DNA tests on sale

It’s that time of year again … and The Legal Genealogist just can’t resist.

Sale TagsI’m a sucker for a DNA sale.

DNA tests give us the chance to fish for cousins, using our DNA as bait, to see if we can reel in that one person who’s out there with the family Bible, or that one surviving picture of a great grandparent, or even just the clue we need to help keep pushing back through the generations.

So whenever there’s a DNA sale, well, as I said, I’m a sucker for a DNA sale.

And there are two of them going on right now that are way too good to miss.

First, there’s the practically-everything’s-on-sale holiday season sale at Family Tree DNA with loads of goodies across the board.

Here’s the line-up of prices (good through December 31 (11:59 p.m. Central time) for kits bought and paid for by then):


Regular Price

Sale Price










Y-DNA12 to Y-DNA37



Y-DNA12 to Y-DNA67



Y-DNA37 to Y-DNA67



Y-DNA37 to Y-DNA111



Y-DNA67 to Y-DNA111



Family Finder



Big Y



mtDNA Full Sequence



Now those prices are pretty cool. But that’s not the best part. The best part is that Family Tree DNA decided to reprise something called Mystery Reward discounts.

Every week between now and the end of the year, every customer is getting an icon on the myFTDNA dashboard. Click on the icon, and you go to the rewards page to find out how much the additional discount is that you can add on top of the sale prices in the chart you see above here.

Yeah, it’s silly.

And it’s fun.

And some of the discounts are as much as $75 or more.

Worth spending some time playing with the icons, for sure.

And if that’s not enough to float your boat, you also have until the end of the day tomorrow, Monday, November 30th, to take advantage of AncestryDNA‘s Cyber Friday thru Monday savings, a 30% discount on autosomal DNA tests that takes the usual $99 price down to $69. There is a shipping cost, but ordering more than one kit at a time keeps that as low as possible.

So… what are you waiting for? After all, DNA is the gift we give to ourselves, as we find cousins and clues to our heritage.

So give yourself a gift.

Get a DNA test.

Or two.

Or a half-dozen.


Posted in DNA | 2 Comments

Those forgotten other names

She was married 109 years ago today, in the City of Chicago, Cook, County, Illinois.

Hattie_Paul_Knop_marriageHattie Geisler — oldest sister of The Legal Genealogist‘s grandfather Hugo Ernst Geissler — was married on this date 109 years ago.

The marriage was before the Honorable Joseph Arne, Justice of the Peace of Cook County. Her groom: Paul Knop.1

There’s no doubt of the name on the marriage certificate. You can click on the image and see it larger. Hattie Geisler marrying Paul Knop.

And therein lies the tale.

Because every other record I could find for Hattie told me the same thing.

Her name was Hattie Geisler Knop.

So says the 1910 U.S. census of Chicago: Hattie was recorded as Hattie Knop, age 27, born in Germany of German parents, living with Paul and their then-one-year-old son Irving.2

So says the 1930 U.S. census of Chicago: Hattie was recorded as Hattie Knop, age 48, born in Germany of German parents, living with Paul and their then-21-year-old son Irving.3

So says the 1940 U.S. census of Chicago: she was recorded there too as Hattie Knop, age 59, born in Germany of German parents, living with Paul.4 Son Irving and his new wife were living next door.5

So says each of the family death notices in the Chicago Tribune: when Paul died in 1945, his widow was identified as Hattie;6; when Irving died in 1961, his mother was identified as Hattie;7 when Hattie herself died in 1966, her own death notice identified her as Hattie E. Knop.8

So why, I kept asking myself, couldn’t I find her immigration record? Her entry into the United States?

There was just one hitch.

One thing I kept forgetting.

That minor little issue in German families — something known as call names. Something that’s simply a fact of life for anyone with German ancestry.9

The minor little issue that what someone is called isn’t necessary what that person’s name was.

Oh, Hattie is for sure what she was called. And what she called herself here in the United States.

But when she was born in the village of Bad Köstritz in what is now the German State of Thüringen and was then the tiny principality of Reuss jüngerer Linie,10 her name wasn’t Hattie.

The name she was born with, baptized with — her legal name as it was given — was Emma Hedwig.11

Not Hattie.


Which is how her immigration record really is recorded.

Call names.

For those of us with German ancestry, something not to be forgotten.

