Not 143 years ago today

It ain’t necessarily so
It ain’t necessarily so
The t’ings dat yo’ li’ble
To read in de Bible,
It ain’t necessarily so.

– Ira Gershwin, “It Ain’t Necessarily So

There is a Family Bible owned for many years, generations even, by a branch of my Baker family, and it carefully records the death of the oldest member of that branch of the family.

Josias.Bible“Josias Baker departed this life November 22nd 1871.”1

Now maybe we’d have some trouble accepting all of the birth information in the Bible as … well… gospel truth. After all, the entries report, among others, Josias’ birth in 1787 — nearly 60 years before that particular Bible was published. And all the births, up to the last reported in 1834, are in the same handwriting.2

But the deaths… those are different. At least four separate hands involved in those entries. They sure look like at least the later ones would be contemporaneous with the events.

So we’d certainly be justified in accepting today as the 143rd anniversary of Josias’s death, wouldn’t we?

After all, it’s exactly the kind of record that people did keep, at the time, of important events in family history, and they’d certainly record it correctly.



To quote Ira Gershwin, “It ain’t necessarily so.”

You see, Josias Baker left a will when he died, and that will was submitted to the Ellis County, Texas, District Court to be admitted to probate there.

And it was admitted to probate in the Fall Term.

Of 1870.3 Not 1871.

And his son-in-law Josiah Porter carefully told the court, there on the 7th of December 1870, that Josias had died on the 20th of November. Not the 22nd.

Even with something as ordinarily reliable as a Family Bible…


The t’ings dat yo’ li’ble
To read in de Bible,
It ain’t necessarily so.


  1. Baker Family Bible, 1787-1878; The Holy Bible (Philadelphia : Jesper Harding, printer, 1846); Bible Records Collection; Dallas Public Library, Dallas, Texas. The Bible was owned by a daughter of Josias and Nancy (Parks) Baker, Barsheba Matilda (Baker) Strong Porter. Mrs. Porter’s great granddaughter, Louise (Rosser) Garrett of Richardson, Texas, inherited the Bible after the death of Clara (Price) Rosser, her mother and Mrs. Porter’s granddaughter. Mrs. Garrett donated the Bible, along with other family Bibles, to the Dallas Public Library c1985.
  2. Ibid., Births column.
  3. Ellis Co., Texas, District Court, probate case no. 330, “Jonas” Baker (1870), application for letters of administration, filed 7 Dec 1870; FHL microfilm 1673847.
Posted in Methodology, My family | 8 Comments

Historical laws in one place

In anticipation of tomorrow’s Genealogy and the Law day — the annual seminar of the Genealogical Society of Bergen County in Mahwah — The Legal Genealogist has been poking around the old law books again.

This time, New Jersey’s old law books.

You see, in some respects, New Jersey researchers have it tough.

Although the Garden State began as one of the original colonies and has a rich and deep history, it too has suffered records loss. As in, just as a few examples, the 1790, 1800, 1810 and 1820 United States census records for New Jersey, all of which are missing in action.1

NJSL.lawHowever, as if to make up in part for that sort of records loss, what New Jersey researchers have as a plus are the legal resources of the New Jersey State Library, which has gathered together in one place all of the online resources for New Jersey’s historical laws.

A Garden State researcher should start out at the entry page for New Jersey Historical Laws, Constitutions and Charters at the New Jersey State Library website. And from there… oh, from there… well, the choices make a law geek like me drool.

Here’s an overview of the goodies you can find:

New Jersey Charters and Treaties, starting with the 1664 Grant to Berkeley and Carteret and 1664 Concessions and Agreements of the Proprietors and going through to the 1756 treaty between New Jersey and the Indians.

New Jersey Colonial Ordinances, ranging from a 1704 catalog of fees to a 1728 Ordinance for Establishing the Remedies for Abuses in the Practice of the Law.

New Jersey Constitutions — all three that New Jersey has had: 1776; 1844; and 1947. But more than just the text of the Constitutions, there are reports of the constitutional conventions, journals of proceedings and more.

