For the State of Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations

It’s NERGC week!

It’s finally here!

RI.lawPeople from all over New England — people with roots back in New England — people who are just interested in New England genealogy will be flocking to Providence for the 2015 New England Regional Genealogical Consortium which gets undertway at the Rhode Island Convention Center.

Wednesday’s offerings are two special tracks: the Librarians and Teachers Day Track and the Tech Day track. And then the whole conference gets underway Thursday with what is going to be about the most fun opening session ever: a first person talk from the first English settler in what is now Rhode Island.


Well, okay, so it’s not exactly him, but hey… anybody who’s willing to dress in mid-17th century costume and tell us about what went on from the Pilgrims to King Phillip’s War is just fine by us, right?

And in preparation for this week, as you can imagine, The Legal Genealogist has been poking around in old statute books again, and offers the following as tidbits to help anyone looking for the statutes of Rhode Island.

It turns out you can find a fairly good sampling of early Rhode Island session laws online:

Acts and Resolves of the General Assembly 1747-1752 (Internet Archive)
Acts and Resolves of the General Assembly 1753-1757 (Internet Archive)
Acts and Resolves of the General Assembly 1758-1762 (Internet Archive)
Acts and Resolves of the General Assembly 1762-1765 (Internet Archive)
Acts and Resolves of the General Assembly 1765-1769 (Internet Archive)
Acts and Resolves of the General Assembly 1769-1771 (Internet Archive)
Acts and Resolves of the General Assembly 1773-1775 (Internet Archive)
Acts and Resolves of the General Assembly 1776 (Internet Archive)
Acts and Resolves of the General Assembly 1777 (Internet Archive)
Acts and Resolves of the General Assembly 1779 (Internet Archive)
Acts and Resolves of the General Assembly 1781 (Internet Archive)
Acts and Resolves of the General Assembly 1782 (Internet Archive)
Acts and Resolves of the General Assembly 1784 (Internet Archive)
Acts and Resolves of the General Assembly 1786 (Internet Archive)
Acts and Resolves of the General Assembly 1789 (Google Books) and (Internet Archive)
Acts and Resolves of the General Assembly 1792 (Internet Archive)
Acts and Resolves of the General Assembly 1795 (Google Books) and (Internet Archive)
Acts and Resolves of the General Assembly 1798 (Internet Archive) and (Internet Archive)

Once you get into the 19th century, however, things are a lot sparser in the online offerings. Some that you will find online include:

Public Laws of the State of Rhode-Island … as Revised … 1844 (Internet Archive)
Acts and Resolves of the General Assembly 1850 (Google Books)
Acts and Resolves of the General Assembly 1852 (Google Books)
Acts and Resolves of the General Assembly 1855 (Google Books)
Acts and Resolves of the General Assembly 1857 (Google Books)
Acts and Resolves of the General Assembly 1858 (Google Books)

The Rhode Island State Law Library has excellent historical resources… but, for the most part, they’re not online. The Library website has a Legal Links page, but the Rhode Island links there go to the State Legislature site where the Public Laws, Acts and Resolves are online only back to 1999; the legislative journals to 1998; and and bill texts back to 1997.

One exception is that published indexes to the Acts and Resolves that will give you an overview of most of the State’s historical statutes through 1899 have been digitized and are available online through the HELIN Digital Commons, a library consortium in which Rhode Island colleges and universities participate:

John Russell Bartlett, Index to the Acts & Resolves of Rhode Island 1758-1850 Part 1 (A-G), Index to the Acts & Resolves of Rhode Island 1758-1850 Part 2 (H-O) and Index to the Acts & Resolves of Rhode Island 1758-1850 Part 3 (P-Y).

John Russell Bartlett, Index to the Acts & Resolves of Rhode Island 1850-1862.

Joshua M. Addeman, Index to the Acts & Resolves of Rhode Island 1863-1873.

Charles P. Bennett, Index to the Acts & Resolves of Rhode Island 1873-1899 Part 1 (A-G); Index to the Acts & Resolves of Rhode Island 1873-1899 Part 2 (H-O); and Index to the Acts & Resolves of Rhode Island 1873-1899 Part 3 (P-Z).

Posted in Primary Law, Resources, Statutes | Leave a comment

DNA as mainstream genealogy

Is there any possibility — any chance at all — that DNA is not mainstream genealogy these days?



It’s here, it’s here to stay, and it’s here in force.

And if you had any doubts about any of that, whatsoever, the past couple of days in Columbus, Ohio, would have settled the question.


