And free to boot

Most of the time, when The Legal Genealogist writes about copyright, it’s to say there’s a reason why some things — images, documents, whatever — can’t be used freely in our genealogy.

Usually there’s someone out there with some protected legal interest in the item and we at least need to ask permission before we just scarf it up and use it.

Not today.

NYPLToday I want to make sure you know about a terrific resources from the New York Public Library — a fabulous collection of maps, absolutely free of any known copyright restrictions.

The Library is so determined to make these maps free to use that it has gone so far as to ensure that any of its own rights have been dedicated to public use through a under a Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

Except that, through technology, it really does get even better than that.

Let’s start with the maps themselves. According to the Library’s blog:

The Lionel Pincus & Princess Firyal Map Division is very proud to announce the release of more than 20,000 cartographic works as high resolution downloads. We believe these maps have no known US copyright restrictions. (The maps may be subject to rights of privacy, rights of publicity and other restrictions. It is your responsibility to make sure that you respect these rights.) To the extent that some jurisdictions grant NYPL an additional copyright in the digital reproductions of these maps, NYPL is distributing these images under a Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication. The maps can be viewed through the New York Public Library’s Digital Collections page, and downloaded (!), through the Map Warper. First, create an account, then click a map title and go.1

And, the announcement continues:

What’s this all mean?

It means you can have the maps, all of them if you want, for free, in high resolution. We’ve scanned them to enable their use in the broadest possible ways by the largest number of people.

Though not required, if you’d like to credit the New York Public Library, please use the following text “From The Lionel Pincus & Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library.” Doing so helps us track what happens when we release collections like this to the public for free under really relaxed and open terms. We believe our collections inspire all kinds of creativity, innovation and discovery, things the NYPL holds very dear.2

Read that again.

Twenty. Thousand. Maps.

Free to use.

And these are not just New York maps. There are maps of just about every place in the United States and around the world included in the collection:

A 1575 map of Cambridge, England

An 1851 map of Austria

A 1721 map of North America

A 1792 map of what would become Washington, D.C.

An 1860 county map of Texas

And of course a ton of maps of New York and the surrounding area. According to NYPL:

(W)e’ve built up a great collection of: 1,100 maps of the Mid-Atlantic United States and cities from the 16th to 19th centuries, mostly drawn from the Lawrence H. Slaughter Collection; a detailed collection of more than 700 topographic maps of the Austro-Hungarian empire created between 1877 and 1914; a collection of 2,800 maps from state, county and city atlases (mostly New York and New Jersey); a huge collection of more than 10,300 maps from property, zoning, topographic, but mostly fire insurance atlases of New York City dating from 1852 to 1922; and an incredibly diverse collection of more than 1,000 maps of New York City, its boroughs and neighborhoods, dating from 1660 to 1922, which detail transportation, vice, real estate development, urban renewal, industrial development and pollution, political geography among many, many other things.3

You can view and search the images available through the Digital Collections maps division entry page. But to download the maps for free, you have to use the Map Warper.

You do have to register to use that Map Warper site. That requires nothing more than an email address and a password. Every map in the collection has a number of options for use, but clicking on the Export link gives you an option to download the original high resolution TIFF file. These are very high resolution indeed — one Virginia map I downloaded was more than 73Mb in 300 dpi resolution: good enough to print in wall-chart size.

The map site can get really slow at times so patience is important, but there’s a reason why it gets slow… and that’s the rest of the story here.

Because what the Map Warper also lets you do — and me do — and everyone else in the public do — is “virtually stretch old maps onto a digital model of the world à la Google Maps or OpenStreetMap, thus creating a new copy that is not only aligned with spatial coordinates on the Earth, but normalized across the entire archive of old maps.”4

It’s not the easiest thing to figure out how to use, but there’s a lot of help available — there’s a “How to use this tool” video right on the Map Warper opening page.

And all those newly virtualized maps — with history superimposed on the modern world — are also available for download too. The map illustrating this post, for example, is a 1619 map of Manhattan superimposed on a modern map.

Maps. And a mapping tool. And every bit of it free to use.

Now how cool is that?


