Those 1890 statutes

The Legal Genealogist is heading off to Oklahoma tomorrow, to speak at the Oklahoma Genealogical Society conference on Saturday and — with any luck at all — to track down some elusive Tillman County ancestors in the newspaper collection of the Oklahoma History Center.

OK.lawIn preparing for this trip, I was doing my usual routine of poking around in the local statutes and came across something that really reinforced a point I try to make all the time.

The common law wasn’t really all that common in huge parts of the United States.

Huge swaths of the United States were once under the control of the French or the Spanish,1 and the legal tradition they brought with them when they came into the Union was the tradition of the civil law — the law based in the 6th century Justinian Code2 — not the English common law.

And remnants of that civil law tradition persisted for a time — sometimes even to today — in the laws of the newly created territories or newly admitted states.

Case in point: Oklahoma.

The land that eventually became the State of Oklahoma was first part of the French territory known as Louisiana. It “did not become part of the United States until 1803, when the new American republic acquired the Louisiana Purchase. The U.S. Congress divided the purchased domain into two territories: Orleans in the south and Louisiana in the north. The Territory of Louisiana included what is now Oklahoma and had its administrative center at St. Louis. In 1812 northern Louisiana became the Territory of Missouri; in 1819 southern Louisiana, including Oklahoma, was organized as the Territory of Arkansas. The territorial governors of Arkansas exercised administrative jurisdiction over Oklahoma for the next thirty years.”3

On 2 May 1890, the Territory of Oklahoma was created in what’s generally called the Organic Act.4

And when the Territorial Legislature met in 1890, it passed a whole set of statutes — the very first official laws of the Territory of Oklahoma.5 And some of those very first official laws make it crystal clear that the template on which they were based was the civil law, not the common law.

In the common law, the language typically used to describe the process of property descending from one generation to another is probate,6 and where the deceased leaves no will the specific term used is descent.7 In the civil law, the term for the descent of property from one generation to another without a will is succession.8

Guess which word the Oklahoma Territorial Legislature used in its very first set of statutes?

Yep.

Succession, defined in the statute as “the coming in of another to take the property of one who dies without disposing of it by will.”9

There are other bits and pieces like this scattered throughout the statutes, but just this one word serves as a powerful reminder that this nation’s legal heritage — like its genetic heritage — is a blend.


SOURCES

  1. See generally Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “United States territorial acquisitions,” rev. 17 Mar 2015.
  2. See “Roman Legal Tradition and the Compilation of Justinian,” The Robbins Collection, Boalt Hall (https://www.law.berkeley.edu/library : accessed 25 Mar 2015).
  3. Westward Expansion, 1803–1861,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, Oklahoma History Center (http://www.okhistory.org/ : accessed 25 Mar 2015).
  4. “An act to provide a temporary government for the Territory of Oklahoma, to enlarge the jurisdiction of the United States Court in the Indian Territory, and for other purposes,” 26 Stat. 81 (2 May 1890).
  5. See The Statutes of Oklahoma 1890 (Guthrie, Okla. : State Capital Printing Co., 1891); digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 25 Mar 2015).
  6. See generally Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 945, “probate.”
  7. Ibid., 359, “descent.”
  8. Ibid., 1133, “succession.”
  9. Chapter 88, article 4, The Statutes of Oklahoma 1890, at 1211.
Posted in Legal definitions, Statutes | Leave a comment

For the common law crowd

Reader John Sparrow took one look at yesterday’s post about Black’s Law Dictionary and shot off a question.

“Do you know if there are similar books for England and/or Australia?” he asked. “If so, could you let us know what they are, please.”

You betcha.

dictionaryAnd — by the way — The Legal Genealogist stresses that all of these dictionaries are useful to everyone from a country with a common law heritage because so much of our legal traditions are shared.

So whether we sing out O Canada or Advance Australia Fair or The Star Spangled Banner, we all look to a time when we were singing God Save the King (or Queen, depending) and a shared legal tradition.

So let’s start by looking at dictionaries that help us with English law and English legal terminology.

