The case of the disappearing “matches”

Yes, actually The Legal Genealogist is aware that it isn’t Sunday, so it’s unusual to have a post about DNA appear in this space.

But AncestryDNA hosted an informational session with a number of genetic genealogy bloggers and educators yesterday, and there’s a major development in the works that folks who have tested with AncestryDNA need to know about — and begin to understand — as soon as possible.

Ancestry1Now let’s review what we’re talking about here: the AncestryDNA test is an autosomal DNA test. It looks at the kind of DNA that you inherit equally from both of your parents: you get 22 autosomes1 (plus one gender-determinative chromosome) from your father and 22 autosomes (plus one gender-determinative chromosome) from your mother, for a total of 23 pairs of chromosomes. So this is a test that works across genders to locate relatives — cousins — from all parts of your family tree.2

Ancestry was the last of the three major testing companies to get into the business of testing autosomal DNA, but it has become one of the biggest — if not the biggest — player in that market in the two years since its product launched in May 2012.

One of the things that has set AncestryDNA apart from the other testing companies was a decision to err on the side of inclusion in listing people as matches. Where both Family Tree DNA and 23andMe have fairly tight criteria for declaring two people who’ve tested to be genetic matches, AncestryDNA has had much more liberal criteria.

That has resulted in a much longer match list at AncestryDNA than you’ll find at either of the other two companies — but it’s also resulted in a lot of people being on your match list who really aren’t your genetic relatives at all. The term for those folks: false positives.

So here’s the challenge: how do you eliminate, or at least reduce, the number of false positives without creating the opposite problem — eliminating some people who really are genetic relatives? The term for those folks is false negatives and, from a research standpoint, it’s worse to lose a real match than it is to have to wade through bad ones.

AncestryDNA yesterday outlined its plan for a new matching system which it expects to roll out by the end of 2014. And it’s going to come as a big surprise to a lot of users, especially those of us who have any colonial American ancestry (and who therefore have these long match lists at AncestryDNA):

Our numbers of matches are about to drop like a rock.

And that, folks, is going to be A Good Thing.

The new matching system begins with a better, deeper, more accurate analysis of the data that helps define who is and who really isn’t genetically related.

One part of the new analysis is through the identification of some parts of our genetic code that really don’t mean anything at all. Some pieces of DNA that we once thought meant we were genetic cousins we now understand just mean we’re all human, or all Scandinavian, or all African. By taking those pieces out of the matching system, AncestryDNA will eliminate many of the false positives.

In some cases, someone who has tested with AncestryDNA may lose hundreds of matches by the better definition of the people who really fall into this false positive category. In other cases, the number may drop by thousands. In my own results, for example, AncestryDNA currently reports more than 12,000 matches. I expect the new reporting system to drop that to fewer than 1,000 matches.

The other big part of the new analysis is in the way AncestryDNA looks at the bits and pieces of our genetic code that we use for genetic genealogy testing. Since it doesn’t look at all of our DNA, but only parts of it, autosomal DNA testing relies on making some educated guesses about the parts of it the test itself doesn’t look at.

In a way, it’s like reading a book with only some of the words showing up on the page; the analysis system has to guess at what the missing words are. The better the guesses are, the better the results are. So part of the new system is a better way of thinking about what the missing words are likely to be — and in what language. If I’m 100% European, for example, the system shouldn’t conclude that the missing DNA words are in an Asian language.

Emphasizing the right missing words means the people who show up on our lists as matches will be better matches. More accurate. More likely to really be our cousins.

Now one of the things we hope for is a way to capture the lists of people who are now on our match lists (false positives and all), and especially a way to capture the lists of people who show up in our shaky leaf hint lists even if they are false positives. It’s a data set some of us may want to preserve and use in the future. The AncestryDNA representatives at yesterday’s meeting were receptive to the idea — it hasn’t been promised, but we are keeping our fingers crossed and pushing as hard as we can.

So… what does this all mean?

It means that one day in the not-too-distant-future those of us who’ve tested with AncestryDNA are going to log into our accounts, open our DNA results and the number we see on the graphic highlighted here — of pages of matches — is going to be an awful lot smaller.

Instead of 260 pages of matches, with most of them being false positives, I expect to see perhaps as few as 20 pages, with most of them being pretty darned good matches — real genetic cousins to work with and, with luck, advance our mutual understanding of our common ancestry.

Get ready. This change is coming. But this part of what AncestryDNA has planned — the smaller, or shorter, match list — is not a bad change.

This is a case where less is really more: more useful, more powerful, more accurate.

Watch this space for more info …


SOURCES

  1. “An autosome is any of the numbered chromosomes, as opposed to the sex chromosomes. Humans have 22 pairs of autosomes and one pair of sex chromosomes (the X and Y).” Glossary, Genetics Home Reference, U.S. National Library of Medicine (http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/glossary=Glossary : accessed 6 Oct 2014), “autosome.”
  2. See generally Judy G. Russell, “Autosomal DNA testing,” National Genealogical Society Magazine, October-December 2011, 38-43.
Posted in DNA | 59 Comments

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

It’s one of those words even The Legal Genealogist can look at… and be led astray by.

The term apostille just plain flat out looks like it ought to involve something to do with the Postal Service, doesn’t it?

johnny_automatic_lettersAnd, I suppose, since it’s something that really is used when an item is sent from place A to place B, it’s not an entirely unreasonable thought.

But it honestly doesn’t have anything to do with postage stamps or mail and you can’t get one at the Post Office.

Nor, I regret to say, can you realistically hope for any help in figuring it out by going to my usual go-to source for legal definitions. Black’s Law Dictionary simply defines an apostille as an “addition; a marginal note or observation.”1

Um… not exactly.

