Next in an occasional series on terms of use

So… once more into the breach, dear friends.

This is the fourth time The Legal Genealogist has visited the terms of use area of Find A Grave, the huge and hugely-popular website with burial information and photos so widely used by genealogists.1

FAG.TOS2Why? Because the terms of use have changed again here in 2014, and despite an effort to clear up any questions it’s clear that folks still have questions about the Find A Grave terms of use.

Terms of use, remember, are “the limits somebody who owns something you want to see or copy or use puts on whether or not he’ll let you see or copy or use it. These are limits that are different from copyright protection, since the law says what is and isn’t copyrighted and you can own a thing without owning the copyright. So this isn’t copyright law; it’s contract law — you and whoever owns the thing you want to see or copy or use reach a deal.”2

And in the case of Find A Grave, it’s these terms of use that govern not just what we as part of the general web-using public can do with all the content — the words and photos and more — that Find A Grave members upload to the site but also what rights Find A Grave has to that content created or contributed by members.

The easy part is Find A Grave’s rights.

When you take a tombstone photo and upload it to Find A Grave, you’re not giving up your ownership of the image or of your copyright (if any) in the image. What you’re giving Find A Grave is “a non-exclusive, transferable, sublicensable, royalty-free, world-wide license for the maximum amount of time permitted by applicable law to host, store, copy, publish, distribute, provide access to and otherwise use such material, including, hosting and access on co-branded services of that material, and to use the data contained in that material as search results and to integrate that data into the Service or other services as Find A Grave or the Group Companies deem appropriate.”3

Let’s break that down.

• A license is a fancy legal word for permission.

Non-exclusive means you can use your images or content elsewhere for your own purposes; your permission isn’t limited to Find A Grave so it doesn’t mean Find A Grave is the only place the photos and content can be used.

• The fact that it’s transferable and sublicensable means that Find A Grave, and its owners at, can sell the service or give it to somebody else or give permission to someone else to use all of parts of the content. In other words, you’re giving them permission to give permission to someone else.

Royalty-free means they’re not going to pay you. Ever.

And all the other terms in that paragraph let Find A Grave work together with Ancestry and the whole Ancestry family of companies to use the information throughout Ancestry. And, of course, the rest of the terms of use require that we only upload materials we have the right to upload: we can’t violate someone else’s copyright by uploading photos or text we didn’t take or write (unless we have permission to upload).

There’s been no change in Find A Grave’s promise to keep its content free; the FAQs still read that its “stated goal has always been to remain a free site for everyone. We have no plans on changing that. Additionally, we claim no copyright or ‘ownership’ of any photos that are posted to Find A Grave. They remain your property. If we were to turn evil and start charging people to view YOUR photos against your wishes, you would have every legal right to demand that we remove them. But we’re not planning on turning evil, so it shouldn’t be an issue.”4

But Find A Grave does claim what’s called a compilation copyright, and it does limit what people can do with content, and that’s what seems to have folks confused.

Here’s what the terms of use say:

You may access the Websites only personally with an individual browser or mobile device (bots, crawlers, spiders, scraping and other automatic access tools are prohibited), use graphics, information, data, editorial and any other content displayed on or accessible through the Websites (“Content”) only for personal research or scholarly historical research, and download Content only as search results relevant to that research. For example, the download of the whole or material parts of any work or database is prohibited. Resale of a work or database or portion thereof is prohibited. Online or other republication of Content is prohibited except as unique data elements that are part of a unique family history or genealogy. Violation of this limited use license may result in immediate termination of your membership and may result in legal action against you. You may use the software provided on the Service only while online and may not download, copy, reuse or distribute that software. Find A Grave and its licensors retain title, ownership and all other rights and interests in and to all Content, except as expressly set forth in these Terms. This limited license is non-exclusive, not transferable, revocable at all times, royalty-free, global, and limited to the term, purpose and content of this Terms and Conditions. The Websites are protected by copyright as a collective work and/or compilation, pursuant to U.S. copyright laws, international conventions, and other copyright laws.5

Okay. Let’s break that down too.

The first three sentences are aimed at copycats and content scrapers. They’re there to make it crystal clear that you can’t go to Find A Grave with an automated system, download everything that’s there, and package it up and put it on your own website or sell it. You can’t grab a whole cemetery database and copy it. You can’t grab all the entries from a county or a state.

