Another way to be here

The excitement is building in Salt Lake City with RootsTech due to open tomorrow morning.

Thousands of genealogists and family history enthusiasts are converging on the Salt Palace Convention Center for one of the biggest genealogy programs offered each year.

And where are you?

Stuck at home hundreds or thousands of miles away?

Feeling left out?

Don’t be.

Yesterday, The Legal Genealogist gave you the streaming schedule for the presentations that you can watch live from the comfort of your computer chair (see here for more info).

Today, I want to tell you about one more thing you can do from home — and this one is both participatory and offers lasting value for the entire genealogical community.

FreedmenIt’s an Index-A-Thon, it’ll happen Thursday evening, February 4, 2016, with livestreaming starting at 6:30 Pacific, 7:30 Mountainb, 8:30 Central and 9:30 Eastern.

And it kicks off Black History Month as we all pitch in to index records from what’s become known as the Freedmen’s Bureau — the U.S. Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, established in 1865 by Congress to help former black slaves and poor whites in the South in the aftermath of the Civil War.

Anyone who’s here in Salt Lake City can register here for one of a limited number seats in the computer labs to index in person.

And anyone, anywhere, around the world, can index from home with nothing more than a computer, a FamilySearch account (yep, it’s free) and the indexing software (yep, it’s free, too). There’s a video done by FamilySearch’s Thom Reed that you can see here to give you info on how to do it, and on how to join in on the Index-A-Thon Thursday night.

So… why Freedmen’s Bureau records? Because, simply put, these records are amazing, for descendants of all the slaves and all the slaveowners who struggled to redefine themselves, their lives and their communities after the Civil War.

And for descendants all of the members of those communities who weren’t themselves slaves or slaveowners but whose lives were impacted by that struggle to redefine life after the war.

And for descendants of the legions of southerners who weren’t slaves or slaveowners before the war, but who simply needed government help after the war.

And for descendants of the legions of government workers and officials and teachers and relief workers who worked for the bureau.

In other words, for just about anyone whose ancestors lived or worked in the south in those years right after the Civil War.

The records reflect a massive effort by the federal government first and foremost to assist the newly freed slaves in their transition to lives of their own. There are records of labor contracts as the freedmen sought employment, rather than servitude, after the war. There are the first ever real vital records for this community, as the freedmen sought to obtain recognition of their marriages and the legitimacy of their children.

There are records of schools for the freedmen and free children — often with the first ever records of those children and their accomplishments.

And there are records of the terrible clashes between the members of a society accustomed to being served and those no longer obligated to serve, and the role of the Freedmen’s Bureau in trying to obtain justice for the freedmen in a system stacked against them. It provides a view of the southern legal system that can’t be found in the records of the southern courts — an unparalleled opportunity to see how the system worked, and how it didn’t, in those years.

For descendants of slaves and slaveowners, the records help break through the issues of a system that left slaves with first names only — if even those were recorded — before the 1870 census. African-American research is dramatically aided by access to these records.

But the records are more than that. They reflect a massive effort also to stabilize the southern economy and bring the former rebel states back into the Union. So you’ll find evidence of relief provided to huge numbers of southern residents devastated by the war, and the interactions of ordinary citizens with government.

And why the indexing? Because just having these records digitized isn’t good enough. Finding our needle in that government haystack is always a challenge — and these records are too valuable not to be mined for every single clue they offer to every American family with southern ties. Getting the names indexed so we can all find the right records for our research is key.

The goal for Thursday night is 900 batches in 90 minutes.

It’s doable — if we all pitch in.

And besides… what else do you have going Thursday evening? A political debate?

Come on and join in.

It’s fun.

Posted in General | 3 Comments

You don’t have to miss everything

It’s RootsTech week in Salt Lake City, and genealogists from all over the world are descending on the convention center, the Family History Library and all the other facilities in anticipation of the opening sessions on Wednesday.

RTAnd you’re sitting there at home, hundreds or thousands of miles away, feeling left out of the party.

Fear not. You too can be at RootsTech — or at least part of it.

Because there are streaming sessions starting Thursday that will be available to anybody with a computer and an internet connection. And you don’t even have to be able to watch in real time: after the conference, recordings of the streamed sessions will be posted on the website for a limited time.

