What test to take

It’s a question that packs an emotional punch, no matter how many times The Legal Genealogist hears it.

And it came up again yesterday from reader Katie.

“Which DNA test do you recommend,” she asked, “if I’m trying to find out who my father is?”

Few of us who grew up in nominally intact homes can honestly say our relationships with our fathers were unconflicted. Some of us who grew up in dysfunctional or broken homes may actually dislike the man who fathered us.

But nobody who grew up knowing something about the person whose name gets entered in the first box on the paternal side of a family tree chart can really understand the power of Katie’s question.

It’s so much more than “who is he?” It’s also “who am I?”

And in Katie’s case, as a single woman wanting to know about her father, there’s only one possible answer: Katie needs to do autosomal testing — and to test as widely and spread her results as broadly as she can.

First off, why autosomal testing?

That’s because of the way the different types of DNA that we use for genetic genealogy — YDNA, mitochondrial DNA and autosomal DNA — are inherited.

YDNA is the kind of DNA found in the male gender-determinative Y chromosome that only men have.1 It gets passed from a man only to his sons and from his sons only to his grandsons and from his grandsons only to his great grandsons, with few changes down the generations.2 So the line of descent looks like this:


You can see the problem, right? For Katie — a female — the line of descent isn’t going to work. For her, the picture looks like this:


So YDNA testing won’t help when a single woman tries to find her father’s line. It works if she has a known paternal brother or uncle or male cousin. But not when the only person she knows who’s related to her father is herself.

Mitochondrial DNA — mtDNA — is a kind of DNA we all have that serve as energy producers for the cells in our bodies.3 It gets passed from a mother to all of her children — male and female — but only her daughters can pass it on to her grandchildren.4 So the line of descent for Katie looks like this:


And you can see the problem there, too, right? Katie’s not looking for information about those women in red. She’s looking for this guy:


So mtDNA testing isn’t going to help either.

This all leads to autosomal testing. All human beings have 23 pairs of chromosomes — 22 numbered pairs and one gender-determinative pair. The autosomes are those 22 numbered pairs.5 And we get exactly half of our autosomal DNA from our fathers and half from our mothers6 in a pattern that looks like this:


So which test Katie take is a no-brainer. The autosomal DNA test.

The best part about autosomal DNA testing is that almost all of our cousins, out to the fourth or fifth cousin level and sometimes even beyond, are going to share some part of that DNA with us. So anyone who matches us in an autosomal DNA test might be able to provide clues to a missing parent (or grandparent or great grandparent) once we do the hard traditional-genealogy-paper-trail work of figuring out where our common ancestral line is with that match. Even when we don’t know anything about part of our own ancestry, as in Katie’s case, finding matches can help us narrow it down.

If Katie’s mother, or a close relative on her mother’s side, will test at the same time, that will help Katie narrow down her results to her father’s side — anyone who matches her and her mother’s-side relative can pretty much be excluded as a link to her missing father. But those who match her most closely and do not match her mother’s side… oh yeah… those are the matches to focus on. Those are the folks most likely to be her relatives on her father’s side.

So… who to test with? Right now, there are three major companies that offer autosomal DNA testing for genetic genealogy: 23andMe; AncestryDNA; and Family Tree DNA. And Katie needs to test with all three. And use every third party tool available to get her results out there, like GedMatch.com.

Why? Because most people who do DNA testing will test with only one of those companies. And Katie has no way of knowing who might have tested already and who might test in the future who might be the key to finding her father’s identity — and no way of knowing which company that key match might choose.

My advice on how to do that for the least amount of money stays the same as it’s been:7 test with AncestryDNA first (the usual price is $99; a sale is on right now that drops the price to $79); then when you get the results, take that raw data from AncestryDNA and upload it to Family Tree DNA (the transfer price is $39 (corrected!); free if you can get four others to transfer their results); and then test with 23andMe ($99 for the test there).

That gets you into all of the company databases for the lowest possible price — and you can take the raw data and upload it to GedMatch and any other future third-party tools website that allows you to compare your data to the data of others.

Bottom line: finding fathers means autosomal testing for females (add in YDNA testing for males), and spreading the results out as far and wide as you can.


  1. ISOGG Wiki (http://www.isogg.org/wiki), “Y chromosome,” rev. 23 Apr 2014.
  2. Ibid., “Y chromosome DNA tests,” rev. 27 Nov 2014.
  3. What is mitochondrial DNA?,” Genetics Home Reference Handbook, National Library of Medicine, US Department of Health (http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/handbook : accessed 29 Nov 2014).
  4. ISOGG Wiki (http://www.isogg.org/wiki), “Mitochondrial DNA tests,” rev. 9 July 2014.
  5. Definitions: Autosome,” Human Genome Project Information (http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov : accessed 29 Nov 2014).
  6. See Judy G. Russell, “Autosomal DNA testing,” National Genealogical Society Magazine, October-December 2011, 38-43.
  7. See Judy G. Russell, “2014: Most bang for DNA bucks,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 6 Apr 2014 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 29 Nov 2014).
Posted in DNA | 19 Comments

A cousin!

Occasionally, The Legal Genealogist simply feels snakebit.

