Making the most of your 2014 DNA testing dollars

In 2012, The Legal Genealogist led off a Sunday DNA blog by asking “how do you get the most bang for the DNA buck?”1

And then followed that up last year with an update after prices tumbled for autosomal DNA tests.2

And it’s time now for another update. Because the technological changes particularly at 23andMe mean the old recommendations don’t work any more.

We’re talking here principally about autosomal DNA tests. (Autosomal DNA testing, remember, is the kind of test that works across genders to locate relatives — cousins — from all parts of your family tree.3 That’s in contrast to YDNA testing, which only men can do and which looks at the direct paternal line,4 or mitochondrial DNA testing, which looks at the direct maternal line.5)

There are four possible autosomal DNA tests you can take — from Family Tree DNA, from 23andMe, from Ancestry DNA and even from National Geographic in its Geno 2.0 test with its scientific (rather than genealogical) emphasis.

All of which I have taken. Admittedly, I’m a DNA junkie. I’ve never met a DNA test I wouldn’t take. There are real advantages to testing as widely as possible: you’re looking to find people who match you, and the key person who can help you break down your brick wall may have only tested with one company.

But since nobody is handing out DNA kits for free, the question remains… how do you get the most bang for the DNA buck? And the answer depends in part on what it is you want to find out through your DNA testing.

Every one of the genetic genealogy companies has its pros and its cons. A comparison chart explaining what features the companies do and don’t have is available in the Wiki for the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG). Prepared by Tim Janzen, a medical doctor with a deep understanding of autosomal DNA testing, the Autosomal DNA testing comparison chart provides a good overview.

Here’s my own take.

If you can only afford to test with one company (no change from 2013): If you’re serious about using DNA as a tool in your genealogy toolkit and you can only afford to test with one company, then the company to test with is Family Tree DNA. It has more to offer the genealogist than anybody else in terms of the number of serious genealogists who use it and the features and ease of use it offers. Contacting matches is easy and the amount of information provided about matches is the best in the business.

If your primary interest is in medical information (updated for 2014): If you really want to know about the medical secrets hidden in your DNA, you have to go to a third party utility right now. The dust-up between 23andMe and the federal Food and Drug Administration over the representations 23andMe was making about what autosomal results meant for health issues has brought those reports to a halt.6 So if this is what you want, your best bet is to test with any company you prefer for genealogy, and then run your raw data though a reporting system like Promethease.

If your primary interest is in the admixture data (updated for 2014): If your primary interest is in the numbers — what percentage European or African you are, the two most updated reports are the Ancestry Composition report from 23andMe and the Ethnicity Estimate from Ancestry DNA. Family Tree DNA is still lagging behind on this but is in the process of updating its admixture analyses. But remember that the numbers are really just a guess. If you want to help everybody understand admixtures better for the future, and you can afford it, consider testing with National Geographic’s Geno 2.0. That’s where the real scientific work is being done and, if enough people test, the information we all get about deep ancestry should vastly improve. It’s not cheap — $199 for the test — and there’s not much useful genealogical information, so this is a commitment to science for tomorrow, not a test to do for genealogy today.

If the person you want to test is very old or very young (no change from 2013): Most of the time, how you test doesn’t matter. But if the person you want to test is older or younger, you may need to avoid a test that requires saliva, such as the tests from AncestryDNA and 23andMe. Older people sometimes can’t produce enough saliva to test and it’s impossible to tell a baby how to produce the kind of saliva needed. Family Tree DNA uses swabs rubbed on the inside of the cheek and that avoids this problem.

If you want to link your DNA results to your family tree (no change from 2013): The only company right now that links DNA results to your family tree and compares it to others’ family trees is AncestryDNA. When the tree information is right, it’s a wonderfully useful tool. It’s considerably less so when — as is common — the tree information is wrong, or your match doesn’t have a tree at Ancestry, or your match’s tree is private. There are as yet no tools at AncestryDNA to compare DNA when there is no tree match.

If you want to fish in all the ponds for the lowest price (updated for 2014): Of course, the best way to get all the matches you can possibly get it to test with all three major companies. These days, testing with all three is less expensive than it used to be to test with just one. But you can save yourself a little bit of money and get your results into all three databases this way:

Step 1. Test with AncestryDNA first. It’ll cost you $99. (The big change for 2014 is that you can no longer use 23andMe for this first step because its raw data today using its new V4 testing chip isn’t compatible with the Family Tree DNA system.)

Step 2. The minute you get your results from the first test, transfer your raw data to Family Tree DNA for $69. When I say “transfer,” that doesn’t end your matches at the other company, it just gets you into the Family Tree DNA system with all of its benefits.

Step 3. When you can afford it, test with 23andMe for another $99.

That puts you into all three pools for a total of $267 — less than what you used to pay for one such test in the past.


  1. Judy G. Russell, “More bang for DNA test bucks,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 6 May 2012 ( : accessed 27 July 2013).
  2. Judy G. Russell, “Update: More bang for DNA test bucks,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 28 July 2013 ( : accessed 5 Apr 2014).
  3. See generally Judy G. Russell, “Autosomal DNA testing,” National Genealogical Society Magazine, October-December 2011, 38-43.
  4. ISOGG Wiki (, “Y chromosome DNA test,” rev. 5 Mar 2014.
  5. ISOGG Wiki (, “Mitochondrial DNA,” rev. 29 Oct 2013.
  6. See Judy G. Russell, “23andMe suspends health tests,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 6 Dec 2013 ( : accessed 5 Apr 2014).
Posted in DNA | 25 Comments

Nice to be home

The Legal Genealogist is home today.