Columbus was the site of the 2015 Ohio Genealogical Society conference, three glorious days (plus an advance workshop day!) of non-stop genealogical fun.

Conferences like this one offer such a wonderful opportunity to learn about methodologies and tools and record sets we’d like to become more familiar with — and so such more. They give us a chance to network, to see old friends and meet new ones.

And boy do they ever give you the answer to just how powerful the interest in DNA as a genealogical tool is these days, as the conference goers vote with their feet — by choosing session A over session B in the same time slot.

Those feet told the story here: DNA as a genealogical tool is here, it’s here to stay, and it’s here in force.

You could see it Thursday when Diane Southard’s lecture on organizing your DNA matches had a full house.

Then it really got underway Friday with a round-table discussion where people could ask whatever questions they wanted.

It was scheduled for the end of a very long day of presentations. It cut into the dinner hour. And it was standing room only. The moderator let the discussion go on as long as she reasonably could, but still had to finally cut people off with their questions still pending.

Yesterday, Saturday, you could see it throughout the day — there was a whole DNA track at this conference, starting at oh-dark-thirty (okay, so it was 8:30 a.m.) and running through to the end of the day.

And every single session was packed. From the basic basics that I was privileged to present at the start of the day through my own presentation of using DNA to reconstruct a famiy in a burned county, through Drew Smith’s presentation on understanding and using DNA results and on to Diane Southard’s lectures on autosomal DNA testing and on ethnic origins.

Oh, yes, there are some unrealistic expectations — or perhaps hopes is a better word. The hope that DNA will be the magic bullet to break through a brick wall without any other effort. But most people genuinely understand this tool needs hard work as much as any genealogical research does.

And boy oh boy… there is no doubt.

It’s here, it’s here to stay, and it’s here in force.

Posted in DNA | 7 Comments

Of brothers and sisters

Yesterday, The Legal Genealogist is told, was National Siblings Day.

And there is no-one who knows us as well… no-one as close a friend or as deadly an enemy… no-one who understands the shared history, the ups and downs, the glories and the disasters of life as a family… no-one in this world like a sibling.

And the stories of siblings are so much a part of the stories of my family’s life.

In my own life, there are all those wonderful, funny, sweet, smart, exasperating and frustrating people who have so enriched every day of my life… my siblings. Here we are, all eight of us, five boys and three girls:


Then in my mother’s life, there were all those wonderful, funny, sweet, smart, exasperating and frustrating people who so enriched her life… her siblings… my aunts and uncles. Here they are, shown around my grandmother in the white blouse and pink pants, the 10 children she raised to adulthood… five boys and five girls:


And then in my father’s life, there was just that one little girl… the baby whose entire life passed before my father was ever born. One little girl of whom all that is known is that she was born 10 September 1919 in Bremen, Germany, and died at the Children’s Hospital there on 20 January 1920.

Her brother, my father, was not born until July of 1921. He never knew what it was like to have a sibling. Never shared a bed or a room or a chore. Never shared a toy or a secret.

He lost his father when he was just 24, his mother just two years later when he was not quite 26.

And, at that moment, he was alone.

No-one to remember with. No-one to share the stories with. No-one who would know all the family quirks. No-one who would or could understand without words.

No-one to laugh with. No-one to cry with. No-one even to fight with.

It is sweet to see the photo of my siblings, to know that I can pick up the phone right now and speak to any one of them. So much of who I am is because of our shared stories: the stories of their love for each other and for me.

It is bittersweet to see the photo of my mother and her siblings, to know that only four of these 11 people are alive today, but a joy to know that so much of who she was is because of their shared stories: the stories of their love for each other and for her.

And it is unspeakably sad to know that there isn’t even a photograph that survives today to show us what Marie Emma Geissler looked like, and to think that there were no stories there to tell. Nothing at all in her brother’s life that even gave him a hint of who his sister was, or even what it meant to have or to be a sibling.

Posted in My family | 6 Comments

150 years ago today

At 3:15 p.m. today, Thursday, the 9th of April 2015, all across America, the bells will ring out.

bell.ringThey will actually start just a little before then, sounding alone in a little town in Virginia.

It is called Bells across the Land: A Nation Remembers Appomattox, it’s sponsored by the National Park Service, and it marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the bloodiest conflict this nation has ever known.

It was then, exactly 150 years ago today, on the 9th of April 1865, that the Civil War came to an end.

Then, on that day, in the town of Appomattox Court House in northern Virginia, Confederate General Robert E. Lee formally surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, just about 3 p.m.