So what does the next sentence mean? “Online or other republication of Content is prohibited except as unique data elements that are part of a unique family history or genealogy.”

It means we can go right ahead and use the information that’s on the website — consistent with any individual copyrights in the images or text — as long as we’re using it for our own personal research or as part of a broader scholarly research project (including work done for a client) and we use it in the context of that research.

Let’s look at two examples.

Say I want to use information from Find A Grave as part of writing the history of my Battles family from Cherokee County, Alabama. There are 32 members of the Battles family whose burial information in Cherokee County is recorded at Find A Grave. Can I abstract that information and use it to help in a proof argument about someone being (or not being) a member of my Battles family? Yes. That’s well within the limits suggested by the license paragraph. And, as long as I don’t violate a contributor’s copyright, I can republish any of that information in a blog post or magazine article or book.

But now let’s say I want to publish a cemetery listing of everyone buried in Cherokee County. There are 158 cemeteries from that one county included in the database. Can I download and copy all that data? No. It has nothing to do with my own unique family history, with my own genealogy. I’m not doing research; I’m just copying.

One more example: now let’s say I want to do a family history of the Battles Family of Alabama. There are 510 entries in the Find A Grave database today of people with the surname Battles who were buried in Alabama.

If all I’m going to do in my family history is copy and paste data from Find A Grave into my history, I’m sailing awfully close to the edge. But if I were assembling the data to show, say, how many Battles men and women were buried in what counties, or how many children in the family died before the age of 5, or how many of the Battles men fought on which side of which wars, it’d be just fine. Those are all “unique data elements that are part of a unique family history or genealogy.”

Bottom line: When we provide content, we need to avoid violating anyone else’s copyright and understand that we’re giving Find A Grave permission to use what we upload. When we use Find A Grave content, we need to again avoid violating anyone else’s copyright and understand that we’ve agreed to use it only in our research projects.


  1. See Judy G. Russell, “Grave terms of use,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 20 June 2012 ( : accessed 19 Aug 2014). See also ibid., “Find A Grave revisited,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 16 Sep 2013. Also, ibid., “The Find A Grave sale,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 4 Oct 2013.
  2. Judy G. Russell, “A terms of use intro,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 27 Apr 2012 ( : accessed 19 Aug 2014).
  3. “User Provided Content,” Find A Grave Terms of Service, 23 May 2014, Find A Grave ( : accessed 19 Aug 2014).
  4. Submitting Information / Creating Memorials,” FAQ 71, Frequently Asked Questions, Find A Grave ( : accessed 19 Aug 2014).
  5. “Limited Use License,” Find A Grave Terms of Service, 23 May 2014, Find A Grave ( : accessed 19 Aug 2014).
Posted in Terms of use | 19 Comments

A matter of definition

When is an inmate not an inmate?

Or, more accurately, when is an inmate not the kind of inmate we might expect? Not, that is, a prisoner.

And the answer is: much of the time.

gauthierIn modern usage, the word inmate calls to mind prison cells and barred jail windows. Do a Google search for “definition inmate” and what you see is what we 21st century types expect: “a person confined to an institution such as a prison or hospital” with the synonyms “prisoner, convict, captive, detainee, internee.”1

But that’s not what the term used to mean, and not the way it was always used, particularly in one set of records we as genealogists use all the time: the U.S. census.

Start by reviewing what the law dictionaries tell us that the word means: a “person who lodges or dwells in the same house with another, occupying different rooms, but using the same door for passing in and out of the house”2 or “one who dwells in a part of another’s house, the latter dwelling, at the same time, in the said house.”3

That’s more the way it was used in the census: lots of places where people were perfectly free to come and go — like hotels and boarding houses and hospitals and convents — would have the residents listed as inmates:

• The Catholic sisters of Newburyport City, Massachusetts, were all identified as inmates on the 1900 census, with occupations listed as teacher.4

• The Catholic sisters of St. Vincent’s Hospital and Asylum of Santa Fe, New Mexico, were listed as inmates on the 1880 census; their charges were identified as patients.5

And it was used to denote residents of institutions like hospitals, orphanages and poorhouses as well:

