A soul lost to a devastating illness

When the telephone rings at five o’clock in the morning, you know the news is not going to be good.

And that morning in June, 10 years ago, The Legal Genealogist‘s family had been expecting some bad news.

My mother’s oldest brother, my Uncle Billy, was born in 1919, and had been ailing for some time. He had had ups and downs, and more downs than ups there in 2005.

So when that phone rang, and when I heard a cousin’s voice on the other end of the line, I was sure that’s what she was going to tell me. That we had lost a member of our family.

And we surely had.

But not the family member we had been expecting to lose.

“We’ve lost Meredith,” my cousin said.


Laughing giggling dancing Meredith.

Caring daring questioning Meredith.

Whirling twirling grab-your-hand-and-pull-you-in Meredith.


First cousin once removed. Daughter of my cousin Kay. Sister of my cousin Barrett. Granddaughter of my Aunt Cladyne. An integral part of all of our lives.

A young woman full of promise. An honor graduate of North Carolina’s Guilford College. An avid environmentalist. An outspoken political activist.

A young woman I had spoken to not three weeks earlier to plan a whirlwind “come up to New York and we’ll do Broadway” visit.

A young woman just weeks away from her 30th birthday — the reason why we were planning that New York visit.

And … sigh … a young woman suffering from the clearly genetically-based depressive illness that has plagued my family for generations.

It has manifested in some of us as simple clinical depression, if anything about clinical depression can be described by so gentle a word as “simple.” In some of us, in more complex forms — bipolar disorder, or dissociative disorder with depressive symptoms.

We know it’s been in the family for several generations. My grandmother’s Uncle John was committed to the Texas State Asylum in 1884. He’s not the only one in the family we can trace this through, not the only one who spent time in hospitals because of it, not the only one to die because of its ravages.

Those of us who have felt its power don’t talk about it outside of the family. We understand, only too well, that it is a biological disease related to biochemical factors many of us have inherited. But we also understand, only too well, that we are, still today, living in a time when just the words “mental illness” are regarded as disqualifying. If you don’t believe that, you don’t remember Senator Thomas Eagleton…

But what we learned with Meredith is that those of us who have felt its power need to talk about it more — much more — at least inside of the family.

To understand its genetic origins.

To understand — and be able to watch for — its symptoms.

To understand its risks.

To understand that, sometimes, we will win against its power.

And to understand that, sometimes, no matter what we do, no matter what we try, no matter what anyone does… we will lose against its power.

The way we lost Meredith.


Laughing giggling dancing Meredith.

Caring daring questioning Meredith.

Whirling twirling grab-your-hand-and-pull-you-in Meredith.


Who would have been 40 years old yesterday.


Posted in My family | 59 Comments

Your voice is needed!

The Legal Genealogist has a second great grandfather whose first appearance in the public records that we can locate anywhere is in the marriage books of Colorado County, Republic of Texas.

His second appearance is when the Republic of Texas indicted him.

For bigamy.1

I love this ancestor — he’s by far my favorite ancestor — but you have to wonder sometimes how people react, and why they react the way they do, when they discover an ancestor whose past is — shall we say — less than savory.

Well, now there’s an organized effort to figure that out, in the context of Ph.D. research at the University of Sheffield, England — and the research is being done by one of our own.


Aoife O Connor is not just a student — she’s an accomplished historian (her master’s thesis was about children in Ireland’s prisons), and she works at Findmypast.

Her Ph.D. study is looking at — and I quote — “The Impact of Digital Resources in the History of Crime.”2

In other words, she explains, on her website A Criminal Record:

My PhD will explore the impact of digitisation on the study of the history of crime, drawing on the experiences of genealogists, historians, students, writers and teachers.

I am particularly hoping to reach out to family historians. Family historians have appreciated the value of ‘crime records’ since before the advent of the internet to say nothing of the digitisation of crime records. However it is probably true to say that most would have sought out a criminal ancestor based on family lore. With the advent of digitisation criminal ancestors can be stumbled upon. A previously unknown episode in the history of the family can be revealed.