And here we have a treasure trove — an online one-stop-shopping location for digitized law dictionaries that I’ve written about before: Georgetown University’s Law Library and its wonderful Digital Dictionaries: 1481-1916 collection.1

Among the offerings of this amazing collection is what may be about the oldest English legal dictionary available:

1607: John Cowell, Interpreter, or Booke containing the signification of words : Wherein is set foorth the true meaning of all, or the most part of such words and termes, as are mentioned in the lawe writers, or statutes of this victorious and renowned kingdome, requiring any exposition or interpretation (Cambridge : Printed by John Legate, 1607).

Another key resource you can find there is a dictionary focused on the legal French terms so often found in older English documents we use in genealogy:

1779: Robert Kelham, Dictionary of the Norman or Old French language: collected from such Acts of Parliament, Parliament rolls, journals, Acts of state, records, law books, antient historians, and manuscripts as related to this nation… (London : Printed for Edward Brooke, 1779).

So go ahead and poke around on that site and see what you can find.

But there’s one more legal dictionary we all need to know about and use on a regular basis whenever we’re working in English research, and although there are editions available on the Georgetown site,2 the very oldest versions are readily available at other sites like Google Books. It’s the law dictionary edited and compiled by Giles Jacob (1686-1744), an English legal writer.

His main work — A New Law Dictionary: Containing the Interpretation and Definition of Words and Terms Used in the Law; …, Published to this Time — was first published in 1729 and went through five editions before his death. And some of those earliest editions are readily available online:

• The 1729 edition in full text at Google Books.

• The 1729 edition in full text at Hathi Trust.

• The 1739 edition and 1743 edition in full text at Internet Archive.

There are a handful of resources specifically developed for our common law friends Down Under and Up North as well.

For Australian researchers:

Australian Law Dictionary, Trischa Mann and Audrey Blunden, editors, Oxford University Press (2010). Subscription access required.

Butterworths Concise Australian Legal Dictionary, Peter Butt Editor, LexisNexis Publishing, 2011. Generally available through booksellers as well (Amazon has copies now).

Encyclopaedic Australian Legal Dictionary – online, LexisNexis. Subscription access required, not generally available to individuals (see the Ordering tab at page bottom).

And for Canadians:

• “Canadian Law Dictionary,” CanadianLawSite.ca. Begun as a personal website by a Canadian trustee in bankruptcy who wanted to learn about Canadian legal history, CanadianLawSite went live on the Internet in 2007, and has since become one of the biggest commercial law sites in the country. It offers a comprehensive dictionary.

• “Legal Dictionary,” Duhaime.org. A major Canadian legal reference site by Lloyd Duhaime, “Barrister, Solicitor, Attorney and Lawyer (and Notary Public!)” The law dictionary contains terms both from common law and civil law.

• “Irwin Law’s Canadian Online Legal Dictionary,” IrwinLaw.com. A “collaborative dictionary comprised, initially, of terms defined in the glossaries of Canadian law books published by Irwin Law,” to which members of the public can contribute, wiki-style, after registering.

Know of more? Add a comment for the benefits of your fellow researchers!


SOURCES

  1. Judy G. Russell, “A defining moment,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 30 June 2014 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 25 Mar 2015).
  2. See this link for the two versions in the collection.
Posted in Legal definitions, Resources | 6 Comments

Best for genealogy

Reader Pam Anderson had a great question after trying — and failing — to find a truly archaic legal term in her pocket copy of Black’s Law Dictionary.

“On the Black’s Law Dictionary,” she asked, “any recommendations as to which edition for genealogy?”

Oh, boy, does The Legal Genealogist have an answer to that!

And — for once — it’s not “it depends.”

Blacks.4thFirst off, a brief explanation of this tome.

Black’s Law Dictionary has been around since it was first published in 1891 by Henry Campbell Black, then a 31-year-old New York-born-lawyer-turned-legal-scholar who only ever briefly practiced law.1

It’s a comprehensive dictionary of legal terms that’s been cited by the U.S. Supreme Court in 261 cases, the first time in 1901 for its definition of “common law.”2 I wouldn’t even try to guess how many times it’s been cited in American courts overall — in just my own state of New Jersey, I found 874 cases.3

Many of the terms it defines are critical to the records we work with day in and day out as genealogists. Let me put it this way: if a legal term you’re trying to figure out isn’t in Black’s, then it’s probably spelled wrong. But, as Pam found out, the question sometimes is — in which version will you find it?

