Next in an occasional series on copyright.

It’s impossible to be a genealogist — or at least a good genealogist — without paying attention to the family Bible.

BibleRepository of so many facts (and, often, so many fancies) of family history, the family Bible is a source of great importance whenever and wherever it can be found.

And, occasionally, as we sit there ready, willing and able to write up some chapter of family history, we find a verse in the scriptures that we want to quote, sometimes even quote at length.

Can we?

Or do we have to worry about that niggling nagging issue called copyright?

The answer?

(You saw this one coming a mile away, didn’t you?)

It depends.

Now you might be sitting there wondering how it can possibly be an issue. After all, we all know that anything published in the United States before 1923 is now officially out of copyright and in the public domain.1 That means there is no copyright restriction on it of any kind and you are free to use it in any way you’d like.2 And surely the Bible was published in the United States before 1923!

Not to mention the fact that, even for material previously unpublished, the original authors of any of the books of the Bible have certainly been dead for more than 70 years, putting that material into the public domain as well.3

Except for one minor little detail.

The original works that are today the Bible were written in Hebrew. Or Aramaic. Or Greek. Most assuredly not in English. Which means that every copy of every Bible that I might be able to read today4 is a translation.

And therein lies the rub.

Because translations are regarded as the kind of works that, in and of themselves, are capable of being copyrighted.5 And a whole bunch of modern translations of the Bible are in fact copyrighted.

Examples of currently-copyrighted translated versions of the Bible include the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1946, 1952, and 1971 by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America; the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989 by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America; the New International Version®, copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, and 2011 by Biblica, Inc.; the New Living Translation, copyright 1996, 2004, 2007, and 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation, Carol Stream, Illinois; and the New King James Version®, copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

In other words, a whole bunch of the standard versions, including the ones we probably have at home.

Including one that surprised even The Legal Genealogist.

The King James Version.

The original version.

Translated in England between 1604 and 1611.

Of course, it’s only protected in England, and only because of a truly unique set of monopolies and grants that are not exactly the same as copyrights and are set to expire in 2039.6

So… can we use these translations? Or are we going to get into copyright trouble?

For the most part, any use we as genealogists might make of any of these translations is perfectly fine. Even the publishers themselves realize that people are going to quote the Bible, they’re going to quote the one they use most frequently, and they’re going to drive the publishers batty if we had to have permission for every little use. So most publishers, on their websites, give blanket permission for non-commercial use up to some limit:

• Revised Standard Version and New Revised Standard Version, “less than an entire book of the Bible, and less than 500 verses (total), and less than 50 percent of the total number of words in the work in which they are quoted (and no) changes are made to the text” and attribution.7

• New International Version, for individuals, “for personal, noncommercial use, … up to and inclusive of 50 verses, … provided the verses quoted do not amount to a complete book of the Bible nor do the verses quoted account for five percent (5%) or more of the total text of the work in which they are quoted” and for churches or and nonprofit educational institutions, “for personal, noncommercial use, … up to and inclusive of 500 verses, … provided the verses quoted do not amount to a complete book of the Bible nor do the verses quoted account for twenty-five percent (25%) or more of the total text of the work in which they are quoted” and with attribution.8

• New King James Version, in any form (written, visual, electronic, or audio) up to five hundred (500) verses or less without written permission, as long as the Scripture does not make up more than 25% of the total text in the work and the Scripture is not being quoted in commentary or another Biblical reference work, and with attribution.9

• The King James Version, “a maximum of five hundred (500) verses for liturgical and non-commercial educational use, provided that the verses quoted neither amount to a complete book of the Bible nor represent 25 per cent or more of the total text of the work in which they are quoted,” and with attribution.10

So, yes, no, and maybe.

But, for the kind of use we as genealogists might make of it, I’d feel perfectly confident that I could go ahead and use that verse or set of verses anyway.

And be forgiven even if I was wrong.


  1. See Peter B. Hirtle, “Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States,” Cornell Copyright Center ( : accessed 11 Dec 2014).
  2. See generally “Where is the public domain?,” Frequently Asked Questions: Definitions, U.S. Copyright Office ( : accessed 11 Dec 2014).
  3. See Hirtle, “Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States.”
  4. I won’t speak for you. You, after all, might be fluent in Hebrew and Aramaic and Greek. I have enough trouble with English.
  5. See U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 14: Copyright in Derivative Works and Compilations, PDF version at 2 ( : accessed 11 Dec 2014). And see Laura N. Gasaway, “Copyright in Translations,” Copyright Corner (Nov. 2004) ( : accessed 11 Dec 2014).
  6. See Wikipedia (, “King James Version,” rev. 11 Dec 2014.
  7. NRSV, Licensing/Permissions ( : accessed 11 Dec 2014).
  8. Biblica, “Permitted noncommercial uses,” Terms of Use ( : accessed 11 Dec 2014).
  9. Harper Collins Christian Publishing, Permissions ( : accessed 11 Dec 2014).
  10. Cambridge University Press, “King James Version,” Bibles: Rights and Permissions ( : accessed 11 Dec 2014).
Posted in Copyright | 6 Comments

The language of the law. Part Latin, part Anglo-Saxon, all confusing.

So The Legal Genealogist had an absolute ball doing that webinar Tuesday for the Friends of the National Archives-Southeast Region on patents, and almost immediately had a question by email.

“Patents for inventors?” the reader asked. “I thought patents were issued for land.”

Now I thought briefly about being a little snarky… because I did answer that question in the webinar. But I do realize not everyone can be online in the middle of a workday afternoon, and it really is annoying that one seemingly simple six-letter word could be used in two such seemingly different ways.

Truth is, the uses aren’t really all that different.

Here’s the deal.