You see, an apostille is “a government-issued certification that authenticates a public document for use in a foreign country.”2

You’ll see the term used today by various state and national governments to mean “a form of authentication issued to documents for use in countries that participate in the Hague Convention of 1961.”3

But it’s also the type of document you’ll find in older cases whenever there was an international issue. You’ll see it, for example, in a probate file where one of the heirs was not from the United States. Documents sent from, say, Germany to Illinois for use in distributing an estate need to be proved to be authentic, and the method used is and has long been the apostille.

It’s generally a stamp (under both the 1961 Hague treaty and under prior practice between the United States and other countries) attached to the document where the official role of everybody in the document’s chain gets verified.4 The local clerk might swear to the claimant’s signature, then a local judge verifies that the local clerk is the local clerk, and a higher judge verifies that the local judge is the local judge and so on up the governmental food chain.

If this sounds familiar, think about the times you’ve seen something like this in, for example, pension files, where the county clerk certifies a document, then the county judge verifies that the county clerk was the county clerk and so on.

Where will you find the apostille in any given case? It should be attached to the document or documents at issue. If the document came from a foreign country for use in an American proceeding, it should be in the court file here. And if it was issued in the United States for use in a foreign proceeding, it should be in the court file there.

Apostille

Enough to make you go postal, maybe…


SOURCES

Image: User Johnny Automatic, OpenClipArt.org

  1. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 77, “apostille.”
  2. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (http://www.m-w.com : accessed 6 Oct 2014), “apostille.”
  3. See, e.g., “What is an Apostille?Corporations, Washington State Secretary of State (https://www.sos.wa.gov/ : accessed 6 Oct 2014).
  4. See Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “Apostille Convention,” rev. 18 Sep 2014.
Posted in Legal definitions | 12 Comments

Why DNA test?

The question came up yesterday afternoon, as it so often does, when genetic genealogists try to caution against thinking that DNA testing is the be-all and end-all of research.

The Legal Genealogist was sitting in on a panel discussion on DNA testing at the Minnesota Genealogical Society’s North Star Conference, and joined the panelists in talking about the need to consider DNA results as just one more data source, to think about the possibility that some results in the speculative category could be false positives and not real genetic relatives at all.

That’s a problem especially at AncestryDNA where there aren’t any good analytical tools to see just exactly where in our DNA we and a match may have an overlap and where the default setting is to include a great many possible matches in the speculative category: people who may very well be false positives.

So, an attendee asked, if he didn’t have a specific question he wanted to answer, and there were all those speculative cases to wade through, and nothing he really thought DNA might particularly help with, why should he do DNA testing?

I can’t answer for him.

But I sure can answer for me.

And this graphic, right here, is enough of an answer for me, even at AncestryDNA where the tools don’t rise to the level of the other DNA testing companies:

Why.DNA

I tested at AncestryDNA, and for the record at every other major genetic genealogy testing company I could test with including Family Tree DNA, 23andMe and even the National Geographic Genographic 2.0 project.

I had no specific issue I wanted answered by testing at AncestryDNA, no theory I was trying to test, no second kit I was sending in for a possible cousin to see if our lines really were from the same family.

I tested with AncestryDNA mostly to see how their system worked, to be able to answer reader questions about it, to satisfy my own curiosity.

And, one morning, I logged into my AncestryDNA account and the graphic you see above is what greeted me.

You can see that this is a fairly close cousin and — assuming that the paper trail research is correct (and, in this case, it is) — we both descend from Gustavus and Isabella Robertson.

What makes this result so welcome and so extraordinary is that this third cousin’s ancestor William, oldest of the Robertson sons, had disappeared from my research radar with records that abruptly ended in the 1880s. He, his wife, his one daughter from the 1880 census might all have been captured by aliens. We simply couldn’t find any trace of them.

It was wonderful to be able to reconnect with this branch of the family. This cousin hadn’t known anything about his William’s grandparents, so I was able to take him back beyond Gustavus and Isabella. And what did I get from this connection?

Well, we can start with the sheer pleasure of reuniting two branches of this family. Of being able to add data about William’s line to the overall family tree.

But there was so much more than I gained.

You see, when I found out where William had gone after he disappeared from the counties where the rest of the family was, I checked the records in the places where — I thought — only William had gone.

And found that, in the years between the censuses, my own great grandfather — William’s baby brother Jasper — and their father Gustavus had also gotten land grants together in a part of Texas where I would never have thought to look.

Jasper and Gustavus didn’t stay there; both of them ended up giving up their land — to William in one case, to the husband of a sister in another case.

It’s a chapter of Jasper’s life I might never have known about if it hadn’t been for this DNA test. I wouldn’t have even known to look for it if I hadn’t gone ahead and done FAN club research (friends, associates and neighbors) after reuniting with William’s line.

And that, my friends, is why we do DNA testing.

Because we never, ever know what might be waiting for us if we do.

And that leap into the darkness of the unknown can end up shedding so much light on our own family history.

Posted in DNA | 16 Comments

That birthday…

He was, without exaggeration, the perfect kid to have at the tail end of a very long sibling parade.

Bill01If you were getting ready to head off in the car, he would always ask the same question: “Can I go?”

If you said no, he’d smile and say, “Oh. Okay.”

If you said yes, he’d smile and say, “Oh. Okay.”

And, either way, it really was okay.

Even today, in all but the most vexing of situations, the words that we used to use to define the old personality type that was called phlegmatic fit him pretty well.

He really is “thoughtful, reasonable, calm, patient, caring, and tolerant.”1

And he is my brother.

My baby brother.

My brother Bill.

He was named after our mother’s oldest brother, though my German-born father insisted on the formal William rather than the Southern U.S. version my uncle bore through life — Billy. But he was always called Billy, or Bill, or even — and to this day still by some of our aunts and uncles — Little Bill, to distinguish him from our uncle.

And, of course, as he’s gotten older, he’s sometimes been called Mr. Bill.

