And furthermore…

So yesterday, in the course of reviewing the DNA evidence that disproves persistent family lore of Native American ancestry, The Legal Genealogist whined about the fact that so many cousins want to turn third great grandfather Elijah Gentry into Jacob Elijah Gentry.

mid.namesWhy Jacob?

I have no idea.

But there were, as of yesterday, 201 family trees on — 167 public and 34 private trees — that listed Elijah Gentry of Mississippi as Jacob Elijah Gentry.

Even more infuriating is that Ancestry itself has “compiled” those trees in its new “Life Story” feature to seemingly confirm that he really was Jacob Elijah Gentry.

They’re all wrong. Wrong about his name, wrong about his wife’s Native American ancestry — wrong, wrong, wrong.1

And, just for the record, my fourth great grandfather — Revolutionary War soldier David Baker of Culpeper County, Virginia, and Burke (later Yancey) County, North Carolina — was just David Baker.

Not David Hollis Baker, as some 580 family trees on — 454 public and 126 private trees — all seem to report, and as that blasted “Life Story” feature appears to confirm.

He was David Baker in his Revolutionary War service records.2 David Baker in his multiple land entries in Burke County, North Carolina, starting in 1778.3 David Baker in the United States census as early as 1790.4 David Baker when he took the oath of office as a Justice of the Peace in Burke County, North Carolina, in 1797.5 David Baker in the tax list of 1803.6 David Baker in his Revolutionary War pension application.7 David Baker when he signed his last will and testament in 1838.8

Always David Baker.

Never David Hollis Baker.

Except… sigh… in 580 family trees on, which is compiling all those wrong trees into a wrong “Life Story.”

Folks… stop it.

Stop all this middling along.

The reality is that middle names were rare in America before the 19th century.

As Robert W. Baird reports in “The Use of Middle Names”:

Prior to 1660, the Virginia Settlers Research Project found “only 5 persons out of over 33,000 had genuine middle names.” Not one person born by 1715 in St Peter’s parish of New Kent County sported a middle name. Surry County’s records, which are unusually complete for the latter part of the 17th century, record only one person who used a middle name. Other studies of public records confirm that seventeenth-century parents gave their children more than one name so rarely that the practice was essentially nonexistent.

Middle names began to find favor among wealthy extended families in the late 1700s. Aristocratic families increasingly began giving their children two names, so that by the time of the Revolution a quite small but detectable proportion of southerners carried middle names, mainly those from upper class families. A study of the births and baptisms recorded in the register of Virginia’s Albemarle Parish shows that about 3% of children born between 1750 and 1775 were given middle names.

… The practice did not really catch on with the middle class until after the turn of the century, and became increasingly common within a generation or two. Although only a small percentage of children born around 1800 were given a middle name, it had become nearly customary by the time of the Civil War. By 1900 nearly every child born had a middle name.9

That conclusion — that middle names for ordinary families didn’t catch on until later — is supported by Rhonda R. McClure in “A Look at Middle Names”:

Few Americans were giving their children middle names … until the German immigrants introduced this naming custom to America.

… (I)t was not until the early 19th century that the custom caught on with others. By the 1840s, it had grown into a popular practice. According to a study of college records, in 1840 about 92 percent of the students at Princeton had middle names. This custom would continue to grow and by World War I it was assumed that everyone in America had a middle name.10

And you’ll find many other references to middle names as infrequent before the 1800s if you’ll just stop and look.11

So do us all a favor and face the facts.

Adding a middle name to an ancestor where the records don’t even hint at a middle name does us all a disservice.

So stop it.

Stop middling along.


  1. See Judy G. Russell, “No, no NA,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 23 Aug 2015 ( : accessed 24 Aug 2015).
  2. Compiled Military Service Record, David Baker, Cpl., 3rd Virginia Regiment, Revolutionary War; Compiled Service Records of Soldiers who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, microfilm publication M881, 1096 rolls (Washington, D.C. : National Archives Trust Board, 1976); digital images, ( : accessed 23 Aug 2015).
  3. See e.g. Burke County, North Carolina, Land Entry No. 227, James Baker, David Baker, Charles Baker and John Baker (1778); North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh. Also, ibid., Land Entry No. 3239, David Baker (27 Jan 1797).
  4. 1790 U.S. census, Burke County, NC, p. 91 (penned), col. 1, line 1, David Baker; digital image, ( : accessed 23 Aug 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication M637, roll 7.
  5. Burke County, North Carolina, Court of Common Pleas Minutes, 23 Jan 1797; North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
  6. Burke County, North Carolina, Tax Lists 1803-1804; North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
  7. Affidavit of Soldier, 26 September 1832; Dorothy Baker, widow’s pension application no. W.1802, for service of David Baker (Corp., Capt. Thornton’s Co., 3rd Va. Reg.); Revolutionary War Pensions and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, microfilm publication M804, 2670 rolls (Washington, D.C. : National Archives and Records Service, 1974); digital images, ( : accessed 28 Apr 2012), David Baker file, pp. 3-6.
  8. Yancey County, North Carolina, Record of Wills 1: 30, will of David Baker, 26 Jan 1838; North Carolina State Archives microfilm C.107.80001.
  9. Robert W. Baird, “The Use of Middle Names,” Bob’s Genealogy Filing Cabinet ( : accessed 23 Aug 2015).
  10. Rhonda R. McClure, “A Look at Middle Names,” Twigs & Trees, posted 18 Apr 2002, ( : accessed 23 Aug 2015).
  11. E.g., Oren Frederic Morton, A History of Rockbridge County, Virginia (Staunton, Va. : McClure Co., 1920), 339; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 23 Aug 2015).
Posted in General, Methodology | 43 Comments