Part of it comes from having southern ancestors.

My entire maternal side comes from south of the Mason-Dixon line.

snakebitYou know, that part of the country where people lived far enough away from courthouses that much of what they did in their lives never got recorded in the first place…

Or where — it seems at times — every courthouse burned on a regular basis…

Or where the few records that ever were created and did name our people were in that courthouse when it burned.

The part of the country where, as Elizabeth Shown Mills puts it, any record that appears to directly name your ancestor turns out in the end to prove that there was another man of the same name in the same county at the same time.1

Ah yes the joys of southern ancestors.


So every so often I will do what we all do as genealogists — turn my attention to a branch that’s just a little less challenging, at least for a time.

Like my father’s side of the family.

Yeah, right.

My German-born father’s side.

Where the records, assuming you can find them, aren’t in English and aren’t even in a script that resembles any script you’ve ever learned to read, assuming you could read German in the first place.

Now my grandmother’s side isn’t too terribly bad. She was born in Bremen, and not only are there some neat records available from Bremen (like the civil registration records starting as far back as 1811,2 and church records as far back as the late 16th century3) but there is also a terrific website for Bremen research called Die Maus — the website of the Bremen Genealogical Society.4

But my grandfather’s side?

That’s a whole ‘nother story.

He was born in Bad Köstritz, in an area of Germany called Reuss jüngere Linie, a principality in what is today the modern German state of Thüringen and I spent a thoroughly depressing few minutes yesterday reading the FamilySearch Wiki page on Reuss j.L.5

A few minutes because — sigh — there is essentially nothing available on Reuss j.L.

Under “Featured Content,” the Wiki page reads: “(Add text and/or an image here).”

Under “Jurisdictions,” the Wiki page reads: “(Add text and/or an image here).”

And under “Did you know?,” the only entry is for research problems and strategies, the first of which is for finding the fathers of children born out of wedlock. Like my great grandfather who lived in Reuss.6 And we’ve already tried all of those… without success.

Even in the catalog there is — let’s see here — one book on emigrants before the first of my family members emigrated,7 and some reference works on the nobility,8 and not much else.


See what I mean? You have to feel just a little snakebit.

So why is the snake you see here smiling so broadly?

Because, every so often, you wake up and you find a comment posted on your blog:

Mein Name ist Moni und mein Urgroßvater war Paul Franke aus Gera *18.05.1884, seine Eltern waren Friedrich Gustav Franke und Emma Ida Graumüller *18.07.1853 in Bad Köstritz.

Deine Webseite hat mir sehr viel Freude bereitet. Ich wusste nicht das ein Teil der Familie Graumüller nach Amerika ausgewandert ist. Ja wie Du schon schreibst ist es nicht leicht an Daten aus dem Ostteil Deutschlands zu kommen.

Ich wünsche Dir weiterhin viel Erfolg.9

And for those of you who don’t read German:

My name is Moni and my great grandfather was Paul Franke born in Gera 18.05.1884, his parents were Friedrich Gustav Franke and Emma Ida Graumüller born 18.07.1853 in Bad Köstritz.

Your website has given me a lot of joy. I didn’t know that a part of the Graumüller family emigrated to America. Yes, as you write, it is not easy to get data from the eastern part of Germany.

I wish you much continued success.

Hot damn!

I have a new cousin!

Moni’s 2nd great grandmother, baptized Ida Emma Graumüller on 31 July 1853, is the oldest child of my second great grandparents, Johann Christoph Graumüller and Augusta Wilhelmina Zimmerman.10

And she is the older sister of my great grandmother Emma Louisa Graumüller, born 27 October 1855.11

Which makes Moni, if my analysis is right, my third cousin once removed!

Hot damn.

I wonder if she wants to do a DNA test…


  1. Elizabeth Shown Mills, comment on Facebook status of the author, some time in the last few weeks, even though I can’t find the darned post right now… Note: My cousin Paula found it, so let’s correct the citation: Elizabeth Shown Mills, comment on Facebook status of the author, 15 November 2014.
  2. See FamilySearch, catalog search, Germany, Bremen, Bremen – Civil registration, FamilySearch.org (https://familysearch.org/ : accessed 28 Nov 2014).
  3. See FamilySearch, catalog search, Germany, Bremen, Bremen – Church records, FamilySearch.org (https://familysearch.org/ : accessed 28 Nov 2014).
  4. See Judy G. Russell, “Bremen’s Maus,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 14 July 2012 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 28 Nov 2014).
  5. FamilySearch Research Wiki (https://www.familysearch.org/learn/wiki/), “Thuringia – Reuss jüngere Linie – Fürstentum (principality),” rev. 25 Jan 2014.
  6. See Judy G. Russell, “Friedrike, how COULD you?,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 7 January 2012 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 28 Nov 2014).
  7. Frank Reinhold, Auswanderer aus Reuß jüngerer Linie (Reuß-Gera) von 1849-1882 (Kleve : Arbeitsgemeinschaft für mitteldeutsche Familienforschung, 2006).
  8. My family name translates as “goatherd.” Nobility, we are not.
  9. Moni S., comment posted 29 Nov 2014 to “Losing a child,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 14 December 2013 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 28 Nov 2014).
  10. Ida’s baptism was the first of the family events recorded in the Bad Köstritz church records after the May 1852 marriage of her parents. For the marriage, see Kirchenbuch Bad Köstritz, Trauregister Seite 434 Nr. 11 aus 1852, Marriage Record of Johann Christoph Graumüller and Auguste Wilhemina Zimmermann (digital image of record in possession of JG Russell). For the baptism, see Kirchenbuch Bad Köstritz, Taufregister Seite 57 Nr. 35 aus 1853, Baptismal Record of Ida Emma Graumüller (digital image of entry in the possession of JG Russell).
  11. See Kirchenbuch Bad Köstritz, Taufregister Seite 110 Nr. 52 aus 1855, Baptismal Record of Emma Louise Graumüller (digital image of entry in the possession of JG Russell).
Posted in My family | 29 Comments

