Nothing at all that can be said…


Posted in General | 5 Comments

One of the newest counties

So The Legal Genealogist is getting ready to head off on another adventure this weekend… and yet will be sleeping in her own bed every night.

I love this time of year when so many of my speaking engagements are local, and the Hudson County (New Jersey) Genealogical & Historical Society is the first stop, tomorrow, for a program on DNA testing. If you’re anywhere near the Secaucus Public Library tomorrow morning, come on out and join us.

NJctyGetting ready for this presentation got me thinking about what I know about Hudson County.

As somebody without any New Jersey ancestors at all, that I know of,1 I’d made some of those assumptions we warn ourselves against: it had always seemed to me that Hudson County was one of those old colonial counties with roots that stretched back forever.


Dead wrong.

It’s actually one of the newest of New Jersey’s 21 counties, with only three having been created later in time.

Here’s the history in a nutshell.

The Colony of New Jersey was originally two proprietorships: East Jersey with its capital at Amboy (now Perth Amboy); and West Jersey with its capital at Burlington.2

The first counties were established in East Jersey: Bergen, Essex, Middlesex and Monmouth were created in 1683.3

Two courts began operating in West Jersey in 1681, in what became Burlington and Salem Counties, but those counties themselves came later, in 1694.4

In 1686, Gloucester County was created in West Jersey.5

In 1688, Somerset County was established in East Jersey.6

In 1692, Cape May County was created in West Jersey.7

In 1694, Burlington and Salem Counties were officially created as counties in West Jersey.8

In 1702, East and West Jersey consolidated, and the first new county in New Jersey was Hunterdon County, created in 1714.9 That was followed by:

• Morris County in 1739;10

• Cumberland County in 1748;11

• Sussex County in 1753;12

• Warren County in 1824;13

• Atlantic and Passaic Counties in 1837;14

Hudson County in 1840;15

• Camden County in 1844;16

• Ocean County in 1850;17 and

• Union County in 1857.18

True, New Jersey is an old colonial state.

But not all of its counties are old colonial counties.

And Hudson, where I’ll be tomorrow, is one of the babies.


Image: New Jersey State Archives.

  1. In fact, as far as I’ve been able to prove so far, the first of my ancestors to live north of the Mason-Dixon line were my father and his parents who emigrated to the United States in the 1920s and lived in Chicago.
  2. Edwin P. Tanner, The Province of New Jersey 1664-1738 (New York : Columbia University Press, 1908); digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 12 Nov 2015).
  3. “History,” Bergen County, Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders ( : accessed 12 Nov 2015).
  4. See “New Jersey County Map,” State of New Jersey, Department of State, New Jersey State Archives ( : accessed 12 Nov 2015).
  5. County History,” Gloucester County, New Jersey ( : accessed 12 Nov 2015).
  6. Somerset County – 2015,” Somerset County, NJ ( : accessed 12 Nov 2015).
  7. History of Cape May County,” Cape May County New Jersey ( : accessed 12 Nov 2015).
  8. See “New Jersey County Map.”
  9. The First 300 Years of Hunterdon County, 1714-2014,” Hunterdon County New Jersey ( : accessed 12 Nov 2015).
  10. History,” Morris County, NJ ( : accessed 12 Nov 2015).
  11. History,” Cumberland County New Jersey ( : accessed 12 Nov 2015).
  12. Cultural and Historic Resources of Sussex County ,” Sussex County, New Jersey ( : accessed 12 Nov 2015).
  13. About Warren County…Past and Present,” Welcome to Warren County, New Jersey ( : accessed 12 Nov 2015).
  14. For Atlantic, “History of Atlantic County,” Atlantic County, New Jersey, County Government ( : accessed 12 Nov 2015). For Passaic, “History,” Passaic County, New Jersey ( : accessed 12 Nov 2015).
  15. William H. Shaw, compiler, History of Essex and Hudson Counties, New Jersey (Philadelphia : Everts & Peck, 1884), 943; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 12 Nov 2015).
  16. County History,” Camden County, New Jersey ( : accessed 12 Nov 2015).
  17. Ocean County Timeline,” Ocean County Cultural & Heritage Commission ( : accessed 12 Nov 2015).
  18. History of Union County,” Union County New Jersey ( : accessed 12 Nov 2015).
Posted in General | 10 Comments

More than just immigration

It was not just a single building.

1Not just the great iconic main hall through which millions of immigrants streamed and that has become so associated in the public mind with the very name: Ellis Island.