So… what’s the schedule for streamed sessions this week? Here’s the line-up, with all times given in Mountain time:

On Thursday, February 4:

8:30 a.m.-10:00 a.m., Thursday General Session, featuring Steve Rockwood, Paula Madison, and Bruce Feiler

11:00 a.m. 12:00 p.m., 7 Unique Technologies for Genealogy Discoveries, presented by Mike Mansfield

1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m., Best Websites and Apps for Local History, presented by Amy Crow

3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m., What’s New in Family Tree in 2016, presented by Ron Tanner

4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m., Virtual Family Reunions, presented by Joseph Richardson

On Friday, February 5:

8:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m., Friday General Session, featuring Josh and Naomi Davis (Love Taza) and David Isay

10:30 a.m. 11:30 a.m., RootsTech Innovator Showdown Finals, where yours truly The Legal Genealogist will be one of the judges

1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m., Proven Methodology for Using Google for Genealogy, presented by Lisa Louise Cooke

3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m., Finding Elusive Records on, presented by Robert Kehrer

4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m., My Ancestors Are from Britain—What Do I Do Next?, presented by Myko Clelland

On Saturday, Februry 6:

8:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m., Saturday General Session, featuring Michael Leavitt

11:00 a.m. 12:00 p.m., Photos—Emerging Technologies in Photography, presented by Jens Nielsen

1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m., Become a Master Searcher on Ancestry, presented by Anne Mitchell

3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m., Homespun and Calico: Researching our Foremothers, presented by Peggy Lauritzen

4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m., Using the Genealogical Proof Standard for Success, presented by James Ison

All you’ll need to do is open up the home page for RootsTech at, and sit back in your computer chair.

If you’re here in Salt Lake City and you want to hear other presentations by The Legal Genealogist, I’m presenting More Than Just Names: Advanced US Census Research on Wednesday, February 3, at 4:30 p.m.; Mothers, Daughters, Wives: Tracing Female Lines, on Thursday, February 4, at 1:30 p.m.; and NARA Mythbusters: Your Family IS in the Archives, on Friday, February 5, at 1:30 p.m.

Posted in General | 3 Comments

One hundred years ago…

By this time tomorrow, The Legal Genealogist will be standing in Pearl, Mississippi.

Pearl. On the Pearl River. In Rankin County.

Where my third great grandfather once rode circuit as a Methodist Episcopal preacher and where he was one of the original county commissioners.

SBBuchananBut that’s a story for another day (and I’ll be telling part of it to the Mississippi Genealogical Society at its seminar tomorrow — come on out and join us! Walk-ins are welcome at the Clyde Muse Center, Hinds Community College, Rankin Campus, in Pearl, with doors opening at 8 a.m., tomorrow, Saturday!).

Today’s story is of another Rankin County resident… someone who would have smiled to read one particular statute that appears in that old book I’ve been poking around in this week.

In relevant part, the statute, passed by the Mississippi Legislature in June 1822, reads:

That no person shall hereafter be admitted an attorney or counsellor at law, in any court within this state, unless he be a citizen of the United States, and approved by such court for his good character and learnning, and the name of every person admitted shall be put in a roll or book to be kept in each court for that purpose…

It shall be the duty of the supreme court, at the commencement of each term thereof, to appoint three distinguished attorneys and counsellors of that court, who… shall examine in open court every applicant for license to practice… and if after such examination, … and if the judges of said court shall be satisfied that the applicant is of good character, a citizen of the United States, and above the age of twenty-one years, they shall give to him a license under their hands, and the seal of the court, to practise as attorney and counsellor at law, in any court of law or equity, of this state…1

You notice the underlying issue that’s key to this, right?

You did note that no person could be a lawyer in Mississippi unless he be a citizen, and if approved the court shall give to him a license.

Male pronouns. Male lawyers. Male court, for that matter.

And it wasn’t until 100 years ago this year that that changed.

And it was changed by a woman from Rankin County.

A woman named Susie Blue Buchanan.

She was born April 2, 1882, in Brandon, county seat of Rankin County, the oldest of 10 children of William and Margaret Buchanan. She graduated from Brandon High School and went on to college, as Mississippi Synodical College, East Mississippi Female College, Harris College and finally Millsaps College.2

First she taught school, but later went to work for her lawyer-judge father William Buchanan in Brandon. There, she “read law with him and his partner, J.R. East. After her father’s death in 1912, she continued studying with East.”3

And whatever she did, she did well: “Buchanan received her license to practice law in December of 1916; she became the first woman to join the Mississippi State Bar Association in 1918. She was also the first woman to practice law before the Supreme Court of Mississippi. … From 1924 until her death in 1938, Buchanan served as the deputy chancery clerk of Rankin County.”4

When Susie Blue Buchanan took the oath as an attorney in Mississippi, the headlines read: “First Girl Lawyer is Admitted to Supreme Court of Mississippi.” Since 1999, the Mississippi Bar’s Women in the Profession Committee has given the Susie Blue Buchanan award to other trailblazing women attorneys in the Magnolia State.5

It’s going to be such an honor to follow along behind, in Susie Blue Buchanan’s footsteps, in the county where my own kin lived, with the Mississippi Genealogical Society tomorrow…


Image: Courtesy of Gwen Langley Pittman.

