The law had a bang-up day yesterday at the APG PMC in SLC.

And if you don’t know what those initials stand for, you’re really missing out.

effdateAPG is the Association of Professional Genealogists.1 There’s a ton of information about APG available on its website, a directory listing members if you’re thinking about hiring a professional to help with your research, and a ton of members-only benefits that you really shouldn’t pass up if you’re a professional genealogist or even a professional-genealogist-in-training.

PMC is the annual Professional Management Conference, a two-day conference focusing on topics of interest to the professional genealogist.2

And SLC is Salt Lake City, home to this year’s PMC Conference, next week’s Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy and, of course, the Family History Library and its world-class resources for genealogical research.

So how is it that the law had such a good day at the APG PMC in SLC?

Well, the talks at the PMC each year are many and varied. Some of them are aimed at the business side of professional genealogy — talks like yesterday’s “Taxes and the Professional Genealogist” by James M. Beidler or today’s “Time Management for Genealogists” by Angela Packer McGhie. Some of them are skills-oriented like the three-part “You’ve Got Options: Many Ways to Cite Right” workshop by Thomas W. Jones, Ph.D., CG, CGL, co-editor of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

And some of them are general genealogical topics that professionals — and, in fact, all genealogists — need to know more about. “DNA and Genealogical Proof,” presented by Angie Bush. “Mind Maps for Genealogy,” presented by Ron Arons. And “Finding the Law,” presented by The Legal Genealogist.

It was great fun. We got to talk about the general legal system in the United States, how some types of laws win out if there’s a conflict with others. We got to talk about the resources that help us find the laws we’re looking for. Places like the amazing website from the Library of Congress, Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation.3 And we got to talk about finding the right laws — the ones in effect at the time a record was created and in the place it was created.

And that gave rise to a great question from a participant in yesterday’s presentation. He asked about the time when new statutes took effect: would all the laws passed at one session of the legislature take effect at the same time, for example? And how would we know?

When a law became law can be critically important in analyzing a document: was this the law in effect at the time, or was that the law? And there are a couple of general rules:

• Laws generally take effect when they’re signed by the President (if federal) or Governor (if state or territorial). With federal laws published in the Statutes at Large — the ones you’ll find on the Century of Lawmaking website, each law has the date on which it was signed in the marginal notes. So, for example, the Homestead Act of 1862 became law on 20 May 1862, the day it was signed by President Lincoln.4

Some laws don’t take effect right away but, instead, have some different effective date written into the laws themselves. They may contain a date certain. In Virginia, for example, the legislature that met in October 1785 completely rewrote the probate code and changed the basic rules of inheritance. And because it wanted to give Virginia residents plenty of time to rewrite their wills and other legal documents to conform to the new law, it specified that the statute wouldn’t take effect until 1 January 1787.5 Or it might be something like a date like 90 days from the passage of the act.

Bottom line: read the statute carefully to see if it contains an effective date. If it does, that controls. If it doesn’t, then look for the date it was signed into law.


  1. See the organization’s website. Association of Professional Genealogists, accessed 8 Jan 2015.
  2. See “2015 APG Professional Management Conference,” Association of Professional Genealogists (https://www.apgen.org/ : accessed 8 Jan 2015).
  3. “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875,” Library of Congress, American Memory (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/index.html : accessed 8 Jan 2015).
  4. “An Act to secure Homesteads to actual Settlers on the Public Domain,” 12 Stat. 392 (20 May 1862); digital images, “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875,” Library of Congress, American Memory (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/index.html : accessed 8 Jan 2015).
  5. “An act concerning wills, …” Chapter LX, Laws of 1785, in William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large … of Virginia (Richmond: p.p., 1823), 12:138 et seq.
Posted in General, Statutes | 7 Comments

Thank you for your support

Once again, the genealogists beat out the lawyers.

Once again, it was a genealogy blog, rather than a strictly law blog, that took the top honors in vote-getting1 in the niche category of the prestigious American Bar Association Journal‘s 2014 Blawg 100 “competition.”

In that niche category, the winner and still champion for the second year in a row — The Legal Genealogist.

2014blawgThis tale began back in November 2013 when I got an email with a return address of americanbar.org — and I almost deleted it. I figured it was a pitch for membership in the ABA and, since I’m not in active law practice any more, and don’t have an active law license, I had my finger on the delete key when I realized it was about something else altogether.

“Congratulations,” it said. “Your blawg has earned a spot in the ABA Journal’s Blawg 100, our 7th annual list of the best in blogs about lawyers and the law.”2

That was definitely cool.

Then I found out about the fan voting part — the fact that voters in each category could choose a blog for the top honors. It was only because you, dear readers, turned out in force that I was saved from the ignominy of losing out to a blog about wills and trusts.

Talk about a sigh of relief… I mean really! If a blog about dead people is gonna win, it should be about dead people and their family history, right?

Then in November 2014 in came the email from the American Bar Association Journal for 2014.

A second nomination. That’s definitely cool.

And you can imagine my joy when I saw that there was a new category for law professors and that the guy who gave me such a run for the money last year was moved to that new category.

I figured 2014 would be a snap.

