No records for you!

It’s part of New England lore, the murderous woman.

In Massachusetts, the lore begins with allegations that there were murdering witches in Salem,1 and continues at least until, according to popular lore but not according to a jury verdict,

Lizzie Borden took an ax
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.2

In New Hampshire, it’s Sarah Simpson and Penelope Kenney who were the first to be hanged there.3

Amy-Archer-GilliganAnd in Connecticut, it’s Amy Archer Gilligan — the serial killer who inspired the play and 1944 movie “Arsenic and Old Lace.”

Whose records, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled yesterday, will remain sealed, because the records were created while she was a patient at what’s now called Connecticut Valley Hospital — a psychiatric hospital.

No matter that Amy Archer Gilligan has been dead since 1962.

No matter that her only child has been dead since 1968.

No matter what the records say.

No matter what kinds of records they are. Even administrative, billing, and dental records are to remain sealed.

All because of the kind of patient Amy Archer Gilligan was — a psychiatric patient.

The five-member majority on the Court, in an opinion written by Justice Dennis G. Eveleigh, focused almost exclusively on the fact that, under Connecticut law, all communications and records related to psychiatric treatment are confidential, not to be disclosed. So, the majority concluded, everything that happened to Gilligan as a pschiatric patient was confidential “because all of the documents at issue were created during care for a patient at an inpatient mental health facility, and that medical diagnosis and treatment are part of psychiatric treatment and diagnosis at an inpatient mental health facility.”4 It concluded that even “medical and dental records that are created by an inpatient mental health facility during the treatment of a patient are exempt from disclosure.”5

In a much more nuanced opinion agreeing in part with leaving some records sealed because they really did relate to psychiatric treatment, but that would have allowed disclosure of other records that didn’t really relate to treatment, Justice Andrew J. McDonald noted the tension between the desire for confidentiality in psychiatric treatment and the equally powerful public right to access to information. “Rather than charting a path that balances and accommodates both of these statutory priorities,” he wrote, “the majority construes one to vanquish the other and, in the process, deviates significantly from critical principles at the core of open government.”6

The majority’s approach, the Justice wrote, painted with too broad a brush:

Rather than looking to the contents of the documents to determine whether they meet the statutory requirements for applying the privilege, the majority … does not recognize that many of the documents are not medical and dental records at all, but are merely administrative records and correspondence having nothing to do with Gilligan’s psychiatric treatment. Moreover, the privilege does not protect every document that finds its way into an inpatient’s file, nor does it protect every communication made at a treatment facility. … The contents of the communications and records dictate whether they are privileged, not the fact that the communications and records happen to reside in a particular patient file.7

It’s long been said that hard cases make bad law. Nobody disagrees with the notion that psychiatric patients must be free to disclose anything and everything in the course of their treatment if that treatment is to have any hope of succeeding.

The precedent set by this decision in this hard case makes for bad law — bad in Connecticut, bad anywhere. When the reasons for sealing records no longer exist, keeping them sealed just because is a bad decision.

It may well be that, in this case at this time, the public interest in the records was due to mere curiosity. The action was brought by Ron Robillard, an East Hartford author writing a book about Gilligan, and not by a descendant or family member interested in family medical history.

But the rule will be followed even when the case does focus on a descendant or family member interested in family medical history.

When it comes to the public interest in access to records, well, the Connecticut Supreme Court took an ax…


Image: Wikimedia Commons

  1. Jess Blumberg, “A Brief History of the Salem Witch Trials,”, posted 23 Oct 2007 ( : accessed 14 Sep 2015).
  2. Wikipedia (, “Lizzie Borden,” rev. 8 Sep 2015.
  3. American female hangings 1632 to 1937,” Capital Punishment U.K. ( : accessed 14 Sep 2015).
  4. Freedom of Information Officer, Dept. of Mental Health & Addiction Services v. Freedom of Information Commission, No. SC 19371(Conn. Supreme Court, 14 September 2015), majority slip opinion at 6.
  5. Ibid., majority slip op. at 10.
  6. Freedom of Information Officer, Dept. of Mental Health & Addiction Services v. Freedom of Information Commission, No. SC 19371(Conn. Supreme Court, 14 September 2015), concurring and dissenting slip opinion at 1.
  7. Ibid., conc. & diss. slip op. at 5.
Posted in Records Access | 16 Comments

The rockstars, redux

The Legal Genealogist has said it before: there’s an old adage that says you’re best known by the company you keep.

And, once again, here in 2015, boy do I hope that’s true.

Because I am in amazing company right now, thanks to you and your votes in the Genealogy RockStar voting over at John D. Reid’s blog Anglo-Celtic Connections.

The rockstars are the people John describes as “those who give ‘must attend’ presentations at family history conferences or as webinars. Who, when you see a new family history article or publication by that person, makes it a must buy. Who you hang on their every word on a blog, podcast or newsgroup, or follow avidly on Facebook or Twitter?”1

And I am so grateful to be included in that company, once again, here in 2015. As you can see, the voting has to be looked at as such a win for genetic genealogy!! DNA is obviously a major component of everything we do today in genealogy, and it’s wonderful to see it getting the recognition it deserves.