A patent, by definition, is a “grant of some privilege, property, or authority, made by the government or sovereign of a country to one or more individuals.”1


Now think about that for a minute.

I’m the King.2 I own all the land in this province or colony or territory. And I give you some. Or sell it to you. Or let you have it in return for military service or some other good deed.

What I’ve just accomplished is a “grant of some … property,… made by the … sovereign of a country to one or more individuals,” right?

In other words, a patent.

That’s why a lot of land transfers, from the royal governments in colonial days (whether Dutch, French, Spanish or English), and from the federal or state governments after the United States became a country, were accomplished by means of patents.

But now let’s change the facts a little. Say I’m the federal government.3 And I give Eli Whitney the singular right to build, use and sell his cotton gin invention for a period of 14 years.4

What have I just accomplished there?

I’ve just accomplished a “grant of some privilege, … or authority, made by the government … of a country to one or more individuals.”

In other words, a patent.

And that’s why one word is used for both concepts: a patent for land; a patent for inventions.

Patently clear? Maybe.

Patently ridiculous, maybe too, but hey… nobody ever said the language of the law had to make sense.


  1. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 877, “patent.”
  2. Okay, okay, so I’m the Queen. Whatever.
  3. An appalling thought, given the state of affairs in Washington these days. But hey… stay with me, okay? It’s just a hypothetical.
  4. Eli Whitney, patent no. 72X (1794); Records of the Patent Office (Reconstructed Records) relating to “Name And Date” Patents, 1837-87; Records of the Patent and Trademark Office; Record Group 241, National Archives II, College Park, Md.
Posted in Legal definitions | 2 Comments

Some gems for 2015

Once upon a time, a long time ago, in a galaxy far away, there used to be an excuse for bad genealogy.

Learning how to do it, to do things right, often meant traveling long distances at great expense even to begin to figure things out.

No ExcusesNow don’t get The Legal Genealogist wrong here: there is still an enormous value to in-person learning. I not only lecture at in-person institutes1 and conferences,2 but I also attend them whenever I can to continue my own education.

But for those who can’t, and for all the times when we can’t… today there are options.

Really good options.

Options that mean there really isn’t any excuse for not learning how to do things right.

Here are just a few of them coming up in 2015.

Legacy Family Tree Webinars

Millennia Corporation and just released the lineup for the 2015 Legacy Family Tree Webinar Series: 58 classes ranging from genealogy technology to in-depth research methodologies and evidence analysis.

Most of the webinars are free and open to anyone who registers in advance and can be there in real-time. Most are also available free for a few days after the live broadcast. And all are available to subscribers to listen in as many times and whenever subscribers want.3

The whole lineup, from now through the end of 2015, can be reviewed online at the Legacy Family Tree Webinar website and Legacy has even added the ability to register for more than one webinar at the same time at this link.

APG’s Professional Management Conference

For folks who are, or are thinking about becoming, professionals, the Association of Professional Genealogists streams part of its Professional Management Conference, and the 2015 event is coming up fast: January 8-9, 2015.

With individual sessions beginning at just $20, a special $45 DNA bundle, or access to the full virtual conference for $145, Virtual PMC is a steal. Check out the registration details here at the APG PMC website.

RootsTech-FGS 2015

The Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) and RootsTech are teaming up in 2015, with everyone converging on Salt Lake City in February. And, as is the custom for a technology-focused conference like RootsTech, many of the sessions will be live-streamed. From home, for free, you can sit in on a wide variety of sessions ranging from the keynote addresses (shared with FGS) to individual lectures.

Check in with the RootsTech website — — for more information as the event date gets closer!

National Genealogical Society 2015

Livestreaming from the 2014 conference of the National Genealogical Society in Richmond was such a success, NGS is doing it again in 2015. There will be two tracks livestreamed from the May conference in St. Charles, Missouri, one on The Immigration & Naturalization Process and one on Methodology Techniques. You can see the complete lineup here at the NGS conference website.

Registration for both is open now, ends on 29 April, and the cost is discounted for NGS members. Members pay $65 per track or $115 for both; non-members pay $80 per track or $145 for both.

I’ve heard most of the speakers who will be presenting in these tracks — and all I can say is — this is a fabulous line-up and worth every penny for those who can’t be in Missouri in May.

And more!

Many societies are now sponsoring webinars or other online learning oppportunities. I’m doing a webinar next week and another in 2015 for the Florida State Genealogical Society. I’ll be doing webinars in 2015 for the North Carolina Genealogical Society and for the Georgia Genealogical Society. The Illinois State Genealogical Society does webinars. The Southern California Genealogical Society has a terrific webinar program.

There’s a whole calendar of other online offerings, many by these and other genealogical societies, online at GeneaWebinars, a service by Dear Myrtle.4

Check it out, and sign up for the ones that interest you!

Because, any more, there are no excuses for not learning what we need to know to do genealogy right.


  1. For 2015, I’m teaching courses focusing on law and genealogy with Rick Sayre at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy and the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh, an advanced law and genealogy course at Boston University’s Center for Professional Education, and the Advanced Methodology and Evidence Analysis course at the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research at Samford University.
  2. The Federation of Genealogical Societies conference and RootsTech in February and the National Genealogical Society conference in May among them in 2015, plus a whole raft of state and local societies. My calendar, if you’re interested, is online here.
  3. And yep, I’m one of the presenters and — full disclosure here — yep, I do benefit from subscriptions. So subscribe, willya? My cats need cat food!
  4. And if you’re involved with a society that offers webinars, you might want to connect with GeneaWebinars!
Posted in General | 5 Comments

Re-recording history

So The Legal Genealogist is in the last stages of preparing for a really fun webinar, taking place later today, sponsored by the Friends of the National Archives-Southeast Region.