And something I was reminded of, on this anniversary of Hattie’s marriage to her beloved Paul.


  1. Cook County, Illinois, Marriage License and Return No. 447077, Paul Knop-Hattie Geisler, 28 Nov 1906. She used the Geisler spelling instead of the Geissler spelling my grandfather preferred.
  2. 1910 U.S. census, Cook County, IL, Chicago Ward 31, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 1358, p. 269(B) (stamped), dwelling 106, family 148, Hattie Knop; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 14 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T624, roll 277.
  3. 1930 U.S. census, Cook County, IL, Chicago 15th Precinct, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 16-2542, p. 25(A) (stamped), dwelling 217, family 284, Hattie Knop; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 14 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T626, roll 439.
  4. 1940 U.S. census, Cook County, Illinois, Chicago 16th Ward, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 103-1109, sheet 9B, household 199, Hattie Knop; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 27 Nov 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication T627, roll 954.
  5. Ibid., household 201.
  6. Chicago Tribune, death notice, Paul Knop, 11 Nov 1945.
  7. Chicago Tribune, death notice, Irving L. Knop, 15 June 1961.
  8. Chicago Tribune, death notice, Hattie E. Knop, 26 Sep 1966.
  9. See Anne S. Riepe, “German Naming Customs,” Riepe Roots (http://www.rieperoots.com/ : accessed 27 Nov 2015).
  10. See Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “Principality of Reuss-Gera,” rev. 9 Oct 2015.
  11. Kirchenbuch Bad Köstritz, Taufregister Seite 23 Nr. 52 aus 1881, Baptismal Record of Emma Hedwig Geissler (digital image of record in possession of JG Russell).
Posted in My family | 14 Comments

The judicial kind

No, The Legal Genealogist isn’t taking a break.

I do that on occasion, but this isn’t one of them.

Instead, this is to share an answer to a question from a Facebook friend, who was puzzled when she first came across a phrase in a court document she hadn’t encountered before.

Melissa LeMaster Barker posted as follows:

Okay Judy G. Russell came across a new legal phrase in a last will and testament. The phrase is “Probate of Will in Vacation”. I have tried Googling it and can’t seem to find a definition. It is printed in the middle of the document in all caps, the will document is 2 pages long and it is listed once on each page that way.1

The term “vacation” or “in vacation” is one of those legal terms of art, and you will find it defined — but only in the legal dictionaries.

Hammock On A Tropical Beach Resort Vacation ConceptAccording to Black’s Legal Dictionary, from a legal perspective, vacation is “(t)hat period of time between the end of one term of court and the beginning of another.”2

And a very similar but slightly more complete definition appears in Bouvier’s Law Dictionary: “That period of time between the end of one term and beginning of another. During vacation, rules and orders are made in such cases as are urgent, by a judge at his chambers.”3

So… think about it for a minute. Early courts tended to meet during regular terms4 — often not more than once every quarter.5

Now think about someone who dies, say, the day after the end of one court term. There can be a lot of reasons why you wouldn’t wait all the way until the beginning of the next court term to begin the process of handling his estate. If he was a merchant, his estate might own perishable goods. If he was a farmer, a crop might need tending to, right now.

So on these occasions when something needed to be done, and the court wasn’t sitting in a regular term, the party needing court action would get to some part of the court — sometimes a specific judge designated to act while the court wasn’t in session — and the record would reflect that the action was taken in vacation.

And, with that, I’m going back to mine — happy long Thanksgiving weekend, eveyone!


  1. Status Update, Melissa LeMaster Barker, posted 25 Nov 2015, Facebook.com (https://www.facebook.com/ : accessed 27 Nov 2015).
  2. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 1209, “vacation.”
  3. John Bouvier, A Law Dictionary Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States of America and of the Several States of the American Union, rev. 6th ed. (1856); HTML reprint, The Constitution Society (http://www.constitution.org/bouv/bouvier.htm : accessed 27 Nov 2015), “vacation.”
  4. Some American courts still do this. The U.S. Supremre Court, for example, has one annual term that begins on the first Monday in October and ends around May or June each year.
  5. Which explains, by the way, why some courts were called courts of quarter sessions. See ibid., “quarter sessions.”
Posted in Legal definitions | 3 Comments

So much to be thankful for

It’s Thanksgiving Day here in the United States, and The Legal Genealogist has so much to be thankful for.