• The Historical Compilations collection pulls together all of the compiled statutes from colonial times, ranging from an index of colonial laws from 1663, the laws and ordinances of New Netherland and New Jersey’s Provincial Statutes up to the modern New Jersey Statutes, for which an online link is not available.2 Most of the law codes are available in digitized versions through Rutgers University or one of the online services like Google Books, HathiTrust or Internet Archive.

New Jersey Session Laws are available online starting with the statutes of 1776 and continuing right up to today. Most of the resources are offered by Rutgers University; modern session law information is from the New Jersey Legislature.

• For court cases, the Reporters collection, reports of court decisions published in the New Jersey Law Reports series, volumes 1-96, 1816 to 1922, the New Jersey Equity Reports series, volumes 1-91, 1836-1920, and the Atlantic Reporter regional case reports, volumes 1-116, 1885-1922.

• You can also find historical information about New Jersey’s lawyers and judges in the New Jersey Lawyers’ Diary and Bar Directory collection from 1904 through 1916 and the New Jersey State Bar Association Yearbook collection, spanning the years from 1900 through 1921.

And even that extensive list isn’t everything the site has to offer! There are treatises and a legislative manual and Journals and Minutes of the Legislature… and… abd…

So go ahead, go poke around.

Good things await you in those musty old books…


  1. FamilySearch Research Wiki (, “New Jersey,” rev. 4 Nov 2014.
  2. Current New Jersey statutes are available at the New Jersey Legislature website.
Posted in Constitutions, Court Cases, Resources, Statutes | Leave a comment

The good, the bad and the ugly

So yesterday was the rollout of the changes in matching systems for folks who’ve had DNA tests at AncestryDNA. And, as usual, there’s good news and bad news in the changes. Enough to warrant breaking with The Legal Genealogist‘s usual Sunday-for-DNA rule to comment today.

Let’s start by remembering what we’re dealing with here. The AncestryDNA test is an autosomal DNA test. It looks at the kind of DNA that you inherit equally from both of your parents: you get 22 autosomes1 (plus one gender-determinative chromosome) from your father and 22 autosomes (plus one gender-determinative chromosome) from your mother, for a total of 23 pairs of chromosomes. So this is a test that works across genders to locate relatives — cousins — from all parts of your family tree.2

Good: Fewer, Better Matches

The good news, of course, is the big change in the matching algorithm that deletes a very large number of people from all of our match lists who really aren’t related to us genetically at all.

This means that our numbers of matches have gone down — my own results, as you can see here, dropped like a rock: more than two-third of my matches dropped off my list, from roughly 13,000 matches down to about 3,850.


But at the same time, the quality of our matches has gone up.

AncestryDNA’s new matching system begins with a better, deeper, more accurate analysis of the data that helps define who is and who really isn’t genetically related.

One part of the new analysis is through the identification of some parts of our genetic code that really don’t mean anything at all. Some pieces of DNA that we once thought meant we were genetic cousins we now understand just mean we’re all human, or all Scandinavian, or all African. By taking those pieces out of the matching system, AncestryDNA will eliminate many of the false positives.

The other big part of the new analysis is in the way AncestryDNA looks at the bits and pieces of our genetic code that we use for genetic genealogy testing. Since it doesn’t look at all of our DNA, but only parts of it, autosomal DNA testing relies on making some educated guesses about the parts of it the test itself doesn’t look at.

In a way, it’s like reading a book with only some of the words showing up on the page; the analysis system has to guess at what the missing words are. The better the guesses are, the better the results are. So part of the new system is a better way of thinking about what the missing words are likely to be — and in what language. If I’m 100% European, for example, the system shouldn’t conclude that the missing DNA words are in an Asian language.

Emphasizing the right missing words means the people who show up on our lists as matches will be better matches. More accurate. More likely to really be our cousins.

And people we didn’t match before, but who are our real cousins, will show up on our match lists… like a Cottrell cousin of mine who wasn’t on my old list and is on my new one.

Now before people get all bent out of shape about the matches that have disappeared… they haven’t completely disappeared. At least not yet. You can access the old list this way:

1. Go to your DNA Home Page.
2. Under your name, find the word Settings with the gear icon, and click on that.
3. On the right hand side of the settings page, under Actions, there’s a link to “Download v1 DNA Matches” that says we can: “Download a list of your previous “v1″ matching results (available for a limited time).”