  1. Matt Knutzen, “Open Access Maps at NYPL,” New York Public Library Blog, posted 28 Mar 2014 ( : accessed 2 Apr 2014).
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Matt Knutzen, “Unbinding the Atlas: Working with Digital Maps,” New York Public Library Blog, posted 10 Jan 2012 ( : accessed 2 Apr 2014).
Posted in Copyright, Resources | 4 Comments

Different times, different meanings

She was, by all accounts, a strong and determined woman.

Mother of four children, three surviving to adulthood, she raised her youngsters largely without the assistance of her husband.

And therein lies the tale.

grass.widowSarah Christina S. Roberts was born 9 March 1846 in Bath County, and died there 5 March 1924 in the Williamsville Magisterial District.1 Daughter of Daniel Roberts and Mary Bauserman, she married a Civil War veteran, Daniel McCune, in Bath County just after the war’s end, on 21 September 1865.2

Sarah’s children were all born in Bath County. Her first child, daughter Mary Virginia, was born 22 July 1866;3 her second, son John, on 2 March 1868;4; her third, a son who did not survive, on 17 September 1869;5 and her last, son Francis Cameron, on 7 October 1877.6

The family was enumerated in Bath County in 1880: Daniel was shown as “Danil” McCune, age 45, a farmer born in Virginia of parents both born in Virginia. Sarah was shown as age 30, born in Virginia of parents both born in Virginia. Three children were enumerated with them: daughter “Jennie,” age 13; son John, age 11; and son Cameron, age 2. “Jennie” (Mary Virginia) and John were shown as having attended school within the prior year.7

And the next time the census records show the family — the 1900 census of Bath County — Sarah was recorded as a widow.8

But she wasn’t.

She and Daniel had been separated for years — he had moved back to his native West Virginia by 1882.9 They never divorced, and Daniel didn’t die until 1907.10

What Sarah was, in 1900, was a “grass widow.

If you look it up, you will find the term in at least one law dictionary: “A slang term for a woman separated from her husband by abandonment or prolonged absence; a woman living apart from her husband,” says Black’s Law Dictionary, citing to the Webster’s Dictionary of the day.11

And for most of us, as American genealogists, working in 19th or 20th or even 21st century records, that’s the usage and the meaning we’re going to encounter.

But there are other meanings at different times and different places.

In general British usage, the term may well mean only “a woman whose husband is temporarily away, say on business.”12 It doesn’t carry the same essential implication of marital strife the way the American usage does.

But both the British and American uses show up for the first time in the 1840s.13 And the term was in use long before that.

In that older usage, going back as early as 1528, “grass widow had a much coarser meaning, namely ‘a woman who lost her virginity before the wedding’ and ‘a deserted mistress.’”14

So it’s a matter of time and place… and in 1900 Virginia, it was used for a widow who wasn’t — not yet.


  1. Virginia State Board of Health, death certificate no. 5407 (1924), Mrs. Sarah McCune, 5 March 1924; Bureau of Vital Statistics, Richmond.
  2. Bath County, Virginia, Marriage Licenses 1853-1904, chronologically arranged, Daniel W. McCune and Sarah C.S. Roberts, 21 September 1865; Circuit Court Clerk’s office, Warm Springs.
  3. Va. Dept. of Health, death certificate no. 11050 (1942), Mary Virginia Burnett, 10 May 1942.
  4. Bath Co., Register of Births 1853-1870, p. 35, line 76, entry for John H. McCune, 2 March 1868.
  5. Bath Co., Register of Births 1853-1870, p. 37, line 64, entry for unnamed male McCune, 17 September 1869.
  6. Bath Co., Birth Register, carded records, entry for Francis C.L. McCune, citing tax assessor list for 1877, sheet 18, line 38. The birth card erroneously reports the child’s gender as female.
  7. 1880 U.S. census, Bath County, Virginia, Williamsville Township, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 28, p. 14B (penned), dwelling 110, family 112, Danil McCune; digital image, ( : accessed 23 May 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T9, roll 1355.
  8. 1900 U.S. census, Bath County, Virginia, Williamsville Township, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 44, sheet 11B, p. 56B (stamped), dwelling 187, family 188, Sarah McCune household; digital image, ( : accessed 14 April 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T623, roll 1701.
  9. Bath Co., Table of Tracts of Land for the Year 1882, alphabetically arranged, entry for “McCune, Daniel W.”; LVA land tax microfilm 745.
  10. Calhoun County, (West) Virginia, Death Register 2: 253, entry 632, McCune, D.W., 21 November 1907; County Clerk’s Office, Grantsville.
  11. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 548, “grass widow.”
  12. See Michael Quinion, “Grass widow,” World Wide Words ( : accessed 1 Apr 2014).
  13. See ibid. Also, Online Etymology Dictionary ( : accessed 1 Apr 2014), “grass widow.”
  14. Anatoly Liberman, “Grass Widows and Straw Men,” Oxford University Press’s OUPblog, posted 18 Feb 2009 ( : accessed 1 Apr 2014).
Posted in Legal definitions | 8 Comments