Cotton.ginIt’s called “Inventing America – Records of the U.S. Patent Office” — and let me tell you, going through patent records gives you a bird’s eye view of the development of America like almost nothing else will.

But there’s a real anomaly in those records, one that often confuses people.

It’s the numbering system for some of the early patents, and the dates recorded on the records.

Take, for example, Eli Whitney’s patent for a cotton gin — shown in the patent drawing you see here.

Now we all learned about that invention in school:

Designed to separate cotton fiber from seed, Whitney’s cotton gin, for which he received a patent on March 14, 1794, introduced a new, profitable technology to agricultural production in America.

The cotton gin is a device for removing the seeds from cotton fiber. Such machines have been around for centuries. Eli Whitney’s machine of 1794, however, was the first to clean short-staple cotton, and a single device could produce up to fifty pounds of cleaned cotton in a day. This made cotton a profitable crop for the first time.

After this invention, the yield of raw cotton doubled each decade after 1800. Demand was fueled by other inventions of the Industrial Revolution, such as the machines to spin and weave it and the steamboat to transport it. By mid-century America was growing three-quarters of the world’s supply of cotton, most of it shipped to England or New England where it was manufactured into cloth. During this time tobacco fell in value, rice exports at best stayed steady, and sugar began to thrive, but only in Louisiana. At mid-century the South provided three-fifths of America’s exports—most of it in cotton.1

So… if this patent was issued in 1794, why is there a section down at the bottom of the patent drawing that reads “Patent Office March 18th 1845. Made under the direction of the Commissioner of Patents in conformity with act of 3d March 1837”?2

Well, let’s see just what the act of 3d March 1837 has to say about that:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That any person who may be in possession of or in an way interested in any patent for an invention, discovery, or improvement, issued prior to the fifteenth day of December, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred thirty-six, or in an assignment of any patent, or interest therein, executed and recorded prior to the said fifteenth day of December, may, without charge, on presentation or transmission thereof to the Commissioner of Patents, have the same recorded anew in the Patent Office, together with the descriptions, specifications of claim and drawings annexed or belonging to the same ; and it shall be the duty of the Commissioner to cause the same, or any authenticated copy of the original record, specification, or drawing which he may obtain, to be transcribed and copied into books of record to be kept for that purpose ; …3

Uh oh.

You know what that sounds like, don’t you?

Yep. You’re right.

A minor little matter of a fire at the Patent Office building. On 15 December 1836, the building being used as both the main Post Office building and the Patent Office building in Washington, D.C., was destroyed in what contemporary reports described as a “disastrous conflagration.”4

So under the 1837 law any inventor who’d had a patent recorded before the fire was able to get it re-recorded afterwards.

But now think about it. You’re the patent officer there in 1837. One guy comes in to re-record a patent. Another guy comes in to record a brand new one, never before recorded. How do you distinguish between those two?

You can’t give the old patents the numbers they originally had — because they didn’t have any numbers at all. The pre-fire patents were only recorded by the name of the inventor.5 But now here you are, all modern in 1837, and patents are getting numbers. How do you number the old ones, while still numbering the new ones?

That’s where the X files come in. The re-recorded patents were given X numbers, and whenever you see an X designation in a patent record, you know it was one of the ones initially recorded before 15 December 1836 and then re-recorded after 3 March 1837.

Which explains how a patent issued in 1794 bears a date of 1845.

The X files. Fun stuff.


  1. Patent for Cotton Gin (1794),” Our Documents, National Archives ( : accessed 8 Dec 2014).
  2. Eli Whitney, patent no. 72X (14 Mar 1794); Restored Patent Drawings, compiled 1837 – 1847, documenting the period 1791 – 1836; Records of the Patent and Trademark Office, Record Group 241; National Archives II, College Park, Md.
  3. “An act in addition to the act to promote the progress of science and useful arts,” 5 Stat. 191 (3 Mar 1837).
  4. See e.g. The New York Evening Post, “Disastrous Conflagration,” p. 2 (17 Dec 1836); ( : accessed 8 Dec 2014).
  5. See “Records of the Patent and Trademark Office,” Guide to Federal Records, National Archives, ( : accessed 8 Dec 2014).
Posted in Resources, Statutes | 6 Comments

Treasury 3227

Reader Tom Phelps reported that he had “old copies of what appear to be applications for a Social Security Number, but they are a US Treasury Department Form 3227 (Application for Account Number).”

Daily_Independent_Journal_Sat__Dec_29__1962_And, he said, “I gather this used to be an alternative way to apply for an SSN, but I am unable to trace the history. Can you help?”


The Legal Genealogist sure can.

Here’s the story.

As amazing as it may seem today for those of us accustomed to seeing Social Security numbers assigned to babies shortly after birth and used for everything from school enrollment to medical records, it wasn’t always the case that Americans had to have a Social Security number at all.

The whole system began with the passage of the Social Security Act in 1935. That statute provided, in part, that there would be a tax collected from employees and employers to fund a variety of benefits, principally old age pensions for workers. It created a Social Security Board, later the Social Security Administration, and then gave rulemaking power to the agencies charged with enforcement:

The Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Labor, and the Social Security Board respectively, shall make and publish such rules and regulations, not inconsistent with this Act, as may be necessary to the efficient administration of the functions with which each is charged under this Act.1

Obviously one of the key things that had to be done was keep track of people who were paying in. As a result:

Social security numbers were first issued in late November 1936 to workers in industry and commerce covered by the Social Security Act. …

The original and still the primary reason for issuing numbers was to ensure that earnings in covered employment would be properly posted on an individual’s earnings record. In recent years, however, social security numbers have been used for a variety of nonprogram uses, the most important of which is to identify taxpayers for Federal income-tax purposes.