We don’t know how long that’ll be there, so if you have earlier matches you want to preserve, download that old match list. It comes in a CSV file format and preserves all of the prior information: if it had a shaky leaf hint, for example, there will be a YES in the HINT column, and if you created a note to yourself about the match, what you noted is reproduced in the NOTE column.

Good and Bad: DNA Circles

The next big change to the matching system is the inclusion of DNA Circles. Think of them as shaky leaf hints on steroids. And they are both good news and bad news all wrapped up in one.

What the circles do is group people who have tested based on their DNA and on their online family trees. Everyone included in a circle will be a DNA match to at least one other person in the circle and everyone in the circle will have a direct line path to some shared person in their family trees. Here, for example, is my DNA Circle for my third great grandfather Martin Baker:


(And please… please, people… respect the privacy of others who have tested. DO NOT go reproducing information without the permission of others who have tested. It’s really easy to black out names and blur photos so you’re not putting information into blog posts or other public places without permission!)

The good part of the DNA Circle grouping is that I don’t have to hunt through every one of my matches to see who else has tested who also lists Martin as an ancestor. This will do it for me. We can now all communicate with each other and share research to see what information one of us might have that the others don’t.

The bad part of the DNA Circle grouping is that not everybody who’s tested with AncestryDNA will show up in your DNA Circles even if you are a DNA match and your trees match. To have this feature at all, you have to be a paying Ancestry subscriber. None of the free accounts will see this. And you have to have a public family tree. Folks with private trees can’t be included.

How deep the family tree data is will affect whether a match lands in a circle too: if the family tree data is fairly complete and the matching algorithm can limit the chances that the match is really in a different line of your family tree, the match is more likely to show up in a circle than if the data is less complete. There’s a lot of information about the circle system and how it works in a white paper that Ancestry subscribers who are in a circle can access (click on the question mark icon when you’re in the DNA Circles area then choose DNA Circles White Paper); at some point, we hope AncestryDNA will make it available to others as well.

And of course it’s still a bad part of this whole thing that we’re forced to deal with someone else’s analysis of what our data really means instead of getting useful tools for comparing the data ourselves.

The Ugly: Misunderstanding DNA Circles

It’s that last point above — that we still have to rely on what someone else is saying about our DNA and our matches — that creates the really ugly part of this change: it’s got a very serious potential to reinforce some very very bad genealogy. And no matter how many times responsible genealogists warn and even AncestryDNA itself warns that DNA Circles do not prove descent from the person identified as the possible common ancestor, people still already believe these circles are proof.

Read through the comments posted yesterday on Facebook and Google+. “I now see who the common ancestor is!” is a common type of comment.

No. No, no, no, no. A thousand times, no.

All we’re seeing is that we are cousins, yes, and that we have somebody that we share in our online family trees. What it does not do is prove that we’re all descended from that person. We could be cousins in an entirely different line — our family tree data could simply be dead wrong.

The whole DNA Circles concept depends in large measure on the accuracy of online Ancestry family trees. And how many times have we all seen major problems with these trees? Someone begins by posting a very complete — but entirely erroneous — line in a family tree, and 10 other people copy it in their own family trees.

Even today, on Ancestry, there are dozens of family trees identifying Samuel Baker and Eleanor Winslow of Massachusetts as the parents of William Baker of Virginia, and Alexander Baker of Boston as Samuel’s father. Um… nope. YDNA testing has definitively disproved that whole notion… but the trees that say it persist and even multiply.

Now if enough descendants get DNA tested and they persist in identifying the wrong people as William’s parents, guess what? We’re going to get a DNA Circle eventually that suggests that they really were William’s parents. And the people who want to believe that they were William’s parents are going to say that the fact that they’re in a DNA Circle with everyone else who claims descent from these same people proves it.

It’s hard enough to convince people to give up cherished notions of common ancestors when the facts don’t support the family stories. But when people are grouped into circles who are in fact related by DNA, getting them to understand that how they’re related may be in an entirely different way, through entirely different ancestors, that the circles are just hints, well… let’s just say I’m not looking forward to this.

Good. Bad. And ugly.

Get used to it.


