The maybe-the-clue-is-there document

Reader Jane Mackesy was delighted to locate the 1877 naturalization petition of one William Atchison, a man she thinks could be her second great grandfather, and language in the petition gave her hope that she might be able to narrow down how old this William was and when he came to America.


But on careful review, she found that the language was a little confusing. She wrote:

It says that “he has arrived at the age of twenty-one years; that he has resided in the United States three years next preceding his arrival at that age, and has continued to reside therein to the present; that he has resided five years within the United States, including the three years of his minority, and that he has resided one year at least, immediately preceding this application, within the State of New York, and that for three years next preceding this application it has been his real and honest intention to become a citizen of the United States.”

So, she asked, “how long before 1877 did he arrive? I’m confused by the three year/five year info and the ‘including the three years of his minority’??? If he arrived at 21 was he still a minor?”

Uh oh.

You know what this is, right?

This is what’s called a minority naturalization or “one paper” naturalization, under the Act of May 26, 1824.1 Until it was repealed in 1906,2 it provided an easier path to citizenship for people brought to America as children.

Adults who arrived during that same time frame had to file a declaration of intention to become a citizen and then wait two years before they could file their petition for naturalization.3 But a minor could sit back until he turned 21 and then file one single form and be naturalized without the two-year wait.

The thinking was that someone who’d already been in America for years had waited long enough to become a citizen just by being forced to wait until he turned 21. He shouldn’t have to wait until he turned 21 — legal age to act in such an important matter — to file his declaration of intent and then wait another two years, until age 23, to be naturalized.

Now the law contained a lot of requirements, and — if the person was complying with the law — here’s what would have to be true of the person applying for naturalization under this “one paper” system:

a. The person arrived in the US before he turned 21.
b. The person was at least 21 years old at the time he applied for naturalization.
c. The person lived in the US at least three years before turning 21.
d. The person lived in the US at least five years before applying for naturalization (which could be all before age 21 or could be a combination of no fewer than three years before and two years after age 21).
e. The person lived in the state where he was naturalizing for at least a year before applying for naturalization.

With all those requirements, you’d think that one of these “one paper” naturalizations would be a wonderful source of clues to the person’s age, and arrival date in America.

And to some degree that’s true. Let’s think about our William Atchison here.

The document says he was naturalized in October 1877 in New York City’s Superior Court.4 So we can reasonably conclude that he could not have been born later than 17 October 1856 in order to have been age 21 on 18 October 1877.

The problem is… the law didn’t put an end date to the time when someone who came to America as a minor had to petition for naturalization under this “one paper” system. In other words, the statute essentially provides for a sliding scale. True, he couldn’t have been born later than 17 October 1856. But he could have been born any time before that date in 1856. He could have been 21 years old in 1877 — or 91 years old — and the statute didn’t care.

The residence provisions weren’t any better. They simply provided that he had to have lived in America at least five years, and at least three of those years had to be before he turned 21. So you could have that born-in-1856 immigrant being qualified for naturalization if he arrived in America in 1872. That would give him five years of residence in America including the required three years before he turned 21. But he could also have arrived in any year between 1856 and 1872. That would still give him the required five years in America and three years before age 21.

And if he was older than 21 years? He could have arrived, under the law, at any time before he reached age 18. Our hypothetical 91-year-old in 1877 (so born in 1786) could naturalize under this statute as long as he arrived not later than 1804. Someone born in 1840 could have come to America in 1850 and not naturalized until 1877. That would have qualified too.

So the minor naturalization system doesn’t give us the information we’d like to have to narrow down how old this William Atchison was or when he arrived in America — even assuming he was complying with the law.

And that raises a second problem.

It’s the problem of fraud.

You see, particularly in a big city where the court personnel wouldn’t have any way of knowing the facts about an applicant, there wasn’t any way to police this system. And the reality is that, as long as he could round up a witness to go to court with him, an immigrant could walk in, swear he’d been there since childhood, and naturalize — even though he’d just gotten off the boat the day before. This potential for fraud — and documented abuses of the system — were the big reasons why the one paper naturalization was eliminated in the 1906 statute.5

So these “one paper” naturalizations can leave us feeling pretty clueless.

And, as usual, it’s only by combining them with all the other bits and pieces of a paper trail that we may be able to nail our immigrant’s feet to the dock of an arrival port.

This one document isn’t going to do it by itself.