Not just the place where Annie Moore became the first immigrant to pass through and process there.1

It wasn’t always an immigration center.

In fact, the facility that closed its doors, for the very last time, behind the very last person to be processed there, 61 years ago today, was no longer an immigration facility but a detention center.

And it wasn’t even always Ellis Island.

It began, of course, as “Kioshk” or Gull Island in the language of the local native tribes. It didn’t become Ellis Island until after Samuel Ellis became the owner in the 1770s and, by then, it had been called everything from Kioshk to Oyster to Dyre to Bucking to Anderson’s Island. And it developed “from a sandy island that barely rose above the high tide mark, into a hanging site for pirates, a harbor fort, ammunition and ordinance depot named Fort Gibson, and finally into an immigration station.”2

Except for that word “finally” there. Since finally it was really a detention center and not an immigration center at all.

Its timeline:

1630: Kioshk, or Gull Island, purchased by the Dutch.3

By 1776: The island was owned by Samuel Ellis, who ran a tavern there for sailors.4

1808: Ellis’ heirs sold the island to New York State, which sold it to the federal government.5

1808-1812: A military fort was built on the island with 20 guns.6

1812-1890: The fort continued to operate.7

1890: Congress appropriated money to build an immigration station at Ellis Island.8

1892: Ellis Island opened as an immigration station.9

1924: “The main function of Ellis Island changed from that of an immigrant processing station, to a center of the assembly, detention, and deportation of aliens who had entered the U.S. illegally or had violated the terms of admittance. The buildings at Ellis Island began to fall into disuse and disrepair.”10

1938-1945: During World War II, Ellis Island served as a detention center for alien enemies. “By 1946, approximately 7000 aliens and citizens, with German, Italian, and Japanese people comprising the largest groups, were detained at Ellis Island. … Ellis Island was also used as a hospital for returning wounded servicemen and by the United States Coast Guard, which trained about 60,000 servicemen there.”11

1950-1954: Foreign detainees were held at Ellis Island. The last one, a Norwegian seaman named Arne Peterssen, was released in November 1954.12

12 November 1954: Ellis Island was closed as an operating federal facility.13

1965: Ellis Island became part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument.14

1990: A partnership between the National Park Service and the Statute of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation led to the opening of the Ellis Island Immigration Museum.15

Essentially all of the Ellis Island records are records of the federal government and will be found at the National Archives. Immigration records that aren’t still held by the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) can be found primarily in Record Group 85, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

For records of family members who may have been involved with the Coast Guard at Ellis Island, try Record Group 26, Records of the United States Coast Guard.

And if any family members were caught up as enemy aliens, the records could be spread over a number of record groups. Start by reviewing the Brief Overview of the World War II Enemy Alien Control Program at the website.

Ellis Island. So much more than just one building — and more than just an immigration station.


Image: National Park Service.

  1. See Megan Smolenyak, “Annie Moore’s Story,” Honoring our Ancestors ( : accessed 11 Nov 2015).
  2. “The Origin of the Island,” Ellis Island History, Statute of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation ( : accessed 11 Nov 2015).
  3. Ellis Island – A Brief History of Events,” Statute of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation ( : accessed 11 Nov 2015).
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ellis Island History-A Brief Look,” National Park Service ( : accessed 11 Nov 2015).
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ellis Island – A Brief History of Events,” Statute of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation ( : accessed 11 Nov 2015).
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ellis Island History-A Brief Look,” National Park Service ( : accessed 11 Nov 2015).
  13. Ellis Island closes,” This Day in History ( : accessed 11 Nov 2015).
  14. Ellis Island History-A Brief Look,” National Park Service ( : accessed 11 Nov 2015).
  15. Ibid.
Posted in General, Resources | 10 Comments

Honoring those who served

In the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the guns fell silent.

On the battlefields of Europe, where war had raged for more than four years, the survivors breathed a sigh of relief.

It was over.

11.11The War to End All Wars, it was called.1 Though it wasn’t that, not at all, the toll of its carnage was staggering: more than nine million dead, more than 21 million wounded.2

And it gave rise to what today is called Veterans Day.

First proclaimed in November 1919 by President Wilson,3 Armistice Day became a national holiday by statute in 1938.4 In 1954, the name of the holiday was claimed to Veterans Day.5

It joined the list of three-day-weekend holidays in 19686 but was returned to its original date of November 11th by statute passed in 1975, effective in 1978.7

And so, today, November 11th — Veterans Day — The Legal Genealogist joins those who pause to thank every man and woman who has ever served this nation, wearing the uniform of its military services.