So, just after 3 p.m. today, in that same little Virginia town, the very first bell will ring. It’s a bell once owned by former slaves. It will toll for four minutes—one minute for each year of that terrible war. (It’ll be streamed live online if you can tune in…)

And then, at 3:15 p.m., from every corner of this land, the bells will ring out.

They will ring in Boston at the Old North Church.

They will ring in Philadelphia, including the Liberty Bell.

At Richmond’s Capitol Square.

At Chicago’s firehouses.

At Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church.

At the Statue of Liberty.

At battlefields, national park sites, national cemeteries, state capitols, county court houses, town halls, historical sites, universities, schools, homes, churches, temples, and mosques around the nation.

Individuals will also be joining in by ringing hand bells and cellphone bells.

I already have my cellphone set up to sound the bells here in Ohio at 3:15 p.m.

And I will bow my head, remembering a terrible war and the losses this nation suffered, that all came to an end, 150 years ago today.

Posted in General | 8 Comments

… With a flair

Perhaps the biggest problem with casting a wide research net for a genealogy presentation is the vast array of neat stuff that ends up on the cutting room floor.

But The Legal Genealogist can’t resist sharing this bit of neat stuff even if I can’t figure out how to neatly work it in to a keynote about Ohio law.

What follows is a series of signatures — and talk about signing off with a flair!

The occasion was the signing of what became known as the Treaty of Brownstown on 25 November 1808. The “Sachems, chiefs, and Warriors of the Chippewa, Ottawa, Pottawatamie, Wyandot, and Shawanoese nations of Indians” endered into an agreement with the United States to cede a strip of land 120 feet wide “from the foot of the rapids of the river Miami of the Lake Erie, to the western line of the Connecticut reserve” and another strip “to run southwardly from what is called Lower Sandusky, to the boundary line established by the Treaty of Greenville” for roads connecting settlements in Ohio and Michigan.1

It was signed for the United States by William Hull, Governor of Michigan Territory and Indian Agent.

And then it was signed by the representatives of the tribes.

Take a look; there is no need for words.

Signature page, Treaty of Brownstown, 1808 (click to enlarge)

Signature page, Treaty of Brownstown, 1808 (click to enlarge).2

See what I mean?

Neat stuff.


  1. See Wikipedia (, “Treaty of Brownstown,” rev. 25 Feb 2013.
  2. Treaty of Brownstown, 25 Nov 1808; (, citing Ratified Indian Treaties, 1722-1869; NARA microfilm M668, roll 3.
Posted in General, Resources | 12 Comments

… and in the laws … and the index

Okay, so The Legal Genealogist is getting ready to head off to Ohio for the 2015 Ohio Genealogical Society Conference, and you know what that means, right?

astrologerYep, once again, I’m poking around in musty old volumes of forgotten legal lore.

Well, maybe not so forgotten in this case.

Because the law that just tickled my fancy as I was poking around yesterday was a bit newer than some that I’ve written about in the past.

This one was adopted by the Ohio Legislature on the 16th of April 1900.1 And it wasn’t repealed until 1974.2

The law read, in part:

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Ohio:

SECTION 1. That whoever shall represent himself to be an astrologer, a fortune-teller, a clairvoyant or a palmister shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and, on conviction thereof, shall for each and every offense be fined not more than one hundred dollars and not less than twenty-five dollars, or imprisoned in the county jail for a period not longer than three months nor shorter than thirty days, or shall, within the discretion of the trial court, be both so fined and imprisoned.3


But then there was the “except” language. There has to be an exception, right? And Section 2 of this Act — the exception provision — read, in its entirety: “Nothing in this act contained shall apply to any astrologer, fortune-teller, clairvoyant or palmister to any astrologer, fortune-teller, clairvoyant or palmister to whom a license to practice has been legally granted.”4

Now who’d-a thunk it? A license! To practice astrology, fortune-telling, clairvoyance or palmistry! A bargain, under the law, at only $300 a pop.5 Only 10 times the licensing fee for keepers of shooting galleries,6 and only 20 times the licensing fee for vendors of gunpowder.7

So… did anybody in Ohio ever actually claim to be an astrologer?

Well, if you look at the census records, you’re going to find two things.

First, some people did claim it.

In 1930, 71-year-old Barbara Yaeger of Cincinnati was enumerated as an astrologer working out of her home. I suspect the bills may have been paid by her middle-aged daughters, one of whom was enumerated as a farmer and two as dressmakers.8

That same year, 42-year-old Paul Sandridge of Dayton was also enumerated as an astrologer working out of his home.9 He shows up listed that way in the 1930 city directory, too.10

In 1940, you can find David Stuart enumerated as an astrologer, who plied his trade door-to-door.11

That’s the fun part.

