Federal rulemaking

So yesterday The Legal Genealogist mentioned some of the major resources for federal legal research that genealogists might need to know.

ecfrLittle minor details, y’know, like the Constitution and the statutes.1

And, almost immediately, reader Dick Belz lamented that some sources weren;t mentioned.

“Only one tiny problem,” he wrote; “all those pesky things in the Code of Federal Regulations (have you checked the IRS regs lately?), to say nothing of the incipient stuff constantly showing up in the Federal Register.”

What Dick is talking about is federal rulemaking.

Think of it this way:

• When the legislature does something, it’s a statute.

• When an administrative agency does it, it’s a rule.

Now you might not think that rulemaking is anything that genealogists need to be concerned about.

And you’d be wrong.

In fact, we spent more than an hour in the Civilly Uncommon: Advanced Legal Analysis for Genealogists class at Boston University yesterday talking about just why genealogists might be concerned about what administrative agencies do — and have done.

First off, when administrative agencies make decisions, applying their rules to specific factual situations, they may very well create records that are resources we may want to use in our research.

Think, for example, of the administrative decisions by the Department of the Interior on appealed pension and bounty land claims. These were cases originally decided by the U.S. Pension Office, largely but not entirely out of applications from Civil War soldiers and their families, and then appealed within the administrative system of government.

Before they ever got to the courts — often where there was no way to get the case into the courts — there would be an internal appeal system and the creation of records. You can find some of these collected and published in volumes that have been digitized and put online at, for example, Google Books.2

Secondly, we all know only too well that the administrative decisions of agencies on whether a document can or can’t be disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)3 or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)4 can immediately impact our research — and not in a good way.

So we need to know what the rules are today, and that’s where the sources Dick is mentioning come into play.

The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) is the official compiled version of the end result of all that federal agency rulemaking. All the rules the agencies adopt are collected, organized by subject matter and published in a multi-volume set of books.5

The Federal Register (FR) is the official journal of the federal government that, on a daily basis, publishes “rules, proposed rules, and notices of Federal agencies and organizations, as well as executive orders and other presidential documents.”6

But most of us don’t have the CFR or the Federal Register in our personal libraries.7

Often, we can’t even access a library that has those resources.

And even if we have access to such a library, we rarely have access at 3 a.m. In our jammies. And bunny slippers.

We need a better easier alternative to know what the rules say today.

Try this: the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations (e-CFR).

As explained by the Government Printing Office,

The Electronic Code of Federal Regulations (e-CFR) is a currently updated version of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). It is not an official legal edition of the CFR. The e-CFR is an editorial compilation of CFR material and Federal Register amendments produced by the National Archives and Records Administration’s Office of the Federal Register (OFR) and the Government Printing Office. The OFR updates the material in the e-CFR on a daily basis.8

So the electronic version has some limits. There are things it includes that may never take effect (some proposed rules) and other things that are in effect that it doesn’t include (some short-term rules and some interpretations).

But it’s pretty good overall, and it’s readily searchable (with plain terms and with Boolean search connectors) and browsable.

Playing by the rules has never been easier.


  1. Judy G. Russell, “Reprise: Federal law primer,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 29 July 2014 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 29 July 2014).
  2. See e.g. Hall and Bixler, editors, Decisions of the Department of the Interior in Appealed Pension and Retirement Claims, vol. 7 (Washington, D.C. : Government Printing Office, 1896); digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 29 July 2014).
  3. 5 U.S.C. §552.
  4. 110 Stat. 1936 (1996).
  5. See U.S. Government Printing Office, “Code of Federal Regulations (Annual Edition),” FDsys (http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys : accessed 29 July 2014).
  6. See U.S. Government Printing Office, “Federal Register,” FDsys (http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys : accessed 29 July 2014).
  7. If you do have these, in the print version, you’re richer than Croesus and should adopt me.
  8. U.S. Government Printing Office, “Electronic Code of Federal Regulations,” FDsys (http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys : accessed 29 July 2014).
Posted in Primary Law, Resources | 6 Comments

What the law was and is: federal

(Note: Updated from an earlier version of this post that originally ran in June 2012.)