Proud to be the spring seminar speaker for the Alabama Genealogical Society.

Delighted to be at Samford University, home of the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research each summer (hope to see you there in June!).

AlabamaHome in a place I’ve never lived.

Home … in Alabama… Home to generations of my ancestors.

At this point, it’s entirely up in the air just how many of my family lines passed through Alabama.

Part of the problem is a county courthouse that burned at least twice, in 1882 and again in 1895, taking so many critical family records with it.1

Part of the problem is at least one ancestor who said he was born in Madison County, Kentucky, when it’s known that part of his family was in Madison County, Alabama.2

But there is no question that at least some of my lines came through Alabama, including three generations of women who were born here:

• My great grandmother, Eula (Baird) Livingston Robertson, was born in Alabama in 1869.3

• My great great grandmother, Martha Louise (Shew) Baird Livingston, was born in Alabama around 1855.4

• My great great great grandmother, Margaret (Battles) Shew, was born in Alabama around 1827.5

And when I walk to the front of the room today in the Brock Forum Auditorium, I will be thinking of those generations of women who did my family proud.

And hoping I can do them proud in my turn.


In Alabama.


  1. Cherokee County, Alabama, suffered catastrophic record losses in the courthouse fires. See FamilySearch Research Wiki (, “Cherokee County, Alabama,” rev. 18 Mar 2014. All of the marriage records, for example, for the time period when my folks would have been marrying there are gone.
  2. I’m still annoyed with my nemesis second great grandfather, George Washington Cottrell. I expect I’ll still be annoyed the day I join him wherever he may be today… See Judy G. Russell, “Oh George… you stinker!,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 9 Jun 2012 ( : accessed 4 Apr 2014).
  3. See Virginia Department of Health, Certificate of Death, state file no. 6367, Eula Robertson (1954); Bureau of Vital Statistics, Richmond.
  4. See 1860 U.S. census, Cherokee County, Alabama, population schedule, p. 315 (stamped), dwelling 829, family 829, Margaret Shoe household; digital image, ( : accessed 22 Mar 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication M653, roll 5.
  5. See ibid. See also 1850 U.S. census, Cherokee County, Alabama, population schedule, 27th District, p. 136 (back) (stamped), dwelling 1055, family 1055, Danl Shew household; digital image, ( : accessed 22 Mar 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 3.
Posted in My family | 11 Comments

French name, common law purpose

It has a funny name.

And a deadly serious nature.

Anonymous_GallowsAnd just about everybody pronounces it wrong.

So The Legal Genealogist is on the road today, en route to the Spring Seminar of the Alabama Genealogical Society at Samford University in Birmingham tomorrow (will I see you there?)… but there’s a term that has reader Janet puzzled that we can clear up fairly quickly.

“I found a court record where the guy I think is my ancestor was involved, but I never heard of this court,” she wrote.

Its name: the Court of Oyer and Terminer.

You’ll come across this court in a number of jurisdictions. It was set up in Massachusetts in 1692 (think Salem… think charges of withcraft),1 it existed in New York between 1683 and 1895,2 the name was used for courts in Virginia and Delaware and Pennsylvania and Georgia, and other states as well.3

And it was a court of criminal jurisdiction — usually very serious criminal jurisdiction indeed: “This name is generally used (sometimes, with additions) as the title, or part of the title, of a state court of criminal jurisdiction, or of the criminal branch of a court of general jurisdiction, being commonly applied to such courts as may try felonies, or the higher grades of crime.”4

So, historically, courts of oyer and terminer were superior courts set up to hear criminal cases. Things like treason and serious felonies. Crimes that carried penalties like death or maiming. In many slave-holding states, they were the courts that handled cases against slaves who could face death if convicted.

The name is drawn from legal French — meaning literally to hear and determine.5

But it’s not given the French oh-yay type pronunciatipon. It is, instead, oy-yer and ter-min-er, with the -er pronounced in plain English.

The funny-sounding court with the deadly serious nature.


Image: Open Clip Art

  1. Court of Oyer and Tewrminer, Glossary, Salem Witch Trials, Women’s History ( : accessed 3 Apr 2014).
  2. Records Relating to Criminal Trials, Appeals, and Pardons ,” New York State Archives information leaflet 9 ( : accessed 3 Apr 2014).
  3. Wikipedia (, “term,” rev. 24 Jan 2014.
  4. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 292, “court of oyer and terminer.”
  5. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary ( : accessed 3 Apr 2014), “oyer and terminer.”
Posted in Legal definitions | 6 Comments

And free to boot

Most of the time, when The Legal Genealogist writes about copyright, it’s to say there’s a reason why some things — images, documents, whatever — can’t be used freely in our genealogy.

Usually there’s someone out there with some protected legal interest in the item and we at least need to ask permission before we just scarf it up and use it.

Not today.

NYPLToday I want to make sure you know about a terrific resources from the New York Public Library — a fabulous collection of maps, absolutely free of any known copyright restrictions.

The Library is so determined to make these maps free to use that it has gone so far as to ensure that any of its own rights have been dedicated to public use through a under a Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

Except that, through technology, it really does get even better than that.