Black himself authored the first4 and second editions5 of Black’s Law Dictionary. With a new version published just last year, it’s now in its tenth edition.6

The problem is that — at a particular point in the history of this wonderful dictionary — the editors and publishers decided that nobody was really interested in those old, archaic legal terms any more, and that they could make room for new terms and concepts coming into the law by simply leaving them out. I mean, really, who needs to know, today, what a “childwit” was anyway?7

That breaking point for the oldest legal terms was after the Fourth Edition. There were at least three printings of the Fourth Edition — in 1951, 1957 and 1968 — each with 1882 main pages and a varying amount of preamble material. It’s sometimes called the Fourth Edition, sometimes the Fourth Edition Revised, sometimes the Fourth Edition Deluxe or even the Fourth Edition Revised Deluxe. But that edition, with its 1882 pages, is the last edition with all the terms we want. The Fifth Edition, published in 1979, is a fundamentally different publication — and not suited for our purposes.

If you absolutely positively have to have a physical book version of a dictionary, this Fourth Edition is the last one to try to find — and it won’t come cheap. Amazon has some copies in its marketplace from third party sellers; the cheapest version this morning is $73.01. There was one on eBay where the auction won’t close for another five days, and bidding was already at $50 — or you could buy a second one for a flat $255.

I personally recommend that genealogists buy and use the first version, published in 1891. It’s the one written closest to the time that the records we usually work with were created, so the language will be closest to what the record-creator meant. Again, if you just have to have a physical copy, you can have your very own copy of a reprint in hardback from Amazon. It’s only $195 new — or you can save a whole $2 by buying it used (for $193).

Or you can do what I did. I bought the CD version from Archives CD Books USA. For $29.95, you get both the first edition (1891) and second edition (1910), fully word searchable. Best buy you’ll ever make.

And if you absolutely can’t scrounge up the money right now, you can find this dictionary online. HathiTrust has the 1891 edition, albeit in a form that’s not the easiest to use, while Internet Archive and Google Books have the 1910 (second) edition free.


SOURCES

  1. See Judy G. Russell, “Henry Campbell Black (1860-1927),” The Legal Genealogist, posted 6 Jan 2012 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 23 Mar 2015).
  2. Western Union Tel. Co. v. Call Publishing Co., 181 U.S. 92, 102 (1901).
  3. The most recent citation was in State v. Sumulikoski, __ N.J. __ (slip op., 18 March 2015) (per curiam); Rutgers-Camden Law Library, New Jersey Court Resources (http://njlaw.rutgers.edu/collections/courts/ : accessed 23 Mar 2015).
  4. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891).
  5. Black, A Law Dictionary, 2d ed. (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1910).
  6. Bryan A. Garner, ed., Black’s Law Dictionary, 10th ed. (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 2014).
  7. Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 200, “childwit” (“The right which a lord had of taking a fine of his bondwoman gotten with child without his license”).
Posted in Legal definitions, Resources | 11 Comments

Sigh…

Nobody is free of the problem, it seems.

robotThe problem of spam, and spambots, and spam attacks, and…

Not even The Legal Genealogist.

Now you might think that a single small genealogically-oriented website might fly under the radar of the spammers and spambot operators.

Nope.

Twice now this site has been taken down, or taken over, by problems from the outside.

We’re working on one of those right now.

Not to worry: it is fixable, it’s just annoying and makes you wonder about people who clearly have way too much time on their hands.

Stand by … won’t be more than 48 hours …we hope…

Posted in General | 4 Comments

Looking beyond mere geography

The Legal Genealogist would never have thought of going to Philadelphia to research her North Carolina ancestors.

Or to consider in more detail the death of George Washington at his beloved estate Mount Vernon in northern Virginia.

HSP1Or even to look into wills and deeds from early settlers of southern New Jersey.

There are other more obvious candidates for that kind of research, right?

Right!

And also wrong.

Very wrong.

Because there are treasures to be found in Philadelphia in each of those outside-of-Philadelphia topics, and some of them can’t be found anywhere but in Philadelphia.

Where?

