Questions to ask

So The Legal Genealogist was out in St. Louis yesterday for the Midwestern African-American Genealogy Institute.

It was the second annual institute, and my time first there… and it was a joy.

MAAGI2What a great group of people — instructors, students, all first-rate. Active minds and willing hearts make for an unbeatable combination, especially when folks have helping hands reaching out for each other … and for their family’s truth.

The Institute offers four tracks: Fundamental Methods & Strategies for African American Research, coordinated by Shelley Murphy; Technology and Social Media, coordinated by Bernice Bennett; Pre & Post Emancipation Records, coordinated by Janis Minor Forté; and Genealogy as a Profession, coordinated by Angela Y. Walton-Raji. Instructors included folks like Thomas MacEntee of Illinois, Nicka Smith of California, and yours truly.

(You’ll see some of us in this photo: (L-R) Nicka Smith, me, Bernice Bennett, Shelley Murphy, and Thomas MacEntee.)

I was honored to be chosen to lead two sessions: one on public records and the law; and the other on slavery and the law. And there are two key lessons I hope the students took away from those sessions.

1. Always ask why.

When we come across that record, and we’re trying to figure it out, we need to always ask why it was created. In so many cases, the reason it was created was because of the law.

Case in point: in 1827, Martha Prater executed a bond in Gallatin County, Illinois. She did so, she said, to be faithful to the will of her late husband who had directed that all of his slaves be freed at the time of his death. So, she said:

I Martha Prater of the County of Gallatin and State of Illinois am held and firmly bound … in the penal sum of Twenty Three thousand Dollars… The condition … is that … Martha Prater has this day emancipated and set at liberty … negro or mulatto slaves… Now if none of the … slaves shall become hereafter a charge on the said County of Gallatin or on any other County in this State to which they may hereafter go & settle, then the above bond to be void, otherwise to be and remain in full force and virtue.1

The bond is a wonderful document for African American research because it lists, by name and age, each of the 23 slaves she had freed, and their relationships to each other. Now you might expect to find that information in the deed emancipating the slaves. But in a bond?

Why was the bond even executed?

It was because of the law. Northern states weren’t friendly to slave emancipations. There was a fear of freedmen becoming public charges or, worse, turning to vagrancy or crime.

So by 1819 Illinois had passed a law. Anyone who brought slaves into Illinois and emancipated them there “shall give a bond to the county commissioners of the county where such slave or slaves are emancipating, in the penalty of one thousand dollars, conditioned that such person so emancipated by him, shall not become a charge on any county in this state…”2

2. Always ask what.

The flip side of the coin is when we find the law — something we come across in a statute book or in our reading. We need to ask ourselves what records might have been created because of that law.

Case in point: New Jersey in 1804 was the very last of the Northern states to abolish slavery. It didn’t free the slaves of the Garden State all at once but, instead, through a gradual process. It provided that any child born to slaves after 4 July 1804 would be free but would remain the servant of the mother’s owner until age 25 if male and age 21 if female.3

Which raises the obvious question: how was anyone to know when one of these free children reached the age to be free of service?

The law answered that question: it required that the person to whom the child would owe service had to register the child’s birth. And that, of course, means records. Those lovely amazing birth certificates now so carefully preserved by, and some of which are available in digital format from, the New Jersey State Archives.4

If you have the record, ask why it was created. If you have the law, ask what records would have been created because of it.

Lessons from the road.


  1. Gallatin County, Illinois, Slave Register 1: 72-75, Prater bond (1827); Illinois State Archives, Springfield; FHL microfilm.
  2. “An Act Respecting Free Negros,” in Laws … of the State of Illinois … 1819 (Kaskaskia: p.p., 1819), 354-355; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 9 July 2014).
  3. “An Act for the gradual Abolition of Slavery,” in The Public Laws of the State of New-Jersey: Since the Revision … in 1800 (Trenton : p.p., 1805), 27; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 9 July 2014).
  4. See Judy G. Russell, “Born free,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 21 May 2014 ( : accessed 9 July 2014).
Posted in General, Methodology | 2 Comments

The prothonotary

The story is told of President Harry Truman being introduced to a prothonotary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and, in typical Trumanesque fashion, asking the question.

“What the hell is a prothonotary?”1

Old Wooden Fence At Green FieldA somewhat less elegant form of the question by reader Sam Jones, who was told that certain records he wants to see in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, are held by the Prothonotary there.