Then it gets wonky.

Because, when you look for astrologers in the census on Ancestry, you get some decidedly odd results. Like an index entry for the 1920 census for 33-year-old Theodore N. Smith of Cleveland. For him, the index includes:

Occupation: Physician
Industry: Astrologer12

Um… no. Oh, the occupation is entered correctly. It does read physician. But the industry column? The word there is osteopathy.

Ah, the things you can find when you start out poking around in the law…


  1. S.B. 162, 94 O.L. 363 (1900); digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 6 Apr 2015).
  2. Ohio R.C. 2911.16, repealed effective 1 Jan 1974. See Chapter 2911: Robbery, Burglary, Trespass and Safecracking, Ohio Revised Code, LAWriter ( : accessed 6 Apr 2015).
  3. §1, S.B. 162, 94 O.L. 363 (1900).
  4. §2, S.B. 162, 94 O.L. 363 (1900).
  5. Ohio Rev. Code §2672-36 in Rufus B. Smith and Alfred B. Benedict, ed., The Verified Revised Statutes of the State of Ohio (Cincinnati : Ohio Valley Co., 1893), I: 699; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 6 Apr 2015).
  6. Ibid., §2672-25, I: 697.
  7. Ibid., §2672-24.
  8. 1930 U.S. census, Hamilton County, Ohio, Cincinnati, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 401, sheet 8(A), dwelling 51, family 66, Barbara Yaeger; digital image, ( : accessed 6 Apr 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication T626, roll 1806.
  9. Ibid., Montgomery Co., Ohio, Dayton, pop. sched., ED 65, sheet 10(B), dwell. 120, fam. 163, Paul Sandridge.
  10. Williams’ Dayton Directory for 1930 (Cincinnati : Williams Directory Co., 1930), 1216; entry for Paul Sandridge; digital image, ( : accessed 6 Apr 2015).
  11. 1940 U.S. census, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Cleveland, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 92-455, p. 6025 (stamped), sheet 12(A), household 200, David Stuart; digital image, ( : accessed 6 Apr 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication T627, roll 3221.
  12. 1920 U.S. census, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, area, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 534, p. 69(B) (stamped), dwelling 115, family 170, Theodore N. Smith; digital image, ( : accessed 6 Apr 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication T625, roll 1374.
Posted in Primary Law, Statutes | 7 Comments

Help transcribe War Department papers

This isn’t a new resource to genealogists overall, but it sure is a new resource for The Legal Genealogist… and it’s yet another opportunity for us all to pitch in and help out in making information more readily available online.

It’s called the Papers of the War Department 1784-1800, and it is definitely worth a look.

WarDeptPapers of the War Department 1784-1800 is a project of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University in Virginia, with funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Its aim is to recreate in one location as many as possible of the records of the War Department for the critical earliest years of the United States.

Why is that needed? Here’s what the site says:

On the night of November 8, 1800, fire devastated the War Office, consuming the papers, records, and books stored there. Two weeks later, Secretary of War Samuel Dexter lamented in a letter that “All the papers in my office [have] been destroyed.” For the past two centuries, the official records of the War Department effectively began with Dexter’s letter. Papers of the War Department 1784-1800, an innovative digital editorial project, will change that by making some 55,000 documents of the early War Department many long thought irretrievable but now reconstructed through a painstaking, multi-year research effort available online to scholars, students, and the general public.

These Papers record far more than the era’s military history. Between 1784 and 1800, the War Department was responsible for Indian affairs, veteran affairs, naval affairs (until 1798), as well as militia and army matters. During the 1790s, the Secretary of War spent seven of every ten dollars of the federal budget (debt service excepted). The War Office did business with commercial firms and merchants all across the nation; it was the nation’s largest single consumer of fabric, clothing, shoes, food, medicine, building materials, and weapons of all kinds. “Follow the money,” it is said, if you want to learn what really happened, and in the early days of the Republic that money trail usually led to the War Office. For example, the War Department operated the nation’s only federal social welfare program, providing veterans’ benefits (including payments to widows and orphans) to more than 4,000 persons. It also provided internal security, governance, and diplomacy on the vast frontier, and it was the instrument that shaped relations with Native Americans. In many respects, the papers lost in the War Office fire of 1800 constituted the “national archives” of their time.