The Library of The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, a repository I hadn’t visited before I was asked to speak there last night and introduce its members and library patrons to the use of DNA as part of our genealogical toolkit.

I have the good fortune to be friends with several members of the Greater Philadelphia Area chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists and one of them, Sandra Hewlett, arranged to have me given a tour of the HSP library by Lee Arnold, Senior Director of the Library and Collections.

To say I was stunned at the scope of the HSP Library’s holdings is to understate things by a pretty fair margin.

Because I had certainly expected it to have, as the HSP’s website says, “collections … from the perspective of the Philadelphia region, the diverse members, migrations, and experiences of the American family, the roots of the United States, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s history.”1

But I didn’t expect the entire rooms of volumes on other states, not just those in the mid-Atlantic region but from farther afield — including shelf after shelf of works focusing on North Carolina, the result of a bequest to the HSP library by one of its members who lived in Philadelphia but had been born in the Tarheel State.

I didn’t expect the extraordinary variety of ethnic materials from around the country, partly the result of the merger in 2002 with the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies, including “records of ethnic benefit groups, politics and community advocacy, and ethnic media, such as newspapers, pamphlets, and other printings, that contain information regarding genealogy, family history, neighborhood history, political history, women’s history, and labor history.”2

I didn’t expect the diary kept by Tobias Lear of New Hampshire with its detailed account of the 1799 death of George Washington at Mount Vernon. It was amazingly moving to see the words, written in iron gall ink, quoting the First President in his last hours: “I feel myself going, I thank you for your attentions; but I pray you to take no more trouble about me, let me go off quietly; I cannot last long.”3

And I certainly didn’t expect to see a document bearing the original signature of Lorenzo de Medici, a Florentine who lived during the Italian Renaissance, dated 1479!

As I said, the holdings are just stunning. Other treasures that I was privileged to see — and that thanks to digital technology, you can see too — included:

• An original of a draft of the Articles of Confederation, prepared by John Dickinson in June 1776.

• An original of a very early draft of the United States Constitution, prepared in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787.

• A handwritten copy of The Star-Spangled Banner, penned by Francis Scott Key and given by Key to a friend, a Pennsylvania military officer and U.S. Representative named William H. Keim, around 1840.

• A printed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, personally signed by Abraham Lincoln and his secretary of state William Seward.

• William Still’s Journal C of Station No. 2 of the Underground Railroad, with its names and detailed descriptions, dates and family details of the runaway slaves who came through that station in 1855.

The very first photograph ever taken in the United States, a daguerrotype image of the Central High School for Boys and the Pennsylvania State Arsenal, dating from the fall of 1839.

These documents, and many others, are available online. But the vast majority of the 21 million items held by the HSP and its library are not digitized. For some, the only cataloguing is a card catalog on the library’s main floor. So it’d be easy, all too easy, even for folks like me who live close by in a neighboring state, to overlook the HSP Library or to think that it’d be too hard to use it.

But the key lesson to be learned from last night is a basic one for all of us as genealogists and researchers: we need to think outside the research box, and particularly outside of the geographic box, and to get out of our chairs and off our computers.

The reality is that, because of the mobility of our ancestors and donations by members and patrons, any library — one like the HSP Library or a university library or a public library — anywhere in the country, indeed anywhere in the world, might have part or all of the answer to a perplexing family mystery a long way away from where that mystery played out.

And those library holdings, for the most part, are not online.

So while it may be that North Carolina is where we’ll find other more obvious candidates for North Carolina research.

But let’s not ever overlook places like Philadelphia.

Time for some road trips…


SOURCES

  1. Collection Scope,” Historical Society of Pennsylvania (http://hsp.org/ : accessed 18 Mar 2015).
  2. The Balch Institute,” Historical Society of Pennsylvania (http://hsp.org/ : accessed 18 Mar 2015).
  3. A transcription of an excerpt of the Lear Journal, prepared by Library Director Lee Arnold, is available at the HSP website. “Transcription of Excerpt from Tobias Lear’s Journal, documenting death of George Washington 1799,” Record No. 419, Historical Society of Pennsylvania (http://hsp.org/ : accessed 18 Mar 2015).
Posted in Methodology, Resources | 17 Comments

… and they could have figured it out…

As genealogists, we learn to use all kinds of tools in our research.