  1. §1, “An Act in further addition to ‘An act to establish an uniform rule of Naturalization, and to repeal the acts heretofore passed on that subject,’” 4 Stat. 69 (26 May 1824).
  2. “An act to establish a Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization, and to provide for a uniform rule for the naturalization of aliens throughout the United States,” 34 Stat. 596 (29 June 1906).
  3. §4, “An Act in further addition to ‘An act to establish an uniform rule of Naturalization, and to repeal the acts heretofore passed on that subject,’” 4 Stat. 69 (26 May 1824).
  4. Naturalization petition, William Atchison, 18 October 1877; New York County, New York, Superior Court Bundle 285, Record No. 243A; digital image provided by reader Jane Mackesy.
  5. See FamilySearch Research Wiki (, “United States Naturalization and Citizenship,” rev. 27 Sep 2014.
Posted in Methodology, Resources, Statutes | 2 Comments

How did they do it?

The Great Snowstorm of 2015 turned out to be a bust here in New Jersey — a fact for which The Legal Genealogist is exceedingly grateful. If we end up with 10-12″ of snow total, rather than the 24-30″ predicted, that will be a lot.

New England, on the other hand, is still being hammered. Snowfall totals already exceed two feet and the snow is still falling.

Road crews are out constantly trying to stay ahead of the snowfall, clearing the roads, salting, sanding.

Which of course raises the question…

What did our ancestors do about snows like this?

For the vast majority of rural folks, of course, winter was a time for hunkering down and hoping you didn’t use up all the supplies you’d laid in during the spring, summer and fall before the last snow fell and the ground started “greening up” again.

But what if you were in town? Or a city?

Just when did the snow plows start coming around anyway?

Start with the fact that the first patents on snow plows were granted in the 1840s,1 and most of them focused on clearing snow from railroad tracks, not from roads:


Alfred A. Hart, “Snow plow,” stereo card, California, c1865-1869.2

In fact, in many communities, what was done was rolling the snow flat to pack it down:


Tennie Toussaint, “Horses pulling a snow roller,” Danville, Vermont, c1900.3

That made it easier to use vehicles with runners — sleds and sleighs — on the roads:


“Horse-drawn sleighs with passengers in front of house,” c1904.4

The first reported use of a snow plow on a street was in 1862 in Milwaukee but the use of mechanized snow removal systems didn’t become widespread until the 20th century.5 And they sure didn’t look much like the ones out there today trying to dig out in New England:


Bain News Service, “Snow plow in field in Michigan,” likely early 20th century.6

Aren’t you glad you live now, and not then?


  1. See e.g. Samuel Streeter, “Car-Track Clearer,” Patent No. 5347 (1847); digital image, “US Patent Full-Page Images,” U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ( : accessed 26 Jan 2015).
  2. Alfred A. Hart, “Snow plow,” stereo card, California, c1865-1869; Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division ( : accessed 26 Jan 2015).
  3. Tennie Toussaint, “Horses pulling a snow roller,” Danville, Vermont, c1900; digital image, University of Vermont Libraries Center for Digital Initiatives ( : accessed 26 Jan 2015).
  4. Horse-drawn sleighs with passengers in front of house,” c1904; Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division ( : accessed 26 Jan 2015).
  5. See generally “Snow Removal,” National Snow and Ice Data Center ( : accessed 26 Jan 2015).
  6. Bain News Service, “Snow plow in field in Michigan,” likely early 20th century; Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division ( : accessed 26 Jan 2015).
Posted in General | 15 Comments

Historical weather info

Okay, so The Legal Genealogist is a little distracted today.

The forecast is for more than a foot of snow, maybe more than two feet of snow throughout the northeastern states, even here in Central New Jersey.

The Nor-Beaster!


Man In Snow StormBleah.

I hate winter.

Loathe it.

Hate snow. Hate cold. Hate the hassles, the headaches, the worrying about whether the power will stay on. (Did you know there’s no way to bypass the electronic ignition switch on modern gas furnaces? Which means no power, no heat. Did I say “bleah” yet?)

So I’m spending the morning scurrying around making sure the hatches are battened down, and you, dear reader, can spend the day looking at historical weather reports and sending sympathy towards all of us here in the northeast.

A wonderful resource for folks in New Jersey is the Office of the New Jersey State Climatologist. That site has historical snowfall information recorded for more than 50 different locations as far back as the 1890s in some cases. The numbers used come from the National Weather Service, now part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). You can get a history of the National Weather Service at its website.

NOAA itself has a number of interesting offerings. It has its top weather, water and climate events list for the 20th century that you can review online or download as a PDF file. The NOAA News reports things like the 1899 arctic blast that paralyzed the eastern United States and carried ice down to the Gulf of Mexico.

And NOAA’s National Climatic Data Centeroffers a large number of options including maps showing temperature (current and historical conditions), snowfall, precipitation and more.