Bill03And it’s that “getting older” part that’s the issue. He is, you see, oh yes he is reaching one of those milestones in less than 48 hours.

There’s no way to describe Bill except as a study in contrasts.

He is both one of the most gentle men I have ever known… and one who was totally successful in a 20-year career as a United States Marine Corps officer.

He is a man who wore leathers and rode a motorcycle… and one who, without the slightest self-consciousness, allowed the tears to run down his face in a moment of total bliss as he cradled his sleeping newborn son.

That last one will forever be one of my most enduring memories of this brother. I flew out to California when his son, my nephew Dennis, was about 10 days old and sat quietly watching this scene. But despite its power, I can’t think of this one memory without thinking of all the other memories I have of Bill over all the years of his life.

How he somehow learned the words to the song “Little Bird, Little Bird” from the musical Man of La Mancha.2 It still makes me giggle to remember the raunchy tone of this suggestive taunting tune being belted out by a two-year-old boy.

Bill04How our mother couldn’t tolerate the idea of her last two sons — born in June and October some 16 months apart — being two years apart in school, since Warren had been old enough to start kindergarten at age 5 with his June birthday, but Bill would have had to wait until he was almost six. So — to the dismay, I’m sure, of future genealogists — she fudged his birth certificate to make him look just a few days older so he could start school only a year behind his brother.

How Bill put up with being teased by Warren, who wasn’t any bigger than Bill was despite being 16 months older. And put up with it. And put up with it. Until the day when he’d finally had enough and hauled off and let Warren have it right in the kisser. How both of the boys were totally startled when — instead of them being separated and reprimanded — the whole family broke into laughter and applause.

How Bill couldn’t quite get the hang of pronouncing the letter R, and so got the opportunity to charm years worth of school speech therapists as well as teachers.

How he handled, with grace and style, being dragged from his birthplace of New Jersey to Texas and then to Virginia as our parents’ marriage disintegrated and finally ended when he wasn’t yet 10. How he handled the back-and-forth visits, and never once even hinted at the pain the disruption was causing him.

Bill.DennisHow he excelled in school, getting himself into college and then into the Marine Corps’ special program for future officers that paid his way through Georgia Tech. How he later picked up a master’s degree at the Naval Postgraduate School.

How he has grown into such a good and decent man. How he adores — and is adored by — his sons. How, through thick and thin, he and their mother have been first and foremost and forever friends.

How he has always been there, for each of us, whenever we have needed him. Being there, with our brother Fred, when our mother drew her last breath. Being there to hold my hand as we sat in the waiting room while our much-loved sister had open heart surgery (and is doing fine today, thank you for asking). Being there as the strong arm for a beloved aunt to lean on at the funeral of her niece, our cousin.

Bill05And how, on Monday… just two days from today … less than 48 hours away … the little brat will turn 50.3

Oh, no, Mr. Bill!

I have no idea how that can possibly have happened.

No clue where those 50 years have gone.

I can’t be old enough to have a baby brother who’s 50.

He can’t be old enough for AARP.

Not that it bothers him, I’m sure. You can ask him yourself, if you’d like.

But I can guarantee you what he’d say.

He’d smile and say, “Oh. Okay.”

And, of course, it really is okay.

Happy 50th, Bill.


SOURCES

  1. Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “Four temperaments,” rev. 22 Sep 2014.
  2. See “Little Bird, Little Bird,” SongFacts (http://www.songfacts.com/ : accessed 3 Oct 2014).
  3. Yes, that really does mean that my oldest brother and my youngest brother are 20 years apart in age. See Judy G. Russell, “Finding Evan,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 27 Sep 2014 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 4 Oct 2014). Twenty years and 10 days to be exact. Same father, different mothers, so it’s not quite as bad as it may seem.
Posted in My family | 13 Comments

One more to bookmark

The Legal Genealogist usually doesn’t advise people that there’s something they have to add to their reading list.

I figure genealogists all have a list as long as our arms, online and off, and we don’t often need help in that category.

Jstor.dailyBut there’s a new offering that’s irresistable — and way too good to keep to myself.

It’s called JSTOR Daily, and I’ve already added it to my reading list.

The email announcement I received says it’s “a new online magazine that offers a fresh take on our world. JSTOR Daily draws connections between the stories you read about in your favorite news publications and the material housed on JSTOR.”1

And, it added, “In addition to daily blog posts, we’ll publish one captivating long read each week, as well as interviews with scholars about their work, and much more.”2

Now JSTOR, in case you’re not familiar with it, is:

a not-for-profit organization, founded to help academic libraries and publishers.

JSTOR is a shared digital library created in 1995 to help university and college libraries free up space on their shelves, save costs, and provide greater levels of access to more content than ever before. More generally, by digitizing content to high standards and supporting its long-term preservation, we also aim to help libraries and academic publishers transition their activities from print to digital operations. Our aim is to expand access to scholarly content around the world and to preserve it for future generations. We provide access to some or all of the content free of charge when we believe we can do so while still meeting our long-term obligations.

JSTOR currently includes more than 2,000 academic journals, dating back to the first volume ever published, along with thousands of monographs and other materials relevant for education. We have digitized more than 50 million pages and continue to digitize approximately 3 million pages annually. Our activities, our fee structure, and the way we manage the service and its resources reflect our historical commitment to serve colleges and universities as a trusted digital archive, and our responsibility to publishers as stewards of their content. This underlying philosophy at JSTOR remains the core of our service even as we continue to seek ways to expand access to people beyond academic institutions.3

If you have access to JSTOR through your community or academic library, JSTOR has extremely rich and deep content in categories ranging from world culture to law. If you don’t, then as an individual, we can access some free offerings from JSTOR, with an ability to save a very small number at a time of articles to a personal library. And there’s a paid option called JPASS, for $19.50 a month or $199 a year, with unlimited access to about 85% of the journals JSTOR has.4

Okay… so why am I recommending this JSTOR Daily thing? Because the content is just plain cool. And every article is documented with links to JSTOR content that may give us some ideas of where to go to find out more.