And it’s basically no big deal

So here we are, once again facing a long email and pop-up notices and more from Facebook with changes to its terms of use that will take effect on 1 January 2015.

FB2014Terms of use, remember, are “the limits somebody who owns something you want to see or copy or use puts on whether or not he’ll let you see or copy or use it.”1 In this case, the terms of use govern whether we can use the Facebook service and, if we do, what rights we’re giving Facebook.

Now as savvy online genealogists we all know that we should read every last word of the terms of use and understand them before we agree to them by using a website.

And as human beings in a technological age we still generally just click through because, after all, what choice do we have? If we want to use Facebook — and we do — we have to agree to the changes.

So what are we agreeing to this time?

Nothing that’s a whole lot different from what we’ve agreed to in the past. There are some changes — the biggest one being the way the information is presented (many fewer words overall but spread out over a number of different glitzy pages that you have to click to in order to read everything)2 — but not a lot of substantive changes at all.

Key things to pay attention to:

• Facebook makes it clear that its terms apply across the board to a whole host of companies it owns or operates unless there are specific additional terms. So, for example, the new mobile apps like Slingshot, Rooms, and Groups are all covered by these terms. But WhatsApp and Instagram still have their own terms of use if you use those as well as Facebook.

• The terms serve to remind us about location services and how they work. If you have location services turned on in any device you use, Facebook will “use it to tailor our Services for you and others, like helping you to check-in and find local events or offers in your area or tell your friends that you are nearby.”

• The terms also serve to remind us just how much information Facebook gets from things like location services: whenever we access Facebook, it collects “information from or about the computers, phones, or other devices where you install or access our Services, depending on the permissions you’ve granted. We may associate the information we collect from your different devices, which helps us provide consistent Services across your devices. Here are some examples of the device information we collect:

• Attributes such as the operating system, hardware version, device settings, file and software names and types, battery and signal strength, and device identifiers.
• Device locations, including specific geographic locations, such as through GPS, Bluetooth, or WiFi signals.
• Connection information such as the name of your mobile operator or ISP, browser type, language and time zone, mobile phone number and IP address.”

• On the plus side, there’s a newly-separate and fairly readable Privacy Basics section where it should be easier to set preferences on what you do and don’t want people to see.

• Also on the plus side, a decision about advertising on one device (your home computer, say) will now carry over to your other devices (your phone or tablet).

• On the probably-not-a-plus side, we’re about to see a Buy button appear on ads and other locations around Facebook. The company says it’s “testing a Buy button that helps people discover and purchase products without leaving Facebook. We’re also working on new ways to make transactions even more convenient.” And any time you do buy something on Facebook, it will “collect information about the purchase or transaction. This includes your payment information, such as your credit or debit card number and other card information, and other account and authentication information, as well as billing, shipping and contact details.”

So… nothing earth-shattering. Just the usual collecting every bit of information they can about every aspect of your life in order to package you up for advertisers.

As always, know what you’re agreeing to.


  1. Judy G. Russell, “A terms of use intro,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 27 Apr 2012 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 27 Nov 2014).
  2. I will say that by fragmenting the terms into lots of difference documents with click-throughs to details it’s made it darned hard to figure out what the differences are. Bleah.
Posted in General, Terms of use | 10 Comments

So much to be thankful for

It’s Thanksgiving Day here in the United States, and The Legal Genealogist has so much to be thankful for.

So very much, in fact, that it’s hard to know where to begin.

HThanksI am thankful for this amazing community we have of genealogists around the world, many of whom have been my mentors over the years and so many of whom have become friends.

I’m thankful for all those who’ve gone before us, blazing the trails of methodology and scholarship, teaching, training, encouraging us to be the very best we can be as researchers.

I’m thankful for those who’ve fought to keep records open for us to use and to preserve the records where we may find the clues we need. For those with the foresight to think up the Preserve the Pensions campaign. Those who digitize books and original documents. Those who collect and archive and preserve and protect.

I’m thankful for all the genealogical societies that have opened their doors and their hearts to me and to all of us who love to share what we know… and for all that each and every one of them has taught me in return.

I’m thankful for all the amazing tools we have — our computers, our mobile devices, the internet, DNA testing — to help us break down the brick walls in our quests to find our ancestors.