Papers of the War Department 1784-1800 will present this collection of more than 55,000 documents in a free, online format with extensive and searchable metadata linked to digitized images of each document, thereby insuring free access for a wide range of users. Scholars will find new evidence on many subjects in the history of the Early Republic, from the handling of Indian affairs, pensions and procurement to the nature of the first American citizens’ relationship with their new Federal government. The Papers of the War Department 1784-1800 offer a window into a time when there was no law beyond the Constitution and when the administration first worked out its understanding and interpretation of that new document. For more than two hundred years these important papers have been lost to scholars, and their absence is one of the key reasons why so little serious military history has been written about this period.1

It’s a lofty goal, and it’s a fabulous resource. Want to read about, say, the fever that gripped Philadelphia in August 1799? James McHenry’s letter to John Adams about that is online here. Interested in the Treaty of Peace, Amity and Commerce between the State of Georgia and the Creek Nation, 3 November 1786? You can read it here. Want to see concern for a woman who had neither bread nor wood? There’s a letter online here.

Just for the period of 1782, you can read about the travails of the southern Army in the Revolutionary War through a set of letters from Benjamin Lincoln, the first Secretary of War, to or from General Nathaniel Greene, commanding the troops in the Carolinas:

• 10 July 1782: Lincoln expresses sympathy for the sufferings of General Greene’s troops. Greene’s army entitled to better fare. Mentions the meritorious and gallant exertions of Greene’s troops under extreme difficulties. Lincoln believes they merited a better fate. He regrets that he is unable to redress the army’s grievances. Other extracts mention supplies and clothing during the Revolutionary War.

• 30 September 1782: Lincoln desires to be informed by General Greene if Greene will be able to provide clothing for the troops he will retain with his army. Lincoln has no doubt that the clothing can be provided if Charleston is evacuated by the British. But despite difficulties and little hope of success he will ship the clothing from Philadelphia if it cannot be obtained in Charleston.

• 5 November 1782: If Greene’s whole army is to remain before Charleston and the British do not leave the city, large supplies of clothing must be forwarded to Greene’s army. Hopes that the necessary clothing can be procured in Charleston if it should be evacuated. Lincoln desires earliest information on these matters.

• 11 November 1782: Greene informs Lincoln that he is taking measures to obtain clothing for the troops. He reports that he has on hand only a small part of his army’s winter clothing. After issuing clothing to the troops going to the north he will have only a small pittance left. Greene discusses his financial arrangements for paying for the clothing through bills drawn on the Continental Army’s Financier.

• 1 December 1782: Lincoln trusts that General Greene will be able to supply his troops with clothing from the warehouses in Charleston. If the clothing cannot be supplied from Charleston, Lincoln hopes he can supply the clothing from Virginia which he thinks can be speedily forwarded in a coasting craft to Charleston.

• 16 December 1782: Lincoln is exceedingly oblidged by General Greene’s attention to the arrangement and the manner in which Greene conducted it. He is equally pleased with Greene’s care in procuring clothing for his troops which has relieved Lincoln’s long anxiety about supplying the clothing. Mr. Morris will honor Greene’s draughts and appears satisfied with the steps Greene has taken.

• 19 December 1782: Greene informs Lincoln that in consequence of Lincoln’s orders Greene had taken measures to provide winter clothing to his soldiers. Greene reports that Banks and Company have furnished most of the articles wanted and will provide the rest. Complains that prices goods are high. Reports that demand for cloths among the planters is so great that clothing can sell at high prices.

And there is so much more.

So… how can we help?

The project is enlisting citizen-transcribers to help turn these digital images into searchable text with every single word, every single name, captured forever. So far, the project has enlisted more than 2,000 transcribers, but so much more remains to be done.

It’s easy to sign up to be a citizen-archivist-transcriber with this project. Just head over to the Become a Transcription Associate page where there is a link to register.

Once you’re registered, you can choose a document you’re particularly interested in — the site suggests that “a genealogist researching a distant relative who served in the Revolutionary War might transcribe correspondence between that soldier’s widow and the War Department about his pension”2 — or choose from a list of Documents Nominated for Transcription.

There’s plenty of help available — even a set of transcription guidelines — so come on out and join in.

It’s a fun way to contribute to our nation’s history!


  1. About the Papers of the War Department: Project Overview,” Papers of the War Department 1784-1800 ( : accessed 5 Apr 2015).
  2. Become a Transcription Associate,” Papers of the War Department 1784-1800 ( : accessed 5 Apr 2015).
Posted in General, Resources | 1 Comment

Not yet…

AncestryDNA launched its new feature, New Ancestor Discoveries, this week, and the pixels had barely started showing up on our screens before the outcry began.