Right now, articles on the site include:

• a column called “(Un)Catalogued”, written by historian Megan Kate Nelson, where she will focus on “all … kinds of questions of archival collecting, digitization, and research.” On the site right now is the introductory piece, “(Un)Catalogued: Adventures in Historical Research,”5 and her latest column, “(Un)Catalogued: Finding Your Place by Looking at Maps.”6

• an article about the Canadian government’s announcement that it found one of the ships of the Franklin expedition to the arctic, lost in 1845.7

• an historical look at ostentatious homebuilding — beginning in mid-18th century Massachusetts.8

• a piece on gender roles and housework, with some surprising research into the issue.9

• A piece on the influx of animals such as coyotes into suburban and urban areas.10

This content is for our personal use only — the site’s terms of use provide that “readers may display and print for your personal, non-commercial use portions of content from JSTOR Daily. You may not otherwise alter or use any of the content without ITHAKA’s prior written consent nor may you undertake any activity such as computer programs that automatically download or export JSTOR Daily content and that may interfere with, disrupt or otherwise burden the JSTOR Daily server(s) or any third-party servers being used or accessed on connection with JSTOR Daily. You may use a hypertext link or any other ITHAKA provided method of linking to our content so long as the link does not state or imply any sponsorship or endorsement of your site by us or any other affiliation with JSTOR Daily.”11

This is nice stuff — with some good ideas about where to go for more information. And you can get it delivered by email through the JSTOR Newsletter.

Highly recommended.


SOURCES

  1. Email, “Introducing JSTOR Daily,” JSTOR Daily to the author, 1 Oct 2014.
  2. Ibid.
  3. About JSTOR,” JSTOR (http://www.jstor.org/ : accessed 1 Oct 2014).
  4. The JPASS Collection,” JSTOR (http://www.jstor.org/ : accessed 1 Oct 2014).
  5. Megan Kate Nelson, “(Un)Catalogued: Adventures in Historical Research,” JSTOR Daily, posted 18 Sep 2014 (http://daily.jstor.org/ : accessed 1 Oct 2014).
  6. Ibid., “(Un)Catalogued: Finding Your Place by Looking at Maps,” posted 25 Sep 2014).
  7. Margaret Smith, “Lost Franklin Expedition Ship Found by Canadian Scientists,” JSTOR Daily, posted 30 Sep 2014 (http://daily.jstor.org/ : accessed 1 Oct 2014).
  8. Livia Gershon, “Homes of The River Gods: The History of American Mansions,” JSTOR Daily, posted 1 Oct 2014 (http://daily.jstor.org/ : accessed 1 Oct 2014).
  9. Hope Reese, “Housework, Gender Roles, and Sex: It’s Complicated,” JSTOR Daily, posted 1 Oct 2014 (http://daily.jstor.org/ : accessed 1 Oct 2014).
  10. Laura Allen, “Keeping Up with the Carnivores,” JSTOR Daily, posted 24 Sep 2014 (http://daily.jstor.org/ : accessed 1 Oct 2014).
  11. ,” JSTOR Daily (http://daily.jstor.org/ : accessed 1 Oct 2014).
Posted in General | 16 Comments

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

He was, the record shows, some 74 or 75 years old, living with his son Jeremiah. He had some money coming to him from a mortgage on some property in New York, and had a few hundred dollars in cash of his own.

spendthriftAnd, the record makes it abundantly clear, he was steaming mad.

His name was Ezra Gladding. He lived in the town of Romulus, in Wayne County, in what was then the Territory of Michigan, and he was not at all happy with a label that had been stuck on him by the Probate Court in 1835.

The label: spendthrift.1

The application was made to the Probate Court by the Overseers of the Poor of the town on 1 May 1835:

The memorial of the Overseers of the Poor, of the town of Romulus in said County — respectfully sheweth — that Ezra Gladding of said Township has been a resident therefor for near two years, during which time, he has lessened and wasted his means, whenever it reached him, by excessive drinking and debauchery –

Your Memorialists further state, that they are apprehensive, the said Ezra, will become a charge to the town, if left to the management of his own concerns — & therefore pray that Yr Honor may appoint a Guardian to him & such other relief in the premises as may be fit –2

On 30 June 1835, the Court ordered that Gladding be notified of the application, and on 23 December 1835, Hale Wakefield was named guardian of Ezra Gladding a Spendthrift of the Town of Romulus.3

And that’s when the fur started flying.

First there were all kinds of accusations by Wakefield against Jeremiah Gladding, that Jeremiah was collecting money for his father and giving it to him.4

Then there were all kinds of accusations by Jeremiah and Ezra against Wakefield, that Wakefield was lining his own pockets at Ezra’s expense.5

It’s one of those wonderful kinds of court records that add so much color to a family history.

But what’s with this spendthrift bit?

The term itself had a very specific meaning in the law. A spendthrift was a “person who by excessive drinking, gaming, idleness, or debauchery of any kind shall so spend, waste, or lessen his estate as to expose himself or his family to want or suffering, or expose the town to charge or expense tor the support of himself or family,” and the term included included “every person who is liable to be put under guardianship, on account of excessive drinking, gaming, idleness, or debauchery.”6

And just how was someone liable to be put under guardianship, and why?

You already know the answer.

You even, The Legal Genealogist will bet, know where to look for the specifics.