And there are a whole host of alternatives to these official sources:

• The Weather Base has some 33 years of weather records for New York City and at least some data for more than 29,250 other cities worldwide.

• The Weather Warehouse has Historical Monthly Weather Data “for over 18,000+ current and former United States weather stations for every year that each station reported” — which means, for example, for Central Park in New York City you can get data back to 1900, or for Decatur in Wise County, Texas, back to 1904.

WeatherForYou has a daily bit of weather history (for yesterday, the key events were an overnight freeze in 1777 that helped George Washington and his troops flank the British to get to winter quarters and, sigh… some record highs in 1989).

• There’s still an Old Farmer’s Almanac, with historical weather data by zip code, accessing weather archives for more than 1,300 stations across United States and Canada, going back to 1960, but more detailed customized access to historical weather info requires a subscription.

You can find out all kinds of information about weather disasters on GenDisasters — the website setting out “Events That Touched Our Ancestors’ Lives.” These include floods, hurricanes, ice and snow, storms and lightning, and tornadoes.

• Try WolframAlpha for weather information too. You can enter, say, “weather January 3, 1975 New York City” as a search term and get an amazingly detailed weather report. The data doesn’t go back all that far — but as far as it goes, it’s dynamite.

For the kinds of weather information we might want to add to our family histories, we might want to look at the official records of the government. By far, the bulk of the National Weather Service and Weather Bureau records are at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland. More than 90% of all the records held by NARA at there, with the National Archives branch in Seattle, Washington, coming in a very distant second. These include:

• Meteorological Records of the Surgeon General’s Office 1819-1916
• Records of the Smithsonian Meteorological Project 1848-91
• Records of Signal Corps Meteorological Work 1859-97
• Records of the Weather Bureau 1792-1965
• Records of Field Operations 1735-1979
• Textual Records (General) 1876-1972
• Cartographic Records (General) 1873-1960
• Motion Pictures (General)
• till Pictures (General) 1880-19501

Some additional newer records are in the NOAA collection, record group 370.2

And, don’t forget, the weather has always been a hot topic (you’ll forgive the reference here in the midst of the snows of January) in the pages of our local newspapers.

Now excuse me, please, I have some more electronics to get fully charged… just in case…


  1. See generally “Records of the Weather Bureau (Record Group 27),” Guide to Federal Records, National Archives ( : accessed 26 Jan 2015).
  2. See ibid., “Records of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) (Record Group 370).”
Posted in General, Resources | 23 Comments

Ask first

So last week the question posed to The Legal Genealogist was whether the cousin who had paid for a DNA test should share the results with the cousin who took the DNA test.

blurThe no-brainer answer is yes.1 Just because you paid for a test doesn’t mean you can close off the results to the cousin whose DNA was tested.

As noted last week, we now have working standards for genetic genealogists to consult when it comes to ethical questions like this. 2 And the applicable ethical standard here is that “Genealogists believe that testers have an inalienable right to their own DNA test results and raw data, even if someone other than the tester purchased the DNA test.”3

This week the question that came in was about the flip side of this issue: whether the cousin who paid for the test should share the results far and wide — with the name of the tested cousin, usually, still attached.

That answer should also be a no-brainer.

Unless you have consent, the answer is no.

No, no, no.

And in case that isn’t clear enough:


The ethical standards are as clear on this as they were on the first question: “Genealogists respect all limitations on reviewing and sharing DNA test results imposed at the request of the tester. For example, genealogists do not share or otherwise reveal DNA test results (beyond the tools offered by the testing company) or other personal information (name, address, or email) without the written or oral consent of the tester.”4

Even when it comes to writing about DNA results for scholarly research, the standards require that:

When lecturing or writing about genetic genealogy, genealogists respect the privacy of others. Genealogists privatize or redact the names of living genetic matches from presentations unless the genetic matches have given prior permission or made their results publicly available. Genealogists share DNA test results of living individuals in a work of scholarship only if the tester has given permission or has previously made those results publicly available.5

What this means, put in simple terms, is that we should not take a screen capture of DNA results from a testing company and post it in a blog post or on Facebook with the names or pictures of our matches still attached unless we’ve asked those matches specifically if we can post it.