More than 37 million social security numbers had been issued by the end of 1937. In the next dozen years, the number varied with the number of new entrants into covered employment. It reached a peak of 7.6 million in the war year 1942 but dropped to an average of 2.7 million in the postwar period 1946-50. Coverage of additional workers in 1951 and of still more in 1955 resulted in substantial growth in applications for numbers in 1951 and 1952 and in 1955 and 1956. During 1957-61, the average number issued annually was about 3.3 million.2

When people applied for a Social Security number in those early years — and most people who worked filled it out on the job — the form they used was the one we’re most familiar with: the SS-5. It was a Treasury Department, Internal Revenue Service, form with the heading “U.S. Social Security Act, Application for Account Number.”3

But read the last sentence of that middle paragraph again. The part that talks about non-program uses: “the most important of which is to identify taxpayers for Federal income-tax purposes.”

Along came the Revenue Act of 1962.4 And one of its purposes was to ensure that tax dollars were collected — and withheld — from a lot of taxpayers who weren’t necessarily wage-earners in the Social Security system. That meant more automation, more keeping track of people. And, well, it just seemed to make the most sense, to be the easiest, to join forces with the Social Security numbering system.

Enter Form 3227:

In 1962 the Internal Revenue Service began its taxpayer registration program with the use of special IRS Form 3227, which was, in effect, an application for a social security number (though it did not expressly state that the number applied for was the social security number). In the 3-year period 1962-64, the average annual rate of issuances was 6.3 million, including those based on Form 3227. The 1963 total (8.6 million) was the largest for any year from 1938 to 1971, and 2.0 million of that total represented Form 3227 applications.5

There were all kinds of reports and articles in newspapers when the requirement came in, like the one illustrating this post, but the bottom line was this: you had to file your taxes, and you couldn’t do it without an identifying number, so… people in droves filed and ended up with Social Security numbers.

The form was only used for three years — it was phased out on 1 May 1964 (“Form SS-5, Application for Social Security Account Number, used in lieu of Form 3227 on and after May 1, 1964”).6

But during that three-year period you may find either a Form 3227 or a Form SS-5 for a family member.

Not because of the Social Security Act requirements.

But because it was a taxing form.


Image: San Rafael (Cal.) Daily Independent Journal, p. 29, col. 5-6 (29 Dec 1962);

  1. §1102, Social Security Act, 49 Stat. 620 (14 August 1935).
  2. Herbert R. Tacker, “Notes and Brief Reports: Social Security Numbers Issued, 1937-1971,” Social Security Bulletin, July 1972, at 1; PDF version online ( : accessed 8 Dec 2014).
  3. I know that because I’m looking at one, filled out by my grandfather on 22 June 1937. C.R. Cottrell, SS no. (withheld), 22 June 1937, Application for Account Number (Form SS-5), Social Security Administration, Baltimore.
  4. Revenue Act of 1962, 76 Stat. 982 (16 Oct 1962).
  5. Tacker, “Notes and Brief Reports: Social Security Numbers Issued, 1937-1971,” Social Security Bulletin, July 1972, at 1.
  6. 1964 Annual Report, Commissioner of Internal Revenue for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1964 (Washington, D.C.: Govt. Printing Office, 1964), 3; PDF version online ( : accessed 8 Dec 2014).
Posted in Resources, Statutes | 8 Comments

Every one you can!

There are always a lot of reader questions about what DNA test to take and who to test for the best results for genealogy.

The Legal Genealogist‘s standard answer is: test everyone you can afford to test, with every test that might provide the answer you’re for.

But in case that by itself isn’t helpful, let’s look at specific reader questions and why specific tests might provide solutions to their problems.

Genetic QuestionsQ. Test the older generation?

Reader Walker Hall had a question many people ask: “Since my parents are still around and interested in genealogy, should I skip straight to testing them if they are receptive, rather than waste money on myself? I would assume that as long as they are truly my parents (haha), then my dna results would be of little genealogical value compared to the combination of my parents’ individual results.”

The same question, with a twist, came from reader Diana Bowen: “is it better to go with the older generations in the family when testing? I can get my mom, mother in law, paternal aunt and then my husband’s paternal aunt. Does it make more sense to do this or just to test my husband and me?”

A. Oh, yeah.

This is an easy one. One of the most useful tests for genealogy is the autosomal DNA test — the test for the kind of DNA we all inherit from both of our parents1 in a mix that changes, in a random pattern, from generation to generation in a process called recombination.2 It’s really useful for finding cousins who share some portion of DNA with us with whom we can then share research efforts.3

Because of that recombination in every generation, some DNA that our parents might have inherited isn’t going to be passed on to us. Of necessity, when each parent passes that DNA to us, 50% of what that parent has gets dropped out of the mix. So for autosomal DNA testing, we always want to test any available representative of an older generation: a parent is better than our generation, a grandparent better than a parent.

So Walker should definitely test his parents, and testing both of them will give him all of the possible cousins he might match on either his maternal or paternal side. There isn’t anything Walker can get from testing himself that he won’t get by testing both of his parents.

For Diana, she definitely wants to get testing done by all four of the older generation relatives — but in her case, there is a benefit in testing herself and her husband as well. That’s because, in each of their cases, the older generation candidate on the paternal side is the father’s sister, rather than the father.

Remember that recombination is purely random and it happens not just in every generation but every single time a child is conceived. In Diana’s situation, each father could well have inherited some fairly substantial chunks of DNA that his sister — the aunt — did not inherit. And each father could have passed some or all of those chunks down to his child — Diana or her husband.

As a result, Diana could have cousin matches in the DNA testing databases that her aunt won’t have and her husband may have some that his aunt won’t have. And, of course, the reverse is also true: each of the aunts will match some cousins that their niece and nephew won’t match.

You remember that part about testing “everyone you can afford to test, with every test that might provide the answer”? Yup. I really mean it.