Sam could have found the answer he needed on Wikipedia, which says that the “word prothonotary is recorded in English since 1447, as ‘principal clerk of a court,’ from L.L. prothonotarius (c. 400), from Greek protonotarios ‘first scribe,’ originally the chief of the college of recorders of the court of the Byzantine Empire, from Greek protos ‘first’ + Latin notarius (‘notary’); the -h- appeared in Medieval Latin. The title was awarded to certain high-ranking notaries.”2

Or he could have found it at the website of the Pennsylvania State Archives, with some of the history of the term:

The prothonotary or chief notary is the officer responsible for maintaining the records of the civil division of the court of common pleas in each judicial district. These records relate to civil proceedings, divorce, equity and also include various types of reports filed by the county, municipal governments and school districts.

The 1682 Frame of Government made provision for the erection of county courts. … In 1707, Governor John Evans’ ordinance established two separate courts in each county – quarter sessions and oyer and terminer to hear criminal cases and deal with administrative matters, and common pleas to hear civil and equity cases. The term “prothonotary” appeared for the first time in this ordinance, and it was ordered that all writs and processes of the court of common pleas were to issue out of his office under the county seal and all returns were to be made to that office. A number of early laws defined the officer’s duties and responsibilities. Numerous laws were passed during the provincial period and in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries which continued this basic judicial structure on the county level with occasional jurisdictional changes. …

Before the 1701 Charter of Privileges, there was no clear indication how the clerk of each county court was chosen or his length of service. That document provided that each county’s justices nominate three people, one of whom would be selected by the governor to be “clerk of the peace.” This person also served as prothonotary when that office was established. The 1790 Constitution vested that power in the governor alone. It was not until the Constitution of 1838 that the office became elective with the individual serving a three year term, The Constitution of 1873 continued that practice, but a 1909 amendment increased the term to four years. …3

He could have found a basic definition in the law dictionaries: Black and Bouvier both define it as “The title given to an officer who officiates as principal clerk of some courts.”4

He could even have found a good explanation on the Luzerne County website, along with the Harry Truman story:

If you don’t know what the word “prothonotary” means, you are not alone. Apparently, United States President Harry S. Truman had the same question. A story has been often told that, in 1948, President Truman was introduced to a prothonotary in Pittsburgh and did not know what the term meant. Nearly 60 years later, the question still arises – what is a prothonotary?

The prothonotary is the Chief Clerk of the Civil Court. The word is of Greek origin, and it means “First Clerk.” The prothonotary’s office of Luzerne County is responsible for filing, storing, and distributing official civil documents. The prothonotary’s office also issues passports and maintains naturalization records. Pennsylvania is one of the few states in the United States which still uses the term “prothonotary” to describe its clerk of civil records.5

But we can all be glad he didn’t look at any of those places. Because then we wouldn’t have gone and read on.

“Few” states? Oh, yes, Luzerne County. “Few” states, for sure. As in two, to The Legal Genealogist‘s knowledge, Delaware being the other.

Where one of the official, set-in-stone-in-the-statute-books functions of the Prothonotary is to “issue a warrant, under his or her hand and official seal, to each of the fence viewers of the Prothonotary’s county, and notify the public of their appointment by as many advertisements, signed by the Prothonotary and posted in each hundred, as there are viewers therein.”6

Um… fence viewers?

Well, yes. Delaware law, see, provides that “The Superior Court shall annually appoint not more than 8 nor less than 5 persons in each hundred to be fence-viewers. The fence-viewers shall be the sole judges of the sufficiency of any fences, of the charges of making or repairing partition or other fences, and how borne, and of damages by animals trespassing.”7

Now a hundred is “a geographic division, smaller than counties and roughly equivalent to the division ‘townships’ in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Delaware is the only state which currently uses this division.”8

So every year in all 33 of Delaware’s hundreds, between five and eight people are chosen to go out and look at fences. For which task they are paid the princely sum of eight dollars a day (except for the chair of each hundred, who gets a whopping nine dollars) and seven cents a mile for travel.9

And that’s been the law in Delaware since at least 1852.

Which means, of course, there should be records…

Genealogy and the law. You gotta love it.