  1. §§1-2, Chapter 41, The Revised Code of the Laws of Mississippi… 1823 (Natchez: Francis Baker, 1824), 244; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 29 Jan 2016).
  2. Lyn Wilkerson, Slow Travels-Mississippi (Jacksonville, Fla.: Caddo Publs., 2010), kindle edition, unpaginated.
  3. Nomination, Stevens-Buchanan House, National Register of Historic Places, U.S. Dept. of Interior; digital images, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
  4. Wilkerson, Slow Travels-Mississippi.
  5. See Amanda Green Alexander, “Women in the Profession,” The Mississippi Lawyer (Winter 2012-2013), 9-16.
Posted in General, Statutes | 6 Comments

The stories in the law book

There are always stories to be found in those dusty old law books.

Sometimes the most powerful and compelling stories of all.

And all we need to do is look for them.

Case in point: a set of pages in the back of a volume entitled The Revised Code of the Laws of Mississippi, a book of laws in effect in that State as of the end of the year 1823,1 in which The Legal Genealogist was poking around in anticipation of this Saturday’s seminar at the Mississippi Genealogical Society in Pearl.

PriLawsStarting at page 558 and running through to page 650 is what the compilers of these laws referred to as a Summary of Private and Local Acts. These were the statutes passed not to affect all of the citizens of Mississippi generally, but rather for the benefit of some individual or individuals, or for some local purpose like setting an election.

The laws begin with a group authorizing the sales of real estate by executors, administrators and guardians. There, you can find, for example, that the executors of Hannah Curtis were allowed to sell lands that she owned when she died, including “an undivided share of a tract of land which she claimed, (as one of the heirs or legatees) of her deceased father, Samuel Sweezey.”2 Not a bad find, for a few lines of text: the existence of a will, likely of a widow, and the name of her father.

You can learn, in those same real estate sale pages, that Amy Blanchard was the widow of Thomas Blanchard of Adams County, that Jane Green was the widow of Henry Green of Jefferson County,3 that Eliza Darrach was the widow of James Darrach of Claiborne County,4 and that Nancy Carrill was the widow of William Carrill of Adams County, and that William left children including Thomas, Manoria, Charity, Eliza Ann and Polly.5

Reading on, you can find that freedom was granted to many of the residents of early Mississippi in the form of divorces:

• Elizabeth Hutchins was divorced from John Hutchins, and allowed to sue him to “recover the property which of right belongs to her, and which was given for advancement in marriage.”6

• Elizabeth Whittle was divorced from Richard Whittle, and Richard had “no right to any real or personal estate acquired by said Elizabeth, since the year 1787, nor to any estate real or personal, given her in marriage.”7

• John Peake was divorced from his wife Phebe.8

• Elizabeth Roach was divorced from Benjamin Roach, and her name changed to Elizabeth Greenfield.9

And that’s not all. Read on, and you find that freedom from the sting of illegitimacy was granted to other residents of the state:

• Sarah, John and Peggy Irons and Crawford, Polly and James McGalgin Davis all had their last names changed to Sprowl as they were recognized as the natural children and legitimate heirs of John Sprowl.10

• William Murfee’s name was changed to William Knowland and he was recognized as the legitimate child of Pharoah Knowland.11

• Catherine Lewis Hartley was recognized as a natural child and lawful heir of William Lewis.12

At the same time, “Alexander Foster, Elizabeth Jacobs, Peggy Jeffres, Rebecca Foster, Moses Foster, William Foster, Hugh Foster, James Foster, and Mary Foster, children of Moses Foster, by a Choctaw woman, are declared to be released from their civil disabilities, so far as to enable them to inherit real and personal property, according to law, sue and be sued, give testimony in courts of law and equity, and the males to vote at elections and serve in the militia as other citizens of the state: Provided, that the said Alexander, Elizabeth, Peggy, Rebecca, Moses, William, Hugh, James, and Mary, shall, as soon as they arrive at the age of twenty one years, go into the county court of Claiborne county, and there, by some proper instrument of writing, signed by each of their names, discharge themselves from all their Indian privileges, and signify their assent to the provisions of this act….”13