Q. On beyond autosomal?

Diana had another part to her question: “is there any reason to also consider a ydna test anymore (as an extra)?” And reader MC, who’s thinking of getting her whole family tested (including her parents and her brother), was wondering too: “Should I get any of my family members to take the paternal or maternal line tests? What additional data could I expect from those?”

A. Oh, yeah.

This is also an easy one, and again: my answer is yes, do it, and you may learn a lot. Because as wonderful, as exciting, as innovative as autosomal DNA testing is and can be, it often can’t give us a clear-cut answer to the one question we most want to have a clear-cut answer to:

Am I descended from — or at least related to — that one man or that one woman?

For the first question, the answer can come from a YDNA test. YDNA is the kind of DNA found in the male gender-determinative Y chromosome that only men have.4 It gets passed from a man only to his sons and from his sons only to his grandsons and from his grandsons only to his great grandsons, with few changes down the generations.5

For the second question, the answer can come from testing mitochondrial DNA — mtDNA — the kind of DNA we all have that serve as energy producers for the cells in our bodies.6 It gets passed from a mother to all of her children — male and female — but only her daughters can pass it on to her grandchildren.7

I wrote about this back in August in a post called The value of the tests that emphasizes one key fact: those “old tests” are not so “old hat”!8 Being able to nail down a male line or surname or a specific female line of descent can be a powerful addition to genealogical testing, and you can only get this by doing these additional tests.

Bottom line: test everyone you can afford to test, with every test that might provide the answer you’re for.


  1. ISOGG Wiki (, “Autosomal DNA,” rev. 14 Nov 2014.
  2. ISOGG Wiki (, “Recombination,” rev. 1 Sep 2014.
  3. See Judy G. Russell, “Autosomal DNA testing,” National Genealogical Society Magazine, October-December 2011, 38-43.
  4. ISOGG Wiki (, “Y chromosome,” rev. 23 Apr 2014.
  5. Ibid., “Y chromosome DNA tests,” rev. 27 Nov 2014.
  6. What is mitochondrial DNA?,” Genetics Home Reference Handbook, National Library of Medicine, US Department of Health ( : accessed 29 Nov 2014).
  7. ISOGG Wiki (, “Mitochondrial DNA tests,” rev. 9 July 2014.
  8. Judy G. Russell, “The value of the tests,” The Legal Genealogist, posted date ( : accessed 6 Dec 2014).
Posted in DNA | 11 Comments

I’ll drink to that!

This year has been a tough year of transitions.

Shifting from a regular work schedule to a contract basis.

Teaching genealogy more than law.

Traveling. Oh yes traveling. Almost everywhere this year.

Classic margarita cocktail with lime slice and salty rim. IsolatEven today The Legal Genealogist is off again — to Bucks County, Pennsylvania, this time, to talk about widows and orphans and the law and genealogical records.

It’s getting close to the time when I can total up the won-or-lost columns and put this year into my personal record books.

It’s been fun.

It’s been exhilarating.

It’s been exhausting.

And at some point, maybe even after I get home tonight, I’m going to sit down, put my feet up, and indulge in a little something celebratory.

Something more than slightly alcoholic in nature.

Something that wouldn’t have been possible… well, wouldn’t have been legal… but for Utah.

Because exactly 81 years ago yesterday Utah became the 36th state to ratify the 21st amendment to the United States Constitution. The amendment that ended Prohibition.1

Prohibition began on 17 January 1920, one year after the 18th amendment calling for the ban on “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States” was ratified by the states.2

That amendment had passed Congress in December 1917, and was ratified when, on a single day — 16 January 1919, it was approved by North Carolina, Nebraska, Missouri, Wyoming, and — fittingly — Utah. Utah was only the 35th state to vote to enact the amendment; the state that put it over the top was Nebraska.3

From a genealogist’s standpoint, the 18th amendment was a marvel. An absolute explosion of criminal cases flooded the courts, 1500 new enforcement agents were hired by the federal government, and records were created everywhere. In my own family, I’ve found prison records of at least four cousins in Alabama for bootlegging4 and I’m sure I haven’t even scratched the surface.

Just as one example, the National Archives has a set of records called Identification Card Files of Prohibition Agents, compiled 1920 – 1925, documenting the period 1919 – 1925.5 If you need more, NARA also has a whole set of records about official corruption — payoffs from bootleggers to police and local officials — in the Seattle Washington area.6

And if that’s not enough, think of the possible local records you might find. The Denver Public Library has a scrapbook on the career of James W. Melrose, a Colorado State Prohibition Agent, kept by his daughter.7 The Western Reserve Historical Society in Ohio has records of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union of Lake County, Ohio.8 The Library of Virginia has an entire set of records from the Virginia Prohibition Commission, set up by statute in 1916 to control “the sale and use of ardent spirits.” 9

So there’s a lot to be grateful for, as a genealogist, when thinking about Prohibition.

And maybe tonight, one very grateful Legal Genealogist will raise a glass to Utah, and its vote 81 years ago yesterday, on 5 December 1933, to ratify the 21st amendment: “The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.”

I’ll drink to that.

Note: This post is a reprise of an earlier blog posted 6 December 2012.