The theory here is that AncestryDNA can take your DNA and compare it to the DNA of other people in the database and, based on the DNA alone, identify at least some of your ancestors.

AncestryDNA is actually promising just that:

Now with the easy-to-use AncestryDNA test, customers will have the unique ability to find their ancestors, who lived hundreds of years ago, using just their DNA. Only possible through the groundbreaking work of the AncestryDNA science team, New Ancestor Discoveries is a technical innovation that combines the latest in genetic science, new patent-pending algorithms, and access to AncestryDNA’s extensive database to push the boundaries of human genetics, and help people find ancestors from their past using just a DNA test, no genealogy research required.

“This is the biggest advancement in family history since we introduced our Hint feature, the Ancestry shaky leaf, which scours billions of historical records to automatically find new information about your family,” said Tim Sullivan CEO of Ancestry. “Now, through a simple DNA test, AncestryDNA is fundamentally revolutionizing the way to discover your family history, transforming the experience by making it faster and easier to go further into your family’s past, and instantly discover new ancestors you never knew you had.”

New Ancestor Discoveries are revealed through a unique combination of AncestryDNA results and the millions of family trees shared by Ancestry members. First, living cousins of each AncestryDNA member are found and organized into family networks, called DNA Circles, which bring together groups of people who are genetically related to the same ancestor. When a new AncestryDNA customer is connected into that DNA Circle, it’s likely they also share that same ancestor. As a result, it is now possible to simply take the AncestryDNA test and see the name of an ancestor from your family’s past appear in your DNA results.

“It is effectively a shortcut through time — you take the test today and we tell you who your ancestors were, for example, in the 1700s. You don’t need to research records or build a family tree — AncestryDNA now transports you to the past,” said Dr. Ken Chahine, SVP and GM of AncestryDNA. “It’s a combination of three things that allowed us to achieve this breakthrough innovation: 1) millions of family trees created by Ancestry members, 2) the fastest growing genetic database in the world, currently with more than 800,000 genotyped members and 3) a dedicated team of scientists who are pushing the boundaries of genetics and statistics to help people make family history discoveries in ways never before possible.”1

Um… let’s just say not so fast here.

Hello I Am Waiting words on a nametag sticker to illustrate bein

Because what’s really happening here is that you’re being connected to specific “ancestors” by being linked to people who’ve tested with AncestryDNA and who’ve put their family trees online. The end result is that you’re being linked to folks who may or may not be descended from the same people you’re descended from at all. They may be linked to some collateral relatives of yours; they may be related to you in a different line of descent altogether that has nothing to do with the new “ancestor” who’s been “discovered.”

Case after case has already been posted where the new ancestor being discovered isn’t — cannot possibly be — an ancestor at all.2 Some collateral relative, maybe. Ancestor, no.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not jumping on the “go after AncestryDNA with a hatchet” bandwagon here. What AncestryDNA is trying to do is go after what is absolutely the Holy Grail of genetic genealogy: it’s trying to figure out how to identify ancestral lines using using combined DNA and family tree data on a macro scale using the computational power of modern technology.

If we ever could come up with a combination of carefully-analyzed DNA data and carefully-documented paper-trail genealogical evidence, we would have the best of all possible genealogical tools right at our fingertips. At that point, someone who tested and who matched in a scientifically and genealogically validated way to that documented DNA tree might very well discover new ancestors.

As any genealogist who’s ever tried to use DNA in family research can attest, even trying to do this matching of DNA data and genealogical evidence on the micro scale of a single family is not an easy task. It may turn out that, even with the best computers and scientific minds of the 21st century, doing it on the bigger scale isn’t possible.

But we can’t find that out if we don’t start trying.

So I applaud AncestryDNA for trying.

Where I part ways with AncestryDNA is over the hype — those promises made in the advertising quoted above.

Because we don’t yet have a databank of carefully-documented paper-trail genealogical evidence to link DNA results to, the notion that “people (can) find ancestors from their past using just a DNA test, no genealogy research required” or that you “don’t need to research records or build a family tree” is — to put it mildly — simply patently absurd.

Until we have that databank of carefully-documented paper-trail genealogical evidence, even if we were 100% sure of the genetic link between people who’ve tested, we’d still need to confirm the specific line shared with any match by a combination of traditional paper-trail research and DNA triangulation.

Unless we have that databank of carefully-documented paper-trail genealogical evidence, call me still waiting.