And this isn’t a new idea, springing out of genetic genealogy alone. This is the long-time ethical standard of the genealogical community. This concept of protecting the privacy of living people can be found for example in:

• The Code of Ethics of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, which requires that board-certified genealogists pledge that: “I will keep confidential any personal or genealogical information given to me, unless I receive written consent to the contrary.”6

• The Standards for Sharing Information with Others of the National Genealogical Society, which advises us to “respect the restrictions on sharing information that arise from the rights of another … as a living private person; … inform people who have provided information about their families as to the ways it may be used, observing any conditions they impose and respecting any reservations they may express regarding the use of particular items… (and) require some evidence of consent before assuming that living people are agreeable to further sharing of information about themselves.”7

• The Code of Ethics of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies, which notes that “If data is acquired that seems to contain the potential for harming the interests of other people, great caution should be applied to the treatment of any such data and wide consultation may be appropriate as to how such data is used. … Generally, a request from an individual that certain information about themselves or close relatives be kept private should be respected.”8

So as responsible genetic genealogists we don’t just take a screen shot and post it. We take a second, using the tools in every photo program out there — including my favorite free program Irfanview — and blur out the names or photos of our matches as you can see in the image above of my own AncestryDNA results.

Or we do something really unusual.

We ask first.


  1. Judy G. Russell, “Whose DNA it is anyway?,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 18 Jan 2015 ( : accessed 24 Jan 2015).
  2. See ibid., “DNA: good news, bad news,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 11 Jan 2015.
  3. Paragraph 3, Standards for Obtaining, Using, and Sharing Genetic Genealogy Test Results, “Genetic Genealogy Standards,” ( : accessed 18 Jan 2015).
  4. Ibid., paragraph 8.
  5. Ibid., paragraph 9.
  6. Code of Ethics and Conduct,” Board for Certification of Genealogists ( : accessed 24 Jan 2015).
  7. Standards for Sharing Information with Others, 2000, PDF, National Genealogical Society ( : accessed 24 Jan 2015).
  8. IAJGS Ethics for Jewish Genealogists,” International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies ( : accessed 24 Jan 2015).
Posted in DNA | 26 Comments

The anniversary questions

The Legal Genealogist surely wasn’t surprised that they got divorced.

My parents — who married 67 years ago today — were as different as chalk and cheese.

weddingHe was formal German immigrant.

She was folksy U.S. southern — of the West Texas variety.

He was raised as an only child, his only sibling having died before he was born.

She was the fifth-born of 12 children, and the fourth of 10 to survive to adulthood.

He was a college graduate, with a degree in engineering.

She dropped out of high school to work in the war effort.

He liked fried chicken livers and limburger cheese.

She liked fried okra and biscuits and gravy.

He fell asleep watching the 10 o’clock news.

She fell asleep watching the sunrise.

Even in appearances they were total opposites. He was blue-eyed and blond, at least as a child. She was dark-eyed and dark-haired — and pretty close to three inches taller.

No, it wasn’t a surprise at all that they divorced. The surprise was that they stayed together as long as they did.

And the real mystery is what brought them together in the first place.

Oh, I know the stories. He was teaching at the Colorado School of Mines. She was working as a paleontology assistant, doing painstaking work creating micropaleontology slides.

They started seeing each other sometime in the summer or fall of 1947; the ink on his divorce papers from his first wife was probably still wet.

And, the story goes, he went home to Chicago for Christmas 1947 and came back to find that she hadn’t met him as expected. He went to her apartment, got no response when he knocked, and broke the door down to find that she’d been overcome by fumes from a malfunctioning heater.

They were married three weeks later.

But the stories that were told aren’t the stories I’d like to hear today, not at all.

What was it about this newly-divorced man, who’d left a child behind when he left Chicago, that drew my mother to him? Did she know about the divorce, and the child, when they first met? How did he explain that to that family-centered young woman?

What was it about her raucous West Texas upbringing that drew my father to her? Did he have any clue what he was getting into when he decided to marry a woman who had more brothers and sisters than he had relatives of any stripe in the entire United States?

What did they talk about, as they looked to a future together? How did they think their two so-very-disparate backgrounds would mesh?

Growing up in a house where conflict was the rule, my brothers and sisters and I know only too well what drove them apart.

But what brought them together?

On this day, 67 years after they were joined together, I wish I’d thought to ask…

Posted in My family | 8 Comments

Library at risk in budget cuts

One of Indiana’s great treasures, of immense value to genealogists, is on the political chopping block.

ISL_Logo_4-20-2009Will you join The Legal Genealogist in speaking out against a proposal to kill the Genealogy Department at the Indiana State Library?

Word arrived yesterday from the Indiana Genealogical Society that the budget bill introduced in the Indiana House includes a massive 24% reduction in funding to the Indiana State Library.