  1. Amendment 21, United States Constitution.
  2. Amendment 18, United States Constitution.
  3. Wikipedia (, “Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” rev. 3 Dec 2014.
  4. See generally Judy G. Russell, “Consequences of crime,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 30 Mar 2012 ( : accessed 5 Dec 2014). In addition to Quitman and Ross Battles, Jeff and McKinley Battles also spent time in the same prison system for the same offenses.
  5. Identification Card Files of Prohibition Agents, compiled 1920 – 1925, documenting the period 1919 – 1925; Records of the Internal Revenue Service, 1791-2006; Record Group 58; National Archives II, Washington, D.C.
  6. Seattle Conspiracy (Olmstead) Investigation, 1931 – 1935; Investigative Case Files, compiled 1924 – 1933; General Records of the Department of the Treasury, 1775 – 2005; Record Group 56; National Archives, Seattle.
  7. A. Brown, “Prohibition in Colorado,” Western History & Genealogy Blog ( : accessed 5 Dec 2012).
  8. Woman’s Christian Temperance Union records, 1916-1924; Western Reserve Historical Society; Cleveland, Ohio.
  9. Virginia Prohibition Commission Records, 1916-1934, Accession No. 42740; State Records Collection; Library of Virginia, Richmond.
Posted in General | 8 Comments

Did the lawyer appear before the High Court?

Reader Jane Irish Nelson posed a great question to The Legal Genealogist: “My great-grandfather, James Tipton Cutler (1869-1933), a lawyer in Evansville, Indiana, supposedly argued a case before the Supreme Court. How can I find out if this is true?”

For most families who have a lawyer lurking somewhere in the past, this question is a little bit like the story of the Native American princess so many families have passed down: so few attorneys in the past were admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court — and of those so few ever actually argued a case before the High Court.

SCOTUS2In general, historically, lawyers were admitted to practice only in the courts where they were going to appear. Lawyers from places far distant to Washington, D.C., normally didn’t bother seeking admission to the Court’s bar.

And, historically, far fewer cases actually were ever heard by the Supreme Court than the many lower federal courts and, of course, the many many state courts — so you’re a whole lot more likely to find records of your family lawyer in other courts than in the Supreme Court of the United States.

Even today, when it’s much easier to get admitted, and many lawyers go for it, for the most part, getting admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court is something done because it looks good on a resume, not because the lawyer is actually going to argue a case.1

Because only about 100 cases are heard each year, and because experience really counts in these high-stakes cases, most cases that get to the High Court go to experts in Supreme Court practice. It’s estimated that, in a third of the cases, only former employees of the Solicitor General’s Office who used to represent the United States in appellate cases actually end up arguing before the Court.2

There isn’t any readily available published list of attorneys who, over the decades and now centuries, have been admitted to practice before the Supreme Court. Most publications that deal with the topic at all focus on some narrow slice or issue. The 11 articles published in the Journal of Supreme Court History between 1976 and 2013, for example, deal with subjects like female attorneys and the first African-American to be admitted.3

The Supreme Court itself does publish lists on its website of attorneys admitted to its bar who participated in a particular case argued before the Court. But the lists only cover the period from 2009 through 2012 — and as each volume of the official United States Reports is published with the Court’s opinions the list for that volume is deleted from the website.4

So… how do you find out whether — in your family’s case — the lawyer ever really did argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court?

There’s an easy way… and a harder way.

We’ll talk about the harder way first. Harder only because it’s not accessible when you’re sitting at home in your bunny slippers staring at a computer screen and wanting the answer now.

The National Archives hold the Records of the Supreme Court of the United States in Record Group 267, and with very few exceptions the records are at the main Archives building in downtown Washington, D.C. Among those records: the Records of the Office of the Clerk. And among those records: Indexes to names of attorneys admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court, 1790-1955; and Attorney rolls, 1790-1961.5

So a road trip to Washington and using the index and rolls will get you an answer as to whether your guy (and it was a guy until modern times…) was ever admitted to the Supreme Court bar.

You can also check out NARA’s microfilm publication M-217, Attorney Rolls of the U.S. Supreme Court, 1790-1951, available at a variety of regional archives as well as at Archives I downtown.6 The microfilm is well worth going for: the records contain not just the names but even the signatures of attorneys admitted to the court from 5 February 1790 through 4 June 1951.

And once you find out if your guy was ever admitted, you can then check to see whether he ever actually argued a case before the Court. That mostly likely will require reviewing the dockets of the Court, available also on microfilm,7 for the years when he was admitted.

The easier way is to check and see whether he was ever listed as one of the attorneys in a published opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court. Start by using any of the free online services that republish those opinions. Places like’s U.S. Supreme Court collection or’s Supreme Court Opinions collection or Google Scholar (that hyperlink is limited to U.S. Supreme Court decisions).

You’ll need to be careful not to miss the result you want. Searching for the full name of the attorney in this case — James Tipton Cutler — turns up no results at all. Searching for Cutler alone turns up so many results, it’s easy to get discouraged and give up. And on at least one of the free services,, it turns out that some of the republished materials leave out the names of the lawyers completely, so you might be misled by using that database alone.

But with persistence (and smart use of search limiters), in Jane’s case, those databases turned up James T. Cutler as one of the attorneys for the appellees in a case called Evansville & Bowling Green Packet Co. v. Chero Cola Bottling Co., decided in 1926. You can read the opinion anywhere online: it’s an interesting little case involving a wharfboat that sank in the Ohio River at Evansville, Indiana, in 1922, causing damage to the cargo.

And once you have the name of the case, it’s well worth it to go back and see what you might be able to find in a search using the case name as a search term. In many cases, you’ll only find other cases that refer to the opinion for some legal point it discusses or decides.

But when it comes to the U.S. Supreme Court, it’s possible there may be more. And in this case?

Oh my.

Turns out there is an entire volume — 220 pages of materials — published by the legal publisher Gale in its U.S. Supreme Court Records series — on this particular case.8 And the book includes the transcript of the record in the courts below, the petitioner’s brief, the appellee’s (responding party’s) brief and the reply brief of the petitioner.

The volume, with the title Evansville & Bowling Green Packet Co v. Chero Cola Bottling Co U.S. Supreme Court Transcript of Record with Supporting Pleadings, appears to be available as a paperback through Barnes & Noble.