Here’s the company your votes landed me in, this year, in three different categories:2

International, USA, Genetic Genealogy

CeCe Moore



International, USA: Judy G. Russell


Genetic Genealogy: Roberta Estes

Silver (1)


International: Thomas MacEntee


USA: Roberta Estes


Genetic Genealogy: Judy G. Russell



  1. John D. Reid, “Rockstar Genealogist 2015 Nominations Now Open,” Anglo-Celtic Connections, posted 1 Sep 2015 ( : accessed 9 Sep 2015).
  2. See Ibid., “Superstar Rockstar Genealogists 2015,” posted 15 Sep 2015, and “Rockstar Genealogists 2015: Silver and Bronze,” posted 14 Sep 2014).
Posted in General | 2 Comments

The Promethease option

Ever since 23andMe stopped providing health information to new customers as the result of a disagreement with the federal Food and Drug Administration,1 readers have been scrambling for options to obtain basic information about how their genetic makeup may be affecting their health risks.

By this time, here as we close in on the fall of 2015, most readers seem to have an understanding that they have options, but still have questions about the option most commonly used by genealogists — Promethease.

The Legal Genealogist wrote about Promethease last year2 but it’s clear that folks are still confused. For example, reader Gwen Digby wrotethat she was “interested in family ancestry and medical information. Is Family Tree DNA the best source for this, then transferring the info to Promethease for medical info?” while a reader using the moniker “Just Curious” was also interested in testing “for family tree and medical reasons” and asked, “As I understand it, 23andme is best test for this and then import the raw data into Promethease (please confirm).”

Let’s start with some basics.

Promethease1Promethease is “a computer program developed by the SNPedia team which allows users to compare personal genomics results against the SNPedia database, generating a report with information about a person’s attributes, such as propensity to diseases, based on the presence of specific single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) within their genome.”3

It “builds a personal DNA report based on the scientific literature cited in SNPedia and a file of genotype (DNA) data. Customers of DNA testing services (23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA,, Complete Genomics, …) can use it to retrieve published data about their DNA completely independent of whichever company produced the data.”4

SNPedia, in turn, is a wiki devoted to the medical consequences of DNA variations, including software to analyze personal genomes. It describes itself this way:

SNPedia has been launched to help realize the potential of the Human Genome Project to connect to our daily lives and well-being.

Our genes are important, and the variations in them help define our uniqueness. Yet at the same time they help forge links between us, as many of us carrying certain variations find ourselves facing similar medical issues. SNPs are those variations. SNP stands for Single Nucleotide Polymorphism and means variation in the same place (polymorphism) within the DNA sequence.

SNPedia is based on a wiki model, in order to foster communication about genetic variation and to allow interested community members to help it evolve to become ever more relevant. We anticipate that as the cost of genotyping (and especially of fully determining your own genomic sequence) continues to drop, we’ll all want to know more – a lot more – about the meaning of these DNA variations. And SNPedia will be here to help.5

What Promethease does is compare your raw autosomal DNA test data — and you can use your raw data from any of the three major test companies (Family Tree DNA, 23andMe and AncestryDNA) — to information collected from peer-reviewed scientific journals at SNPedia to “create a personal report linking your DNA variations to the information published about them.” It’ll cost you a whopping $5.00 to get each report.

Among the specific DNA markers (called SNPs, or single nucleotide polymorphisms6) it looks at are ones now believed to raise the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, influence baldness, determine sensitivity to anesthetics, trigger obesity and type-2 diabetes, impact the risk of coronary heart disease, or result in lactose intolerance.

So… which of the big three genetic genealogy companies is the best to test with if what you want is medical information? For genealogy, of course, I’ve already given my recommendations (start by testing at AncestryDNA, transfer your raw data into Family Tree DNA, then test with 23andMe to be sure you’re fishing in all the ponds).7

If what you want is medical information, then here’s what I know about the differences among the companies.

This morning, I ran my own results from 23andMe, AncestryDNA and Family Tree DNA through Promethease. And the differences are very apparent when you do that.

First, in terms of how long the reports took, there was a difference, and it isn’t at all clear why the difference was so stark:

Family Tree DNA
Waited 11 seconds
Runtime 5 minutes 25 seconds

Waited 45 seconds
Runtime 9 minutes 25 seconds

First run
Waited 3 seconds
Runtime 40 minutes 2 seconds, then failed
Second run
Waited 40 minutes 5 seconds
Runtime 7 minutes 29 seconds

So be prepared to wait, depending on what company you’ve tested with, and perhaps depending on time of day, server load and the like.

Second, and more significantly in terms of choosing a testing company if what you want is health information, there really is a difference in how much data you can get. This is because 23andMe in particular is skewed towards testing for medical information, while Family Tree DNA deliberately excludes known medical markers — making it much the best choice for those who only want genealogically-relevant information and don’t want to risk disclosure of health data. The key difference is in the number of genotypes annotated, meaning the analysis available of the two alleles inherited for a particular gene8:

Family Tree DNA
11487 genotypes annotated

13007 genotypes annotated

23284 genotypes annotated

Breaking this down by the numbers of alleles reported as good results, bad results and not set (a category meaning that scientists don’t know or aren’t sure if the alleles have any health implications), here are the numbers:

Family Tree DNA
Good 1,261
Bad 166
Not set 10,070

Good 1,538
Bad 255
Not set 11,225

Good 5,281
Bad 413
Not set 17,613

In short, you’re going to get a lot more information using your 23andMe raw data than if you use the raw data from either of the other two companies, and more if you use your AncestryDNA raw data than if you use the raw data from Family Tree DNA. Comparing AncestryDNA’s bigger lists of negative results rather than Family Tree DNA’s results, I see that AncestryDNA’s data will show me that I have an elevated risk of type 2 diabetes and of atrial fibrillation and cardioembolic stroke. And using 23andMe’s results rather than AncestryDNA’s, I find out that I have an increased risk of endometriosis and am a carrier of hemochromatosis.