I woke up this morning, warm and safe.

I woke up in a building with working heat and with hot and cold running water.

I woke up to the certain knowledge that I would have enough to eat, and safe water to drink.

I woke up in a town that isn’t racked by war.

From which I will not have to flee in fear of my life.

Where I did not hear gunshots — or bombs — in the night.

From whence I will not carry the name “refugee.”

Where I hope I can welcome and help those who are bearing that name.

Just the way the pilgrims were welcomed and helped when they arrived on these shores…

Happy Thanksgiving Day logotype, badge and iconAnd I remain so very thankful for this amazing community we have of genealogists around the world, many of whom have been my mentors over the years and so many of whom have become friends.

I’m thankful for all those who’ve gone before us, blazing the trails of methodology and scholarship, teaching, training, encouraging us to be the very best we can be as researchers.

I’m thankful for those who’ve fought to keep records open for us to use and to preserve the records where we may find the clues we need. For those with the foresight to think up the Preserve the Pensions campaign. Those who digitize books and original documents. Those who collect and archive and preserve and protect.

I’m thankful for all the genealogical societies that have opened their doors and their hearts to me and to all of us who love to share what we know… and for all that each and every one of them has taught me in return.

I’m thankful for all the amazing tools we have — our computers, our mobile devices, the internet, DNA testing — to help us break down the brick walls in our quests to find our ancestors.

I am so very thankful for my big, bold, brash and utterly frustrating family of ancestors who just insist on constantly playing hide and seek.

And I am so very thankful for my big, bold, brash and utterly wonderful modern family — brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins by the dozens — and the security that comes with knowing that someone always, always, has my back.

I’m so very thankful for the new babies and not-so-little-anymore boys and girls who are bringing us such joy as they swell the ranks of the family.

I’m thankful for friends near and far.

And very very thankful for just making it through another year, to another Thanksgiving Day.

Happy Thanksgiving, folks.

Posted in General | 4 Comments

Not as easy as it sounds

Reader Maureen was delighted with the Census Bureau publication that set out the directions to the census takers in each U.S. census from 1790 through 2000 that was featured in Monday’s blog post, Read the directions.1

census.map“I downloaded it immediately,” she said. “I love researching family in the censuses but am always aware that there is an enumerator who ‘translates’ and records the information the family provides.”

And then she asked the tough question: “do you know of any document that maps the census districts? Often they are District 12, xx County. But where is that? Knowing where your ancestors actually lived, the farm or house location, is part of the fun IMHO of doing genealogical research. But District 12, xx County is a lot of land. I could always go to land records of course…”

To which, of course, the only possible answer The Legal Genealogist can offer is…

It depends.

You see, the actual numbered enumeration districts that we often see in census records didn’t get those numbers until 1880.2 As explained by the National Archives:

An enumeration district, as used by the Bureau of the Census, was an area that could be covered by a single enumerator (census taker) in one census period. Enumeration districts varied in size from several city blocks in densely populated urban areas to an entire county in sparsely populated rural areas.

Enumeration district maps show the boundaries and the numbers of the census enumeration districts, which were established to help administer and control data collection. Wards, precincts, incorporated areas, urban unincorporated areas, townships, census supervisors` districts, and congressional districts may also appear on some maps. The content of enumeration district maps vary greatly. The base maps were obtained locally and include postal route maps, General Land Office maps, soil survey maps, and maps produced by city, county, and state government offices as well as commercial printers. Census officials then drew the enumeration district boundaries and numbers on these base maps.3

For the years when these numbered districts existed, if Maureen wants maps of those census districts, there are some pretty good options out there:

• Steve Morse’s Finding ED Definitions for (1880-1940) in One Step page is a terrific resources. Choose the year from the dropdown box at the top, then choose the state and the county and the district number, and you should get at least some descriptive information. For the 1930 district 16-1909 in the City of Chicago, for example, it tells us that it was in “Ward 50 (part), bounded by (N) Howard; (E) N. Western Ave.; (S) Touhy Ave.; (W) N. Kedzie Ave.”4

• FamilySearch’s collection, “United States Enumeration District Maps for the Twelfth through the Sixteenth US Censuses, 1900-1940”, offers more than 63,600 images of enumeration districts for all but the earliest census where enumeration districts were numbered. The images aren’t indexed, but the states are in alphabetical order, and the counties within each state are in alphabetical order.