Let’s start with the maps themselves. According to the Library’s blog:

The Lionel Pincus & Princess Firyal Map Division is very proud to announce the release of more than 20,000 cartographic works as high resolution downloads. We believe these maps have no known US copyright restrictions. (The maps may be subject to rights of privacy, rights of publicity and other restrictions. It is your responsibility to make sure that you respect these rights.) To the extent that some jurisdictions grant NYPL an additional copyright in the digital reproductions of these maps, NYPL is distributing these images under a Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication. The maps can be viewed through the New York Public Library’s Digital Collections page, and downloaded (!), through the Map Warper. First, create an account, then click a map title and go.1

And, the announcement continues:

What’s this all mean?

It means you can have the maps, all of them if you want, for free, in high resolution. We’ve scanned them to enable their use in the broadest possible ways by the largest number of people.

Though not required, if you’d like to credit the New York Public Library, please use the following text “From The Lionel Pincus & Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library.” Doing so helps us track what happens when we release collections like this to the public for free under really relaxed and open terms. We believe our collections inspire all kinds of creativity, innovation and discovery, things the NYPL holds very dear.2

Read that again.

Twenty. Thousand. Maps.

Free to use.

And these are not just New York maps. There are maps of just about every place in the United States and around the world included in the collection:

A 1575 map of Cambridge, England

An 1851 map of Austria

A 1721 map of North America

A 1792 map of what would become Washington, D.C.

An 1860 county map of Texas

And of course a ton of maps of New York and the surrounding area. According to NYPL:

(W)e’ve built up a great collection of: 1,100 maps of the Mid-Atlantic United States and cities from the 16th to 19th centuries, mostly drawn from the Lawrence H. Slaughter Collection; a detailed collection of more than 700 topographic maps of the Austro-Hungarian empire created between 1877 and 1914; a collection of 2,800 maps from state, county and city atlases (mostly New York and New Jersey); a huge collection of more than 10,300 maps from property, zoning, topographic, but mostly fire insurance atlases of New York City dating from 1852 to 1922; and an incredibly diverse collection of more than 1,000 maps of New York City, its boroughs and neighborhoods, dating from 1660 to 1922, which detail transportation, vice, real estate development, urban renewal, industrial development and pollution, political geography among many, many other things.3

You can view and search the images available through the Digital Collections maps division entry page. But to download the maps for free, you have to use the Map Warper.

You do have to register to use that Map Warper site. That requires nothing more than an email address and a password. Every map in the collection has a number of options for use, but clicking on the Export link gives you an option to download the original high resolution TIFF file. These are very high resolution indeed — one Virginia map I downloaded was more than 73Mb in 300 dpi resolution: good enough to print in wall-chart size.

The map site can get really slow at times so patience is important, but there’s a reason why it gets slow… and that’s the rest of the story here.

Because what the Map Warper also lets you do — and me do — and everyone else in the public do — is “virtually stretch old maps onto a digital model of the world à la Google Maps or OpenStreetMap, thus creating a new copy that is not only aligned with spatial coordinates on the Earth, but normalized across the entire archive of old maps.”4

It’s not the easiest thing to figure out how to use, but there’s a lot of help available — there’s a “How to use this tool” video right on the Map Warper opening page.

And all those newly virtualized maps — with history superimposed on the modern world — are also available for download too. The map illustrating this post, for example, is a 1619 map of Manhattan superimposed on a modern map.

Maps. And a mapping tool. And every bit of it free to use.

Now how cool is that?


  1. Matt Knutzen, “Open Access Maps at NYPL,” New York Public Library Blog, posted 28 Mar 2014 ( : accessed 2 Apr 2014).
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Matt Knutzen, “Unbinding the Atlas: Working with Digital Maps,” New York Public Library Blog, posted 10 Jan 2012 ( : accessed 2 Apr 2014).
Posted in Copyright, Resources | 4 Comments

Different times, different meanings

She was, by all accounts, a strong and determined woman.

Mother of four children, three surviving to adulthood, she raised her youngsters largely without the assistance of her husband.

And therein lies the tale.

grass.widowSarah Christina S. Roberts was born 9 March 1846 in Bath County, and died there 5 March 1924 in the Williamsville Magisterial District.1 Daughter of Daniel Roberts and Mary Bauserman, she married a Civil War veteran, Daniel McCune, in Bath County just after the war’s end, on 21 September 1865.2

Sarah’s children were all born in Bath County. Her first child, daughter Mary Virginia, was born 22 July 1866;3 her second, son John, on 2 March 1868;4; her third, a son who did not survive, on 17 September 1869;5 and her last, son Francis Cameron, on 7 October 1877.6

The family was enumerated in Bath County in 1880: Daniel was shown as “Danil” McCune, age 45, a farmer born in Virginia of parents both born in Virginia. Sarah was shown as age 30, born in Virginia of parents both born in Virginia. Three children were enumerated with them: daughter “Jennie,” age 13; son John, age 11; and son Cameron, age 2. “Jennie” (Mary Virginia) and John were shown as having attended school within the prior year.7

And the next time the census records show the family — the 1900 census of Bath County — Sarah was recorded as a widow.8

But she wasn’t.

She and Daniel had been separated for years — he had moved back to his native West Virginia by 1882.9 They never divorced, and Daniel didn’t die until 1907.10

What Sarah was, in 1900, was a “grass widow.