• In 1880, seven elderly women residents of the Protestant Home for Aged Women in Nashua, New Hampshire, were identified as inmates on the census.6

• In 1880, the residents of the Rutherford County, Tennessee, Asylum for the Poor were all recorded as inmates as well.7

• In 1940, children living in the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin orphanage in Staten Island, New York, were all enumerated as inmates.8

• In 1940, adults living in the Waltham City Home in Waltham, Massachusetts, were also all recorded as inmates.9

That’s not to say the word “inmate” wasn’t used for folks in jail or prison: it was used that way, for sure. Take a wander through the pages of the 1850 census and the enumeration of the Auburn State Prison in Cayuga County, New York, for example: page after page of inmates serving time for crimes ranging from burglary to rape to manslaughter.10

So… why? Why one word for all these different folks?

Because those were the instructions given to the census takers.

In 1850, the enumerators were told that “The resident inmates of a hotel, jail, garrison, hospital, an asylum, or other similar institution, should be reckoned as one family.”11

The 1860 instructions were the same,12 but the concept was explained further in 1870:

By “family” (column 2) is meant one or more persons living together and provided for in common. A single person, living alone in a distinct part of a house, may constitute a family; while, on the other hand, all the inmates of a boarding house or a hotel will constitute but a single family, though there may be among them many husbands with wives and children. Under whatever circumstances, and in whatever numbers, people live together under one roof, and are provided for at a common table, there is a family in the meaning of the law.13

So too for 1880: “The word family, for the purposes of the census, includes persons living alone, … equally with families in the ordinary sense of that term, and also all larger aggregations of people having only the tie of a common roof and table. A hotel, with all its inmates, constitutes but one family within the meaning of this term. A hospital, prison, an asylum is equally a family for the purposes of the census.”14
By 1910, the census instructions were using the term “institutional families” to describe these groups.15

So when is an inmate not a prisoner?

Most of the time…


  1. Google search, search term “definition inmate,” ( : accessed 18 Aug 2014).
  2. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 625, “inmate.”
  3. 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 18 Aug 2014), “inmate.”
  4. 1900 U.S. census, Essex County, Massachusetts, Newburyport, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 421, p. 122B (stamped), dwelling 185, family 205; digital image, ( : accessed 18 Aug 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication T623, roll 646.
  5. 1880 U.S. census, Santa Fe County, New Mexico, Santa Fe city, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 40, p. 25A (stamped), dwelling 170, family 214; digital image, ( : accessed 18 Aug 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 804.
  6. 1880 U.S. census, Hillsborough Co., N.H., Nashua, pop. sched., ED 148, p. 321A (stamped), dwell. 24, fam. 30; digital image, ( : accessed 18 Aug 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 764.
  7. Ibid., Rutherford Co., Tenn., pop. sched., ED 204, p. 321A-B (stamped), dwell. 312, fam. 314; digital image, ( : accessed 18 Aug 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 764.
  8. See 1940 U.S. census, Richmond County, New York, Richmond Borough, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 43-263, sheets 1A-12B; digital images, ( : accessed 18 Aug 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication T627, roll 2764.
  9. See ibid., Middlesex County, Mass., Waltham City, ED 9-554, sheets 5A-5B; digital images, ( : accessed 18 Aug 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication T627, roll 1619.
  10. 1850 U.S. census, Cayuga County, New York, population schedule, pp. 315B-323B (stamped), dwelling 1211, family 1051; digital images, ( : accessed 18 Aug 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 482.
  11. Jason Gauthier, Measuring America: The Decennial Censuses from 1790 to 2000 (Washington, D.C. : U.S. Census Bureau, 2000), PDF at 9.
  12. Ibid. at 13.
  13. Ibid. at 14.
  14. Ibid. at 19.
  15. Ibid. at 47.
Posted in Legal definitions, Resources | 5 Comments



That’s all The Legal Genealogist can say.

It’s all any of us who were fortunate enough to attend the first Institute for Genetic Genealogy, held this past weekend in the Washington, D.C., area, can say.


I4GGFrom rank “what is this DNA stuff” beginner through to high level “I can (and do) teach this stuff” expert, this was truly a conference with something for everybody — and it ran as smoothly and as well as any first-time conference could possibly hope to run.