  1. “An autosome is any of the numbered chromosomes, as opposed to the sex chromosomes. Humans have 22 pairs of autosomes and one pair of sex chromosomes (the X and Y).” Glossary, Genetics Home Reference, U.S. National Library of Medicine ( : accessed 19 Nov 2014), “autosome.”
  2. See generally Judy G. Russell, “Autosomal DNA testing,” National Genealogical Society Magazine, October-December 2011, 38-43.
Posted in DNA | 56 Comments

It’s a Sir Walter Scott kind of day for The Legal Genealogist:

BREATHES there the man with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
  ’This is my own, my native land!’
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burn’d
As home his footsteps he hath turn’d
  From wandering on a foreign strand?

It’s been a long nearly-two-weeks-on-the-road road trip.

vector - hiker on the trip, isolated on backgroundFrom the Genealogical Research Institute of Virginia 10 days ago, with a side trip to the Library of Virginia for research, to the North Carolina Genealogical Society this past weekend, with a side trip to the North Carolina State Archives for research, to the Mount Vernon Genealogical Society yesterday, with side trips to Mount Vernon itself and to NARA College Park for research…

Today I turn my footsteps home.

It has been a wonderful road trip. I’m so very grateful to all three of these organizations for including me in their programs. Getting a chance to visit with old friends and meet new ones and to talk to people whose passion for genealogy is as great as my own is just terrific.

But today I turn my footsteps home.

I got to spend time with family on this trip: my mother’s youngest sister, some of my cousins. I even got to meet a cousin on this trip: Jim Poole of South Carolina is a cousin in my Pettypool line and we had a chance to sit and talk and get to know each other after the NCGS annual meeting.

But today I turn my footsteps home.

I picked up some neat details, even some on my own family, in my research on this trip. Some record types I hadn’t had a chance to use before. And a Virginia deed dovetailing with a North Carolina deed partitioning land of an ancestor after his death that adds confirmation to the identity of one daughter from whom I descend.

But today I turn my footsteps home.

Catch you later.

After five or six hours on the road… and an hour of two of cuddling with a pair of cats.

Posted in General | 3 Comments

What exactly is a marriage bond?

Time and again, whenever a marriage bond is referenced, the question comes up.

What happens if the two people named in the marriage bond don’t get married? Isn’t there some kind of court action or record that happens then?

These were the questions asked again this past Saturday at the North Carolina Genealogical Society’s fall seminar, where The Legal Genealogist was privileged to be the presenter in a series of discussions of the law and genealogy.

Mrr.BondAnd underlying these question is an understandable, but mistaken, notion as to just what a marriage bond was.

It seems, doesn’t it, as though a marriage bond should be evidence of an intention to marry — a reflection of an official “engagement.” A man who had proposed to a woman went to the courthouse with a bondsman, and posted a bond indicating his intention to marry the woman.


Um… not exactly.

I mean, yeah, okay, sure it’s true that you wouldn’t have gone and signed a marriage bond if you didn’t intend to get married, but simply “reflecting an engagement” or “indicating an intention to marry” is about as far from the real purpose of a marriage bond as it’s possible to get.

Remember that, for the longest time, the way folks got married was that marriage banns1 were read from the pulpit or posted at the door of the local church. Usually, banns were read on three consecutive Sundays or posted for three weeks.

For example, in North Carolina, as of 1715, couples had to have “the Banns of Matrimony published Three times by the Clerks at the usual place of celebrating Divine Service.”2 In neighboring Virginia, a 1705 statute required “thrice publication of the banns according as the rubric in the common prayer book prescribes.”3

That notice that two people were going to marry had one purpose and one purpose only: to make sure folks knew there was a wedding in the offing so that they had a chance to come forward and object if there was some legal reason why the marriage couldn’t take place.4 In general, that meant one (or both) of the couple was too young, one (or both) of them was already married, or the law prohibited the marriage because they were too closely related.5

When folks married without banns, however, particularly when they married some distance away from where they were known, there wasn’t the same opportunity in advance to have folks “speak up or forever hold their peace.” The bond then stepped into the breach.

