No words needed

This is, by far, The Legal Genealogist‘s favorite photograph, ever.

My mother and her granddaughter Hannah.

Since it’s DNA Sunday, the subtitle can be “my mitochondrial DNA…”

Happy Mother’s Day.

Posted in DNA, My family | 6 Comments

So much we don’t know

She is far more of a mystery than it seems she should be, having lived into the 20th century.

Born in North Carolina, likely Burke County, 183 years ago today, Martha Louisa (Baker) Cottrell was The Legal Genealogist‘s second great grandmother.

Her oldest son Martin Gilbert Cottrell (1855-1946) was my great grandfather; his youngest son, her youngest grandson, was my grandfather Clay Rex Cottrell (1898-1970).

And while I have loads of individual facts about the life of this woman, called Louisa, I know nothing really about her.

About who she was.

About what she liked.

About the kind of person she came to be.

Or even, for certain, what she looked like.


We think the photo shown here today may be a photo of Louisa, surrounded towards the end of her life by children and grandchildren — it comes to us from a Cottrell cousin and so could well be a Cottrell family group. But we’re not sure; it may be of someone else altogether.

So… what do we know about Louisa?

Her birth on 9 May 1832 seems pretty well established, from Louisa’s own statement in an 1897 pension application.1 Although she said she was born in Cherokee County, North Carolina,2 her parents were in Burke County in 18303 and her father, Martin Baker, was included on a jury list in Yancey County — created from Burke in 18334 — as late as 1834.5

We can follow her parents as they trekked ever westward, first to Cherokee County in 1840,6 then to Pulaski County, Kentucky, by 1850,7 then to Louisa County, Iowa, by 1852.8

Finally, it was on south to Texas — the last move — and we can place the Bakers in what was then Navarro but became Parker County by early 1854.9

There the Bakers acquired a neighbor — one George W. Cottrell, who served as a chain carrier on Baker land claims10 and for whose own land claim the Bakers carried the chains.11

And they soon acquired a son-in-law, though exactly when and where is in question. George married Louisa perhaps in 1854 in Johnson County, Texas.12 Or maybe 1853 in Parker County.13 Or maybe 1854 in Parker County.14 Or maybe 1855 in Johnson County.15 Sometime around then somewhere around there, anyway.

We can track Louisa forward in the census records too: still in Parker County in 1880, with George and several of their children (they had at least five);16 in Wichita County by 1900, as a widow in the household of daughter Mary (Cottrell) Green;17 and still with the Greens in 1910.18

The story rolls to an end in January 1913. Louisa’s death was reported in the local newspaper:

Mrs. Louisa Cottrell, 82 years old, died last Friday at 2:30 a.m., and was buried Saturday at 3 p.m. Funeral services were conducted by Rev. M.L. Blankenship assisted by Rev. H.B. Johnson. She leaves two sons and two daughters, nine grand children and five great grand children. She had been an invalid thirty years. She was a member of the Baptist church nearly sixty-eight years.19

And that’s it.

Sad, isn’t it?

There is so very much about this woman we don’t know, not even what the condition was that left her invalided those 30 years.

We don’t know if she liked the color red. If she liked or even approved of her sons-in-law. Was she a good cook? Did she like to read — even could she read?

At this point I’d even settle for knowing if her grandchildren called her Granny. Or Grandma. Or Grams. I just hope she was enough of a pushover that they didn’t have to call her Mrs. Cottrell.

I hope they brought her flowers in the spring, even if Mother’s Day wasn’t a holiday in her lifetime.