From my initial conversations I have found that when confronted with a previously unknown criminal ancestor or an ancestor whose criminal activity was unknown descendant’s react in many different ways: from amusement to horror. I have witnessed descendants shrug off, laugh, be embarrassed by, and take pride in their criminal forbearers. My research will explore how researchers integrate an ancestor from a criminal record into their family story.3

So Aoife wants to hear from us: fellow genealogists and family historians with those not-so-savory characters in our families. She has surveys on the website for folks to answer to contribute to this research:

‘Criminal’ Ancestor: if your ancestor appeared in court (including petty sessions), was imprisoned, in a reformatory or transported.

Witness, Police, Victim, Judge Ancestor: if your ancestor appears in criminal records as a witness, victim, or member of the judicial system.

Genealogy Researcher: if you undertake research for others (paid or unpaid), and have had to tell a client about their criminal ancestor.

Author/Writer: if (you) have written about historic crime in any genre: fact or fiction, magazines, blogging, academic text books etc.

Independent/Academic Researcher: if (you) have researched historic crime as an independent researcher/local historian or part of your studies/academic work (school-university).

Got some less-than-savory types in your family tree? Help out a fellow genealogist, and advance this research. Fill out one (or more) of these surveys, willya?

I’m dying to see what Aiofe ends up with…


  1. See generally Judy G. Russell, “Darn it all, George!,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 18 May 2012 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 24 July 2015), and ibid., “Oh George… you stinker!,” posted 9 Jun 2012.)
  2. See Aoife O Connor, The Digital Panopticon (http://www.digitalpanopticon.org/ : accessed 24 July 2015).
  3. Aoife O Connor, “About,” A Criminal Record (http://acriminalrecord.org/ : accessed 24 July 2015).
Posted in General | 4 Comments

The language of the law. Part Latin, part Anglo-Saxon, all confusing.

So in class this week at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP), one of the documents the students are grappling with is a deed of sale and conveyance.

deed of trustSale and conveyance?


Makes perfect sense, right?

If, as The Legal Genealogist noted earlier this week, we use all the words like give and bequeath and devise to cover all the legal bases when we transfer property by will,1 it makes sense that we’d use all the legal terms we can when transfering property by deed.

So… what’s the difference between a sale and a conveyance? Why was it important to use one rather than another, and what bases were covered when someone used both terms anyway?

A sale, when it comes to property in a deed, denotes a transfer of title “where the price or consideration is … paid in money…”2

A conveyance, on the other hand, was a broader term: it included any “instrument in writing under seal, … by which some estate or interest in lands is transferred from one person to another; such as a deed, mortgage, etc.”3

So, to put it another way:

The main difference is that the Sale Deed transfers the legal title of property from one person to another in case of a sale, i.e. the first party actually sells the title of the property to the second party in return of a specific amount of money. However, in a Conveyance Deed, there is no such restriction. A Conveyance Deed can transfer the legal title of property from one person to another in case of a gift, an exchange, a lease (i.e. on a temporary basis), mortgage or other circumstances.4


  1. See Judy G. Russell, “Bequeath or devise,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 20 July 2015 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 23 July 2015).
  2. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 1059, “sale.”
  3. Ibid., 273, “conveyance.”
  4. Difference between Sale Deed and Conveyance Deed,” DifferenceBetween.info (http://www.differencebetween.info/ : accessed 23 July 2015).
Posted in Legal definitions | Leave a comment

The language of the law. Part Latin, part Anglo-Saxon, all confusing.

So after class one day this week at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh, a student Anita Boyd had a question.

devastShe had come across a court case involving an ancestor’s slaveholder and the key argument in the case was over the ownership of three slaves.

It was an estate case, a fight over an inheritance.

And tucked neatly — and incomprehensibly — into the discussion in one paragraph was the comment that a central claim by the plaintiff against the defendant was devastavit.




Even The Legal Genealogist had to look that one up.