What that bond actually was, then, was a form of guarantee that there wasn’t any legal bar to the marriage. Enforcing the guarantee was a pledge by the groom and a bondsman — usually a relative — to pay a sum of money, usually to the Governor of the State (or colony if earlier, or to the Crown if in Canada6), if and only if it actually turned out that there was some reason the marriage wasn’t legal.

The bond shown here, for example, for the marriage of my fourth great grandparents in Wilkes County, North Carolina, in 1816, was a promise by the groom Boston Shew and his brother Simon to pay the Governor of North Carolina five hundred pounds, but it provided that it was “Void on condition that there be no just cause to Obstruct Boston Shew — Intermarriage with Elizabeth Brewer.”7

The use of marriage bonds was common, particularly in southern and mid-Atlantic states, well into the 19th century,8 when most jurisdictions started relying on what the couple said in a written application for a marriage license.

And the laws about those… well… we’ll get to those some other day…

Note: Information in this post was originally included in a January 2012 blog post, The ties that bond.

  1. “Public announcement especially in church of a proposed marriage; plural of bann, from Middle English bane, ban proclamation, ban.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary ( : accessed 16 Nov 2014.)
  2. North Carolina Laws of 1715, chapter 8, in William Saunders, compiler, Colonial Records of North Carolina, Vol. 2 (Raleigh, N.C. : P.M. Hale, State Printer, 1886), 212-213; online version, Colonial and State Records of North Carolina, Documenting the American South (, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
  3. Virginia Laws of 1705, chapter XLVIII, in William Waller Hening, compiler, Hening’s Statutes at Law, Being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia from the first session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619, vol. 3 (Philadelphia: Thomas DeSilver, printer, 1823), 441; digital images, HathiTrust Digital Library ( : accessed 16 Nov 2014).
  4. See generally Susan Scouras, “Early Marriage Laws in Virginia/West Virginia,” West Virginia Archives & History News, vol. 5, no. 4 (June 2004), 1-3.
  5. Maryland by statute required marriages to follow the Church of England Table of Marriages, drawn up in 1560, that said when relatives were too closely related. Chapter 12, Laws of 1694; Maryland State Archives, Acts of the General Assembly Hitherto Unprinted 1694-1698, 1711-1729, vol. 38: 1; Archives of Maryland Online ( : accessed 16 Nov 2014). For that table, see F. M. Lancaster, “Forbidden Marriage Laws of the United Kingdom,” Genetic and Quantitative Aspects of Genealogy ( : accessed 16 Nov 2014.)
  6. See “Marriage Bonds, 1779-1858 – Upper & Lower Canada,” Library and Archives Canada ( : accessed 16 Nov 2014).
  7. Wilkes County, North Carolina, Marriage Bond, 1816, Boston Shew to Elizabeth Brewer; North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
  8. FamilySearch Research Wiki (, “United States Marriage Records,” rev. 18 July 2014.
Posted in Legal definitions, Statutes | 14 Comments

Losing another cousin

Susan Hodges Payne Cosner Demitry.

13 July 1954. 15 November 2014.


What can I begin to say about those years?

How do I begin to say goodbye?

How do I begin to describe the twinkling eyes, the bright smile, the contagious laugh, the love of home and family that so marked her years on this earth?

How do I begin to recount the many kindnesses she did for so many people? Just as one example, how she — then a breast cancer survivor — took the second shift and came and stayed with me after my own breast cancer surgery when my sister had to get back to her family and job.

How do I begin to come to terms with the loss of someone who is so much a part of my own history?

Daughter of my mother’s sister. My first cousin. And, as in so many families, among the first and best and closest of childhood friends — and childhood foes.

Just close enough in age to be a frequent playmate — and co-conspirator in all the trouble kids can get into.

Just far enough apart in age to be frequently at each other’s throats: “but Mom, she’s too young to…” on my side; “but Mom, she won’t let me…” on hers.

We played together. We picked blackberries together. We gathered in tomatoes from our grandmother’s garden together. We closed ranks against cousins younger or older, as the winds of change blew.

And we fought together. Oh, how we fought. We fought about who got the last piece of cinnamon toast on a summer morning. Or who got to sit by the window on the car ride. Or whose bouquet of fresh-picked wildflowers (and weeds) was better. Or anything else that happened to present itself at any given moment in time as a source of competition or annoyance.