  1. Law Firm of Peacock Keller, “What’s a Prothonotary?,” Peacock Tales, posted July 2005 ( : accessed 7 July 2014).
  2. Wikipedia (, “Prothonotary,” rev. 30 Dec 2013.
  3. County Office Descriptions: Prothonotary,” Pennsylvania State Archives ( : accessed 7 July 2014).
  4. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 958, “prothonotary.” And see John Bouvier, A Law Dictionary Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States of America and of the Several States of the American Union, rev. 6th ed. (1856); HTML reprint, The Constitution Society ( : accessed 7 July 2014), “prothonotary.”
  5. History of Prothonotary,” Luzerne County, Pennsylvania ( : accessed 7 July 2014).
  6. Delaware Code §2322.
  7. Delaware Code §1303(a).
  8. Hundreds in Delaware,” Delaware History, Research Guide, University of Delaware Library ( : accessed 7 July 2014).
  9. Delaware Code §1303(d).
Posted in Legal definitions, Statutes | 7 Comments

Updating GenForum now

There are an awful lot of reasons why genealogists should love Greg Boyd.

Start with the fact that his Arphax Publishing Company has some of the most useful map books on the planet — the Family Maps series of Land Patent Books and the Texas Land Survey Maps series — county by county, state by state, maps showing original settlers whose purchases are indexed either in the U.S. Bureau of Land Management database or the Texas General Land Office database.

GenForumGo on to his groundbreaking website, where the records underlying those maps are accessible through a single interactive map where you can look for, say, every Zinkelschmidt in the areas covered by the database all at once. Or where there is another searchable database of more than 100,000 landowners shown on a collection of nearly 4,000 historical maps.

Those by themselves would endear him to The Legal Genealogist. Not to mention the fact that he’s also in that not-terribly-large corner of the genealogical community where researchers also have law degrees.1

And then there was Greg’s comment yesterday on Facebook.

“Hey genealogy buddies,” he wrote, “here’s an idea that some of you should consider. September 30th will be the last day EVER for Genforum entries. You could literally have the last word on any message threads where bad information has been spread over the years.”2

Oh, my.

What a great idea.

GenForum is the message board system of — and is among the services that is shuttering as of September 30th.3 The GenForum message boards date back to the internet equivalent of the Dark Ages — some boards there have messages dating back into the 1990s, and the number of messages on active boards runs to the thousands — 39,302 on the Jones Family Genealogy Forum, for example.

As Greg notes, the GenForum boards aren’t going away completely, but after September 30th, we won’t be able to post any more comments or queries there. The boards will be read-only — meaning people will still be able to see what’s there, review what’s been posted, even contact posters who’ve left valid email addresses.

But no additional, new, updated or corrected messages can be posted after that date.

Meaning we have 85 days left to review those boards, the ones important to us and to our families.

Eighty-five days to ask our remaining questions, post links, update our contact data.

Eighty-five days to put the word out to people researching the same surname, or geographical area, or ethnic group.

Eighty-five days left to get the last word in.

Because when the clock ticks over to the first of October, nobody else is going to be able to weigh in on that ranging debate about whether Robert and Anna were the parents of James — or whether Stephen and Sally were. Nobody else is going to be able to dispute that claim about William Jr. being the son of William Sr., rather than just a younger family member living in the same area at the same time.

Here are a few of the things that might be most important to add to the GenForum boards in these next 85 days:

• Queries to people in particular family lines for DNA testing.

• Queries about locations of specific records — like Family Bibles — once reported to exist.

• Follow-ups on records mentioned in older messages.

• And, of course, our latest (and last!) conclusions on specific issues of family history (that William Sr. and Jr. debate, for example), citing sources.

But the most important of all is the one Greg highlighted: “be sure to use an email address with your account that you plan to keep the rest of your life. If they have an old address on record, you might consider changing your settings to reflect your latest.” You might even want to create a new one, just for this purpose, add it to your account record there, or post it in a form that won’t be so easily harvested by spammers (such as “yourname (at) service dot com” rather than “ This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ”).

Because, as Greg notes, even though the GenForum boards aren’t nearly as active today as they once were, posts to those boards still show up very high in the search results on Google and other search engines, making them an excellent way of reaching people looking at the same families — and giving them a way to reach you — well into the future.

“Just a thought,” he said.

Thanks for that thought, Greg Boyd.