Devastavit, it turns out, is Latin for he has wasted. Makes sense when you go on to read that it is:

The act of an executor or administrator in wasting the goods of the deceased; mismanagement of the estate by which a loss occurs; a breach of trust or misappropriation of assets held in a fiduciary character; any violation or neglect of duty by an executor or administrator, involving loss to the decedent’s estate, which makes him personally responsible to heirs, creditors, or legatees.1

In other words, the plaintiff in the case was arguing that the defendant in the case had committed some act with respect to the estate she was managing that caused the estate to lose valuable property — the three slaves.

Devastavit. A devastating loss.

Not in that particular case, since the court found the defendant hadn’t done any such thing.

But whenever you come across it, that’s what it is: a claim against the person handling an estate accusing that person of wasting assets.


  1. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 363, “devastavit.”
Posted in Legal definitions | Leave a comment

Bring back the interactive map, please!

There are a few sites that, to a genealogist, are simply indispensable.

If The Legal Genealogist absolutely had to, I could live without some of the sites that are in my genealogy toolbar, or my key bookmarks list.

But very high on the list of sites I can not do without is the interactive map of historical county boundaries at Chicago’s Newberry Library.

When you have families, like mine, that migrated during the early days of the Revolutionary War to Rowan County, North Carolina, and then lived in Burke County, Yancey County and Mitchell County — but never moved after arriving in North Carolina — you really need the interactive map database at the Newberry Library.

It’s the easiest, most complete, site to track county boundaries. As the site says, it has “(m)aps and text covering the historical boundaries, names, organization, and attachments of every county, extinct county, and unsuccessful county proposal from the creation of the first county through 31 December 2000.”1

You can “(c)hoose a date (day, month, and year) to view historical county configurations against the modern county network. Use the toolbar to zoom, pan, measure, view descriptions and citations, or print a desired map.”2

Well, you could do all those things, that is… until now.


As you can see, right now, if you go to the Newberry Library website and go to the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries page, you get a message right at the top.

One that makes my heart stop dead in its tracks.

Please note: the interactive map portion of this site is temporarily unavailable.

And, underneath that, a box for data entry with the comment “Enter email address to receive notification when this functionality has been restored.”

Now any time you see a message like this, you know that the most likely situation is that there’s some sort of technical glitch that will take some serious resources to fix… and that those serious resources won’t be committed unless and until the site has evidence that the missing functionality is important to the site’s users.

In other words, if we don’t tell the Newberry Library that we really really want and need this functionality back, we may well lose it forever.

So you know what we need to do, right?

You got it: head right over to the Newberry Library website, to the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries page, and add your email address to the list of those that need to be notified “when this functionality has been restored.”

When, not if.


Please, dear Newberry… please…


  1. Atlas of Historical County Boundaries,” entry for New Jersey, Newberry Library (http://publications.newberry.org/ahcbp/ : accessed 20 July 2015).
  2. Ibid.
Posted in General, Resources | 9 Comments

The language of the law. Part Latin, part Anglo-Saxon, all confusing.

So… it’s GRIP week again.

The Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP) has two sessions, one in June and, now, this week in July.

Last Will and TestamentAnd you know what that means, right?

Yeah, The Legal Genealogist is on the road again.

Rick Sayre and I are co-coordinating the Law School for Genealogists course where a classroom full of eager students will hear about federal and state courts, resources like the U.S. Serial Set, tips for understanding records of our female ancestors, and so much more.

But even though time, this week, will be at a premium, there are still questions to be answered, including the one Charmaine Riley Holley hit me with last night just before dinner:

Just what’s the difference, in a will, between the statement that something is bequeathed and the statement that something is devised?

In the will Charmaine was reading, the deceased was leaving things to a number of relatives and the terminology used wasn’t the same for all. To some, the will used the language “I bequeath and devise” and to others the language was just “I bequeath.”

Why, Charmaine wanted to know, would there be a difference?

Great question, because — even though today we basically use both words any time we give anything to anyone in a will and often say “I give, bequeath and devise” (just to cover all the bases) — historically, there really was a difference between the two terms.