  1. AncestryDNA Launches Revolutionary New Technology to Power New Ancestor Discoveries: Latest Breakthrough in Consumer Genetics Connects People to Ancestors Dating Back to the 1700s Using Just Their DNA,” News Room,, posted 2 Apr 2015 ( : accessed 4 Apr 2015).
  2. See e.g. Roberta Estes, “Ancestry Gave Me A New DNA Ancestor – And It’s Wrong,” DNAeXplained, posted 3 Apr 2015 ( : accessed 4 Apr 2015). Also, Elizabeth Wilson Ballard, “AncestryDNA Has Now Thoroughly Lost Its Mind,” Diggin’ Up Graves, posted 2 Apr 2015 ( : accessed 4 Apr 2015).
Posted in DNA | 46 Comments

How do the errors grow?

So… there it is, big and bold as brass in The Legal Genealogist‘s database.

Baker, Mary Almira.

embarrassedBorn 2 April 1854 in Iowa to David Davenport Baker and his wife (and half-first-cousin) Mary (Baker) Baker.

Nicely and neatly attributed to a book of family lore that I know darned good and well is chock full of a combination of great information and abymsal errors.1

You’d have thought that perhaps I’d have checked and doublechecked and redoublechecked anything from that book.

You’d have thought that I’d have looked at all the records.

And I thought I had done that before entering that information.

Baker, Mary Almira.

Except that that’s not what the census records say.

In 1860, the family was enumerated in Kickapoo, Leavenworth County, Kansas. Father, mother and seven children. David was shown as a 41-year-old farmer, born in Indiana; Mary was shown as age 51, also born in Indiana. William was shown as age 19, born in Illinois; John as age 18, born in Kansas; and the younger children — Martin, age 16; Susan, age 15; Nancy, age 10; James, age 9; and Martha, age 6 — were shown as born in North Carolina.2

Um… Martha, age 6?

Can’t be right. And, after all, look at all those other mistakes. David and Mary were born in North Carolina where they were married in 1838.3 Most of the kids should have been born in North Carolina or Kentucky, where the family was in 1850.4 They never lived in Indiana or Illinois, weren’t in Kansas in time for John to be born there, and were gone from North Carolina before the youngest were born.

So we’ll just forget that.

In 1865, the Bakers were still in Kansas, enumerated on the state census that year. David age 45, Mary age 59. Children still living at home were John F., 22; Martin A., 21, a soldier in Company A of the 11th Regiment; Nancy, 15; James, 14; and Martha, 11.5

Um… Martha, age 11?


Then in 1870, the family was in Walnut Township, Atchison County, Kansas. David was shown as age 52, a farmer born North Carolina; Mary was 64, born North Carolina. Only two children at home now: James, 18, born Kentucky; and Martha, age 16, born Iowa.6

Um… Martha, age 16?


So… back to the book of family lore to see where in the world the author got the idea that her name was Mary.

And you know what I found, right?

Nicely and neatly recorded with only one tiny little typo?

“Mattha Almira Baker.”7


And we wonder sometimes how these errors creep into family history…

Excuse me, please… I have some database errors to correct.


  1. Elma W. Baker, The Rugged Trail, Vol. II (Dallas, Texas : Metcalf Printing, 1973).
  2. 1860 U.S. census, Leavenworth County, Kansas, Kickapoo, population schedule, p. 236 (penned), dwelling 2264, family 1964, David D. Baker household; digital image, ( : accessed 3 Apr 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication M653, roll 350.
  3. Macon County, North Carolina, Marriage Bond, 1838, David Baker to Mary Baker; North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
  4. 1850 U.S. census, Pulaski County, Kentucky, population schedule, p. 96 (stamped), dwelling/family 318, David Baker household; digital image, ( : accessed 3 Apr 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 217.
  5. 1865 Kansas State Census, Leavenworth County, Kansas, 3rd Ward, population schedule, p. 89 (penned), dwelling 407, family 641, David D. Baker household; digital image, ( : accessed 3 Apr 2015); citing Kansas State Historical Society; Topeka, Kansas; 1865 Kansas Territory Census; Roll 5.
  6. 1870 U.S. census, Atchison County, Kansas, Walnut Twp., population schedule, p. 354(B) (stamped), dwelling/family 29, D D Baker household; digital image, ( : accessed 3 Apr 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication M593, roll 428.
  7. Baker, The Rugged Trail, Vol. II, at 73.
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150 years ago today

Let us all stop at some point in our busy lives today for a moment of silence.