So Jane now has the Supreme satisfaction of knowing that she really does have a Supreme Court argument in her family’s history … a case her great grandfather helped win.


Image: Carol M. Highsmith, Supreme Court Building, Washington, D.C. (1976-2006), Carol M. Highsmith Collection, Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

  1. See Jessica Gresko, “For lawyers, the Supreme Court bar is vanity trip,” Yahoo! News, posted 21 March 2013 ( : accessed 4 Dec 2014).
  2. FreeAdviceNews, “Can any lawyer argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court?,” FreeAdvice Law ( : accessed 4 Dec 2014).
  3. See Joel Fishman, Index to the Journal of Supreme Court History (Washington: The Supreme Court Historical Society, 2014), 142; PDF online, Supreme Court Historical Society ( : accessed 4 Dec 2014).
  4. See “Counsel Listings,” Supreme Court of the United States ( : accessed 4 Dec 2014).
  5. See National Archives, “Guide to Federal Records: Records of the Supreme Court of the United States,” ( : accessed 4 Dec 2014).
  6. U.S. National Archives, Attorney Rolls of the U.S. Supreme Court, 1790-1951, microfilm publication M-217 (Washington, D.C: NARS, 1955).
  7. U.S. National Archives, Dockets of the U.S. Supreme Court, 1790-1950, microfilm publication M-216 (Washington, D.C: NARS, 1955).
  8. Chauncey I. Clark, editor, Evansville & Bowling Green Packet Co v. Chero Cola Bottling Co U.S. Supreme Court Transcript of Record with Supporting Pleadings, U.S. Supreme Court Records and Briefs series (n.p. : Gale Ecco, 2011).
Posted in Resources | 13 Comments

Do yourself a favor

Drop everything.

Put all your other projects on hold.

Clear your decks.

Make sure you have a lot of time and a good strong internet connection.

Have something to drink and snacks at hand.

Then click over to Hoosier Daddy?, a blog by Indiana genealogist Michael D. Lacopo.

HoosierNow that link takes you to a rather unprepossessing initial posting that may have you wondering if The Legal Genealogist has lost her cotton-pickin’ mind.1

Read on.

Scroll down on the right hand side, where the links are to the posts in reverse date order. Then read each and every post in this blog, in chronological order, starting with “In the beginning…,” posted back in February, all the way through to “Hoosier Daddy? … Revisited,” posted yesterday.

Hoosier Daddy? is the story of the search for Michael’s grandparents. His mother, Carol, was adopted, and when Michael became interested in genealogy he wanted to find out more about her biological family. How he started in 1982 with just a few clues… how he ended up, in 2014, still putting together the pieces of the puzzle.

It is a masterful tour de force in genealogical storytelling.

And it has everything you might want: suspense, pathos, tears, laughter. A lot on how to do genealogical research. A lot on how not to do it. A skillful interweaving of historical information and the modern hot-on-the-trail research. Detailed and clear explanations of how to actually use DNA in solving family mysteries.

And it has the cliffhanger ending.

The cliffhanger ending to Every. Blasted. Post.

The cliffhanger ending to Every. Blasted. Post. That’s. Driving. Me. Bonkers. Waiting. For. The. Next. Installment.

And the story’s not over yet.

So when you finish reading yesterday’s installment, do me a favor, okay?

Friend Michael D. Lacopo on Facebook.

And join me in threatening to duct tape him to his chair until he finishes telling the story.

It really is that good.

Go read this.


  1. Most people have no doubt about the answer to that question, but hey…
Posted in General | 19 Comments

The winter of our discontent

It was nearly two years ago, in February 2013, that genetic genealogists and history buffs everywhere — The Legal Genealogist among them — held their collective breath.

Would it be…? Could it be…? Was it true that the skeletal remains found underneath a car parking lot in Leicester, England, could be those of Richard III?

The remains were found in an excavation of what is believed to have been Grey Friars friary, a small Franciscan church where Richard’s body was taken after the battle where he died.1 Though some reports were that Richard was buried there, the official British history of the monarchy reports even today: “Buried without a monument in Leicester, Richard’s bones were scattered during the English Reformation.”2

An examination of the remains was consistent with what’s known of Richard: the person buried, like Richard, had a deformation of the spine; the person buried had wounds consistent with battle wounds; and a barbed metal arrowhead was found where it would have been embedded in the person’s back.3

The scientists who had studied the remains and who had analyzed DNA taken from the bones stood before the microphones that day in February 2013 and told us the conclusion they’d come to.

“Beyond reasonable doubt the individual exhumed at Grey Friars on September 12th is indeed Richard III, the last Plantagenet king of England.”4

At the time, we thought it couldn’t get much cooler than that.

I mean, seriously, think about it. Richard III is such a fascinating historical figure. He ruled for only two years, yet his decision to set aside the sons of his brother Edward IV and take the throne himself is one of the most hotly debated issues of history.

Was he, as he is often described, an ambitious hunchback with a withered arm who would stop at nothing to secure his own power? Or was there really reason to believe the boys illegitimate? Did Richard murder them, the princes in the tower? Did that justify the overthrow of that King by his successor, Henry VII, whose Tudor family came to power when Richard died in that last battle at Bosworth Field?

And one of the most enduring mysteries was — what had happened to Richard after that last battle?

It’s that question that the scientists answered in that February 2013 press conference.

But it did get cooler than that.

Because, when the scientists answered that question almost two years ago, they promised they’d ultimately publish all their findings for others to study.

That publication occurred yesterday, in an article entitled “Identification of the remains of King Richard III” and published online by the journal Nature Communications.5 It surely closes the case on the remains as Richard III. And it also opens the door wide on another mystery.

Let’s close the case first. Again, the historical evidence was all consistent with the remains being Richard. But it’s the mitochondrial DNA evidence that nails this door shut.

