Facts but not stories

Today is the 119th anniversary of the birth of Arthur Carlton Livingston.

ArthurYoungest of the nine children born to my second great grandmother Martha Louise (Shew) Baird Livingston, the eighth by Arthur’s father Abigah C. Livingston, he is a man about which we know so much.

And so very little.

You see, there are tons of records telling us so many facts about Arthur Carlton Livingston.

• He was born 20 September 1895 in Bexar County, Texas.1 His family had moved there from Cherokee County, Alabama, sometime around 1888.2

• He was living with his parents in Williamson County, Texas, in 1900.3

• By 1907, the family had moved to Oklahoma. Arthur’s parents were recorded that year as residents of Comanche County, selling land in Frederick, now the county seat of Tillman County.4

• In 1909, Arthur’s mother died of tuberculosis.5

• In 1910, the family was still in Tillman County, where Arthur was shown as a 13-year-old schoolboy and farm hand. Only he and his brother Leva were still at home, though their widowed sister Etta Roberts and her two children were living with the family.6

• He registered for the draft on 5 June 1917, as a single man, a farmer living in Hollister, Oklahoma. He was described as of medium height, slender build, brown eyes and dark hair. He hoped he’d be exempt from being called up, noting he had a widowed sister and her two children he was helping to support.7

• He married Annie Wright in Tillman County around 1919. In 1920, they were living in Stephens Township, enumerated next door to his widowed sister Etta (Livingston) Roberts.8

• Arthur and Annie were parents by 1921: a son, Ralph, was born on the 15th of March 1921 in Tillman County. He was the first of eight children all told — and the one they lost as a child. He was just six years old when he died of blood poisoning.9

• The family was still in Tillman County in 1930. That census listed Arthur as a highway patrolman; the four then-living children were all shown as born in Oklahoma.10

• The Livingstons were still in Tillman County in 1940; six sons and one daughter were enumerated in the household that year, and my great grandmother — Arthur’s aunt — Eula (Baird) Livingston Robertson was living with them as well.11

• At some point after 1940, the family moved to California. It was there that Arthur died in 1963. He was buried at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier.12

You see what the problem is right away, don’t you?

We have all the facts about Arthur’s life.

But we don’t know a thing about the man.

He was just a boy when his mother became ill and was sent to New Mexico in the hopes of saving her life. What was that like? How did it change his life? Was he particularly close to her, as the baby of the family, or had she been so ill for so long that he didn’t really know her?

You know it had to be a terrible blow to lose a child the way Arthur lost Ralph, in 1927. What impact did that have on his life, and the lives of his other children? Was Ralph remembered in that family group… or was there a concerted effort to move on and leave the sadness behind?

Arthur and his family stuck it out in Oklahoma all the years of the Depression and the Dust Bowl times. What took him to California? Did he miss Oklahoma? Was it always home to him, or did California become so much more to him as time went on?

What, I wonder, was he really like?

As a genealogist, I am happy to have as much information about Arthur as I do have. It’s far more than I have on many of my cousins.

But as a family historian, I am deeply disappointed. How very little I know of this cousin of mine… and how much I hope his closer kin may be recording his stories …


  1. See “World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 19 Sep 2014), card for Arthur Carlton Livingston, no. 35-3-38-A (stamped), Tillman County (Okla.) Draft Board; citing National Archives microfilm publication M1509, World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918.
  2. His brother Noel was born in Cherokee County in 1887; his sister Susie was born in Texas in 1889.
  3. 1900 U.S. census, Williamson County, Texas, Justice Precinct 2, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 125, p. 117(B) (stamped), dwelling 143, family 154, “Author” Livingston; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 19 Sep 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication T623, roll 1679.
  4. See Tillman County, Oklahoma, Deed Book 4:384-385, Livingston to Brown & Wade, 11 July 1907; Tillman County Clerk’s Office, Frederick.
  5. Linda Norman Garrison, Tillman County Personals: Abstracts from Frederick, OK Newspapers May 1902-June 1911 (Lawton, Okla. : Southwest Oklahoma Genealogical Society, 2009), citing Frederick (Okla.) Enterprise, 16 Apr 1909.
  6. 1910 U.S. census, Tillman County, Oklahoma, Hazel Twp., population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 250, p. 107(A) (stamped), dwelling/family 145, Arthur C. Livingston; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 19 Sep 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication T624, roll 1275.
  7. “World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 29 May 2011), card for Arthur Carlton Livingston, no. 35-3-38-A (stamped), Tillman County (Okla.) Draft Board; citing National Archives microfilm publication M1509, World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918.
  8. 1920 U.S. census, Tillman County, Oklahoma, Stephens Twp., population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 183, p. 116(B)(stamped), dwelling/family 21, Arthur C. Livingston household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 19 Sep 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication T625, roll 1489.
  9. Frederick City Cemetery (Frederick, Tillman County, Oklahoma; on County Road N 220, Latitude 34.3986926, Longitude -99.0475769), Ralph Livingston marker; photograph by J.G. Russell, 25 April 2003.
  10. 1930 U.S. census, Tillman County, Oklahoma, Hazel Twp., population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 71-11, p. 196(A) (stamped), sheet 2(A), dwelling/family 36, Arthur C. Livingston household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 19 Sep 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication T626, roll 1932.
  11. 1940 U.S. census, Tillman County, Oklahoma, Frederick, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 71-5, sheet 1B, household 26, Arthur Livingston household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 19 Sep 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication T627, roll 3335.
  12. Rose Hills Memorial Park, Los Angeles County, California, Arthur C. Livingtson Sr. marker; digital image, Find A Grave (http://findagrave.com : accessed 19 Sep 2014).
Posted in My family | 7 Comments

Help in finding the laws

Okay, The Legal Genealogist has a quick quiz for you:

How do most genealogists refer to the law that allowed settlers to get federal land if they filed some paperwork and then lived on the land for a period of time?