Today, 3 April 2015, marks the 150th anniversary of the fall of Richmond.

The account of the hours from the time Jefferson Davis ordered the evacuation of the Confederate government from the City of Richmond on the morning of Sunday, 2 April 1865, to the moment in the early morning hours of Monday, 3 April 1865, when the Union troops entered the city, is chilling:

By early spring 1865 the citizens of Richmond had become used to the threat of capture by the Federal army whose soldiers the Richmond newspapers described with great imagination as the vilest of humanity. Richmond had endured some frighteningly close chances, and its inhabitants had grown accustomed to the sound of artillery fire from just ten miles outside the city. Their faith in Robert E. Lee was so complete that they knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that he would never allow Richmond to be taken. …


Lee had always felt constrained by the duty to defend the Confederate capital. But abandoning it, he knew he could move more freely. So when General Philip Sheridan’s troops overran Confederate defenses at Five Forks on Saturday April 1, Lee made the decision to abandon the Petersburg defenses and, in doing so, to abandon Richmond.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis had discussed the probability of quitting Richmond with Lee a month earlier, and he had already sent his wife and family out of the city. Despite these precautions, Davis still believed Lee could stave off disaster.

I advise that all preparation be made for leaving Richmond tonight.
–General Lee’s telegram to President Jefferson Davis

Davis read General Lee’s telegram while attending Sunday morning church service. He immediately issued the first orders for the Confederate government’s evacuation. Word spread across the city. Lawley reports, “…quickly from mouth to mouth flew the sad tidings that in a few hours Richmond’s long and gallant resistance would be over.” Officially, the citizens of Richmond did not hear anything for hours, but they could not help but notice the fires in front of the government offices as official documents burned. …

All through the night preparations for fleeing from the city kept the Richmonders busy. When the last Confederate soldiers rode across the pontoon bridge to catch up with Lee’s troops, those left behind believed they would return soon, to take the city back from the Yankees. In the city small fires of documents still burned. …

The fires, though, grew out of control, burning the center of the city …

Embers from the street fires of official papers and from the paper torches used by vandals drifted. The wind picked up. Another building caught fire. The business district caught fire. …

The Union cavalry entered town. … Union General Godfrey Weitzel … ordered his troops to put out the fire. The city’s two fire engines worked, bucket brigades were formed. Threatened buildings were pulled down to create firebreaks. Five hours later the wind finally shifted, and they began to bring it under control. All or part of at least 54 blocks were destroyed, according to Furgurson. Weitzel wrote “The rebel capitol, fired by men placed in it to defend it, was saved from total destruction by soldiers of the United States, who had taken possession.” And the city rested.1

Now The Legal Genealogist is way too much of a Yankee to be mourning the impending end of the Confederacy that the fall of Richmond foretold. My Texas-born-and-bred grandfather referred to this Colorado-born grandchild as a “damnyankee” — one word, of course — for my north-of-the-Mason-Dixon-line attitudes.

It’s just that I am too much of a genealogist — and way too much of a descendant of Virginians — not to be mourning what we lost in those fire.

The loss of all those records.

You see, so many Virginia counties believed their courthouses would be burned by the Yankees as battle after battle was fought on the soil of the Old Dominion. So to preserve and protect the records so near and dear to our genealogical hearts — deed books, will books, court minutes, vital records and more, the counties carefully boxed them up and sent them — for safekeeping — to the city they were sure would never fall.

They sent them to Richmond.2

Where, during that terrible 24 hours before the city officially fell to the Yankees, the Confederate Government set some records on fire — and the spread of the fire took out the rest.

Records loss from the Richmond fire is simply staggering, among them some or all of the records of:

• Elizabeth City County
• Gloucester County
• Henrico County
• Hanover County
• James City County
• Mathews County
• New Kent County
• Richmond City
• Warwick County3

So let’s have a moment of silence today for the fall of the City of Richmond.

And the catastrophic loss of colonial and early statehood records that terrible time, 150 years ago today.


Image: “The fall of Richmond Va. on the night of April 2nd” (New York: Currier & Ives, c1865); Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress ( : accessed 2 Apr 2015).

  1. The Fall of Richmond, Virginia,” Civil War Trust ( : accessed 2 April 2015) (emphasis added).
  2. Carol McGinnis, Virginia Genealogy: Sources and Resources (Baltimore, Md. : Genealogical Publ. Co., 1993), 155.
  3. Lost Records Localities: Counties and Cities with Missing Records,” Library of Virginia ( : accessed 2 Apr 2015).
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