In addition to cutting at least 10% of the library staff, the bill would eliminate all funding — every last penny — for the Genealogy Department of the library.1

The Indiana State Library houses a collection described this way by State Librarian Jacob Speer:

The Indiana State Library (ISL) is home to one of the largest Genealogy collections in the Midwest. This collection (over 100,000 items) is focused on Indiana, states from which Indiana was settled as well as some foreign countries. The collection is rich with unique family histories and genealogy materials that cannot be found in other locations. In comparison, the Indiana Historical Society (IHS) only collects materials on Indiana and the Old Northwest – genealogy research can never be restricted to one state only. Family trees branch outside of a single state and spread throughout the country and across oceans. Genealogy collections (including ours) contain materials for neighboring states as well as items covering the east and southern coasts (where most immigrants landed) and genealogical resources for other countries (mainly in Europe where most immigrants came from). These types of resources are not collected by IHS or the Indiana State Archives or the Historical Bureau.

In addition, the ISL serves as the Genealogy destination for patrons that use the Indianapolis Marion County Public Library (IPL). In the past, IPL donated their collection to ISL because they were not going to actively collect for Genealogy and they wanted somewhere close by to send their patrons and know they would get service in this area. Over the years they have also donated funds so that ISL could purchase valuable Genealogy research materials to be kept in the collection and used by patrons statewide. It has been a beneficial partnership.2

House Bill 1001, the Indiana State Budget Bill, threatens “the availability and use of a one-of-a-kind resource that includes many elements of family history and Indiana history.”3 It would cut off every penny to the Genealogy Department, even though nearly half of all reference questions that come in to the Indiana State Library ask for information from its genealogical holdings.

The bill is shortsighted, its impacts devastating, and we need to speak out — clearly and loudly — as a community that the $400,000 cut from the Library’s budget for genealogy must be restored.

The Indiana Genealogical Society offers the following guidance in contacting members of the Indiana Legislature about this:

We encourage Indiana residents to contact their state legislators and members of the House Ways and Means Committee and weigh in on this important issue. You can locate contact information for your state legislators here and the House Ways and Means Committee here.4

People outside of Indiana can contact Rep. Timothy Brown, Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. Those dollars that you spend in the state while you’re researching at the Indiana State Library add up.5

The points to be made in our contacts with Indiana legislators are these:

• The Indiana State Library Genealogy Department is an irreplaceable resource with a very small price tag that should not be cut.

• If we are Indiana residents, we’re in a unique position to remind the members of the Legislature that we’re genealogists and we vote. And that how we vote is very likely to depend on what our legislators do about this issue.

• If we aren’t Indiana residents, we can make it clear to the elected officials there that we spend large sums of money traveling to do genealogical research, and the Indiana State Library is a research destination. We will spend our research dollars elsewhere if funding is cut, resulting in a net loss to Indiana hotels, restaurants and tourism in general far exceeding the small amount needed to keep the Genealogy Department fully funded. To put it bluntly, we vote with our wallets.

Yes, it’s time consuming to have to write to these legislators, and yes, time is something we all have precious little of.

But the time we spend now may pay off for us all for a lifetime.

Join me, please, and speak out for the Indiana State Library.


  1. See Amy Johnson Crow, “Proposed Elimination of Genealogy at the Indiana State Library,” Indiana Genealogical Society Blog, posted 22 Jan 2015 ( : accessed 23 Jan 2015).
  2. Jacob Speer, State Librarian, ISL 2015 Budget Cuts, 15 Jan 2015, PDF accessed 23 Jan 2015.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Crow, “Proposed Elimination of Genealogy at the Indiana State Library,” Indiana Genealogical Society Blog.
  5. Ibid.
Posted in General, Resources | 13 Comments

Two certificates, or more

It never fails.

Finish a blog post, get it posted, sit back, and somebody is sure to do it.

Somebody will remind The Legal Genealogist of questions that woulda-coulda-shoulda been addressed the first time around.

Yesterday was no exception.

death.certNo sooner had “Death in the wrong place”1 been published on the blog when long-time reader John Roose had just a couple of questions which, if I’d thought about it, should have had answers included yesterday.

First, he wondered, if Montana was issuing death certificates for people who were being buried in Montana but who had died elsewhere, doesn’t this mean that there are going to be two death certificates for any such person? One in Montana and one in the jurisdiction in which the person died?

Oh yes. There sure will be. As a matter of fact, the individual who originally posted the question on Facebook about Montana issuing a death certificate for a man who died in Minnesota was able to find the Minnesota death certificate for that individual.

And, of course, a good genealogist is going to get both. Because there’s a very good chance that information recorded on one such certificate won’t be on the other.

Remember the way the Montana regulation said the death certificate there was to be filled out: with information from the transit permit that accompanied the body from the original jurisdiction.2 Anything not recorded on that shipping document wouldn’t make it onto the death certificate.