We grew apart at times in our lives. And we grew together as time went on and all the things that seemed to have divided us when we were younger were revealed as so much less important in the long run than all the things that brought us together.

The joys we shared over the years. The pains we shared. The cares, the concerns, the laughter, the tears.

Our battles with cancer, which I so far have won and which, yesterday, she lost.

Right down to our shared maternal H3g mitochondrial DNA, our family — our love for this big bold brash group of people we call kin — is what we shared most of all.

And that big bold brash group of people is smaller today.

Less bold.

Less brash.

And much diminished.

Rest in peace, dear cousin.

You are so very much loved… and will be so very much missed.

Posted in My family | 54 Comments

Another great idea up in smoke


The Legal Genealogist is now officially burned up.

I mean really.


And … sigh … in one very important sense, even literally.

For one brief moment yesterday afternoon, sitting in the North Carolina State Archives, I thought I had achieved The Breakthrough.

Well, okay, so The Breakthrough on one of my (many) major research issues.

The dense smoke on a white backgroundYou see, I descend from Martha Louisa Baker who married George Washington Cottrell. The marriage was in 1854 in Johnson County, Texas.1 Or maybe 1853 in Parker County.2 Or maybe 1854 in Parker County. 3 Or maybe 1855 in Johnson County.4

No matter, it was sometime around then somewhere around there.

We think.

And we know that Louisa, as she was called, was the daughter of Martin Baker and Elizabeth Buchanan.

Well, at least, we’re pretty darned sure of that.

Even though the one child of the right age and gender in the Baker household in the 1850 census is enumerated as (sigh…) Margaret.5

Okay, so the fact is, I don’t have a single solitary record that puts her right into Martin’s family. No family Bible, no federal or state census, no birth or marriage or death record.

Lots of indirect evidence, and plenty to construct a proof argument.

But oh… it would be so nice to have just one piece of direct evidence.

And yesterday I thought I had it.

I came across a set of records yesterday that absolutely should have been the icing on this cake. They are school census records, and they begin in North Carolina as early as 1841.6

The law under which these census records were required provided that school committees would be elected in each school district around the state, and it specified part of the responsibilities of the members of the school committees:

The school committees shall, in one month after their term of office commences, report in writing to the chairman of the board of superintendents, the number and names of the white children in their districts, of six and under twenty-one years of age; and on failure so to do shall each forfeit and pay five dollars, to be recovered by warrant before any justice of the peace, in the name of the chairman of the county superintendents, to be appropriated to the use of the school district in which such failure shall occur.7

And the school census records I had originally come across for one county listed every head of household by name, and every child — boy or girl — in that household… by name.

Now Martha Louisa Baker was born in 1832.8 The family lived in North Carolina during at least some of the years when Louisa would have been over the age of six and under the age of 21. She should be on one of those school census forms, neatly enumerated with her similarly-aged siblings, for more than one year.

I thought I had this licked.

Except for one little detail.

The county where they were living during those critical years when Louisa should be on one of those school census forms, neatly enumerated with her similarly-aged siblings, for more than one year, was Cherokee County, way on the west side of North Carolina.


You guessed it.

“During the Civil War (1860-1865), … the county courthouse… was burned by Union raiders.”9

The records loss for pre-war records? Pretty much total.

Oh, and for anything the Union soldiers didn’t get?

The courthouse burned again in 1895. And again in 1926.10


I love Southern research.

Another great idea up in smoke.


  1. Survivor’s Claim, 23 March 1887, Pension application no. 7890 (Rejected), for service of George W. Cotrell 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., Survivor’s Brief, 17 February 1890.
  3. 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.
  4. See Weldon Hudson, Marriage Records of Johnson County, Tx. (Cleburne : Johnson Co. Historical Soc., 2002).
  5. 1850 U.S. census, Pulaski County, Kentucky, Division 2, population schedule, p. 111 (stamped), dwelling/family 528, Margaret Baker; digital image, ( : accessed 5 Aug 2002); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 217.
  6. See e.g. 1841 School Census, Wilkes County, North Carolina; North Carolina State Archives.
  7. See §38, Chapter 66, Revised Code of North Carolina (1854), 385; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 14 Nov 2014).
  8. 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.
  9. Cherokee County (1839),” North Carolina History Project ( : accessed 14 Nov 2014).
  10. FamilySearch Research Wiki (, “Cherokee_County,_North_Carolina,” rev. 10 Nov 2014.
Posted in My family | 18 Comments

Probate Monday

Next in the series of webinars to be offered by the Board for Certification of Genealogists is Monday’s webinar — “‘Of Sound Mind and Body’: Using Probate Records in Your Research” — presented by Michael Hait CG.