To bequeath something meant to “give personal property by will to another.”1

To devise something meant to make a “gift of real property by will.”2

And the difference between personal and real property, of course, is that personal property is “property of a personal or movable nature, as opposed to property of a local or immovable character, (such as land or houses), the latter being called ‘real property.’”3

So the decedent in Charmaine’s case bequeathed his personal property, and he devised his real property — his land.


  1. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 129, “bequeath.”
  2. Ibid., 364, “devise.”
  3. Ibid., 893, “personal property.”
Posted in Legal definitions | Leave a comment

Test them all!

The one thing that is abundantly clear is that understanding DNA testing and the way it can be used in genealogy is tough stuff.

siblingsWe have to understand what kinds of DNA tests there are.

We have to understand what those tests can and can’t show.

And we have to understand who to test to get the most from what the tests offer.

Compared to that, understanding those tick marks on an early census record seems easy!

And it’s that complexity that’s tripping up reader Gail as she tries to figure out who to test right now — herself or her brother.

“I am still wondering,” she wrote, “if I want the most complete results -– would it be better to test my brother versus myself as a female? Although I am reading it makes no difference it did make a difference with National Geographic since we got the female line only with myself and had to test my brother which resulted in duplication of the female with the addition of the male. Also, since the male or female DNA results showed only the direct line, will that change for the DNA tests from the other sources?”

Clearly some confusion going on here, so let’s go back to the basics and review the three basic types of DNA tests.

First, we have YDNA — the kind of DNA found in the male gender-determinative Y chromosome that only men have.1 It gets passed from a man only to his sons and from his sons only to his grandsons and from his grandsons only to his great grandsons, with few changes down the generations.2

That’s the test Gail’s brother has already taken with National Geographic, and that gave him what she refers to as “male DNA” results. That tells her and her brother only about their direct paternal line: their father’s father’s father and so on (plus all of the sons and grandsons of those men) share the same YDNA.

What does that type of test tell us? It can help us answer a key question: am I descended from — or at least related to — that one man? So it’s an excellent test for genealogists, but for this test they have to have a male candidate to test.

Second, we have mitochondrial DNA, or mtDNA — the kind of DNA we all have that serves as the energy producer for the cells in our bodies.3 It gets passed from a mother to all of her children — male and female — but only her daughters can pass it on to her grandchildren.4

That’s the test that Gail and her brother have both taken with National Geographic that she’s referring to as the female line because it tells them about their direct maternal line: their mother’s mother’s mother and so on (plus all of the children of all of the women in a direct line of descent) share the same mtDNA.

What does that type of test tell us? It can help us answer a key question: am I descended from — or at least related to — that one woman? It’s a tougher test to figure out because of the inheritance pattern: you can test a son if you’re looking for information about his mother’s mother’s mother’s line, but you can’t test that son’s children since they have the mtDNA of their mother, not their father. So it’s an excellent test for genealogists, but only if they have the right candidates — male or female — to test.

Third, we have autosomal DNA — the kind of DNA we all inherit from both of our parents5 in a mix that changes, in a random pattern, from generation to generation in a process called recombination.6

That’s the test that Gail is really asking about right now, and wondering whether she or her brother would be better to test — and whether it makes any difference who gets tested.

What does that type of test tell us? It tells us about all of our ancestors back within four or five generations, to help us answer the question: am I descended from — or at least related to — that couple? So it’s really most useful for finding cousins who share some portion of DNA with us with whom we can then share research efforts.7

And because that recombination bit happens every single time a child is conceived both Gail and her brother should be tested. Recombination is purely random, so Gail could well have inherited some fairly substantial chunks of DNA that her brother did not inherit — and vice versa.

And to be sure of getting the most from autosomal testing, not only should Gail and her brother both test, but they also want to test everyone else in the family — parents or grandparents still living, other siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins — that they can convince to test.

Each family member will have cousin matches in the DNA testing databases that the others won’t have — and some of those individual matches may provide the keys to some enduring family history mysteries.

Bottom line: when it comes to autosomal testing, test everybody you can afford to test!