I hope she knew how to laugh…


  1. Declaration of claimant, 21 Jan 1897, widow’s pension application no. 13773 (Rejected), for service of George W. Cottrell of Texas; Mexican War Pension Files; Records of the Bureau of Pensions and its Predecessors 1805-1935; Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  2. Ibid.
  3. 1830 U.S. census, Burke County, North Carolina, p. 198 (stamped), line 3, Martain Baker household; digital image, ( : accessed 20 Jul 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication M19, roll 118.
  4. See David Leroy Corbitt, The Formation of the North Carolina Counties 1663-1943 (Raleigh : Division of
    Archives and History, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 1987), 42-48.
  5. Minute Book, 1834-1844, Yancey County, North Carolina, Court of Common Pleas and Quarter Sessions, Minutes of December Term 1834; call no. C.R.107.301.1; North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
  6. 1840 U.S. census, Cherokee County, North Carolina, population schedule, p. 239 (stamped), line 8, Martin Baker household; digital image, ( : accessed 20 Jul 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication M704, roll 357.
  7. 1850 U.S. census, Pulaski County, Kentucky, population schedule, Division 2, p. 111 (stamped), dwelling/family 528, Martin Baker household; digital image, ( : accessed 20 Jul 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 217.
  8. 1852 Iowa State Census, Louisa County, Columbus City, p. 1, line 24, Martin Baker household; State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines; FHL microfilm 1022204.
  9. See And see “Parker County,” Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historical Association ( accessed 8 May 2015.)
  10. Texas General Land Office, vol. 33, p. 272, Charles Baker, 8 Dec 1863, 160 acres.
  11. Texas General Land Office, vol. 17, p. 224, G W Cotrell, 10 Dec 1863, 160 acres.
  12. Survivor’s Claim, 23 March 1887, Pension application no. 7890 (Rejected), for service of George W. Cotrell of Texas; Mexican War Pension Files; RG-15; NA-Washington, D.C.
  13. Ibid., Survivor’s Brief, 17 February 1890.
  14. Declaration of claimant, 21 Jan 1897, widow’s pension application no. 13773 (Rejected), for service of George W. Cottrell of Texas; Mexican War Pension Files; RG-15; NA-Washington, D.C.
  15. See Weldon Hudson, Marriage Records of Johnson County, Tx. (Cleburne : Johnson Co. Historical Soc., 2002).
  16. 1880 U.S. census, Parker County, Texas, Justice Precinct 6, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 139, p. 458(B) (stamped), dwelling/family 10, George W Cotrell household; digital image, ( : accessed 8 May 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 1232.
  17. 1900 U.S. census, Wichita County, Texas, Justice Precinct 6, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 127, p. 243(A) (stamped), dwelling/family 189, Louisa “Catrell”; digital image, ( : accessed 8 May 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication T623, roll 1679.
  18. 1910 U.S. census, Wichita County, Texas, Justice Precinct 2, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 228, p. 10(B) (stamped), dwelling 179, family 182, Louisa Cottrell; digital image, ( : accessed 8 May 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication T624, roll 1597.
  19. “Iowa Park Notes,” Wichita Falls (Tex.) Daily Times, 24 Jan 1913.
Posted in My family | 8 Comments

The election

When Alexander J. Taylor died in Kent County, Delaware, in September 1881, he left everything — everything — to his widow, Wilhelmina W. Taylor.

He left her in charge of his estate. He left her in charge of their two small children, Alexander and Ella. And he left her all of his worldly goods, both real and personal, of whatever kind and wherever situate.1

And on 28 March 1882, Wilhelmina went in to the Orphans’ Court and said, in effect, “thanks, but no thanks”:

Wilhelmina W. Taylor, widow of the said Alexander J. Taylor deceased, and one of the devisees under his said last will and testament, voluntarily appeared in open Orphans Court, and made her election under the statute in such case made and provided, to her dower at law out of the real estate of her said deceased husband in lieu of the portion of his said real estate so devised to her in his said last will and testament aforesaid.2

Say what?

She’s giving up the entire estate and taking her dower instead?

dower.delDower, you may recall, is a widow’s right to live on and receive the benefits and profits of some portion, usually one-third, of her husband’s lands.3

The widow doesn’t own that dower property; all she gets is a life estate — the rights to the land for her lifetime. She can’t sell it; she can’t give it away; she can’t leave it to somebody else in her will.

So why in the world would Wilhelmina — why would anybody — turn down complete ownership of all of the property — real and personal — in favor of a life estate in just a third of the land?

It doesn’t seem to make sense.

But it does.

It makes perfect sense.

Because of the law.

And because, with everything else Alexander left to Wilhelmina, he also left her a mountain of debts.

His administrator James Wolcott — appointed when Wilhelmina declined to handle the estate — told the court that “Alexander J. Taylor at the time of his death was indebted to sundry persons which in the aggregate amounts to a large Sum of Money and … his personal estate is … insufficient for the payment of his debts.” So he asked for permission to sell the house and lot on State Street in Dover.4

The total amount of the debts, according to the administrator, was nearly $5,000 after the personal property was used to pay down the amount. The real estate only sold for $3,400.