Remember that mitochondrial DNA, or mtDNA, is the kind of DNA that passes from a mother to all of her children but that only her daughters can pass on.6 Richard would have had the mtDNA of his mother, Cecile Neville, and mtDNA was extracted from the skeletal remains.

Richard’s sister, Anne of York, would also have had the mtDNA of their mother, and she would have been able to pass it down to her children, and her daughters to her grandchildren, and her granddaughters to her great grandchildren and so on down the generations.

Two descendants of Anne of York, whose common ancestor is Anne’s early-16th century granddaughter Catherine Manners Constable, were both tested — and their mtDNA matched that of the skeletal remains. The two modern individuals are 14th cousins twice removed from each other, and in the case of one of these very distant cousins, full mtDNA sequencing produced an exact match; in the case of the other, full sequencing produced a single difference in a single position in the mtDNA — a result, the study says, is “consistent with these individuals being matrilinear relatives over the time period considered.”7

Moreover, the study checked existing databases of European and British mtDNA samples and didn’t find a single other person whose mtDNA matches — suggesting that the match was extremely unlikely to have occurred simply as a matter of chance.8

Now let’s open the new case. Because the scientists were also able to get enough YDNA from the skeletal remains to test them. YDNA, remember, is the kind of DNA passed from father to son to son in the direct male line with very few changes over the generations.9

The most recent common male ancestor of Richard III and anybody alive today to test was Edward III of England, who lived from 1312 to 1377. The scientists had to work down the line from Edward III to John of Gaunt and forward some 13 generations to Henry Somerset, the 5th Duke of Beaufort, and then many more generations forward to today to find candidates to test.

And the YDNA doesn’t match.10

Now this mismatch isn’t really all that surprising. While there isn’t any definitive study on the topic, the generally accepted odds of misattributed paternity in any given generation are between one and five percent.11 Even among the five modern descendants of Henry Somerset who were tested, one was found to have a fundamentally different YDNA from the other four, “indicating that a false-paternity event had occurred within the last four generations.”12

So… where did the particular paternity problem arise in Richard’s case?

Well, just about anywhere in a whole lot of generations, really. The study reports that: “a false-paternity event could have happened in any of the 19 generations separating Richard III and the 5th Duke of Beaufort, on either branch of the genealogy descending from Edward III. Indeed, even with a conservative false-paternity rate … the chance of a false-paternity occuring in this number of generations is 16%.”13

It could have been on Richard’s side — between that most recent common ancestor Edward III and Richard were four generations and four paternity events: Edward’s own fathering (or not) of Edmund of York, Edmund’s fathering (or not) of Richard of Cambridge, Richard’s fathering (or not) of Richard of York, and that Richard’s fathering (or not) of Richard III.

It could have been somewhere down the line on the Beaufort side — although the evidence is pretty compelling that four of the five tested Beaufort descendants all share a common male ancestor, it might not be any further back than that 18th century Duke. There are 13 generations between John of Gaunt and that Duke, and the study itself notes that “Two illegitimacy events where sons born out of wedlock were later legitimized are known to have occurred in the period between John of Gaunt and Henry Somerset, 5th Duke of Beaufort.”14

So why does anybody care?

Well, England still has royalty. Hereditary monarchy and all that, y’know. And — depending on where the particular paternity problem occurred — those hereditary monarchs may not have been hereditary monarchs at all.

If the paternity event occurred in the single generation from Edward III to John of Gaunt, then none of the English monarchs from Henry IV on to today — the current British Royal family among them — had any hereditary claim to the throne.15 If it occurred on Richard III’s side, then there’s no impact on subsequent monarchs at all. And if it happened anywhere else, it’d depend on when, where … and who.

One case closed.

Another case opened.

Ah, it is “the winter of our discontent”…16


  1. See generally “Human remains found in search for King Richard III at Leicester car park,” This is Leicester, online, posted 12 Sep 2012 ( : accessed 2 Feb 2013).
  2. Richard III,” The British Monarchy, History of the Monarchy ( : accessed 2 Dec 2014).
  3. Skeleton with ‘battle injuries’ found by Richard III dig team in Leicester,” This is Leicester, online, posted 12 Sep 2012 ( : accessed 2 Feb 2013).
  4. See Judy G. Russell, “And the answer is…,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 4 Feb 2013 ( : accessed 2 Dec 2014).
  5. King, Turi E. et al., “Identification of the remains of King Richard III,” Nature Communications, posted 2 Dec 2014 ( : accessed 2 Dec 2014).
  6. See ISOGG Wiki (, “Mitochondrial DNA,” rev. 4 Sep 2014.
  7. King, Turi E. et al., “Identification of the remains of King Richard III,” Nature Communications, posted 2 Dec 2014 ( : accessed 2 Dec 2014).
  8. Ibid.
  9. ISOGG Wiki (, “Y chromosome DNA tests,” rev. 27 Nov 2014.
  10. King, Turi E. et al., “Identification of the remains of King Richard III,” Nature Communications, posted 2 Dec 2014 ( : accessed 2 Dec 2014).
  11. See generally ISOGG Wiki (, “Non-paternity event,” rev. 25 Aug 2014.
  12. King, Turi E. et al., “Identification of the remains of King Richard III,” Nature Communications, posted 2 Dec 2014 ( : accessed 2 Dec 2014).
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid., Figure 1.
  15. See “The DNA trail: How scientists searched for a genetic match,” chart illustrating Sarah Knapton, “Richard III DNA shows British Royal family may not have royal bloodline,” The Telegraph, posted 2 Dec 2014 ( : accessed 2 Dec 2014).
  16. See William Shakespeare, Richard III, Act I, scene I; Project Gutenberg HTML version ( : accessed 2 Dec 2014).
Posted in DNA, General | 15 Comments