Statutes at Large

One thing The Legal Genealogist preaches (to the point where some people are tired of it for pete’s sake already yet) is this:

We need to understand the law at the time and in the place where our ancestors lived in order to understand why they did what they did.

Cataloging state legal sources is a daunting task, given the wide variety of charters, constitutions, statutes and more that governed our ancestors’ lives in the territories and states of the United States.

The feds, on the other hand, are a whole lot easier.

We had one set of Articles of Confederation and we’ve had only one Constitution that took the place of those Articles. And we’ve had one set of federal laws.

All of these are really easy to get to online in easily downloadable and/or searchable formats. (That’s my way of saying: no excuses, now!)

The Articles of Confederation

The First Continental Congress wasn’t really a lawmaking body and it didn’t set out to govern as a Congress at all. It was a meeting of representatives of 12 colonies (Georgia stayed home) that basically agreed to do two things: announce the colonists’ grievances to the King and the rest of the world; and meet again if the grievances weren’t redressed.1 And we all know how well King George III redressed those grievances.

So along came the Second Continental Congress which began meeting in Philadelphia in May 1775. Even that body didn’t get around to the question of governing documents until the representatives of the soon-to-be-openly-rebellious colonies met in Philadelphia in the summer of 1776.2

At that point, they knew they had two tasks ahead of them. Yes, they were there to draft a Declaration of Independence. But they also needed rules of the road. So the day after the Second Continental Congress appointed the committee to draft the Declaration, it also appointed a committee to draft some document to bring union to the soon-to-be-states.3 The Continental Congress approved the document in November 1777, and it wasn’t finally approved by the states until March of 1781.4

The Articles of Confederation were an abysmal failure.5 Only six years later, in 1787, Congress called for a “Convention of delegates who shall have been appointed by the several States (to) be held at Philadelphia for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation.”6

But for whatever they’re worth, they’re easy to find, search, read and understand online:

     • The first draft of the Articles of Confederation as presented to the Continental Congress on July 12, 1776 is online at the Library of Congress website.

     • The final version of the Articles of Confederation as adopted is online at Yale Law School’s Avalon Project, along with a 1775 draft by Benjamin Franklin, a 1776 draft by John Dickinson, and a discussion of the Articles in Jefferson’s autobiography.

The Constitution

We’ve only had one, produced on 17 September 1787 with unanimous assent from the Constitutional Convention.7 It took effect with the seating of the first Congress on 4 March 1789.8

And there are many places online where the Constitution and all of its amendments can be found. Some of the best are:

     • The U.S. Constitution at Cornell University Law School’s Legal Information Institute.

     • The Constitution of the United States, with the Bill of Rights and all of the other amendments, from the National Archives.

     • The U.S. Constitution at Findlaw.com.

     • U.S. Constitution Online from USConstitution.net in numerous alternative formats to be read online or off. (You can even buy a pamphlet copy to carry around with you!)

Federal Statutes

Every single law that’d ever been passed since the Constitution took effect on 4 March 1789 was gathered up by direction of Congress in 1845 and published in a set of volumes called the Statutes at Large.9 The Statutes to 1845 were published first in numbered volumes, and then the laws continued to be published thereafter under contract by a private firm until 1874, when the Government Printing Office took over the task.10 So Volumes 1-17 were published by Little, Brown & Co. of Boston; all the subsequent volumes — now numbering more than 120 — were published by the Government Printing Office.

As of 1874, the Secretary of State was charged with the responsibility for seeing that the Statutes at Large were printed.11 In 1950, that duty was transferred to the Administrator of General Services,12 and, in 1984, to the Archivist of the United States.13

And the law stipulates that those published volumes are all anybody ever needs to know in terms of what the federal statutory law is or was at any given time: “The United States Statutes at Large shall be legal evidence of laws, concurrent resolutions, treaties, international agreements other than treaties, proclamations by the President, and proposed or ratified amendments to the Constitution of the United States therein contained, in all the courts of the United States, the several States, and the Territories and insular possessions of the United States.”14

There are two free government online sources for some of the Statutes at Large — the earliest and the most recent.