It’s the law. In this case, the laws of the Territory of Michigan, in effect at the time of the Gladding case:

Whereas, to the dishonor of human nature and the great injury of society, individuals oftentimes spend, lessen, or waste their estates by excessive drinking, gaming, idleness, and debauchery, and thereby involve themselves and families in distress, misery and ruin, and subject the counties or townships to which they belong, to expense and charge, for their maintenance and support ; Be it therefore enacted, That when any person, by excessive drinking, gaming, idleness, or debauchery of any kind, shall so spend, waste, or lessen his or her estate, as thereby to expose himself or herself, or his or her family, or any of them, to want, or suffering circumstances, or shall, by thus spending, wasting, or lessening his or her estate, endanger or expose the county or township to which he or she belongs, in the judgment of the overseers of the poor of the township, to a charge or expense for the maintenance and support of him or her, or his or her family, or any of them, the overseers of the poor of the township, or a major part of them, shall in such case lodge a complaint with the judge of probate of the county to which the person spending, wasting, or lessening his estate, as aforesaid, doth belong ; and if it shall appear to the said judge of probate, that the person complained of comes within the description of this act, and has had due notice of the complaint exhibited against him or her, as the case may be, then, and in that case, the said judge of probate shall appoint the overseers of the poor, or other suitable and discreet person or persons, guardian or guardians, to such person, and no sale or bargain of any personal or real estate, made by such person or persons, after the appointment of guardianship, as aforesaid, shall be held valid in law ; and the guardian or guardians that may be thus appointed, shall, in discharging the duties of their appoinment, pursue the same method, and be under similar obligations for a faithful discharge of their trust, as guardians appointed for lunatics, ideots, or for persons non compos mentis.7

Note that the kicker here is the risk that the town or the county or the jurisdiction at some level will end up footing the bill for the spendthrift and/or his family. It’s not so much social welfare, to care for the spendthrift, as much as it is preventive medicine, so the taxpayers don’t end up paying.

Many jurisdictions had these laws; you’ll find both statutory provisions and court records on spendthrifts in both colonial and early state records all over North America.

These days, about the only remnant you’ll find is what’s called a spendthrift trust: “a trust designed so that the beneficiary is unable to sell or give away her equitable interest in the trust property. The trustee is in control of the managing the property. Thus, the beneficiary of the trust is not in control of the property and her creditors cannot reach those assets.” 8

And Ezra Gladding?

Well, Hale Wakefield gave up, sold out and moved on, and on the 6th of December 1836 the court removed Wakefield as guardian.

There’s nothing in the file about Gladding’s behavior after that.

You kind of have to hope he had some fun, though…

At least lifted his glass in the judge’s direction…


SOURCES

Note: The Latin phrase Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? is usually translated as “who will watch the watchmen?” or “who will guard the guardians?” See Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?,” rev. 22 Sep 2014.

  1. Wayne County, Michigan, Probate Court, Probate estate packet 676, Ezra Gladding, Spendthrift (1835); Wayne County Courthouse, Detroit; digital images, “Michigan, Probate Records, 1797-1973,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 30 Sep 2014 2014).
  2. Ibid., Memorial, 1 May 1835.
  3. Ibid., Notice, 30 June 1835; and Guardian Bond, 23 December 1835.
  4. Ibid., Petition by Wakefield, Guardian, 17 June 1836.
  5. Ibid., Order to Wakefield to show cause why he should not be removed as guardian, 9 July 1836.
  6. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 1115, “spendthrift.”
  7. §7, “An Act empowering the Judge of Probate to appoint Guardians to Minors and others,” 12 April 1827, Laws of the Territory of Michigan, Condensed, Arranged, and Passed by the Fifth Legislative Council (Detroit: p.p., 1833), 304-305; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 30 Sep 2014).
  8. Wex, Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School (http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex : accessed 30 Sep 2014), “Spendthrift Trust.”
Posted in Legal definitions, Statutes | 2 Comments

Records of the Chancery Courts

There’s only ever been one court that’s had doing what’s fair as part of its official mission: the chancery court.

Webinar.10.1With different names in different states (and countries), it was often the go-to court for cases of divorces, guardianship, real property partition and more. Exactly the kinds of cases that tended to produce information we can really use as genealogists.

Sound like sometime you’d like to know more about?

Well, then, tomorrow is your lucky day.

Because tomorrow, Wednesday, October 1st, is when The Legal Genealogist presents The Fair Court: Records of Chancery Courts, a free webinar sponsored by Legacy Family Tree.

We’ll talk about the differences between the two basic types of courts — law and equity — and what kinds of cases were considered equity cases and so ended up in chancery courts.

We’ll talk about the reasons why so much genealogical information tended to be included in the records of these kinds of cases.

And we’ll talk about what kinds of records these cases created and some of the places where they can be found.

As always, you need to register in advance if you want to participate in the webinar live (it’s at 2 p.m. EDT, 1 p.m. CDT, noon MDT and 11 a.m. PDT).

But if you can’t clear your calendar for that block of time, remember that Legacy Family Tree webinars are available, free, for seven days after each webinar, and then available for purchase (individually or as a subscription package) so you can review the information more slowly, in more depth, at your own pace.

See you tomorrow!

Posted in General | 1 Comment

Cue the eerie music!

The Legal Genealogist first encountered William W. Montgomery in the statute books of the United States.

MontgomeryWhen I lecture to genealogy groups in different parts of the United States, I make a concerted effort to tailor the presentation — at least in some way — to the specific audience. So as I was preparing to explain this past Saturday to the Dallas Genealogical Society just how knowing the law can make us better genealogists, I looked for Texas examples in the statute books.