  1. ISOGG Wiki (http://www.isogg.org/wiki), “Y chromosome,” rev. 18 Jan 2015.
  2. Ibid., “Y chromosome DNA tests,” rev. 27 Nov 2014.
  3. What is mitochondrial DNA?,” Genetics Home Reference Handbook, National Library of Medicine, US Department of Health (http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/handbook : accessed 18 July 2015).
  4. ISOGG Wiki (http://www.isogg.org/wiki), “Mitochondrial DNA tests,” rev. 15 May 2015.
  5. ISOGG Wiki (http://www.isogg.org/wiki), “Autosomal DNA,” rev. 30 June 2015.
  6. ISOGG Wiki (http://www.isogg.org/wiki), “Recombination,” rev. 14 June 2015.
  7. See Judy G. Russell, “Autosomal DNA testing,” National Genealogical Society Magazine, October-December 2011, 38-43.
Posted in DNA | 8 Comments


No, no, no, no.

Just no.

The Legal Genealogist can’t handle this on a rainy nasty Saturday morning.


Not-ElizabethMy fifth great grandmother was Elizabeth (Pettypool) Jones. She was born around 1750, and died in September 1818. She is buried at Sandy Run Baptist Cemetery in Cleveland County, North Carolina.1

You can see a photograph of her tombstone there on Find A Grave: the inscription reads “In memory of Elizabeth Jones Consort of John Jones Who died Septr 25 1818 Aged 6(8?) years.”2

And you can find there another photograph. The one that’s illustrating this blog post.

A photograph purportedly of Elizabeth (Pettypool) Jones.


Let me repeat something here.

Elizabeth (Pettypool) Jones was born around 1750, and died in September 1818.

And the very first permanent photograph, of anything, ever known to have been created was created by a Frenchman, Nicéphore Niépce, in 1826.3

Niépce and another Frenchman named Jacques Louis Mande Daguerre teamed up three years later — in 1829 — to try to perfect the photographic process. But it wasn’t until 1839 that the details of the first commercially practical photographic process, the daguerreotype, were announced in public.4

That same year, 1839, is when an Englishman named William Henry Fox Talbot announced his process for what he called photogenic drawing — combining negatives and light-sensitive papers to produce images.5

You’re getting the drift, right?

There is no way that a process that didn’t even begin until 1826 could possibly have been used to create an image of a woman who died in 1818.


No, no, no, no.

Just no.


  1. W.D. Floyd, “Cleveland County Cemeteries,” Website On Disks, CD-ROM (Forest City, NC : Genealogical Society of Old Tryon County, 2007), entry for Elizabeth Jones, Sandy Run Baptist Cemetery.
  2. Sandy Run Baptist Cemetery, Cleveland County, North Carolina, Elizabeth Jones marker; digital image, Find A Grave (http://findagrave.com : accessed 18 July 2015), photo added by Sharon, Find A Grave member #46808067.
  3. Timeline,” History of Photography, PBS (http://www.pbs.org/ : accessed 18 July 2015).
  4. Helmut Erich Robert Gernsheim, “History of Photography,” Encyclopedia Britannica (http://www.britannica.com/ : accessed 18 July 2015).
  5. Ibid.
Posted in My family | 35 Comments

Have you bookmarked JSTOR Daily yet?

Back in October 2014, The Legal Genealogist discovered something all genealogists have to add to their reading list.

It’s called JSTOR Daily, it’s irresistable — and it’s packed with great information.1

Including information written specifically for our community.

By a member of our community.

Jstor.dailyEvery single post on JSTOR Daily is well-written and points towards some terrific information.

That by itself would make JSTOR Daily worth reading.

But, since April, genealogists have had an even better reason for reading JSTOR Daily: it now features articles pretty nearly every week by genealogy’s own D. Joshua Taylor — articles focused on using JSTOR’s deep resources for family history research.

Now JSTOR, in case you’re not familiar with it, is:

a not-for-profit organization, founded to help academic libraries and publishers.

JSTOR is a shared digital library created in 1995 to help university and college libraries free up space on their shelves, save costs, and provide greater levels of access to more content than ever before. More generally, by digitizing content to high standards and supporting its long-term preservation, we also aim to help libraries and academic publishers transition their activities from print to digital operations. Our aim is to expand access to scholarly content around the world and to preserve it for future generations. We provide access to some or all of the content free of charge when we believe we can do so while still meeting our long-term obligations.