I am so very thankful for my big, bold, brash and utterly frustrating family of ancestors who just insist on constantly playing hide and seek.

And I am so very thankful for my big, bold, brash and utterly wonderful modern family — brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins by the dozens — and the security that comes with knowing that someone always, always, has my back.

I’m so very thankful for the new babies and not-so-little-anymore boys and girls who are bringing us such joy as they swell the ranks of the family.

I’m even thankful through my tears that some of my cousins — my dearly loved cousins Dick and Susan — have found eternal peace this year, free from the cancer that ravaged their bodies. I’m thankful for the years I had them… and will try not to be bitter that they are no longer where I can give them a hug.

I’m thankful for being safe and warm, with a roof over my head and clothes on my back and food on my table … and even kitty food in the kitty dishes. I am thankful for two fur balls who let me live with them as long as I pay the mortgage, clean their litter boxes and feed them twice a day.

I’m thankful for what I have of health, wealth and wisdom.

For friends near and far.

For just making it through another year, to another Thanksgiving Day.

Happy Thanksgiving, folks.

Posted in General | 10 Comments

Comments due by Monday 1 December

Today, The Legal Genealogist is asking for our community’s help in speaking out for those who cannot speak for themselves.

This country’s veterans who lie in unmarked graves.

They need our help, and they need it now. We have less than a week to speak out on a federal rule change that is critically needed.


The VA has long had a program that assists in providing headstones or markers for veterans’ graves. It’s called the Memorial Programs Service, and here’s the way it works:

The Department of Veterans Affairs provides headstones and markers for the graves of veterans anywhere in the world and for eligible dependents of veterans buried in national, state veteran or federal cemeteries. Flat bronze, flat granite, flat marble and upright marble types are available to mark the grave of a veteran or dependent in the style consistent with existing monuments at the place of burial. Niche markers also are available to mark columbaria used for the inurnment of cremated remains.

Headstones and markers are inscribed with the name of the deceased, the years of birth and death, and branch of service. Optional items that also may be inscribed at VA expense are: military grade, rank or rate; war service (such as “World War II”); months and days of birth and death; an emblem reflecting one’s beliefs; valor awards received; and the Purple Heart. Additional items may be inscribed at private expense.

When burial is in a national cemetery, military post or state veterans cemetery, the headstone or marker is ordered through the cemetery, which will place it on the grave. Information regarding style, inscription, shipping and placement can be obtained from the cemetery.

When burial occurs in a cemetery other than a national cemetery or a state veterans cemetery, the headstone or marker must be applied for from VA. It is shipped at government expense to the consignee designated on the application. VA, however, does not pay the cost of placing the headstone or marker on the grave.1

Sounds great, doesn’t it? But there’s a hitch.

A problem surfaced back in 2013 when the Veteran’s Administration started enforcing a rule adopted in 2009 that — for the first time — put limits on who was eligible to ask that a headstone or marker be provided. For decades, any family member, in fact anyone who had information about the burial place of a veteran, could ask that a headstone be erected to honor a veteran’s grave. Prior to 2009, there was no rule requiring that the person asking for the stone have any particular relationship to the deceased veteran.

But in 2009 the rule was changed. The current version of the federal rule requires that there be an application for a headstone or marker by “an applicant,” and it defined that as

the decedent’s next-of-kin (NOK), a person authorized in writing by the NOK, or a personal representative authorized in writing by the decedent to apply for a Government-furnished headstone or marker and, in appropriate instances, a new emblem of belief for inscription on a Government-furnished headstone or marker.2

Now think about that for a moment. Think of all the veterans whose graves today may remain unmarked. Veterans of the Revolutionary War. Of the War of 1812. Of the Mexican War. Think, just as one example, of the case outlined by the Ad Hoc Committee to Mark Their Graves:

William Peter Strickland (1809-1884) served as chaplain of the 48th New York Infantry for two years during the Civil War. Strickland, like many Northern Evangelicals, believed that serving the Union was “the most sacred duty of every liberty-loving American citizen.” He is interred in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery in an unmarked grave.

An application was made to the Veterans Administration for a headstone for him. That application was rejected because the applicant, the cemetery where he is buried, was not next-of-kin. Chaplain Strickland lies today, 150 years after his service to his country, in an unmarked grave.3

Think of every World War I doughboy or World War II soldier or sailor who lies in an unmarked grave but, today, has no remaining next of kin.

Thinking about those people led me, in June of last year, to join hundreds and thousands of others in an email campaign to then-Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, asking him to take action to make it easier to mark the graves of our nation’s unsung heroes. It was what made me work through the Mark Their Graves website to join in sending this message to Washington:

Unfortunately, many of our veterans lie in unmarked graves.

Up until the middle of (2012), the Veterans Administration was doing an excellent job of remedying this wrong—through its Headstones and Markers Program.

… However, in mid-2012, when the Veterans Administration’s Memorial Programs Service began applying a regulation that dated from 2009, redefining “applicant” and making it necessary to locate and gain the approval of the veteran’s next of kin, this program, particularly for veterans who served generations ago, has created an impossible and unnecessary burden, in effect shutting this program down.