And the example I decided to use of a private federal law for the benefit of someone from Texas was set out in volume 17 of the United States Statutes at Large, on page 677. It’s entitled “An Act granting a Pension to Mary Ann Montgomery, Widow of Wm. W. Montgomery, late Captain in Texas Volunteers,” and it simply reads:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the Secretary of the Interior be, and he is hereby, authorized and directed to place on the pension roll, subject to the provisions and limitations of the pension laws, the name of Mary Ann Montgomery, widow of William W. Montgomery, late captain in Texas volunteers, and to pay her a pension, from the passage of this act, as a captain’s widow, and in respect to her minor children under sixteen years of age.1

Only the Montgomery family benefited from this law, so it’s a good example of a private law: a law passed for the benefit of an individual or family. The other type of statutory law we see is a public law, one passed to affect all of the citizens in general. An example of that would be a law creating a new tax everyone had to pay or one creating a military draft affecting all men of a certain age.

This bill has also got a nice quirk to it: it was originally vetoed by President Grant because its language wasn’t clear, and it was passed over the Presidential veto. Mrs. Montgomery got her pension.

It also turns out that there’s a fascinating backstory to the Montgomery case, and some interesting documents you can find online about it. One of them is a resolution of the Texas Legislature, asking the Congress to pass that pension law. Adopted 22 January 1872, it reads:

Whereas William W. Montgomery, a citizen of the county of Caldwell and State of Texas, on the breaking out of the rebellion was, through fear of violence on account of his loyalty to the Government of the United States, forced to leave his home and take refuge within the Federal lines; and

Whereas the said William W. Montgomery afterward volunteered in the service of the United States, and was appointed captain of Company -—, in the First Regiment of Texas Cavalry; and

Whereas the said William W. Montgomery afterward, to wit, on or about the 15th day of March, A. D. 1863, while a captain in the said First Regiment of Texas Cavalry, then in the service of the United States, and while in the line of duty, was, by a band of rebels, styling themselves confederate soldiers, captured and hung; and

Whereas the said William W. Montgomery left a widow, to wit, Mary Ann Montgomery, whose maiden name was Mary Ann McKay, who is still alive and a citizen of said Caldwell County, and has remained a widow ever since the death of her said husband, William W. Montgomery; and

Whereas the said William W. Montgomery, at the time of his death, had six children under the age of sixteen years, the dates of whose births are as follows, to wit: Francis Marion, September 12, 1847; Edward L., December 19, 1851; John Wesley, January 24, 185i; Mary Ann, April 17, 1856; Martha E., August 19, 1858; and Harriet S., March 3, 1861: Therefore,

Be it resolved by the Legislature of the State of Texas, That the Congress of the United States is earnestly petitioned to enact such measures as may be necessary to enable the said Mary Ann Montgomery and her said minor children to avail themselves of an act of Congress approved July 14, 1862, and to obtain the pension provided for in said act.2

The story gets even better. You can read through the records of both the Confederate and Union Armies, until you finally come across the eyewitness accounts of Montgomery’s death. Richard Pendergrast said “he witnessed … the murder of Capt. William W. Montgomery by a band of armed men…. The murder of said Montgomery was effected by hanging him by the neck with a rope to a mesquite tree. Deponent saw the said Montgomery captured or kidnapped on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande on the morning of the day that he was murdered by the persons who hung him, together with others. Deponent saw the body of said Montgomery still hanging to the mesquite tree four days after the murder.”3

There are some reference books available to go deeper into the Montgomery story. Dean W. Holt’s American Military Cemeteries sets out the tale of the raid by Confederates to capture and immediately hang the Union officers they regarded as traitors.4 The whole story of the Union regiment in which Montgomery served is detailed in Stanley S. McGowen’s Horse Sweat and Powder Smoke: The First Texas Cavalry in the Civil War.5

But if you want the whole story, go to Dallas. Attend a meeting or two of the Dallas Genealogical Society. Get to know one of its members, Suzan Younger, who served as my official meeter-greeter-driver-escort-and-tour-guide-par-excellence this past weekend.

She can tell you all about William W. Montgomery. How the law itself was because Montgomery was officially carried on the books as a private rather than as a captain because of bureaucratic issues. How the purpose of the law was to give his widow and children the benefit of his actual rank as a captain.

But she can tell you more.

She can tell you how he came to be a Union loyalist during the Civil War. How he ended up enlisting in the First Texas Cavalry. How he was captured, hung, cut down and buried by locals. How his body was dug up by the Confederates and hung back on that mesquite tree — the desire to give a warning against Union service was powerfully strong. How his body was cut down a second time and buried again. How his body was eventually moved to the Alexandria National Cemetery in Pineville, Rapides Parish, Louisiana.

And she can tell you how powerfully that story affected the Montgomery family and its descendants.

Right down to today.

Including — you guessed it — Suzan Younger herself.

Now what are the odds that of all the statutes I might have picked as an example I’d just happen to pick the one where a genealogist-descendant would be in the room to provide the rest of the story?

And how cool is that?


SOURCES

  1. “An Act granting a Pension to Mary Ann Montgomery, Widow of Wm. W. Montgomery, late Captain in Texas Volunteers,” 17 Stat. 677 (7 June 1872); digital images, “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875,” Library of Congress, American Memory (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/index.html : accessed 28 Sep 2014).
  2. “Joint Resolution of the Legislature of Texas…,” House Misc. Doc. No. 43, 42nd Congress, 2d Session, The Miscellaneous Documents Printed by Order of the House of Representatives, … 1871-’72, 4 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1872), 2: 43; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 28 Sep 2014).
  3. Affidavit of Richard Pendergrast, 11 Dec 1863, in The Miscellaneous Documents Printed by Order of the House of Representatives, … 1889-90, (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1891), U.S. Congressional Serial Set 2769: 867-858; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 28 Sep 2014).
  4. Dean W. Holt, American Military Cemeteries, 2d ed. (Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland & Co., 2010).
  5. Stanley S. McGowen, Horse Sweat and Powder Smoke: The First Texas Cavalry in the Civil War (College Station, Tex. : Texas A&M Univ. Press, 1999).
Posted in General, Statutes | 17 Comments

Come on, matchmaker… make me that match!