So many of them from my own family.8

Among them, my brothers and sister:

Evan H. Geissler, U.S. Air Force
Diana M. Geissler McKenzie, U.S. Air Force
Frederick M. Geissler, U.S. Army
Warren H. Geissler, U.S. Air Force
William K. Geissler, U.S. Marine Corps

My mother’s siblings and first cousins:

Billy R. Cottrell, U.S. Navy
Monte B. Cottrell, U.S. Navy
David F. Cottrell, U.S. Navy and U.S. Army
Jerry L. Cottrell, U.S. Air Force
Michael V. Cottrell, U.S. Air Force
Philip Cottrell, U.S. Marine Corps, 1920-1943
Frederick Merledon Gottlieb, U.S. Army
Sam Walter “Pete” Harris, U.S. Army

Among what we call the outlaws (my mother’s brothers-in-law):

J.C. Barrett, U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force
Miller (Ray) Childress, U.S. Navy
John C. Epps, U.S. Army
Thomas T. Williams, Jr., U.S. Air Force (Reserve)

And those who went before:

Clay R. Cottrell, U.S. Army, World War I
Gilbert F. Cottrell, U.S. Army, World War I
Jesse Fore, fifer, Captain Michael Gaffney’s Company, South Carolina Militia, War of 1812
Elijah Gentry Sr., Private, 1st Regiment, Mississippi Territorial Volunteers, War of 1812
Elijah Gentry, Private, 1st Regiment, Mississippi Territorial Volunteers, War of 1812
David Baker, Corporal, 3d Virginia Regiment, Continental Line
William Noel Battles, Private, Virginia Continental Line
John Pettypool, 1771, Militia, Granville County, NC
William Pettypool, 1701-02, Militia, Charles City County (Va.) Dragoons
Nicholas Gentry, cir 1680, Militia, Mattapony (Va.) Garrison


Image: “PEACE,” Bismarck (N.D.) Tribune, p.1; digital images, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress ( : accessed 11 Nov 2015).

  1. See Wikipedia (, “The war to end war,” rev. 29 Oct 2015.
  2. World War I,” ( : accessed 11 Nov 2015).
  3. Armistice Day,” WWPL Blog, posted 11 Nov 2011, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum ( : accessed 10 Nov 2013).
  4. “AN ACT Making the 11th day of November in each year a legal holiday,” 52 Stat. 351 (13 May 1938).
  5. “An Act To honor veterans on the 11th day of November of each year, a day dedicated to world peace,” 68 Stat. 168 (1 Jun 1954).
  6. “An Act To provide for uniform annual observances of certain legal public holidays on Mondays, and for other purposes,” 82 Stat. 250 ( 27 Jun 1968).
  7. “An Act To redesignate November 11 of each year as Veterans Day and to make such day a legal public holiday,” 89 Stat. 479 (18 Sep 1975).
  8. The list would be longer if I included those who wore a particular shade of grey… and, with apologies, I don’t have room in one blog post to even begin to list the cousins!
Posted in General, My family | 2 Comments

Good news, bad news, mixed news

There’s good news and bad news in the genetic genealogy world this week.

The good news is, things are changing.

The bad news is, thing are changing.

Good good news

Unabashedly good news came from AncestryDNA, which finally started officially reporting how much DNA any two people who match each other have in common.

cmsWith any match open, there is now a little icon with the predicted relationship that’s a letter i in a circle. Click on that and you get information we never got before.

Measured in centimorgans (cM), we can now see that someone reported as an extremely high confidence match as a predicted second (actual third) cousin shares 140 cM of DNA with The Legal Genealogist — a very good match indeed, and one well worth spending a lot of time collaborating with.

We can also see, at the other end of the spectrum, that a match reported as a moderate confidence match and distant cousin shares only five cM of DNA with me — and, quite frankly, that’s a match at a level where we’re unlikely ever to identify the common ancestor.

This level of reporting is a very welcome addition to the information from AncestryDNA — the first really solid analytical data that isn’t tree-dependent.

So kudos to AncestryDNA for providing this!

The bad good news

AncestryDNA also reports, with the amount of DNA we share with a match, how many segments we have in common with that match: how many individual pieces of DNA are likely shared because of common descent.