     • Volume 1 (1st-5th Congresses, 1789-1799) through Volume 18 (43rd Congress, 1873-1875) are available in both HTML and digital image formats at the website of the American Memory Project of the Library of Congress, at the section for “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates.” Use the direct link to the Statutes at Large and either browse or search the collection.

     • Volume 65 (82nd Congress, 1st Session, 1951) through Volume 125 (112th Congress, 1st Session, 2011) have been digitized by the Library of Congress and Government Printing Office and are available in PDF format from the Government Printing Office (GPO)at this GPO Federal Digital System link.

Additionally, all of the public Statutes at Large from Volume 1 through Volume 127 (113th Congress, 1st Session, 2013) are available online as free, fully-searchable PDF downloads from the website Constitution.org. (Note that private laws are not included in these downloadable files after about volume 25 or so.) Use the direct link to the website’s Complete Collection of United States Statutes at Large and download any PDF file.

There you have it: for the feds, all the law you need, what it was at what time and in this place.


  1. First Continental Congress,” USHistory.org (http://www.ushistory.org : accessed 27 Jun 2012).
  2. Second Continental Congress,” USHistory.org (http://www.ushistory.org : accessed 27 Jun 2012).
  3. Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “Articles of Confederation,” rev. 12 Jun 2012.
  4. Primary Documents in American History: The Articles of Confederation,” Library of Congress (http://www.loc.gov : accessed 27 Jun 2012).
  5. Israel Ward Andrews, Manual of the Constitution of the United States (New York : American Book Co., 1900), 36-38; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 24 May 2012).
  6. Library of Congress, Journals of the Continental Congress, 34 vols. (Washington, D.C. : U.S. Govt. Printing Office, 1904-1937), 32: 74; digital images, Library of Congress, A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 – 1875 (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/ : accessed 24 May 2012).
  7. Max Farrand, The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, 3 vols. (New Haven : Yale University Press, 1911), 3: 20-27; digital images, Library of Congress, A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 – 1875 (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/ : accessed 24 May 2012).
  8. See Resolution, 13 Sep 1788, Journals of the Continental Congress, 34: 522-523.
  9. See Resolution 10, 5 Stat. 798 (3 Mar 1845).
  10. See “Statutes at Large,” Library of Congress, A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 – 1875 (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/ : accessed 24 May 2012).
  11. See 28 Stat. 114 (1874); 61 Stat. 636 (1947).
  12. See 64 Stat. 979 (1950)
  13. See 98 Stat. 2291 (1984).
  14. 1 U.S.C. 112, as amended.
Posted in Primary Law, Statutes | 4 Comments

Of oldest and youngest sons

(Note: This post originally ran in July 2012, but the issue arose again last week at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh, so it bears repeating…)

Okay, The Legal Genealogist has a confession to make.

I have been unspeakably selfish.

Back in May, I was walking around the exhibit hall at the National Genealogical Society conference when my good friend Barbara Grempler of Archives CD Books USA stopped me to say she had a CD for me — one, she said, that a legal geek like me would love.

And oh boy was she right… and oh boy have I been holding back. It isn’t that I don’t want to share, mind you, it’s just that… well… some of this stuff is just too much fun.

The Complete English Lawyer

The CD — available here — is of a book by John Gifford, Esq. The short title is The Complete English Lawyer; Or, Every Man his own Lawyer : Containing a Summary of the Constitution of England; Its Laws and Statutes.1 It’s the fourth edition, published in 1820, and … well… have I mentioned yet that some of this stuff is just too much fun?

Let me give you just one example. In the introduction, Gifford notes that “part of the unwritten, or common law of England, are particular customs, or laws which affect only the inhabitants of particular districts.”2 And for this he cites two examples that, quite frankly, took me a bit by surprise. One was the custom of gavelkind and the other the custom of borough-english.