The Legal Genealogist‘s favorite cartoon of all time is one that perfectly sums up my view of patience.

It shows two vultures sitting on a branch. One of them turns to the other and says: “Patience, my ass. I’m gonna kill something!”

And oh boy does that sum up my attitude this fine Sunday morning.

mtdna.battlesBecause, after all, it’s been a whole 48 hours, give or take a couple, since an Arizona man I sincerely hope turns out to be my cousin dropped his DNA test kit into the mail, priority postage attached, headed for the lab at Family Tree DNA.

And I’m dying to know what the results will show.

One of my most perplexing family history mysteries is the identity of the mother of my third great grandmother Margaret (Battles) Shew.

She married Daniel Shew sometime before 1849, most likely in Cherokee County, Alabama. There’s no record of their marriage; the Cherokee County courthouse burned twice, in 1882 and 1895.1 They had one child, William, by the 1850 census2 and two more — Gilford and Martha Louise — by 1860, when Margaret appeared as head of household on the Cherokee County census, apparently a widow.3

We’re pretty sure of Margaret’s maiden name, but proof is hard to come by. It comes to us really from two sources: oral history passed down to Eula’s daughter Opal;4 and the death certificate of her son William.5

And there was only one Battles family in Cherokee County, Alabama, at any time that could have included Margaret, and that’s the family of William Battles, who was enumerated in Cherokee County in 1840,6 1850,7 1860,8 and 1870.9

It isn’t clear who Margaret’s mother was. William was married twice. His first marriage, to Kiziah Wright, resulted in a messy suit she brought against him for divorce that was finally dismissed in 1829, apparently when Kiziah died.10 His second wife was Ann Jacobs. They were married on Christmas Day 1829, and showed up on the 1830 census with — count ‘em — five children.11 One of whom, I do believe, born well before that December 1829 marriage, was Margaret.

But how could we know for sure?

The answer lies, we hope, in that test kit now on its way to the lab.

You see, I am the daughter of a daughter of a daughter of a daughter of a daughter of Margaret’s. So I have inherited the mitochondrial DNA — mtDNA for short — of whoever Margaret’s mother was. That’s the type of DNA that’s passed down the direct female line from a mother to all of her children but that only her daughters can pass on.12

If Margaret was Ann’s daughter, she would have had — and passed on — Ann’s mtDNA. And any direct female-line descendant of any of Ann’s other daughters would have that same mtDNA.

Exactly how many daughters Ann may have had isn’t certain, but three of them were still living at home and enumerated in the household in that 1850 census: Samantha; Julia; and Charlsie.13

And the test kit now on its way to the lab is that of a man who is a direct female-line descendant of Julia. A man who, since mtDNA is inherited from the mother, has exactly the mtDNA I need: that of his mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother — Ann Jacobs Battles.

So if we match… oh, if we match… I will finally know that Margaret’s mother was Ann. And if we don’t, then her mother was most likely Kiziah.

Lord, give me patience.

And I need it right now.


SOURCES

  1. Alabama Courthouses Destroyed by Fire,” Alabama Department of Archives and History (http://www.archives.state.al.us : accessed 22 Mar 2014).
  2. 1850 U.S. census, Cherokee County, Alabama, population schedule, 27th District, p. 136 (back) (stamped), dwelling 1055, family 1055, Danl Shew household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 22 Mar 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 3.
  3. 1860 U.S. census, Cherokee County, Alabama, population schedule, p. 315 (stamped), dwelling 829, family 829, Margaret Shoe household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 22 Mar 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication M653, roll 5.
  4. Interview with Opal Robertson Cottrell (Kents Store, VA), by granddaughter Bobette Richardson, 1980s; copy of notes privately held by Judy G. Russell (also a granddaughter).
  5. Texas Department of Health, death certif. no. 10077 (1927), W.W. Shew (10 Mar 1927); Bureau of Vital Statistics, Austin.
  6. 1840 U.S. census of Cherokee County, AL; 1840 U.S. census, Cherokee County, Alabama, population schedule, p. 116 (stamped), line 17, Wm Battles household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 22 Mar 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication M704, roll 3.
  7. 1850 U.S. census, Cherokee Co., Ala., pop. sched., 27th Dist., p. 136 (stamped), dwell. 1052, fam. 1052, Wm Battles household.
  8. 1860 U.S. census, Cherokee Co., Ala., pop. sched., p. 314-315 (stamped), dwell./fam. 825, Wm Battles household.
  9. 1870 U.S. census, Cherokee Co., Ala., pop. sched., Leesburg P.O., p. 268(B) (stamped), dwell. 26, fam. 25, W Battles household.
  10. Transcription, Records of the Blount County Circuit Court, 1824-1829; Circuit Court Clerk’s Office, Oneonta, Ala.; transcribed by Bobbie Ferguson; copy provided to J. Russell and held in files.
  11. 1830 U.S. census, St. Clair County, Alabama, p. 252 (stamped), line 24, William Battles 2nd household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 22 Mar 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication M19, roll 4.
  12. ISOGG Wiki (http://www.isogg.org/wiki), “Mitochondrial DNA tests,” rev. 9 July 2014.
  13. 1850 U.S. census, Cherokee Co., Ala., pop. sched., 27th Dist., p. 136 (stamped), dwell. 1052, fam. 1052, Wm Battles household.
Posted in DNA | 13 Comments

The boy in the picture

The attic was a place where, it seemed, anything might be found.

Old clothes to dress up in.

A place to hide when the younger kids were just too annoying.

An education in anatomy, through the … um … unclad figures in my father’s old how-to-do-photography books.

Evan.1947And the boy in the picture.

I will never forget the day I found that boy. I was probably 10 years old or so, up in the attic of the house where I grew up, and poking around in the boxes that were stashed up there.