TOPNHow about the statute under which the State of Missouri was admitted to the Union as a slave state and Maine as a free state, that also prohibited slavery in the Louisiana Territory north of the 36° 30´ latitude line?

And what would you call the law that set up the federal courts for the very first time?

Got them firmly in your mind?

Chances are you got them all right.

Chances are you knew the first was the Homestead Act, the second the Missouri Compromise and the third the Judiciary Act of 1789.

Pretty easy, huh?

Now… tell me where they are in the statute books.

Could you answer, that quickly, that easily, that the Homestead Act was the act of 20 May 1862, and appears at page 392 of volume 12 of the United States Statutes at Large?

Or that the Missouri Compromise was passed on 6 March 1820, and can be found at 3 Stat. 535?

Or that the Judiciary Act of 1789 can be found at 1 Stat. 73 (24 Sep 1789)?

Not so easy now, is it?

Because the names we use for some of our laws — their popular names — don’t give us the information we need to find them in the reference books.

As explained by Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute (LII):

Laws acquire popular names as they make their way through Congress. Sometimes these names say something about the substance of the law (as with the ’2002 Winter Olympic Commemorative Coin Act’). Sometimes they are a way of recognizing or honoring the sponsor or creator of a particular law (as with the ‘Taft-Hartley Act’). And sometimes they are meant to garner political support for a law by giving it a catchy name (as with the ‘USA Patriot Act’ or the ‘Take Pride in America Act’) or by invoking public outrage or sympathy (as with any number of laws named for victims of crimes). History books, newspapers, and other sources use the popular name to refer to these laws.1

So, it then asks: “Why can’t these popular names easily be found in the US Code?” And it explains that the process of organizing the federal laws into the structure of the United States Code tends to break up any one statute so “often the law will not be found in one place neatly identified by its popular name. Nor will a full-text search of the Code necessarily reveal where all the pieces have been scattered.”2

The answer is a Table of Popular Names: a tool that we can use to find a particular statute when all we know is how it’s commonly referred to.

LII has one, and you can access it here. It’s an alphabetical list of federal laws by popular name. All of the statutes have citations to the Statutes at Large, and many of them have hotlinks to an official source for the statute.

And there are other options as well:

• The Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the U.S. House of Representatives has a Popular Name Tool that you can browse or search. It also has a downloadable PDF file you can search offline.

• Findlaw.com has a United States Code Table of Popular Names that you can browse or search, with some hotlinks to actual statutes.

There’s a Popular Names Table published in the major versions of the United States Code that you can expect to find in any law library: both the U.S. Code Annotated and the U.S. Code Service.

Using any of these tables, online or offline, you’ll be able to make the translation from statute name to statutory citation quickly.

And using the statutory citation, you can then turn to either the Library of Congress’ wonderful site, A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation, where you can access volumes 1-18 of the Statutes at Large free online, or the Constitution Society’s collection of downloadable PDF files of the public Statutes at Large volumes 1-127.

So no excuses now. Go ahead… pick a statute, find it, and read it:

• Abolition of Slavery Act (Territories), 19 June 1862, 12 Stat. 432
• Alien Enemy Act, 15 June 1798, 1 Stat. 570
• Civil Rights Act of 1866, 9 Apr 1866, 14 Stat. 27
• Civil Rights Act of 1964, 2 July 1964, 78 Stat. 241
• Court of Private Land Claims Act, 3 Mar 1891, 26 Stat. 854
• Declaration of War against Great Britain, 18 June 1812, 2 Stat. 755
• Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, 18 Sep 1850, 9 Stat. 462
• Indian General Allotment Act (Dawes Act), 8 Feb 1887, 24 Stat. 388
• Ku Klux Klan Act, 20 Apr 1871, 17 Stat. 13
• Northwest Territory Ordinance of 1787, 13 July 1787, 1 Stat. 51
• Penitentiary Act, 2 Mar 1831, 4 Stat. 448
• Sedition Act, 14 July 1798, 1 Stat. 596
• Texas Annexation Resolution, 1 Mar 1845, 5 Stat. 797

Go on. You know you want to…


  1. What’s in a popular name?,” TOPN: Table of Popular Names, Legal Information Institute, Cornell University Law School (http://www.law.cornell.edu/ : accessed 18 Sep 2014).
  2. Ibid., “How the US Code is built.”
Posted in Resources, Statutes | 15 Comments

Following the clues in the land records

The land, the federal land records show, was originally earned by the soldiers.

George Gordon, Private, Captain Hotchkiss’ Company, Massachusetts Militia, War of 1812.

He was the warrant holder on 160 acres of land — the north east quarter of section 25, township 142 north, range 48 west, in Clay County, Minnesota.1

Asa White, Private, Captain Hotchkiss’ Company, Massachusetts Militia, War of 1812.