• Search the National Archives Catalog for census maps as well. Many of the maps — particularly from 1940 and 1950 — have been digitized and are online.

But for earlier periods? Before 1880, what we really have are counties and then whatever subdivisions the person in charge of the census takers in that county — a census supervisor or the U.S. marshal or deputy marshal in the area — decided to use.5

And there isn’t any one place where you can go to get breakdowns on those areas. Even some libraries don’t get this right. The Cornell University Library page on U.S. Census Maps gleefully tells people looking for detailed information to go to the Historical Census Browser, a really neat online resource of the University of Virginia Library. Only one hitch. When you go there, it tells you in no uncertain terms that one of the things you can’t do there is “find information for areas below the county level (e.g. cities, census tracts).”6

The Census Bureau itself advises: “For locating pre-1880 maps, local city directories might be of help; the Library of Congress has a significant collection. Another collection that might be of help is the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, which began in 1867. Local street numbering systems probably had not changed all that much, though there would be new streets and changes to old ones. The maps also contain detailed descriptions of the buildings on the streets.”7

If the census itself references a township and range, you’re in luck, because that at least means you’re dealing with the federal land system and you can zoom in to the right area on a web map like the one from the U.S. Geological Survey. If it references a judicial district or magistrate’s district, state statutes may help with the definitions of the district lines.

And, as Maureen notes, if all else fails, … “always go to land records of course…”


  1. Judy G. Russell, “Read the directions,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 23 Nov 2015 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 24 Nov 2015).
  2. FamilySearch Research Wiki (https://www.familysearch.org/learn/wiki/), “United States Federal Census,” rev. 30 Oct 2014.
  3. 1940 Federal Population Census : Enumeration District Maps,” Resources for Genealogists, National Archives (http://www.archives.gov/research/ : accessed 24 Nov 2015).
  4. Finding ED Definitions for (1880-1940) in One Step, One-Step Webpages by Stephen P. Morse (http://stevemorse.org/ : accessed 24 Nov 2015).
  5. FamilySearch Research Wiki (https://www.familysearch.org/learn/wiki/), “United States Federal Census,” rev. 30 Oct 2014.
  6. Historical Census Browser, University of Virginia Library (http://mapserver.lib.virginia.edu/ : accessed 24 Nov 2015).
  7. Where can I find enumeration district maps?,” Frequently Asked Questions, U.S. Census Bureau (https://ask.census.gov/faq : accessed 24 Nov 2015).
Posted in General, Resources | 7 Comments

In the ABAJ top 100

It all began around this time in 2013, when The Legal Genealogist got an email with a return address of americanbar.org — and almost deleted it.

I figured it was a pitch for membership in the American Bar Association. And, since it’s been a loooooong time since I was in active law practice and I don’t keep an active law license, I had my finger on the delete key when — for some unknown reason — I decided to read it before deleting it.

Blawg2015“Congratulations,” it said. “Your blawg has earned a spot in the ABA Journal’s Blawg 100, our 7th annual list of the best in blogs about lawyers and the law.”1

That recognition, from the prestigious American Bar Association Journal, was cool.

Then around this time last year, I got another email, and it had a return address of americanbar.org, too.

“Congratulations,” it said. “Your blawg has earned a spot in the ABA Journal’s Blawg 100, our 8th annual list of the best in blogs about lawyers and the law.”2

That was cool, too.

So… yesterday afternoon, my email program started whining for my attention and there it was, with a return address of americanbar.org.

“Congratulations are in order,” it read. “Your blawg has earned a spot in the ABA Journal‘s Blawg 100, our 9th annual list of the best in blogs about lawyers and the law.”3

And that — no doubt about it — is definitely cool.

And since any recognition I get is really a reflection of the support of the readers of this blog, all I can say is… thank you. I’m honored and grateful.

And we can all be thankful in this Thanksgiving season for one thing more about this Blawg 100 thing.

In the past, the ABA Journal has also had vanity voting, where readers of blogs in several categories got to vote for their favorites.

