Thanking UGA and a whole team

Saturday here at The Legal Genealogist is the time to talk about family stories and history.

But occasionally it’s time to record The Legal Genealogist‘s own family story and history.

And today is a time to remember the mentors.

trayGerald Kerrigan was my 11th grade English teacher. It was an advanced English class and he was particularly demanding. Some of the students complained to their parents, the issue was addressed at a PTA meeting, but that teacher stood his ground.

And I learned how to write.

Kenneth W. Michael was the executive editor of a newspaper then known as the Perth Amboy Evening News. I was a cocky teenager without a college degree – and with a writing style Ken described as the most nearly identical to his that he had ever seen.

He gave me my first break. I became a newspaper reporter. And under his tutelage and that of news editor John Curley, I became a better writer.

Jack Smee and Alex Michelini were the editors of the short-lived New Jersey edition of the New York Daily News. Although by that time I had been off in the corporate world, they paved the way for me to come back into journalism.

The Daily News style was short and sassy, Jack and Alex were masters of that craft, and under their guidance I learned to write and have fun.

When I first met Matthew P. Boylan, he was director of the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice. He fed me information as a newspaper reporter; I fed him evidence he could use in his investigations. Later, when he was a senior partner in a New Jersey law firm, he gave me my first legal job – as an investigator for his law firm while I went to law school.

Until the day he died, Matt was my teacher and my friend. From him, I learned to love the law.

The entire faculty and staff at Rutgers Law School has to be included in any mentor list. They were my teachers and later my colleagues during the quarter century that I taught as an adjunct at Rutgers.

And then there are the genealogists.

It was my friend Lynne Fisher of Chicago who convinced me that we were ready to take the Advanced Methodology and Evidence Analysis class known as Course Four at the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. That was the course taught by Elizabeth Shown Mills.

Which is the reason why I am fortunate enough to count Elizabeth as one of my mentors. I wasn’t at all sure I knew what I was doing as a genealogist or that I could ever be good at it. So I will never forget opening the final project paper from that class and seeing one word at the top in Elizabeth’s handwriting: “Superb.”

The following year I took the genealogy writing course taught by Thomas W. Jones at IGHR. And that is how I began to count Tom as one of my mentors.

David McDonald. Claire Bettag. Rick and Pam Sayre. John Phillip Colleta. The list of genealogists from whom I have learned goes on and on.

And the mentor list goes on and on. There are so many people who helped me become a better journalist, a better lawyer, a better genealogist. Every one of them is on my mind today.

Why today?

Because last night was the final banquet for the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, where Rick Sayre and I had had a wonderful time with the students in our Family History Law Library class, aided by Claire Bettag, David Rencher and F. Warren Bittner as instructors. It was a great week.

Then came the total surprise. The President of the Utah Genealogical Association, Bret Peterson, got up to present the UGA awards and the first one presented was the 2015 Silver Tray Award, given for scholarly contributions to the field of genealogy and family history. Since 1988, it has traditionally been given for publication efforts.

It has gone in the past to people I count as dear friends: Kimberly Powell, Tom Jones, Lou Szucs and others who have contributed so much to the written scholarship of our genealogical community.

And, last night, that award was presented to me.

I am honored.

I am grateful to UGA.

And I am most grateful to my mentors.

In genealogy, we all have the sense that when we laugh, all of our ancestors smile for us, and when we cry, they are all there helping comfort us.

In our lives as genealogists, when we succeed all our mentors share in our success.

Thank you to my mentors.

Posted in General | 61 Comments

The one who was

So yesterday The Legal Genealogist raised the spectre of a housekeeper who wasn’t keeping house at all.

At least not the way you or I might think of the term and the way it might be used here in the 21st century.

Illustration of a Girl Providing Housecleaning ServiceNo, “keeping house” in England or in colonial America was the act by a merchant or trader of hiding away behind the closed doors of his house to avoid having to answer to his creditors. It was an act of bankruptcy “committed when a trader absents himself from his place of business and retires to his private residence to evade the importunity of creditors.”1

So when we as genealogists run across a reference to keeping house in an old court record from England or colonial America, we have to think about a debtor who can’t pay his bills.