This isn’t as useful as the total amount of DNA in common, because part of the algorithm used by AncestryDNA results in skewing these numbers particularly for close matches.

Here’s the deal: AncestryDNA has a system called Timber that identifies, and removes, areas from its reporting system where it looks like there are huge numbers of people who share those segments just because they’re human, or European, or Greek — rather than because they share a common ancestor.

That’s a good thing, usually, since it removes a lot of false positive matches. But the result is that it really wreaks havoc with the number of segments reported.

Every parent should share exactly one very long segment on every autosomal chromosome with each of that parent’s children. That’s because each child inherits one entire chromosome out of each autosomal pair of chromosomes from each parent. So — on any given autosomal chromosome — there should be one, and only one, shared segment between a parent and a child. Twenty-two autosomal chromosomes, 22 autosomal segments shared.

But when you remove those Timber segments from consideration, what you get instead of one long shared segment is lots of smaller shorter segments shared between parent and child. My first cousin has had both of her parents tested: AncestryDNA reports that she shares 89 segments with her father and 102 with her mother.

Um… no.

So, for the time being at least, the Timber system combined with the segment reporting system isn’t good news at all.

The really mixed news

The biggest changes on the horizon are those over at 23andMe where the entire reporting system is about to be up-ended. An entire new set of rules go into effect this Wednesday, November 11th, so time is running out for those of us who’ve tested there to collect information about existing matches that could very well disappear as of Wednesday.

I’d give you an entire laundry list of things you can do to maximize your chances of keeping information you already have and being able to ensure that you are best positioned to take advantage of the changes there… but I don’t need to.

Shannon Christmas has already done it, yesterday, in a post on his blog, Through the Trees. The post, Prepare for The New 23andMe, gives you step by step instructions, with screen captures, on just what to do to make sure you keep as much as can be kept of the utility of the existing 23andMe system and position yourself to benefit the most from the new system there.

So head over to Through the Trees and Prepare for The New 23andMe.

The winds of change are a-blowing… and we all need to keep abreast of what’s happening to make the most of our DNA test results.

Posted in DNA | 16 Comments

The photograph that should have been

There were five Cottrell sisters who grew to adulthood.

Ten children in all were born to Martin Gilbert Cottrell and Martha H. “Mattie” (Johnson) Cottrell, great grandparents of The Legal Genealogist. Two — a daughter Willie and a son Sammie — died as children.1

sistersBut, in addition to the three sons (John, Gilbert and my grandfather, the baby, Clay) who lived to reach majority, there were five daughters who grew to adulthood as well.

Yet there are only four in this precious family photograph, dated — we believe — from about 1910.

At the top, from left to right, are Theo Cottrell Hodges and Maude Cottrell Gottlieb. At the bottom, from left to right, Addie Cottrell Harris and Nettie Cottrell Holly.

The one missing: the one born 140 years ago yesterday, on 6 November 1875, probably in Clay County, Texas. Her name was Effalie.2

She was the oldest of the Cottrell children, and appears for the first time in the records in the 1880 U.S. census in her parents’ household. She was shown as M.E. Cottrell, age four, with her brother John, age 3, shown as J.W. and sister Nettie, age 1, shown as N.H.3

She appears again in the marriage records of Wichita County, Texas, on 5 May 1898, when she and Hinton Snoddy, a Tennessee native, were united in matrimony by county judge J. H. Barwise.4

And then she was gone.

In 1900, Hinton Snoddy was listed in the Wichita County census as a 30-year-old widower living with his mother and siblings.5 He went on to remarry and had two children, Nannie and Marguerita.6 He died in October 1932 in Burkburnett, Wichita County.7

Of Effalie, little else is known.

What made her laugh. What care she took of a houseful of younger brothers and sisters. What her life in rough-and-tumble-before-the-turn-of-the-century Texas was like. What made her say yes when Hinton Snoddy asked her to marry him. What she thought of being presented with a baby brother — my grandfather Clay — just two weeks before she herself became a bride. What her dreams were for children of her own.

All we know is what has been passed down in oral family history: that she contracted typhoid and died within weeks of her marriage.8

From that, we can surmise that — not long after that spring wedding in 1898 — Effalie began to suffer poor appetite, headaches, generalized aches and pains, fever, and lethargy. The disease typically ran its course in four stages of roughly a week each… and, left untreated, typhoid kills 10-30% of the time.9

As it did there, in Wichita County, Texas, in the spring or early summer of 1898.

Leaving only a name behind… and a photograph of four sisters… when there should have been a photograph of five.


