one of the most significant scientific discoveries of the 20th Century.”1

dna.dupTo remember that achievement, and to honor the completion in 2003 of the Human Genome Project, today continues to be recognized as National DNA Day 2 — a day that “offers students, teachers and the public many exciting opportunities to learn about the latest advances in genomic research and explore what they may mean for their lives.”

So… if you didn’t crack open the champagne yesterday, you can still celebrate today by getting your DNA tested… at some limited but still cool sales for the 2015 DNA Day.

At AncestryDNA, for US testers, the usual price of $99 for an autosomal DNA kit has been reduced to $79 until 11:59 p.m. Monday, April 27th. Shipping is extra. I hear tell that the £99 price for a test kit in the United Kingdom and Ireland is also down to £79 for this sale, but can’t confirm it because I can’t figure out how to convince Ancestry’s web servers not to automatically insist that I access through the .com site instead of the .uk site, so you’re on your own on that one.

At Family Tree DNA, the big push is for the Big Y — the just-about-everything-you-might-ever-want-to-know test for the direct paternal linme. Got to have a male for this test and it focuses less on how we group men together as part of genealogical families and more on how we tease them apart into twigs at the ends of branches of the human family tree.

It’s explained this way on the testing company website: “a direct paternal lineage test … designed … to explore deep ancestral links on our common paternal tree. It tests both thousands of known branch markers and millions of places where there may be new branch markers. We intend it for expert users with an interest in advancing science.”3

So the sale at Family Tree DNA is on the Big Y test — use coupon code DNADayBigY to take $100 off Big Y; the coupon is valid through 11:59 PM 4/30/2015, and since Family Tree DNA is in Texas, that’s likely Central Time.

And for whatever reason it doesn’t appear that 23andMe is playing along with a sale at all this DNA Day. Nothing on its website, nothing on its Facebook page. So the usual $99 price for a test kit is in effect there today.

Not as good a group of offers as we’ve seen in the past, but still not anything to sneeze at so… come on and sale away into the world of genetic genealogy. Get your DNA tested.


SOURCES

  1. U.S. Senate S. Con. Res. 10, 108th Congress 1st Session (27 Feb 2003).
  2. National Human Genome Research Institute, “National DNA Day” (http://www.genome.gov/ : accessed 24 Apr 2014).
  3. Big Y,” FTDNA Learning Center, Family Tree DNA ( : accessed 25 Apr 2015).
Posted in DNA | 6 Comments

Welcome to the club

Ben Affleck was “embarrassed” to discover that he had slaveowning ancestors. “The very thought left a bad taste in (his) mouth.”1

No foolin’.

That’s about the reaction all of us would have — should have — on first discovering the reality of slave ownership in our own families.

It’s certainly the reaction The Legal Genealogist had back long ago when I first discovered that reality in my own family.

I never thought, when I started researching my ancestry years ago, that slavery would be any kind of an issue for me. After all, my father’s family emigrated from Germany in 19252 and, looking at my baby book, with information carefully entered by hand, my mother’s family surely came to the United States after the Civil War. Her great grandparents, she had written, were born in Ireland and in Wales.3

1860 slave census, Attala Co., MS

And that might have been true… if Ireland and Wales were small towns in Mississippi.

For it was in Mississippi that her great grandparents, my second great grandparents, Gustavus Boone and Isabella (Gentry) Robertson, were born. Where, for many years, they lived.4

And where, in both 1850 and 1860, Gustavus was recorded as a slaveowner.5

I can just barely wrap my head around the concept of owning another human being in America in, say, 1790 or 1800. That’s before the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act passed in England in 18076 and before the abolition movement in the United States really started to gain steam.

Although there certainly were abolitionist efforts well before then, it was 1833 before a major group — the American Anti-Slavery Society — organized in Philadelphia.7 So maybe, just maybe, some folks really didn’t “get it” when they were confronted by others who said it was wrong.

But by 1850? 1860? Nope. Can’t do it. Can’t condone it. And, on a deeply personal level, can’t forgive it.

Now, we’re often warned, as genealogists, not to engage in presentism — judging the past by the standards of today.8 It’s critical when we’re trying to evaluate the records of a time that we don’t judge those records by expectations of what one of those records should look like today.

But to me it’s a whole ‘nother story when we’re talking about passing moral judgments on the actions of our own ancestors at certain times. I’m not engaging in presentism when I take issue with this handful of my ancestors for their slave ownership that late in American history as much as I’m rejecting moral relativism. It was wrong… and they had to know it was wrong.