Looking again at those Beaverhead County examples, it’s clear that not everything we’d want to know as genealogists made it onto the Montana certificates. Frank Birrer’s Montana death certificate didn’t identify his mother, or his exact date of birth, for example.3 Maybe his Washington State death certificate didn’t either, but I’d sure want to look.

And remember as well that every state will handle this issue of an out-of-state burial differently. Not all of them will issue death certificates in the burial state at all. This is a matter of state law, and it won’t always be the same as it was in Montana.

Second, John wanted to know, how would you locate the burial place from the certificate issued in the place where the person died or the death location from the certificate issued in the place where the person was buried?

Now that really should be easy — because each certificate should have that information.

• The death certificate where the person died should state what was being done with the remains: burial or cremation; when and where; the identity of the funeral director and the like. Certainly by the 1940s — when the certificates we were looking at yesterday were issued — the standard forms called for that information. And remember, there had been a recommended standard death certificate form as far back as 1900.4

• The death certificate where the burial was to take place should identify the place of death. That’s pretty basic information and none of the certificates I saw yesterday omitted that rather critical bit of data.

But then John noted that that didn’t seem to be univerally true: his own father’s death certificate, issued where he died in North Carolina, didn’t mention that the burial was out of state. It did give the name of the cemetery but didn’t bother mentioning that the cemetery was in Pennsylvania.

Wait a minute.

I’ve got a lot of North Carolina lines in my ancestry and have looked at a lot of North Carolina death certificates. In fact, North Carolina death certificates are online at Ancestry. And I was pretty sure that data should be there.

I quickly found John’s father’s death certificate, and it said right out that the burial was in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. I pointed that out to John.

Nope, he said. Not on his copy.

You know where this is headed, right?

What John had in his and the family’s possession was yet another flavor of death certificate.

It was typed on a form labeled “Certified Certificate of Death,” with a raised seal — from the county where John’s father died. Perfectly legal, good for all the things we need death certificates for, like opening an estate, or handling insurance claims, or getting bank accounts turned over.

But it was not an exact copy of the document that went to the Bureau of Vital Statistics in the state capital of Raleigh with all the information we might want on it.

Among the key differences:

• The county certificate doesn’t mention the decedent was married or give the widow’s maiden name; the state certificate does.

• The county certificate doesn’t say what the decedent did for a living; the state certificate does.

• The county certificate doesn’t identify the funeral home or the location of the cemetery; the state certificate does.

• And the critical piece for us as genealogists — the county certificate doesn’t say who the informants were: who provided the data about the death or about the family information; the state certificate does.

So there may not be two death certificates in the case of a death here and a burial there. There may be three death certificates.

And as careful researchers trying to do our reasonably exhaustive research, we’re going to want to get our hot little hands on every one of them.


  1. Judy G. Russell, “Death in the wrong place,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 21 Jan 2015 ( : accessed 22 Jan 2015).
  2. Public Health Laws and Regulations, State of Montana, Bulletin of the State Board of Health (Helena: State Board of Health, 1936), 62-63; digital images, Internet Archive ( : accessed 20 Jan 2015).
  3. Montana Bureau of Vital Statistics, death certificate no. 2788 (1943), Frank P. Birrer; digital images, “Montana, Beaverhead County Records, 1862-2009,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 20 Jan 2015).
  4. James A. Weed, “Vital Statistics in the United States: Preparing for the Next Century,” Population Index 61 (Winter 1995): 527-529; Office of Population Research, Princeton University; HTML version, Population Index -on the Web ( : accessed 22 Jan 2015).
Posted in Methodology, Resources | 25 Comments

That other death certificate

The question popped up on a Facebook group, and a reader promptly alerted The Legal Genealogist to this most interesting issue.

MT.deathWhy would a death certificate be issued by the State of Montana when the person died in another state?1

The example posted wasn’t a complete certificate, but it was absolutely clear that it wasn’t a mistake by a poster.

Nope, it was crystal clear: the man had died in Minnesota; the death certificate was from the State of Montana, Bureau of Vital Statistics.

And a quick check of death certificates digitized by for the State of Montana will turn up other examples, like the one you see illustrating this post (and you can click it to enlarge the image).

Just between 1941 and 1944 in the records of Beaverhead County alone, you will find death certificates of:

• Frank P. Birrer, who died in Spokane, Washington;2

• Leo Dwight Roland, who died aboard the SS Edwin B. DeGalia at sea off California3

• Earl Lewis Wheat, who died in Salt Lake City;4

• John Edie, who died in Kalamazoo, Michigan;5

• Peder Jensen, who died in Caldwell, Idaho;6

So… what’s up with this? Why is Montana issuing death certificates for people who died a long way away from the Big Sky State?