If you look it up, you will find the term in at least one law dictionary: “A slang term for a woman separated from her husband by abandonment or prolonged absence; a woman living apart from her husband,” says Black’s Law Dictionary, citing to the Webster’s Dictionary of the day.11

And for most of us, as American genealogists, working in 19th or 20th or even 21st century records, that’s the usage and the meaning we’re going to encounter.

But there are other meanings at different times and different places.

In general British usage, the term may well mean only “a woman whose husband is temporarily away, say on business.”12 It doesn’t carry the same essential implication of marital strife the way the American usage does.

But both the British and American uses show up for the first time in the 1840s.13 And the term was in use long before that.

In that older usage, going back as early as 1528, “grass widow had a much coarser meaning, namely ‘a woman who lost her virginity before the wedding’ and ‘a deserted mistress.’”14

So it’s a matter of time and place… and in 1900 Virginia, it was used for a widow who wasn’t — not yet.


  1. Virginia State Board of Health, death certificate no. 5407 (1924), Mrs. Sarah McCune, 5 March 1924; Bureau of Vital Statistics, Richmond.
  2. Bath County, Virginia, Marriage Licenses 1853-1904, chronologically arranged, Daniel W. McCune and Sarah C.S. Roberts, 21 September 1865; Circuit Court Clerk’s office, Warm Springs.
  3. Va. Dept. of Health, death certificate no. 11050 (1942), Mary Virginia Burnett, 10 May 1942.
  4. Bath Co., Register of Births 1853-1870, p. 35, line 76, entry for John H. McCune, 2 March 1868.
  5. Bath Co., Register of Births 1853-1870, p. 37, line 64, entry for unnamed male McCune, 17 September 1869.
  6. Bath Co., Birth Register, carded records, entry for Francis C.L. McCune, citing tax assessor list for 1877, sheet 18, line 38. The birth card erroneously reports the child’s gender as female.
  7. 1880 U.S. census, Bath County, Virginia, Williamsville Township, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 28, p. 14B (penned), dwelling 110, family 112, Danil McCune; digital image, ( : accessed 23 May 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 1355.
  8. 1900 U.S. census, Bath County, Virginia, Williamsville Township, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 44, sheet 11B, p. 56B (stamped), dwelling 187, family 188, Sarah McCune household; digital image, ( : accessed 14 April 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T623, roll 1701.
  9. Bath Co., Table of Tracts of Land for the Year 1882, alphabetically arranged, entry for “McCune, Daniel W.”; LVA land tax microfilm 745.
  10. Calhoun County, (West) Virginia, Death Register 2: 253, entry 632, McCune, D.W., 21 November 1907; County Clerk’s Office, Grantsville.
  11. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 548, “grass widow.”
  12. See Michael Quinion, “Grass widow,” World Wide Words ( : accessed 1 Apr 2014).
  13. See ibid. Also, Online Etymology Dictionary ( : accessed 1 Apr 2014), “grass widow.”
  14. Anatoly Liberman, “Grass Widows and Straw Men,” Oxford University Press’s OUPblog, posted 18 Feb 2009 ( : accessed 1 Apr 2014).
Posted in Legal definitions | 8 Comments

225 years worth of records

“Laws are like sausages — it is best not to see them being made.”

So the saying goes, attributed — wrongly — to Otto von Bismarck1 but surely resonating with 21st century Americans.

centuryAmerican approval of and confidence in our lawmakers — the Congress of the United States — is at record lows these days.2

But it was not always so.

At least we can hope that public confidence was at least a little higher back then, back when things all started, 225 years ago today.

April 1, 1789, was opening day for the first full session of the United States House of Representatives, the lower house of the U.S. Congress, meeting in New York City.3 Oh, it wasn’t the first day it had been scheduled to meet. No, that would have been March 4th. Some representatives from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Virginia and South Carolina were there. “But a quorum of the whole number not being present, the House adjourned until to-morrow morning eleven o’clock.”4

They tried again on March 5th. More representatives attended, from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. “But a quorum of the whole number not being present, the House adjourned until to-morrow morning eleven o’clock.”5

They tried again on the 6th. And 7th. And 9th. 10th. 11th. 12th. 13th. On the 14th, three more Virginians arrived. “But a quorum of the whole number not being present, the House adjourned until to-morrow morning eleven o’clock.”6

The representatives continued to straggle in through March. One from Virginia on the 17th, another on the 18th. A New Jerseyan and a Marylander on the 23rd. Another Virginian on the 25th. “But a quorum of the whole number not being present, the House adjourned until to-morrow morning eleven o’clock.”7

On the 30th, another Virginian and another Marylander arrived. “But a quorum of the whole number not being present, the House adjourned until to-morrow morning eleven o’clock.”8 On the 31st, “…a quorum of the whole number not being present, the House adjourned until to-morrow morning eleven o’clock.”9

Finally, on the first of April, Representatives James Schureman from New Jersey and Thomas Scott from Pennsylvania arrived, took their seats, and “a quorum, consisting of a major of the whole number,” was finally present.10

And so began 225 years of Congressional lawmaking and — for us as genealogists — 225 years of records.

And there is no better avenue to begin investigating those records than the Library of Congress’ marvelous site, part of its American Memory project, “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875.”

The entry page to the Century of Lawmaking site explains:

Beginning with the Continental Congress in 1774, America’s national legislative bodies have kept records of their proceedings. The records of the Continental Congress, the Constitutional Convention, and the United States Congress make up a rich documentary history of the construction of the nation and the development of the federal government and its role in the national life. These documents record American history in the words of those who built our government.