MH.webinarCreated as part of the BCG Skillbuilding Track at the 2014 National Genealogical Society conference, Michael’s lecture discusses the process associated with the administration of testate and intestate estates and the records created as a result.

He explains that: “Consulting these records is ordinarily an essential part of the reasonably exhaustive research necessary to meet the Genealogical Proof Standard. Example documents illustrate the various and detailed information that probate records can hold about our ancestors, their daily lives, and family relationships.”

The webinar is open to all genealogists who want to improve their skills, and begins at 8 p.m. Eastern (7 p.m. Central, 6 p.m. Mountain, 5 p.m. Pacific).

And, yes, it’s free.

To register and receive your unique link to the webinar, please go to To read more about BCG and the webinar series, check out SpringBoard, the blog of the Board for Certification of Genealogists.

That’s where announcements of future webinars will be made, and where information will be posted when and if recordings of the BCG webinars become available later.

Hope you can join Michael and BCG on Monday!!

Posted in General | 6 Comments

Documenting the American South

Southern U.S. research can be… um … challenging.

That’s a good word for amazingly annoyingly hair-pulling-out why-did-my-people-live-where-courthouses-burned frustrating.

DASYesterday The Legal Genealogist got another dose of that frustration. I’m chasing one of my families through North Carolina, and they ended up in Rutherford County. That’s western North Carolina, between Charlotte and Asheville, and the area where they lived is now Cleveland County.1

The court minutes on this family are wonderful. Anything that specifically helps distinguish my guy from everyone else is crucial. Why? Because his name was John Jones.

So seeing the exact dates of every single event in his estate probate carefully recorded in the court minutes is terrific.

Only one problem.

The estate files themselves don’t survive.

There was a fire, see, in 19072… and there’s this very large gap in the estate papers in Rutherford County.

My guy’s early 1800s estate papers? Not there.

This sort of thing happens all the time in southern U.S. research. The records are gone, or they were never created in the first place, or some lightfingered Louie (sometimes wearing a Union uniform) made off with them.


So every single thing we can find to help out is a plus. And oh boy do we with southern U.S. ancestry have one big thing that helps out.

It bills itself as “a digital publishing initiative sponsored by the University Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.”3 And it’s called Documenting the American South or DocSouth for short.

According to the website,

Documenting the American South (DocSouth)… provides access to digitized primary materials that offer Southern perspectives on American history and culture. It supplies teachers, students, and researchers at every educational level with a wide array of titles they can use for reference, studying, teaching, and research.

The texts, images, and other materials come primarily from the premier Southern collections in the libraries at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. These original Southern materials can be found in several library locations, including the Southern Historical Collection, one of the largest collections of Southern manuscripts in the country; the North Carolina Collection, the most complete printed documentation of a single state anywhere; the Rare Book Collection, which holds an extensive Southern pamphlet collection; and Davis Library, which offers rich holdings of printed materials on the Southeast.4

The 16 major collections of DocSouth offer an astounding array of resources to researchers. You can find a complete description here on the DocSouth Collections page. Among my personal favorites:

• “The Church in the Southern Black Community” traces the way Southern African Americans adopted and transformed Protestant Christianity into the central institution of community life.

• “The Colonial and State Records of North Carolina” includes documents and materials from throughout the country and from several European repositories covering the earliest days of North Carolina’s settlement by Europeans through the ratification of the United States Constitution.

• “First-Person Narratives of the American South” offers many Southerners’ perspectives on their lives by presenting letters, memoirs, autobiographies and other writings by slaves, laborers, women, aristocrats, soldiers, and officers.