Oh joy.

Now seriously remember that interpreting any of these results is far more difficult than getting them. I have a whole slew of results no matter what report I look at, starting with a SNP that provides “an apparent resistance to several diseases such as invasive pneumococcal disease, bacteremia, malaria, and tuberculosis” on the good side, followed by one that poses “an increased breast cancer, type-2 diabetes, and aggressive prostate cancer risk” on the bad side. But these are risks, not diagnoses. So… What to make of all this?

There’s help available in understanding your results once you get them. First and foremost, read the Promethease help page, starting with the section “How to read a Promethease Report.” You can also read up on Promethease, including:

• “You Can Transform Your Genetic Ancestry Data Into Health Info, But Your Results May Vary,” by Dr. Barry Starr of Stanford University at KQED Science.9

• “Promethease – Genetic Health Information Alternative,” by Roberta Estes of DNAeXplained.10

• “My 23andMe Results: Getting a (Free) Second Opinion,” by cdwScience of the My Biomedical Informatics Blog.11

• “How a Wiki Is Keeping Direct-to-Consumer Genetics Alive,” Antonio Regalado of MIT Technology Review.12

And you might want to join the Promethease Users Group on Facebook.

Now… remember… each of these three reports costs $5.00. You can buy one, you can buy them all. And And understand that before you do anything else at Promethease, you’re going to have to sign off on a set of disclaimers:

Before you may use Promethease to retrieve information about the human genome, you must read and agree to the following statements. Please read each statement and check the box next to each one and then click ‘I Agree’.

• I understand that the information provided in my Promethease report is based on and that my report is for educational and research purposes only.

• I realize that most published reports about DNA variations explain only a small part of the heritability of a trait, and they also don’t take into account how different variants might interact. In addition, published reports typically ignore environmental, dietary, microbial, medical history and lifestyle factors, any or all of which may well affect my true risk for any trait or disease.

• I am aware that I am strongly encouraged to discuss my Promethease report with a doctor, genetic counselor or other health-care provider prior to making any medical or reproductive decisions. I also acknowledge that I am advised to confirm any significant finding discovered in part through the use of Promethease by an independent, clinically validated test for use in connection with the medical trait in question.

• I have read and understand the Privacy Policy and the Legal Terms and Conditions of this website. I agree to these conditions.13

Promethease. A healthy choice for those of us who still want health information. But one that takes some work to understand.


  1. See Judy G. Russell, “23andMe suspends health tests,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 6 Dec 2013 ( : accessed 13 Sep 2015).
  2. See ibid., “A health data option,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 13 July 2014.
  3. ISOGG Wiki (, “Promethease,” rev. 3 Jan 2015.
  4. Promethease,” SNPedia ( : accessed 13 Sep 2015).
  5. SNPedia:About,” SNPedia ( : accessed 13 Sep 2015).
  6. ISOGG Wiki (, “Single-nucleotide polymorphism,” rev. 27 Aug 2015.
  7. Judy G. Russell, “2015: Most bang for the DNA buck,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 2 Feb 2015 ( : accessed 13 Sep 2015).
  8. Glossary, Genetics Home Reference, U.S. National Library of Medicine ( : accessed 13 Sep 2015), “genotype.” An allele, if you’re not sure, is “one of two or more versions of a gene. An individual inherits two alleles for each gene, one from each parent.” Ibid., “allele.”
  9. Dr. Barry Starr, “You Can Transform Your Genetic Ancestry Data Into Health Info, But Your Results May Vary,” KQED Science, posted 30 June 2014 ( : accessed 13 Sep 2015).
  10. Roberta Estes, “Promethease – Genetic Health Information Alternative,” DNAeXplained, posted 30 December 2013 ( : accessed 13 Sep 2015).
  11. cdwScience, “My 23andMe Results: Getting a (Free) Second Opinion,” posted 27 February 2011, My Biomedical Informatics Blog ( : accessed 13 Sep 2015).
  12. Antonio Regalado, “How a Wiki Is Keeping Direct-to-Consumer Genetics Alive,” posted 19 October 2014, MIT Technology Review ( : accessed 13 Sep 2015).
  13. Promethease, ( : accessed 13 Sep 2015).
Posted in DNA | 9 Comments

The lawyer who wasn’t

There should have been another lawyer in The Legal Genealogist‘s family.

Oh there are, and have been, others over the years.

But there should have been one more.

RaviaThe ability was there.

The desire was there.

Even the opportunity was there: the attorney for whom this family member worked was willing to give this youngster a full ride to get the education needed, whether college or law school, even in the depths of the Great Depression.

But the time period of the Great Depression was a very different time period from today.

And there was one thing this young member of my family lacked in that time and in that place: a father who would understand and support those academic dreams.

Not because the father didn’t understand or value education.

But because he didn’t understand its value for this youngster — his oldest child.

His daughter.