IsereWe use land records and probate records.

We seek out court minutes from dustry corners of old courthouses and personal papers long ago left behind in libraries and historical societies.

We look to records created by cemeteries and churches and the military and government at all levels.

We use 21st century tools like DNA testing.

And we even do something it seems is fairly rare these days.

We use the grey matter between our ears.

We think.

So The Legal Genealogist is feeling just a little snarky this morning. Twice yesterday I came across one-liner notes on websites that left me shaking my head. Because both of them suggested that the web writers didn’t know the answer to a question that we, as genealogists, could have answered in minutes.

Because, you see, we use all kinds of tools in our research.

Including things like newspapers.

One of the unanswered questions came in a web piece called “15 Of The Rarest (And Most Mind Blowing) Photographs In History” and the particular photo was the “Construction Of The Statue Of Liberty (1884).” The caption read, in part, “What’s even more amazing about this image is it shows the statue being constructed in Paris. We wonder how they delivered it to America.”1

But we know … and they could have figured it out … if they’d looked at the newspapers of the day.

Even a quick look at the newspapers of June 1885 would have shown the web writers that the statue arrived in the waters off Sandy Hook, New Jersey, on the 17th of June 1885 in the French man-of-war, the Isere.2 It was one of the biggest stories of its time… and it isn’t hard to find.

Now perhaps it isn’t fair to be snarky to a website that uses the web address www.lotwot.com. I suspect that isn’t exactly a website dedicated to scholarship.

But I was both thrilled and disappointed to come across a new-to-me blog called Et Seq., the blog of the Harvard Law School Library. I was thrilled because it includes features on some really interesting holdings of the law school’s library, including a pair of broadsides from a 1941 Harlan County, Kentucky, election for magistrate. They’re part of the library’s Historical & Special Collections among the professional papers of Professor Zechariah Chafee.3

I was disappointed because, in the course of discussing the broadsides — which really are amazing, and (not surprisingly) resulted in a libel suit — the article reported: “we have not been able to locate the results of this Harlan County election…” to see which of the two candidates (J. B. M. Howard or John Keller) had been elected as the magistrate.

But we know … and they too could have figured it out … if they’d looked at the newspapers of the day.

Even a quick look at the newspapers after that 1941 election would have shown the web writers that the magistrate in Harlan County in 1942 was one John Keller.4

Now admittedly it may not be that even the best of law librariies have subscriptions to newspaper databases.

But we do, don’t we?

Because, you see, we use all kinds of tools in our research.

And we think about all the ways we can find the answers we need.


 

REMINDERS: Today is the early bird deadline for registration for the 2015 Ohio Genealogical Society conference — Ohio: Your Genealogical Cornerstone — in Columbus, April 9-11. Registering today saves you $40 on the full conference fees and also gets you an advance electronic copy of the syllabus and first dibs on workshops and other events that might sell out. Information on OGS 2015 is here and you can register online here.

And registration for the April 15 Tech Day at NERGC 2015 — Navigating the Past: Sailing into the Future — in Providence, Rhode Island, is already full for both tracks. But there’s still space available in the Librarians’/Teachers’ Day Track and in the workshops during the April 15-18 conference — things like Military Research, Mechanics of Writing, Document Analysis and Griffiths Evaluation. Information on NERGC 2015 is here and you can register online here for the whole conference and for special add-ons like the workshops.


SOURCES

  1. 15 Of The Rarest (And Most Mind Blowing) Photographs In History: Construction Of The Statue Of Liberty (1884),” LOLWOT (http://www.lolwot.com/ : accessed 17 Mar 2015).
  2. “Arrival of the Big Statue,” New York Tribune, 18 June 1885, p. 1, col. 1; digital images, Library of Congress, Chronicling America (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/ : accessed 17 Mar 2015).
  3. Jane Kelly, “852 Rare: Libelous Kentucky Broadsides,” Et Seq., posted 17 Feb 2015 (ttp://etseq.law.harvard.edu/ : accessed 17 Mar 2015).
  4. See e.g. “Draft Dodger Is Arrested in Harlan,” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 10 June 1942, p. 3, col. 6 (“… charged before Magistrate John Keller …”); digital images, GenealogyBank (http://www.genealogybank.com : accessed 17 Mar 2015).
    Also, ibid., “Sheriff Turns Lawyer For A Day,” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 16 June 1942, p. 3, col. 5 (“… Magistrate John Keller’s court today …”).
Posted in General, Methodology, Resources | 4 Comments

Join the AOTUS’s transcription project

His name is David Ferriero, and he goes by the acronym AOTUS.