  1. Interview with Opal Robertson Cottrell (Kents Store, VA), by granddaughter Bobette Richardson, 1980s; copy of notes privately held by Judy G. Russell.
  2. Ibid.
  3. 1880 U.S. census, Clay County, TX, population schedule, Precinct 4, enumeration district (ED) 164, p. 492(B) (stamped), dwelling 17, family 17, M.G. Cottrell household; digital image, ( : accessed 12 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 1296.
  4. Wichita County, Texas, Marriage Book 2: 29, Hinton Snoddy and Effalie Cottrell, 1898, marriage license and return; County Clerk’s Office, Wichita Falls.
  5. 1900 U.S. census, Wichita County, TX, population schedule, Justice Precinct 6, enumeration district (ED) 127, p. 241(B) (stamped), sheet 8(B), dwelling 157, family 157, Hinton Snoddy household; digital image, ( : accessed 30 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T623, roll 1679.
  6. 1920 U.S. census, Wichita County, Texas, Burkburnett, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 197, p. 156(A) (stamped), dwelling 67, family 82, Hinton Snoddy household; digital image, ( : accessed 6 Nov 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication T625, roll 1859.
  7. Texas Department of Health, death certif. no. 44707, “Henton” Snoddy (1932); Bureau of Vital Statistics, Austin.
  8. Interview with Opal Robertson Cottrell, by granddaughter Bobette Richardson, 1980s.
  9. Wikipedia (, “Typhoid fever,” rev. 5 Nov 2015.
Posted in My family | 8 Comments

Virginia’s“ place of liberty and priviledge”

From the earliest days of colonial Virginia — a main ancestral home of The Legal Genealogist and the destination for this week’s adventure (at the Fall Fair of the Fairfax Genealogical Society) — residents of the Old Dominion have been subject to imprisonment:

• In 1631/2, Frenchmen brought to Virginia to establish vineyards who had “willinglie concealed the skill, and not only neglected to plant any vynes themselves, but have also spoyled and ruinated that vyniard, which was, with great cost, planted by the charge of the late company and theire officers here” were subject to imprisonment “untill they will depart out of this colony.”1

• Anybody who undercut the price of merchandise or goods from England was liable “uppon penalty to have or suffer, for his or theire first offence, imprisonment by the space of 2 mounthes without bayle…”2

• A ship captain who started selling his goods until licensed to do so could “have and suffer one mounthes imprisonment.”3

• Anybody selling arms or ammunition to the Indians “shall … suffer imprisonment duringe life.”4

But it wasn’t until 1642/3 that the laws provided that the sheriffs were responsible to “detaine and keep all such prisoners as shall from time to tyme happen to be within the said severall counties as there to have their tryall…” and not until then that the counties were required to “take care that sufficient prisons be built for the use of the severall countyes respectively.”5

Fairfax VA prison bounds

Fairfax County, Va., prison bounds

So… we all know what that means, right?

Balls and chains.

Bread and water.

Dark dank cells.

And prison bounds.

Prison bounds?

Yep, prison bounds.

As in “bounds and limitts for the conveniencie and accomodation of prisoners in the day time, as … shall be thought reasonable.”6

As in a zone around the jail “to be a place of liberty and priviledge for each prisoner (a) (not committed for treason or fellony) giving bond with good security to the sherriff of the county for his true imprisonment, to walke and abide in for their health and refreshment, within which compasse, soe long as such prisoner (not committed for treason or fellony) shall remaine and continue; he shall not be adjudged to have made an escape.”7

By 1726, persons imprisoned for debt were permitted, if they could post a good enough bond with sureties, “to go out of the prison, and to return at his or their pleasure.”8

And by 1748, the law required the justices of every county “to mark and lay out the bounds and rules of their respective county prisons, not exceeding ten acres of land, adjoining to such prison, …: And every prisoner, not committed for treason, or felony, giving good security to keep within the said rules, shall have liberty to walk therein, out of prison, for the preservation of his or her health, and keeping continually within the said bounds shall be adjudged in law a true prisoner.”9

That remained the law thereafter,10 until finally there was a time limit of a year put onto the entitlement to prison bounds for debtors.11

And did Fairfax County have a jail with prison bounds?

You betcha. And there’s that nice neat drawing above showing just that.12

Like the rest of Virginia’s jails and prisons, the Fairfax jail wasn’t boundless.

Like the others, it too had bounds… a “place of liberty and priviledge” for our colonial ancestors.