The Institute for Genetic Genealogy — brainchild of Tim Janzen and CeCe Moore — opened Friday with registration and three overview sessions on the testing companies. Attendees got a chance to take a look at information from AncestryDNA, 23andMe and Family Tree DNA in general, with some good general background information being offered.

There weren’t any surprises in that general info — except perhaps the depth of the genetic genealogy community’s unhappiness with AncestryDNA and its decisions (a) not to provide segment data to its customers and (b) to discontinue YDNA and mitochondrial DNA testing and to discontinue even providing links to results of those tests taken at Ancestry. Let’s just say that the unhappiness was abundantly clear during AncestryDNA’s presentation.1

The real meat of the conference began on Saturday morning, and — with the exception of the keynote by Dr. Spencer Wells of National Geographic’s Genographic Project — every single time slot presented a major crisis of conscience: do I attend this session or that session?2

Fortunately, the conference organizers did their best to videotape every session and, the technical glitches that are inevitable in a conference of this size notwithstanding, most of us will be able to catch at least some or all of the sessions down the road.

So here are my personal takeaways from the conference3:

1. DNA has to be considered as mainstream in genealogy now. There were almost as many Board-certified genealogists in attendance at this conference as there were Ph.D. scientists, including four members of the Board of Trustees of the Board for Certification of Genealogists (Board President Elissa Scalise Powell, CG, CGL; Thomas W. Jones, Ph.D., CG, CGL; Michael Grant Hait, Jr., CG, and somebody named Judy G. Russell, JD, CG, CGL). Both co-editors of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly were there, along with at least one NGS board member. The head of the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society was there. I could go on and on… but the bottom line is: DNA has arrived, completely.

2. DNA has the capacity to bring a younger tech-savvy crowd to the genealogical table. While there were the usual greybeards in attendance (yours truly having to count herself among them), there was also a large contingent of younger folks — and that includes the conference organizers. This is a Very Good Thing for genealogy.

3. There is a real need for education in the tools and techniques of integrating DNA into our genealogical research, starting from the beginner level and going through to the advanced level.

4. Having said that, we still have many many more beginners than we do advanced folks. And we need to carefully distinguish the very advanced presentations to ensure that we don’t scare the pants off those who aren’t working at that level.4

5. Having many chances to hear about DNA tools and techniques from many different people is a real help. It may be that the way one person explains something works for me better than the way another person explains it.

Bottom line: wow.

Great job by the organizers and the presenters… and boy do we need more of this…


  1. When the audience applauds a question, rather than the answer, you know you’re in trouble…
  2. The one that really got to me was that I wanted to attend Dr. David Pike’s presentation about his phasing tools. It was, however, scheduled at the same time as mine…
  3. Your mileage may vary, and I’m sure other attendees would have different overall impressions
  4. I sat in on at least two sessions where, I am quite certain, the presenter and I do not speak a common language.
Posted in DNA | 46 Comments

Don’t wait…

Hundreds of genealogists are gathering this weekend in Chevy Chase, Maryland, talking and learning about using genetics and DNA to help understand our family history.

And that hurts.

Because there’s a member if my family who would have loved learning about her own ancestry using DNA… and it’s too late to do anything about it.

Bobbi, 2004

Bobbi, 2004

My oldest first cousin — called Bobbi — was born Michaela Bobette Staples.1 I can tell you a lot about her mother’s side of the family; her mother was my mother’s oldest surviving sister, my Aunt Cladyne.2 And our DNA on that side? Boring. Essentially 100% boring European.

But I can’t tell you about her father’s side. Her father was my aunt’s first husband, who had come and gone from our family before I was even born. What I do know, though, is that his DNA would not have been boring.

His ancestry included all kinds of neat things like a big percentage of Native American. And as much as I would have loved looking at that cool DNA, Bobbi would have adored seeing the evidence of her heritage in her genes.

But we had plenty of time to get that test done, right? Our family is long-lived, and there would be lots of chances to do the testing, no?


We lost her three years ago today. The cancers that have stolen so many years from our family took her from us far too young.

Bobbi had no children. So because I thought we had plenty of time, I hadn’t yet gotten her tested. So her genetic heritage died with her.

And that hurts.