Until the votes started rolling in…

Now really. I wouldn’t have minded losing to the winner in the Criminal Justice category — a blog I hope many genealogists voted for — Defrosting Cold Cases by cold-case consultant Alice de Sturler. Or to the winner in the Legal Research / Legal Writing category — my own favorite law blog and one I know many genealogists supported — In Custodia Legis, the blog of the Law Library of Congress.

But I did not want to lose to a blog about agriculture law.

And you, dear readers, didn’t let that happen. The announcement came yesterday, and once again The Legal Genealogist came out on top in the niche category.3

As a matter of fact, The Legal Genealogist was the second highest vote-getter of all 100 nominees in all categories, across the board, second only to Top Class Actions, a blog about class action lawsuits.

That blog is described as a kind of searchable database of class action filings and settlements produced by a staff of news writers. I’m one genealogist with a law degree. And you — you, dear readers — you still almost outvoted those guys!!

I’m amazed.

And humbled.

And very very grateful.

Thank you so much!


  1. Or ballot-box-stuffing.
  2. Trust me — I’m as pained by the “blawg” spelling as you are.
  3. Sarah Mui, “Blawg 100 popular vote getters,” ABA Journal online, posted 7 Jan 2014 (http://www.abajournal.com : accessed 7 Jan 2014).
Posted in General | 37 Comments

More on the law of strays

Okay, so The Legal Genealogist is having some fun with this topic, but hey… if you can’t have fun with a blog on genealogy and the law, where can you have fun?

Don’t answer that.

At least if it isn’t legal.


We’re talking about strays, or estrays, and the law.

First, some background for our hypothetical.

Group Of Farm Animals : Cow, Sheep, Horse, Donkey, Chicken, LambLet’s say your ancestors were neighbors of my ancestors, who lived in Kentucky in the 1850s. And let’s say that, in 1855 or so, one of those ancestors found two stray cattle roaming around and decided to take them up (capture them), in the hopes of being able to keep them if the owners never stepped forward to claim them.

The law in Kentucky had the same basic concept as the law we’ve been talking about in Massachusetts,1 that stray cattle could be taken up by anybody who found them, at least if he was a landowner, long-term tenant or keeper of a toll-gate.2

Under Kentucky law, you had to publicly announce within a set time that you’d found the stray beasties, there had to be a record made in court with the value of the animals assessed at the time, and the owner had to come forward within a specific time to claim them and would have to pay all fees and costs to get the cattle back.3

The big difference between Kentucky in the 19th century and Massachusetts in the 17th century was that Kentucky simply let the finder keep the animal if the owner didn’t show up and claim it,4 while Massachusetts expected the finder to pay the town some portion of the animal’s value.5

The end result in either case, if the owner didn’t show and the finder wanted to keep the stray, was that the finder became the new owner of the animal.

With that background, here’s today’s question, posed with the help of Kentucky attorney and blog reader Foster Ockerman, Jr.:

What sound would the two stray cattle your ancestor took up have made?

Sounds like a ridiculous question, doesn’t it?

I mean, okay, so maybe we didn’t all grow up on a farm, but we can all easily define the word cattle, can’t we?

“Cows, bulls, or steers that are kept on a farm or ranch for meat or milk,” according to Merriam-Webster.6 The Oxford Dictionaries website agrees: “Large ruminant animals with horns and cloven hoofs, domesticated for meat or milk, or as beasts of burden; cows.”7 “Any of various domesticated ruminant mammals of the genus Bos, including cows, steers, bulls, and oxen, often raised for meat and dairy products,” says the Free Dictionary.8

So easy answer, huh?

Moo, of course.

Except maybe it wasn’t moo at all.

Maybe it was baaaaaa.

Maybe it was oink.

Maybe it was a bleat.

Or a bray.

Or even a neigh.

Because the word “cattle” in the Kentucky statute didn’t just mean cows. The term as it was generally understood by lawyers at the time included “domestic animals generally; all the animals used by man for labor or food.”9 And the Kentucky law specifically mentioned some I sure wouldn’t think of as “cattle”: horses, mules, jacks and jennets.10

Even today, Kentucky law defines the term “stray cattle” to mean “any animal of the bovine, ovine, porcine, or caprine species for which the owner is no longer claiming ownership or for which the owner cannot be determined, but not including any member of the equine species.”11

In other words, horses and donkeys aren’t cattle today, since the law was amended in 2010.

But pigs and sheep and goats are cattle.

And, of course, cows too.

So your ancestor who took up those cattle?

He might have ridden one home and made bacon of the other.

The things you learn when you want to understand family history…


Note: Major league thanks to reader Foster Ockerman, Jr., who alerted me by email that, as he put it, the law used to say a horse was a cow.