Yeah, right. You’re sitting there thinking they didn’t teach that in your genealogy courses. Well, they didn’t teach that in my law school classes either.

Here’s the deal. We all know that when one of our landowner ancestors died in England and didn’t leave a will, all of his lands went to his oldest son under the rule of primogeniture.3 That was the law following the Norman conquest,4 and the oldest son couldn’t even be disinherited by will until the Statute of Wills in 1540.5

The rule of primogeniture crossed the Atlantic with English common law, and that’s why you’ll see some early wills in colonial America that don’t mention land and don’t mention an oldest son: unless the will specifically said otherwise, land went to the oldest son, period.

Primogeniture was relatively short-lived in America — the first state to abolish it was Georgia, in its constitution of 17776 — but it remained the law in England until repealed in 1925.7

But it was never the law everywhere, even in England. Enter, stage left, gavelkind and, stage right, borough-english.

Gavelkind was the particular custom throughout the County of Kent by which lands descended to all of the sons in equal measure.8 It also existed in small areas of Nottinghamshire, Norfolk, Leicestershire, Monmouthshire, Archenfeld, and Kentish Town near Highgate.9

There were even some areas where the particular custom was for land to descend equally to all sons and daughters.10

So pervasive was the custom in Kent that it wasn’t necessary to prove that lands there were subject to partition among all the sons; it was only necessary to prove the contrary — that particular lands were not subject to being divided equally.11

Borough-english was a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. Under that rule, Gifford said, “the custom prevails in divers ancient boroughs, … that the youngest son shall inherit the estate in preference to all his elder brothers.”12 As to exactly where the custom was used, sources differ but it appears to have been scattered in some English counties appearing sometimes only in individual manors.13

Now that’s fun stuff. It explains why some wills may be different from others, why some sons may be named and some not, and why some lands were divided and some not.

But there’s something even more fun about Gifford’s account of borough-english. In a footnote, he explained his understanding of how this particular custom came to be: “The reason of this is said to be, that, during the feudal times, the lord claimed the privilege of sleeping the first night with his vassal’s bride; so that the lands descended to the youngest, from the supposed illegitimacy of the eldest.”14

Now with my penchant for the unusual, you’ll understand when I say I regret to report it’s probably not true. Other sources suggest the youngest son was preferred either because he’d be the one least able to care for himself or because he’d be the one most likely to remain at home to look after the household after older siblings had migrated.15

But you see what I mean, right? This is too much fun


  1. John Gifford, Esq., The Complete English Lawyer; Or, Every Man his own Lawyer : Containing a Summary of the Constitution of England; Its Laws and Statutes, 4th ed. (London : A. Whellier, 1820); CD-ROM reprint (Columbia, Md. : Archives CD Books USA, 2002). And really, that is the short form of the title. Take a look at the image of the title page if you don’t believe me!
  2. Ibid., “Introduction. Of the Laws of England,” 6.
  3. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 937, “primogeniture” (“The superior or exclusive right possessed by the eldest son, and particularly, his right to succeed to the estate of his ancestor, in right of his seniority by birth, to the exclusion of younger sons”).
  4. Sir Robert Harry Inglis Palgrave, Dictionary of Political Economy, vol. 3 (London : MacMillan & Co., 1901), 202; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 5 Jul 2012).
  5. Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “Statute of Wills,” rev. 14 Mar 2012.
  6. Article LI (“when a person dies intestate, his or her estate shall be divided equally among their children”), “Georgia Constitution of 1777,” GeorgiaInfo (http://georgiainfo.galileo.usg.edu/ : accessed 5 Jul 2012).
  7. Administration of Estates Act 1925,” UK Legislation (http://www.legislation.gov.uk : accessed 5 Jul 2012.
  8. Gifford, The Complete English Lawyer, 6. See also Black, A Dictionary of Law, 533, “gavelkind.”
  9. Charles I. Elton and Herbert J. H. Mackay, editors, Robinson on Gavelkind: the Common Law of Kent: Or, The Customs of Gavelkind, 5th ed. (London : Butterworth & Co., 1897), 32-36; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 5 Jul 2012).
  10. Ibid., 36-37.
  11. Ibid., 39.
  12. Gifford, The Complete English Lawyer, 6. See also Black, A Dictionary of Law, 148, “borough english.”
  13. See Elton and Mackay, eds., “Of Borough-English,” Robinson on Gavelkind: the Common Law of Kent, 238-243.
  14. Gifford, The Complete English Lawyer, 6 note *.
  15. Elton and Mackay, eds., “Of Borough-English,” Robinson on Gavelkind: the Common Law of Kent, 232-234.
Posted in Legal definitions | 6 Comments