Let’s get cracking…


  1. Others include my dear friends Donn Devine CG, of Delaware, who was recently named a Fellow of the National Genealogical Society, and Michael Ramage CG, of Pennsylvania, who serves as vice president of the Board for Certification of Genealogists.
  2. Greg Boyd, status update, 6 July 2014, Facebook ( : accessed 6 July 2014).
  3. Others are,, and all of Ancestry’s YDNA and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) testinng. This does NOT include the AncestryDNA service — the newest autosomal DNA testing that it has been offering since 2012 — which will continue.
Posted in General | 5 Comments

What’s your number?

So… did you test with National Geographic’s Geno 2.0 project?

If so, the International Society of Genetic Genealogists (ISOGG) — and The Legal Genealogist — and the entire genetic genealogy community — we all have a question for you:

What’s your number?

Geno20hapTurns out that within the past few days, the Genographic Project has started reporting the percentage of participants within the Geno 2.0 project database with particular paternal and maternal haplogroups.

Now a haplogroup is “a genetic population group of people who share a common ancestor on the patrilineal or matrilineal line. Haplogroups are assigned letters of the alphabet, and refinements consist of additional number and letter combinations.”1

And haplogroups come in two flavors: YDNA — from the Y chromosome that only men have and that is passed down from father to son to son largely unchanged through the generations2 — and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) — the kind we all receive from our mothers but that only women pass on to their children, again largely unchanged through the generations.3

So all of us who’ve tested with the Geno 2.0 project have an mtDNA haplogroup reported, from the mtDNA we received from our mothers, and “(u)nderstanding the evolutionary path of the female lineage has helped population geneticists trace the matrilineal inheritance of modern humans back to human origins in Africa and the subsequent spread across the globe.”4

And any man who’s tested will also have a YDNA haplogroup reported — and as more and more of the Y chromosome is mapped and differences detected, we can hope for a deeper understanding of the male inheritance of modern humans as well.

And that’s part of where this number bit comes in.

Knowing the frequency with which certain haplogroups appear, and where they appear, can help population geneticists develop and test theories about human migration over time. This is one of a series of efforts made be genetic genealogists to gather information about how common haplogroups are and how they’re distributed worldwide. Some nine years ago, for example, Dr. J. Douglas McDonald, a professor of Chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign produced maps of the distributions of YDNA and mtDNA haplogroups around the world. The copyrighted maps can be found online here.

And as genealogists, we’d like to know more about how frequently a particular haplogroup appears, to help us understand the significance of a match or a mismatch within, say, the H3 mtDNA haplogroup (1.6%) or the R-L21 YDNA haplogroup (4.8%) as compared to one in, say, the V3b mtDNA haplogroup (less than 0.1%) or the R-V88 YDNA haplogroup (0.1%).

Right now, the percentages are being reported individually, on the dashboard for the results of each person who has tested. And as genetic genealogists, we’d like to know the big picture: what are the percentages for all the haplogroups?

So ISOGG under an initiative by Dr. Tim Janzen is in the process of collecting the individual information about each reported haplogroup, and collecting it in Excel spreadsheet form for everyone’s use. The links to the spreadsheets are on the ISOGG Haplogroup wiki page under the link titles Geno 2.0 Y haplogroup percentages from the Genographic Project and Geno 2.0 mtDNA haplogroup percentages from the Genographic Project.

So… have you tested with Geno 2.0? If you have, ISOGG would love to know your number. Here are the steps:

1. Log in to your Genographic 2.0 results.
2. Click on the link at the top for Dashboard.
3. Scroll down to your Deep Ancestry results. Record your haplogroup name and the percentage.
4. Take a look at the ISOGG spreadsheet(s). Is your haplogroup reported?

a. If so, terrific! You’re done.

b. If not, report it! Let ISOGG know. You can post your number on the ISOGG Yahoo group list in the thread started by Tim Janzen if you’re an ISOGG member. If you’re not an ISOGG member, feel free to post your results in the comments to this blog post or, for email subscribers, just hit reply and email them. I’ll collect them and send them along.

You’ll be helping us all know more.

And besides, “Hi, I’m H3 1.6%, what’s your number?” beats the heck out of “Hi, I’m Pisces, what’s your sign?”, doesn’t it?


  1. ISOGG Wiki (, “Haplogroup,” rev. 5 July 2014.
  2. ISOGG Wiki (, “Y chromosome DNA tests,” rev. 5 Mar 2014.
  3. ISOGG Wiki (, “Mitochondrial DNA tests,” rev. 30 Mar 2014.
  4. ISOGG Wiki (, “Mitochondrial DNA haplogroup,” rev. 4 Mar 2014.
Posted in DNA | 37 Comments

Immigrants’ child

He was born, the record tells us, on the Fourth of July.