  1. Laws of 1631/2, Act XVI, in William Waller Hening, compiler, Hening’s Statutes at Large, Being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia from the first session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619, 14 vols. (1819-1823; reprint ed., Charlottesville: Jamestown Foundation, 1969), 1: 161.
  2. Ibid., Act XIX, Hening’s Statutes at Large 1:162.
  3. Ibid., Laws of 1632, Act XXIII, Hening’s Statutes at Large 1:191.
  4. Ibid., Laws of 1633, Act X, Hening’s Statutes at Large 1:219.
  5. Ibid., Laws of 1642/3, Act XLVI, Hening’s Statutes at Large 1:263.
  6. Ibid., Laws of 1647, Act I, Hening’s Statutes at Large 1:340.
  7. Ibid., “An act … for building prisons in each county, and for ascertaining rules to each prison,” Laws of 1684, Act V, Hening’s Statutes at Large 3: 15.
  8. Ibid., “An Act … to declare the Law concerning Executions; and for relief of poor Prisoners for debt,” Laws of 1726, Chap. III, Hening’s Statutes at Large 4: 162.
  9. Ibid., “An Act for establishing county courts, and for regulating and settling the proceedings therein,” Laws of 1748, Chap. VII, Hening’s Statutes at Large 5: 508.
  10. See ibid., “An act for amending and declaring the law concerning the escape to debtors out of the prison rules…,” Laws of 1765, Chap. XXII, Hening’s Statutes at Large 8: 120.
  11. See e.g. “An Act concerning such debtors in execution as may have had the benefit of the prison rules for the term of one year,” C. 135, in The Revised Code of the Laws of Virginia, 1819 (Richmond: Thomas Michie, 1819) I: 547; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 5 Nov 2015).
  12. Ten acres of land surrounding the courthouse laid off for the prison bounds. Record of Surveys, Section 2, p. 93, 1800, in Ross D. Netherton and Ruby Waldeck, The Fairfax County Courthouse (Fairfax, Va. : Fairfax Co. Office of Comp. Planning, 1977); ebook, Project Gutenberg ( : accessed 5 Nov 2015).
Posted in Legal definitions, Statutes | Leave a comment

Dueling administrators

Oh, the tales the court records tell…

OHanlonAnd it doesn’t really matters whose court records or where or why… there is always a story to be told.

For some reason, The Legal Genealogist ended up poking around in records of the New Plymouth Court last night.

No, not Plymouth. As in Massachusetts or Ohio.

New Plymouth.

As in New Zealand.

And in those court records, just as in court records everywhere, there is always a story to be told.

Case in point: the story of the O’Hanlon family, where the mama wasn’t happy — and it ended in a family feud.

Rose Anna O’Hanlon, resident at Hawera in the Provincial District of Taranaki, a hotelkeeper, died at New Plymouth on the 24th of May 1884. Her widower, Charles Patrick O’Hanlon, reported the death1 and — since Rose didn’t leave a will — asked to be given letters of administration on her estate.2

Pretty straight-forward, right? Married woman dies, husband takes over.

Um… not so fast.

On the same day that Charles went in to take over his wife’s estate, in came Mary Elizabeth O’Hanlon, Rose’s oldest daughter and next of kin, who was, she said, the only one of Rose’s children who was over age 21. She made her own request to be given the right to administer her mother’s estate.3

In particular, she didn’t want Charles Patrick O’Hanlon to touch a thing. He didn’t have a right to it, she said, because, in January 1882, her mother had gone to court and obtained an order protecting her property and earnings from her husband:

previous to the twenty second day of April one thousand eight hundred and eighty one she the said Rose Anna O’Hanlon had been subject to cruelty by her said husband without adultery, and that her said husband had habitually failed to provide a maintenance for his said wife and children without such failure being covered by sickness of other unavoidable cause.4

As a result, the court had entered the relief she wanted:

It is hereby by virtue of the provisions of the Married Womans Property protection Act 1880 Adjudged and ordered that the earnings and property of the said Rose Anna O’Hanlon acquired since the twenty second day of April one thousand eight hundred and eighty one shall be protected against her husband the said Charles Patrick O’Hanlon and all Creditors and persons claiming under him.5

Mary Elizabeth said everything Rose had when she died, she’d acquired after getting the court order and living separately from Charles — so nothing, no power of administration, and not one penny, should go to Charles.6

The probate court went along with Mary Elizabeth. Letters of administration “limited to such personal property as the deceased had acquired or become possessed of since the 22nd April 1881 (being the date from which a Protection Order granted to Deceased took effect) (were) granted to Mary Elizabeth O’Hanlon, Eldest daughter & next of kin of deceased.”7

Now… that’s a pretty good story all by itself. But the story of the law itself that Rose used to protect herself is a good one too.