Even more powerful stories appear in the pages under the heading “Persons Emancipated”:

• William Barland of Adams County was allowed to set free “a female, named Elizabeth, and her twelve children” all of whom were acknowledged to be William’s children: Andrew Barland, Elizabeth Barland alias Elizabeth Germain, Margaret Barland alias Margaret Henderson, James Barland, William Barland Jr., Adam Barland, David Barland, George Barland, Alexander Barland, John Barland, Agnes alias Anna Barland, and Susanna Barland.14

• Mary, late the slave and wife, now widow, of Ben Vousden of Adams County, a free person of color, and their five children Louisa, Rachel, Sandy, Mary Ann and Benjamin, were all freed, but the children were subject to being bound out until age 21 for the son and 18 for the daughters “to be treated and provided for in all respects as apprentices” and recognized as heirs to Ben’s estate.15

• A mulatto girl Isabella, daughter of John Baptiste Nicaisse was freed as long as her father posted a bond that she would not become a public charge.16

• And perhaps the most remarkable of all: John Hopkins, Esq., of Jefferson County, was allowed to set free a girl named Lucinda Jefferson, and the girl was “invested with all the rights, privileges and immunities of any other free white female in this state.” The statute reported that Hopkins “did, some years ago, purchase the said girl as a slave, whom he then believed and still believed to be the offspring of free white parents, who had, by fraud, been made to pass as a slave; And the said John Hopkins having represented to the general assembly, that it is his wish that the said girl be restored to her natural and civil rights.”17

Yes, indeed, there are always stories to be found in those dusty old law books.

Sometimes the most powerful and compelling stories of all.

As long as we take the time and look for them.


  1. The Revised Code of the Laws of Mississippi… 1823 (Natchez: Francis Baker, 1824), 418; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 27 Jan 2016).
  2. Ibid., 558.
  3. Ibid., at 559.
  4. Ibid., at 563.
  5. Ibid., at 568-569.
  6. Ibid. at 571.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid., at 573.
  9. Ibid., at 575.
  10. Ibid., at 576.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid. at 577.
  13. Ibid., at 577.
  14. Ibid., at 578.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid. at 579.
  17. Ibid., at 580-581.
Posted in General, Resources, Statutes | 6 Comments

Nope, it’s NOT all online

There’s a really interesting statute that was passed by the Mississippi legislature in 1819, dealing with the licensing of physicians and surgeons.

None of us, The Legal Genealogist included, tend to think of medical licensing going back that far, but — poking around in the early Mississippi laws in anticipation of the seminar of the Mississippi Genealogical Society on Saturday1 — the law is quite clear that, in Mississippi:

if any person or persons in this state shall, from and after the time this act takes effect, presume to set him or themselves up surgeon as a physician or surgeon, and shall positively practice, without having previously received a license from the board of medical censors, organised in conformity to “An act, to regulate the admission of physicians and surgeons to the practice of medicine and surgery in the state of Mississippi,” passed the twelfth day of February, 1819, he or they shall, for every such offence, and on conviction thereof, pay a sum not exceeding five hundred dollars, recoverable before any court having competent jurisdiction of the same.2

The person bringing the complaint could get half of the fine, and the Board of Medical Censors was supposed to meet twice each year to determine who could and couldn’t practice.3

And it’d be really neat to read that “An act, to regulate the admission of physicians and surgeons to the practice of medicine and surgery in the state of Mississippi,” passed the twelfth day of February, 1819, wouldn’t it?

Except for one little problem.

The digitized version of this particular volume, digitized by Harvard University and online at Google Books, doesn’t include pages 409-417, containing all or parts of chapters 80-91 of The Revised Code of the Laws of Mississippi… 1823. Including, if the index to the volume is correct, the section we’d like to read with that 1819 act.


Oh, you can look at HathiTrust, if you’d like, and you can look an Internet Archive as well. There’s no alternative version of this book on either of those digitized services either.

Now there’s no doubt there are print versions of the 1819 act in law libraries all across the United States.

But if you’re looking for that one statute, sitting at home at 3 a.m. in your bunny slippers, the fact that it’s only been digitized once, by one library, and is online from one service, means the answer is not going to be found.

It’s simply Not All Online.

Not when it comes to records.

Not even when it comes to the laws.