That’s Archivist of the United States to anyone not in the know.

He’s America’s Collector in Chief, the head of the U.S. National Archives (NARA), and he’s looking for some help.

1000pagesThis week — March 15-21 — is Sunshine Week for government: the annual nationwide celebration of access to public information. It’s “a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.”1

And, Ferriero thought, how better to promote access to public information than to help transcribe some of the most interesting — and, by the way, genealogically useful — documents of our nation’s history?

So this week NARA’s AOTUS has a Transcription Challenge going on. Citizen-archivists are challenged — okay, invited — to join in the challenge to transcribe any one (or more!) of millions of pages of handwritten or typed documents held by NARA and available through its online catalog.2 By tagging and transcribing the documents, our work will make the information accessible through the catalog system. So the end result will be both text and, in effect, an every-name index to the transcribed documents.

And oh… the documents… they really are fun.

Here are just a few of the things you can choose to get involved with:

Papers of the Continental Congress, including handwritten depositions from men who were there at the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

Record Books of the Confederate Government, a wide variety of handwritten books from the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Offices of the Confederate Government that are just chock-filled with information about soldiers and civilians caught up in the Civil War in the southern states.

Harriet Tubman Davis’s application for a widow’s pension based on the Civil War service of her husband Nelson — 100 pages or more of personal and family history of people born in slavery who served in freedom.

Records Relating to the Prosecution of Al Capone… or Bonnie and Clyde… or James “Whitey” Bulger… or a host of other federal criminal cases.

“Spirited Republic” records, from NARA’s exhibit highlight the government’s role in alcohol. Lots of alcohol labels and records for you to transcribe, including a Shamrock Brew Label.

Declassified records, a wide variety of records that used to be considered secrets of the United States. And CIA records too.

The goal is to have 1000 or more pages of historical documents transcribed during the week. The Legal Genealogist thinks this community can knock that goal out of the ballpark. Even the documents called advanced in this challenge are well within the average genealogist’s capabilities — we deal with bad handwriting all the time!

All you need to do is register for an account with the National Archives (it’s just a username and password deal), choose your target document and get started. The documents can all be downloaded or read online, and entering the tags (names, places and the like) and the transcription is really easy.

Just yesterday I transcribed one of the depositions from the Battle of Concord.3 Today I’m going to tackle one of the pages from the Record Books of the Confederate Government — how can you not want to help with a record that reads, in part: “The sentence of death pronounced by a General Court Martial against Private B B Knight Company D 42d North Carolina Infantry is remitted. He will be released from confinement and returned to duty”!?!4

So come on out and join AOTUS — and me — and genealogists and historians across the country and transcribe a page or two.

You can read more about this challenge in Ferriero’s own words at his blog, AOTUS.


SOURCES

  1. See “About,” Sunshine Week (http://sunshineweek.org/ : accessed 16 Mar 2015).
  2. See generally David Ferriero, “Participate in the #1000pages Transcription Challenge,” AOTUS: National Archives (http://blogs.archives.gov/aotus/ : accessed 16 Mar 2015).
  3. The National Archives Catalog, digital image, The National Archives (http://www.archives.gov/research/catalog/ : accessed 17 Mar 2015), “Deposition #18 of B(rad)bury Robinson, et al. Regarding the Events of April 18 and 19, 1775 at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts Bay Colony”; Massachusetts State Papers, 1775 – 1787; Papers of the Continental Congress, 1774 – 1789; Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention, 1765 – 1821, Record Group 360; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  4. The National Archives Catalog, digital image, The National Archives (http://www.archives.gov/research/catalog/ : accessed 17 Mar 2015), “A&IGO – Special Orders, 1864”; Record Books of Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Offices of the Confederate Government, 1874 – 1899; War Department Collection of Confederate Records, 1825 – 1927, Record Group 109; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
Posted in General | 13 Comments

Free webinar tomorrow

It’s a rare case where straightforward, simple, direct evidence gives us all the information we need to solve a genealogical puzzle.