So… today… I can grieve my cousin… but I can’t say a thing about her unique genetic history.

Let this remind us all that time is NOT on our side when it comes to DNA testing.

Don’t wait to get those important tests done.


  1. See Bobette Staples Barrett Richardson, obituary, Charlottesville (Virginia) Daily Progress, 18 Aug 2011; online at ( : accessed 6 Apr 2012).
  2. One older sister, Ruth, did not survive infancy.
Posted in DNA, My family | 6 Comments

Sponsor me!


The Legal Genealogist confesses.

I am not a morning person.

My lifestyle is ridiculously sedentary.

And I’m fundamentally lazy.

walkSo why in the world would I even think of talking a one mile walk at 6:30 in the morning?

As in a.m.

As in oh-dark-thirty, for cryin’ out loud.

Because it’s for a good cause.

A great cause even.

A cause I passionately believe in.

It’s to Preserve the Pensions — to help pay for the effort to digitize millions of pages of fragile documents in grave danger of deterioration: records of 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 effort to get these wonderful records digitized is being led by the Federation of Genealogical Societies, with matching funds support from Ancestry.

And, two weeks from tomorrow, at the 2014 FGS Conference in San Antonio, FGS is sponsoring a Fun Walk to the Alamo as part of the Preserve the Pensions effort.



Walking a mile at oh-dark-thirty. Presumably a mile each way even. Before breakfast even.

But hey… I can do this.

I can be up, dressed, outside and ready to walk at 6:30 a.m.

Sure I can do this.

And with your support I will do it.

You see, every walker can be sponsored. By those who attend and by those who can’t be there.

The cost to sponsor a walker is $25. Every dollar from the walk goes directly to the Preserve the Pensions effort. And every dollar from the walk is doubled by Ancestry.

And everybody who walks — and everybody who sponsors a walker — gets a shirt.

So… sponsor me. Post your commitment in the comments below or email me. We’ll work out the logistics on how you can pay (PayPal will work) and how you can get your shirt (“hello, USPS?”) later.

But don’t let me turn over and go back to sleep two weeks from tomorrow.

Make me get up and walk… and Preserve the Pensions.

I’ll even post pictures.

How ’bout it?

Posted in General | 125 Comments


So… where will you be tomorrow?

And Saturday?

And Sunday?

Now The Legal Genealogist knows it’s August. That means it’s summer. The beaches are calling. The mountains are whispering your name.

I4GGBut there’s something else calling… the inaugural 2014 International Genetic Genealogy Conference sponsored by Institute for Genetic Genealogy. It begins tomorrow, and that’s where I’ll be.

Registration opens at 10 a.m. onsite in the lobby of J. C. Penney Hall at the National 4-H Youth Conference Center in Washington, D.C. Okay, so it’s actually suburban Maryland: the address is 7100 Connecticut Avenue in Chevy Chase. Walk-ins are just fine, and registration will be open all day.

The whole program is aimed at genealogists and genetic genealogists at all levels. There is something for everyone from beginners to the experienced here, starting with three major workshops scheduled for tomorrow:

• 1:15 p.m. Getting the Most from AncestryDNA with Anna Swayne
• 3:30 p.m. Exploring All of 23andMe’s Genealogy Features with Joanna Mountain Ph.D.
• 7:00 p.m. Exploring All Family Tree DNA Products with Maurice Gleeson M.D., Jim Bartlett, CeCe Moore and Janine Cloud

Saturday’s sessions begin at 8:30 a.m. and run well into the evening, with the keynote by National Geographic’s Dr. Spencer Wells at 9:45 a.m. The other talks are:

• 8:30 a.m. Using Y-DNA to Reconstruct a Patrilineal Tree with Larry Vick
• 8:30 a.m. Mitochondrial DNA: Tools and Techniques for Genealogy with Debbie Parker Wayne CG, CGL
• 11:30 a.m. The Four Types of DNA Used in Genetic Genealogy with CeCe Moore
• 11:30 a.m. Surname Project Administration with Terry Barton
• 2:00 p.m. 23andMe Features with Joanna Mountain Ph.D.
• 2:00 p.m. Identity by Descent: Using DNA to Extend the African-American Pedigree with Shannon Christmas
• 3:15 p.m. AncestryDNA Matching: Large-Scale Findings and Technology Breakthroughs with Julie Granka Ph.D.
• 3:15 p.m. ‘Next-gen’ Y Chromosome Sequencing with Greg Magoon Ph.D.
• 4:30 p.m. Tearing the Seamless Fabric, Ancestry as a Jigsaw Puzzle with Razib Khan
• 4:30 p.m. From X Segments to Success Stories: The Use of the X Chromosome in Genetic Genealogy with Kathy Johnston M.D.
• 7:00 p.m. Using Correlation Techniques on Y-Chromosome Haplotypes to Determine TMRCAs, Date STR Marker Strings, Surname Groups, Haplogroups and SNPs with William Howard III Ph.D.
• 7:00 p.m. Mitochondrial DNA Focusing on Haplogroup K with William Hurst
• 8:15 p.m. Using Free Third-Party Tools to Analyze Your Autosomal DNA with Blaine Bettinger J.D., Ph.D.
• 8:15 p.m. Y chromosome Haplogroups A and B with Bonnie Schrack

Sunday’s sessions are:

• 8:30 a.m. Native American Ancestry through DNA Analysis with Ugo Perego Ph.D.
• 8:30 a.m. Not Just for Adoptees – Methods and Tools for Working with Autosomal DNA from the Team at with Rob Warthen, Karin Corbeil, and Diane Harman-Hoog
• 9:45 a.m. Using Chromosome Mapping to Help Trace Your Family Tree with Tim Janzen M.D.
• 9:45 a.m. ISOGG with Katherine Hope-Borges
• 11:00 a.m. I’ve Received My Y Chromosome Sequencing Results – What Now? with Thomas Krahn Dipl.-Ing.
• 11:00 a.m. An Irish Approach to Autosomal DNA Matches with Maurice Gleeson M.D.
• 1:30 p.m. After the Courthouse Burns: Lighting Research Fires with DNA with Judy Russell J.D., CG, CGL
• 1:30 p.m. The Use of Phasing in Genetic Genealogy with David Pike Ph.D.
• 2:45 p.m. Wanderlust – The Story of the Origins and Travels of mtDNA Haplogroup H through History and Scientific Literature with Rebekah Canada
• 2:45 p.m. Getting the Most of Your Autosomal DNA Matches and Triangulation with Jim Bartlett
• 4:00 p.m. DNA Case Studies with Angie Bush
• 4:00 p.m. Understanding Autosomal Biogeographical Ancestry Results with Doug McDonald Ph.D.

Let me repeat this: The whole program is aimed at genealogists and genetic genealogists at all levels. There is something for everyone from beginners to the experienced here.

Come on out!

Posted in DNA, General | 12 Comments

Chaining things together

It was spelled out in the law: “the territory ceded by individual States to the United States, which has been purchased of the Indian inhabitants,” was to be divided into “townships of six miles square, by lines running due north and south, and others crossing these at right angles…”1

And, the law said, “The lines shall be measured with a chain.”2


What exactly is a chain anyway?

ChainBlack’s Law Dictionary tells us it was a “measure used by engineers and surveyors, being twenty-two yards in length.”3

Called a Gunter’s chain, after its inventor, English mathematician Edmund Gunter, or a surveyor’s chain, because that’s what it was used for, or just a chain, as in the Public Land Survey Act of 1785, a chain was supposed to be “exactly 22 yards (about 20 m) long and divided into 100 links. In the device, each link is a solid bar. … An area of 10 square chains is equal to one acre.”4

Obviously these were not lightweight devices. And that’s why you see references, in deeds and even in the law, to chain carriers — people who were used to physically move the chain and place it where the surveyor said it should go. Whenever a survey record still exists, identifying the chain carriers can help link families together as well as the land: the chain carriers were often kin to the person for whom the land was being surveyed.5

“During the 1700s and 1800s, Gunter’s Chain was the standard for measuring distances and played a primary role in mapping out America. The chain consisted of 100 links and its total length was 4 poles (66 feet). Each link was connected to the next by a round ring. Eighty chains equaled one mile.”6

Except for one little problem: “Because the chains were hand-made, their measurements were rarely exact.”7