Books on the law formed a major part of the holdings of the Library of Congress from its beginning. In 1832, Congress established the Law Library of Congress as a separate department of the Library. It houses one of the most complete collections of U.S. Congressional documents in their original format. In order to make these records more easily accessible to students, scholars, and interested citizens, A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation brings together online the records and acts of Congress from the Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention through the 43rd Congress, including the first three volumes of the Congressional Record, 1873-75.

Major categories of records on the site are:

Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention:

• Journals of the Continental Congress
• Letters of Delegates to Congress
• Elliot’s Debates
• Farrand’s Records

Statutes and Documents

• Bills and Resolutions
• Statutes at Large
• American State Papers
• U.S. Serial Set

Journals of Congress

• House Journal
• Senate Journal
• Senate Executive Journal
• Maclay’s Journal

Debates of Congress

• Annals of Congress
• Register of Debates
• Congressional Globe
• Congressional Record

Beyond those major record sets, there are always special presentations. Right now, the site links to special presentations on:

The Making of the U.S. Constitution
Timeline: American History as Seen in Congressional Documents, 1774-1873
The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States
Indian Land Cessions in the United States, 1784 to 1894 (including maps_
The Louisiana Purchase: Legislative Timeline – 1802 to 1807
Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of America, 1861-1865
The Impeachment Trial of President Andrew Johnson, 1868
Presidential Elections and the Electoral College, 1877

It’s a terrific resource for anybody interested in genealogy, history and law. Go poke around in its collections. There’s something there for everyone.


  1. See Fred R. Shapiro, “On Language: Quote . . . Misquote,” The New York Times, 21 July 2008 ( : accessed 31 Mar 2014).
  2. See e.g. Lydia Saad and Andrew Dugan, “Congress’ Low Job Approval Persists,” Gallup Politics, posted 10 Mar 2014 ( : accessed 31 Mar 2014).
  3. Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, volume I (Washington, D.C. : Gales & Seaton, 1826), 6; digital images, “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875,” Library of Congress, American Memory ( : accessed 31 Mar 2014).
  4. Ibid., at 3.
  5. Ibid., at 4.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid., at 5.
  8. Ibid., at 6.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
Posted in General, Resources | Leave a comment

Credit where credit is due

Randy Seaver, author of the Genea-Musings blog, is one of the most prolific genealogy writers around, with a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly output that far exceeds anything The Legal Genealogist could ever envision.

thiefHis “Saturday Night Genealogy Fun” posts always attract my eye, even if I haven’t got time always to join in the fun. He’s constantly posting transcriptions of documents from his family history, and — sometimes more than once a week — he posts lengthy family reports online.

Randy’s reports are well-researched, well-documented genealogical reports on an individual or a couple somewhere in his very large family tree.

The kind of reports that make you dearly wish you were related to Randy.

The kind of reports that will get noticed by those are related to Randy.

The kind of reports that get scarfed up and reposted online, often as attachments to family trees posted by subscribers at

And that’s what has Randy perplexed.

Last week, he threw out a question to his readers: “I have a quandary – other Member Trees keep sprouting ‘Stories’ that I’ve written, and then they are ‘attached’ to a number of other Ancestry Member Trees. What should I do?”1

He offered a number of possible responses to his own quandary:

“* Engage those persons who have ‘written’ my stories and ask for them to remove them because they have violated my copyright protection.

“* Engage those persons and request that they ask permission to use it and to add ‘reprinted by permission of Randy Seaver’ after permission is given.

“* Just let it go and be happy folks are reading my posts and website.

“* Write my own ‘Stories’ and attach them to my tree people with appropriate copyright notices and permission to attach to other trees.”2

And, he adds:

I try to share my research using my blog posts and web pages because I think that sharing and collaboration is the best way to interact with other researchers. I really don’t want to ask other searchers to remove my material from their trees, as long as my copyright notice is included in the “Story.”3


The Legal Genealogist just doesn’t get it. How is it that so many in our community don’t see that it’s wrong to take ideas and words and work from our fellow genealogists?

There’s no reason, legally or ethically, why Randy — or anyone else who has worked hard and long to produce good work — should have to go to these lengths to get credit where credit is due.

The law is clearly on Randy’s side: the minute he wrote his blog post, it automatically had his copyright attached. As the U.S. Copyright Office says, “Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.”4

He puts the copyright symbol and notice on every one of his blog posts, but he doesn’t have to under the law. Copyright is automatic: the author don’t have to put the © copyright symbol on the material,5 doesn’t have to register his copyright with the copyright office of the country where he lives,6 though he can — and there are some extra protections if he does.7

And every ethical code you can think of — in our field and in life in general — is on Randy’s side too. Copying from others without giving credit to the original author is not sharing; it’s plagiarizing someone else’s work.

It’s something professional genealogists all expressly pledge to avoid. As the holder of Certified GenealogistSM and Certified Genealogical LecturerSMcredentials, I have pledged that:

• I will not represent as my own the work of another. …
• … In citing another’s work, I will give proper credit.8

As a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists, I have agreed to “fully and accurately cite references; and … (g)ive proper credit to those who supply information and provide assistance.”9

And lest anyone think these rules are only for professionals, let me quote from the National Genealogical Society’s Standards For Sharing Information With Others:

(R)esponsible family historians consistently—

* respect the restrictions on sharing information that arise from the rights of another as an author, originator or compiler; as a living private person; or as a party to a mutual agreement.