But that’s not the only way the term was ever used and, almost immediately after the post went live, reader LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson wondered about the way the term was used in an entirely different set of records we use as genealogists all the time.

“What about the phrase ‘Keeping house’ in the context of an 1870 census enumeration of a Black woman?” she asked. “Did it mean she was a ‘housewife,’ as we think of the word or that she was a domestic of some sort?”

Great question, and exactly the reason why it’s so important to understand the way the legal lingo was being used at a particular place and time.

And we’re very lucky that it’s easy to find out just what the term meant in the context of the 1870 census — because we can read the exact instructions that were given to the census takers.

In 2002, Jason Gauthier of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Economics and Statistics Administration produced one of the most singularly useful publications a genealogist can ever have in a toolkit. It’s now available as a downloadable PDF file, directly from the U.S. Census Bureau website, and it’s called Measuring America: The Decennial Census from 1790 to 2000.2

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

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

And, in 1870, here’s what the instructions told the enumerator to do in entering the occupation of women on that set of census returns:

The term “housekeeper” will be reserved for such persons as receive distinct wages or salary for the service. Women keeping house for their own families or for themselves, without any other gainful occupation, will be entered as “keeping house.” Grown daughters assisting them will be reported without occupation.3

So where keeping house in colonial court records wasn’t at all what a housekeeper did, it really is what a housekeeper did in the context of the 1870 census.


  1. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 677, “keeping house.” See generally Judy G. Russell, “The housekeeper,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 15 Jan 2015 ( : accessed 16 Jan 2015).
  2. Jason G. Gauthier, Measuring America: The Decennial Census from 1790 to 2000 (Washington, D.C. : U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Census Bureau, 2002); PDF download, U.S. Census Bureau ( : accessed 15 Jan 2015).
  3. Ibid., PDF at 16.
Posted in Legal definitions | 4 Comments

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

The Legal Genealogist really doesn’t care if Zsa Zsa Gabor ever really said it, or if it’s just something that sounds so much like something Zsa Zsa Gabor would say that it’s just attributed to her.

keephouseBut it’s a great quote, and it goes something like this:

“I am a marvelous housekeeper,” Zsa Zsa is supposed to have said. “Every time I leave a man I keep his house.”1

See what I mean?

It really doesn’t matter if the words are hers or not.

What does matter is how we’d interpret the words if we ran across them in a very different context.

Say, for example, in a description of an English or colonial American businessman.

In which case “keeping house” doesn’t mean anything even remotely like what we might think of when we think of the words.

Keeping house is a concept from English bankruptcy law, and it became part of English law in 1571.2 Under a law enacted in that 13th year of the reign of Elizabeth I, a merchant or trader who was a debtor couldn’t try to hide away from his creditors — “beginning to keep house, so that he cannot be seen or spoken to by his creditors, is an act of bankruptcy.”3

So, a merchant would be considered bankrupt if — to avoid being hounded by bill collectors — he hid himself away in his house.

As Black’s Law Dictionary explains:

“The English bankrupt laws use the phrase ‘keeping house’ to denote an act of bankruptcy. It is committed when a trader absents himself from his place of business and retires to his private residence to evade the importunity of creditors.”

“The usual evidence of ‘keeping house’ is refusal to see a creditor who has called on the debtor at his house for money.”4

Find somebody in your family tree keeping house in colonial America or in English court records?

He needed to pay up.


  1. See Wikipedia (, “Zsa Zsa Gabor,” rev. 8 Jan 2015.
  2. Bankruptcy Act, 13 Eliz. I c. 7.
  3. See Isaac ‘Espinasse, A Digest of the Law of Actions and Trials at Nisi Prius (Dublin : p.p., 1794), 552; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 14 Jan 2015).
  4. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 677, “keeping house.”
Posted in Legal definitions | 2 Comments

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

Today’s words are a matter of percentages.

percentage-sign-2It’s very hard for The Legal Genealogist — or anyone else here in the 21st century — to come to grips with the reality of the race-based distinctions the law made only a short time ago.