Not in the mtDNA

There are, at this moment, 201 family trees on that list the man who became The Legal Genealogist‘s third great grandfather as Jacob Elijah Gentry.

Of those, 167 are public trees. And 34 private trees.

And every last one of them is wrong.

Because my third great grandfather’s name was Elijah.

Not Jacob Elijah.

No middle name. No middle initial. No Jacob.

Oh, there was a Jacob Elijah Gentry in my family line — he was a grandson of this Elijah, born some 66 years after his grandfather.1

But my third great grandfather? He served in the War of 1812 as Elijah Gentry.2 He was in the census — repeatedly — as Elijah Gentry.3 He was a circuit-riding Methodist Episcopal preacher under the name Elijah Gentry.4 He was a commissioner named by the Mississippi Legislature to establish the county seat for the newly-created Rankin County as Elijah Gentry.5

Never once, not under any circumstances — except in family trees on — did he ever appear with the name Jacob as a first or middle name.


But that isn’t anything that DNA can tell us and this, after all, is DNA Sunday.

What DNA can tell is about Elijah’s wife, my third great grandmother Wilmoth, the woman who — according to the family lore of those who’ve posted some 55 of those family trees on — was also known as White Cloud, a full-blood Catawba tribeswoman from North Carolina.

Um… no.

And DNA can help us prove that.

johnny-automatic-Native-American-girlYou see, there is a form of DNA called mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) that passes down through the female line with very few changes from generation to generation. A mother gives her mtDNA to all of her children, but only her daughters can pass it on to their children.6

Native American women have very distinctive mtDNA — with few exceptions, they fall into specific haplogroups, or branches of the maternal human family tree: haplogroups A, B, C, D and X.7 (Actually, more recent research has identified Native American mtDNA with finer gradations, coming from just some subgroups within those groups,8 but for purposes of this discussion, we can stick to the letters, without worrying about those subgroups.)

So if Wilmoth — who was from North Carolina — was, indeed, a full-blood Catawba tribeswoman (or the daughter of a full-blood tribeswoman), the odds are overwhelming that she would have had one of those very distinctive Native American haplotypes — she would have been A, B, C, D or X.

But Wilmoth is long gone, her final resting place unknown. How would we find out, today, what Wilmoth’s mtDNA haplogroup was?

All we need to do is test one of her direct descendants in an unbroken maternal line: her daughter’s daughter’s daughter’s child.

Elijah and Wilmoth had many children, among them my second great grandmother Isabella.9

Isabella had a daughter Mary Isabella,10 who married Amos Hendrix in Delta County, Texas, in 1879.11 Among their children was a daughter, Mary Manila, born in 1899.12

Mary Manila married John Roland Rudolph in Hall County, Texas, in 1918,13 and had a daughter Mary Leila.14

And Mary Leila took an mtDNA test.

Now… remember… Mary Leila’s mtDNA will be exactly the same as anyone in her direct maternal line, or near enough as to make no difference. Her haplogroup will be the same as her mother’s mother’s mother’s mother — Wilmoth. For Wilmoth to have been haplogroup A, B, C, D or X, Mary Leila’s mtDNA haplogroup would have to be haplogroup A, B, C, D or X.

And Mary Leila’s mtDNA haplogroup?


The oldest European-specific mtDNA haplogroup around.15


Not White Cloud.


No, no Native American here.