* observe meticulously the legal rights of copyright owners, copying or distributing any part of their works only with their permission, or to the limited extent specifically allowed under the law’s “fair use” exceptions.

* identify the sources for all ideas, information and data from others, and the form in which they were received, recognizing that the unattributed use of another’s intellectual work is plagiarism.10

Need help recognizing where the line is between sharing and plagiarism? Check out “QuickLesson 15: Plagiarism—Five ‘Copywrongs’ of Historical Writing” at Elizabeth Shown Mills’ EvidenceExplained site.11 Or, if you’re a member of the National Genealogical Society, read Debbie Mieszala’s “Stop, thief! A plagiarism primer,” in the April-June 2012 NGS News Magazine.12

Now I want to repeat something Randy said: “sharing and collaboration is the best way to interact with other researchers. I really don’t want to ask other searchers to remove my material from their trees, as long as my copyright notice is included in the ‘Story.’”

In other words, give credit where credit is due.

Because doing anything else — taking Randy’s work and putting it online with our family trees without his permission (law) and without giving him credit (ethics) — is theft.

Let’s all work together and stop the thieves — ourselves included.


  1. Randy Seaver, “Should I Add My Own Family Stories to my Ancestry Member Tree?,” Genea-Musings, posted 27 Mar 2014 ( : accessed 30 Mar 2014).
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. U.S. Copyright Office, “Copyright in General: When is my work protected?,” ( : accessed 30 Mar 2014).
  5. U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1: Copyright Basics, PDF version at p. 4 ( : accessed 30 Mar 2014) (“The use of a copyright notice is no longer required under U. S. law”).
  6. Ibid., p. 3.
  7. Ibid., p. 7.
  8. Code of Ethics and Conduct,” Board for Certification of Genealogists ( : accessed 30 Mar 2014). This code is also followed by Accredited Genealogists pursuant to the Professional Ethics Agreements of the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists.
  9. Code of Ethics,” Association of Professional Genealogists ( : accessed 30 Mar 2014).
  10. National Genealogical Society, Standards For Sharing Information With Others, PDF ( : accessed 30 Mar 2014).
  11. Elizabeth Shown Mills, “QuickLesson 15: Plagiarism—Five ‘Copywrongs’ of Historical Writing,” EvidenceExplained ( : accessed 30 Mar 2014).
  12. Debbie Mieszala, “Stop, thief! A plagiarism primer,” 38 National Genealogical Society News Magazine (April-June 2012) 17-20.
Posted in Copyright, General | 46 Comments

Questions and answers about mitochondrial DNA

Q. So why an mtDNA Q&A today anyway?

A. Because there’s a major sale going on — a March Madness sale — at Family Tree DNA that ends at 11:59 p.m. CDT on Tuesday, April 1, that offers real savings on one test and one test only: the full mitochondrial (mtDNA) sequence.

Q. Um… what’s mtDNA?

A. That’s the type of DNA passed down from a mother to all of her children, but that only her daughters can pass on. a particular type of DNA that everyone has, passed to us from our mothers. Because of the way it’s inherited, all of a mother’s children will have the same mtDNA, but only her daughters will pass it on to their children. So it gives us a look at our maternal line: our mother’s mother’s mother’s line and on back through the generations.1

Q. Can you show me that a little better?

A. Yep: look at this chart. Figure you’re one of the folks in red at the bottom — male or female, since we all have mtDNA — and trace it back: it looks at our mother’s mother’s mother’s line and on back through the generations.


Q. How many markers does this test look at? 25? 37?

A. Those are the numbers for the guys’ test — the YDNA test. Mitochondrial DNA isn’t measured that way. For mtDNA you look at either part of the mtDNA (specifically in areas called hypervariable regions, or HVR1 and HVR2) or all of the mtDNA (HVR1 plus HVR2 and the coding region).2

Q. Which test is on sale?

A. The “whole thing” test: the full mitochondrial sequence looks at HVR1 and HVR2 and the coding region.

Q. And that will tell me…?

A. Everything you can know about your mtDNA: your haplogroup like A or H or K or U, plus how your own personal mtDNA differs from a reference mtDNA in ways that make you different from other folks who are not genetically related to you and similar to other folks who are genetically related to you.

Q. What’s a haplogroup?

A. Technically, it’s “a genetic population group of people who share a common ancestor on the patrilineal or matrilineal line.”3 Think of it like your town sitting somewhere in the branches of the human family tree. Since we’re looking at the matilineal line with this test, everybody in that town with you came from the same area — the same common mother back thousands of years ago.

Q. What does that do for my genealogy?

A. It’s really a matter of seeing what it might do. No DNA test comes with guarantees. But let’s say you have a family story that your maternal grandmother or great grandmother was Native American. It might confirm that story. Or it might tell you that your mother’s line is strongly European — so you don’t waste time chasing a Native American story in that particular line. (It could be a maternal great grandfather, not great grandmother, still.)

Q. What about the individual results — those people you say I’m genetically related to — how does that help?

A. Finding out you and someone else are — or aren’t — related in a direct maternal line can answer some pretty big brickwall questions. I’ve written about some of these issues in my own family4 and in questions from readers.5 And yesterday’s blog by Roberta Estes at DNAeXplained is a must-read for anybody who wants to know why to mtDNA test.6

Q. Should I test myself or my mother or my brother?

A. I’d always test the oldest available generation — mother before child, grandmother before mother — mostly because I’m always thinking about other later DNA tests I might be able to afford, and an older generation is always better for an autosomal DNA test.