Florence Ravia Gottlieb was the oldest of three children born to Morris and Maude (Cottrell) Gottlieb. Born 23 April 1914 in Cooper, the county seat of Delta County, Texas,1 Ravia can be found first in the records of the 1920 census, living with her parents and siblings in McKinley County, New Mexico.2 She appears next in the 1930 census, living with her family in Bernalillo County, New Mexico.3

In 1930, she graduated from Albuquerque High School4 and worked as a legal secretary for an Albuquerque attorney named John Sims.5 Sims was so impressed by the natural ability of this young woman that he offered her the opportunity to get the education she would have needed to become a lawyer and join him in the practice.6

Ravia’s father Morris was born in Rheinhessen, Germany, in 1883,7 and emigrated to the United States in 1904.8 He came to America at the request of a cousin, another jeweler, who wanted him to work with him in his store in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Morris soon went his own way and met and married Maude Cottrell, my grandfather’s sister, in Fort Worth, Texas, in September 1912.9

Ravia was the first-born child, shown on the left in the image you see above, followed by a son — her brother, Frederick Merledon Gottlieb, in the middle — in 1917,10 and another daughter — her sister, Bobette, on the right — in 1918.11 Morris suffered from tuberculosis and that ailment took the family to New Mexico by 1920. A healthier life, mostly as the owner and operator of trading posts on or near Indian reservations, gave Morris a long life: he lived until 1961, when he died in Albuquerque.12

Morris certainly valued education for his children. But he didn’t see any particular benefit to a higher education for a girl. Not ever, but particularly not then, not during the Great Depression. A steady paycheck and a steady beau were valued much more highly.

So Morris said no to the offer to his daughter. And Ravia dutifully accepted her father’s decision.

She went on to have a good life. In 1937, she married Samuel Ivan Moore in Albuquerque,13 and they raised three children: Richard, Jerrold and Barbara. Ravia too lived a long life: she died at home in Albuquerque, 20 years ago yesterday, on 11 September 1995.14

But to her dying day she had one key regret.

There should have been another lawyer in The Legal Genealogist‘s family.

And, if The Legal Genealogist has so much as a whisper to say about it, no dream of any child in our family will ever again be crushed for no other reason than that the dreamer is a girl.


  1. New Mexico Death Certificate no. 598822, Florence Ravia Moore, 11 Sep 1995; Bureau of Vital Records & Health Statistics, Santa Fe.
  2. 1920 U.S. census, McKinley County, New Mexico, Gallup, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 77, p. 192(A) (stamped), dwelling 46, family 52, Ravia Gottlieb; digital image, ( : accessed 15 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T625, roll 1074.
  3. 1930 U.S. census, Bernalillo County, New Mexico, Albuquerque, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 6, sheet 20(B) (stamped), dwelling 408, family 438, Ravia Gottlieb; digital image, ( : accessed 9 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T626, roll 1392.
  4. Interviews with Richard I. Moore and Frederick M. Gottlieb (Albuquerque, NM), by the author, April 2004; notes privately held by author.
  5. See e.g. Hudspeth’s Albuquerque City Directory, 1934 (El Paso, Tex. : Hudspeth Directory Co., 1934), 199; digital image, ( : accessed 11 Sep 2015).
  6. Interviews with Richard I. Moore and Frederick M. Gottlieb (Albuquerque, NM), by the author, April 2004.
  7. New Mexico Death Certificate, Morris Gottlieb, 21 Nov 1961; Division of Vital Statistics, Santa Fe.
  8. Passenger manifest, SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, August 1904, p. 91 (stamped), line 1, Moritz Gottlieb, age 21; digital image, ( : accessed 11 Sep 2015).
  9. Tarrant County, Texas, Marriage Book 28:92, Morris Gottlieb and Maud Cottrell, 1912, marriage license and return; County Clerk’s Office, Fort Worth.
  10. Interview with Frederick M. Gottlieb (Albuquerque, NM), by the author, April 2004. See also “Personals,” Wichita Daily Times, Wichita Falls, Texas, 18 May 1917, p.8.
  11. See U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007, entry for Bobette Gottlieb ( : accessed 11 Sep 2015).
  12. New Mexico Death Certificate, Morris Gottlieb, 21 Nov 1961.
  13. See “Bernalillo County, New Mexico, Marriage Index, 1888-2011”; index, ( : accessed 11 Sep 2015).
  14. New Mexico Death Certificate no. 598822, Florence Ravia Moore, 11 Sep 1995.
Posted in My family | 24 Comments

14 years later…

Every year, on the 11th day of September, at 12:00.01 a.m., this space goes dark.

Dark in the sense of darkened memory.

Dark in the sense of lost hopes and dreams.

Dark in the sense of innocence surrendered forever.

Dark because our hearts are filled with anger and pain.

Dark because our eyes are filled with tears.

Dark, now, for the 14th year in a row.

Dark, in memory of that fateful Tuesday that we now call, simply, 9/11.


Do you remember that day? I do. I always will.

• At 8:46 a.m., 14 years ago today, American Airlines Flight 11 out of Boston, Massachusetts, crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center.

• At 9:03 a.m., 14 years ago today, United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center and exploded. Both buildings were burning.

• At 9:37 a.m., 14 years ago today, American Airlines Flight 77 out of Washington Dulles, crashed into the western side of the Pentagon and exploded. All on board and 125 in the Pentagon were killed.

• At 9:59 a.m., 14 years ago today, the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed, crashing into the streets below.

• At 10:03 a.m., 14 years ago today, United Airlines Flight 93 was crashed by its hijackers into a field in Pennsylvania after the passengers made a desperate attempt to retake the aircraft. All on board died.

• At 10:29 a.m., 14 years ago today, the World Trade Center’s north tower collapsed from the top down. A cloud of ash turned day to night in the narrow streets of lower Manhattan.

Nearly three thousand lives ended that day, 14 years ago today. Men. Women. Children. The oldest was 85. The youngest was two. They died in an instant, vaporized by fireballs. They died long agonizing terrifying minutes later, trapped in the smoke and the flames. They died jumping from the upper floors of the Twin Towers. They died in the Pentagon. They died in a field in Pennsylvania.

I remember it all. It might as well have happened yesterday. But it was 14 years ago. Fourteen years. Fourteen years.