He was the warrant holder on another 160 acres of land — the north west quarter of section 25, township 142 north, range 48 west, in Clay County, Minnesota.2

tax.saleBut neither of those soldiers ever went to Minnesota. George Gordon was in Hancock County, Maine, in the 1870s.3 Asa White’s bounty land records aren’t online yet4 but there’s no record of him in Minnesota.5

So the warrants for the land were in the soldiers’ names, but, the records show, they assigned the land to an intermediary.

But that man, Alpheus B. Stickney, didn’t take up the land either. Census records show that he was just the middleman: a St. Paul lawyer in 18706 and a railroader by 1880.7

And, the records show, Stickney assigned both tracts of land — 320 acres total — to Benjamin H. Mace.8

But he doesn’t seem to have bothered to show up in Minnesota either.

Because, we find out, on the 29th of September 1881, both parcels — all 320 acres — of land were sold for unpaid taxes to the one man in the whole set of transactions who did show up and live in Clay County.9

John Jestin, or Jeston depending on the record, was a Norwegian-born farmer who was living with his family in Clay County by 1875.10 He was still there in 1880,11 and in 1885.12 His widow was recorded in 1895.13

So… what’s with the tax sale bit?

You know what the answer is already, don’t you?

Of course you do.

And you’re right: it was the law.

You see, our ancestors often got missed by the census enumerators. They may have outrun the sheriff. They may never have left a will.

But the tax boys… they found ‘em. Or if they didn’t find ‘em, they’d at least find some bit of property somewhere to seize and sell for back taxes.

And when it came to land, there were all kinds of procedures and rules that had to be followed. They’re all set out, carefully, in the statute books.14

And when the rules are followed, what you get is what you see here: a tax deed from the county auditor to the local resident.

But it’s so much more than that, if we think about it.

It’s a clue. A hint. An indicator that there’s a story here to be followed back.

All the way from John Jestin and his purchase of 320 acres at a tax sale in 1881 to two men half a continent away who served in a war more than a half-century earlier.

Neat, huh?


  1. George Gordon, warrantee (Clay County, Minnesota), warrant no. 108,587; digital images, “Land Patent Search,” General Land Office Records (http://www.glorecords.blm.gov/search/default.aspx : accessed 17 Sep 2014).
  2. Asa White, warrantee (Clay County, Minnesota), warrant no. 108,544; digital images, “Land Patent Search,” General Land Office Records, U.S. Bureau of Land Management (http://www.glorecords.blm.gov/search/default.aspx : accessed 17 Sep 2014).
  3. Affidavit of George Gordon, 10 March 1871, George Gordon (Pvt., Capt. John O. Hotchkiss’s Co., Mass. Militia, War of 1812), pension no. S.C. 17,457 (Rejected); Case Files of Pension and Bounty-Land Applications Based on Service in the War of 1812, 1871-1900; Pension and Bounty Land Applications Based on Service between 1812 and 1855; Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington, D.C.; digital images, Fold3.com (http://www.fold3.com : accessed 17 Sep 2014).
  4. A good reason to support the Preserve the Pensions effort!
  5. A search for any White in the Clay County area in the 1870 and 1880 federal census records and 1875 Minnesota census records failed to disclose any man who might have been a War of 1812 soldier by that surname.
  6. 1870 U.S. census, Ramsey County, Minnesota, St. Paul, population schedule, p. 73 (penned), dwelling 502, family 509, A B Stikney; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 17 Sep 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication T132, roll 10.
  7. 1880 U.S. census, Ramsey County, Minnesota, St. Paul, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 9, p. 190(D) (stamped), dwelling 41, family 48, Alpheus B. Stickney; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 17 Sep 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 630.
  8. Benjamin H. Mace (Clay Co., Minn.), Military bounty warrant nos. MW-0520-107 (1 Sep 1871) and MW-0520-384 (20 Oct 1871), MBW Act of 1855, Alexandria, Minn., Land Office; digital images, “Land Patent Search,” General Land Office Records, U.S. Bureau of Land Management (http://www.glorecords.blm.gov/search/default.aspx : accessed 17 Sep 2014).
  9. Clay County, Minnesota, Tax Deed Book 1:2, Tax Deed No. 3, Auditor to John Jestin, 29 Sep 1881; digital images, “databasename,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 17 Sep 2014).
  10. 1875 Minnesota State Census, Clay County, Moorhead, p. 342, line 10, John Jestin; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 17 Sep 2014); citing Minnesota State Population Census Schedules, microfilm MNSC-5, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.
  11. 1880 U.S. census, Clay County, Minnesota, Moorhead, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 186, p. 486(A) (stamped), dwelling 2, family 3, John Jestin; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 17 Sep 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 617.
  12. 1885 Minnesota State Census, Clay County, Moorhead, pp. 5-6 (penned), family 32, John Jestin; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 17 Sep 2014); citing Minnesota State Population Census Schedules, microfilm MNSC-23, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.
  13. 1895 Minnesota State Census, Clay County, Moorhead, p.9 (penned), family 230, Klara Jestin; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 17 Sep 2014); citing Minnesota State Population Census Schedules, microfilm V290_54, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.
  14. See Title V, §§106 et seq., “Advertisement and Sale of Delinquent Land,” in A.H. Bissell, editor, The Statutes at Large of the State of Minnesota, 2 vols. (Chicago: Callaghan & Co., 1873), I: 330; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 17 Sep 2014).
Posted in Methodology, Resources, Statutes | 7 Comments

Constitution Day 2014

It is The Legal Genealogist‘s mantra:

To understand the records, we have to understand the law that created them.