And — by saying “thanks, but no thanks” — Wilhelmina salvaged a big piece of that.

The sale, you see, was subject to Wilhelmina’s dower interest in the land. And the law was very much on Wilhelmina’s side.

First, a widow was entitled to choose between whatever her husband left her in his will and her right to dower.5 More importantly for Wilhelmina, her dower was a “third part of all the lands … whereof her said husband was seized … to hold to her as tenant in dower for and during the term of her natural life, free and discharged from all and any … debts, liens and incumbrances.”6

And if that wasn’t enough, the law also said she could take her share as part of the proceeds of sale of the whole real estate, rather than as a right to a physical part of the land.7

So by saying “thanks but no thanks” to the whole, Wilhelmina put much more in her pocket than she could have gotten under the will.

Giving up everything in this case wasn’t giving up a thing.

And understanding the law lets us understand the records.


  1. Kent County, Delaware, Orphans’ Court Alexander J. Taylor File; Delaware Public Archives, Dover; digital images, “Delaware Orphan Court Records, 1680-1978,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 7 May 2015).
  2. Ibid., widow’s election, 28 Mar 1882.
  3. See generally Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 393, “dower.”
  4. Kent County, Delaware, Orphans’ Court Alexander J. Taylor File, petition filed 28 Mar 1882.
  5. §5Chapter 87, “Of Dower,” in Revised Statutes of the State of Delaware … (Wilmington, Del. : James & Webb, printers, 1874), 534.
  6. Ibid., §1, at 533.
  7. Ibid., §17, Chapter 85, “Of Intestates’ Real Estate,” at 516.
Posted in Legal definitions, Statutes | 6 Comments

Primary School Lands

In June of 1883, the administrator of the estate of George Arlt, deceased, reported to the Probate Court for the County of Presque Isle, Michigan, that he had been successful in selling a piece of property belonging to the deceased.

MI.landThe land — described as the southwest quarter of section 16 in Township 34 north Range 5 east — was a 160-acre tract, and it was sold for $1,060. The high bidder: the deceased’s by-then-remarried widow, Henrietta Arlt Tippmann.1

Like just about every probate file on the face of the earth, this file tells stories. She didn’t have an easy time of it, that widow. She was a second wife, with three very young children of her own at the time of her husband’s death (the probate file says the youngest were four years, two years and two months old in 1880 when George died), and with five older stepchildren. The estate went through three administrators before it was settled.

But what particularly caught The Legal Genealogist‘s eye in this file was part of the land description when this 160-acre tract was sold.

It was land, the file disclosed, “of which the deceased was possessed by virtue of Primary School Land Certificate No. 10590.”2

And the court order granting the administrator permission to sell the land contained a transcription of that land certificate reflecting in part that:

In the name of the People of the State of Michigan, I Charles A. Edmonds, Commissioner of the State Land Office, agreeably to the provisions of law, hereby certify, That at a private sale on the twentieth day of June one thousand eight hundred and seventy one John George Arlt of Wayne County, State of Michigan, for and in consideration of the sum of six hundred and forty dollars purchased the land described as follows, that is to say, the South West Quarter of section No. sixteen in Township No. 34 North of Range No. 5 East, containing 160 acres, according to the returns of the surveyor General, at four dollars per acre. …3

Hmmm… Primary School Land … wazzat?

To understand this completely, we have to back all the way up to a law passed even before the adoption of the Constitution of the United States. It was called the Land Ordinance of 1785. Passed by the Confederation Congress, it had provisions for the survey and sale of federal lands.4

And it contained an extraordinary provision: “There shall be reserved the lot N 16, of every township, for the maintenance of public schools, within the said township…”5

In other words, federal aid to education began in 1785: the proceeds of the sale of part of federal public lands were dedicated to the support of public education — and the part that was to be used for education was Section 16 of each township surveyed.

That emphasis on education was continued in the Northwest Ordinance, the law that set the rules for the territories of the United States, some two years later, in 1787. In Article 3 of Section 14, the Ordinance emphasized that: “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”6

Now in most of the new states created out of the lands covered by the Northwest Ordinance, the funds for the school lands went to the townships — the local governments — for the support of the schools.7

But not in Michigan.