Jealous no more!

Did you sit there this past week, turning green at the posts from students in the DNA class at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh?

I4GGDid you try to get into one of the DNA courses at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy in January, only to get nosed out by someone else who grabbed the seat?

Without a doubt, DNA has gone mainstream in genealogy. It’s at the point where, in many cases, we simply can’t meet the first requirement of the Genealogical Proof Standard — the requirement that we conduct a reasonably exhaustive search of all resources that might produce the answer to a research question — without it.

But understanding DNA well enough to use it properly? Understanding when it can — and when it can’t — produce that answer we’re looking for? For that, we need to learn.

And how do we learn that when every institute class offered in genetic genealogy fills up in minutes?

Well… there are options. And there’s one option coming up soon that still has seats available if you act fast. So you don’t have to be jealous of everyone else who’s taking advantage of opportunities to learn about genetic genealogy — how to use DNA as part of our family history research.

It’s the inaugural 2014 International Genetic Genealogy Conference sponsored by Institute for Genetic Genealogy, and it’ll be held 15-17 August at the National 4-H Youth Conference Center in Washington, D.C.

The speakers include many of the most knowledgeable genetic genealogists and population geneticists from around the world. Dr. Spencer Wells, director of the National Geographic Society’s Genographic Project is the keynote speaker, and the program overall is terrific.

On Friday, August 15, after morning registration, you’ll be able to get in-depth explanations of the test offerings of the three major players in genetic genealogy testing: AncestryDNA from 1:15-3:15 p.m.; 23andMe from 3:30-5:30 p.m.; and Family Tree DNA starting at 7 p.m. (after dinner).

Sessions on Saturday, August 16, include Dr. Wells’ keynote, and presentations on YDNA, mitochondrial DNA, surname projects, African-American ancestry, using the X chromosome and using third-party tools to understand autosomal results — just to list some of the talks.

Sunday, August 17, offers sessions on Native American DNA, using DNA in adoption research, chromosome mapping, phasing, triangulation, case studies and even somebody who writes as The Legal Genealogist, talking about After the Courthouse Burns: Lighting Research Fires with DNA.

In-depth, hands-on, a wide variety of speakers and many opportunities to share.

All in one place, at one time, in just three weeks. And for a registration fee of only $85 for the entire conference.

You can get more information at the I4GG website: the conference schedule, a link to register, directions and more.

No need to be jealous of everyone who’s learning about DNA any more.

Come on out and join in the fun.

Posted in DNA | 2 Comments

Welcome to baby Beatrix!

Pour me a drink, my head is spinning!
I got to celebrate — a girl!
Somebody weave a chain of daisies;
You’ve got to decorate a pearl.
Tie her a bow of scarlet ribbons.
We’ve got to crown a tiny curl.
Pick out a tender tune for singing;
I got to welcome me a girl!

– “It’s a Boy!,” Shenandoah1

There is very little in this world that begins to compare to the joy of adding an entry to a genealogy database for a new twig on the family tree.

Trixie1Thursday afternoon, Pacific Daylight Time, baby Beatrix decided to grace us with her presence and, this morning, in the nanosecond I have free between arriving home from the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh and leaving for a course at Boston University,2 I had the pleasure of entering her particulars.3

Born 24 July 2014.

Eight pounds, 5 ounces.