Now… far be it from me to suggest that the genealogists may have the lawyers running scared — just because we outvoted the lawyers in the niche category in 20134 and in 20145 — but the ABA Journal isn’t doing that voting part any more. It’s simply announcing the Blawg 100 and leaving it at that.6

Considering that we’re a year away from the Presidential election and we’re already tired of campaigning, I suspect we can all be grateful for that, too.

Thanks again, folks.


  1. Yeah, yeah, I know. Trust me — I’m as pained by the “blawg” spelling as you are.
  2. Ditto. Really.
  3. No, actually, they’re not going to change the spelling. They like it, you see.
  4. Judy G. Russell, “It’s a win!,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 3 Jan 2014 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 23 Nov 2015).
  5. See ibid., “Two years in a row!,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 8 Jan 2015.
  6. The fact that it has also had problems in the past with ballot-box stuffing may have had something to do with it too… Seriously. “Q. Why do I have to register to vote in the Blawg 100? A. Because we experienced significant voting irregularities in the past, we opted to require voters to register beginning in 2009.” “Frequently Asked Questions About the Blawg 100 and Voting,” Blawg 100, ABA Journal (http://www.abajournal.com/ : accessed 14 Dec 2014). Go ahead. It made me laugh too.
Posted in General | 8 Comments

What the enumerators were told

What’s an “inmate” on a United States census return?

Who was listed as the “head of household”?

What was a “housekeeper”?

And why in the world isn’t the however-many-great-grandaunt born in May listed on the 1910 census?

The answers to all of these questions have driven The Legal Genealogist‘s research … and can sometimes drive us all batty.

But they don’t need to slow you down one bit.

Because there’s an easy way to get the answers to all of those questions and many many more.

Read the directions.

gauthierIn 2002, Jason Gauthier of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Economics and Statistics Administration produced one of the most singularly useful publications a genealogist can ever have in a toolkit. It’s available as a downloadable PDF file, directly from the U.S. Census Bureau website, and it’s called Measuring America: The Decennial Census from 1790 to 2000.1

What makes this 148-page document so valuable is that it sets out, in detail, exactly what the census takers were told to do for each and every U.S. census from the first census in 1790 all the way up to the census of 2000.

Sure, we all know that the enumerator might not have done what he was supposed to do — but knowing what it was that he was supposed to do is often a real help in understanding the records.

Reading the directions lets us know just what a term like “inmate” meant in the context of the census — because we can read the exact instructions that were given to the census takers. (And, by the way, those instructions changed between 1850 and 1870.)2

It tells us what a housekeeper was in the context of the census.3 And why “Indians not taxed” weren’t included in the enumerations.4 And even why that however-many-great-grandaunt didn’t make it onto the census in 1910. (She was born in May, remember… and the enumeration date was 1 April that year.)5

It’s a free download. You can read it with free PDF reading software.There are even free PDF-reader apps for tablets and phones.

So there’s no excuse.

Go do it.


Read the directions.


  1. Jason G. Gauthier, Measuring America: The Decennial Census from 1790 to 2000 (Washington, D.C. : U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Census Bureau, 2002); PDF download, U.S. Census Bureau (http://www.census.gov/ : accessed 22 Nov 2015).
  2. See Judy G. Russell, “Of inmates and families,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 19 Aug 2014 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 22 Nov 2015).
  3. See ibid., “The other housekeeper,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 16 Jan 2015.
  4. See ibid., “Indians not taxed,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 13 Mar 2015.
  5. See Gauthier, Measuring America: The Decennial Census from 1790 to 2000, PDF at 112.
Posted in Resources | 18 Comments

Proving John Locke

Reader James Hawk made an exciting find — he might be related to 17th century English philosopher and physician John Locke.

That is Definitely Cool. In capital letters.

LockeLocke — born in 1632 in Wrighton, Somerset, England — was a political theorist whose early medicine training led him to strongly support the empirical approach in the Scientific Revolution.

And his political views were highly influential in early America: “His political theory of government by the consent of the governed as a means to protect ‘life, liberty and estate’ deeply influenced the United States’ founding documents. His essays on religious tolerance provided an early model for the separation of church and state.”1

His notions of social contract and the natural rights of man didn’t make him popular with the British monarchy and he ended up exiled from England for a time. He eventually did return to the country of his birth, and died there, in Essex, in 1704.2

Definitely Cool.