  1. See generally Judy G. Russell, “A beastly problem,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 5 Jan 2015 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 6 Jan 2015).
  2. §1, Chapter XCVI, “Strays,” in The Revised Statutes of Kentucky (Frankfort, KY: State Printer, 1852), 652-653; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 6 Jan 2015).
  3. Ibid., §§1-6.
  4. Ibid., §3.
  5. §3, Chapter 9, “Act Relating to Strays and Lost Goods,” 15 June 1698, in Acts and Resolves … of the Province of Massachusetts Bay (Boston: State Printers, 1869), I: 326-327; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 4 Jan 2015).
  6. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (http://www.m-w.com : accessed 6 Jan 2015), “cattle.”
  7. Oxford Dictionaries Online (http://oxforddictionaries.com/ : accessed 6 Jan 2015), “cattle.”
  8. The Free Dictionary (http://www.thefreedictionary.com : accessed 6 Jan 2015), “cattle.”
  9. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 180, “cattle.”
  10. §2, Chapter XCVI, “Strays,” in The Revised Statutes of Kentucky (1852).
  11. Kentucky Revised Statutes (2010) §259.105(2).
Posted in Legal definitions, Statutes | 7 Comments

Part two

The Legal Genealogist knew it was going to happen.

Knew it.

Would have taken a bet on it.

Could have avoided it.



So about a nanosecond after yesterday’s post ran about the laws in colonial Massachusetts about handling stray animals, the question pinged through to my email inbox.

I won’t name the reader — at his / her / its request — who began the email by explaining: “I realize in your post you were writing about strays but the word I keep seeing references to in court records and laws is estrays.”

“Go ahead and shoot me for asking a dumb question but… What’s the difference?”

Now, I knew this was coming.

I really would have taken a bet on it.

I knew somebody would ask, and should have put it in the post.

Since I didn’t, I kind of have to ask…

Are you sure you really want the answer?

Really sure?

Really absolutely sure?

Okay, then.

The difference between stray and estray is …

– You’re ready, right?

– You’re sure?

– No reader’s remorse or anything like that, okay?

– You really want to know?

Okay then.

The difference between stray and estray is …

– One letter.

In case you hadn’t notice, estray begins with an E. Stray doesn’t.


The Black’s Law Dictionary entry for estray reads:

Cattle whose owner is unknown…. Any beast, not wild, found within any lordship, and not owned by any man…. Estray must be understood as denoting a wandering beast whose owner is unknown to the person who takes it up. … An estray is an animal that has escaped from its owner, and wanders or strays about; usually defined, at common law, as a wandering animal whose owner is unknown. An animal cannot be an estray when on the range where it was raised, and permitted by its owner to run, and especially when the owner is known to the party who takes it up. The fact of its being breachy or vicious does not make it an estray.1

And the Black’s Law Dictionary entry for stray: “STRAY. See ESTRAY.”2

So an estray is a stray.

With (can I get away with this?) a stray E at the beginning.


  1. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 438, “estray.” And breachy, by the way, is a term that means “apt to break fences or be wild —used of domestic animals.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (http://www.m-w.com : accessed 5 Jan 2015), “breachy.”
  2. Ibid., 1127, “stray.”
Posted in Legal definitions | 18 Comments

The issue of the strays

Reader Teresa Kahle was puzzled by some early New England records reflecting the handling of stray animals.

“In Suffolk Deeds, I’m seeing many notices regarding the finding of stray animals like cows and horses,” she wrote.

estrays“It says they are ‘cried’ at Boston and Dedham ‘to lawe’ and ‘prized’ at a certain monetary value by other men of the community. What’s going on there? Did a man who found a stray, advertised that he found it, get to keep it and the prized part is an appraisal for tax purposes? Or are the men prizing actually buying the strays from the men who found them? Seems like quite a racket!”

The example that she quoted to The Legal Genealogist is the one you see illustrating this post:

Jno Dwight Constable of dedham: informed me & desired might be Recorded that [ ] fisher of dedham :the 6. 12/mo 55 tooke up a strajed Cowe wch was for Coulor black bodied bobtajle some gray haires on his left flancke was Cryed at Boston & dedha[] to law. & Prised by michael metcalf. & Thomas metcalf at 3lb 10s within a weeke. Edw. Rawson1

These early Massachusetts records were printed in the late 19th century after local lawyers and residents realized that the records were deteriorating due to the passage of time and to exposure to heat and light. This first book, called Liber I, covers some of the very earliest activities of our colonial ancestors.

So… what exactly did it mean that this Dedham resident had taken up a stray cow, that the cow was “cryed” at Boston and Dedham, and that it was “prised”?

The answer, of course, is found in the law.

The very first Massachusetts statute dealing with stray animals was passed by the General Court — the early colonial legislature — on 3 May 1631. it simply provided that the owner of stray beasts would be liable for any damages that they caused to the crops of others.2

In November 1637, the law was changed, and any person taking up a stray animal was required to give notice to the constable of the town within three days.3 By 1647, animals in the colony that were kept in the common areas were required to be branded4 and public pounds were established in some communities for dealing with the problem of stray animals.

But the general system in operation throughout the colony was the one reflected in the Suffolk deeds: a person taking up a stray would give notice to the constable of the town with a description of the animal. The town crier would inform the townspeople that the animal had been taken up and provide a description that would enable the owner to claim it. Finally, the animal would be valued — “prised” — as of that moment and that would help determine who got what portion of the animal’s value if the owner didn’t ever claim it.