And my heart is still full of anger and pain. My eyes are still full of tears. It is hard, so hard, to get through this day of remembrance, every year, on 9/11. We who survived can’t help but weep on this terrible day. For everything we lost. For everything that should have been. For all those whose lives were lost. For all who remained behind, broken and bereft.

Yet I must do what I swore I would do, 14 years ago, as I walked with my friend Toni through the streets of lower Manhattan, and stared at the posters with the faces of the missing, and at the empty firehouses, and at the twisted steel girders.

I promised that I would remember.

It is time now to fulfill that promise for this year. It is time again to remember. It is time again to open the film cannister into which I brushed some of the dust of Ground Zero, time again to touch that dust with my own hands, and time again to stand witness. To make sure that I do not forget. That we do not forget. That no-one forgets. That all those lives will never be forgotten.

To say, one more time, this year and every year,1 as long as I have life and breath, in words and images, NEVER FORGET.



  1. This post is cross-posted from my personal website. Earlier essays are there for the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th anniversaries of 9/11.
Posted in General | 15 Comments

Last week to join in supporting 1812 miles

In case you hadn’t notice (koff koff), The Legal Genealogist loves the War of 1812 pension files.

They are rich in details of military service, chock full of original records evidencing births, marriages and deaths, and among the best genealogical treasures that our National Archives has to offer.

They are also among the most fragile genealogical treasures that our National Archives has to offer.

In part because of their age, in part because they are so often requested by researchers, the millions of pages of War of 1812 pension files are in grave danger — and in desperate need of permanent preservation.

Enter the Federation of Genealogical Societies and its “Preserve The Pensions” campaign.

This is a massive effort, trying to digitize all of the War of 1812 pension records held by the National Archives. It is time-consuming, it is exhausting — and it is expensive. The effort to get these 180,000-plus-or-minus files digitized carries an overall price tag that runs into the millions of dollars.

Right now, we’re just a little more than half-way there. That’s the hard part of any fundraising campaign. People are always enthusiastic at the start, when the idea takes off. And at the end, when the goal is in sight.

But here in the middle… well, it’s hard to keep things moving.

Enter Michael J. Hall.

Who had his own ideas about how to get some enthusiasm going.

Mike.SAMichael works at FamilySearch, has used these pension records, and is a big fan. He’s been working on fundraising from the start, handcrafting miniature War of 1812 figurines that he’s sold at conferences to help raise funds for the pensions. But he wanted to do something more. Something different.

So… he thought … what if he did something really different? What if he said he would run, bike or walk 1812 miles? Would anybody sponsor that?

Now you have to understand that my own personal view of exercise is that it’s when you walk from your air conditioned office to your air conditioned car to your air conditioned home.

But hey… if somebody else is going to exercise? I’m all in. And, with your help, we’re closing in on handing Michael a check for at least one dollar for every one of his 1812 miles.

And he’ll complete those miles next week.

When the Federation of Genealogical Societies joins the Central New York Genealogical Society and the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society in the second annual New York State Family History Conference in Syracuse on September 17-19, Michael will run right into the history books — having run, biked and swum more than 1812 miles around the world.

If you’ve already joined in this effort, thank you. Your name will be in the list that gets handed over with the check next week.

If you haven’t joined in yet, you certainly can still do it!

There are two ways to contribute. First, you can join in with The Legal Genealogist and other blog readers by contributing through PayPal. Use your PayPal account to send a gift of cash, and the email account to send it to — and every penny will be accounted for and handed over to Preserve The Pensions — is legalgenealogist (at) (Make sure you substitute the @ symbol for the word in the email address!) We’re going dollar for dollar for Michael’s 1812 miles — and if enough folks pitch it, maybe we’ll go higher than that!

If you don’t use PayPal or you’d simply prefer, you can go directly to the Preserve The Pensions website and click on the red Donate Now button (or just click here to go directly to the donation form page). Enter all your information and then, under Honors and Tributes, click on the “As a tribute to a living person” radio button and enter “Michael J. Hall” in the box there.

Remember, every dollar we contribute is matched by and becomes two dollars — and every dollar designated for sponsoring Michael will not only be matched by Ancestry but by FGS as well. That means every dollar becomes FOUR dollars.

We’re going to need all the dollars we can get to bring this project all the way home. So come on … help root for Michael, and bring this all the way home.


Mike Hall on a trail in South Africa

Posted in General | 1 Comment

Worthy candidates all

There are 151 names on John D. Reid’s list, from the United States, from Canada, from Europe, from Australia and beyond.

They are traditional genealogists and genetic genealogists, regional specialists and overall generalists, male and female and — perhaps most importantly — known and less known.

RockstarIt’s the annual “Rockstar Genealogist” poll conducted by John on his blog, Anglo-Celtic Connections.

This is where John asks genealogists around the world to nominate and then vote for their favorite genealogy “rockstars” — people he describes as “those who give ‘must attend’ presentations at family history conferences or as webinars. Who, when you see a new family history article or publication by that person, makes it a must buy. Who you hang on their every word on a blog, podcast or newsgroup, or follow avidly on Facebook or Twitter?”1

Nominations for this fourth year of the poll are closed, and the voting is now open — and will remain open until noon EDT on Sunday, September 13th. You can find out how to vote here in John’s blog post (Note: corrected link here!!).