The answer, of course, will be found in the law.

Montana statutes for many years expressly required a burial permit before any body could be buried in the state. In the laws of 1921, for example, one section provided that: “No sexton or person in charge of any cemetery in which interments are made shall inter or permit the interment of any body unless it is accompanied by a burial permit …”7

The same was true in earlier laws: a burial permit had to be obtained, and to get the burial permit, a death certificate had to be filed with the local registrar’s office.8 And it was true later: the 1947 code provided that a death certificate had to be filed with the local registrar prior to interment or other disposition of a dead body.9

Although the statutes often spoke only in terms of deaths occurring in the state of Montana,10 there wasn’t any exception written into the law for a death occurring outside of the state. At a minimum, there had to be a permit issued by the state where the death occurred and that had to be recorded by the local registrar.11

And, of course, when the statutes don’t say everything we hope they might say, we can look to see if there are rules that fill in the gaps. And, in Montana, there were and they did. Regulation 63 of the Montana Board of Health at the time provided:

When bodies are brought into any registration district … from points without the State of Montana,… the local registrar of the district in which the body is to be interred … will issue a burial permit in the same way as if death had occurred in his district and make out a death certificate from the transit permit, writing across the face of such certificate the words “Imported Case.”12

And that is why you’ll find death certificates in Montana county records for deaths outside of Montana: it was legally required for a burial in Montana.


  1. Rose Caswell, Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness – RAOGK USA Facebook group, posted 20 Jan 2015.
  2. Montana Bureau of Vital Statistics, death certificate no. 2788 (1943), Frank P. Birrer; digital images, “Montana, Beaverhead County Records, 1862-2009,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 20 Jan 2015).
  3. Ibid., death certificate no. 2790 (1943), Leo Dwight Roland.
  4. Ibid., death certificate no. 2825 (1943), Earl Lewis Wheat.
  5. Ibid., death certificate no. 2833 (1943), John Edie.
  6. Ibid., death certificate no. 2848 (1943), Peder Jensen.
  7. §2531, Revised Codes of Montana of 1921 (San Francisco: Bancroft-Whitney, 1921), I: 993; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 20 Jan 2015).
  8. §1770, 1915 Supplement to the Revised Codes of Montana of 1907 (San Francisco: Bancroft-Whitney, 1916), 309; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 20 Jan 2015).
  9. See R.C.M. 1947, §69-4424, in State of Montana, Manual for Local Registrars (September 1975), 6; digital images, Internet Archive ( : accessed 20 Jan 2015).
  10. See §2526, Revised Codes of Montana of 1921.
  11. See C.44, L. 1943, in Montana State Board of Morticians, Laws, Rules and Regulations (n.p., 1963), 14-15; digital images, Internet Archive ( : accessed 20 Jan 2015).
  12. Public Health Laws and Regulations, State of Montana, Bulletin of the State Board of Health (Helena: State Board of Health, 1936), 62-63 (emphasis added); digital images, Internet Archive ( : accessed 20 Jan 2015).
Posted in Resources, Statutes | 15 Comments

One last bit of bragging

The Legal Genealogist has had an awful lot of good news here lately.

There was the inclusion in the American Bar Association Journal‘s “Blawg 100” list for the second year in a row.1

And then the popular vote win in the “Blawg 100” niche category for the second year in a row.2

And then the Utah Genealogical Association’s Silver Tray Award last Friday night.3

An awful lot of good news here lately.

To the point where, frankly, it’s a little embarrassing.

Which of course isn’t even going to slow me down from one last bit of bragging.4

GenealogyInTime Magazine, an online publication hailing from Canada, reports each year on the top 100 genealogy websites around the world. It describes its list this way:

top-100-genealogy-website-2015The annual GenealogyInTime Magazine Top 100 is the definitive list in genealogy. It profiles and ranks the best ancestral websites based on estimates of their internet traffic (as measured by Alexa, the internet traffic people). This results in a list that is objective, comprehensive and (most importantly) impartial.5

There’s a lot of discussion of the methodology and metrics used in creating the list, but GenealogyInTime Magazine notes in particular that:

• The popularity of a website is measured by Alexa along three dimensions: how many people visit a website, how much time is spent at the website and how much content is consumed. It is not based solely on how many people go to a particular website. The time spent on a website and the amount of content that is consumed are also important factors.