And I came across what I remember as a small box inside a bigger box inside a bigger box.

And it had pictures. Mostly of people I didn’t know. But then there was that one that had someone I did know.

On the left (as I recall) was my father, in a tuxedo. On the right, a woman in a wedding gown.

A woman who, it was abundantly clear from her blond hair and light eyes, was not my brown-haired brown-eyed mother.

Now that photo, as I recall, didn’t really arouse my interest much at all. My mother’s family was the only family I ever knew growing up — my father’s parents were dead before I was born — and in my mother’s family, multiple marriages weren’t exactly rare. The number of former aunts and uncles by marriage on that side greatly exceeds the number of aunts and uncles by birth.

No, I don’t remember even wondering much about that photo of my father and the woman who wasn’t my mother. Maybe it was just that whoever she was didn’t have anything to do with me. And maybe it was because of the photo underneath that photo.

The photo you see here.

The photo of the boy.

Before that day in that attic all those years ago I knew I had one older sibling — a sister, Diana.

But that day in that attic all those years ago I knew somehow immediately.

I knew we had another older sibling.

A brother.

The boy in the picture.

I don’t remember ever thinking, not even for one minute, that perhaps he might not have survived. That the reason why my father had been free to marry my mother might have been because of death, rather than divorce.

What I knew, beyond any question, was that there was a boy out there who was my brother. My older brother. Mine. And I wanted him.

What I didn’t know, then or for years afterwards, was how to go about getting that brother into my life.

It just wasn’t in the cards for that kid aged 10 or so to go downstairs and strike up a conversation: “Hey Dad, about that first marriage and the boy in the picture…” My German-born father rarely spoke about his life before he met my mother. It wasn’t until I got into genealogy, years after his death, that I even knew he had aunts and uncles, and I had cousins, in the United States.

But I never forgot the boy in the picture. And it ate at me and ate at me and ate at me, until the day just before I headed off to college when I screwed up my courage and confronted my father.

I don’t remember asking anything about the circumstances of that first marriage — who she was, how it had ended. I only wanted to know about the boy.

His name, I was told, was Hugh Evan. He was five and a half years older than my older sister. And in the 1940s he had lived with his grandfather and his mother in Chicago.

My father didn’t have — or at least didn’t give me — an address than was less than 20 years old. He didn’t have a picture more recent than the one I had found. I can’t say that he actively discouraged me from trying to find my brother. But he didn’t go out of his way to help.

Now I’m not one of those people who started out in genealogy as a teenager. I was as green about trying to locate records as it was possible to be.

And I had exactly zero luck. Nobody by that name in the phone books. Nobody I could find in the driver’s license records or the draft records or any other kind of record I could think of — and had even a clue about how to access.

And months later, just about Thanksgiving, I was about to give up. I couldn’t think of anything else to try. I didn’t know there was such a thing as genealogy — or genealogy groups that might help.

But just before throwing in the towel, I decided to try one more thing.

I picked up the phone, called Chicago information, and asked for a telephone number for my brother’s grandfather at that more-than-20-year-old address.

And the operator gave it to me.

I remember being absolutely dumbfounded. It had never occurred to me that the family might have stayed in one spot, just waiting to be found.

It took a few days to get up my courage and to figure out what I wanted to say. Finally, right around the beginning of December, I called that number. An older man answered the phone. I asked for my brother by his full birth name and got 30 seconds of silence in response. Then the older man spoke.

“Who are you?” he asked. “And what do you want?”

How do you begin to condense years of wanting someone who’s missing from your life into a 30-second please-don’t-hang-up-on-me answer to questions like that?

I don’t remember what I said. I do remember the moment of silence after I finished my explanation.

Then the older man spoke again. He was my brother’s grandfather, he told me, Edward Anderson. And, I later found out, a retired Chicago police detective. He told me my brother was called Evan. He would not tell me where he was. But, he promised, if I sent a letter to his address, he would see to it that Evan got it.

It was as much as I could have hoped for under the circumstances. I thanked the man, and took a few more days to carefully write out what I wanted to say.

I probably mailed the letter around the fifth or sixth of December. It would have gotten there by perhaps the 10th or so. And Edward Anderson gave it to Evan right around December 15th.

And, on the 17th of December, Edward Anderson died.

I didn’t know about that death when Evan answered my letter early the next year. When he sent a photo that showed how much he resembles my older sister.

I didn’t know about it when we spoke for the first time on the phone and when we discovered that we both had learned to scuba dive and shared a love of certain books.

Or when we met for the first time and when I knew, for the first time, the joy of hugging and being hugged by the brother I had been missing from that day in that attic all those years ago.

But I have thought about it, time and again, in the years since I started doing family history, since the day when I first recorded the key facts of my brother’s mother’s family.

Since the day when it first dawned on me, just what a close thing it had been.

If I had waited just a few more days before getting that phone number.

If I had called a few days or weeks later.

If I had waited a week or two more before sending that letter.

If it had arrived just a few days later than it did.

If any of those things had happened, Edward Anderson wouldn’t have been able to give Evan my letter. And I don’t know if anyone else would have been as faithful as he was to his promise to make sure it got into Evan’s hands.

Oh, I believe, knowing what I know now about genealogy and research, that I would eventually have found Evan. Just the power of today’s internet would be enough now.

But we would never have had the years we have had. The times we have had. The fun we have had.

The sheer joy of knowing the boy in the picture.

The boy who celebrated his 70th birthday yesterday wrapped in the love of both sides of his family.

His wife. His children and, now, a grandson. His many relatives on his mother’s side.

His brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews on his father’s side, too.

And, I can’t help but think, smiling down on it all, a grandfather who kept his promise. And who gave me the gift of so much more time than I might otherwise have had with his grandson, my brother.

The boy in the picture.

Happy birthday, Evan.

Posted in My family | 59 Comments