The Legal Genealogist is honored to be among those nominated, because so many people that I consider to be friends and mentors are among the nominees. In alphabetical order, Claire Bettag, Blaine Bettinger, Warren Bittner, John Philip Colletta, Thomas W. Jones, J. Mark Lowe, David McDonald, Elizabeth Shown Mills, CeCe Moore, Craig Scott and Marian L. Smith have all been among the instructors I have studied with at institutes here in the United States. Loretto (Lou) Szucs was probably the first genealogical lecturer I ever sat and listened to. So many people on the list have contributed to what I know and what I am striving still to master.

And here’s something else that’s a delight about John’s list: it points us to many new faces and to many genealogists who are simply excellent but have never received the public recognition of their scholarship and contributions to our community. In particular, there are many international experts on the list who aren’t nearly as known as they should be to American genealogists.

So, expressly noting from the outset that there isn’t time or space in any blog to acknowledge everyone who deserves a vote or a closer look, let me point you to just a few of the many people who are worthy of a closer look by Americans who may not be aware of these rockstars within our broader international community:

• Alison Hare of Canada is a trustee of the Board for Certification of Genealogists and perhaps one of the finest genealogical speakers I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. Her presentation at the 2015 National Genealogical Society conference in St. Charles, “The Time of Cholera: A Case Study about Historical Context” — available as a recording from Jamb Tapes — is simply brilliant. No lesser word suffices.

• Yvette Hoitink of The Netherlands is a professional genealogist whose blog Dutch Genealogy offers tips to anyone with Dutch ancestry — and to anyone who needs a better understanding of how methodology can help solve any genealogical problem, whether in The Netherlands or elsewhere around the world. A real up-and-coming star of our community, this is someone to watch.

• Tamura Jones — who describes himself as “a Legal Native Alien; a dual nationality English-born Dutchman living in Leiden” — is one of genealogy’s true techies — author of the original 1992 Undocumented Windows, a prolific blogger on genealogy software and technology, an independent thinker who has developed a framework for scientific genealogy, differentiating between legal genealogy (what the law says about family relationships), official genealogy (what the vital records paperwork says) and biological genealogy (what the DNA says). His blog is at

• Helen V. Smith of Australia is the author of the blog From Helen V Smith’s Keyboard, and a prolific lecturer on topics ranging from emigration to Australia to understanding and decoding information in death certificates. That’s a topic she understands better than any of us: though by night she’s a genealogist, by day she’s a molecular epidemiologist specialising in public health microbiology and she brings her strong interest in infectious diseases and public health through the ages to bear on genealogical questions.

All 151 nominees are worthy candidates for your vote2 — and all have made contributions to our broad international community that are worth a closer look.


  1. John D. Reid, “Rockstar Genealogist 2015 Nominations Now Open,” Anglo-Celtic Connections, posted 1 Sep 2015 ( : accessed 9 Sep 2015).
  2. Well, okay, so at least 150 of ‘em if you don’t much care for what you’re reading…
Posted in General | 5 Comments

Ohio’s unique rule

The deed itself is in the usual form: a fee simple transfer of 40 acres of land from Jonas and Sarah Haney of what was then Mercer County, Ohio, and later became Auglaize County, to Elizabeth McCoy of the same county.

HaneyThe 1840 document contains the usual land description, recital of the payment, and warranties of title.

And the wife in the transaction, Sarah Haney, “in consideration of the the sum of one dollar … in hand paid” gave up her dower rights to the land as well.1

None of which gave reader Pam Vestal any pause at all.

What bothered Pam was the fact that, by this deed — and another one executed around the same time — Jonas and Sarah were transferring land to two daughters.

Not sons.

Not sons-in-law.

But daughters. Married daughters, like Elizabeth (Haney) McCoy. At a time when married women had very few rights over their own property.

Why, she wondered, would the parents do this? Didn’t the land automatically get placed under the control of their husbands? What advantage could there be to giving it only to the daughters?

Pam is surely right about the rules affecting married women and control of property like this. Under the English common law, as followed in most of early America, a wife had no separate legal identity from her husband:

By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband: under whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs every thing; and is therefore called in our law-french a feme-covert; is said to be covert­baron, or under the protection and influence of her husband, her baron, or lord; and her condition during her marriage is called her coverture.2

And, under the common law rules, “all deeds executed, and acts done, by her, during her coverture, are void, or at least voidable…”3

Under the common law, a husband was given ownership of all of his wife’s personal property, and control over all of her real property — her land.4

The laws didn’t start changing in the United States until the 1830s — Mississippi was the very first state to enact a married women’s property act5 — and Ohio didn’t pass its first statute giving a married woman some control of her real property until 1861. And that law only protected women whose husbands no longer lived with them.6

So why in the world were the Haneys selling land to their married daughters?

It may have been because the Ohio Supreme Court had spoken on the issue — and had done something no other court until then had done. The Ohio Supreme Court had recognized the right of a married woman to dispose of her property — even her real property — by writing a will.