225 years worth of records

“Laws are like sausages — it is best not to see them being made.”

So the saying goes, attributed — wrongly — to Otto von Bismarck1 but surely resonating with 21st century Americans.

centuryAmerican approval of and confidence in our lawmakers — the Congress of the United States — is at record lows these days.2

But it was not always so.

At least we can hope that public confidence was at least a little higher back then, back when things all started, 225 years ago today.

April 1, 1789, was opening day for the first full session of the United States House of Representatives, the lower house of the U.S. Congress, meeting in New York City.3 Oh, it wasn’t the first day it had been scheduled to meet. No, that would have been March 4th. Some representatives from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Virginia and South Carolina were there. “But a quorum of the whole number not being present, the House adjourned until to-morrow morning eleven o’clock.”4

They tried again on March 5th. More representatives attended, from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. “But a quorum of the whole number not being present, the House adjourned until to-morrow morning eleven o’clock.”5

They tried again on the 6th. And 7th. And 9th. 10th. 11th. 12th. 13th. On the 14th, three more Virginians arrived. “But a quorum of the whole number not being present, the House adjourned until to-morrow morning eleven o’clock.”6

The representatives continued to straggle in through March. One from Virginia on the 17th, another on the 18th. A New Jerseyan and a Marylander on the 23rd. Another Virginian on the 25th. “But a quorum of the whole number not being present, the House adjourned until to-morrow morning eleven o’clock.”7

On the 30th, another Virginian and another Marylander arrived. “But a quorum of the whole number not being present, the House adjourned until to-morrow morning eleven o’clock.”8 On the 31st, “…a quorum of the whole number not being present, the House adjourned until to-morrow morning eleven o’clock.”9

Finally, on the first of April, Representatives James Schureman from New Jersey and Thomas Scott from Pennsylvania arrived, took their seats, and “a quorum, consisting of a major of the whole number,” was finally present.10

And so began 225 years of Congressional lawmaking and — for us as genealogists — 225 years of records.

And there is no better avenue to begin investigating those records than the Library of Congress’ marvelous site, part of its American Memory project, “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875.”

The entry page to the Century of Lawmaking site explains:

Beginning with the Continental Congress in 1774, America’s national legislative bodies have kept records of their proceedings. The records of the Continental Congress, the Constitutional Convention, and the United States Congress make up a rich documentary history of the construction of the nation and the development of the federal government and its role in the national life. These documents record American history in the words of those who built our government.

Books on the law formed a major part of the holdings of the Library of Congress from its beginning. In 1832, Congress established the Law Library of Congress as a separate department of the Library. It houses one of the most complete collections of U.S. Congressional documents in their original format. In order to make these records more easily accessible to students, scholars, and interested citizens, A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation brings together online the records and acts of Congress from the Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention through the 43rd Congress, including the first three volumes of the Congressional Record, 1873-75.

Major categories of records on the site are:

Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention:

• Journals of the Continental Congress
• Letters of Delegates to Congress
• Elliot’s Debates
• Farrand’s Records

Statutes and Documents

• Bills and Resolutions
• Statutes at Large
• American State Papers
• U.S. Serial Set

Journals of Congress

• House Journal
• Senate Journal
• Senate Executive Journal
• Maclay’s Journal

Debates of Congress

• Annals of Congress
• Register of Debates
• Congressional Globe
• Congressional Record

Beyond those major record sets, there are always special presentations. Right now, the site links to special presentations on:

The Making of the U.S. Constitution
Timeline: American History as Seen in Congressional Documents, 1774-1873
The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States
Indian Land Cessions in the United States, 1784 to 1894 (including maps_
The Louisiana Purchase: Legislative Timeline – 1802 to 1807
Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of America, 1861-1865
The Impeachment Trial of President Andrew Johnson, 1868
Presidential Elections and the Electoral College, 1877

It’s a terrific resource for anybody interested in genealogy, history and law. Go poke around in its collections. There’s something there for everyone.