That system was fully set out in the laws by the end of the 17th century and you can read the details in the “Act Relating to Strays and Lost Goods” adopted in 1698.5 Here’s what that law required:

• Anybody who took possession of a stray animal had to report a full description to the town clerk within 24 hours.6

• He also had to have the description posted “in some publick place” and “cryed by the constable or public cryer in such town, on three several days, as a publick meeting of the inhabitants thereof”.7

• He also had to report to the local justice of the peace who would appoint two men to value the animal.8

• The owner had a year to claim the stray, and had to pay all the fees for the town cryer, the clerk, the justice of the peace and the appraisal — and “such necessary charges as shall have arisen for the keeping of such strays.”9

• If nobody claimed the stray, then the finder could pay half the value (after expenses were deducted) and keep the beast. The money went to the town treasury.10

It makes perfectly good sense when you think about it.

First, the citizens needed to find a way to deal with the problem of stray animals. On one hand, they didn’t want animals just wandering around. On the other hand, they didn’t want to encourage people to swipe animals owned by others — and they didn’t want fights breaking out over who got to keep any animals that did stray.

The system that they chose — requiring public notice that a stray animal had been found and then a system for taking care of the financial end of things — simply made good sense.

The “crying out” part of the law reflects the reality of life in early America. Most people sure weren’t getting a newspaper. They certainly were getting their news on the Internet either. But they all needed to know what was going on. Sure you could post a notice in some public place, and the law did require that. But what about all the people who couldn’t read? Telling them the news, rather than expecting them to read it, was the way around that problem. Hence, the crying out.

Great question … and it sure points out how important animals were to our early ancestors, doesn’t it…?


  1. Suffolk Deeds: Liber I (Boston: Rockwell & Churchill. 1880), 2-3; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 4 Jan 2015).
  2. Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England: 1628-1641 (Boston: State Printer, 1853) I: 86; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 4 Jan 2015).
  3. Ibid., 211.
  4. Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England: 1642-1649 (Boston: State Printer, 1853) II: 190, 225; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 4 Jan 2015).
  5. Chapter 9, “Act Relating to Strays and Lost Goods,” 15 June 1698, in Acts and Resolves … of the Province of Massachusetts Bay (Boston: State Printers, 1869), I: 326-327; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 4 Jan 2015).
  6. Ibid., §2.
  7. Ibid., §1.
  8. Ibid., §2.
  9. Ibid., §3.
  10. Ibid.
Posted in Resources, Statutes | 7 Comments

Starting the New Year off right

So here we are on the first Sunday of 2015, and The Legal Genealogist stops to take stock on the DNA side of genealogy. What am I doing right, what am I doing wrong, and what could I be doing better in 2015?

And judging from reader comments and complaints, there are five New Year’s Resolutions we can all make that would benefit us all as genetic genealogists.

Resolution Number 5:

I will not send bulk emails to every single solitary person I match insisting that they “tell me how we’re related.”

It’s probably the single biggest complaint I see from people trying to get a handle on their DNA results — to understand the various tests and what they mean: that they get inundated by emails from people who haven’t done their homework about their own tests or even their own families and who now want you to tell them exactly how the two of you are related.

New Year's ResolutionOh, and send the documentation.


And, of course, the email is sent to every single solitary person who even remotely matches the sender, with all of the email addresses included, and somebody who doesn’t understand what’s about to happen goes ahead and writes a “why are you sending me this” email — and hits Reply All.

Not the way to make friends and influence people.

Yes, I resolve to do as good a job as I can of contacting my matches in 2015, but let’s all be smart about those contacts:

Prioritize the contacts. Go after the immediate and close relatives first. Nail down the second and third cousins, even as many fourth cousins as possible, before starting on the speculative or distant cousins.

Contact cousins one by one. You owe it to your cousins, and to yourself, to get to know them and to work with them one at a time. It’ll help you keep your research straight. It’ll protect your privacy and theirs. It avoids email flame wars and those appalling Reply All emails that always seem to end with the one person you really do need to hear from taking herself out of the conversation out of frustration.

Don’t ask unless you’ll share. Nothing will turn a cousin contact more sour more quickly than asking for information when you’re not willing to share your own. Want to see my family tree? Show me yours. Which leads into the next point…

Prepare files to share. A six-generation chart of your ancestors is an absolute minimum. You can download a form that you can type your data into from the Mid-Continental Public Library. Even better, find out how to use your genealogy program to produce an ahnentafel report — the kind of genealogy report that starts with you, then adds your parents, then adds their parents and so forth back through the generations1 — and make sure you include where your people lived, not just what their names were.

Resolution Number 4:

I will take ethnicity estimates not merely with a grain of salt but with the whole darned salt lick.2

If I had a nickel for every question I get about these blasted ethnicity estimates, I’d be rich. Filthy rich even. “Why does AncestryDNA say I’m 31% Scandinavian when I have no known Scandinavian ancestors at all?” “Why doesn’t the test show Native American when my great great great grandmother was Lakota Sioux?” “Why are my ethnicity results different from my sister’s?”