Image:, johnny-automatic

  1. See 1860 U.S. census, Neshoba County, Mississippi, Hills Bluff Post Office, population schedule, p. 153 (penned), dwelling 985, family 1019, Jacob E Gentry in J W Gentry household; digital image, ( : accessed 28 September 2002); citing National Archive microfilm publication M653, roll 588.
  2. Compiled military service record, Elijah Gentry, Pvt., Captain Samuel Dale’s Company, 1st Regiment Mississippi Territorial Volunteers; Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations, War of 1812; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1762-1984, Record Group 94; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  3. See e.g. 1850 U.S. census, Neshoba County, Mississippi, population schedule, p. 119 (stamped), dwelling 74, family 79, Elijah Gentry; digital image, ( : accessed 12 July 2002); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 378. Also, 1860 U.S. census, Neshoba Co., Miss., Hills Bluff P.O., pop. sched., p. 153 (penned), dwell. 988, fam. 1022, Elijah Gentry.
  4. See e.g. Minutes of the Annual Conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church … 1773-1828 (New York: T. Mason & G. Lane, 1840), I: 251, 261, 269, 283, 288-289, 287, 305; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 22 Aug 2015).
  5. §9, “An Act, to divide Hinds County…,” 4 Feb 1828, in Laws of Mississippi (Jackson, Mississippi: State Printer, 1838), 166; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 22 Aug 2015).
  6. ISOGG Wiki (, “Mitochondrial DNA tests,” rev. 17 Aug 2015.
  7. See generally Blaine Bettinger, “The Six Founding Native American Mothers,” The Genetic Genealogist, posted 17 Mar 2008 ( : accessed 22 Aug 2015).
  8. See generally Roberta Estes, “Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroups,” DNAeXplained, posted 18 Sep 2013 ( : accessed 22 Aug 2015).
  9. Autosomal and YDNA tests confirm substantial indirect evidence of the relationship, and link descendants of Isabella to descendants of Elijah and Wilmoth through children Elijah K. Gentry, John Wesley Gentry, William Jefferson Gentry and Nancy (Gentry) Humphries — so far. At this point, Isabella’s Gentry heritage is beyond question.
  10. See 1880 U.S. census, Delta County, Texas, Justice Precinct 3, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 20, p. 502-D (stamped), dwelling 117, family 118, Amos Hendricks (“son-in-law”) and Mary I Hendricks (“his wife”) in household of Gustavus and Isabella Robertson; digital image, ( : accessed 22 Aug 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 1300.
  11. Delta County, Texas, Marriage Book 1: 266; County Clerk’s Office, Cooper.
  12. See 1900 U.S. census, Hall County, Texas, Justice Precinct 2, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 9, p. 28-B (stamped), dwelling 214, family 214, Mary M. Hendrix, daughter, in Amos Hendrix household; digital image, ( : accessed 22 Aug 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication T623, roll 1641.
  13. Hall County, Texas, Marriage Book 2, Rudolph-Hendrix (1918); County Clerk’s Office, Memphis.
  14. See 1930 U.S. census, Hall County, Texas, Justice Precinct 2, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 96-9, sheet 3-B, dwelling 58, family 60, Leila Rudolph, daughter, in Roland Rudolph household; digital image, ( : accessed 22 Aug 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication T626, roll 2338.
  15. mtDNA Haplogroups,” ( : accessed 22 Aug 2015).
Posted in DNA | 24 Comments

Facing those deaths

One hundred and 71 years ago today, on the 22nd of August 1844, right about 11:30 in the morning, a little girl was born at home at Buntentorsteinweg 64, in the City of Bremen, Germany.

Her name was Hinnerina Sievers,1 and she was the third child — and third daughter — of The Legal Genealogist‘s third great grandparents, Carsten Hinrich Wilhelm Sievers and Metta Huthoff. Her father was a 23-year-old laborer; her mother was 24 when she was born.2

And there is so little more that we know of this child.

We know she was baptized on the 15th of September 1844, by Pastor Hanffstangel in Bremen.3

Graveyard Angel StatueAnd we know she died on 12 March 1845 — 10 days shy of being seven months old.4

The fact that that is all we know about this child is unspeakably sad, and the tale is sadder still when you look at the child mortality in this family.

Her oldest sister, the first-born child, Maria Margarethe Sievers lived only 15 days after her birth in 1841.5 Her younger brother Carsten Hinrich Wilhelm Sievers was not yet two when he died in 1848.6

But what just breaks your heart about all of these babies and their untimely deaths is one simple fact.

Civil registration was introduced in Bremen as a form of registering vital statistics in 1811.7 Births, marriages and deaths were reported to the city registrar’s office — the Standesamt — and in the case of births and deaths the person making the report was most commonly a member of the family.

When these babies were born in the Sievers family, it was their father who went to the Standesamt to report the births.

But when little Hinnerina died in 1845 — when her older sister Marie died in 1841 — when her little brother Carsten died in 1848 — each time one of the babies of this family died… it was their grandmother, their father’s mother, my fourth great grandmother Maria Margarethe (Storch) Sievers who had to perform that sad duty.

Maria Sievers was a 42-year-old widow when she traipsed down to the city registrar’s office in 1841 to report that her first-born granddaughter had died. She was shown as 48 when she made that same sad trip down in 1845 to report Hinnerina’s death. And the records list her as 50 when she went to report little Carsten’s death in 1848.

And I know those weren’t the only times she had to make that trip. She was the one who reported the 1843 death of another little Carsten Sievers, just a few months old, son of 21-year-old Hermann Sievers.8 And there may be others I haven’t found yet.

It is unimaginable to us here in the 21st century to lose so many babies in any of our families. To even lose one — as my family did earlier this year9 — is heartbreaking beyond what any words can begin to convey. As a family researcher you want to hold every one of those babies close to your heart… to make sure each and every one of them is remembered.

But it is way past unimaginable to consider Maria Margarethe (Storch) Sievers. Beyond what our minds can comprehend to even try to put ourselves in her shoes.

To think of what it was like for that woman — time after time after time — standing in front of some city official, and saying that yet another baby had died.

She was one amazingly strong woman.