Even though we find it distasteful, the fact is the law pigeonholed people into various categories based on the percentage of African ancestry they had, and assigned names to those categories.

The language of the law then reflected those distinctions by having names for those the law regarded as non-white.

So we don’t like it. Not one bit.

But we can’t begin to understand the records if we don’t understand the language that was used.

Terms we may see in records we review in researching our families then may include:

• Demi-meamelouc: a person who was “1/32 black, (issue of) white and meamelouc.”1

• Griffe: a person who was “3/4 black, (issue of) Negro and mulatto.” 2

• Marabou: a person who was “5/8 black, (issue of) mulatto and griffe.”3

• Meamelouc: a person who was “1/16 black, (issue of) white and metis.”4

• Métis or métif: a person who was“ 1/8 black, (issue of) white and quarteron.”5

• Mulatto: “a person that is the offspring of a negress by a white man, or of a white woman by a negro”;6 a person who was “1/2 black, (issue of) white and Negro.”7

• Mustizo: “A name given to the issue of an Indian and a negro.”8

• Octoroon: “a person having one quadroon and one White parent and therefore having one-eighth Black blood.”9

• Quadroon: “A person who is descended from a white person and another person who has an equal mixture of the European and African blood”;10 a person who was “1/4 black, (issue of) white and mulatto”.11

• Sacatra: a person who was “7/8 black, (issue of) griffe and Negro.”12

• Sang-mêle: a person who was “1/64 black, (issue of) white and demi-meamelouc.”13

Words like these are hard to accept. Hard to deal with. But it’s part of our history and we have to know what the words meant when we see them.


Image: OpenClipArt, user laobc

  1. John Russell Bartlett, Dictionary of Americanisms: A Glossary of Words and Phrases Usually Regarded as Peculiar to the United States, 4th ed. (Boston : Little, Brown, 1877), 422 ; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 12 Jan 2015). Bartlett added: “…these varieties exist in New Orleans, with sub-varieties; and experts pretend to be able to distinguish them.”
  2. Ibid. See also Dupree v. State, 33 Ala. 380 (Ala. 1859).
  3. Bartlett, Dictionary of Americanisms, 422.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 792, “mulatto.”
  7. Bartlett, Dictionary of Americanisms, 422.
  8. Black, A Dictionary of Law, 795, “mustizo.”
  9. The Free Dictionary ( : accessed 12 Jan 2015), “octoroon.”
  10. Black, A Dictionary of Law, 970, “quadroon.”
  11. Bartlett, Dictionary of Americanisms, 422.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
Posted in Legal definitions | 13 Comments

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

Today’s term is Saturday’s stop.

AJ-stop-sign-angled-2Yes, it’s that time of year again when The Legal Genealogist is frantically trying to stay ahead of the demands of teaching at a week-long institute — and never quite managing to stay ahead.

But we can’t have a blank space here in the blog pages, now can we? So here’s a tidbit to tide you over.

The term for today is Saturday’s stop.

And you may very well have had an ancestor prosecuted for violating the law of Saturday’s stop.

It was, Black’s Law Dictionary tells us, a “space of time from even-song on Saturday till sun-rising on Monday, in which it was not lawful to take salmon in Scotland and the northern parts of England.”1

Even-song, of course, was the time for evening prayers and would vary with the season.2

Now you couldn’t have gotten through the day without knowing that, now, could you?

Image: OpenClipArt, user AJ

  1. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 1063, “Saturday’s stop.”
  2. See generally W.K. Lowther Clarke, “Evensong Explained, with Notes on Matins and the Litany,” Project Canterbury ( : accessed 11 Jan 2015).
Posted in Legal definitions | 3 Comments

Yes and no

DNA is so often a matter of bad news mixed in with the good, isn’t it? And this past week’s news out of Salt Lake City has been no exception.