B_F_E_SchreinerHe was a first generation American, this little boy, born to immigrant parents in the Windy City of Chicago.1 His father, Herman Franz Schreiner, was born in Gera,2 Reuss Jüngere Linie, Germany,3 and his mother, Augusta Paula (Graumüller) Schreiner, in Köstritz,4 Reuss, Germany.

His father, called Frank, was 41 years of age and a locksmith — a “safe mechanic.” His mother was 37. And this was their first-born child.5 It was, perhaps, because of Augusta’s age that the birth was attended not by a midwife but by a doctor, Carl Krone.6

They had married, his parents had, in 18817 and had come to America in 1886,8 the first of The Legal Genealogist‘s father’s kin to travel to this new land.9

They had clearly come to appreciate their new country by the time their child was born.

It isn’t just that Frank had become a naturalized citizen in 1894.10

And it isn’t even the fact that they’d begun the pattern of chain migration that was to mark this family’s — my family’s — history. In 1890, they had brought my grandfather’s sister, Hattie, to America to live with them.11

It’s also the name he and Augusta gave this child.

That name, for that little boy, born on the Fourth of July?

Benjamin Franklin Ernest Schreiner.12

You can almost imagine the fireworks in that household that day, can’t you? After 14 years of marriage, finally, finally a child. A new citizen for their new land. What better name than Benjamin Franklin?

But there is another record that tells another part of this story. And it is not so happy. Because five years after Benjamin was born, there was a census taken in Chicago and elsewhere in the United States. And there is no hint of Benjamin in that census.

His parents were enumerated, his cousin Hattie living with them… but no Benjamin.13 And on the 1910 census, there isn’t even an indication that Augusta had ever had a child.14

There is no death record for little Benjamin. No record I have found yet as to where he was buried. Nothing to say how it came to be that he left this world so soon after entering it.

But he was born, we know, on the Fourth of July.

He and his name are part of our family history. And he, and that gloriously American name of his, bring a smile to this cousin’s face every time I think of it.


  1. Cook County, Illinois, Return of a Birth, No. 15466, Benjamin Franklin Ernest Schreiner, 4 July 1895; Cook County Clerk’s Office, Chicago.
  2. Wikipedia (, “Gera,” rev. 28 June 2014.
  3. Wikipedia (, “Principality of Reuss-Gera,” rev. 24 March 2014.
  4. Wikipedia (, “Bad Köstritz,” rev. 5 March 2014.
  5. Cook Co., Ill., Return of a Birth, No. 15466.
  6. Ibid.
  7. They were shown in 1910 as having been married 29 years. 1910 U.S. census, Cook County, Illinois, Chicago Ward 29, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 1272, p. 71A (penned), dwelling 144, family 346, Frank Schreiner household; digital image, ( : accessed 4 July 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication T624, roll 275.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Augusta (Graumüller) Schreiner’s sister, Emma (Graumüller) Geissler, was my great grandmother.
  10. Cook County, Illinois, Circuit Court, Naturalization vol. 49: 283, Frank Schreiner, 15 October 1894; Clerk’s Office, Chicago.
  11. Manifest, S.S. Rhein, August 1890, page 7 (penned), passenger 329, Hedwig Geisler; digital images, ( : accessed 8 March 2010); citing NARA microfilm publication M255, roll 48.
  12. Cook Co., Ill., Return of a Birth, No. 15466.
  13. 1900 U.S. census, Cook County, Chicago, Illinois, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 914, p. 71A (stamped), dwelling 210, family 528, Frank “Sweiner” household; digital image, ( : accessed 10 Feb 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T623, roll 282.
  14. 1910 U.S. census, Cook Co., Ill., Chicago Ward 29, pop. sched., ED 1272, p. 71A (penned), dwell. 144, fam. 346, Augusta Schreiner.
Posted in My family | 8 Comments

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America,

Original Declaration

WHEN in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

WE hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

Broadside, read to troops 9 July 1776

HE has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

HE has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

HE has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

HE has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

HE has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

HE has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

1777 published version

HE has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

HE has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

HE has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

HE has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

HE has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

HE has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

FOR Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

FOR protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

FOR cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

FOR imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

FOR depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

FOR transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

FOR abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

FOR taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

FOR suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

HE has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

HE has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

HE is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

HE has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

HE has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

IN every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

1823 published version

NOR have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

WE, therefore, the Representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which INDEPENDENT STATES may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.