And as one of her family researchers, I want to hold her close to my heart… and honor her for that strength.

I’m not sure I could have done the same.


  1. Bremen Standesamt, Zivilstandsregister, Geburten (Bremen registry office, civil status registers, births), 1811-1875, Hinnerina Sievers, Geburten 1844, Reg. Nr. 1171 (26 Aug 1844), p. 574; FHL microfilm 1344160.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Bremen Standesamt, Zivilstandsregister, Todesfälle (Bremen registry office, civil status registers, deaths), 1811-1875, Hinnerina Sievers, Todten 1845, Reg. Nr. 541 (13 Mar 1845), p. 48; FHL microfilm 1344223.
  5. See ibid., Maria Margarethe Siefers, Todten 1841, Reg. Nr. 144 (13 Feb 1841), p. 72; FHL microfilm 1344222.
  6. See ibid., Carsten Hinrich Wilhelm Sievers, Todten 1848, Reg. Nr. 95 (22 Jan 1848), p. 48; FHL microfilm 1344224.
  7. FamilySearch Research Wiki (, “Bremen Civil Registration- Vital Records,” rev. 16 Mar 2011.
  8. See Bremen Standesamt, Zivilstandsregister, Todesfälle (Bremen registry office, civil status registers, deaths), 1811-1875, Carsten Hinrich Wilhelm Sievers, Todten 1843, Reg. Nr. 96 (25 Jan 1843), p. 48; FHL microfilm 1344223.
  9. See Judy G. Russell, “Mourning Adam,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 20 June 2015 ( : accessed 22 Aug 2015).
Posted in My family | 20 Comments

Running to Syracuse

It was back in February, when the Federation of Genealogical Societies was holding its 2015 conference side-by-side with RootsTech, that Michael Hall made the decision.

MikeHallHe wanted to do something more, something different, to support the “Preserve The Pensions” campaign that has been a key project of the Federation of Genealogical Societies.

This is a massive effort, trying to digitize all of the War of 1812 pension records held by the National Archives. These records, documenting more than 180,000 pension applications for War of 1812 soldiers and their families, are among the most heavily requested documents at the National Archives and, because of their use, their age and their fragile nature, they are at serious risk. So they really need to be digitized to protect them forever.

The campaign to get them digitized carries an overall price tag that runs into the millions of dollars. And we’re just a little more than half-way there.

And oh boy is this the hard part of this, or any, fundraising campaign.

Everybody is enthusiastic at the start of a campaign, with an initial burst of “let’s do it” fervor.

And it’s possible to get people going at the end of a campaign, when the goal is in sight and the “one last push!” slogans can work.

But right in the middle… ouch. People kind of get tired of seeing the “donate now” buttons, other things come up that need and deserve our support.

So, Michael thought, how could he help bring this campaign a little further down the road?

It isn’t that he hasn’t already done a lot. Michael — who works at FamilySearch — has hand-crafted miniature War of 1812 figurines and sold them at every major conference to help raise funds for the pensions. His hand-crafted War of 1812 sailor figurines sold out at the National Genealogical Society conference this spring.

But he wanted to do something more.

So… he thought … what if he did something really different? What if he said he would run, bike or walk 1812 miles? Would anybody sponsor that?

And The Legal Genealogist couldn’t turn down that challenge. “Sure,” I said, “my readers and I will.”

So it’s now August. And, Michael reports, he’s going to hit that goal next month.

When the Federation of Genealogical Societies joins the Central New York Genealogical Society and the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society in the second annual New York State Family History Conference in Syracuse on September 17-19, 2015, Michael will run right into the history books.

By that conference, and he will be attending, he will have done it — running, biking, swimming more than 1812 miles around the world.

He’s going to cross the 1812 finish line in Syracuse, and The Legal Genealogist is going to hand over a check for $1,812 — more if you, faithful readers, contribute more by then — in honor of his commitment.

So… wanna come along with me and Michael on this journey?

There are two ways to contribute. First, you can join in with The Legal Genealogist and other blog readers by contributing through PayPal. Use your PayPal account to send a gift of cash, and the email account to send it to — and every penny will be accounted for and transferred regularly to Preserve The Pensions — is legalgenealogist (at) (Make sure you substitute the @ symbol for the word in the email address!) We’re going dollar for dollar for Michael’s 1812 miles — and if enough folks pitch it, maybe we’ll go two dollars for every mile — or more!

If you don’t use PayPal or you’d simply prefer, you can go directly to the Preserve The Pensions website and click on the red Donate Now button (or just click here to go directly to the donation form page). Enter all your information and then, under Honors and Tributes, click on the “As a tribute to a living person” radio button and enter “Michael J. Hall” in the box there.

Remember, every dollar we contribute is matched by and becomes two dollars — and we’re going to need all the dollars we can get to bring this project all the way home. Every dollar contributed means two pages of a pension file can be digitized — and with matching funds from, that becomes four pages saved. UPDATE: Every penny committed to sponsoring Michael will not only be matched by Ancestry but by FGS as well. That means every dollar becomes FOUR dollars.

Let’s root for Michael, and bring this all the way home.