The bad news

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first:

There isn’t going to be a chromosome browser at AncestryDNA.

This very simple tool for comparing autosomal DNA — the type we all inherit from both of our parents and that helps us find cousins to work with on our family histories1 — is a staple of the features of two of the genetic genealogy DNA testing companies (23andMe and Family Tree DNA) and perhaps the single most commonly used tool by genetic genealogists.

Now this is not exactly a surprise that we’re not going to get one at AncestryDNA. Their staff has never been sold on it, has hemmed and hawed when pressed on it, has offered all kinds of arguments why it poses problems.

But finally somebody came flat out and simply said no. And it’s somebody who’s in a position to know.

One of the speakers at the Association of Professional Genealogists’ Professional Management Conference in Salt Lake City this past week was Howard Hochhauser. His title at Ancestry: Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer.2

He offered some of the usual reasons AncestryDNA’s team offers when asked about the chromosome browser, and echoed science officer Catherine Ball’s privacy concerns — the argument that if you and I match, and you know what segment we match on, and you know that segment carries the marker for a disease, you know I have that marker. (Apparently the notion that I might be perfectly willing to allow that level of disclosure by opting in hasn’t occurred to the AncestryDNA decision makers…

But Hochhauser went beyond where AncestryDNA usually goes when asked about this and simply said no. It isn’t going to happen. The resources they’d need to devote to making a chromosome browser available are resources they want to spend for other things, like growing the database.

No surprise, and frankly I’d prefer getting a flat-out truthful answer rather than the hemming and hawing — but it’s still disappointing.

The good news

The good news is that an ad hoc committee of genetic genealogists who have been working to complete an ethical code for integrating DNA testing into our genealogical research has finished the first phase of its task and has released the first-ever set of comprehensive ethical standards for DNA testing for genealogy.

genethicsThe draft standards were released for public comment in 2014, more than 75 comments were received, reviewed and — where appropriate — incorporated into the final version, and it’s now available online and as a downloadable PDF at

That announcement came yesterday at the first-ever Colloquium of the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) when Blaine T. Bettinger, who blogs as The Genetic Genealogist, presented a paper on the topic.

Bettinger has spearheaded the effort, along with CeCe Moore, David Bachinsky, Traci Barela, Katherine Borges, Angie Bush, Melinde Lutz Byrne, Shannon S Christmas, George T. Cicila, Michael Hait, Tim Janzen, James M Owston, Ana Oquendo Pabón, Ugo Perego, Steven C. Perkins, Ann Turner, Debbie Parker Wayne, and Jennifer Zinck.

The standards are “intended to provide standards and best practices for the genealogical community to follow when purchasing, recommending, sharing, or writing about the results of DNA testing for ancestry.”3 They’re not designed to replace good personal judgment. The code expressly notes that it remains “ultimately the responsibility of those taking a genetic genealogy test (“tester”) to understand and consider these standards before ordering or agreeing to take any genetic genealogy test.”

The standard provide a number of clear mandates:

• Testing is undertaken only with the informed consent of the person tested.

• Those tested understand that DNA testing “can reveal unexpected information about the tester and his or her immediate family, ancestors, and/or descendants. For example, both DNA test results and traditional genealogical records can reveal misattributed parentage, adoption, health information, previously unknown family members, and errors in well-researched family trees, among other unexpected outcomes.”

• Information about another’s test results is shared only with the other’s consent.4

These and all the provisions of the standards are entirely consistent with the best practices of genealogists on all ethical issues,5 and — for what it’s worth — carry The Legal Genealogist‘s unqualified support.