RevelsBut somehow that seems awfully far removed from a lofty document like the Constitution of the United States, doesn’t it? I mean, what really does the Constitution have to do with day-to-day genealogical research anyhow?

Sure, today is the 227th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution,1 and that’s something to celebrate.

But relevant to our research today?



In a whole host of ways.

First off, many of us are descended from one or more of the 39 men who signed the Constitution on that September 17th, in 1787.2 Three from Virginia. Eight from Pennsylvania. One from New York. Four from South Carolina. Two from Connecticut. Three from Maryland. Five from Delaware. Three from North Carolina. Two from Massachusetts. Four from New Jersey. Two from Georgia. Two from New Hampshire.3

Checking out their biographies is the ordinary way we might relate genealogical research to the Constitution.

But think about all the other ways the Constitution affected, and affects, the records we look at:

• Who is — and who has been — eligible to serve in the Congress of the United States? The answer to that is found in Article I, §2 for the House of Representatives, and Article I, §3 for the Senate. And every time a member of Congress is seated — every time there has been a fight over whether someone should be seated — there are documents created. See, for example, the documents created when Hiram Rhodes Revels was seated in 1870 as the first African American member of the United States Senate.4

• Why do we have a census enumeration every 10 years? Hint: it’s not just to give genealogists a record of families. It’s to decide which states gain — and which lose — representatives in the House. See Article I, §2.

• Why do we have all those lovely records of the naturalizations of our foreign-born ancestors? Article I, §8 requires that there be a “uniform rule of naturalization” — and though the law allowed state courts to oversee naturalizations for many years, the rules on who could and couldn’t be naturalized all came from the Congress.

• And why do we have all those lovely records of patented inventions and of copyrights right from the very earliest days of the Republic? Because Article I, §8 requires Congress “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”

• Want to see how a President is elected? Remember, we use that Electoral College system, and the records may well reflect our own ancestors’ participation as electors. The tally sheet from the 1824 election of John Quincy Adams is available online.5

• Have ancestors who ever lived in a territory of the United States? It was Article IV, §3 that governed whether and how that territory would ever become a state.

• Who is — and who has been — eligible to vote in federal elections? Well, let’s see here… there’s the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery; the 14th Amendment, protecting the voting rights of “male inhabitants …, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States”; the 15th Amendment, prohibiting discrimination “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude”; the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote; the 24th Amendment, barring the use of a poll tax to limit voting; and the 26th Amendment, making the voting age 18.

And these are just a few of the most obvious records we have because of the Constitution.

So celebrate Constitution Day 2014 — and think about all those lovely documents we can poke around in because it exists.


  1. See “Constitution Day,” Senate History, United States Senate (http://www.senate.gov/ : accessed 16 Sep 2014).
  2. See “The Signers of the Constitution,” Teaching With Documents:
    Observing Constitution Day
    , Archives.gov (http://www.archives.gov/ : accessed 16 Sep 2014).
  3. Rhode Island didn’t send an official delegation to the Constitutional Convention. See “America’s Founding Fathers: Delegates to the Constitutional Convention,” Charters of Freedom, Archives.gov (http://www.archives.gov/ : accessed 16 Sep 2014).
  4. Credentials of Hiram Rhodes Revels, 01/25/1870, Credentials, 1789-1998; Records of the United States Senate, Record Group 46; National Archives, Washington, D.C.; digital images, OPA – Online Public Access, Archives.gov (http://www.archives.gov/ : accessed 16 Sep 2014).
  5. Tally of the 1824 Electoral College Vote, 02/09/1825 , Credentials, 1789-1998; Records of the United States Senate, Record Group 46; National Archives, Washington, D.C.; digital images, OPA – Online Public Access, Archives.gov (http://www.archives.gov/ : accessed 16 Sep 2014).
Posted in Constitutions, Resources | 6 Comments

And the winners are…

On 1 September 2014, for the third year in a row, John D. Reid of the blog Anglo-Celtic Connections asked genealogists around the world to vote for their favorite genealogy “rockstars” — people he described as “those who give “must attend” presentations at family history conferences or as webinars. Who, when you see a new family history article or publication by that person, makes it a must buy.” Who is it, he asked, where you “hang on their every word on a blog, podcast or newsgroup, or follow avidly on Facebook or Twitter?”1

Now last year, you — my dear friends and readers — surprised and honored me by voting me into the bronze medal position for the United States behind two people whose accomplishments leave me in awe. They are my mentors and my friends, Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG, FNGS, FUGA, and Thomas W. Jones, Ph.D. CG, CGL, FASG, FUGA, FNGS. Just being nominated with them was amazing; winning with them was a total surprise.2

But this year — this year — you, my dear friends and readers, have shocked me right to my core by your votes.

Here, as announced in John’s blog today,3 are the 2014 winners for the United States:

Judy G. Russell, J.D., CG, CGL

Gold (1)Author of The Legal Genealogist blog. Genealogical lecturer, writer and educator. Member, Board of Trustees, Board for Certification of Genealogists. On the faculty of the Institute for Genealogy and Historical Research at Samford University (IGHR), the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP), the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) and coordinator of the Boston University Center for Professional Education’s course, Civilly Uncommon: Advanced Legal Analysis for Genealogists.