Mike Hall in South Africa.

Posted in General | 4 Comments

Thing versus copyright

It’s a persistent question that has reader Sherri perplexed in trying to understand her rights to a photograph of her grandparents: the question of the difference between owning a particular thing and owning the copyright to that thing.

3d little human taking a photoShe explains the problem in her question:

In July 1992, with permission, I took a photo of an original, one of a kind, picture of my grandparents that was in the possession of my mother. I then did some restoration work, and gave copies to my aunt and uncle and my brother. I still have the copy negative. My mother is now deceased. Yesterday I discovered my photo on Find-A-Grave. I wrote to the poster asking for his source for the photo. He replied that he didn’t remember. I then politely asked him to remove the photo from Find-A-Grave and anywhere else he’s posted it. Today I learned that other family members have had unsuccessful dealings with this individual.Do I have any recourse or does this individual have me over a barrel?

The problem here, of course, is the problem of who owns the rights to that photograph.

And that’s a different question than who owns the photograph itself.

Many different people can legally own a copy of a thing — The Legal Genealogist and all of the readers of this blog could all own a copy of a book or a calendar or a painting or a photograph, for example, and we’d all be perfectly legal in our ownership of that item.

But owning a copy of that thing wouldn’t give any of us ownership of the copyright in that thing. Owning a specific physical item — the photograph in this case — is entirely separate and apart from owning any copyright there may be in the item. The U.S. Copyright Office explains that:

Mere ownership of a book, manuscript, painting, or any other copy or phonorecord does not give the possessor the copyright. The law provides that transfer of ownership of any material object that embodies a protected work does not of itself convey any rights in the copyright.1

And, as the Copyright Office continues, it can often be a real headache to figure out who does own the rights when it comes to a photograph:

In the case of photographs, it is sometimes difficult to determine who owns the copyright and there may be little or no information about the owner on individual copies. Ownership of a “copy” of a photograph – the tangible embodiment of the “work” – is distinct from the “work” itself – the intangible intellectual property. The owner of the “work” is generally the photographer or, in certain situations, the employer of the photographer. Even if a person hires a photographer to take pictures of a wedding, for example, the photographer will own the copyright in the photographs unless the copyright in the photographs is transferred, in writing and signed by the copyright owner, to another person. The subject of the photograph generally has nothing to do with the ownership of the copyright in the photograph. If the photographer is no longer living, the rights in the photograph are determined by the photographer’s will or passed as personal property by the applicable laws of intestate succession.2

So we have to work through the rights here.

First and foremost, who took the original photograph — the “original, one of a kind, picture of (Sherri’s) grandparents that was in the possession of (her) mother”? As the Copyright Office notes, the owner of the copyright is usually the photographer — or the photographer’s heirs if the photographer is deceased.

And it’s the original photographer that matters: the fact that Sherri was the one who made a copy of the original isn’t enough to give her a copyright in her copy. To qualify for copyright protection, the work has to be independently created by the author or artist and not copied from other works.3

Second, when was the original image created? Copyright lasts for a long time, but not forever. In general, in the United States, under current law, copyright lasts for the lifetime of the creator — the photographer — plus 70 years.4 So if that original image was created by someone who died before 1945, nobody owns the copyright any more — the image would be in the public domain. And anything in the public domain is fair game for anyone to use any way that he or she wants.5

If the work is still copyrighted, then the copyright owner — the photographer or the photographer’s heirs — would have the right to insist that Find-A-Grave remove that image from its site. The right to decide when and how and by whom a copy is made is one of the key exclusive rights granted to the copyright owner.6

If the work isn’t still copyrighted, then it’s in the public domain — and anyone who owns a copy of the photo is allowed to use it.


  1. U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1: Copyright Basics, PDF version at p. 2 ( : accessed 19 Aug 2015).
  2. U.S. Copyright Office, “FAQs: Can I Use Someone Else’s Work? Can Someone Else Use Mine?” ( : accessed 19 Aug 2015).
  3. See generally Judy G. Russell, “Copyright and microfilm,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 14 July 2014 ( : accessed 19 Aug 2015). And see Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 U.S. 340, 345-346 (1991).
  4. U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1: Copyright Basics, PDF version at 4 (“A work that was created (fixed in tangible form for the first time) on or after January 1, 1978, is automatically protected from the moment of its creation and is ordinarily given a term enduring for the author’s life plus an additional 70 years after the author’s death.”)
  5. U.S. Copyright Office, “FAQs: Definitions: Where is the public domain?” ( : accessed 19 Aug 2015).
  6. See 17 U.S.C. §106.
Posted in Copyright | 39 Comments

North to Alaska

A bunch of folks from the Federation of Genealogical Societies will be setting sail at the end of next week for a visit to the northernmost part of the United States — and parts of Canada — in a first-ever FGS cruise to Alaska.

seward-william-henryAnd if you think The Legal Genealogist is excited about this trip, you haven’t met my older sister, who is coming with me. She’s never been to Alaska before, and never been on a cruise before, and may not sleep the entire time for fear of missing something.