When Michigan finally ended its border dispute with Ohio and got itself admitted to the Union, it managed to secure one thing other states didn’t get: control of the school lands. One of the set of statutes passed admitting Michigan as a state provided that “section numbered sixteen in every township of the public lands … shall be granted to the State for the use of schools.”8

So in Michigan it was the State that had control of the school lands — and its earliest documents reflect the establishment of a Superintendent of Public Instruction as a constitutional officer.9

And that’s how it came to be that the State Land Office had 160 acres of section 16 in Township 34 north Range 5 east to designate as Primary School Land and to sell it to George Arlt in 1871.

Federal public lands, yes, but dedicated to the State … for primary schools.


  1. Report of Sale of Real Estate, Presque Isle County, Michigan, Probate Packet No. 10, George Arlt, Deceased (9 June 1883); Probate Court Clerk, Rodgers City, Michigan; digital images, “Michigan, Probate Records, 1797-1973,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 6 May 2015).
  2. Report of Sale of Real Estate, Presque Isle County, Michigan, Probate Packet No. 10, George Arlt, Deceased (9 June 1883).
  3. Administrator’s License to Sell Real Estate, Presque Isle County, Michigan, Probate Packet No. 10, George Arlt, Deceased (9 April 1883); Probate Court Clerk, Rodgers City, Michigan; digital images, “Michigan, Probate Records, 1797-1973,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 6 May 2015).
  4. “An Ordinance for ascertaining the mode of disposing of Lands in the Western Territory,” 28 Journals of the Continental Congress 375, 378 (Washington D.C. : Government Printing Office, 1936); digital images, “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875,” Library of Congress, American Memory ( : accessed 6 May 2015).
  5. Ibid.
  6. “An Ordinance for the government of the territory of the United States North West of the river Ohio,” 32 Journals of the Continental Congress 334, 340 (Washington D.C. : Government Printing Office, 1936); digital images, “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875,” Library of Congress, American Memory ( : accessed 6 May 2015).
  7. For a good explanation of this system in Ohio, for example, see George W. Knepper, The Official Ohio Lands Book (Columbus, Ohio: Auditor of State, 2002), 56-58; PDF version ( : accessed 6 May 2015).
  8. “An Act supplementary to the act entitled ‘An act to establish the northern boundary line of the State of Ohio, and to provide for the admission of the State of Michigan into the Union on certain conditions,’” 5 Stat. 59 (23 June 1836).
  9. See Article X, Constitution of Michigan, 1835; Michigan Legislature ( : accessed 6 May 2015).
Posted in Legal definitions, Primary Law, Statutes | 5 Comments

Avoiding conflicts of interest

It is all too common a story in the records of the 1860s and 1870s.

A story of some lives cut short, other lives changed forever.

BattlesIt’s a story that begins to be told in the records of a very young family on the 1860 census in St. Clair County, Alabama. The husband and father, Isaac Battles, a shirt-tail cousin to The Legal Genealogist, was just 21; his wife Malissa was 25; and their son Andrew was nine months old.1

A daughter would be added to the family in 1863,2 but there would be no more children born to Isaac and Malissa after Samantha joined the family.

Because something terrible was about to engulf this small Alabama family. The Civil War hit hard in this area of Alabama, and split families deeply between north and south. And Isaac went off to fight for the north.

On the 8th of December, 1863, at the age of 23, this farm boy from Alabama joined Company K of the 3rd Tennessee Cavalry Regiment. He was taken prisoner at Sulphur Trestle, Alabama, in September 1864,3 and was one of the men placed about a steamer in April of 1865 to be transferred from southern prison camps to the north.

The steamer was the Sultana.

Which made it only seven miles north of Memphis, Tennessee, before it exploded, burned and sank on 27 April 1865, killing roughly 1,700 men,4 including Isaac Battles. His final military record shows that he was “Killed or drowned by the explosion of Str Sultana.”5

By 1870, Malissa had remarried, and she and her Battles children were recorded under the surname of her new husband, Thomas William Painter.6 Andrew was shown as 10, Samantha as 7.

Neither of the Battles children was enumerated with Malissa and her husband and their children in 1880.7 Andrew was age 20, married and father of a new baby.8 Samantha’s whereabouts aren’t clear.