What has been passed down to me — this northerner my southern grandfather would have called a Yankee… in three syllables… and the first syllable wasn’t “darn” — are the “feel-good” slavery stories. How my ancestors cared for their slaves and took care of them, how their slaves loved them and stayed with them even after Emancipation.

And whether these stories are true or merely the “feel-good” versions of a terrible reality, I absolutely understand what it is like to be embarrassed at the very thought of slaveowning ancestors. To have the very thought leave a bad taste in my mouth.

So welcome to the club, Ben.

Now pull up a chair and let’s talk about what we do about this.

Because what we don’t do … what we can never do … is deny the reality of the past.

Because when we try to deny the reality of the past, we are in effect writing out of our history the lives of those who were enslaved.

And they deserve better.

Somewhere in this world there may be descendants of the women, aged 30 and 50, who served my third great grandparents and their children in 1850.

Somewhere in this world there may be descendants of the woman aged 25 and her daughter aged three who served my third great grandparents and their children in 1860.

Somewhere in this world there may be descendants of those two women, the slaves of 1860, who — I firmly believe — are the Ana and Mary Robertson, aged 36 and 13, shown as black, born in Mississippi, and recorded in the household next door to my third great grandparents and their children in 1870.9 Who likely are the Annie Robertson and Mary Shirrell of Lamar County, Texas, in 1880.10

As descendants of slaves and slaveowners alike, we should talk.

Learn each other’s stories.

Help finish each other’s tales.

Not as sources of embarrassment.

Not as anything to be ashamed of.

Not as something to try to hide.

But as interesting people whose ancestors’ lives intersected our ancestors’ lives.

So how about this club, Ben?

A club made up — for all we know now — of kin.

A club of cousins, perhaps.

A club of family.

If nothing more, then the “same human race” club.

Welcome to this club, Ben.

Come join us.


SOURCES

  1. ‘Embarrassed’ Ben Affleck Admits to Asking PBS to Hide Slave-Owning Ancestor’s Past,” NBCNews.com posted 21 Apr 2015 (http://www.nbcnews.com/ : accessed 24 Apr 2015).
  2. Manifest, SS George Washington, Jan-Feb 1925, p. 59 (stamped), lines 4-6, Geissler family, 4; “New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 24 Apr 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication T715, roll 3605.
  3. Family tree pages, undated pamphlet-form baby book for Judy Eileen Geissler; privately held by Judy G. Russell, Avenel, New Jersey, 2011. Entries in the family tree were handwritten by Hazel (Cottrell) Geissler shortly after the birth of her second daughter.
  4. 1850 U.S. census, Winston County, Mississippi, District 8, population schedule, p. 373 (stamped), dwelling 809, family 816, Gustavius Robinson; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 24 Apr 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 382. Also, 1860 U.S. census, Attala County, Mississippi, Township 14, Range 8, population schedule, p. 76 (penned), dwelling 455, family 494, Gustavus B. Robertson household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 24 Apr 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication M653, roll 577.
  5. 1850 U.S. census, Winston County, Mississippi, slave schedule, p. 59 (penned), col. 2, lines 32-33, Gustavius Robinson, slave owner; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 24 Apr 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 390. Also, 1860 U.S. census, Attala County, Mississippi, Township 14, Range 8, slave schedule, p. 26 (penned), col. 2, lines 14-15, Gustavus B. Robertson, slave owner; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 24 Apr 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication M653, roll 595.
  6. “Abolition of slavery,” National Archives-UK (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/slavery/about.htm : accessed 24 Apr 2015).
  7. “Abolition, Anti-Slavery Movements, and the Rise of the Sectional Controversy,” Library of Congress American Memory (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/aaohtml/exhibit/aopart3.html : accessed 24 Apr 2015).
  8. Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, rev. ed. (Baltimore : Genealogical Publishing Co., 2009), 20.
  9. 1870 U.S. census, Lamar County, Texas, Beat 2, population schedule, p. 253(B) (stamped), dwelling/family 308, Ana and Mary Robertson; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 24 Apr 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication M593, roll 1594.
  10. 1880 U.S. census, Lamar County, Texas, Paris, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 81, p. 213C (stamped), dwelling 166, family 202, Nathan Shirrell household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 24 Apr 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 1314.
Posted in My family | 49 Comments