What I don’t want to miss are the bits and pieces of history — and of legal history — that go into making Alaska one of the most fascinating parts of our national lore, including that amazing bit of history we all heard about in school, called Seward’s Folly.

William Henry Seward was Secretary of State of the United States between 1861 and 1869. He was appointed by President Abraham Lincoln, and served as the chief negotiator for the U.S. in the 1867 purchase of Alaska from Russia.1

The acquisition of this vast northern territory was first proposed in 1859:

Russia offered to sell Alaska to the United States in 1859, believing the United States would off-set the designs of Russia’s greatest rival in the Pacific, Great Britain. The looming U.S. Civil War delayed the sale, but after the war, Secretary of State William Seward quickly took up a renewed Russian offer and on March 30, 1867, agreed to a proposal from Russian Minister in Washington, Edouard de Stoeckl, to purchase Alaska for $7.2 million. The Senate approved the treaty of purchase on April 9; President Andrew Johnson signed the treaty on May 28, and Alaska was formally transferred to the United States on October 18, 1867. This purchase ended Russia’s presence in North America and ensured U.S. access to the Pacific northern rim.

For three decades after its purchase the United States paid little attention to Alaska, which was governed under military, naval, or Treasury rule or, at times, no visible rule at all. Seeking a way to impose U.S. mining laws, the United States constituted a civil government in 1884. Skeptics had dubbed the purchase of Alaska “Seward’s Folly,” but the former Secretary of State was vindicated when a major gold deposit was discovered in the Yukon in 1896, and Alaska became the gateway to the Klondike gold fields. The strategic importance of Alaska was finally recognized in World War II. Alaska became a state on January 3, 1959.2

And in the document memorializing this acquisition are several extraordinary provisions of interest to family researchers:

• Included in the description of the land ceded to the United States in the treaty of acquisition were “all public lots and squares, vacant lands, and all public buildings, fortifications, barracks, and other edifices which are not private individual property.” But the treaty also provided: “It is, however, understood and agreed, that the churches which have been built in the ceded territory by the Russian Government, shall remain the property of such members of the Greek Oriental Church resident in the territory as may choose to worship therein.”3

• Archival records in existence at the time of the cession were to be left in Alaska: “Any Government archives, papers, and documents relative to the territory and dominion aforesaid, which may now be existing there, will be left in the possession of the agent of the United States; but an authenticated copy of such of them as may be required, will be, at all times, given by the United States to the Russian Government, or to such Russian officers or subjects as they may apply for.”4

• And — sigh — while Russian citizens who chose to remain in Alaska were to be “admitted to the enjoyment of all the rights, advantages, and immunities of citizens of the United States, and shall be maintained and protected in the free enjoyment of their liberty, property, and religion,” that privilege was not extended to the so-called “uncivilized tribes.”5 Natives were to be “subject to such laws and regulations as the United States may from time to time adopt in regard to aboriginal tribes of that country.”6 It wasn’t until 1915 that the very first procedure was put in place for Alaskan Natives to become citizens — and it was limited to those who had “severed all tribal relationship and adopted the habits of civilized life.”7

Any or all of these provisions may impact us as family historians if our roots run deep into this northern land.


Image: William Henry Seward, US Department of State

  1. See “William Henry Seward,” Biographies of the Secretaries of State, Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State ( : accessed 18 Aug 2015).
  2. See “Purchase of Alaska, 1867,” Milestones: 1866-1898, Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State ( : accessed 18 Aug 2015).
  3. Article II, The Treaty of Cession (1867), in Thomas H. Carter, The Laws of Alaska (Chicago : Callaghan & Co., 1900), xxxviii; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 18 Aug 2015).
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid., Article III.
  6. Ibid.
  7. See “Native Citizenship,” Governing Alaska, Alaska History and Cultural Studies ( : accessed 18 Aug 2015).
Posted in Resources | 10 Comments

A deadly one, that is…

There is little that warms the cockles of a genealogist’s heart more than a vital record or, at a time when there were no vital records, a record that will take the place of a vital record.

The Grim ReaperTake, for example, the record of a case decided in March 1805, in the Hamilton District of Tennessee. There, the Tennessee Superior Court was called upon to consider the status of the case of Lewis and Lenoir v. Outlaw et al.1

It was a case in equity in which the lawyer for the plaintiffs wanted the case moved forward to trial, and the lawyer for one of the defendants objected “on account of the death of one of the defendants, against whose representatives, it had not been properly revived.”2 In other words, the defense attorney argued, the heirs of the original defendant hadn’t been properly substituted for the deceased man in the case.

There was a lot of discussion in the court’s opinion about how and when and using what technical form the case could be continued, but no disagreement anywhere as to what was needed to notify the court that one of the parties to the case had died.