Between records that have been lost over time, records that were never created in the first place and records that are just plain wrong, we often find ourselves struggling to figure out our families and often overlook key clues in the information we’ve already gathered.

Learning how to make the most of our data, to use it effectively in research, is a critically important skill. So tune in tomorrow night with the Board for Certification of Genealogists for a free webinar that will offer step-by-step approaches to using inferential and analytic thinking to solve some of genealogy’s most perplexing problems.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, March 17, at 8 p.m. Eastern (7 p.m. Central, 6 p.m. Mountain, 5 p.m. Pacific), BCG’s free webinar series features James M. Baker, Ph.D., CG, in his presentation “Elementary, My Dear Watson! Solving Your Genealogy Puzzles with Clues You Already Have.” He’ll talk about how naming patterns, birth/marriage witness data, inheritance data, sibling research, timelines, family migrations and more can all contribute to a successful resolution to our problems.

A frequent presenter at local, regional, and national events, Jim earned a Ph.D. in sociology and social psychology from the University of Utah, and served as an adjunct member of the faculty at UCLA and USC. Now retired from an aerospace and business management career, he says his most fun job ever was being the “piano-man” at Shakey’s Pizza Parlor.

Jim became a Board-certified genealogist in 2011 and specializes in German, Midwest U.S., and early American research. He was an officer of the Sacramento German Genealogy Society (SGGS) and has contributed numerous articles to its quarterly, Der Blumenbaum. He also has written articles for the National Genealogical Society Quarterly and the National Genealogical Society (NGS) Magazine, in which he employed the problem-solving skills he’ll be demonstrating in the webinar.

So join us tomorrow and learn from Jim about solving genealogical puzzles with the clues you already have. The webinar series is free to all genealogists who want to improve their skills.

To register and receive your unique link to the webinar, head over to this post at SpringBoard, the BCG blog, and read down in the post there to the registration link.

We’re still working on making recordings of the BCG webinars available to those who can’t attend in real time; stay tuned at SpringBoard for updated information on that — and on announcements of future webinars in this free series.


CG or Certified Genealogist is a service mark of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, used under license by Board-certified genealogists after periodic competency evaluation, and the board name is registered in the US Patent & Trademark Office.

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Free webinar tomorrow

It’s a rare case where straightforward, simple, direct evidence gives us all the information we need to solve a genealogical puzzle.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABetween records that have been lost over time, records that were never created in the first place and records that are just plain wrong, we often find ourselves struggling to figure out our families and often overlook key clues in the information we’ve already gathered.

Learning how to make the most of our data, to use it effectively in research, is a critically important skill. So tune in tomorrow night with the Board for Certification of Genealogists for a free webinar that will offer step-by-step approaches to using inferential and analytic thinking to solve some of genealogy’s most perplexing problems.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, March 17, at 8 p.m. Eastern (7 p.m. Central, 6 p.m. Mountain, 5 p.m. Pacific), BCG’s free webinar series features James M. Baker, Ph.D., CG, in his presentation “Elementary, My Dear Watson! Solving Your Genealogy Puzzles with Clues You Already Have.” He’ll talk about how naming patterns, birth/marriage witness data, inheritance data, sibling research, timelines, family migrations and more can all contribute to a successful resolution to our problems.

A frequent presenter at local, regional, and national events, Jim earned a Ph.D. in sociology and social psychology from the University of Utah, and served as an adjunct member of the faculty at UCLA and USC. Now retired from an aerospace and business management career, he says his most fun job ever was being the “piano-man” at Shakey’s Pizza Parlor.

Jim became a Board-certified genealogist in 2011 and specializes in German, Midwest U.S., and early American research. He was an officer of the Sacramento German Genealogy Society (SGGS) and has contributed numerous articles to its quarterly, Der Blumenbaum. He also has written articles for the National Genealogical Society Quarterly and the National Genealogical Society (NGS) Magazine, in which he employed the problem-solving skills he’ll be demonstrating in the webinar.