  1. See Fred R. Shapiro, “On Language: Quote . . . Misquote,” The New York Times, 21 July 2008 ( : accessed 31 Mar 2014).
  2. See e.g. Lydia Saad and Andrew Dugan, “Congress’ Low Job Approval Persists,” Gallup Politics, posted 10 Mar 2014 ( : accessed 31 Mar 2014).
  3. Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, volume I (Washington, D.C. : Gales & Seaton, 1826), 6; digital images, “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875,” Library of Congress, American Memory ( : accessed 31 Mar 2014).
  4. Ibid., at 3.
  5. Ibid., at 4.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid., at 5.
  8. Ibid., at 6.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
Posted in General, Resources | Leave a comment

Credit where credit is due

Randy Seaver, author of the Genea-Musings blog, is one of the most prolific genealogy writers around, with a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly output that far exceeds anything The Legal Genealogist could ever envision.

thiefHis “Saturday Night Genealogy Fun” posts always attract my eye, even if I haven’t got time always to join in the fun. He’s constantly posting transcriptions of documents from his family history, and — sometimes more than once a week — he posts lengthy family reports online.

Randy’s reports are well-researched, well-documented genealogical reports on an individual or a couple somewhere in his very large family tree.

The kind of reports that make you dearly wish you were related to Randy.

The kind of reports that will get noticed by those are related to Randy.

The kind of reports that get scarfed up and reposted online, often as attachments to family trees posted by subscribers at

And that’s what has Randy perplexed.

Last week, he threw out a question to his readers: “I have a quandary – other Member Trees keep sprouting ‘Stories’ that I’ve written, and then they are ‘attached’ to a number of other Ancestry Member Trees. What should I do?”1

He offered a number of possible responses to his own quandary:

“* Engage those persons who have ‘written’ my stories and ask for them to remove them because they have violated my copyright protection.

“* Engage those persons and request that they ask permission to use it and to add ‘reprinted by permission of Randy Seaver’ after permission is given.

“* Just let it go and be happy folks are reading my posts and website.

“* Write my own ‘Stories’ and attach them to my tree people with appropriate copyright notices and permission to attach to other trees.”2

And, he adds:

I try to share my research using my blog posts and web pages because I think that sharing and collaboration is the best way to interact with other researchers. I really don’t want to ask other searchers to remove my material from their trees, as long as my copyright notice is included in the “Story.”3


The Legal Genealogist just doesn’t get it. How is it that so many in our community don’t see that it’s wrong to take ideas and words and work from our fellow genealogists?

There’s no reason, legally or ethically, why Randy — or anyone else who has worked hard and long to produce good work — should have to go to these lengths to get credit where credit is due.

The law is clearly on Randy’s side: the minute he wrote his blog post, it automatically had his copyright attached. As the U.S. Copyright Office says, “Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.”4

He puts the copyright symbol and notice on every one of his blog posts, but he doesn’t have to under the law. Copyright is automatic: the author don’t have to put the © copyright symbol on the material,5 doesn’t have to register his copyright with the copyright office of the country where he lives,6 though he can — and there are some extra protections if he does.7

And every ethical code you can think of — in our field and in life in general — is on Randy’s side too. Copying from others without giving credit to the original author is not sharing; it’s plagiarizing someone else’s work.

It’s something professional genealogists all expressly pledge to avoid. As the holder of Certified GenealogistSM and Certified Genealogical LecturerSMcredentials, I have pledged that:

• I will not represent as my own the work of another. …
• … In citing another’s work, I will give proper credit.8

As a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists, I have agreed to “fully and accurately cite references; and … (g)ive proper credit to those who supply information and provide assistance.”9

And lest anyone think these rules are only for professionals, let me quote from the National Genealogical Society’s Standards For Sharing Information With Others:

(R)esponsible family historians consistently—

* respect the restrictions on sharing information that arise from the rights of another as an author, originator or compiler; as a living private person; or as a party to a mutual agreement.