It was called a suggestion of death.3

Now we all know that a suggestion, in ordinary day-to-day parlance, is less than stating something as a fact. It’s generally understood to be something offered as an hypothesis, or a possibility.4

In the peculiar language of the law, however, a suggestion is much more. It’s a “statement, formally entered on the record, of some fact or circumstance which will materially affect the further proceedings in the cause, or which is necessary to be brought to the knowledge of the court in order to its right disposition of the action, but which, for some reason, cannot be pleaded. Thus, if one of the parties dies after issue and before trial, his death may be suggested on the record.”5

“In its literal sense this word signifies to inform, to insinuate, to instruct, to cause to be remembered, to counsel. In practice it is used to convey the idea of information; as, the defendant suggests the death of one of the plaintiffs.”6

So you’ll see the requirement for a suggestion of death included in the legal rules of many courts that followed the English common law:

• In England itself, a case didn’t end on the death of a party but “such death being suggested on the record the action shall proceed … against the surviving defendant or defendants.”7

• In Canada, whenever a party to an appeal died, “a suggestion may be made of such death…”8

• In New Jersey, a suggestion could be made of the death of either a plaintiff or a defendant.9

• In Missouri, actions didn’t automatically end with a death as long as the record contained a suggestion of such death.10

And for the genealogist… that suggestion of death is the functional equivalent of a death certificate. It may not give an exact date and place of death, but it will sure fix the outer limits of the time within which the death occurred — often the best record that may be found with respect to one of our target individuals.


  1. Lewis and Lenoir v. Outlaw et al., 1 Tenn. 139 (Tenn. Sup. 1805); digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 17 Aug 2015).
  2. Ibid.
  3. See ibid., at 144.
  4. See Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary ( : accessed 17 Aug 2015), “suggestion” and “suggest.”
  5. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 1135, “suggestion.”
  6. John Bouvier, A Law Dictionary Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States of America and of the Several States of the American Union, rev. 6th ed. (1856); HTML reprint, The Constitution Society ( : accessed 17 Aug 2015), “suggestion.”
  7. Joseph Chitty, A Collection of Statutes of Practical Utility (London : William Benning, 1828), 2; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 17 Aug 2015).
  8. §§29-32, 20 Vict. c.5 (1857), in Statutes of the Province of Canada (Toronto: Derbishire & Desbarats, 1857), 16; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 17 Aug 2015).
  9. §§29-35, “An Act concerning the action of ejectment,” in Revision of the Statutes of New Jersey … 1871 (Trenton : John L. Murphy, printer, 1877), 329-330; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 17 Aug 2015).
  10. §§3663-3664, Article VIII, “Of the Abatement of Suits and their Revival,” in The Revised Statutes of Missouri… 1879 (Jefferson City: State Printers, 1879), 1: 624; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 17 Aug 2015).
Posted in Legal definitions | 6 Comments

Not what you’re thinking

You never know what you’re going to encounter when you poke around in the law dictionaries.

Heart shape tree with red leaves on red flower field. Love symboDid you know, for example, that there was something called a Love-Day?

The Legal Genealogist didn’t know either.

And, no, it’s not what you’re thinking.

This isn’t a 1960s love-in, or anything even remotely related to that train of thought.

It was, instead, a “day on which any dispute was amicably settled between neighbors; or a day on which one neighbor helps another without hire.”1

Now the history of the term isn’t quite as easy to find. It appears, however, to have been around as early as the 13th century — the 1200s or thereabouts — and to have been part of a distinction between an imposed resolution (the kind you get in a lawsuit) and an amicably-agreed-upon resolution (when people agree among themselves). The difference, in other words, between law and love.2

So these were “those days anciently so called on which arbitrations were made and controversies ended among neighbours for the mutual restoring of love and charity.”3

Presumably a better alternative to brawling in the streets … and much better than hiring a lawyer!


  1. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 735, “love-day.”
  2. See John H. Baker, Collected Papers on English Legal History (Cambridge, England : Cambridge University Press, 2013), c.25.
  3. Richard Paul Jodrell, Philology on the English Language (London : Cox & Baylis, 1820), 409; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 16 Aug 2015).
Posted in Legal definitions | 2 Comments

Research in the Evergreen State

It’s called the Evergreen State, this amazing piece of America in the Pacific Northwest, and for someone flying in the way The Legal Genealogist did this week for the Northwest Genealogy Conference 2015 in Arlington, Washington, it’s easy to see why.

1280px-USA_Washington_location_map.svgFrom the air — and on the ground — even after a record-breaking heat-wave this summer — Washington State is definitely green — at least western Washington is (eastern Washington less so).

Eighteenth in size among the states, 13th in population, known for its timber and its aircraft industry, home of the Kennewick Man and the Space Needle, Washington State is also home to some truly amazing genealogical resources.

The host society for the currently-ongoing Northwest Genealogy Conference is the Stillaguamish Valley Genealogical Society in Arlington. A vibrant active local society serving Snohomish County and the Arlington, Washington area, it has a library with more than 5,000 genealogical and historical books, microfilm and microfiche sets, that serves as a depot for historical information pertaining to north Snohomish County and the Stillaguamish Valley, and its native populations and early settlers. And it offers Internet access to free genealogy web sites. Our library is a depot for historical information pertaining to north Snohomish County and the Stillaguamish Valley, and its native populations and early settlers.