But something else was going on between those censuses. In March 1877, the two children — by then both over the age of 14 — asked the court to appoint their mother Melissa Painter as their guardian.9 The reason was simple: they were entitled to a federal pension as the minor heirs of a Civil War casualty.

The records that result provide a couple of really neat details at a time when birth records for this part of Alabama are few and far between: the boy Andrew turned 16 on 13 October 1875, making his birthdate 13 October 1859; and the girl Samantha turned 16 on 15 February 1879, making her birthdate 15 February 1863.

Their mother, acting as their guardian, made application for them to receive the benefit as their father’s heirs, and as guardian received the pension money and was required to account to the court for it.

And then there’s that one additional document. On the 12th of June 1880, John H. Walker of Etowah County, Alabama, was appointed guardian ad litem for Andrew Jackson and Samanetha E. Battles, children of Isaac Battles, deceased.

The form filed with the court by Walker stated that he accepted the appointment of guardian ad litem for the minors to “represent and protect their interests upon the hearing of the above application of Malissa J. Painter, guardian, for partial settlement of estate of said minors.”

What was that about?

Black’s Law Dictionary defines a guardian ad litem as a “guardian appointed by a court of justice to prosecute or defend for an infant in any suit to which he may be a party. … Most commonly appointed for infant defendants; infant plaintiffs generally suing by next friend. This kind of guardian has no right to interfere with the infant’s person or property.”10

The most common reason for the appointment of a guardian ad litem is the possibility that there could be a conflict between the regular guardian and the minor heirs. Any time an appointment is made ad litem it’s for a particular action, and to avoid the potential of a conflict of interest — where somebody like the guardian in this case might be tempted to take advantage of his or her position.

It’s a device to ensure that the person who’s getting the ad litem representation — the minor heirs in this case — have independent representation separate and apart from the guardian who — in this case — was trying to settle up with them.

And, in fact, there was a dispute in this case, between the mother as guardian and the daughter and her new husband, whom she married between 1880 and 1881. The dispute was submitted by both sides to a panel of arbitrators, who split the amount in dispute in half and awarded roughly half to the daughter and her husband and half to the mother.

Ad litem. “For the suit; for the purposes of the suit; pending the suit.”11


  1. 1860 U.S. census, St. Clair County, Alabama, Twp. 12, Range 4E, population schedule, pp. 127(A-B) (stamped), dwelling 218, family 216, Isaac Battles household; digital image, ( : accessed 5 May 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication M653, roll 23.
  2. Etowah County, Alabama, Probate Case File B-2-8, Battles, Box 2, Folder 90; digital images, “Alabama Estate Files, 1830-1976,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 5 May 2015).
  3. Isaac Battles, Pvt., Co. K, 3rd Tennessee Cavalry; Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Union Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Tennessee, NARA M395, 200 rolls (Washington, D.C. : National Archives and Records Service, 1963); digital images, Fold3 ( : accessed 5 May 2015), roll 22, Isaac Battles file.
  4. See generally Wikipedia (, “Sultana (steamboat),” rev. 1 May 2015.
  5. Isaac Battles, Casualty Sheet; CMSR, Fold3 Isaac Battles file.
  6. 1870 U.S. census, Etowah County, Alabama, Twp. 12, Range 4, population schedule, p. 249(B) (stamped), dwelling/family 77, T. W. Painter household; digital image, ( : accessed 5 May 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication M593, roll 16.
  7. 1880 U.S. census, Etowah County, Alabama, area, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 68, p. 341(D) (stamped), dwelling 75, family 76, Thomas Painter household; digital image, ( : accessed 5 May 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 13.
  8. Ibid., dwell. 70, fam. 71, Andrew J. Battles household.
  9. Guardianship appointment, Etowah County, Alabama, Probate Case File B-2-8, Battles, Box 2, Folder 90; digital images, “Alabama Estate Files, 1830-1976,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 5 May 2015).
  10. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 551, “guardian ad litem.”
  11. Ibid., 33, “ad litem.”
Posted in Legal definitions | 9 Comments

Happy Cinco de Mayo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the list, according to


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

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

• Confederate Memorial Day, fourth Monday in April.