* observe meticulously the legal rights of copyright owners, copying or distributing any part of their works only with their permission, or to the limited extent specifically allowed under the law’s “fair use” exceptions.

* identify the sources for all ideas, information and data from others, and the form in which they were received, recognizing that the unattributed use of another’s intellectual work is plagiarism.10

Need help recognizing where the line is between sharing and plagiarism? Check out “QuickLesson 15: Plagiarism—Five ‘Copywrongs’ of Historical Writing” at Elizabeth Shown Mills’ EvidenceExplained site.11 Or, if you’re a member of the National Genealogical Society, read Debbie Mieszala’s “Stop, thief! A plagiarism primer,” in the April-June 2012 NGS News Magazine.12

Now I want to repeat something Randy said: “sharing and collaboration is the best way to interact with other researchers. I really don’t want to ask other searchers to remove my material from their trees, as long as my copyright notice is included in the ‘Story.’”

In other words, give credit where credit is due.

Because doing anything else — taking Randy’s work and putting it online with our family trees without his permission (law) and without giving him credit (ethics) — is theft.

Let’s all work together and stop the thieves — ourselves included.


  1. Randy Seaver, “Should I Add My Own Family Stories to my Ancestry Member Tree?,” Genea-Musings, posted 27 Mar 2014 ( : accessed 30 Mar 2014).
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. U.S. Copyright Office, “Copyright in General: When is my work protected?,” ( : accessed 30 Mar 2014).
  5. U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1: Copyright Basics, PDF version at p. 4 ( : accessed 30 Mar 2014) (“The use of a copyright notice is no longer required under U. S. law”).
  6. Ibid., p. 3.
  7. Ibid., p. 7.
  8. Code of Ethics and Conduct,” Board for Certification of Genealogists ( : accessed 30 Mar 2014). This code is also followed by Accredited Genealogists pursuant to the Professional Ethics Agreements of the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists.
  9. Code of Ethics,” Association of Professional Genealogists ( : accessed 30 Mar 2014).
  10. National Genealogical Society, Standards For Sharing Information With Others, PDF ( : accessed 30 Mar 2014).
  11. Elizabeth Shown Mills, “QuickLesson 15: Plagiarism—Five ‘Copywrongs’ of Historical Writing,” EvidenceExplained ( : accessed 30 Mar 2014).
  12. Debbie Mieszala, “Stop, thief! A plagiarism primer,” 38 National Genealogical Society News Magazine (April-June 2012) 17-20.
Posted in Copyright, General | 46 Comments

Questions and answers about mitochondrial DNA

Q. So why an mtDNA Q&A today anyway?

A. Because there’s a major sale going on — a March Madness sale — at Family Tree DNA that ends at 11:59 p.m. CDT on Tuesday, April 1, that offers real savings on one test and one test only: the full mitochondrial (mtDNA) sequence.

Q. Um… what’s mtDNA?

A. That’s the type of DNA passed down from a mother to all of her children, but that only her daughters can pass on. a particular type of DNA that everyone has, passed to us from our mothers. Because of the way it’s inherited, all of a mother’s children will have the same mtDNA, but only her daughters will pass it on to their children. So it gives us a look at our maternal line: our mother’s mother’s mother’s line and on back through the generations.1

Q. Can you show me that a little better?

A. Yep: look at this chart. Figure you’re one of the folks in red at the bottom — male or female, since we all have mtDNA — and trace it back: it looks at our mother’s mother’s mother’s line and on back through the generations.


Q. How many markers does this test look at? 25? 37?

A. Those are the numbers for the guys’ test — the YDNA test. Mitochondrial DNA isn’t measured that way. For mtDNA you look at either part of the mtDNA (specifically in areas called hypervariable regions, or HVR1 and HVR2) or all of the mtDNA (HVR1 plus HVR2 and the coding region).2

Q. Which test is on sale?

A. The “whole thing” test: the full mitochondrial sequence looks at HVR1 and HVR2 and the coding region.

Q. And that will tell me…?

A. Everything you can know about your mtDNA: your haplogroup like A or H or K or U, plus how your own personal mtDNA differs from a reference mtDNA in ways that make you different from other folks who are not genetically related to you and similar to other folks who are genetically related to you.