Folks, seriously, they’re called estimates for a reason. The term I’ve used before is cocktail party conversation pieces.3 And frankly, the term I’d be more inclined to use these days is WAGs — a lovely American acronym that means “wild-assed guesses.”4

Understand that what these estimates do is take the DNA of living people — us, the test takers — and they compare it to the DNA of other living people — people whose parents and grandparents and, sometimes, even great grandparents all come from one geographic area. Then they try to extrapolate backwards into time to estimate (or guess) what the population of, say, Ireland or Egypt looked like 500 or 1,000 years ago. Nobody is out there running around, digging up 500- or 1,000-year-old bones, extracting DNA for us to compare our own DNA to.

Please… read up on the limits of ethnicity estimates. And then put that aside in favor of all the things DNA tests really can do for genealogy.

Resolution Number 3:

I will try to be patient and understanding when my matches don’t get back to me as quickly as I might like … or at all.

This one is my personal hot-button item because patience is not my long suit. I’m one of the people who prays for patience and ends the prayer with: “And I want it right now!! And I still struggle with the notion that somebody would pay for a genetic genealogy test and then not want to share information about the genealogy we both share.

This is particularly acute for me since I have two matches out there on 23andMe right now that are absolutely driving me wild: a second-cousin-level match from April 2014 and a first-cousin-level match from July — neither of whom has responded to invitations to share information.

So I have to keep reminding myself that there may be very good reasons why a DNA match doesn’t respond to requests for information. The match’s reasons for testing may be very different from my own, and family issues or concerns that person has that I can’t begin to understand. Periodically re-reading Roberta Estes’ powerful post, “No (DNA) Bullying,”5 is a good way to keep grounded here.

And that leads in to a broader resolution overall.

Resolution Number 2:

I will take my ethical obligations as a genetic genealogist seriously.

The simple reality is that tracing our family history — doing genealogy — means exposing family secrets. The child born before the marriage. The prison term. The “loathsome disease.” The time in the asylum. As genealogists we see it all. Adding DNA to the mix of tools we use as genealogists just makes it easier and faster to shine a light on the secrets.

But because it is easier and faster, because it tests living people and doesn’t merely look at records from past generations, it can affect living people. So we need to be mindful of our particular ethical obligations as genealogists in general — and as genetic genealogists in particular.

A great place to start is the National Genealogical Society’s Genealogical Standards and Guidelines, most particularly its “Standards For Sharing Information With Others”. The guidance provided here can keep us on the ethical straight and narrow for all of our genealogical work — and reminds us of our obligations to protect the rights of others as living private individuals.

Resolution Number 1:

I will not delay in getting that older member of the family tested.

Goes without saying, doesn’t it? How many of us bid a sad farewell to a loved one in 2014? How many of us will have to bid farewell to someone we love in 2015? How many of us ourselves will not be here to ring in the New Year of 2016?

Particularly when it comes to autosomal DNA — the kind we inherit from both parents that changes and mixes and recombines from generation to generation6 — DNA is a finite resource. The amount of DNA passed down from an ancestor through autosomal DNA drops dramatically with every generation until, after only a few generations, there may not be enough from that ancestor to be detectable. (Which, by the way, explains a lot of those weird ethnicity estimates, particularly when something you expect to see isn’t in the results.)

With autosomal DNA, then, getting a grandparent to test is better than getting a parent to test, and getting a parent to test is better than testing yourself. Every generation further back that we can test means a more complete database — and more and better matches.

So the number one priority resolution for 2015 has to be not to lose that genetic legacy. Let’s get our oldest generations tested.


  1. See “Ahnentafel,” Encyclopedia of Genealogy (http://www.eogen.com/ : accessed 3 Jan 2015).
  2. City dwellers may not be familiar with salt licks. They are blocks of salt set out for cattle, horses and other animals to lick. It’s a way to get essential minerals into the animals’ diet. “What is a Salt Lick?WiseGeek (http://www.wisegeek.com/ : accessed 3 Jan 2015). Think a grain of salt on steroids.
  3. Judy G. Russell, “Those pesky percentages,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 27 Oct 2013 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 3 Jan 2015).
  4. InternetSlang (http://www.internetslang.com : accessed 3 Jan 2015), “WAG.”
  5. Roberta Estes, “No (DNA) Bullying,” DNAeXplained, posted 15 May 2013 (http://dna-explained.com/ : accessed 3 Jan 2015).
  6. ISOGG Wiki (http://www.isogg.org/wiki), “Autosomal DNA,” rev. 31 Dec 2014.
Posted in DNA | 22 Comments

The January wedding

It would have been cold there in those mountains, that January day, so long ago.

Newton-Fold3-Page 4Western North Carolina, tight up against the Tennessee border, is starkly beautiful in the winter. What was then Yancey and is now Mitchell County is rugged country in the heart of the Appalachians, with elevations ranging from about 2400 feet to Roan Mountain’s 6285 feet1 to Mount Mitchell’s nearly 6700 feet.2

Towns there today — both official and unincorporated — have names like Spruce Pine and Little Switzerland, Loafers Glory and Red Hill, Estatoe and, of course, Bakersville.

Bakersville, where so many of The Legal Genealogist‘s Baker relatives lived and died.

The official website of Bakersville, North Carolina, says that “the first settler on the site of what is now Bakersville was David Baker”3 — my fourth great grandfather. There are Baker descendants there still today.