Roberta Estes

Silver (1)Professional scientist and business owner Roberta has been an obsessed genealogist since 1978. She founded DNAeXplain in 2004 following a successful 25 year career in IT. Roberta manages over 20 surname projects and is teamed with Family Tree DNA to offer personalised DNA analysis for customers and custom analysis for surname projects. And she was the Gold Medal winner in the DNA category this year. Her blog, DNAeXplained, is a must-read for genealogists.

Megan Smolenyak

Bronze (1)Author of (among other books) Who Do You Think You Are? The Essential Guide to Tracing Your Family History, and formerly Chief Family Historian for Ancestry.com, Megan is a researcher, writer and lecturer who has worked for years in military repatriations and forensic genealogy. An expert in using DNA for genealogy, she may be best known for finding celebrity roots, such as Michelle Obama’s family tree and the true story of Ellis Island’s first immigrant Annie Moore. Her website is www.megansmolenyak.com.

I am delighted to be in Roberta’s and Megan’s company, and honored and humbled to be in the gold medal position for the USA.

Make sure you check out the gold medal winners from around the world, too! John’s blog today lists them all — and all week we are learning more about the voting from all parts of the world.


  1. John D. Reid, “Rockstar Genealogists: Who Do You Think They Are?,” Anglo-Celtic Connections, posted 1 Sep 2014 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 16 Sep 2014).
  2. See Judy G. Russell, “The company you keep,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 17 Sep 2013 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 16 Sep 2014).
  3. John D. Reid, “Rockstar Genealogists: Gold Medalists,” Anglo-Celtic Connections, posted 16 Sep 2014 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 16 Sep 2014).
Posted in General | 37 Comments

Copyright and sharing

The Legal Genealogist received a question from a reader that can only leave you shaking your head.

“I belong to (a chat group),” she wrote. And, she went on:

We have a (person) who volunteered to moderate one of our chats (who) published (the) chat questions to (the person’s) blog. Instead of emailing the questions to the group, (the person) sent a link to (the) blog post. Because I read my email on my phone, seeing the questions on (the) blog was less than ideal, and I thought I might not be the only one having this issue. So I shared (the) questions with the group via our email list, thinking it would be okay since the questions were intended for our group. (The moderator) accused me of copyright infringement, which was not at all my intention, and I am wondering if I did violate (the) copyright since the material I shared was intended for our group anyway. I just want to be sure I don’t do something like this again if I am truly breaking the law.

Now you can see that I’m trying hard to eliminate anything that might identify either the reader or the moderator, because I truly think both sides here are trying hard to do the right thing.

1000px-US-CopyrightOffice-Seal.svgThe moderator really does have a copyright in anything the moderator writes and posts.1

Folks who agree to moderate chat groups — in a wide variety of fields — often get nothing for their work except perhaps a few more readers for their work, and it may well have been that the moderator here was hoping to pick up a few more blog readers by using a link to the blog rather than sending the questions by email.

And the reader now knows that the way to deal with this situation in the future is always to ask for permission to share something someone else has written.

That permission constitutes a license from the copyright owner to the reader allowing the reader to copy or redistribute the item, and those are two of the rights that copyright law gives exclusively to the author of the work.2

But we really shouldn’t have to be here, talking about this sort of thing in the context of copyright law.

We all — every last one of us — content creators and content users — need to be reasonable about our expectations and we need to tell the people we work with just what our expectations are.

If we are content creators — writers or photographers or artists — we certainly have the legal right to expect that our copyright will be respected.

But if we are working with a group, we really need to understand that group members have a reasonable expectation that something meant for the group can be shared within the group without worrying about copyright.

If I’m asked, as a photographer, to take pictures during a genealogy conference, isn’t it reasonable for the person who asked me to expect to be able to use those pictures in the host society’s newsletter without worrying about my copyright?

If I’m moderating a group that discusses, say, new books about crime, and I write up a list of things we should discuss at our next meeting about a particular new crime book, isn’t it reasonable for every group member to expect to be able to share that list with every other group member?

In some situations, just agreeing to do something can easily be understood by the group members as giving permission — and that’s a reasonable conclusion for the group members to reach.

So, as content creators, when we’re working with a group, we need to take just a second and make it clear if there’s something we don’t want the members of that specific group to do with our work:

• A quick note by a chat moderator that said — for example — “I’m putting the questions on the blog and I want everyone to access them there so please don’t resend by email” would make the moderator’s views clear.

• A statement by a photographer that said “Sure I’ll take the photos, but print only the ones I approve and make sure you give me credit” would make those limits clear.

Obviously I myself am a content creator: I write this blog, I give lectures, I do webinars. I really get where content creators come from and the need we all have to protect our copyrights.

But I am also a content user as a genealogist, and I’m a member of a lot of groups. And in a group setting I think it’s perfectly reasonable for the group to expect to be able to share more freely than, say, a bunch of strangers might expect to, without worrying about threats of copyright suits.

So let’s all be reasonable, okay? As content users, if we always remember to ask whenever we’re not sure, then we’re reasonable. And as content creators, let’s take that extra minute to make it clear if there’s something we’re doing with a group and we don’t want it shared outside the group or in a particular way even inside the group.


Posted in Copyright | 13 Comments

Something to plan for

So the question came up more than once yesterday when The Legal Genealogist and the Chicago Genealogical Society together explored the uses of DNA in genealogical research at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library:

Who owns your DNA sample when you submit it to a testing company?