Q. What’s a haplogroup?

A. Technically, it’s “a genetic population group of people who share a common ancestor on the patrilineal or matrilineal line.”3 Think of it like your town sitting somewhere in the branches of the human family tree. Since we’re looking at the matilineal line with this test, everybody in that town with you came from the same area — the same common mother back thousands of years ago.

Q. What does that do for my genealogy?

A. It’s really a matter of seeing what it might do. No DNA test comes with guarantees. But let’s say you have a family story that your maternal grandmother or great grandmother was Native American. It might confirm that story. Or it might tell you that your mother’s line is strongly European — so you don’t waste time chasing a Native American story in that particular line. (It could be a maternal great grandfather, not great grandmother, still.)

Q. What about the individual results — those people you say I’m genetically related to — how does that help?

A. Finding out you and someone else are — or aren’t — related in a direct maternal line can answer some pretty big brickwall questions. I’ve written about some of these issues in my own family4 and in questions from readers.5 And yesterday’s blog by Roberta Estes at DNAeXplained is a must-read for anybody who wants to know why to mtDNA test.6

Q. Should I test myself or my mother or my brother?

A. I’d always test the oldest available generation — mother before child, grandmother before mother — mostly because I’m always thinking about other later DNA tests I might be able to afford, and an older generation is always better for an autosomal DNA test.

Q. Only my brother and I are available to test. Which of us is best?

A. In most cases, both of you will have exactly the same mtDNA as each other — and exactly the same as your mother had, and her mother, and her mother. But remember — even though mtDNA changes slowly — that small change can happen any time in any generation. I’m aware of one case where a change occurred when mtDNA was passed from a mother to one of her children. So in most cases it won’t matter which of you is tested for mtDNA purposes, but boy… if you can afford to test both of you, that’s the way to go. Then later you can do a YDNA test for him (getting information on your father’s father’s line)7 and autosomal testing on both of you (to find cousins alive today).8

Q. Back to this sale thing, what’s the difference between an add-on and a new kit?

A. An add-on means you’re already a Family Tree DNA customer but have never done mtDNA testing. A new kit means you’re not yet a Family Tree DNA customer.

Q. How much can I save?

A. You can save about a third on the cost of this test. Full price is usually $199, and the sale price is $139 — a $60 savings.

Q. Why can’t I get the cheaper upgrade test?

A. You can — if you’ve already done some mtDNA testing at Family Tree DNA and want more information. If you’ve tested only the HVR1 region, you can upgrade for $99, down from the regular $149. If you’ve tested both HVR1 and HVR2, the upgrade is $89.

Q. How many kits can I buy?

A. How many can you afford — and realistically how many people do you want to test?

Q. Are any other tests on sale?

A. Not in this sale, but check back from time to time: Family Tree DNA runs sales three or four times a year.

Q. How do I find out more?

A. Head on over to Family Tree DNA.


  1. See ISOGG Wiki (, “Mitochondrial DNA tests,” rev. 5 Mar 2014.
  2. Ibid.
  3. ISOGG Wiki (, “Haplogroup,” rev. 4 Mar 2014.
  4. See Judy G. Russell, “Oh, mama… a use for mtDNA,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 12 Feb 2012 ( : accessed 27 Mar 2014). Also, “Looking for an Alabama relative,” posted 1 July 2012.
  5. Judy G. Russell, “DNA and the question of how many wives,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 8 July 2012 ( : accessed 27 Mar 2014).
  6. Roberta Estes, “Mitochondrial – the Maligned DNA,DNAeXplained, posted 29 Mar 2014 ( : accessed 29 Mar 2014).
  7. See ISOGG Wiki (, “Y chromosome DNA tests,” rev. 5 Mar 2014.
  8. ISOGG Wiki (, “Autosomal DNA,” rev. 1 Feb 2014.
Posted in DNA | Leave a comment

Limited time mtDNA sale

No, it isn’t Sunday.

Really, it’s not.

And, yes, The Legal Genealogist usually only writes about DNA on Sundays.

But there have to be exceptions in exceptional cases.

mtDNA.saleSuch as when there’s a huge sale that starts today and is only going to last through Tuesday, 11:59 PM CDT April 1, 2014. (That’s 10:59 p.m. MDT, 9:59 p.m. PDT, and for East Coasters, 12:59 a.m. EDT April 2nd.)