New Zealand was among the first areas of the British Empire to give married women some protection over their own property. The first act, passed in 1860, focused on protection of women who had been deserted by their husbands and allowed the local courts to “make and give to the wife an order protecting her earnings and property acquired since the commencement of such desertion from her husband, and all creditors and persons claiming under him.”8

Its provisions were continued in 1870 and 1880,9 but the 1880 act — the one that Rose acted under — expanded protection to women in any of the following cases:

(1) Where she is deserted by her husband without reasonable cause (2) When she is subjected by her husband to cruelty without adultery (3) Where her husband is guilty of living in open adultery (4) Where her husband is guilty of habitual drunkenness (5) Where her husband habitually fails to provide a maintenance for his wife and children without such failure being caused by sickness or other unavoidable cause.10

Then by the act of 1884, effective 1 January 1885, married women in New Zealand were given the same right to own and acquire property — real and personal — as single women were given.11

Oh, and there’s one more tidbit to the O’Hanlon story… Mary Elizabeth wasn’t Charles and Rose’s only child. She was just the only child who was of age by 1884. It sure looks like they also had at least one son… another Charles O’Hanlon… who emigrated to the United States.12

Yes indeed… the tales the court records tell…


  1. District Court of Taranaki, New Plymouth, In re Rose Anna O’Hanlon, No. 146 (1884); Affidavit of Death, Charles Patrick O’Hanlon, 2 June 1884; digital images, “New Zealand, Archives New Zealand, Probate Records, 1843-1998,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 4 Nov 2015).
  2. Ibid., application for letters of administration, 2 June 1884.
  3. Ibid., Charles Patrick O’Hanlon, application of Mary Elizabeth O’Hanlon, 2 June 1884.
  4. Ibid., application of Mary Elizabeth O’Hanlon, 2 June 1884; attachment A, Resident Magistrates Court of Upper Wanganui, New Zealand; Order, In re Married Womans Property protection Act 1880, Rose Anna O’Hanlon (12 Jan 1882).
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid., application of Mary Elizabeth O’Hanlon, 2 June 1884.
  7. Ibid., Motion paper, 4 June 1884.
  8. §2, “Married Women’s Property Protection Act, 1860,” Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, 30 March 1861, p.4; digital image, National Library of New Zealand, Papers Past ( : accessed 4 Nov 2015).
  9. See Bettina Bradbury, “Colonial Comparisons: Rethinking Marriage, Civilization and Nation in Nineteenth-Century White Settler Societies,” in Phillip Buckner & R. Douglas Francis, eds., Rediscovering the British World (Calgary, Alberta : University of Calgary Press, 2005), 151.
  10. §3, “Married Women’s Property Protection Act, 1880,” in William Badger, ed., Statutes of New Zealand … 1842-1892, 4 vols. (Christchurch, NZ : p.p., 1892), I:427; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 4 Nov 2015).
  11. Ibid., “Married Women’s Property Act, 1884,” in Badger, ed., Statutes of New Zealand, I:423.
  12. See “U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007,” entry for Charles Patrick (Charles James) O’Hanlon, ( : accessed 4 Nov 2015).
Posted in Court Cases, Statutes | 4 Comments

Save a little, get a lot

Discovering that you have genealogical ties to New York can be cause for joy, such as when The Legal Genealogist found records showing that immigrant ancestors came through Ellis Island to begin their new lives here in the 19th and 20th centuries.

BOOK(3)But discovering that you have genealogical ties to New York can also be cause for despair, such as when you discover that most parts of New York don’t have vital records dating back nearly as far as we’d like; it didn’t even try to require recordation of vital statistics until 1847 and that effort was a failure.1

Or such as when you realize that “in 1911, a horrendous fire swept through the Capitol, causing wholesale destruction to everything in its path. The flames roared wildly through both the State and Assembly libraries reducing them to ashes.”2 Among the losses: some of the official records of the early Dutch period.