So, James asked The Legal Genealogist, “Can you suggest the best test that could prove this?”


Not so cool.

Let’s start with the fact that Locke himself never married and had no known children.3 So it can’t be direct descent from Locke.

And Locke’s only sibling, his brother Thomas, isn’t known to have had any children either,4 so it wouldn’t be direct descent from Locke’s father. But Locke had cousins on his father’s side, so…

Now, a man named Hawke isn’t terribly likely to be a direct male-line descendant of the Locke family. So realistically we can’t test for YDNA — the kind of DNA that is passed down only in a direct unbroken male line from father to son to son.5

To test across gender lines — where we have, say, a son of a daughter of a son that we need to test against, say, a daughter of a son of a daughter — we have to use autosomal testing: looking at the kind of DNA we all inherit from both of our parents.6

And that runs us right into the fact that autosomal DNA is going to eventually punk out on us.

It’s simply a fact that we inherit that autosomal DNA in a mix that changes, in a random pattern, from generation to generation in a process called recombination. In time, so much mixing occurs, in such random patterns, that we simply don’t receive enough DNA from any one ancestor for it to show up as a match to that same DNA in a cousin who descends from the same ancestor.7

So for autosomal DNA in particular, that thing called time to MRCA — the time to the most recent common ancestor — is a critical factor. If it’s just a short time, just a few generations, we’re fine. When it gets back in time, back many generations, our chances of matching someone else who might share that same ancestor get to be … well … remote.

How does that play out in this case?

Remember that we’re talking about getting back to John Locke’s grandparents — the most recent possible common ancestors here. Each generation can be calculated as roughly 25 years. Some of course will have been longer and some shorter, but that’s a general average often used to calculate the time to MRCA.8 With Locke himself born in 1632, figure his parents would have been born around 1607, and his grandparents around 1582.

And let’s figure that we’re likely talking about a genealogist who’s .. um … shall we say … well-seasoned … say, 50 years old.

So… (edited for clarity :) here’s what it means to try to prove that our genealogist shares a common ancestor with a specific other person living today, understanding of course that there may be a lot of candidates for that final column on the right:

Generation Birth year (est.) Shared DNA Chance of matching
person sharing ancestor
Genealogist 1965
Parents 1940 50% ~100%
Grandparents 1915 25% >99%
Great Grandparents 1890 12.5% >99%
2d Great Grandparents 1865 6.25% >90%
3d Great Grandparents 1840 3.125% >50%
4d Great Grandparents 1815 1.56% >10%
5th Great Grandparents 1790 0.78% Remote*
6th Great Grandparents 1765 0.391% Remote*
7th Great Grandparents 1740 0.195% Remote*
8th Great Grandparents 1715 0.098% Remote*
9th Great Grandparents 1690 0.049% Remote*
10th Great Grandparents 1665 0.024% Remote*
11th Great Grandparents 1640 0.0122% Remote*
12th Great Grandparents 1615 0.0061% Remote*
13th Great Grandparents 1590 0.0035% Remote*
* Remote = Less than two percent

See what I mean? The time to MRCA here is more than 425 years — likely as many as 15 generations. Even if we figured an average generation at 33 years, we’re still talking a dozen or more generations.

And here we start getting into the remote or no-realistic-chance-at-all range some 200 years before we’re going to hit that MRCA.

I’m not going to go so far as to say it’s absolutely impossible to gather evidence of common descent using autosomal DNA back that many generations.

I will say, though, that it’s the longest of long shots, and in this reader’s shoes — even though I am an unabashed fan of DNA testing far and wide — I’d focus my resources on pure paper trail research rather than putting my money on DNA testing here.

The time to MRCA just isn’t in our favor in cases like this.


Image: John Locke, undated lithograph, Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division

  1. John Locke,” History.com (http://www.history.com/ : accessed 21 Nov 2015).
  2. John Locke Biography,” Biography.com (http://www.biography.com/ : accessed 21 Nov 2015).
  3. New World Encyclopedia, (http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/ : accessed 21 Nov 2015), “John Locke.”
  4. H.R. Fox Bourne, The Life of John Locke, 2 vols. (New York : Harper & Bros., 1876) I: 82; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 21 Nov 2015).
  5. ISOGG Wiki (http://www.isogg.org/wiki), “Y chromosome DNA tests,” rev. 13 Aug 2015.
  6. See Judy G. Russell, “Autosomal DNA testing,” National Genealogical Society Magazine, October-December 2011, 38-43.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Note that this is an open issue, with estimates ranging from 25 for females to 33 for males. See generally ISOGG Wiki (http://www.isogg.org/wiki), “Generation length,” rev. 15 Jan 2015.
Posted in DNA | 20 Comments

A memory of a touch

It is, sometimes, the little things that mean the most.