  1. See ISOGG Wiki (, “Autosomal DNA,” rev. 11 Jan 2015.
  2. “LEADERSHIP: Meet the management team,” (ttp:// : accessed 10 Jan 2015).
  3. “Genetic Genealogy Standards,” ( : accessed 10 Jan 2015).
  4. Ibid.
  5. See e.g. “Standards for Sharing Information with Others,” 2000, PDF, National Genealogical Society ( : accessed 10 Jan 2015).
Posted in DNA | 16 Comments

One we lost

Name: Willie, perhaps Wilhemina, but more likely just plain Willie.

Born: 11 January 1895, most likely Provo, Utah.

Died: most likely, March 1896.

Buried: most likely, March 1896, City Cemetery, Provo Utah.

Not much to tell the story of this little girl, is it?

She lived, she breathed… she died.

ProvoCityCemeteryWillie was the ninth of 10 known children and sixth known daughter of my great grandparents, Martin Gilbert Cottrell and Martha “Mattie” Johnson.1

There are only recorded family memories to tell of her name. She had an older brother named Sammie,2 so, we think, Willie is a safer bet than anything fancy like Wilhelmina.

Only those recorded family memories tell of her birth — 11 January 1895, 120 years ago tomorrow.3 They tell us nothing of her life. Whether she was dark or fair. Whether she was blue-eyed or brown. Whether she was hearty or frail as an infant. Whether she learned to crawl or to walk. Whether she was babbling or talking or even able to say mama and daddy by the time our family lost her, at just 14 months of age.

They don’t us how it came to be that Willie died in Utah. The family was not a Utah family at all — Martin Gilbert Cottrell, or M.G. as he was called, was born in Texas,4 he and Mattie married in Texas,5 they were in Texas before and after Willie’s birth and death,6 and we’re not entirely sure what they were doing in Utah. M.G. had taken a job as a traveling salesman for the Wrought Iron Range Company7 and it may be that the family traveled with him for a time.

Two of the known children — Sammie and Willie — died young, and the family notes say that Sammie was the one who died in Utah and Willie in Texas.8 That can’t be correct. Sammie died on 11 April 1892 and was buried in the family plot at Highland Cemetery in Iowa Park, Wichita County, Texas.9

There is a burial of a Cottrell child recorded in the Provo, Utah City Cemetery.10 That has to be Willie, but the record is singularly uninformative. No first name. No date of birth. No date of death. No parents’ names except for the surname Cottrell. No cause of death. No block and lot number for the grave, only feet north and feet west — of what, it does not say.

Not much to tell the story of this little girl, is it?

She lived, she breathed… she died.

We hope that the fact that her name survived to be passed on to the children and grandchildren of a brother — my grandfather — born after her death11 — means that she was dearly loved and greatly missed.

And at least she is, today, remembered by her kin… here in Utah… 12

Rest in peace, little girl.


  1. Interview with Opal Robertson Cottrell (Kents Store, VA), by granddaughter Bobette Richardson, 1980s; copy of notes privately held by Judy G. Russell.
  2. See Judy G. Russell, “Remembering the birthday boy,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 5 May 2012( : accessed 9 Jan 2015).
  3. Interview with Opal Robertson Cottrell (Kents Store, VA), by granddaughter Bobette Richardson.
  4. Texas Department of Health, death certif. no. 13603 (1946), Martin Gilbert Cottrell, 26 Mar 1946; Bureau of Vital Statistics, Austin.
  5. Marriage license and return, M G Cottrell-Mattie Johnson, 27 Aug 1874; County Clerk’s Office, Weatherford.
  6. See 1880 U.S. census, Clay County, Texas, Precinct 4, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 164, p. 492(B) (stamped), dwelling 17, family 17, M.G. Cottrell household; digital image, ( : accessed 4 May 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 1296. Also, 1900 U.S. census, Wichita County, Texas, Iowa Park, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 127, p. 238(A) (stamped), dwelling 86, family 86, Martin “Catrell” household; digital image, ( : accessed 4 May 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T623, roll 1679
  7. See Ballenger & Richards 25th Annual Denver City Directory (Denver : Ballenger & Richards, 1897) 300, entry for Martin G. Cottrell; digital image, ( : accessed 7 Mar 2014).
  8. Interview with Opal Robertson Cottrell (Kents Store, VA), by granddaughter Bobette Richardson.
  9. Highland Cemetery (Iowa Park, Wichita County, Texas; on Rodgers Road 0.1 mile west of the intersection with Bell Road North, Latitude 33.96704, Longitude -98.6595041), Sammie Cottrell marker; photograph by J.G. Russell, 9 Nov 2002.
  10. Sexton’s Record, March 1896, Provo City Cemetery; digital images, City of Provo Public Documents ( : accessed 10 Jan 2015).
  11. Clay Rex Cottrell was born 20 April 1898. See Virginia Department of Health, Certificate of Death, state file no. 70-026729, Clay Rex Cottrell (1970); Division of Vital Records, Richmond.
  12. Two of us are here in the Beehive State today. The Association of Professional Genealogists Professional Management Conference ended yesterday; the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy gets underway today with a colloquium. I’m teaching at SLIG; my cousin Paula is attending a class.
Posted in My family | 9 Comments