There’s really no doubt about the answer: you do. For example, Family Tree DNA says flatly, “DNA samples belong to customers.”1

In fact, you can’t — that is, you’re not supposed to — even submit a sample for testing unless it’s yours or that of someone for whom you have legal authority to act.

All four places where I’ve currently tested — 23andMe, AncestryDNA, Family Tree DNA and National Geographic’s Geno 2.0 project — require that the sample be submitted by the person whose sample it is or by someone with the legal authority to consent for that person (such as a parent or guardian on behalf of a child). For example:

• Family Tree DNA explains, repeatedly, in a number of contexts, that “Even if you paid for the test of a friend or relative, they need to be the one to consent … we ask that you practice ethical testing and kit conservatorship…”2

• 23andMe’s terms of service require that “You are guaranteeing that any sample you provide is your saliva; if you are agreeing to these TOS on behalf of a person for whom you have legal authorization, you are confirming that the sample provided will be the sample of that person.”3

• At AncestryDNA, “you represent that any sample you provide is either your DNA or the DNA of a person for whom you are a legal guardian or have obtained legal authorization to provide their DNA to AncestryDNA.”4

So ownership isn’t really the question, is it? The real question is, who can access our data if something happens to us? Or, more importantly for folks like me who’ve paid for dozens of cousins to test, do I still have permission — do I still have the right to continue to access a cousin’s data if something happens to that cousin? Can I order an additional test done?

One company makes it really easy to have an answer to that question, and I wish the others would follow suit.

You see, Family Tree DNA lets each of us choose and specifically identify a beneficiary for our kits. By simply filling in a few bits of information, and getting one piece of paper properly notarized, I can set things up so that someone I choose can be:

the sole beneficiary to (my test kit), my Stored DNA, DNA Results, and Family Tree DNA account, to do all things required. For that purpose my beneficiary may execute and deliver, or amend, correct, replace all documents, forms, consents or release, tests and upgrades, and may do all lawful acts which may continue my involvement with FamilyTreeDNA.com.5

Here’s how to do it. First, log in to your FTDNA test results. Look on the page for this link to Manage Personal Information:


Click on that link, and you’ll go to this page with these tabs, and note the one highlighted at the right:


Click on the tab for Beneficiary Information and this is what you’ll see:


And when you fill out those boxes and click save, it will offer you the chance — highlighted here — to go to a printable form, already filled out with the information you entered in the boxes.


That form needs to be notarized. I keep a copy with my will. I’ve sent a copy to the person I’ve chosen to be executor of my estate.

And, I’ll tell you, I’ve done one thing more, since neither 23andMe nor AncestryDNA offers the same easy system.

I’ve taken the Family Tree DNA form, and changed the language, replacing all the references to Family Tree DNA with each of the other company names, and all the references to my kit number and the like with appropriate information about my test results from the other companies. And I’ve given my beneficiary the legal authority to continue to access my results and accounts at those other companies if something happens to me.

Now I can’t guarantee the other companies will honor that authority, because they haven’t been as forward-thinking as Family Tree DNA is about this issue. But it’s the best I can do until and unless the other companies do set something up on their own.

Because if something does happen to me, it may well be more important to my extended family to have my genetic legacy as any other legacy I might possibly leave them.

So I’m doing everything I can, with Family Tree DNA’s help, to ensure that that legacy does get passed on.


  1. “The Family Tree DNA Learning Center BETA: Sample Access and Transfer Policy,” Family Tree DNA (http://www.familytreedna.com/ : accessed 13 Sep 2014).
  2. Ibid., “I paid for a relative’s test, may I contribute their results to science?.”
  3. Terms of Service: User Representations,” 23andMe (https://www.23andme.com/ : accessed 13 Sep 2014).
  4. US Terms and Conditions – Revision as of March 20, 2013: DNA Testing,” AncestryDNA (http://dna.ancestry.com : accessed 13 Sep 2014).
  5. FTDNA beneficiary designation printed form, Family Tree DNA (http://www.familytreedna.com/ : accessed 13 Sep 2014).
Posted in DNA | 13 Comments

Finding the unexpected

So The Legal Genealogist is on the road (again) (yeah, what else is new, I know, I know), this time in Chicago where I have the honor of speaking to the Chicago Genealogical Society today. It’s going to be a ton of fun as we explore everything from 17th century thinking about law and women to 21st century concepts of DNA as part of genealogical research.

But yesterday… oh, yesterday… yesterday I got to do something totally outrageous.

I got to research (gasp) my family.

My father’s family, to be precise.

My German immigrant family that began to settle here in the Windy City sometime back in the late 19th century.

My great grandaunt Auguste Pauline (Graumüller) Schreiner and her husband Herman Franz “Frank” Schreiner were the first to come to America, in 1886,1 and the first to settle in Chicago, by 1888.2

My grandparents, Hugo Ernst and Marie (Nuckel) Geissler — bringing with them their then-not-yet-four-year-old son, my father — were the last to come over, in 1925.3

I never knew my grandparents; both were dead before I was born.4 My father rarely spoke of his family, and the little I knew about what my grandfather did for a living was confined to things like what he reported when he applied for a Social Security number: he was a laborer.5

But yesterday… oh, yesterday… yesterday I learned a little bit more.