It’s not for no reason that New York is often described as the black hole of northeastern research.3

It isn’t that there aren’t terrific things to be found in New York: “New York has wonderful resources for the genealogist” and an “amazing number of records have survived from the colonial period to the present.” But those record types “may differ from sources found in other states,” presenting a different challenge: “to learn what they are and how to use them effectively.”4

And that’s where the New York Family History Research Guide and Gazetteer comes in: a massive work from the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society (NYG&B) to guide the researcher to those resources across the state and county by county.

I’ve written about this guide before,5 and anyone who’s even had a chance to glance at it knows how valuable this guide is:

• Diane Rapaport in the September issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly called the book “the biggest and best ever guide to New York research. Everything a researcher would want to know about researching New York’s sixty-two counties, and the boroughs of New York City, is now in one comprehensive, encyclopedic, easy-to-use manual.”6

• Henry Hoff, editor of the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, declared “This is a volume that every library and New York researcher should have, and indeed must have.”7

• And the New York Times described the book as “an overdue handbook for serious researchers,” “an enlightening and eclectic chronological tour of four centuries of New York benchmarks and record-keeping,” and “an authoritative, fact-filled beginner’s resource.”8

• The Federation of Genealogical Societies recently presented the NYG&B with an Award of Merit in recognition of distinguished work in family history for this publication.9

You can order your copy of the Guide through the NYG&B website here, and I’ll warn you: this isn’t an inexpensive book. For NYG&B members, it’s $65; for libraries, $75; and for non-NYG&B-members, $85, plus $10 shipping.

Except right now. Until November 30, if you use the the discount code “BOOKSHIP,” U.S. shipping and handling (regularly $10) is free for all. Mail, phone, online all get free shipping — amd even international orders get a $10 discount on shipping.

So act now… save a little and get a lot — a lot of information for your New York research.

Highly recommended.


  1. FamilySearch Research Wiki (, “New York Vital Records,” rev. 25 Oct 2015.
  2. The Capitol Fire,” New York State Assembly ( : accessed 3 Nov 2015).
  3. See e.g. Gary Jones, “Genealogical Scope,” Gary’s Genealogy Junk ( : accessed 3 Nov 2015).
  4. Harry Macy, Jr., Preface, in New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, New York Family History Research Guide and Gazetteer (New York : NYG&B, 2014), ix.
  5. Judy G. Russell, “New help with Empire State research,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 5 Feb 2015 ( : accessed 3 Nov 2015).
  6. Diane Rapaport, “Review: New York Family History Research Guide and Gazetteer,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 103 (September 2015): 235-236.
  7. Henry Hoff, “Review of Books: New York Family History Research Guide and Gazetteer,” New England Historical and Genealogical Register 169 (Spring 2015): 189-190.
  8. Sam Roberts, “Bookshelf: Books on a Photographer, the Underground Railroad and Ancestry,” The New York Times, posted 18 Apr 2015 ( : accessed 3 Nov 2015).
  9. See “FGS Awards Presented at the New York State Family History Conference,” FGS Voice, 20 Sep 2015 ( : accessed 3 Nov 2015).
Posted in General | Leave a comment

Records access notices

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

But how? How do we stay abreast of all of the challenges there are out there these days?

Alert IconChallenges like the loss of access to the last three years of the Social Security Death Index.1

Challenges like the new Kansas Supreme Court rule on marriage records, that means that marriage information that had been publicly available for decades is no longer accessible.2

Challenges like the new European Union rules on privacy that may threaten even Holocaust research.3

Just keeping up with the fight on all the front is exhausting — and The Legal Genealogist alone couldn’t begin to keep our community informed the way we all need to be informed.

Fortunately, there are others out there committed to the same fight, who are doing more than any one individual could possibly do… and now you too can have the benefit of this collective work.

The International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) has an announcement list, the IAJGS Records Access Alert. When it was started up some time ago, it was only open to select groups. But at the IAJGS 2015 October Board meeting, IAJGS made the wonderful decision to open the Alert list to anyone who is interested in records access.

Here’s what you need to do:

1. Head over to this link to sign up.

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

3. Enter a first name, a last name and an organization in the second box. You can use your local society as your organization — and you can use Legal Genealogist if you don’t belong to a local society.4 (John Doe Legal Genealogist will work, but only if your name is John Doe…)

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

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

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

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

Be aware, of course, that the best source of alerts is the community itself. It really is a “see-something-say-something” situation, and you can tell IAJGS about any problem brewing in your area by sending an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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

And to do that, we have to stay informed.

Here’s an easy way to do that.

Sign up, won’t you?

I have…


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