• “North American Slave Narratives” documents the individual and collective story of African Americans’ struggle for freedom and human rights in the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

• “Oral Histories of the American South” is a collection of over 500 oral history interviews with a southern focus on a variety of topics, including civil rights, politics, and women’s issues. Interviews can be read in text transcript form, listened to with a media player, or both simultaneously.

• “The Southern Homefront, 1861-1865” presents materials related to Southern life during the Civil War and the challenge of creating a nation state while waging war. This collection includes government documents, personal diaries, religious pamphlets, and many other materials.

There’s so much in each of these collections worth a long leisurely review.

Check it out.

Documenting the American South.

You won’t be sorry that you did!


  1. Cleveland County was formed from Rutherford and Lincoln Counties in 1841. See “North Carolina County Formation,” State Library of North Carolina ( : accessed 12 Nov 2014).
  2. See “Status of Courthouse Records in North Carolina,” North Carolina USGenWeb ( : accessed 12 Nov 2014).
  3. About Documenting the American South,” Documenting the American South ( : accessed 12 Nov 2014).
  4. Ibid.
Posted in Resources | 16 Comments

Honoring those who served

After all that time, suddenly, it was silent.

After war had raged for more than four years, on the battlefields of Europe the quiet must have been eerie.

There at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the survivors must have breathed a sigh of relief.

It was over.

11.11.1918The War to End All Wars, it was called.1

And it wasn’t, of course, not at all.

Still, the toll of its carnage was staggering: more than nine million dead, more than 21 million wounded.2 So many lost that people hoped it would be the last.

So many gone that it gave rise to what today, here in the United States, is called Veterans Day.

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

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

And so, today, November 11th — Veterans Day — we pause to thank every man and woman who has ever served this nation, wearing the uniform of its military services. So many of them from my own family.8

Among them, my brothers and sister:

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

Among my mother’s generation:

Billy R. Cottrell, U.S. Navy
Monte B. Cottrell, U.S. Navy
David F. Cottrell, U.S. Navy and U.S. Army
Jerry L. Cottrell, U.S. Air Force
Michael V. Cottrell, U.S. Air Force
Philip Cottrell, U.S. Marine Corps, 1920-1943

Among what we call the outlaws:

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

And those who went before:

Clay R. Cottrell, U.S. Army, World War I
Jesse Fore, fifer, Captain Michael Gaffney’s Company, South Carolina Militia, War of 1812
Elijah Gentry, Private, 1st Regiment, Mississippi Territorial Volunteers, War of 1812
Elijah Gentry Sr., Sergeant, South Carolina Militia, Revolutionary War, and Private, 1st Regiment, Mississippi Territorial Volunteers, War of 1812
David Baker, Corporal, 3d Virginia Regiment, Continental Line, Revolutionary War
William Noel Battles, Private, 10th Virginia Regiment, Continental Line, Revolutionary War
John Pettypool, 1771, Militia, Granville County, NC
William Pettypool, 1701-02, Militia, Charles City County (Va.) Dragoons
Nicholas Gentry, cir 1680, Militia, Mattapony (Va.) Garrison


Image: Chicago Tribune, 11 November 1918, p.1; digital images, ( : accessed 10 Nov 2014).

  1. See Wikipedia (, “The war to end war,” rev. 18 Aug 2014.
  2. World War I,” ( : accessed 10 Nov 2014).
  3. Armistice Day,” WWPL Blog, posted 11 Nov 2011, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum ( : accessed 10 Nov 2014).
  4. “AN ACT Making the 11th day of November in each year a legal holiday,” 52 Stat. 351 (13 May 1938).
  5. “An Act To honor veterans on the 11th day of November of each year, a day dedicated to
    world peace,” 68 Stat. 168 (1 Jun 1954).
  6. “An Act To provide for uniform annual observances of certain legal public holidays on Mondays, and for other purposes,” 82 Stat. 250 ( 27 Jun 1968).
  7. “An Act To redesignate November 11 of each year as Veterans Day and to make such day a legal public holiday,” 89 Stat. 479 (18 Sep 1975).
  8. The list would be longer if I included those who wore a particular shade of grey… and, with apologies, I don’t have room in one blog post to even begin to list the cousins, nieces and nephews!
Posted in General, Statutes | 2 Comments