  1. Come on out and join us! Walk-ins are welcome at the Clyde Muse Center, Hinds Community College, Rankin Campus, in Pearl, with doors opening at 8 a.m., this Saturday, January 31st.
  2. Chapter 92, The Revised Code of the Laws of Mississippi… 1823 (Natchez: Francis Baker, 1824), 418; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 26 Jan 2016).
  3. Ibid., §§2-3.
Posted in General, Primary Law, Resources, Statutes | 6 Comments

NO DNA info requests

In the brouhaha last year about law enforcement trying to use genealogical DNA information to solve a very old, very nasty murder case, The Legal Genealogist made one prediction:

Law enforcement wouldn’t do it very much again, since it was a very complicated and very expensive failure.1

Ancestry.trI posited that, while the test in that case proved the individual the police were interested in — a man named Michael Usry — was not the killer:

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.

Guess what?

I was right.

Yesterday, the Ancestry family of companies issued what it called a transparency report, detailing all of the information requests it had received from law enforcement agencies for any type of information for all of 2015.

Not surprisingly, “All of the requests we received in 2015 were related to investigations involving credit card misuse and identity theft, and, where required by law, we provided responsive information to these requests,” Ancestry said. “We received no requests for information related to the health or genetic information of any Ancestry member, and we did not disclose any such information to law enforcement.”2

In its overview, Ancestry said:

• Ancestry received 14 law enforcement requests for data about members in 2015.

• Ancestry provided information in response to 13 of those 14 requests.3

And, it clarified:

• “Ancestry did not receive any requests relating to the health or genetic information of any Ancestry member in 2015.”

• “In our history, we have received just one request relating to DNA information—a 2014 search warrant ordering us to provide the identity of a person based on a DNA sample that had previously been made public for which the police had a match. We disclosed information in response to that valid warrant.” (That, by the way, was the Usry case I wrote about.)

• “As of December 31, 2015, Ancestry has never received a classified request pursuant to the national security laws of the United States or any other country. In other words, Ancestry has not received a National Security Letter or a request under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.”4

So — one more time — 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.

The fact simply is 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.

Yesterday’s report bears that out: law enforcement isn’t fishing in our genealogy results.

Unless, of course, we’re committing credit card fraud or identity theft… and then all bets are off.


  1. See e.g. Judy G. Russell, “Big Easy DNA: not so easy,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 15 Mar 2015 ( : accessed 25 Jan 2016).
  2. Ancestry 2015 Transparency Report,” ( : accessed 25 Jan 2016).
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
Posted in DNA | 5 Comments

Nuncupative wills in Mississippi

It’s to a different kind of will that The Legal Genealogist calls attention this morning: not the usual written form that we hope to see with our ancestors carefully setting out spouses and children and grandchildren and who is to receive what ouf ot the estate.

MS.nunNope, this is a different breed of will entirely, called a nuncupative will.

By definition, that’s “a will which depends merely upon oral evidence, having been declared or dictated by the testator in his last sickness before a sufficient number of witnesses, and afterwards reduced to writing.”1

You can think of it as a kind of a dying declaration — the words spoken by a person who realizes that he or she is dying, doesn’t yet have a written will, but wants to say what should be done with his or her property.

It’s not valid everywhere, and never has been: “Such wills are valid only in a few states and only in very limited and unusual circumstances. The idea is that if someone suddenly becomes ill or in extreme danger, and can’t make a written will, his or her last wishes will be honored.”2

In New York, for example, a nuncupative will today is valid only if it’s the will of “a member of the armed forces of the United States while in actual military or naval service during a war, declared or undeclared, or other armed conflict in which members of the armed forces are engaged; a person who serves with or accompanies an armed force engaged in actual military or naval service during such war or other armed conflict; or a mariner while at sea.”3

The theory is that, today, there’s little reason why someone can’t get a will properly prepared. But that wasn’t always the case — and at times when many Americans weren’t literate, when lawyers and clerks were few and far between, and when formalities weren’t as likely to be followed, the law was more forgiving of nuncupative wills.

Case in point: the laws of early Mississippi — laws that The Legal Genealogist was poking around in last night in anticipation of this weekend’s visit to the Mississippi Genealogical Society in Pearl.4

From its earliest statutes, Mississippi recognized the nuncupative will, under very strict limits.

The statute provided in relevant part:

Sec. 18. No nuncupative will shall be established, unless it be made in the time of the last sickness of the deceased, at his or her habitation, or where he or she hath resided for ten days next preceding the time of his or her death, except where such person is taken sick from home, and dies before his or her return to such habitation ; nor where the value bequeathed exceeds one hundred dollars, unless it be proved by two witnesses, that the testator or testatrix called on some person present to take notice, or bear testimony, that such is his or her will, or words of the like import.