We protest this action and ask that you limit this new regulation—making it inapplicable to veterans who served more than 62 years ago—so that the veterans who now lie in unmarked graves can have a thankful nation mark where they lie, in tribute to their service.4

Yesterday, we got the first signal that those efforts may have paid off. But we need one more push — and I ask you to join me in commenting on a proposed change in the rules.

An automated don’t-reply-to-this email I received yesterday tells us that:

Since 2009, VA has received a number of requests from individuals who did not meet the current definition of applicant for headstones or markers. VA has acknowledged concerns that the current regulatory definition of applicant was too restrictive and resulted in identified Veteran gravesites going unmarked. VA shares the goal to ensure appropriate recognition of Veterans who served the United States and proposes to revise the definition of applicant to ease the restrictive aspects of the definition and allow more individuals to apply for headstones or markers, including memorial headstones or markers.

On October 1, 2014, the National Cemetery Administration (NCA) of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) published in the Federal Register, a proposed rule to amend the existing definition of eligible applicants by expanding the types of individuals who may request headstones or markers on behalf of decedents. VA is seeking input from Veterans, family members and other stakeholders regarding a proposed change to its definition of who may apply for a headstone or marker. Those wishing to review and comment on the proposed changes are encouraged to do so by searching for “National Cemetery Administration” or “2900-AO95” at www.regulations.gov. Comments must be received on or before December 1, 2014.5

So… how would the new rule work if adopted? It would expand the definition of eligible applicant for a burial headstone or marker to include the veteran’s “family member, which includes the decedent’s spouse; a child, parent, or sibling of the decedent, whether biological, adopted, or step relation; and any lineal or collateral descendant of the decedent;” and for a memorial headstone or marker to any “member of the decedent’s family, which includes the decedent’s spouse; a child, parent, or sibling of the decedent, whether biological, adopted, or step relation; and any lineal or collateral descendant of the decedent.”6

It would also allow an application to be made by any personal representative, and it defines that to include “individuals who have no familial relationship to the veteran but to whom the responsibility for final disposition of the remains or other related activities have fallen. For example, … groups such as the Missing in America Project have made a significant contribution to finding the unclaimed remains of veterans and ensuring that they are provided with a final resting place. It is a logical step that the same individual who made the burial arrangements should be able to request memorialization as well.”7 And it also allows applications by any congressionally charted Veterans Service Organization — groups like the American Legion, the Disabled American Veterans, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and more.8

It’s not quite as good a rule as it might be; I’d love to see cemeteries, historical societies and genealogical societies included among those who can make application for the markers. But it’s a whole lot better than just the next of kin, and it’s hard to imagine a cemetery or historical or genealogical society worth its salt that couldn’t enlist the local VFW post in seeing to it that a veteran’s grave was properly marked.

So please take a moment over these next few days — comments are due by 1 December — and comment on the proposed rule. Click through to this page at Regulations.gov, read the proposal and then click on the blue Comment Now at the upper right hand side (see where the arrow is pointing in the image above).

Tell the VA it’s doing the right thing — that expanding the list of those eligible to apply to mark a veteran’s grave allows us all a better chance to honor the unhonored.

If everyone pitches in here, maybe we can win one this time.


  1. Headstones and Markers,” Military.com (http://www.military.com/ : accessed 25 Nov 2014).
  2. 38 CFR 38.632 (2009).
  3. Mark Their Graves ( http://www.marktheirgraves.org/: accessed 25 Nov 2014).
  4. Petition, Mark Their Graves ( : accessed 25 Nov 2014).
  5. Email, National Cemetery Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs, to Judy G. Russell, 25 Nov 2014.
  6. AO95 – Proposed Rule – Applicants for VA Memorialization Benefits,” Department of Veterans Affairs, Regulations.gov (http://www.regulations.gov : accessed 25 Nov 2014).
  7. Ibid.
  8. See “Congressionally-Chartered Veterans Service Organizations (By Date of Charter),” House Committee on Veterans Affairs (http://veterans.house.gov/ : accessed 25 Nov 2014).
Posted in General | 31 Comments

DNA holiday sale time!

The Legal Genealogist readily admits it.

I am a sucker for a DNA sale.

rewardsYeah, yeah, yeah, so it’s not Sunday and here I am writing about DNA again.

So sue me.

It’s a sale, for pete’s sake.

And not just a sale, but one that actually has some (dare I say it?) fun attached.

Family Tree DNA launches its 2014 Holiday Sale at 10 a.m. Central time today (that’s like about a nanosecond ago if I pushed “publish” at the right moment), and here’s the deal.

First off, there are the usual discounts on the usual tests:

And for new tests, here’s the line-up of prices (good through December 31 (11:59 p.m. Central time) for kits bought and paid for by then):


Regular Price

Sale Price










Y-DNA12 to Y-DNA37



Y-DNA12 to Y-DNA67



Y-DNA12 to Y-DNA111



Y-DNA25 to Y-DNA37



Y-DNA25 to Y-DNA67



Y-DNA25 to Y-DNA111



Y-DNA37 to Y-DNA67



Y-DNA37 to Y-DNA111



Y-DNA67 to Y-DNA111



Family Finder



Big Y



mtDNA Full Sequence



mtDNA+ to Full Sequence



Now those prices are pretty cool. But that’s not the fun part. The fun part is something called Mystery Reward discounts.