And many of them descend from David’s son Josiah Baker, who married Julia McGimsey, and went on to run one of the local stores for many years.

Josiah and Julia married on 17 November 1835.4 Their first-born child was a son, Newton A. Baker, born 22 September 1836.5

And no matter how cold it was that day, 154 years ago today, there in those North Carolina mountains, you have to believe it would have been warm in the hearts of the Baker family and their close neighbors, the Ledford family, as their children stood side by side and said their “I dos.”

The third of January 1861 — when Newton Baker and Harriett Ledford married — was a Thursday and, it would seem, an ordinary day for the time and place. None of the available North Carolina newspapers mentions the weather for the day, so we have to figure it would have been unremarkable — in the 20s or 30s perhaps, maybe with a dusting of snow. Certainly nothing that would have kept Newton and his bride from exchanging their vows.

Newton was not yet 25 on his wedding day; Harriett was not quite 17.6 Both families had been among the first settlers of the Toe River Valley, and had lived near each other for generations.

Surely it was a time of joy for these two families to join like this… but also a time of trepidation. Newspaper stories of the day carried headlines like “From Charleston SC: War is inevitable,” 7 and “Alabama Sure for Secession.”8

You have to wonder what they were thinking that January. Were they fearful for the future? Did they think they would be swept up and perhaps swept away by the rising tide of southern sentiment? Or were they focused only on themselves and what they hoped for their future life together?

There are no records of what life was like there in those mountains for Newton and Harriett in 1861 and early 1862. Only three facts from that time period are known for certain.

First, the couple was blessed with a son, Newton Vance Baker, born 31 May 1862.9

Second, two weeks before his son was born, Newton became the first of the Baker boys to enroll for active service in support of the Confederacy, joining Captain Jacob Bowman’s Company of North Carolina Partisan Rangers, later Company B of the 58th North Carolina Infantry.10

And third, two weeks after his son was born, Newton mustered into active service at Bakersville, Mitchell County, North Carolina.11

The National Park Service’s The Civil War website gives the unit history as follows:

58th Infantry Regiment was organized in Mitchell County, North Carolina, in July, 1862. Its twelve companies were recruited in the counties of Mitchell, Yancey, Watauga, Caldwell, McDowell, and Ashe. In September it moved to Cumberland Gap and spent the winter of 1862-1863 at Big Creek Gap, near Jacksboro, Tennessee. During the war it was assigned to Kelly’s, Reynolds’, Brown’s and Reynolds’ Consolidated, and Palmer’s Brigade. The 58th participated in the campaigns of the Army of Tennessee from Chickamauga to Atlanta, guarded prisoners at Columbia, Tennessee, during Hood’s operations, then moved to South Carolina and skirmished along the Edisto River. Later it returned to North Carolina and saw action at Bentonville. It lost 46 killed and 114 wounded at Chickamauga, totalled 327 men and 186 arms in December, 1863, and took about 300 effectives to Bentonville. The unit was included in the surrender on April 26, 1865. Its commanders were Colonel John B. Palmer; Lieutenant Colonels Thomas J. Dula, John C. Keener, Edmund Kirby, William W. Proffitt, and Samuel M. Silver; and Major Alfred T. Stewart.12

We can hope Newton was able to spend some time with his son before marching off to Cumberland Gap in September. We can hope that Newton was as comfortable as possible in the winter quarters at Jacksboro, in Campbell County, Tennessee, just about 160 miles to the west of his home. We can hope that maybe he even got a visit home while the unit was waiting to be sent into battle.

And we hope for these little comforts because it was there that Newton’s story ends. He died at Jacksboro, Tennessee, on 24 March 1863.13 He was not yet 27 years old; his boy was not yet a year old.

His service record doesn’t say how Newton died. There weren’t any battles or skirmishes around the area at that time, none that involved the 58th North Carolina for sure.14 So it was probably disease — a common killer of soldiers, especially in the Civil War: “Most casualties and deaths in the Civil War were the result of non-combat-related disease. For every three soldiers killed in battle, five more died of disease.”15

Not every family tale has a happy ending.

This one surely doesn’t.

But sometimes the stories without the happy endings are the ones that need most to be told.