Sec 19. After six months have elapsed from the time of speaking the pretended testamentary words, no testimony shall be received to prove a nuncupative will, unless such words, or the substance thereof, shall have been reduced to writing, with in six days after speaking the same.

Sec. 20. No probate, of any nuncupative will shall be taken, or letters testamentary granted thereon, until after the expiration of fourteen days, from the time of the decease of the testator or testatrix, nor until the widow, if any, and next of kin, if resident in this state have been summoned to contest the same, if they think proper.5

So to be valid, this dying declaration had to be made during the deceased person’s last illness, at the person’s home unless the person was suddenly taken sick away from home. This limit was to ensure that people from distant areas couldn’t conspire to deprive the rightful heirs of their inheritances.

The amount of the estate couldn’t be more than $100 unless two witnesses were called in to hear the person’s dying declaration. No one witness was considered enough for a more valuable estate.

Nobody was allowed to come into court and testify about what the person had said in that dying declaration more than six months afterwards, unless the declaration was written down within six days after it was spoken. That, of course, was to limit the opportunity for mischief: “Yes, Daddy left all of his estate to me!” wasn’t going to fly once time had passed.

And nobody could rush into court with this oral declaratrion without giving notice to all the heirs, including the widow and next of kin, again to limit the chances of that “Daddy left all of his estate to me!” mischief.

And, by the way, Mississippi law today is very much in keeping with its counterpart of nearly 200 years ago: the Mississippi Code today provides basically the same thing (a nuncupative will is valid, under strict limits, with the same controls as were written into the law in the early 1800s).6

So don’t be surprised in a Mississippi probate case to find that a dying declaration served — and serves — the purpose of a will.


  1. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 835, “nuncupative will.”
  2. Is an Oral (Spoken but Not Written) Will Valid?,” ( : accessed 24 Jan 2016).
  3. New York Consolidated Laws, Estates, Powers & Trusts, §3-2.2.
  4. Come on out and join us! It’s going to be at the Clyde Muse Center, Hinds Community College, Rankin Campus, in Pearl, with doors opening at 8 a.m., this Saturday, January 31st.
  5. Chapter 9, The Revised Code of the Laws of Mississippi… 1823 (Natchez: Francis Baker, 1824), 33; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 24 Jan 2016).
  6. Miss. Code Ann. § §§ 91-5-15 through 91-5-19.
Posted in General, Legal definitions | 8 Comments

Shew me the Shews!

It’s been on The Legal Genealogist‘s Christmas list for years now: the hope that DNA might provide some evidence to take one particular family line back a bit further than we’ve been able to do so far.

ShewsIn 2013, I noted that my fifth great grandfather Phillip Shew (c1750 – 1832) was a bit of a mystery.1

We don’t know where he was born and only really pick up his trail once he settled in Guilford County North Carolina in the 1770s. He was recorded on the Guilford County census in 17902 and 18003 and the Wilkes County, North Carolina, census in 1810,4 18205 and 1830.6 His will was proved in the Wilkes County court in the October term 1832.7

From the name and other evidence of the language spoken at home, we’re pretty sure Philip was German — the last name may well have originally been Schuh — but we really didn’t have any hints about where to look for Philip’s parents.

Things hadn’t changed by 20148 or by 2015.9

But now… oh now… maybe, just maybe…

On January 15th, in came a comment on the blog from Barb Shuh:

Just to let you know that the Big-Y results are in (as of Jan. 2016) on two lines with Johann Jacob Schuh (who I believe to be the same person as Jacob Shuh/Shoe/Shue who died in the Shenandoah in around 1785) as the Most Recent Common Ancestor – and TMRCA is calculated at 225 years (with a current margin of error of 100-200 years…). That’s amazingly close to the 222 years that we get from the dates determined in the paper trail! The difference from the birthdate of Jacob (1713 in Iggelheim, Rheinland-Pfalz) to the average of the two Big-Yers (1935). These men are descendants of Jacob’s sons Jabez and Joseph. So it would be great if you could find one or more descendants of your Philip Shew who would participate in Y-DNA testing. If your Philip Shew is part of this family, he would have been born at the Ephrata Cloister in Lancaster Co., PA. sometime prior to 1747 (as he co-signed a bond with his father in 1768 – and would have had to been at least 21 to have done so…)10

Translation: we now have a candidate for Philip’s possible parent, and specific male candidates to test against.

Philip was shown as aged 80-90 in the 1830 census, so he would fall into the age range suggested by the Pennsylvania evidence. That and the name, however, are awfully thin threads to tie a family relationship to.