It’s the March Madness sale at Family Tree DNA with a huge price cut for one particular DNA test, the mitochondrial (mtDNA) full sequence test.

Now this is a test that looks at a particular type of DNA that everyone has, passed to us from our mothers. Because of the way it’s inherited, all of a mother’s children will have the same mtDNA, but only her daughters will pass it on to their children. So it gives us a look at our maternal line: our mother’s mother’s mother’s line and on back through the generations.1

It’s a type of DNA that changes very very little over the generations. Scientists think there may be only one very small change — called a mutation, but not in a bad way — in hundreds, even thousands of years. And because it travels down the female line, and we all fight our way through all those surname changes, well… there’s a reason why it’s sometimes considered the redheaded foster stepchild of DNA testing.2

But it’s also an extremely powerful form of testing when it’s targeted at specific research questions. I’ve written more than once — just this past Sunday even! — about needing it to try to find out who the mother of my third great grandmother Margaret (Battles) Shew was.3 And about using it to check a claim that one of my ancestors was Native American. (She was not.)4

It can help answer questions like the one a reader asked about how many wives a second great grandfather had, by testing direct female descendants of the oldest — and youngest — known daughters.5

And it can help validate a theory on whose bones were buried beneath a car park in Leicester, England, putting to rest (pun intended) the question of the final burial place of England’s King Richard III. 6

And for the next five days — today through April 1 — the most complete, most powerful test of your mtDNA is on sale. The reduced prices for those who’ve done no mtDNA testing or who’ve done less complete tests to upgrade to the full mitochondrial sequence during this sale are:

• mtDNAFullSequence Add-on and New Kits – Was $199 US Now $139 US

• mtHVR1toMEGA Upgrade – Was $149 US Now $99 US

• mtHVR2toMEGA Upgrade – Was $159 US Now $89 US

And I couldn’t agree more with Family Tree DNA’s statement of the three key reasons to do this:

• Unlock the full potential of mtDNA testing.

• Enjoy the definitive test for your direct maternal line.

• Compare to others at the highest mtDNA testing level.

You can get more info on this testing here at Family Tree DNA

And remember … if you’re a direct line female descendant of Ann (Jacobs) Battles of Cherokee County, Alabama, or Kiziah (Wright) Battles of Blount County, Alabama, or Nancy (Wright) Battles of St. Clair County, Alabama, I have a test kit waiting for you at my expense…


  1. See ISOGG Wiki (, “Mitochondrial DNA tests,” rev. 5 Mar 2014.
  2. Judy G. Russell, “Picking your Battles,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 23 Mar 2014 ( : accessed 27 Mar 2014).
  3. Ibid. Also, Judy G. Russell, “Looking for an Alabama relative,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 1 July 2012 ( : accessed 27 Mar 2014).
  4. Judy G. Russell, “Oh, mama… a use for mtDNA,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 12 Feb 2012 ( : accessed 27 Mar 2014).
  5. Judy G. Russell, “DNA and the question of how many wives,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 8 July 2012 ( : accessed 27 Mar 2014).
  6. Judy G. Russell, “Rewriting history through DNA,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 3 Feb 2013 and “And the answer is…,” posted 4 Feb 2013 ( : accessed 27 Mar 2014).
Posted in DNA | 5 Comments

The not-so-obvious term

Okay, this one seems like it should be a no-brainer, right?

We all know what probate means.

probateI mean, seriously, we can’t hardly consider ourselves genealogists if we haven’t at least looked at probate records, now can we?

So how ’bout if The Legal Genealogist tells you that, when you come across something that was probated, it may not be in a probate matter at all?

The issue came up when Jeff Thomas, a Baker cousin of mine, started looking at an ancestor who lived in South Carolina in 1784, but owned land in Georgia.

He’s trying to nail down this particular ancestor’s date of birth. There obviously aren’t any birth records for the 1700s in that part of the country, and there’s no family Bible or other record to shed light on it.

So Jeff is carefully and methodically working his way through the available documents surrounding this ancestor to see what light they might shed on the question.

In one instance, for example, this ancestor was named in his father’s 1746 will and identified as being under age. In the will, he received a particular piece of land, which he sold in 1756.

Aha! Major clues!