That stick with you the longest.

That become the memories you cherish for a lifetime.

The Legal Genealogist has a ton of relatives, courtesy of a mother who was one of 12 children, 10 of whom lived to adulthood and many of whom produced batches of kids of their own.

MonteI grew up knowing my aunts and uncles and cousins — the ones who were closest the best, but even the ones who lived far away visited from time to time.

Like the time around, oh, 1965 or so, when my mother’s older brother Monte came east from California and brought his family to spend some time with mine in New Jersey.

And, oh, did he ever have a case of bad timing…

You see, if there was anything in this world my older sister Diana wanted, it was a horse. We’d both learned to ride as kids. To me, it was fun. To Diana, it was nirvana. So she wanted a horse. She’d have happily traded all of her siblings for one. And, finally, her dream came true.

If memory serves me correctly, Tea was a quarter quarter horse. Meaning, as I understand it, that one of her grandparents was something other than an equine mutt. Now… keep in mind this is all a half-century ago. And it wasn’t my horse. So if I don’t remember all the details about the horse, I’m sure you’ll understand.

What I do remember is that she was lovely.

She was high-spirited.

And she was pregnant.

And therein lies the tale.

Sometime just about when Monte and his family arrived from California, Tea dropped her foal. A filly Diana promptly named Cocoa. A filly Tea promptly decided she was not in the least bit interested in mothering.

Now a horse is not exactly the kind of animal you can bring home, put in the kitchen and bottle feed. Somehow Tea had to be convinced that nursing her own offspring was the right thing to do.

And that meant spending hours out at the stable where Tea was kept, controlling the mother while the little one nursed.

Every two hours.

Twenty-four hours a day.

Day after day after day.

Until Tea finally accepted the foal and nursed her on her own.

Somehow, I ended up on the night shift in this feed-the-baby operation. Think about that. If the baby has to be fed every two hours and it takes 15 minutes to get the mother under control and…

You got it.

Total sleep deprivation.

My first real understanding of what parents of newborns go through.

But hey… I was young, certainly not more than 14, probably younger. I can’t be entirely sure when it was because I date it in my mind by a little brother in a high chair — and I had a lot of little brothers who spent a lot of time in high chairs. But I think it was one of the two youngest, and he was somewhere around a year old. I figure I was between 12 and 14.1

So I was fine for the first couple of days. Out to the stable at night, home during the day helping handle the houseful of kids between my own siblings and the visitors.

But by about the fourth or fifth day, I was really dragging.

To the point of total exhaustion.

I had started off towards my room to take what I considered to be a really really well-earned afternoon nap.

And was called back, by my mother, and told I had to feed the baby.

I remember vividly that I sat there in the kitchen, with my then-youngest brother in front of me in that highchair, spooning something into his mouth.

And I was crying.

Not sobbing, mind you. Not making a single sound. Just letting the tears roll down my cheeks because, damn-it-to-hell-and-back, I was totally exhausted, taking care of a horse that wasn’t mine all night and taking care of kids that weren’t mine all day.

Now Monte was not about to get involved in how my parents ran their household. He was a visitor, and house rules are house rules.

But he did something that day I will never ever forget.

He got up from the living room, where all the grownups were visiting.

He came into the kitchen.

He stood behind me.

Put his hands on my shoulders.

And just gently, ever so gently, massaged my shoulders while I cried.

The whole time I cried.

Until I finally pulled it together, and was done feeding the baby.

He never said a word. Never criticized those house rules.

But in that gentle touch he told me that he knew I was having a hard time… and he cared.

That gentle touch from a man who would have been 92 years old this week.2

A man we lost more than 20 years ago.3

A man I will never forget.

Because of a little thing that was one of those special little things that mean the most.

That stick with you the longest.

That become the memories you cherish for a lifetime.