So join us tomorrow and learn from Jim about solving genealogical puzzles with the clues you already have. The webinar series is free to all genealogists who want to improve their skills.

To register and receive your unique link to the webinar, head over to this post at SpringBoard, the BCG blog, and read down in the post there to the registration link.

We’re still working on making recordings of the BCG webinars available to those who can’t attend in real time; stay tuned at SpringBoard for updated information on that — and on announcements of future webinars in this free series.


CG or Certified Genealogist is a service mark of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, used under license by Board-certified genealogists after periodic competency evaluation, and the board name is registered in the US Patent & Trademark Office.

Posted in General | 2 Comments

Case shows limits of familial DNA

At first blush, it seems alarming: DNA contributed as part of a genetic genealogy program being used by the police to track down a murder suspect.

LouisianaHardly the use we expect when we do a DNA test to help track down our ancestors and, some might say, an invasion of privacy — even shades of Big Brother!

In reality, the case — involving a New Orleans filmmaker — shows exactly why this isn’t likely to be a common investigative technique by the police, and how in fact DNA testing for genetic genealogy is so different from DNA for police purposes that it really shouldn’t be a reason for anyone to decide not to be tested for genealogy.1

The story ran in the New Orleans Advocate this past week, and you can read it online. The reporter, Jim Mustian, did a pretty good job of explaining just what happened in this case.2

In 1996, a teenager named Angie Dodge was murdered in Idaho Falls, Idaho. The investigation suggested that several attackers were involved, but the evidence didn’t lead to a solid identification of one key suspect — a suspect who left DNA evidence on the scene.

In 2014, the police in Idaho tried something new in their effort to crack this cold case: they compared the YDNA signature of the DNA left at the scene with the publicly available YDNA databases used by genetic genealogists.

They got a partial match — one that cleared the person who had tested but implicated someone somewhere in his family tree, some male relative with a similar YDNA signature — and asked a court to order the genetic testing company to provide them with the name of the person who had tested.

The court gave them the order to get identity of the person tested, and the police then mapped out five generations of males in that family to see if anyone might have ties to the murder. And, they discovered, there were several reasons to look particularly at the son of the man who had tested.

That son — New Orleans filmmaker Michael Usry Jr. — had had reason to be in the area of the murder around the time of the murder. He had sisters attending school there. He had friends who lived there. And he had built a career around making dark films that, according to the news article, often seemed gratuitously violent.

The police then went to a court in New Orleans where Usry lived, and laid out their case. They asked the court to agree that there was probable cause to require Usry to give a DNA sample for testing. Based on all of the factors outlined by the police, the court agreed that Usry should be required to provide a sample.

The news story tells the rest of the tale. Pay special attention to the headline:

New Orleans filmmaker cleared in cold-case murder; false positive highlights limitations of familial DNA searching.3

The test proved, definitively, that Usry wasn’t the source of the DNA sample left at the scene. Quickly, easily, and without any doubt, it cleared him. So the fear some folks have of being falsely accused because of DNA? That’s poppycock. Even in this case where the police had all kinds of other reasons to look at one specific suspect, the DNA cleared him.

But the test proved something else, of importance to our cousins who sometimes fear what could happen if they test for genealogy. It also proved, definitively, why going to genetic genealogy databanks isn’t going to be the first choice of police agencies. Why, in fact, it’s likely to be one of the last choices.

The simple fact is that the tests we take for genealogy aren’t all that useful to the police. Our tests tell us how we are like other people — other family members who share common ancestors with us. The tests the police really want — tests of what are called CODIS markers — focus on parts of the DNA that make us unlike other people and set us apart as individuals.

And notice that the YDNA alone here wouldn’t have been enough to convince that Louisiana judge to force Usry to test. It was only when the DNA signature was combined with proof that he’d been in the right place at the right time, and more, that there was even an argument that there was probable cause to make him submit to testing.

And if the police do 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.


SOURCES

  1. Unless, of course, you really have committed a crime you don’t want detected, in which case you probably shouldn’t be doing any voluntary DNA testing of any kind. Just sayin’.
  2. 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 (http://www.theneworleansadvocate.com/ : accessed 14 Mar 2015).
  3. Ibid.
Posted in DNA | 8 Comments