Hey, close enough…


Image: User Roseohioresident via Wikimedia Commons

  1. “An Ordinance for ascertaining the mode of disposing of Lands in the Western Territory,” 20 May 1785, Journals of the Continental Congress 1774-1789 (Washington, D.C. : Government Printing Office, 1933), 28: 375; digital images, “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875,” Library of Congress, American Memory ( : accessed 12 Aug 2014).
  2. Ibid., at 376.
  3. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 190, “chain.”
  4. Encyclopædia Britannica ( : accessed 12 Aug 2014), “surveyor’s chain.”
  5. See generally “Surveying Units and Terms: Chain Bearer,” Speculation Land Collection, Ramsey Library, University of North Carolina at Asheville ( : accessed 12 Aug 2014).
  6. Surveyor’s Chain,” Colonial Williamburg E-Newsletter ( : accessed 12 Aug 2014).
  7. Ibid.
Posted in Legal definitions | 13 Comments

Of frailty and of loss

If there is any group of people in the world who ought to understand human frailty, it’s the genealogical community.

We see it all the time.

RIPIn the records of our ancestors who struggled mightily.

In the mistakes they made.

In their missteps, their errors of judgment, their failings.

In everything they ever did that we know they wished they hadn’t.

In the demons they confronted, and fought, and sometimes lost to.

And we hope we understand how very real those struggles were, how very hard they tried.

Because we see it in ourselves.

In our own daily lives.

In the mistakes we have made.

Our missteps, our errors of judgment, our failings.

In everything we have ever done that we wish we hadn’t.

In the demons we confront, and fight, and sometimes lose to.

Sometimes we see the origins of our own struggles in the records of our ancestors. The torments of the great grand uncle, brother of my great granddfather, who died in the Texas State Asylum may well help explain my generation’s battles with depression and mental illness.

Battles we have sometimes won, emerging into the light after long journeys in the darkness.

Battles we have sometimes lost, as we lost my sweet cousin Meredith to a darkness where she could see no light.

Battles we continue to fight, all of us, every human being, every single day.

Battles that we sometimes lose.

Rest in peace, Robin Williams. Your fight is over.

And the rest of us will try to soldier on.

Posted in General | 44 Comments

Setting the boundaries

There was no question just what the law was intended to do.

Although initially settled by a combination of Protestants and Catholics under the control of a Catholic lord,1 the Province of Maryland was headed in a very different direction in 1692, and its statute reflected the change:

Forasmuch as in a well Governed Commonwealth Matters of Religion and the Honour of God ought in the first place to be taken in serious consideration, and nothing being more acceptable to Almighty God, then the true and Sincere worship and Service of him according to his Holy Word Bee it therefore Enacted by the King and Queens most Excellent Majestys by and wth the advice & consent of this present Generall Assembly and the Authority of the same That the Church of England within this Province shall have and Enjoy all her Rights Liberties and Franchises wholly inviolable as is now or shall be hereafter Established by Law…2

The law called on the commissioners and justices of all Maryland counties to “divide and lay out their severall and respective Counties into severall districts and Parishes so many as the conveniency of each respective county and the scituation of the same will afford and allow of, as in the discretion of the said Justices with the advice aforesaid shall be thought convenient And the same districts and Parishes the said Justices shall cause to be laid out by meets and Bounds…”3

And, as a result, some 30 parishes were established in Maryland, 13 in the counties of the Eastern Shore, and 17 in the counties of the Western Shore.4

One of which became known as William & Mary Parish, in Charles County.

And the church established in that parish became known as Christ Church.


It was, as you can see from this highway marker, originally known as Piccawaxen Parish, but was renamed under the Establishment Act of 1692. The church has existed since 1690, was enlarged in 1750, but — get this — is “otherwise unchanged except for post Civil War repairs.”5

And it’s that 1750 date that just tickles The Legal Genealogist, whose Day of Genealogy with the St. Mary’s County Genealogical Society this past weekend finally gave me the chance to go to Christ Church and walk around its grounds.


Because there is a tax list of people resident in William & Mary Parish in 1758. One of whom was Isabella (Wilson) Buchanan, widowed in 1752 and left with six children at home ranging in age from 18 down to one year old, including a 10-year-old boy named Arthur.

People on that tax list are people who likely would have attended that church.

People who would have walked on its lush grasses.