JSTOR currently includes more than 2,000 academic journals, dating back to the first volume ever published, along with thousands of monographs and other materials relevant for education. We have digitized more than 50 million pages and continue to digitize approximately 3 million pages annually. Our activities, our fee structure, and the way we manage the service and its resources reflect our historical commitment to serve colleges and universities as a trusted digital archive, and our responsibility to publishers as stewards of their content. This underlying philosophy at JSTOR remains the core of our service even as we continue to seek ways to expand access to people beyond academic institutions.2

If you have access to JSTOR through your community or academic library, JSTOR has extremely rich and deep content in categories ranging from world culture to law. If you don’t, then as individuals, we can access some free offerings from JSTOR, with an ability to save a very small number at a time of articles to a personal library. And there’s a paid option called JPASS, for $19.50 a month or $199 a year, with unlimited access to about 85% of the journals JSTOR has.3 And JPASS is often on sale at genealogical conferences.

Okay… so JSTOR is cool — but it can be overwhelming. That’s where JSTOR Daily and Josh’s guidance to its resources come into play. Because every article is documented with links to JSTOR content that may give us some ideas of where to go to find out more — and Josh’s articles are geared to our particular interests as genealogists.

Right now, Josh’s articles at JSTOR Daily include (in reverse chronological order):

• “Unlocking Your Ancestor’s Political Leanings,” an overview of using JSTOR to get more information about the political positions taken by our ancestors4 — with links to articles by others about abolition, voting patterns and even political involvement by our female ancestors.

• “The American Revolution and Genealogy Research,” a guide to researching those patriot ancestors — and Loyalists too — with a special look at how religious beliefs may have influenced loyalties at the time.5

• “The History of Graduation Ceremonies and Other School Rituals,” an article that begins with this question: “What was school like for our parents, grandparents, and the rest of our ancestors?” and goes on to provide some answers.6

• “Population Studies for the Genealogist,” a look at how genealogists could use methods employed by those studying historical populations to gain a deeper understanding of our ancestors’ lives.7 — with links to articles by others abour abolition, voting patterns and even political involvement by our female ancestors.

• “Our Farming Ancestors,” a look at the traditions of the family farm — and what life was like for a farmer and his family in the past.8

• “The Influenza Epidemic of 1918 and Your Ancestors,” an examination of the flu epidemic believed to have killed 40-50 million people around the world — and that impacted every one of our families.9

• “The Genealogy Factor: Graveyards & Gravestones,” a look at the art of the gravestone — what some of the symbolism means, for example — as well as at the way an archeologist looks at a burial ground, and what we can learn from that.10

All of these articles — and all of the JSTOR Daily posts in all categories — are full of links deep into JSTOR content that is relevant to the topic … and useful in our research.

JSTOR Daily is for our personal use only — the site’s terms of use provide that readers may “display and print for your personal, non-commercial use portions of content from JSTOR Daily. You may not otherwise alter or use any of the content without … prior written consent nor may you undertake any activity such as computer programs that automatically download or export JSTOR Daily content …. You may use a hypertext link … to our content so long as the link does not state or imply any sponsorship or endorsement of your site by us or any other affiliation with JSTOR Daily.”11

This is nice stuff — with some good ideas about where to go for more information. And you can get JSTOR Daily (all of it, Josh’s articles and much more) delivered by email through the JSTOR Newsletter.

Highly recommended.