DNA, however… that would be a whole ‘nother story.

YDNA, of course, is the type of DNA that only men have and that is passed largely unchanged from father to son to son over the generations.11 So a match between one of my Philip’s direct male descendants and these Virginia test takers would at least give us a place to start looking for the documentary evidence.

Which raises the issue, of course.

Finding a direct male descendant of my Philip since, of course, I descend from a female line and not a male line.

But we’re closing in on some possibilities… and if you’re a male descendant of Philip Shew of Guilford and Wilkes County, North Carolina, get in touch, willya?

There’s a YDNA test just waiting, with your name on it…


  1. See Judy G. Russell, “All I want for Christmas: DNA,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 22 Dec 2013 ( : accessed 23 Jan 2016).
  2. 1790 U.S. census, Guilford County, North Carolina, p. 505 (penned), col. 1, line 17, Philip Shoe; digital image, ( : accessed 24 July 2002); citing National Archive microfilm publication M637, roll 7.
  3. 1800 U.S. census, Guilford County, North Carolina, p. 643 (stamped), line 4, Philip Shoe; digital image, ( : accessed 25 July 2002); citing National Archive microfilm publication M32, roll 31.
  4. 1810 U.S. census, Wilkes County, North Carolina, p. 865 (penned), line 10, Phillip Shew; digital image, ( : accessed 25 July 2002); citing National Archive microfilm publication M252, roll 43.
  5. 1820 U.S. census, Wilkes County, North Carolina, population schedule, p. 530 (stamped), Phillip Shew; digital image, ( : accessed 3 August 2002); citing National Archive microfilm publication M33, roll 83.
  6. 1830 U.S. census, Wilkes County, North Carolina, p. 383 (stamped), Phillip Shew; digital image, ( : accessed 14 July 2002); citing National Archive microfilm publication M19, roll 125.
  7. Wilkes County, North Carolina, Will Book 4:159; North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
  8. Judy G. Russell, “2014 holiday wish list: DNA,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 21 Dec 2014 ( : accessed 23 Jan 2016).
  9. Ibid., “2015 holiday wishlist: DNA,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 22 Dec 2015.
  10. Comment by Barb Shuh, The Legal Genealogist, posted 15 Jan 2016.
  11. ISOGG Wiki (, “Y chromosome DNA tests,” rev. 13 Aug 2015.
Posted in DNA, My family | 12 Comments

The great mumps epidemic of 1962

The Legal Genealogist is of That Age.

You know the age I mean.

The age where we had everything — and I mean everything — as kids.

Ill GirlI had, in no particular order and at a minimum, measles, German measles, chickenpox, scarlet fever and mumps. Some of them, I suspect, more than once.

I wish I remembered better when I had chickenpox. I’d know better who to blame for the current attack of shingles that I’ve been dealing with for the past two weeks. It’s a virus, so there’s no cure whatsoever, but it’d make me feel better if I had someone to blame.

I do remember getting scarlet fever. It was the summer when I was eight years old and I came down with it at my grandparents’ farm in Virginia. Quarantine in a hot upstairs room during a Virginia summer is not my idea of fun.

But the illness I remember best is the mumps.

That’s because I was patient zero: the likely Typhoid Mary for a township-wide outbreak of mumps in the Central New Jersey town where I grew up.

I was in seventh grade in the fall of 1962 — junior high school then — but was quite a bit younger than most of my classmates, having started school when I was four.1 So I often hung out with the younger crowd that was still in elementary school.

And on Friday nights in the fall of 1962, the elementary school was showing movies that any kid from the neighborhood could watch.

And in late September or early October, if memory serves me correctly, the elementary school was showing a Walt Disney movie, The Littlest Outlaw, in two parts. Disney describes the storyline this way:

Determined to save a magnificent but abused stallion from certain destruction, Pablito, a peasant boy, steals the beautiful animal and together they ride off on an adventure-filled odyssey with the Mexican military in hot pursuit. From a harrowing encounter with armed banditos to a tense confrontation in the perilous confines of a bullring, the two runaways find danger at every turn in this captivating family drama filmed amid the rugged beauty of Mexico.2

I had seen part 1 of the film on one Friday night, and woke up the Friday morning of the second part not feeling really well. But I knew one thing for sure: if I stayed home from school because I didn’t feel well, I wasn’t going to get to go to the movies that night.

And I really wanted to see part 2 and find out what happened.

So I went ahead and dragged myself through a day at the junior high.

The overcrowded, already-on-double-sessions junior high.

The junior high that was fed by half of the elementary schools in town, and that in turn fed students on to both high schools.