Yesterday, thanks to CGS President Stephanie Carbonetti, I got to go to the Newberry Library in Chicago. Although I was a bit like a kid in a candy shop, not knowing what to sample first, I managed to concentrate just long enough to think that one thing I really needed to look at was the Newberry’s set of Chicago telephone directories.

And there it was. Right there in the 1930 telephone book:


My grandfather ran a delicatessen.6

Now I don’t know — I can’t know — what the neighborhood around 1059 North Laramie Avenue or even what the building that housed the deli might have looked like in 1930 or 1931. But I sure know what that location looks like today, thanks to Google Street View:


It’s that building on the left with the green overhang that’s 1059 North Laramie. And to my genealogist-granddaughter’s eyes, it looks wonderful.

I hope my grandfather enjoyed being a shopkeeper. I hope he loved the smell and the feel of the things he bought and sold. I hope that he had an absolute ball during the short time the deli operated.

Because it was a short time. An all-too-short time.

My grandfather couldn’t have known, when he opened the doors of that business, mostly likely in 1929, that the Wall Street Crash that year wasn’t a short-term phenomenon. That its effects would deepen and spread and, eventually, wipe out a corner deli at 1059 North Laramie Avenue in Chicago.

By 1932, there was no telephone listing for the Geissler delicatessen any more. There wouldn’t be a telephone listing for any Geissler again in Chicago until the 1940s.

But for that brief moment, in that small shop, my grandfather ran a delicatessen.

And yesterday… oh, yesterday… yesterday the telephone books in the Newberry Library brought it all to life.


  1. See 1910 U.S. census, Cook County, Illinois, Chicago Ward 29, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 1272, p. 71A (penned), dwelling 144, family 346, Frank Schreiner household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 4 July 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication T624, roll 275.
  2. See Lakeside Annual Directory of the City of Chicago, 1888 (Chicago: Chicago Directory Co., 1888), 1508; digital images, Fold3.com (http://www.fold3.com : accessed 12 Sep 2014).
  3. Manifest, S.S. George Washington, Jan-Feb 1925, p. 59 (stamped), lines 4-6, Geissler family; “New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 10 Feb 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T715, roll 3605.
  4. Illinois Department of Public Health, death certificate no. 1145, Hugo Geissler, 13 Jan 1945; Division of Vital Statistics, Springfield. Also, Ill. Dept. of Public Health, death certif. No. 12011, Marie Geissler, 12 Jan 1947.
  5. Hugo Ernst Geissler, SS no. (withheld), 17 Dec 1936, Application for Account Number (Form SS-5), Social Security Administration, Baltimore.
  6. Chicago Telephone Directory, Summer 1930 (Chicago: Illinois Bell Telephone Co., 1930), 474, entry for Geissler, Hugo; microfilm, Newberry Library, Chicago.
Posted in My family | 6 Comments

Thirteen years ago today.

It is, once again, September 11.

A different September 11th from that one, 13 years ago.

That September 11th was one of those glorious days we sometimes get in early September, with crystal-clear blue skies and a hint of crispness in the air.

Today, it is warm and humid, with a chance of rain and thunderstorms.

That September 11th was a day for looking forward.

Today, it is a day for looking back.

That September 11th was a day when more than 3,000 men, women and children were alive, healthy, strong.

Today, they are names on the walls.

In New York, they are inscribed in brass.

They begin with Gordon M. Aamoth, Jr.

They end with Igor Zukelman.

In Pennsylvania, they are chiseled into stone.

They begin with Christian Adams.

They end with Kristin Gould White.

At the Pentagon, they are in steel and granite.

They begin with Paul W. Ambrose.

They end with Yuguang Zheng.

They were Americans and British and Pakistanis and Dominicans and Indians — citizens of more than 90 countries. They were men, and women, and children. On that day, they were as old as 85 years. They were as young as two. Some were as yet unborn: eleven of the women were pregnant on that day.

And on that day, 13 years ago today, the light each of them represented in this world was snuffed out. Some died in an instant, vaporized by fireballs. Some died long agonizing terrifying minutes later, trapped in the smoke and the flames. Some died jumping from the upper floors of the Twin Towers. Or lost in the smoke-filled labyrinthine corridors of the Pentagon. Or in a field in Pennsylvania.

Today, as last year and the year before and the year before, on each anniversary of that day, the names of those lost will be read aloud at remembrances in New York and Pennsylvania and northern Virginia. In New York, the readers will pause, as they have paused each year, for six moments of silence:

• At 8:46 a.m., the time when a plane piloted by murderous fanatics slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

• At 9:03 a.m., the time when a second plane piloted by even more murderers slammed into the South Tower.

• At 9:37 a.m., the time when a third plane crashed into the Pentagon’s west side.

• At 9:59 a.m., the time when the South Tower imploded and fell, raining debris and ash on the city.

• At 10:03 a.m., when yet a fourth plane crashed into a field in the Pennsylvania countryside.

• And at 10:29 a.m., the time when the North Tower fell.

And as the names are read, we who survived that day will weep.

For all that was lost.

For all that should have been.

For all who perished.

For the pain of all who loved them.

And we will remember.

We will not let those lives be forgotten.

So today I pause again to reflect. Only days after that day, in 2001, I stood in the wreckage of lower Manhattan. And I made a promise that September all those years ago. A solemn pledge that I would remember.

It is a pledge I have tried to keep, by writing and posting these 9/11 essays every year since 2001.1

And as in years gone by, it is time again now to remember. To open, once more, the film cannister into which I brushed some of the dust of Ground Zero. To touch that dust with my own hands. And, once again, to stand witness. To make sure that I do not forget. That we do not forget. That no-one forgets. That all those lives will never be forgotten.