Q. Only my brother and I are available to test. Which of us is best?

A. In most cases, both of you will have exactly the same mtDNA as each other — and exactly the same as your mother had, and her mother, and her mother. But remember — even though mtDNA changes slowly — that small change can happen any time in any generation. I’m aware of one case where a change occurred when mtDNA was passed from a mother to one of her children. So in most cases it won’t matter which of you is tested for mtDNA purposes, but boy… if you can afford to test both of you, that’s the way to go. Then later you can do a YDNA test for him (getting information on your father’s father’s line)7 and autosomal testing on both of you (to find cousins alive today).8

Q. Back to this sale thing, what’s the difference between an add-on and a new kit?

A. An add-on means you’re already a Family Tree DNA customer but have never done mtDNA testing. A new kit means you’re not yet a Family Tree DNA customer.

Q. How much can I save?

A. You can save about a third on the cost of this test. Full price is usually $199, and the sale price is $139 — a $60 savings.

Q. Why can’t I get the cheaper upgrade test?

A. You can — if you’ve already done some mtDNA testing at Family Tree DNA and want more information. If you’ve tested only the HVR1 region, you can upgrade for $99, down from the regular $149. If you’ve tested both HVR1 and HVR2, the upgrade is $89.

Q. How many kits can I buy?

A. How many can you afford — and realistically how many people do you want to test?

Q. Are any other tests on sale?

A. Not in this sale, but check back from time to time: Family Tree DNA runs sales three or four times a year.

Q. How do I find out more?

A. Head on over to Family Tree DNA.


  1. See ISOGG Wiki (, “Mitochondrial DNA tests,” rev. 5 Mar 2014.
  2. Ibid.
  3. ISOGG Wiki (, “Haplogroup,” rev. 4 Mar 2014.
  4. See Judy G. Russell, “Oh, mama… a use for mtDNA,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 12 Feb 2012 ( : accessed 27 Mar 2014). Also, “Looking for an Alabama relative,” posted 1 July 2012.
  5. Judy G. Russell, “DNA and the question of how many wives,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 8 July 2012 ( : accessed 27 Mar 2014).
  6. Roberta Estes, “Mitochondrial – the Maligned DNA,DNAeXplained, posted 29 Mar 2014 ( : accessed 29 Mar 2014).
  7. See ISOGG Wiki (, “Y chromosome DNA tests,” rev. 5 Mar 2014.
  8. ISOGG Wiki (, “Autosomal DNA,” rev. 1 Feb 2014.
Posted in DNA | Leave a comment

Limited time mtDNA sale

No, it isn’t Sunday.

Really, it’s not.

And, yes, The Legal Genealogist usually only writes about DNA on Sundays.

But there have to be exceptions in exceptional cases.

mtDNA.saleSuch as when there’s a huge sale that starts today and is only going to last through Tuesday, 11:59 PM CDT April 1, 2014. (That’s 10:59 p.m. MDT, 9:59 p.m. PDT, and for East Coasters, 12:59 a.m. EDT April 2nd.)

It’s the March Madness sale at Family Tree DNA with a huge price cut for one particular DNA test, the mitochondrial (mtDNA) full sequence test.

Now this is a test that looks at a particular type of DNA that everyone has, passed to us from our mothers. Because of the way it’s inherited, all of a mother’s children will have the same mtDNA, but only her daughters will pass it on to their children. So it gives us a look at our maternal line: our mother’s mother’s mother’s line and on back through the generations.1

It’s a type of DNA that changes very very little over the generations. Scientists think there may be only one very small change — called a mutation, but not in a bad way — in hundreds, even thousands of years. And because it travels down the female line, and we all fight our way through all those surname changes, well… there’s a reason why it’s sometimes considered the redheaded foster stepchild of DNA testing.2

But it’s also an extremely powerful form of testing when it’s targeted at specific research questions. I’ve written more than once — just this past Sunday even! — about needing it to try to find out who the mother of my third great grandmother Margaret (Battles) Shew was.3 And about using it to check a claim that one of my ancestors was Native American. (She was not.)4

It can help answer questions like the one a reader asked about how many wives a second great grandfather had, by testing direct female descendants of the oldest — and youngest — known daughters.5

And it can help validate a theory on whose bones were buried beneath a car park in Leicester, England, putting to rest (pun intended) the question of the final burial place of England’s King Richard III. 6

And for the next five days — today through April 1 — the most complete, most powerful test of your mtDNA is on sale. The reduced prices for those who’ve done no mtDNA testing or who’ve done less complete tests to upgrade to the full mitochondrial sequence during this sale are:

• mtDNAFullSequence Add-on and New Kits – Was $199 US Now $139 US

• mtHVR1toMEGA Upgrade – Was $149 US Now $99 US

• mtHVR2toMEGA Upgrade – Was $159 US Now $89 US

And I couldn’t agree more with Family Tree DNA’s statement of the three key reasons to do this:

• Unlock the full potential of mtDNA testing.

• Enjoy the definitive test for your direct maternal line.

• Compare to others at the highest mtDNA testing level.