In 1831, the Ohio Supreme Court was called upon to decide a contest over some land. It had been owned by one Catherine Pegg, a married woman who was separated from her husband and who alone lived in Ohio. She had left the land in her will to her daughter Mary Ann Pegg, who had sold it in 1830. The question was whether the will was valid, or whether the husband — still living — had rights in the land since he hadn’t consented to the will.7

The Court began by noting that common law certainly did not allow any married woman to make a valid will.8 But, it went on, the issue turned not on common law rules but on Ohio statute, and:

On February 18, 1808, (a) law was enacted to take effect on the first day of June of that year. 6 Ohio L. 75. The first section points out who may make a will. It enacts as follows: “Every male person aged twenty-one years or upward, and every female person aged eighteen years and upward, being of sound mind, shall have power, at his or her will or pleasure, by last will and testament, in writing, to devise all the estates, right, title, and interest in possession, reversion, or remainder, which he or she hath, or at the time of his or her death shall have, of, in, or to lands, tenements, hereditaments,” etc. Upon these general words and expressions there is no restraining clause, nothing from which we can infer that the legislature intended anything more or less than is expressed. … What, then, is the meaning of the words “every female person?” Is not a married woman a person? She is, so far that she may be punished for her criminal acts, and why may she not be, so far as to make a will? She labors, it is true, under many disabilities, but it is within the power of the legislature to remove those disabilities, and when this power is exercised, it is not the province of this court to correct the procedure. If a married woman is a “female person,” she is authorized by the act of 1808 to make a will, and that she is thus authorized, seems to be clear beyond a doubt, to a majority of the court.9

It added that, “By the act of February 10, 1810, 8 Ohio Stat. 146, the testator is authorized ‘to devise all the estate, right, title, interest in possession, reversion, or remainder which he or she hath, or at the time of his or her death shall have, in or to lands, tenements, etc.’ This was the statute in force at the time Catherine Pegg made her will, and at the time of her decease. No one will deny that a married woman hath an interest in her own land.”10

So, the Court held, “by the statutes of February 10, 1810, a married woman had an unquestionable right to make a will.”11

By deeding the land to their daughters alone, then, Jonas and Sarah gave them a power few women in America had at that time: the right to decide to whom the land would go after their deaths. Their husbands would have had the right to control the property during the marriages, yes, but they didn’t own the land, couldn’t sell the land without their wives’ consent — and couldn’t control where the land would go after their wives’ deaths.12

Land for Ohio’s daughters. And a first step towards women’s rights.


  1. Auglaize County, Ohio, Deed Book 1: 27, Haney to McCoy, 28 March 1840; Auglaize County courthouse, Wapakoneta; FHL microfilm 914113.
  2. William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book I: The Rights of Persons (Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1765), 430; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 7 Sep 2015).
  3. Ibid., 432.
  4. James Kent, Commentaries on American Law, 13th ed. (Boston: Little, Brown, 1884), 2: 130.
  5. §22-26, Chapter 31, “Husband and Wife,” in V.E. Howard and A. Hutchinson, compilers, Statutes of the State of Mississippi (New Orleans: E. Johns & Co., 1840), 332; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 7 Sep 2015).
  6. “An Act concerning the rights and liabilities of married women,” Ohio Laws of 1861, chapter 71, in J.R. Sayler, editor, The Statutes of the State of Ohio…, 4 vols. (Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co., 1876), I: 63-66; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 7 Sep 2015). See also “First Women’s Rights Movement,” Ohio History Central ( : accessed 7 Sep 2015).
  7. Allen v. Little, 5 Ohio 66 (1831).
  8. Ibid. at 67.
  9. Ibid. at 70-71.
  10. Ibid. at 68.
  11. Ibid. at 72.
  12. They may well have had curtesy rights — a life estate in the lands — if they survived their wives and their wives had borne them children. See Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 311, “curtesy.” But they wouldn’t have owned the land.
Posted in Court Cases, Legal definitions | 22 Comments

When the court disagrees

Reader Suzanne Matson has clearly been taking a page from The Legal Genealogist‘s book, and reading old court records. There isn’t any other explanation for the question she sent in while the FGS cruise was underway last week:

Dictionary Disagree“When you return to dry land and more stable internet, would you explain further sed non allocatur?,” she asks. “Under what conditions would the court disagree with the arguments of counsel?”

The phrase sed non allocatur appears, as the question suggests, in court records — older court records, of course, and most commonly in court opinions. It’s a Latin phrase that means “but it is not allowed,” and it’s “used in the old reports, to signify that the court disagreed with the arguments of counsel.”1

Looking at some examples of the phrase being used in context is the best way to get a feel for how and when the phrase was used. The following are all drawn from volume 78 of The English Reports: King’s Bench — and they’re all cases from the 16th century:2

In The Lord Dacre’s Case, “He was indicted for encroaching upon the highway ; and exception taken, because it was not expressed of what place he was. — Sed non allocatur, for process of outlawry lieth not against him, but distress…”3 The defendant in that case had argued that he couldn’t be charged with encroaching on the highway if the charge didn’t set out where he was from. But the court disagreed (sed non allocatur) since that was only an issue if the charge was outlawry, and that’s not what he was charged with.

In the case of Marsh against Astry, where an under-sheriff was sued for not executing a writ, on appeal the attorney argued that “the action lieth not against the under-sheriff, but ought to be brought against the sheriff himself ; for he is responsible for all things concerning the office;” and the court responded: “Sed non allocantur (sic). For first, the under-sheriff for a tort done by himself may be punished. And here it is alledged, that he … intending to delay the plaintiff of the execution of his writ, did not return it : so it is as an embezzling of the writ, for which he is punishable…”4 In short, the court said it didn’t agree with the argument that only the sheriff was responsible if the under-sheriff didn’t do his job.

In Long’s Case, the defendant William Long was convicted of stealing a piece of linen cloth and, on appeal, argued that the indictment was faulty because it “doth not shew within what parish and ward of the city he did it, &c. and it was alledged (as the truth is) that there are in that city twelve wards, and two-and-thirty parishes.” The court responded: “Sed non allocatur : for the Court takes not any cognizance of such parishes and wards…”5 In other words, the court said it didn’t matter what parish or ward the crime occurred in; it only mattered that is was — as charged — within the City of Norwich and County of Norfolk.