Daughter of my nephew and niece-of-the-heart Ian and Lindsay in Oregon, where I will be speaking in October and will have the joy of visiting with this new baby grand niece.

Welcomed by older sister Isadora (known as Isadorable to her doting great aunt).

And welcomed as well by legions of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins of all degrees.

There is no question whatsoever that she is the most beautiful baby on the face of the earth at this moment:


And there is no question whatsoever that her parents are doomed.

You see, we have such a history in our family…

And I can’t help but think of that history… and think of this little girl…

The fact is, she is the second child. Her older sister, called Izzy, is now just a little more than two years old.

The first child, in our experience, is the Good Child. The scholar. The caretaker. The one, for example, like this baby’s father.

Ian was my sister Kacy’s first-born. About the only trouble he ever gave her was the colic he experienced as an infant. Orderly. Intellectual. Well-behaved.

And then there’s the second-born.

Now I’m not going to tell tales out of school on my niece — she deserves a chance to tell the story of climbing out the window at 1 a.m. from her perspective, not that of her “just where do you think you’re going?” parents.

But it may tell you something when I note that I am my mother’s second child.

My older sister Diana and I shared a room from the time I came into her two-year-old life and disrupted its order and calm.

You could eat off the floor on Diana’s side of the room.

You couldn’t see the floor on my side of the room.

Diana was the one who babysat the younger kids during summers at my grandparents’ farm.

I was the one 50 feet off the ground in the crook of a tree branch pitching acorns down and making the younger kids cry.

Now I don’t want to suggest that Diana was always well-behaved. There was the time, just as one example, that she played hooky from elementary school. Playing in the field behind the new junior high school until the bells said it was lunch-time. Getting caught because the bells were the warning bells (lunch time in 15 minutes) and not the dismissal bells.

Need I mention whose idea it was to play hooky that day?

Or who said, “Listen! The bells! We can go home for lunch now”?

I can’t wait to see what Trixie gets up to.

I may have some suggestions… as one second child to another…


  1. Shenandoah, the Musical; music by Gary Geld, lyrics by Peter Udell. And no, I didn’t make a mistake; the name of the song really is “It’s a Boy!”
  2. The course description is here.
  3. And yes, I did carefully craft the citation!
Posted in My family | 12 Comments

Missouri’s manslaughter law

So… did you watch Who Do You Think You Are? last night?

The Legal Genealogist did.

MissouriIn a room with most of the 200 genealogists attending the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh.

Where else is a place going to break into cheers when a murder is mentioned? (Records. All those wonderful juicy records.)

And where else will people be yelling that if she’d just read the whole pension file, she’d have found out much more…?

And where else will students in the inaugural session of Law School for Genealogists immediately think to themselves, while they were watching the program, that they needed to “examine the statutes to figure out what constituted ‘manslaughter’ in 1843 Missouri”?1

Because, after all, we can’t possibly begin to decide if Martha Casto was justly convicted of manslaughter or not unless we know just what the elements of the crime were.

So… Could you find the definition of manslaughter in Missouri law in 1843?

Here are some hints.

Missouri’s statutes were revised and codified at least twice around the time of Martha Casto’s murder indictment in 1843:

• They were digested by the Eighth General Assembly in 1834-35 and the Revised Statutes produced by that effort were printed at the Argus Office in St. Louis in 1835.2

• They were also revised and digested by the Thirteenth General Assembly in 1844-45 and the Revised Statutes produced by that effort were printed for the State by J.W. Dougherty in St. Louis in 1845.3

So if you find both of those, and you find the definition of first degree manslaughter there, I have two questions for you:

1. What was the definition of first degree manslaughter in 1843, when Martha Casto was convicted of that crime?

2. Do you think she was guilty of first degree manslaughter?


  1. Cari Taplin, status update, 23 July 2014, Facebook (http://www.facebook.com : accessed 24 July 2014).
  2. Revised Statutes of the State of Missouri (St. Louis : Missouri General Assembly, 1835). And no, I’m not going to tell you exactly where you can find this online. Do your homework, class.
  3. The Revised Statutes of the State of Missouri (St. Louis : Missouri General Assembly, 1845). And no, I’m not going to tell you exactly where you can find this online, either.
Posted in Court Cases, Legal definitions, Statutes | 5 Comments

Worldwide Indexing Day a success!