Meaning, in essence, that anybody I came into contact with all day long who had an older or a younger sibling would be in a position to spread whatever I had into every single school in the entire township.

I lasted all day at school. I lasted through the showing of the second part of the movie. I came home and finally ‘fessed up to not feeling well.

Within hours, I’d been diagnosed with mumps.

Thoroughly, horribly, amazingly contagious mumps.

Which then spread like wildlife throughout every single school in the entire township.

It was the great mumps epidemic of 1962.

And I was patient zero.

But it really was a good movie.

And if you had mumps in Edison Township, New Jersey, in the fall of 1962, you now know who to blame.


  1. It’s not that I was any smarter than anyone else; it’s just that my older sister had gone to kindergarten in the Netherlands when she was four, and — since we were only two years apart in age — my mother didn’t want us more than two years apart in school.
  2. The Littlest Outlaw,DisneyMovies ( : accessed 22 Jan 2016).
Posted in My family | 30 Comments

New Texas Digital Archive launches

Okay, so the headline of today’s post is a little misleading.

The Legal Genealogist — daughter, granddaughter, and great granddaughter of Texans born and bred — really is well aware of many of the fabulous digitized resources for researching Texas history and genealogy. From the map collection at the Perry-Castañeda Library of the University of Texas at Austin to the Handbook of Texas Online at the Texas State Historical Association, there are some neat online Texas research portals.

But there’s a new one, and that’s big news!

TSLACThe Texas Digital Archive, an online offering of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC), has just launched online with “infrastructure needed to manage, preserve, and provide access to records of Texas state government agencies in a variety of digital formats.”1

What does that mean? It means online access to all kinds of records, both historic and governmental, of value to Texas researchers, limited now but ready to grow in the future:

In January, 2015, the TSLAC received approximately 7 TB of electronic records, along with 4000 cubic feet of paper records, from the administration of outgoing Governor Rick Perry (2000-2015). At the same time TSLAC has had a robust digitization program for the last decade generating over 150,000 digital files, including the conversion of 25,000 audio cassette tapes of the Texas Senate (from 1972-2006) producing 18 TB of digital audio files. TSLAC used this collection of electronic records and support from the Governor’s Office as the foundation of the Texas Digital Archive.2

The strongest piece of the Texas Digital Archive for genealogical researchers right now is the Prints and Photographs Collections, with more than 750,000 original images in a variety of processes and formats. These “relate to Texas history and important Texas figures or events. This includes construction of the various State Capitol buildings, documentation of Texas Governors and political leaders, Texas Rangers and military service in Texas, the geographically and culturally diverse regions of Texas and generations of Texas families and immigrants.”3

Portraits of people, photographs of buildings, street scenes, homes and events, even a collection of more than 1,400 postcards and picture postcards from southeast Texas make up the collections.

These aren’t all of the online collections of TSLAC, of course. Other online collections of value to genealogists include:

Civilian Conservation Corps Drawings: Searchable database to over 3,900 large-format drawings documenting park development and construction activities by the Civilian Conservation Corps in Texas from 1933-1958.

Fire Insurance Maps: Searchable database of fire insurance maps and/or Sanborn maps listed by the location mapped. The maps date from the mid-1920s to the 1970s.

Map Collection: Searchable database to original, photoreproduced, and compiled maps of Texas covering the period from the 17th-20th centuries.

Republic Claims: Searchable index of Comptroller’s records submitted by citizens to the Republic of Texas government from 1835 -1846, including claims for payment, reimbursement, or restitution. It also includes records relating to Republic pensions and claims against the Republic submitted as public debt claims after 1846.

Republic of Texas Passports: Alphabetical listing with images of records relating to individual passport files in the Republic of Texas, including requests for passports, orders to issue passports, and one proclamation granting entrance to the Republic.

Texas Adjutant General Service Records, 1836-1935: The Service Records series combines both official service record files from the Adjutant General’s Office and alphabetical files created by other agencies that contain records related to an individual’s service in a military unit. The information contained in an individual’s file varies considerably.

So check out the new Texas Digital Archive and all of the online resources of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.


Image: First Capitol Built by the Republic. Austin, Texas. 1893- [1852]. Drawing by Ilse. Prints and Photographs Collection, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

  1. About the Texas Digital Archive (TDA),” Texas Digital Archive ( : accessed 21 Jan 2016).
  2. Ibid.
  3. Prints and Photographs Collections,” Texas Digital Archive ( : accessed 21 Jan 2016).
Posted in General, Resources | 5 Comments