In the case of The Earl of Lincoln versus Flower, the Earl had lost a debt case and argued on appeal that “because he was a peer of the realm, and a capias lies not against him. — Sed non allocatur. For by this plea found against him a fine is due to the Queen : and none shall have any privilege against the Queen…”6 The court there didn’t buy the idea that a nobleman could get away with something when it was the Queen to whom the debt was owed.

Starting to get the idea here?

Pretty clear to see, when you see the phrase coming up over and over and over like this, that it’s a boilerplate phrase that signifies the start of a judicial ruling against whatever argument is being raised.

It’s essentially part of a formula: the court lays out the argument of the attorney or person bringing the appeal, then says (in Latin) nope, nope, nope, we don’t buy it, then adds a reason why it doesn’t buy it. And you’ll find cases where the court doesn’t even bother saying why it doesn’t agree; it simply says it doesn’t.

Remember that anyone who could afford it was entitled to appeal any lower court decision he didn’t like. The appeal might suggest that the facts were other than what the lower court found them to be or that the law was wrongly applied. Those would be the arguments raised by the person bringing the appeal.

In reality, of course, the reason for an appeal then — as now — was often less that there was real legal merit to the appeal than that at least that an appeal would delay things.

So then — as now — the judge or judges hearing the appeal wouldn’t waste a lot of time on arguments that lacked real legal merit and with which the court disagreed.

Today, the court might simply say, “We disagree,” with a sentence or two saying why.

In older opinions, they’d say it differently.

In Latin.

Sed non allocatur.


  1. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 1074, “sed non allocatur.”
  2. Max A. Robertson and Geoffrey Ellis, editors, The English Reports: King’s Bench (1378-1865) (Edinburgh: William Green & Sons, 1907), volume 78; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 6 Sep 2015).
  3. Ibid., at 406.
  4. Ibid. at 432.
  5. Ibid., at 740-741.
  6. Ibid., at 753.
Posted in Court Cases, Legal definitions | 2 Comments

Fish in every pond

Over and over and over, the question is asked:

“I’m adopted. What DNA test should I take to try to identify my biological family or even my biological roots?”

And there’s only one possible answer to that question:

Take every DNA test you can afford to take.

Here’s the deal.

When you’re adopted, you have two issues: (1) you want to identify family members — if not immediate family, then those closely enough related to help identify immediate family; and (2) you’re racing the clock because you want to identify them while they — and you — are still living.

So while the rest of us can sometimes afford to take a leisurely approach to DNA testing — testing the waters, so to speak, as we dip our toes into the various DNA database pools — adoptees have to dive in.

Think of it this way:

• DNA testing is like fishing for cousins. Cousins who share our genetic heritage, who share some ancestors with us, and who may be sitting out there with the answers to some of our most vexing genealogical questions.

• Our own DNA tests are the bait that we use to try to catch the cousin who has the information we need: for those of us with intact families, the cousin who has the family Bible, the cousin who has the photograph of those second or third great grandparents, the cousin who has that fourth great grandmother’s maiden name. For adoptees, it’s the cousin who can lead us to our biological families.

• The databases of the DNA testing companies are the ponds we can fish in.

• And the cousins — well, the cousins may be in any one of the ponds.

I can’t stress that last point enough.

SEO metaphor - part 2. Link baiting, hunting for visitors, fishing.It’s not enough to say that AncestryDNA or 23andMe has the biggest database of people who have tested — although that’s probably true. (The exact numbers aren’t public, so it isn’t possible to say which one is the biggest at any given moment; we just know that both crossed a million this year.1)

And it’s not enough to say that Family Tree DNA has the most dedicated genealogists as users or the best analytical tools for genetic genealogy — although that’s probably true too.2

If the person you need to connect with has tested with Company A and you’ve only tested with Companies B and C, the simple fact is that you lose.

Fortunately, the price of DNA testing has dropped to the point where testing with all three major genetic genealogy companies is in reach for most folks: you can test with all of the companies for less today than it cost to test with one when autosomal DNA testing first became available.

So… one more time3 … here’s the best way to proceed:

Step 1. Test with AncestryDNA for $99 (US pricing, occasionally a bit less on sale). (To see full matching data and the family trees of your matches, you have to pay a $49 annual subscription fee if you’re not already an Ancestry subscriber. You don’t need to pay that to test and get your raw data, but you will have to pay it to see everything AncestryDNA has to offer.)

Step 2. The minute you get your results from AncestryDNA, transfer your raw data to Family Tree DNA. When I say “transfer,” that doesn’t end your matches at AncestryDNA, it just gets you into the Family Tree DNA system with all of its benefits. You can do this for free but remember: “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” The information you get with a free transfer is very limited, so either get four other people to transfer in their data or pay the $39 fee and unlock the information right away.

Step 3. When you can afford it, test with 23andMe for another $99 (U.S. pricing), occasionally a little less on sale.

To get the maximum exposure for your DNA, to have the best chance of finding that key cousin, fish in all the ponds.


  1. See AnneW, “Power of One Million,” 23andMeBlog, posted 18 June 2015 ( : accessed 5 Sep 2015). Also, Anna Swayne, “AncestryDNA Celebrates One Million People Tested,” Ancestry blog, posted 16 July 2015 ( : accessed 5 Sep 2015).
  2. This is, of course, a matter of opinion on the tools. But hey… this is my blog, so my opinion rules.
  3. See Judy G. Russell, “2015: Most bang for the DNA buck,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 2 Feb 2015 ( : accessed 5 Sep 2015).
Posted in DNA | 11 Comments