The law had a bang-up day yesterday at the APG PMC in SLC.

And if you don’t know what those initials stand for, you’re really missing out.

effdateAPG is the Association of Professional Genealogists.1 There’s a ton of information about APG available on its website, a directory listing members if you’re thinking about hiring a professional to help with your research, and a ton of members-only benefits that you really shouldn’t pass up if you’re a professional genealogist or even a professional-genealogist-in-training.

PMC is the annual Professional Management Conference, a two-day conference focusing on topics of interest to the professional genealogist.2

And SLC is Salt Lake City, home to this year’s PMC Conference, next week’s Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy and, of course, the Family History Library and its world-class resources for genealogical research.

So how is it that the law had such a good day at the APG PMC in SLC?

Well, the talks at the PMC each year are many and varied. Some of them are aimed at the business side of professional genealogy — talks like yesterday’s “Taxes and the Professional Genealogist” by James M. Beidler or today’s “Time Management for Genealogists” by Angela Packer McGhie. Some of them are skills-oriented like the three-part “You’ve Got Options: Many Ways to Cite Right” workshop by Thomas W. Jones, Ph.D., CG, CGL, co-editor of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

And some of them are general genealogical topics that professionals — and, in fact, all genealogists — need to know more about. “DNA and Genealogical Proof,” presented by Angie Bush. “Mind Maps for Genealogy,” presented by Ron Arons. And “Finding the Law,” presented by The Legal Genealogist.

It was great fun. We got to talk about the general legal system in the United States, how some types of laws win out if there’s a conflict with others. We got to talk about the resources that help us find the laws we’re looking for. Places like the amazing website from the Library of Congress, Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation.3 And we got to talk about finding the right laws — the ones in effect at the time a record was created and in the place it was created.

And that gave rise to a great question from a participant in yesterday’s presentation. He asked about the time when new statutes took effect: would all the laws passed at one session of the legislature take effect at the same time, for example? And how would we know?

When a law became law can be critically important in analyzing a document: was this the law in effect at the time, or was that the law? And there are a couple of general rules:

• Laws generally take effect when they’re signed by the President (if federal) or Governor (if state or territorial). With federal laws published in the Statutes at Large — the ones you’ll find on the Century of Lawmaking website, each law has the date on which it was signed in the marginal notes. So, for example, the Homestead Act of 1862 became law on 20 May 1862, the day it was signed by President Lincoln.4

Some laws don’t take effect right away but, instead, have some different effective date written into the laws themselves. They may contain a date certain. In Virginia, for example, the legislature that met in October 1785 completely rewrote the probate code and changed the basic rules of inheritance. And because it wanted to give Virginia residents plenty of time to rewrite their wills and other legal documents to conform to the new law, it specified that the statute wouldn’t take effect until 1 January 1787.5 Or it might be something like a date like 90 days from the passage of the act.

Bottom line: read the statute carefully to see if it contains an effective date. If it does, that controls. If it doesn’t, then look for the date it was signed into law.