So the goal was to have 50,000 people indexing and arbitrating index entries over a 24-hour period. That would set a new record… not to mention getting one whale of a lot of new index entries so name searches would turn up results on FamilySearch.

And … oh my … it didn’t start well.

The site was overloaded.

Folks couldn’t log in.

Batches wouldn’t download.

Some people tried and tried for hours and didn’t manage to connect.

It definitely Did Not Look Good.

And despite all that… this graphic says it all:


We did it.

Posted in General | 2 Comments

Reminder: it’s pool day!

Today is the day.

There are only a few hours left.

WorldwideEventPosterThe Worldwide Indexing Event at FamilySearch is underway.

You can read all about it here at The Legal Genealogist, but don’t just read about it — join in the fun!

The event continues today until:

• 9:00 p.m. Atlantic Daylight Time
• 7:59:59 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time
• 6:59:59 p.m. Central Daylight Time
• 5:59:59 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time
• 4:59:59 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time
• 3:59:59 p.m. Alaska Daylight Time
• 1:59:59 p.m. Hawaii Daylight Time

There’s plenty of help available if you haven’t done indexing before — and it doesn’t take long. You can learn and still do a whole batch before the deadline to be counted.

Come on into the indexing pool.

The water’s fine!

Posted in General | 6 Comments

Talk to me, please!

Dear DNA cousins,

You know who you are.

johnny_automatic_girl_prayingYou’re the ones who’ve recently tested with 23andMe. Your results have only just come in within the last little while.

One of you is projected to be The Legal Genealogist‘s second cousin. I know you’re female, and your mitochondrial haplogroup is J1c8.

I first saw you as my match in April and, except for my genealogy buddy and first cousin Paula and my nephew, you were my closest match ever on 23andMe. So I immediately sent you an invitation to share information:

Hi! Just logged in to 23andMe tonight and see that we’re projected to be perhaps as close as second cousins! I’d love to share information and see if we can identify our common ancestors. My father was a German immigrant, my mother’s family entirely from the US south (she was born in Texas). Hope to hear from you soon!1

And I haven’t heard from you.

That was really disappointing.

Then just this past week I logged in to 23andMe and there was another match appearing for the first time in my results. This time, the system projects you — my new cousin-match — to be potentially as close as a first cousin. I know you’re also female, and your mitochondrial haplogroup is I1a1.

Once again, except for my known first cousin and my nephew, you’re now my closest DNA match at 23andMe, and I shot you off a sharing request too:

Hello, there! 23andMe is showing us as very close relatives — maybe as close as first cousins! So… since I don’t know of any first cousins who’ve decided to test, I’d love to chat and compare notes. My direct email is (removed here to keep the spammers away).2

And I haven’t heard from you either.

Now I realize that there are a lot of reasons why a match might not leap onto the keyboard to respond instantly, and five days in your case, my new potential first cousin, isn’t very long. And I’m trying very hard to be patient.

But I’m not succeeding very well.

In my world, five days is practically forever. Remember the poster of the two vultures sitting on the branch and one of them says to the other, “Patience, my ass! I’m gonna kill something!”?

That’s me.

The graphic you see here? The prayer for patience that ends with “And I want it right now!”?

That’s me.

My curiosity about both of these cousins is about to kill me.

So tell me, cousins of mine… what’s up with the no response?

And is there anything I can do about it?


I wonder what else I need to put into my contact request at 23andMe to convince you that (a) I may be a little odd3 and certainly a bit driven4 but (b) I’m really harmless and getting in touch will not be a bad thing. More information? And, if so, what kind of information?

Do you need to know more about the background I think we might share?

Do you need to know more about me?

Do you need some sort of assurance about what I might do with anything you tell me?

What can I do to help facilitate a conversation?