In honor of Richard Baker, fourth great grand-uncle. Born 1753. Died at the Battle of Trenton, Christmas 1776. And with gratitude towards all the members of my family, including fourth great grandfather David Baker (Corporal, 3d Virginia), who fought to make us free.

Posted in General | 2 Comments

And for us too

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July. The 238th birthday of the United States.

So how about buying it a birthday present?


Pensions1812How about getting together with The Legal Genealogist and buying the whole darned country the best birthday gift imaginable?

How about we chip in and buy a War of 1812 pension?


I want one. You should too.

And the Federation of Genealogical Societies is leading the charge to help us all get as many War of 1812 pensions as we can — as birthday presents for America, and as presents to ourselves and our families.

So, yesterday, it launched a new phase of its fundraising campaign to help pay for the massive effort, now underway, to digitize the War of 1812 pension records held by the National Archives. The records documenting more than 180,000 pension records for War of 1812 soldiers and their families are among the most heavily requested documents at the National Archives and, because of their use, their age and their fragile nature, they really need to be digitized to protect them forever.

The “Preserve The Pensions” campaign needs to keep raising funds — millions will be needed overall — to digitize all of the War of 1812 Pension Application Files at the National Archives and put them online where they can be accessed free. Every dollar contributed means two pages of a pension file can be digitized — and with matching funds from, that becomes four pages saved.

Here’s what yesterday’s announcement on the campaign website said:

uly is a month for celebration across the United States. As our families gather for picnic’s and parades, the Preserve the Pensions War of 1812 Committee is inviting you to celebrate the Second Revolution with us.

Americans across the country will celebrate our Independence and reflect on the Revolutionary War in the coming days. This month can and also be a time when we remember the “Second Revolution,” the War of 1812, and the soldiers and sailors who fought to ensure that our nation was secure.

Today we are launching a fundraising campaign with a lofty goal: we hope to raise $1812 every day during the month of July. Each day you will see updates and progress reports on our social media channels and weekly on this blog. We will be asking you to donate, to share our stories and information, to spread the word of our campaign. Next week, we will be raising up an army of virtual volunteers; all focused on that one goal. This entire project is likely the most significant crowd-sourcing campaign ever attempted in the world of family history, and we are more determined than ever to ensure its success.

Genealogists, family historians, educators, military historians, re-enactors, lineage societies, one place studies, one name studies, historians of all kinds… there are many categories of people who will utilize the digitized War of 1812 Pension files, which will remain FREE FOREVER on We need to reach them all. Spread the word by sharing on social media, using the hashtag #1812today.

Each day on our Facebook page, we will be sharing our progress, and that includes a renewed level of energy as we approach the 18:12 (7:12 pm Pacific / 11:12 pm Eastern) mark on the clock. You can watch as we count down the last 18 minutes and 12 seconds, giving you the final warning for your daily donation. Why not take it one step further? Donate $18.12 every day at 18:12!1

So far, the initiative has raised more than a third of the money needed, and more than 1.1 million images have been digitzed. But that leaves almost two thirds to go… and millions more records at risk.

So… every day … every single day of July … the project wants to raise at least $1812.

So… let’s do this.

We can find 1812 pennies in the cushions of the couch, can’t we? We can donate $18 at 12 noon. We can do 18 days at $12 a day. We can donate $180 on the 12th. Or even donate $18.12 every single day.

How about it?

I’m all in on this one.

Join me!

And tell your friends: #1812Today.


  1. Celebrate the Second Revolution!,” Preserve the Pensions ( : accessed 2 July 2014).
Posted in General | 10 Comments

A wagon for Democrats?

When the estate of Charles Cheever of Plyumouth County, Massachusetts, was inventories in 1916, his belongings included a lot of small deposits in different banks, shares in a couple of copper companies, some household furniture, a diamond ring, two pearl rings, some cows, some hens… and…

A Democrat wagon.1


Excuse me…?

A what?

In this polarized day of blue versus red, donkey versus elephant, left versus right, The Legal Genealogist couldn’t help but be startled by a name like that.

A wagon for Democrats?

A wagon pulled only by donkeys?

A wagon a Republican would refuse to ride in?