  1. See the organization’s website. Association of Professional Genealogists, accessed 8 Jan 2015.
  2. See “2015 APG Professional Management Conference,” Association of Professional Genealogists ( : accessed 8 Jan 2015).
  3. “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875,” Library of Congress, American Memory ( : accessed 8 Jan 2015).
  4. “An Act to secure Homesteads to actual Settlers on the Public Domain,” 12 Stat. 392 (20 May 1862); digital images, “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875,” Library of Congress, American Memory ( : accessed 8 Jan 2015).
  5. “An act concerning wills, …” Chapter LX, Laws of 1785, in William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large … of Virginia (Richmond: p.p., 1823), 12:138 et seq.
Posted in General, Statutes | 7 Comments

Thank you for your support

Once again, the genealogists beat out the lawyers.

Once again, it was a genealogy blog, rather than a strictly law blog, that took the top honors in vote-getting1 in the niche category of the prestigious American Bar Association Journal‘s 2014 Blawg 100 “competition.”

In that niche category, the winner and still champion for the second year in a row — The Legal Genealogist.

2014blawgThis tale began back in November 2013 when I got an email with a return address of — and I almost deleted it. I figured it was a pitch for membership in the ABA and, since I’m not in active law practice any more, and don’t have an active law license, I had my finger on the delete key when I realized it was about something else altogether.

“Congratulations,” it said. “Your blawg has earned a spot in the ABA Journal’s Blawg 100, our 7th annual list of the best in blogs about lawyers and the law.”2

That was definitely cool.

Then I found out about the fan voting part — the fact that voters in each category could choose a blog for the top honors. It was only because you, dear readers, turned out in force that I was saved from the ignominy of losing out to a blog about wills and trusts.

Talk about a sigh of relief… I mean really! If a blog about dead people is gonna win, it should be about dead people and their family history, right?

Then in November 2014 in came the email from the American Bar Association Journal for 2014.

A second nomination. That’s definitely cool.

And you can imagine my joy when I saw that there was a new category for law professors and that the guy who gave me such a run for the money last year was moved to that new category.

I figured 2014 would be a snap.

Until the votes started rolling in…

Now really. I wouldn’t have minded losing to the winner in the Criminal Justice category — a blog I hope many genealogists voted for — Defrosting Cold Cases by cold-case consultant Alice de Sturler. Or to the winner in the Legal Research / Legal Writing category — my own favorite law blog and one I know many genealogists supported — In Custodia Legis, the blog of the Law Library of Congress.

But I did not want to lose to a blog about agriculture law.

And you, dear readers, didn’t let that happen. The announcement came yesterday, and once again The Legal Genealogist came out on top in the niche category.3

As a matter of fact, The Legal Genealogist was the second highest vote-getter of all 100 nominees in all categories, across the board, second only to Top Class Actions, a blog about class action lawsuits.

That blog is described as a kind of searchable database of class action filings and settlements produced by a staff of news writers. I’m one genealogist with a law degree. And you — you, dear readers — you still almost outvoted those guys!!

I’m amazed.

And humbled.

And very very grateful.

Thank you so much!


  1. Or ballot-box-stuffing.
  2. Trust me — I’m as pained by the “blawg” spelling as you are.
  3. Sarah Mui, “Blawg 100 popular vote getters,” ABA Journal online, posted 7 Jan 2014 ( : accessed 7 Jan 2014).
Posted in General | 37 Comments

More on the law of strays

Okay, so The Legal Genealogist is having some fun with this topic, but hey… if you can’t have fun with a blog on genealogy and the law, where can you have fun?

Don’t answer that.

At least if it isn’t legal.


We’re talking about strays, or estrays, and the law.

First, some background for our hypothetical.

Group Of Farm Animals : Cow, Sheep, Horse, Donkey, Chicken, LambLet’s say your ancestors were neighbors of my ancestors, who lived in Kentucky in the 1850s. And let’s say that, in 1855 or so, one of those ancestors found two stray cattle roaming around and decided to take them up (capture them), in the hopes of being able to keep them if the owners never stepped forward to claim them.