Perhaps you’re that cousin from out west that I never met because of her parents’ divorce. If that’s the case, I can understand you might want to be cautious about sharing information that might seem disloyal to the parent you were raised by. I can work with you on that, and honor your concerns.

Perhaps you’re an adoptee. Perhaps you knew that, or perhaps you always suspected that the folks who raised you weren’t your biological parents. If that’s the case, I can help you find out more about your biological family… and I will honor any conditions you put on sharing information.

Perhaps you’re a first cousin once removed and you’re just discovering your connection to this wild and wacky family that you’re a part of. If that’s the case, we’re all standing by to welcome you with open arms.

What do you need to hear from me? What can I tell you that will help to bridge the gap between “this is cool” and “this is creepy”?

What else can I say in my sharing invitation that can help ease your concerns and your fears?

Tell me, please.

Because my curiosity is eating me alive.


– Your Cousin


Image: Adapted from Johnny Automatic via OpenClipArt.org

  1. Judy G. Russell to projected 2nd cousin, 23andMe internal mail system, sent 15 April 2014.
  2. Judy G. Russell to projected 1st cousin, 23andMe internal mail system, sent 15 July 2014.
  3. Okay, maybe even a lot odd.
  4. Ibid.
Posted in DNA | 61 Comments

What’s in a name, anyway?

You can’t help but feel sorry for those in The Legal Genealogist‘s family who take up the reins a couple of generations from now.

I’d hate to be there while they try to figure out the naming conventions in my family.

MaxStart with the fact that my mother’s family is solidly southern.

That means that my aunt Cladyne was really Eula Cladyne, and my cousin Bobette was Michaela Bobette, that her sister Betsy is Monte Beth, that their sister Kay is Mary Kay, and that nobody is entirely sure whether my Uncle David was born as Fred David or David Fred. You get the picture.

And then there are those closer to home.

Including Max, who is celebrating his birthday today.

Max is my nephew, second child and second son of my brother Paul.

He is one-half of the reason why I am so excited and so honored to have been chosen as special lead presenter on the 11th Unlock the Past Cruise, scheduled for 14 February – 3 March 2016.

Because that cruise is from Auckland, New Zealand, to Fremantle, Western Australia. And Max and his older brother were born in Australia.

When we at home in the United States learned that the first-born had made his appearance, but hadn’t been named yet, the phone calls and even telegrams shot off to the destination Down Under.

We suggested all kinds of names that we thought sounded good with the family name … and some that had family history attached.

When we got the official naming news, we couldn’t quite figure out the genesis of that boy’s name: Rudolf. Rudi, for short. Nothing in our German family to account for that choice, and nothing in my sister-in-law’s Russian family.

Then along came son number two. (I did mention it’s his birthday today, right?) And his name: Max.

That’s when I started to suspect it.

And when the third son was born and we found out his name, I was sure of it. The third son is Stefan.

Because, you see, the deal was that my brother got to name the boys, and my sister-in-law got to name the girls, which ended up with Paul choosing three names and Nadine one.

And the only possible explanation for those three male names — Rudolf, Max and then Stefan — is that my brother thinks we descend from the Hapsburgs.

Nadine, of course, had no such pretensions when she named the girl.

Which, of course, leads to yet another story.

I remember vividly getting the call announcing the birth of their only daughter. My brother excitedly told me her name, and I wasn’t sure I heard it right.

“Kara?” I asked. “K-A-R-A?”

“No, Tara,” he replied. “T-A-R-A.”

“Oh,” I answered. “Tara! Sherman marching to the sea! Atlanta burning in the background! ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!’”

There was total silence on the phone, before he finally responded.


My brother had never read or seen Gone With The Wind.

I explained the references, and the fact that his daughter was about to share a name with a fictional Southern plantation.

He said he’d call me back.

I’m sure the Hapsburg prince who is celebrating his birthday today will get a celebratory phone call from his sister.

Who actually ended up being named Katya.

Have I mentioned lately that I love my family?

Happy birthday, Prince Max…

Posted in My family | 8 Comments