You can get more info on this testing here at Family Tree DNA

And remember … if you’re a direct line female descendant of Ann (Jacobs) Battles of Cherokee County, Alabama, or Kiziah (Wright) Battles of Blount County, Alabama, or Nancy (Wright) Battles of St. Clair County, Alabama, I have a test kit waiting for you at my expense…


  1. See ISOGG Wiki (, “Mitochondrial DNA tests,” rev. 5 Mar 2014.
  2. Judy G. Russell, “Picking your Battles,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 23 Mar 2014 ( : accessed 27 Mar 2014).
  3. Ibid. Also, Judy G. Russell, “Looking for an Alabama relative,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 1 July 2012 ( : accessed 27 Mar 2014).
  4. Judy G. Russell, “Oh, mama… a use for mtDNA,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 12 Feb 2012 ( : accessed 27 Mar 2014).
  5. Judy G. Russell, “DNA and the question of how many wives,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 8 July 2012 ( : accessed 27 Mar 2014).
  6. Judy G. Russell, “Rewriting history through DNA,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 3 Feb 2013 and “And the answer is…,” posted 4 Feb 2013 ( : accessed 27 Mar 2014).
Posted in DNA | 5 Comments

The not-so-obvious term

Okay, this one seems like it should be a no-brainer, right?

We all know what probate means.

probateI mean, seriously, we can’t hardly consider ourselves genealogists if we haven’t at least looked at probate records, now can we?

So how ’bout if The Legal Genealogist tells you that, when you come across something that was probated, it may not be in a probate matter at all?

The issue came up when Jeff Thomas, a Baker cousin of mine, started looking at an ancestor who lived in South Carolina in 1784, but owned land in Georgia.

He’s trying to nail down this particular ancestor’s date of birth. There obviously aren’t any birth records for the 1700s in that part of the country, and there’s no family Bible or other record to shed light on it.

So Jeff is carefully and methodically working his way through the available documents surrounding this ancestor to see what light they might shed on the question.

In one instance, for example, this ancestor was named in his father’s 1746 will and identified as being under age. In the will, he received a particular piece of land, which he sold in 1756.

Aha! Major clues!

Jeff realized that, to have been named as a child — a minor — in his father’s 1746 will, his ancestor’s birth had to have occurred less than 21 years earlier.1 So he couldn’t have been born later [correction: earlier] than 1725.

He also realized that, for the ancestor to have sold the land on his own, he’d have had to have been of age. Otherwise, he’d have had to have a guardian sell it for him. And to be at least 21 in 1756, he had to have been born not later than 1735. So working with these two documents alone, the range of possible birth years has been narrowed down to somewhere between 1725 and 1735.

Fast forward all those years to the 1784 land transaction. The land was in Effingham County, Georgia. The buyer was described as a planter of Effingham County. But the seller — Jeff’s ancestor — lived across the border in Camden County, the old 96 District, in South Carolina. And, according to the records Jeff has, the deed was “probated in 96 Dist.” before a Justice of the Peace there.

So… was this in connection with a will — the kind of thing we’d expect to see when the word probated is used?

Probably not.

Yes, the typical way the word “probate” is used in the law is the way you see it in the image here today: it’s used to refer to the “act or process of proving a will. The proof before an ordinary, surrogate, register, or other duly authorized person that a document produced before him for official recognition and registration, and alleged to be the last will and testament of a certain deceased person, is such in reality.”2

But there’s a second meaning, especially when it’s used as a verb the way it is here.3 It also means — simply — “to prove” and the proof itself can be called “probation”: “The evidence which proves a thing. It is either by record, writing, the party’s own oath, or the testimony of witnesses.”4 Or, as Black’s Law Dictionary puts it, probation is the “act of proving; evidence; proof.”5

And to prove something, it means to “establish the genuineness and due execution of a paper, propounded to the proper court or officer.”6

So why was the term “probated” used in the land case rather than “proved”?

Part of the answer may come from local custom or the idiosyncracies of the justice of the peace before whom the proof was submitted.

But the biggest part probably comes from what else Black’s Law Dictionary says about probate. It notes that the word was also used “to designate the proof of his claim made by a non-resident plaintiff (when the same is on book-account, promissory note, etc.) who swears to the correctness and justness of the same, and that it is due, before a notary or other officer in his own state; also of the copy or statement of such claim filed in court, with the jurat of such notary attached.”7

Think about that for a moment. Though the context suggested is in actions for debt, it works perfectly well in a land deal as well:

• Buyer and seller from different states.

• Buyer needs to establish in his home state that the deed is valid.

• Seller (or seller’s witnesses) don’t want to travel to buyer’s state to prove the deed.

• Answer: seller or seller’s witnesses go to seller’s local court and prove it — probate it — there, and the proof gets sent along from one court to the other.

Probate. Not always what we think it is.


  1. See generally Judy G. Russell, “Part 3: How old did folks have to be,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 20 Jan 2012 ( : accessed 26 Mar 2014).
  2. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 945, “probate.”
  3. Verb. You remember those, right? From grammar school? That’s “a word (such as jump, think, happen, or exist) that is usually one of the main parts of a sentence and that expresses an action, an occurrence, or a state of being.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary ( : accessed 26 Mar 2014), “verb.” That much even I remember. Just don’t ask me to diagram a sentence.
  4. 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 26 Mar 2014), “probation.”
  5. Black, A Dictionary of Law, 945, “probation.”
  6. Ibid., 959, “prove.”
  7. Ibid., 945, “probate.”
Posted in Legal definitions | 6 Comments