  1. Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “Roan Mountain (Roan Highlands),” rev. 5 Nov 2014.
  2. Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “Mount Mitchell,” rev. 30 Dec 2014.
  3. Bruce Ledford, “Bakersville History,” Bakersville, North Carolina (http://www.bakersville.com/ : accessed 2 Jan 2015).
  4. Bible Record, Josiah and Julia (McGimsey) Baker Family Bible Records 1749-1912, The New Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (New York : American Bible Society, 1867), “Marriages”; privately held by Louise (Baker) Ferguson, Bakersville, NC; photographed for JG Russell, Feb 2003. Mrs. Ferguson, a great granddaughter of Josiah and Julia, inherited the Bible; the earliest entries are believed to be in the handwriting of Josiah or Julia Baker.
  5. Ibid., “Births.”
  6. See 1860 U.S. census, Yancey County, NC, Bakersville, population schedule, p. 396 (stamped), dwelling/family 354, Harriett Ledford; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed x2 Jan 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication M653, roll 919.
  7. Evening Bulletin (Charlotte, N.C.), 3 Jan 1861, p. 3, col. 3; digital images, Newspapers.com (http://www.newspapers.com : accessed 2 Jan 2015).
  8. Ibid., col. 5.
  9. Baker Family Bible Records, “Births”.
  10. Newton A. Baker, Pvt., Co. B, 58th NC Infantry, Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of North Carolina, microfilm publication M270, roll 315 of 580 rolls (Washington, D.C. : National Archives and Records Service, 1960); digital images, Fold3 (http://www.Fold3.com : accessed 2 Jan 2015).
  11. Ibid.
  12. “58th Regiment, North Carolina Infantry,” Battle Unit Details, The Civil War, National Park Service (http://www.nps.gov/civilwar/ : accessed 2 Jan 2015).
  13. Newton A. Baker, Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of North Carolina; Fold3.
  14. See “href=”http://www.mycivilwar.com/battles/1863s.html”>Civil War Raids & Skirmishes in 1863,” The American Civil War (http://www.mycivilwar.com/ : accessed 2 Jan 2015).
  15. See “Civil War Casualties,” Civil War Trust (http://www.civilwar.org/ : accessed 2 Jan 2015).
Posted in My family | 15 Comments

Not legal advice!

So many reader questions come in that are beyond what The Legal Genealogist can answer in this blog, because they’re asking for legal advice. Um… that’s not what this blog is all about. Not what this blog can do.

It’s necessary, or at least advisable, to explain every so often some of the limits on what I’m up to here at The Legal Genealogist. You know, the little things, like making sure I don’t get sued and the furniture isn’t trashed in a brawl.

So here, at the beginning of my fourth year of blogging, let me take the opportunity to repeat these…

The rules of my road.

I’m not your lawyer.

I have a law degree. But I’m not your lawyer. I’m not even in active practice as a lawyer any more. I’m not licensed in your state, and I’m not giving legal advice online. We don’t have an attorney-client relationship, so anything I say can be held against you. If you get sued because of something I say here, I won’t represent you. I won’t even testify for you. I will, however, be enormously amused.

Seriously, this blog is general commentary on lots of things, including general commentary on the law. If you’re looking for more than general commentary on the law, you need to consult a lawyer in your home state. If you think this is more than general commentary on the law, you need to consult a mental health professional.

I could be wrong.

In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m (gasp) human. Which means, at any given time, on any given matter, I could be wrong. If I’m wrong about a fact, I’d like to know it. (I was delighted when Donn Devine told me about early Delaware statutes I hadn’t been aware of, and when Peter Hirtle set me straight on how the King James Bible is covered by a Crown patent.) So tell me when you know more than I do or I’ve just plain goofed. As to everything else, don’t buy what I say uncritically; check the sources I cite and make your own decisions. You may well come to a different conclusion.

No advertising.

It appears that people selling (probably counterfeit) Coach bags and (undoubtedly overpriced) sports jerseys think that the comments area on genealogy blogs should be their personal playgrounds. Uh uh. Not here. And especially not the dolt who thought this lifelong New York Giants fan would be happy with a comment touting Tom Brady jerseys. Well, maybe… depending on whether I could dictate what was on the jersey…

No politics.

It appears that the extreme fringes of the political spectrum have people sitting out there, trolling every single nook and cranny of the Internet, looking for places where they can pop up and spew their conspiracy theories. “Obama wants to close the SSDI because he wants to hide his birth certificate!” “Romney is a Mormon and Mormons do genealogy so genealogy is a Republican plot!”

Bleah. A pox on all your houses. If you haven’t got anything substantive to say about genealogy, it ain’t going live here. And if it sneaks by me at first, it’ll get deleted when I spot it.

No flaming.

Play nice. We’re not all ever going to agree with each other on everything. But disagreeing doesn’t have to be disagreeable. So no personal attacks, ever.

My turf. My rules.

And last but hardly least, I pay the bills for this website. I don’t accept advertising and I don’t charge admission. Which means that this is my turf. Which means that I get to set the rules. So no, I really don’t have to talk about an issue if I choose not to. And I don’t have to stop talking about something that I do want to talk about. Your freedom of speech doesn’t mean that you can interfere with mine. It means that you’re free to do exactly the same thing … on any website where you pay the bills and you set the rules.

How the World Sees Genealogists (Image used with permission of Jim Owston)

Posted in General | 31 Comments

Speaking out in 2015

Here’s the shocker of 2015 for you, right here on the first of the year.

January 2015 - CalendarReady?

Here goes.

The Legal Genealogist… a genealogist with a law degree… a graduate school educator…

You think maybe I like to talk?

And particularly about genealogy and the law?

Big surprise, I know.