  1. In fairness, I did email my sister to ask her, and didn’t get a response in time, so…
  2. “Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010,” database entry for Monte B. Cottrell; Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 20 Nov 2015).
  3. Ibid.
Posted in My family | 8 Comments

The price tag for cheaters

They didn’t really mean that, did they?

The Legal Genealogist is probably more at home in those old statute books than most folks.

Broken Red Cheating HeartI certainly poke around in them more than most folks do.

But even I am occasionally taken aback.

As I was last night, in preparing for some talks tomorrow (Saturday), at the Irish Family History Forum in Bethpage, New York, when I came across the exact language of one section of New York state law.

It appears in Chapter VIII of the Revised Statutes of the State of New York, published in 1829. That chapter is entitled Of the Domestic Relations. Then it’s broken down into titles, and this is in Title I, Of Husband and Wife. And then you have articles, and this is in Article 3, Of Divorces, dissolving the Marriage Contract.

It’s section 49 of that article, and it reads, in full:

Whenever a marriage shall be dissolved, pursuant to the provisious of this Article, the complainant may marry again during the life time of the defendant; but no defendant convicted of adultery, shall marry again, until the death of the complainant.1

Read that last part again: “no defendant convicted of adultery, shall marry again, until the death of the complainant.

And even I have to ask myself… they didn’t really mean that, did they?

You see, there was one, and only one, ground for divorce in New York when that statute became law. Starting with the passage of the very first divorce law in the Empire State in 1787,2 and continuing all the way up to an amendment of the law in 1966, effective 1967,3 the single basis for granting a divorce was adultery.

Oh, there were attempts to broaden the grounds, to include things like desertion. Those were all defeated. Repeatedly. In 1813, 1827, 1840, 1849, 1850 and 1855, just for starters.4

When it came to getting a divorce in New York, it didn’t get easier for a long long long time. Instead the law was changed to allow judges to say no to a divorce even if adultery was proved, if it looked like the two sides had connived in getting the evidence, then to make proof of adultery harder, then to require longer waiting periods even in the court process itself.5

It wasn’t until 1967 that New York finally permitted divorce on grounds of cruel and inhumane treatment, abandonment for more than two years, imprisonment for more than three years, and after a legal separation of more than two years.6

So… anybody whose spouse got a New York divorce until 1967 was convicted of adultery — and couldn’t remarry.

That’s what the law said.

But… but… but… did cheaters really not get to remarry?


Well, um, yeah, actually. They really didn’t get to remarry.

At least not initially.

Not in New York.

You see, the whole notion here was that divorce wasn’t something to be granted lightly, and that those who strayed shouldn’t be free to stray again.

And for more than 100 years, that’s where New York law stood. An adulterer couldn’t legally remarry in New York as long as the spouse he or she had cheated on was still living.

The law was finally changed, in 1879. The courts were then allowed to modify the divorce decree and allow the guilty party to remarry on three conditions: (1) five years or more had passed since the divorce was ordered; (2) the cheated-on spouse had remarried; and (3) the cheating spouse had exhibited “uniformly good conduct” during the intervening years.7

And, yes, people did get around the law, both before and after 1879, by going out of New York to divorce and/or to remarry, which may of course explain why some New York ancestors went missing from New York at various times in their lives.

So for genealogists, understanding this law can help put our ancestors’ actions into context.

But still… for them…

Quite a price to pay for a cheating heart…


  1. §49, Article 3, Title I, Chapter VIII, in The Revised Statutes of the State of New-York, 3 vols. (Albany, N.Y. : Packard & Van Benthuysen, printers, 1829), II: 146; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 19 Nov 2015).
  2. Law of March 30, 1787, chapter 69, 1787 N.Y. Laws 494.
  3. Law of 27 April 1966, chap. 254, 1966 N.Y. Laws 833, effective 1 September 1967.
  4. J. Herbie DiFonzo and Ruth C. Stern, 27 Pace Law Review 559, 564 (2007).
  5. Ibid., at 566.
  6. Law of 27 April 1966, chap. 254, 1966 N.Y. Laws 833, effective 1 September 1967.
  7. Law of April 16, 1879, chap. 164, 1879 N.Y. Laws 231; Law of May 19, 1879, chap. 321, 1879 N.Y. Laws 405.
Posted in General, Statutes | 17 Comments