To say, one more time, this year and every year, as long as I have life and breath, in words and images, NEVER FORGET.

Images: © Judy G. Russell.

  1. This post is cross-posted from my personal website. Earlier essays are there for the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th anniversaries of 9/11.
Posted in General | 17 Comments

Upcoming on the road

Genealogical societies are busy places each and every fall, as the fall conference season gets underway.

Road TrippingAnd The Legal Genealogist is heading off into this fall conference season with an absolutely packed schedule.

From Chicago this weekend to Hudson County, New Jersey, in December, I’m looking forward to traveling around the United States, getting to see old friends and meet new ones, to share what I know and — the great joy of being a genealogical lecturer — learning from others about this shared interest of ours.

So… will I see you during one of this fall’s road trips?

Here’s the line-up:

13 September, Chicago Genealogical Society
Arlington Heights Memorial Library, information

“Don’t Forget the Ladies”: A Genealogist’s Guide to Women and the Law
The ABCs of DNA
Beyond X and Y: The Promise & Pitfalls of Autosomal DNA
Staying Out of Trouble – The Rights and Responsibilities of Today’s Genealogists

27 September, Dallas Genealogical Society
Dallas Public Library, information

From Blackstone to the Statutes at Large – How Knowing the Law Makes Us Better Genealogists
“Don’t Forget the Ladies” – A Genealogist’s Guide to Women and the Law
Through the Golden Door: Immigration After the Civil War
The Ethical Genealogist

1 October, Legacy Family Tree, Webinar

The Fair Court: Records of Chancery Courts

3-5 October, Minnesota Genealogical Society, 7th Annual North Star Conference
Colonial Church, Edina, Minnesota, information

Facts, Photos, and Fair Use
“Don’t Forget the Ladies” – A Genealogist’s Guide to Women and the Law
From Blackstone to the Statutes at Large – How Knowing the Law Makes Us Better Genealogists
Where There Is or Isn’t a Will

Also: 2 Oct., Normandale Community College, DNA Goes Genderless

9-11 October, BCG Lecture Series, Family History Library, Salt Lake City

Shootout at the Rhododendron Lodge: Reconstructing Life-Changing Events
From the White Lion to the Emancipation Proclamation – Slavery and the Law Before the Civil War

15 October, Board for Certification of Genealogists, webinar

Kinship Determination: From Generation to Generation

18 October, Tennessee Genealogical Society Annual Fall Seminar
The Pickering Center, Germantown, information

That First Trip to the Courthouse
From Blackstone to the Statutes at Large – How Knowing the Law Makes Us Better Genealogists
Dowered or Bound Out: Records of Widows and Orphans
The ABCs of DNA

25 October, Genealogical Forum of Oregon
Milwaukie Elks Club, information

“Don’t Forget the Ladies”— A Genealogist’s Guide to Women and the Law
Polls, Personalty and Property—Making Sense of Tax Lists
How Old Did He Have To Be….?
Facts, Photos and Fair Use: Copyright Law for Genealogists

Also, 26 Oct., GFO, Portland, Workshop: Circumstantial Evidence

1 November, San Mateo County Genealogical Society
Menlo Park LDS Church, information, registration

Where There Is – Or Isn’t – A Will
The Fair Court – Records of Chancery Courts
Polls, Personalty and Property – Making Sense of Tax Lists
From Blackstone to the Statutes at Large – How Knowing the Law Makes Us Better Genealogists

5 November, Leisure Village West (NJ) Genealogy Club

Cemeteries & Photos: Permission Required?

8 November, Genealogical Research Institute of Virginia (GRIVA)
Clover Hill High School, Midlothian, information

“Don’t Forget the Ladies”— A Genealogist’s Guide to Women and the Law
Where There Is – Or Isn’t – A Will
Facts, Photos and Fair Use: Copyright Law for Genealogists
Blackguards & Black Sheep: The Lighter Side of the Law

15 November, North Carolina Genealogical Society
Comfort Suites Raleigh Durham, information

From Blackstone to the Statutes at Large – How Knowing the Law Makes Us Better Genealogists
“Don’t Forget the Ladies”— A Genealogist’s Guide to Women and the Law
The Ties that Bond
Staying Out of Trouble – The Rights and Responsibilities of Today’s Genealogists

18 November, Mt. Vernon Genealogical Society

“Don’t Forget the Ladies”— A Genealogist’s Guide to Women and the Law

22 November, Genealogical Society of Bergen County
281 Campgaw Road, Mahwah, information

No Vitals? No Problem! Building a Family through Circumstantial Evidence
“Don’t Forget the Ladies”— A Genealogist’s Guide to Women and the Law
Where There Is – or Isn’t – a Will
Rogues, Rascals and Rapscallions: The Family Black Sheep

3 December, NJ Chapter, APG

The Ethical Genealogist

6 December, Bucks County Genealogical Society

Dowered or Bound Out: Records of Widows and Orphans

9 December, Friends of NARA-Southeast Region, Webinar

“Inventing America – Records of the U.S. Patent Office”

13 December, Hudson County Genealogical Society

Building a Family through Circumstantial Evidence

18 December, Florida State Genealogical Society, Webinar

That First Trip to the Courthouse

Posted in General | 8 Comments