So if you wanna come hear me talk, here are some options for you in 2015:


• 8: APG Professional Management Conference, Salt Lake City
• 12-16: Course coordinator, Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy
• 25: Jewish Genealogical Society, New York, NY


• 4: Western Massachusetts Genealogical Society
• 11-14: Federation of Genealogical Societies and RootsTech, Salt Lake City
• 21: Green Valley Genealogical Society, Arizona
• 25: The Villages Genealogical Society, Florida


• 1: Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Washington, Washington D.C.
• 5: German Genealogy Group, Hicksville, NY
• 7: Houston Genealogical Forum, Texas
• 13: North Carolina Genealogical Society, “How Old Did He Have to Be?,” webinar
• 18: Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
• 21: North San Diego County Genealogical Society Spring Seminar, Carlsbad, CA
• 28: Oklahoma Genealogical Society Spring Seminar, Oklahoma City


• 9-11: Ohio: Your Genealogical Cornerstone, Ohio Genealogical Society, Columbus, Ohio
• 15-19: NERGC 2015: Navigating the Past: Sailing into the Future, Providence RI
• 22: Legacy Family Tree webinar, “D-I-V-O-R-C-E!
• 25: Indiana Genealogical Society Annual Meeting & Cobference, Terre Haute


• 2: Georgia Genealogical Society
• 13-16: National Genealogical Society 2015 Conference, St. Charles, Missouri
• 20: Legacy Family Tree webinar, “Martha Benschura – Enemy Alien
• 30: Austin Genealogical Society, Texas


• 4-7: SCGS Jamboree and Family History & DNA
• 8-12: Course coordinator, Institute for Genealogy and Historical Research, Samford University
• 18: Florida State Genealogical Society, “Copyright Law for Genealogists,” webinar
• 29-July 3: Faculty, Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP)


• 7-9: Faculty, Midwestern African American Genealogy Institute, St. Louis
• 10: Legacy Family Tree webinar, “Making a Federal Case Out of It ” – Members only
• 12: Monmouth County Genealogical Society, New Jersey
• 20-24: Course coordinator, Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP)
• 27-31: Course coordinator, Boston University, Advanced Legal Analysis for Genealogists


• 1: Florida Genealogical Society (Tampa), “First Trip to the Courthouse,” webinar
• 7-8: Missouri State Genealogical Association Annual Conference, Columbia
• 13-15: Stillaguamish Valley Genealogical Society Northwest Genealogy Conference 2015, Arlington, Washington
• 28-Sept 4: Federation of Genealogical Societies Cruise, Alaska


• 17-19: 2015 New York State Family History Conference, Syracuse, New York
• 26: Family History Festival, Detroit Public Library


• 17: Louisville Genealogical Society, Annual Seminar
• 24: Indiana State Library Genealogy Fair, Indianapolis
• 30-31: North Hills Genealogists, Wexford, Pennsylvania


• 7: Fairfax County Genealogical Society, Virginia
• 21: Irish Family History Forum, Long Island, NY

Posted in General | 11 Comments

The top five

Sometimes The Legal Genealogist just gets tickled by something.

Evan.1947Sometimes it’s just that the piece means more to me than most.

Sometimes readers agree with me.

And sometimes the post languishes down in the lesser-reads.

But you, the readers, and I tend to agree on these five overall favorites for 2014.

At Number 5:

Case closed … and another opened (3 December): “The scientists who had studied the remains and who had analyzed DNA taken from the bones stood before the microphones that day in February 2013 and told us the conclusion they’d come to. ‘Beyond reasonable doubt the individual exhumed at Grey Friars on September 12th is indeed Richard III, the last Plantagenet king of England.’ At the time, we thought it couldn’t get much cooler than that. … But it did get cooler than that.” So we found a king… and then wondered if maybe he wasn’t, at all.

At Number 4:

Oh, Charlie! (2 February): “One of the most exciting things about working with DNA testing in genealogy is how fast things are changing, and how much we can learn with new tools that are becoming available. And boy did that make The Legal Genealogist’s heart glad this past week. Because we’re pretty confident now that we’ve found Charlie, a missing member of the family, thanks to XDNA matching and a really neat new tool called the Autosomal DNA Segment Analyzer — ADSA, for short.”

At Number 3:

Go read this (4 December): “Drop everything. Put all your other projects on hold. Clear your decks. Make sure you have a lot of time and a good strong internet connection. Have something to drink and snacks at hand. Then click over to Hoosier Daddy?, a blog by Indiana genealogist Michael D. Lacopo.”

At Number 2:

The cousin who isn’t (8 February): “I posted messages far and wide on the Internet asking for any male Baker who was a documented descendant of Alexander Baker to step forward, and I’d pay for his DNA test. And we waited. And we waited. Finally, one day some years back, I got a message from a lovely lady in California, Lisa Baker, who said her husband Tony fit the bill. His paper trail back to Alexander was excellent. And he was willing to test.”

And by far the Number One, your and my favorite post of 2014:

At the very top of my personal list for the year, and on my readers’ top posts list as well, the post illustrated by the photo you see above — “Finding Evan” (27 September): “If I had waited just a few more days before getting that phone number. If I had called a few days or weeks later. If I had waited a week or two more before sending that letter. If it had arrived just a few days later than it did. If any of those things had happened, Edward Anderson wouldn’t have been able to give Evan my letter.”

Happy New Year, all. Thanks to all for making this journey with me in 2014.

On to 2015!

Posted in General | 6 Comments