Every week between now and the end of the year, every customer is going to get an icon on the myFTDNA dashboard. Click on the icon, and you go to the rewards page to find out how much the additional discount is that you can add on top of the sale prices in the chart you see above here.

The Mystery Reward will be anything from a specific dollar amount good against any test (or combination of tests) to a product-specific discount (think a really really cheap Family Finder test, for example). The total dollar award could be as much as $100. You can use your reward for your own test — or share it with a friend.

And if you’ve already bought a Big Y test, you’ll get another coupon good for $50 off another Big Y test. And yes, you can share that with a friend too.

Now that’s a DNA sale…

And The Legal Genealogist can’t resist a DNA sale…

Posted in DNA | 13 Comments

When the testate estate isn’t

Genealogists worth their salt know that an estate can be testate or intestate.

Testate, meaning an estate where the person who has died “has made a will; one who dies leaving a will.”1

Intestate, meaning an estate where the person who has died does so “(w)ithout making a will. A person is said to die intestate when he dies without making a will, or dies without leaving anything to testify what his wishes were with respect to the disposal of his property after his death.”2

Last Will and Testament document with quill pen and handwritingAnd then there’s the kind of case encountered by reader Sandy Rumble, who located a will, written in German in 1808, proven and probated in Berks County, Pennsylvania, in 1816.

“In January 1817, the EXECUTOR goes back into court and says intestate situation and requests an inquest to divvy up a property not mentioned in the will,” she wrote. “Did the EXECUTOR do this because the 20 acre property wasn’t mentioned in the will? How can an estate be both (testate and intestate)?”

The answers: yes, that’s exactly why the executor did what the executor did, and an estate could be both testate and intestate, most commonly, exactly the way Sandy bumped into here.

The definition of intestate given in Black’s Law Dictionary goes right on to note the exact situation Sandy ran into:

Besides the strict meaning of the word as above given, there is also a sense in which intestacy may be partial; that is, where a man leaves a will which does not dispose of his whole estate, he is said to “die intestate” as to the property so omitted.3

Now prior to the Revolutionary War, not mentioning real estate in some parts of the country might not have been all that important. In some areas, land was passed by the rule of primogeniture — all the real estate not mentioned in the will automatically went to the oldest son.4 And in some areas, land might have been restricted to particular heirs by what was called a fee tail5 or entail.6

But those restrictions went out with, or shortly after, the Revolution, and the typical practice in the early 1800s would have been to mention everything in the will. And, human beings being what human beings are, things got left out. In Sandy’s case, the will was written eight years before the testator died. A lot can happen in eight years: land gets bought, land gets sold, maybe even a tract was inherited from someone else.

So this sort of thing — leaving some parcel or property out of the will — rendered this estate partially testate (for everything that was mentioned in the will) and partially intestate (for everything the testator owned when he died that wasn’t mentioned in the will).

And it’s this sort of thing that was the reason why lawyers started adding what’s called the residuary clause to wills. You’ve seen it; it’s the paragraph that includes language something along the lines of: “All the rest, residue and remainder of my estate, wheresoever situated, I leave to the Russell Home for Wayward Cats.” With a clause like that inserted into the will, there shouldn’t be anything ever that’s considered to be omitted from the will and, so, with a clause like that estates stopped being so commonly partially intestate.

But there was another reason why an estate might be partially testate that wouldn’t be cured by a residuary clause. That happened when some portion of the will wasn’t legally valid.

Consider the case of a 20-year-old husband and father in, say, 1800 Virginia. He gets sick, calls in the clerk and dictates a will, has it properly witnessed, and in it leaves all of his land and his personal property to his children. Under the law of Virginia in effect at that time, that will was only partially valid. A 20-year-old could, by law, have a valid will for personal property.7 But to leave a valid will for real property, that man had to be 21 years old.8

In that case, the will would be probated and given full effect for the man’s personal property. As to that, the estate would be testate. But it wasn’t valid for his real property. As to that, the estate would be intestate.

In either case — with an omission or with some invalid portion — you can have and you will see in the records a testate intestacy. Yes, there’s a will — but it’s not enough to handle everything in this estate.


  1. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 1166, “testate.”
  2. Ibid., 640, “intestate.”
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid., 937, primogeniture.
  5. Ibid., 482, fee-tail (“an estate of Inheritance given to a man and the heirs of his body, or limited to certain classes of particular heirs”).
  6. Ibid., 422, entail (land that was “abridged or limited to the issue, or certain classes of issue, instead of descending to all the heirs”).
  7. §4, Chapter LXI, Laws of 1785, in William Waller Hening, compiler, The Statutes at Large, Being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia from the first session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619, vol. 12 (Richmond: George Cochran, printer, 1823), 141; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 23 Nov 2014).
  8. Ibid., §1, at 140.
Posted in Legal definitions, Statutes | 4 Comments

Another Battles match

The Legal Genealogist has said it before and will (I devoutly hope) say it again and again:

I love cousins.