Down the road in Seattle is the Seattle regional branch of the National Archives. It has extensive microfilm holdings of value for genealogy research, among them:

• Federal population censuses for all States, 1790-1930 (including indexes for 1880, 1900, 1910, and 1920);

• military service records;

• pension and bounty land warrant applications;

• some passenger arrival and naturalization records; and

• records relating to the Five Civilized Tribes.

And it’s the regional repository for federal court records for Washington, Oregon and Idaho. So to say NARA Seattle is worth a visit is an understatement.

The Washington State Archives has wonderful collections of information for genealogists ranging from territorial court records to vital records to photographic collections– and that includes some truly amazing digitized records we can all access sitting at home at 3 a.m. in our bunny slippers.

I’ve already written about the unexpected treasures of the library of the Seattle Genealogical Society, with its amazing holdings from throughout the United States.

But I was absolutely blown away by one reference source I just happened across on the website of the Washington State Genealogical Society, freely available to anyone who has even a smidgen of interest in research here in the Evergreen State. It’s called the Washington State Genealogical Resource Guide, originally created by Kathleen Allen O’Connor assisted by a grant from the Washington State Genealogical Society and now maintained by Charles Hansen.

This guide consists of downloadable PDF files for every county in Washington State with a comprehensive overview of the resources available for research of all kinds. Each county’s PDF file begins with a brief history of the county, its boundaries, county seat and local resources like the Chambers of Commerce, courthouses, health departments and the like. It then adds information about local genealogical and historical societies and libraries.

Then the file lists a wide variety of bibliographic resources for the county, ranging from atlases, gazeteers and maps all the way through to published sources for tax records. Published vital records, county and city histories and so much more are included in the lists.

The file for each county ranges in length depending on the variety of resources to be found there. The PDF file for King County, for example, where Seattle is located, is 60 pages long; for Yakima County, it’s 23 pages; for Okinogan County, it’s 11 pages.

This is a truly comprehensive and amazing resource for anyone with Washington State research to be done. So check it out — the Evergreen State has a lot to offer.

Image: Wikimedia commons.

Posted in Resources | 9 Comments

One unexpected exception

We all know what it took for an ancestor to be eligible to vote.

It doesn’t matter if it’s The Legal Genealogist‘s southern ancestors, or the ancestors of folks who are here in the Pacific Northwest attending the opening sessions of the Northwest Genealogy Conference 2015 in Arlington, Washington.

If they were voters, our ancestors were:

• Age 21 or older.

• Male.

• Almost exclusively white.

• And citizens.

Oh, there were exceptions that we’ve come across. There are always exceptions.

Ballot BoxThere were some women who could vote, particularly in places like New Jersey from 1776 to 1807,1 and later when women began to get the vote at least in local elections. And non-whites sometimes could vote as well, even before the Civil Rights amendments after the Civil War, particularly in both the early years in both New Jersey and Maryland.2

But that’s it for the exceptions, right?

You know better than that.

We always have to check the law, at the time and in the place where our ancestors lived.

And out here in the western territories, there was an exception to the voting rules that means that an awful lot of our ancestors might have been on the voting rolls before we think they should have been — or could have been.

Out here, in the Territory of Washington, as far back as 1854, the one thing our ancestors didn’t have to be…?

They didn’t have to be citizens.

At least — not yet.

As enacted by the first Washington Territorial Legislature in 1854, the law provided — as we would all have expected — that “all white male inhabitants over the age of twenty-one years, who shall have resided within this territory for three months next preceding an election, shall be entitled to vote at any election for delegate to congress, and for territorial, district, county and precinct officers.”3

But the law didn’t stop there.

It went on:

Provided, That they shall be citizens of the United States, or shall have declared, on oath, their intentions to become such, and shall have resided three months in the territory, and fifteen days in the county where they offer to vote, next preceding the day of election…4

Read the highlighted section again.

Our folks didn’t have to be citizens.

Our immigrant ancestors could vote!

As long as those immigrants among our folks — those who were white male over-21 folks, of course — had filed a declaration of intent to become citizens, even though they hadn’t yet been naturalized, they were eligible to vote.

Kind of throws a monkey-wrench into some of our analysis, doesn’t it? Can’t assume that someone on a voting list was born in the United States, or even already naturalized, can we?

Always. Always always always.

Always check the law at the time and place.


  1. See generally New Jersey Constitution of 1776, Article IV, in Francis Newton Thorpe, editor, The Federal and State Constitutions, Colonial Charters, and Other Organic Laws of the States, Territories, and Colonies Now or Heretofore Forming the United States of America. 7 vols. (Washington, D.C. : Government Printing Office, 1909), 5: 2595 ; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 12 Aug 2015).
  2. See ibid., and Maryland Constitution of 1776, Article II, 4: 1691.
  3. §1, “An Act Relating to Elections and the Mode of Supplying Vacancies,” in Statutes of the Territory of Washington, … 1854 (Olympia: Public Printer, 1855), 96; digital images, Washington State Legislature, Office of the Code Reviser, Session Laws ( : accessed 12 Aug 2015).
  4. Ibid.
Posted in Primary Law, Statutes | 6 Comments