Nothing so divisive.

To the contrary, a Democrat wagon was “a light farm wagon or ranch wagon that has two or more seats and is usually drawn by two horses.”2 And it looked like this:


(Russell Lee, “A Democrat wagon on William Walling farm near Anthon, Iowa,” December 1936)3

It was so named, the story goes, because of “the availability of this inexpensive, easy to handle, wagon to a wide range of people. A Democrat Wagon was so light that if it got stuck a single individual could often lift it out by hand.”4

A Democrat wagon.

Who knew?5


  1. Plymouth County, Massachusetts, Probate Court, Estate of Charles S. Cheever, No. 23,904, Executor’s Inventory, Schedule of Personal Estate in Detail, filed 28 Feb 1917; ; digital images, “Massachusetts, Plymouth County, Probate Estate Files, 1686-1915,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 1 July 2014).
  2. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary ( : accessed 1 July 2014), “Democrat wagon.”
  3. Russell Lee, “A Democrat wagon on William Walling farm near Anthon, Iowa,” December 1936; Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection ( : accessed 1 July 2014).
  4. Bob Lemen, Cowboy Bob’s Dictionary ( : accessed 1 July 2014), “Democrat wagon.”
  5. Other than Mr. Cheever’s estate appraisers, of course…
Posted in General, Legal definitions | Leave a comment

Go and sin no more

On the 7th of February, 1856, the New Mexico Territorial Legislature took a stand.

moralityNo more living in sin.

That sort of depraved conduct just wouldn’t be tolerated.

From that day forward, it said:

Any person or persons who shall after the approval of this act, be found living together publicly as if they were married, shall be considered as living in a state of concubinage, and shall be required immediately to contract and join in the bonds of matrimony, if there shall be no impediment to prevent their so doing ; and if they do not form such union on the first requirement of any judge, and persist in their accustomed mode of life, they shall, on accusation thereof before any of the said judges, be fined in any sum not less than twenty-five dollars nor more than eighty dollars, for every time they shall be so found…1

That provision was in the criminal laws section of the New Mexico laws, in an act that also made it illegal for folks to “establish their residence in any part of this Territory, … who shall have no visible honest means of living, corrupting and giving a bad example by their vices to public society.”2

And it made it illegal to “scandalously discover the faults of married persons, by interfering in private life, from which may result the disagreement of the parties, causing thereby a terrible evil, and injury to their family.”3

Legislating morality is nothing new. In colonial Massachusetts, early laws went so far as to impose Biblical standards of conduct. One 1646 law provided that “If any child or children, above 16 yeares old, … shall curse or smite their naturall fathr or mother, he or shee shalbe put to death…”4

But for a genealogist, this sort of law is just wonderful, because it helps on occasion to explain not just what our ancestors did — but why. And why a particular action was taken at a particular time.

That quickie marriage we find in the records may not have been the shotgun marriage we thought it was. Oh, there might have been some coercion involved in tying the knot, but in New Mexico at least it might have been from being caught in the sack by the law.

This particular “if we catch you, you have to get married” rule stayed the law in New Mexico for a long time. It was still on the books, in exactly the same form, in 1915:

Any person or persons who shall be found living together publicly as if they were married, shall be considered as living in a state of concubinage, and shall be required immediatly to contract and join in the bonds of matrimony, if there shall be no impediment to prevent their so doing; and if they do not form such union on the first requirement of any judge, and persist in their accustomed mode of life, they shall, on accusation thereof before any of the said judges, be fined in any sum not less than twenty-five dollars nor more than eighty dollars, for every time they shall be found so…5

And it was still the law in 1941.6

And in 1953.7

Oh, by the way… in case you’re wondering… or worried…

It’s not the law today.8



  1. §27, “An Act Requiring and Authorizing Judges of Probate and Justices of the Peace to Punish Depraved Persons in Cases Herein Prescribed,” in Revised Statutes and Laws of the Territory of New Mexico, … 1865 (St. Louis: p.p., 1865), 388; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 30 June 2014).
  2. Ibid., §28.
  3. Ibid., §29.
  4. Laws of 1646, in Nathaniel B. Shurtleff, ed., Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay of New England, vol. 2 (Boston: W. White, 1853), 179.
  5. §1776, “Unlawful Cohabitation,” Title 33, Offenses Against Public Morals, in New Mexico Statutes Annotated … in Effect June 11, 1915, Volume 1 (Denver, Colo. : Courtright Publishing Co., 1915), 565; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 30 June 2014).
  6. New Mexico Statutes, 1941 (Indianapolis : Bobbs-Merrill, 1942); snippet view, Google Books ( : accessed 30 June 2014).
  7. John W. Tranberg, editor, New Mexico Statutes Annotated, 1953 (Indianapolis : A. Smith Co., 1954); snippet view, Google Books ( : accessed 30 June 2014).
  8. A search of the New Mexico statutes at the New Mexico Compilation Commission website for concubinate returned “No Documents Found.”
Posted in Statutes | 12 Comments