The law in Kentucky had the same basic concept as the law we’ve been talking about in Massachusetts,1 that stray cattle could be taken up by anybody who found them, at least if he was a landowner, long-term tenant or keeper of a toll-gate.2

Under Kentucky law, you had to publicly announce within a set time that you’d found the stray beasties, there had to be a record made in court with the value of the animals assessed at the time, and the owner had to come forward within a specific time to claim them and would have to pay all fees and costs to get the cattle back.3

The big difference between Kentucky in the 19th century and Massachusetts in the 17th century was that Kentucky simply let the finder keep the animal if the owner didn’t show up and claim it,4 while Massachusetts expected the finder to pay the town some portion of the animal’s value.5

The end result in either case, if the owner didn’t show and the finder wanted to keep the stray, was that the finder became the new owner of the animal.

With that background, here’s today’s question, posed with the help of Kentucky attorney and blog reader Foster Ockerman, Jr.:

What sound would the two stray cattle your ancestor took up have made?

Sounds like a ridiculous question, doesn’t it?

I mean, okay, so maybe we didn’t all grow up on a farm, but we can all easily define the word cattle, can’t we?

“Cows, bulls, or steers that are kept on a farm or ranch for meat or milk,” according to Merriam-Webster.6 The Oxford Dictionaries website agrees: “Large ruminant animals with horns and cloven hoofs, domesticated for meat or milk, or as beasts of burden; cows.”7 “Any of various domesticated ruminant mammals of the genus Bos, including cows, steers, bulls, and oxen, often raised for meat and dairy products,” says the Free Dictionary.8

So easy answer, huh?

Moo, of course.

Except maybe it wasn’t moo at all.

Maybe it was baaaaaa.

Maybe it was oink.

Maybe it was a bleat.

Or a bray.

Or even a neigh.

Because the word “cattle” in the Kentucky statute didn’t just mean cows. The term as it was generally understood by lawyers at the time included “domestic animals generally; all the animals used by man for labor or food.”9 And the Kentucky law specifically mentioned some I sure wouldn’t think of as “cattle”: horses, mules, jacks and jennets.10

Even today, Kentucky law defines the term “stray cattle” to mean “any animal of the bovine, ovine, porcine, or caprine species for which the owner is no longer claiming ownership or for which the owner cannot be determined, but not including any member of the equine species.”11

In other words, horses and donkeys aren’t cattle today, since the law was amended in 2010.

But pigs and sheep and goats are cattle.

And, of course, cows too.

So your ancestor who took up those cattle?

He might have ridden one home and made bacon of the other.

The things you learn when you want to understand family history…


Note: Major league thanks to reader Foster Ockerman, Jr., who alerted me by email that, as he put it, the law used to say a horse was a cow.

  1. See generally Judy G. Russell, “A beastly problem,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 5 Jan 2015 ( : accessed 6 Jan 2015).
  2. §1, Chapter XCVI, “Strays,” in The Revised Statutes of Kentucky (Frankfort, KY: State Printer, 1852), 652-653; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 6 Jan 2015).
  3. Ibid., §§1-6.
  4. Ibid., §3.
  5. §3, Chapter 9, “Act Relating to Strays and Lost Goods,” 15 June 1698, in Acts and Resolves … of the Province of Massachusetts Bay (Boston: State Printers, 1869), I: 326-327; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 4 Jan 2015).
  6. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary ( : accessed 6 Jan 2015), “cattle.”
  7. Oxford Dictionaries Online ( : accessed 6 Jan 2015), “cattle.”
  8. The Free Dictionary ( : accessed 6 Jan 2015), “cattle.”
  9. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 180, “cattle.”
  10. §2, Chapter XCVI, “Strays,” in The Revised Statutes of Kentucky (1852).
  11. Kentucky Revised Statutes (2010) §259.105(2).
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