I especially love cousins who are willing to donate just that little bit of themselves that allows an analysis of their DNA against the rest of the family’s DNA.

Because every so often, the results say just what you hope they’ll say.

Case in point: my gawdawful Battles family.


This family is one that I’ve fought with for years. In large part, it’s because of what is at least a single and (more likely) a double out-of-wedlock situation. In a county where the courthouse burned. Twice.

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

We were pretty sure of Margaret’s maiden name, but, with those courthouse fires, documentary proof is hard to come by. We do have oral history passed down to Margaret’s great granddaughter, my grandmother;4 and the death certificate of her son William.5

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

In the last few months, we’ve added some amazing bits and pieces, most particularly the fantastic DNA results of a cousin, Jack, who descends from a George Battles, whom we have long believed to be Margaret’s brother, and whose DNA results so strongly match everyone in my family that he should match that it leaves no doubt about George and Margaret being siblings.10

But even with that we have been up against one final question: who was the mother of the many Battles children? You see, William was married twice. His first marriage, to Kiziah Wright, resulted in a messy suit she brought against him for divorce that was finally dismissed in 1829, apparently when Kiziah died.11 His second wife was Ann Jacobs. They were married on Christmas Day 1829, and showed up on the 1830 census with — count ‘em — five children.12

So… how to prove whether Kiziah or Ann was the mother?

We needed a documented direct female-line descendant of Ann.

And a California man named Michael has stepped into that gap. He descends in an unbroken female line from Julia Battles, the middle of three female children enumerated with William and Ann in the 1850 census.

His mitochondrial DNA results will give us the final answer we need: if he matches me and my maternal cousin who’s tested, then we know that Ann was the mother of both Julia and Margaret. If he doesn’t match us, then the older children may well have been Kiziah’s children and not Ann’s.

And … sigh … no, those results aren’t in yet. My fingernail marks from climbing the walls are evidence of that.



But his autosomal results came in this week.

You can see from the chart above that we really really really needed Michael to match Jack and Thelma. At that level, he should be a third cousin once removed to both of them. The odds of a match at that level are good, but not guaranteed.

All I could do was cross my fingers that he shared enough DNA in common with these cousins to show up as a match.

And he does.

He shares 54cM of autosomal DNA with Jack, longest block 24cM, estimated relationship range second to fourth cousin. And he shares 40 cM of DNA with Thelma, longest block 18cM, estimated relationship range third to fifth cousin.

Family Tree DNA still reports, as to the mitochondrial results, that “This test is currently on order and matching will be possible when results come back.”

Oh, please


  1. FamilySearch Research Wiki (https://www.familysearch.org/learn/wiki/), “Cherokee County, Alabama: Record Loss,” rev. 18 Nov 2014.
  2. 1850 U.S. census, Cherokee County, Alabama, population schedule, 27th District, p. 136 (back) (stamped), dwelling 1055, family 1055, Danl Shew household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 22 Nov 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication M432, roll 3.
  3. 1860 U.S. census, Cherokee County, Alabama, population schedule, p. 315 (stamped), dwelling 829, family 829, Margaret Shoe household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 22 Nov 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication M653, roll 5.
  4. Interview with Opal Robertson Cottrell (Kents Store, VA), by granddaughter Bobette Richardson, 1980s; copy of notes privately held by Judy G. Russell.
  5. Texas Department of Health, death certificate no. 10077 (1927), W.W. Shew (10 Mar 1927); Bureau of Vital Statistics, Austin.
  6. 1840 U.S. census, Cherokee County, Alabama, population schedule, p. 116 (stamped), line 17, Wm Battles household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 22 Mar 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication M704, roll 3.
  7. 1850 U.S. census, Cherokee Co., Ala., pop. sched., 27th Dist., p. 136 (stamped), dwell. 1052, fam. 1052, Wm Battles household.
  8. 1860 U.S. census, Cherokee Co., Ala., pop. sched., p. 314-315 (stamped), dwell./fam. 825, Wm Battles household.
  9. 1870 U.S. census, Cherokee Co., Ala., pop. sched., Leesburg P.O., p. 268(B) (stamped), dwell. 26, fam. 25, W Battles household.
  10. See Judy G. Russell, “On with the Battles,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 13 April 2014 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 22 Nov 2014).
  11. Transcription, Records of the Blount County Circuit Court, 1824-1829; Circuit Court Clerk’s Office, Oneonta, Ala.; transcribed by Bobbie Ferguson; copy provided to J. Russell and held in files.
  12. 1830 U.S. census, St. Clair County, Alabama, p. 252 (stamped), line 24, William Battles 2nd household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 22 Mar 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication M19, roll 4.
Posted in DNA, My family | 15 Comments

Not 143 years ago today

It ain’t necessarily so
It ain’t necessarily so
The t’ings dat yo’ li’ble
To read in de Bible,
It ain’t necessarily so.

– Ira Gershwin, “It Ain’t Necessarily So

There is a Family Bible owned for many years, generations even, by a branch of my Baker family, and it carefully records the death of the oldest member of that branch of the family.