• The exact definition of a genealogy website is a surprisingly difficult question. We look at a variety of metrics. The key factor for us is that a website must be primarily oriented towards genealogy and genealogy research. Consequently, you won’t find many national archive websites on the list because these types of websites tend to attract a significant number of visitors unrelated to genealogy.6

The top websites won’t come as a surprise to anyone:,, Find A Grave, and the like can always be expected to lead the pack.

It was terrific to see that two DNA-related websites are also among the top websites: Family Tree DNA and GEDMatch came in at number 14 and number 31, respectively.

And a grand total of six genealogy-related blogs made the list, three from the United States and one each from Australia, Canada and Ireland:

Number 28: My dear friend and prolific writer Dick Eastman with his now-19-year-old Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter.

Number 87: Australia’s Gould Genealogy — “Genealogy and history news and product announcements for Australians”.

Number 89: Thomas MacEntee’s Geneabloggers, “The ultimate site for your genealogy blog.”

Number 97: from John D. Reid, Canada’s Anglo-Celtic Connections, “an independent view of family history resources and developments seen from an Ottawa perspective.”

Number 99: Claire Santry’s Irish Genealogy News.

Let’s see here… one… two… three… four… five…

Hmmmmm… who did I forget?

Oh, yeah.

The second highest-ranked blog, coming in at number 86. Now three years old (officially, as of 1 January), The Legal Genealogist.


  1. Judy G. Russell, “The favor of your vote,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 15 Dec 2014 ( : accessed 19 Jan 2015).
  2. Ibid., “Two years in a row!,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 8 Jan 2015.
  3. Ibid., “The mentors,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 17 Jan 2015.
  4. Promise. We’ll get back to the law and genealogy real soon. Unless of course some other unexpected and really cool honor comes my way. Just sayin’ …
  5. “Top 100 Genealogy Websites of 2015,” GenealogyInTime Magazine ( : accessed 19 Jan 2015).
  6. Ibid.
Posted in General | 26 Comments

You snooze, you lose

It’s that time of year again. Time to set the alarm, warm up the mouse hand and get ready. Because if you don’t move fast at a designated time tomorrow, the 20th of January, you’re going to lose out on one of the best educational opportunities genealogy has to offer.

It’s time for registration for the 2015 Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR) at Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama, June 7-12 this year.

I don’t know anyone who’s ever been to IGHR who hasn’t come away thinking it was a wonderful experience. I’ve had the great good fortune to have completed the courses in Advanced Methodology and Evidence Analysis; Writing and Publishing for Genealogists; Researching African-American Ancestors; and Research in the South last year.

I’ll be back at Samford this summer, both learning and teaching (I’m the coordinator for the newly revised Advanced Methodology and Evidence Analysis course). And I hope to see a lot of friends — old and new — during the week.

But I’ll see you there only if you get up early tomorrow and get ready to register.

All IGHR class sizes are limited and REGISTRATION FILLS UP FAST. If you want to go, be prepared to start trying to register right when registration for the class you want opens and to keep trying. Note that Advanced Methodology and Evidence Analysis has prerequisites and all students will be housed off-campus this year.

Here are the registration times:

Opening at 8 a.m. PST, 9 a.m. MST, 10 a.m. CST, 11 a.m. EST:

Course 3: Advanced Methodology & Evidence Analysis
Course 9: Genealogy as a Profession

Opening at 8:30 a.m. PST, 9:30 a.m. MST, 10:30 a.m. CST, 11:30 a.m. EST:

Course 4: Writing & Publishing for Genealogists
Course 6: The Five Civilized Tribes: The Records & Where to Find Them

Opening at 9 a.m. PST, 10 a.m. MST, 11 a.m. CST, noon EST:

Course 8: Research in the South: The Colonies of the South
Course 10: Virginia’s Land & Military Conflicts

Opening at 9:30 a.m. PST, 10:30 a.m. MST, 11:30 a.m. CST, 12:30 p.m. EST:

Course 2: Intermediate Genealogy & Historical Studies
Course 7: Land Records: Using Maps

Opening at 10:00 a.m. PST, 11:00 a.m. MST, noon CST, 1:00 p.m. EST:

Course 1: Methods and Sources
Course 5: Military Records II

The IGHR 101 page has been updated with brand-new video guides on how to register as well as how to submit a course wait list request. There’s a downloadable guide to registration available online so you can understand the process in advance and be ready to go. Fill out the info ahead of time and then copy/paste into the appropriate fields as you go through the registration process.

Much more info is available online at the IGHR website generally, through a special IGHR 101 page, and there’s an online guide What is IGHR? there as well.

So don’t sleep in tomorrow morning. Hope to see you in Birmingham in June!

Posted in General | Leave a comment