  1. Judy G. Russell, “JSTOR Daily,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 2 Oct 2014 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 17 July 2015).
  2. About JSTOR,” JSTOR (http://www.jstor.org/ : accessed 17 July 2015).
  3. The JPASS Collection,” JSTOR (http://www.jstor.org/ : accessed 17 July 2015).
  4. D Joshua Taylor, “Unlocking Your Ancestor’s Political Leanings,” JSTOR Daily, posted 16 July 2015 (http://daily.jstor.org/ : accessed 17 July 2015).
  5. Ibid., “The American Revolution and Genealogy Research,” JSTOR Daily, posted 2 July 2015.
  6. Ibid., “The History of Graduation Ceremonies and Other School Rituals,” JSTOR Daily, posted 18 June 2015.
  7. Ibid., “Population Studies for the Genealogist,” JSTOR Daily, posted 3 June 2015.
  8. Ibid., “Our Farming Ancestors,” JSTOR Daily, posted 21 May 2015.
  9. Ibid., “The Influenza Epidemic of 1918 and Your Ancestors,” JSTOR Daily, posted 7 May 2015.
  10. Ibid., “The Genealogy Factor: Graveyards & Gravestones,” JSTOR Daily, posted 23 April 2015.
  11. Terms and Conditions of Use,” JSTOR Daily (http://daily.jstor.org/ : accessed 17 July 2015).
Posted in General, Resources | 12 Comments

AncestryDNA hits the million mark

No, actually, it isn’t Sunday, when The Legal Genealogist usually writes about DNA.

One million speed limitBut today’s announcement from AncestryDNA1 really shouldn’t wait.

Not the part of the announcement that talks about AncestryHealth.

Frankly, I have some concerns about that — the data collection and aggregation of health information linked to family trees, and particularly to living family members who are not Ancestry customers and who have not given their consent, raises privacy concerns that need to be addressed.2

But the other part of the announcement.

The part that gives an astonishing number.

One million.

That’s the number of autosomal DNA tests AncestryDNA has processed — the number of people whose DNA data is in the AncestryDNA database.

AncestryDNA isn’t the first company to hit that mark. 23andMe announced last month that it had genotyped its one millionth customer as well.3 But a huge number of 23andMe customers tested for health reasons, not for genealogical research. So you often match people on 23andMe who have no interest in family history and so don’t respond to sharing requests.

Ancestry customers, by contrast, all tested because of some level of curiosity about their family history. They may not all have the degree of knowledge of their family trees that we’d like to see, but they’re all there in that database because of some shared interest in our shared ancestry.

And as that database grows — as the number of people who have taken a genetic genealogy test increases — so too does the likelihood of making a breakthrough in our own family history research by working collaboratively with those we discover are our genetic kin.

It really is just because of this database size that anyone serious about finding genetic matches to work with on family history mysteries needs to test with AncestryDNA.

Yes, I’m still disappointed with AncestryDNA’s refusal to provide tools to analyze our DNA results — the lack of a chromosome browser, for example, to see precisely where our DNA and a match’s DNA line up.4

But the simple fact is, database size matters. The more people we match, the more people we can connect with who may just have that photo of Great Granddad that no-one else has seen — or information about where Great Grandma was buried — or… or…

So even with the fact that AncestryDNA doesn’t give us everything we want, it’s still worth testing there and ponying up the $49 annual fee (for non-Ancestry subscribers) to get access to all of the match information that is available.

We don’t want to stop there, of course. Those who test with AncestryDNA should also immediately transfer their raw data to Family Tree DNA in order to take advantage of its database and its vastly superior set of analytical tools. The transfer fee is $39, and is waived for those who get at least four others to transfer their data. And then when finances allow serious genealogists should also test with 23andMe to get into that database too.5

And yes, actually, I have tested with all three… and I’d love to have more cousins test everywhere too.

I’m looking for every genetic cousin I can find to help break down our family’s brickwalls…


  1. Ancestry Launches AncestryHealth,” Press Releases, Ancestry.com, posted 16 July 2015 (http://corporate.ancestry.com/press/press-releases/ : accessed 16 July 2015).
  2. And that, because of its complexity, will have to wait for a Sunday down the road.
  3. Power of One Million,” 23andMe Blog, posted 18 June 2015 (http://blog.23andme.com/ : accessed 16 July 2015).
  4. See generally Judy G. Russell, “Transfer time,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 2 Nov 2014 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed date).
  5. See generally ibid., “2015: Most bang for the DNA buck,” posted 2 Feb 2015.
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