• Jefferson Davis Birthday, first Monday in June.


• Seward’s Day, last Monday in March.

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


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


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

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


• Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12.

• César Chávez Day, March 31.


• Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12.

• Good Friday, last Friday before Easter.


• Good Friday, last Friday before Easter.

District of Columbia:

• Emancipation Day, April 16.


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

• Good Friday, last Friday before Easter.

• Confederate Memorial Day, fourth Monday in April.


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

• Confederate Memorial Day, fourth Monday in April.


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

• Good Friday, last Friday before Easter.

• Kamehameha Day, June 11.

• Statehood Day, third Friday in August.


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


• Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12.

• Casimir Pulaski Day, first Monday in March.


• Good Friday, last Friday before Easter.

• Lincoln’s Day, Friday after Thanksgiving.

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


• Good Friday, last Friday before Easter.


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

• Good Friday, last Friday before Easter.


• Patriot’s Day, third Monday in April.


• American Indian Heritage Day, Friday after Thanksgiving.


• Evacuation Day, March 17.

• Patriot’s Day, third Monday in April.

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


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


• Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12.

• Truman Day, on or about May 8.


• Arbor Day, last Friday in April.


• Nevada Day, last Friday of October.

New Hampshire:

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

New Jersey:

• Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12.

• Good Friday, last Friday before Easter.

New Mexico:

• President’s Day, Friday after Thanksgiving.

New York:

• Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12.

North Carolina:

• Good Friday, last Friday before Easter.

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

North Dakota:

• Good Friday, last Friday before Easter.


• Good Friday, last Friday before Easter.

Rhode Island:

• Rhode Island Independence Day, May 4.

• Victory Day, second Monday of August.

South Carolina:

• Confederate Memorial Day, May 10.


• Good Friday, last Friday before Easter.


• Confederate Heroes Day, January 19.

• Texas Independence Day, March 2.

• Good Friday, last Friday before Easter.

• San Jacinto Day, April 21.

• Emancipation Day, June 19.


• Pioneer Day, July 24.


• Town Meeting Day, first Tuesday of March.

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


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

West Virginia:

• Lincoln’s Day, Friday after Thanksgiving.

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

So…. what did we miss?


  1. Cinco de Mayo in the United States,” Time and Date ( : accessed 4 May 2015).
  2. Phoebe Bean, “Happy R.I. Independence Day!,” A Lively Experiment blog, posted 4 May 2015, Rhode Island Historical Society ( : accessed 4 May 2015).
  3. Rhode Island Independence Day in the United States,” Time and Date ( : accessed 4 May 2015).
  4. Judy G. Russell, “The law of holidays,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 18 Feb 2013 ( : accessed 4 May 2015).
Posted in General | 32 Comments

Michael’s progress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But he wanted to do something more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, he says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in General | 6 Comments

Reporting DNA issues accurately

In genealogy, we get this point: facts matter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Usry was never arrested.

He was never charged.

He was never jailed for a single moment.

The science cleared him of involvement in the crime.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facts matter.

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


  1. Jennifer Lynch, “How Private DNA Data Led Idaho Cops on a Wild Goose Chase and Linked an Innocent Man to a 20-year-old Murder Case,” Electronic Freedom Foundation, Deeplinks blog, posted 1 May 2015 ( : accessed 2 May 2015).
  2. See Genetic Genealogy Standards, PDF ( : accessed 2 May 2015).
  3. National Genealogical Society, Standards for Sharing Information with Others ( : accessed 2 May 2015).
  4. Judy G. Russell, “Big Easy DNA: not so easy,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 15 Mar 2015 ( : accessed date).
  5. Lynch, “How Private DNA Data Led Idaho Cops on a Wild Goose Chase and Linked an Innocent Man to a 20-year-old Murder Case.”
  6. United States Constitution, Fourth Amendent.
  7. See Jim Mustian, “New Orleans filmmaker cleared in cold-case murder; false positive highlights limitations of familial DNA searching,” New Orleans Advocate, posted 9 Mar 2015 ( : accessed 14 Mar 2015).
Posted in DNA | 61 Comments

For my history, my records, my people

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

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

At least two of my ancestral lines came through Georgia:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Georgia.


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

Law Day 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that, to this genealogist, is worth celebrating.

Happy Law Day 2015!


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