Josias.Bible“Josias Baker departed this life November 22nd 1871.”1

Now maybe we’d have some trouble accepting all of the birth information in the Bible as … well… gospel truth. After all, the entries report, among others, Josias’ birth in 1787 — nearly 60 years before that particular Bible was published. And all the births, up to the last reported in 1834, are in the same handwriting.2

But the deaths… those are different. At least four separate hands involved in those entries. They sure look like at least the later ones would be contemporaneous with the events.

So we’d certainly be justified in accepting today as the 143rd anniversary of Josias’s death, wouldn’t we?

After all, it’s exactly the kind of record that people did keep, at the time, of important events in family history, and they’d certainly record it correctly.



To quote Ira Gershwin, “It ain’t necessarily so.”

You see, Josias Baker left a will when he died, and that will was submitted to the Ellis County, Texas, District Court to be admitted to probate there.

And it was admitted to probate in the Fall Term.

Of 1870.3 Not 1871.

And his son-in-law Josiah Porter carefully told the court, there on the 7th of December 1870, that Josias had died on the 20th of November. Not the 22nd.

Even with something as ordinarily reliable as a Family Bible…


The t’ings dat yo’ li’ble
To read in de Bible,
It ain’t necessarily so.


  1. Baker Family Bible, 1787-1878; The Holy Bible (Philadelphia : Jesper Harding, printer, 1846); Bible Records Collection; Dallas Public Library, Dallas, Texas. The Bible was owned by a daughter of Josias and Nancy (Parks) Baker, Barsheba Matilda (Baker) Strong Porter. Mrs. Porter’s great granddaughter, Louise (Rosser) Garrett of Richardson, Texas, inherited the Bible after the death of Clara (Price) Rosser, her mother and Mrs. Porter’s granddaughter. Mrs. Garrett donated the Bible, along with other family Bibles, to the Dallas Public Library c1985.
  2. Ibid., Births column.
  3. Ellis Co., Texas, District Court, probate case no. 330, “Jonas” Baker (1870), application for letters of administration, filed 7 Dec 1870; FHL microfilm 1673847.
Posted in Methodology, My family | 10 Comments

Historical laws in one place

In anticipation of tomorrow’s Genealogy and the Law day — the annual seminar of the Genealogical Society of Bergen County in Mahwah — The Legal Genealogist has been poking around the old law books again.

This time, New Jersey’s old law books.

You see, in some respects, New Jersey researchers have it tough.

Although the Garden State began as one of the original colonies and has a rich and deep history, it too has suffered records loss. As in, just as a few examples, the 1790, 1800, 1810 and 1820 United States census records for New Jersey, all of which are missing in action.1

NJSL.lawHowever, as if to make up in part for that sort of records loss, what New Jersey researchers have as a plus are the legal resources of the New Jersey State Library, which has gathered together in one place all of the online resources for New Jersey’s historical laws.

A Garden State researcher should start out at the entry page for New Jersey Historical Laws, Constitutions and Charters at the New Jersey State Library website. And from there… oh, from there… well, the choices make a law geek like me drool.

Here’s an overview of the goodies you can find:

New Jersey Charters and Treaties, starting with the 1664 Grant to Berkeley and Carteret and 1664 Concessions and Agreements of the Proprietors and going through to the 1756 treaty between New Jersey and the Indians.

New Jersey Colonial Ordinances, ranging from a 1704 catalog of fees to a 1728 Ordinance for Establishing the Remedies for Abuses in the Practice of the Law.

New Jersey Constitutions — all three that New Jersey has had: 1776; 1844; and 1947. But more than just the text of the Constitutions, there are reports of the constitutional conventions, journals of proceedings and more.

• The Historical Compilations collection pulls together all of the compiled statutes from colonial times, ranging from an index of colonial laws from 1663, the laws and ordinances of New Netherland and New Jersey’s Provincial Statutes up to the modern New Jersey Statutes, for which an online link is not available.2 Most of the law codes are available in digitized versions through Rutgers University or one of the online services like Google Books, HathiTrust or Internet Archive.

New Jersey Session Laws are available online starting with the statutes of 1776 and continuing right up to today. Most of the resources are offered by Rutgers University; modern session law information is from the New Jersey Legislature.

• For court cases, the Reporters collection, reports of court decisions published in the New Jersey Law Reports series, volumes 1-96, 1816 to 1922, the New Jersey Equity Reports series, volumes 1-91, 1836-1920, and the Atlantic Reporter regional case reports, volumes 1-116, 1885-1922.

• You can also find historical information about New Jersey’s lawyers and judges in the New Jersey Lawyers’ Diary and Bar Directory collection from 1904 through 1916 and the New Jersey State Bar Association Yearbook collection, spanning the years from 1900 through 1921.

And even that extensive list isn’t everything the site has to offer! There are treatises and a legislative manual and Journals and Minutes of the Legislature… and… abd…

So go ahead, go poke around.

Good things await you in those musty old books…


  1. FamilySearch Research Wiki (https://www.familysearch.org/learn/wiki/), “New Jersey,” rev. 4 Nov 2014.
  2. Current New Jersey statutes are available at the New Jersey Legislature website.
Posted in Constitutions, Court Cases, Resources, Statutes | 2 Comments