People who would have stood under the trees around it.

People who may well have buried loved ones in its graveyard.

People who were my people.

Isabella was my sixth great grandmother; her son Arthur my fifth great grandfather.

And this is where they likely worshipped.



Genealogy road trips can be sheer bliss.


Images: Christ Church, 13050 Rock Point Rd., Newburg, MD; photos ©2014, Judy G. Russell.

  1. See “The settlement of Maryland,” ( : accessed 10 Aug 2014).
  2. “An Act for the Service of Almighty God and the Establishment of the Protestant Religion within this Province,” 2 June 1692, Proceedings and Acts of the General Assembly, April 1684-June 1692, Volume 13, Archives of Maryland Online ( : accessed 10 Aug 2014).
  3. Ibid.
  4. James Walter Thomas, Chronicles of Colonial Maryland, with Illustrations (Cumberland, Md.: Eddy Press, 1913), 188; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 10 August 2014).
  5. Christ Church highway marker, 13050 Rock Point Rd., Newburg, MD.
Posted in My family, Statutes | 2 Comments

Those “old tests” are not so “old hat”

It’s an understandable question these days, with all the emphasis on autosomal DNA and finding cousins out there with whom to share our research efforts.

“Is there any value any more,” people sometimes ask, “in doing any DNA testing other than autosomal?”

The question came up again yesterday when The Legal Genealogist was part of A Day of Genealogy with the wonderful folks from the St. Mary’s County Genealogical Society in southern Maryland.

We’d just finished a full hour talking about all the promises (and the pitfalls!) of autosomal testing, and so it was understandable that one person wanted to know: “Is there any reason any more to do the YDNA test?”

But let there be no mistake on the answer whatsoever:

Oh, yes.

Yes, yes, yes.

Because as wonderful, as exciting, as innovative as autosomal DNA testing is and can be, it often can’t give us a clear-cut answer to the one question we most want to have a clear-cut answer to:

Am I descended from — or at least related to — that one man or that one woman?

Perhaps the clearest way of showing this is to look one more time at how the different kinds of DNA are passed down the generations.

YDNA begins with one man, somewhere back in time, and he passes his YDNA down to his sons, his sons to his grandsons, his grandsons to his great grandsons and so on down through the generations with relatively few changes over many many years.1


So anybody who shows up in blue is related to everybody else who shows up in blue. It’s a fairly easy matter to chart out who is and who isn’t in the direct male line in a family tree using YDNA. Two people who test and match have one basic line to trace to find the common ancestor.

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) begins with one woman, somewhere back in time, and she passes her mtDNA down to all of her children, but only her daughters pass it to her grandchildren, and only her granddaughters pass it to her great grandchildren, and so on down through the generations with relatively few changes over many many years.2


So anybody who shows up in red is related to everybody else who shows up in red and it’s again a fairly easy matter to chart out who is and who isn’t in the direct female line using mtDNA. And, once again, two people who test and match have one basic line to trace to find the common ancestor.

Autosomal DNA is fundamentally different. It doesn’t start with one man or one woman; it starts with a couple. The parents each create a random mix of the autosomal DNA they received from their parents and that’s what get passed to their children. Every single generation, the DNA gets jumbled up that way, and the result means that each person who is tested can have bits and pieces of DNA from every single person in their family tree back four, five, six generations or more.3


On this chart, the man at the bottom will have likely received some segments of autosomal DNA from every single person shown in blue or red or green. So when he tests and matches someone else, it’s not so easy to figure out which one of all those people represents the line to trace to find the common ancestor, is it?

That’s why — when there is a direct male line descendant or a direct female line descendant to test — it’s so much easier to test a theory with YDNA or mtDNA than it is with autosomal DNA. And why the answer to the question we started with — is there any reason to do other types of DNA testing — is yes, yes, yes.


  1. See ISOGG Wiki (, “Y chromosome DNA tests,” rev. 5 March 2014.
  2. See ISOGG Wiki (, “Mitochondrial DNA tests,” rev. 9 July 2014.
  3. See ISOGG Wiki (, “Autosomal DNA,” rev. 26 July 2014. See also Judy G. Russell, “Autosomal DNA testing,” National Genealogical Society Magazine, October-December 2011, 38-43.
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