Digitizing law dictionaries

The Legal Genealogist‘s absolute all-time favorite law-related blog is In Custodia Legis, the blog of the Law Library of Congress.

LawDictsIts content is an eclectic mix, with reports on upcoming legal presentations or conferences, a regular pictures of the week feature (the latest was about the King John seal), interviews with the many and varied people who use or work at the library, from former members of Congress to current interns, and more.

It’s so much my favorite law blog (and I am so much of a law geek) that I freely admit that one of the highpoints of my blogging career was having a post of mine cited in In Custodia Legis — it was a link to a 2012 post about Henry Campbell Black, editor and compiler of Black’s Law Dictionary.1

And when you combine my favorite law dictionaries with my favorite law blog?


And that happened last week, when In Custodia Legis reported a development that we as genealogists should welcome with open arms: an initiative by the Georgetown University Law Library in Washington, D.C., to digitize its law dictionaries collection, adding a wide variety of new resources to our digital bookshelves when we need more help understanding just what some pesky legal record really means.

The author of the post, Anne Guha, a summer intern at the Law Library, wrote:

Recently, while conducting research in the course of my studies, I learned of a project currently underway at the Georgetown Law Library to digitize their collection of early legal dictionaries. This will facilitate the entry of these rare editions into the public domain and make them virtually accessible.

The project is on-going, but the collection titled Digital Dictionaries: 1481-1891, already offers digitized copies of almost 40 early dictionaries. … Georgetown Law Library currently plans to scan a total of 87 titles, comprising over 120 volumes. Chronologically, the completed collection will begin with Georgetown Law Library’s 1481 Jodocus Vocabularius–held to be the first printed legal dictionary–and will run through 1891, the year of the first edition of Black’s Law Dictionary. The collection will primarily include English language dictionaries, along with a few non-English European titles. Each dictionary will be divided into a set of color PDFs, which can be downloaded or accessed online in an embedded document viewer.3

Heading over to the Georgetown Law Library site, you can find the Digital Dictionaries: 1481-1916 collection at this link. The Library says — in fancy language — what I keep saying: when we’re stumped by what something means, it helps to have a dictionary that was in use as close to the time when the record was created as possible.

Here’s a small sampling of what the collection includes now — and check back periodically, because there are many more to come:

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).

1641: Sir John Skene, De verborum significatione : the exposition of the termes and difficill wordes, conteined in the foure buiks of Regiam Maiestatem, and uthers, in the acts of Parliament, infeftments, and used in practicque of this realme, and with divers rules, and common places, or principals of the lawes (London : Printed by E.G., 1641).

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).

1824: John Henry Adlington, Cyclopaedia of law Or, the correct British lawyer (London : Thomas Kelly, 1824).

1879: Andrew Wright, (Glossary from) Court-hand restored : or, The student’s assistant in reading old deeds, charters, records, etc… (London : Reeves & Turner, 1879).

1916: James A. Ballentine, Law Dictionary of Words, Terms, Abbreviations and Phrases Which are Peculiar to the Law (San Francisco : Bancroft-Whitney Co., 1916).

So go ahead. Let your inner legal geek out … and geek out in the law dictionaries.


  1. Clare Feikert-Ahalt, “Legal Curiosities: What I Am,” In Custodia Legis, posted 2 May 2012 ( : accessed 29 June 2014), citing Judy G. Russell, “Henry Campbell Black (1860-1927),” The Legal Genealogist, posted 6 Jan 2012.
  2. I told you I’m a geek. What? You didn’t believe me? Geez
  3. Anne Guha, guest poster, “Georgetown Law Library’s Digital Dictionaries Collection,” In Custodia Legis, posted 2 May 2012 ( : accessed 29 June 2014).
Posted in Legal definitions, Resources | 2 Comments