Jeff realized that, to have been named as a child — a minor — in his father’s 1746 will, his ancestor’s birth had to have occurred less than 21 years earlier.1 So he couldn’t have been born later [correction: earlier] than 1725.

He also realized that, for the ancestor to have sold the land on his own, he’d have had to have been of age. Otherwise, he’d have had to have a guardian sell it for him. And to be at least 21 in 1756, he had to have been born not later than 1735. So working with these two documents alone, the range of possible birth years has been narrowed down to somewhere between 1725 and 1735.

Fast forward all those years to the 1784 land transaction. The land was in Effingham County, Georgia. The buyer was described as a planter of Effingham County. But the seller — Jeff’s ancestor — lived across the border in Camden County, the old 96 District, in South Carolina. And, according to the records Jeff has, the deed was “probated in 96 Dist.” before a Justice of the Peace there.

So… was this in connection with a will — the kind of thing we’d expect to see when the word probated is used?

Probably not.

Yes, the typical way the word “probate” is used in the law is the way you see it in the image here today: it’s used to refer to the “act or process of proving a will. The proof before an ordinary, surrogate, register, or other duly authorized person that a document produced before him for official recognition and registration, and alleged to be the last will and testament of a certain deceased person, is such in reality.”2

But there’s a second meaning, especially when it’s used as a verb the way it is here.3 It also means — simply — “to prove” and the proof itself can be called “probation”: “The evidence which proves a thing. It is either by record, writing, the party’s own oath, or the testimony of witnesses.”4 Or, as Black’s Law Dictionary puts it, probation is the “act of proving; evidence; proof.”5

And to prove something, it means to “establish the genuineness and due execution of a paper, propounded to the proper court or officer.”6

So why was the term “probated” used in the land case rather than “proved”?

Part of the answer may come from local custom or the idiosyncracies of the justice of the peace before whom the proof was submitted.

But the biggest part probably comes from what else Black’s Law Dictionary says about probate. It notes that the word was also used “to designate the proof of his claim made by a non-resident plaintiff (when the same is on book-account, promissory note, etc.) who swears to the correctness and justness of the same, and that it is due, before a notary or other officer in his own state; also of the copy or statement of such claim filed in court, with the jurat of such notary attached.”7

Think about that for a moment. Though the context suggested is in actions for debt, it works perfectly well in a land deal as well:

• Buyer and seller from different states.

• Buyer needs to establish in his home state that the deed is valid.

• Seller (or seller’s witnesses) don’t want to travel to buyer’s state to prove the deed.

• Answer: seller or seller’s witnesses go to seller’s local court and prove it — probate it — there, and the proof gets sent along from one court to the other.

Probate. Not always what we think it is.


  1. See generally Judy G. Russell, “Part 3: How old did folks have to be,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 20 Jan 2012 ( : accessed 26 Mar 2014).
  2. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 945, “probate.”
  3. Verb. You remember those, right? From grammar school? That’s “a word (such as jump, think, happen, or exist) that is usually one of the main parts of a sentence and that expresses an action, an occurrence, or a state of being.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary ( : accessed 26 Mar 2014), “verb.” That much even I remember. Just don’t ask me to diagram a sentence.
  4. John Bouvier, A Law Dictionary Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States of America and of the Several States of the American Union, rev. 6th ed. (1856); HTML reprint, The Constitution Society ( : accessed 26 Mar 2014), “probation.”
  5. Black, A Dictionary of Law, 945, “probation.”
  6. Ibid., 959, “prove.”
  7. Ibid., 945, “probate.”
Posted in Legal definitions | 6 Comments

Just one county’s courts

Time and time again, somebody says it — proudly:

“I got the county court records on microfilm!”

And then looks absolutely blank when The Legal Genealogist asks the follow-up question: “So… when are you going to the courthouse?”

Inevitably, after a pause, the person will ask: “Why should I go to the courthouse? After all, what else can there be?

Oh my.

Allow me to introduce you to the Isle of Wight County.

Isle_of_WightIt’s a Virginia County in the Hampton Roads metropolitan area. As you can see from the map, it’s tucked up along the James River just west of the City of Norfolk.

Its original courthouse was built in 1750, a replacement courthouse — still standing and occasionally still used for trials — was built in 1800, and the modern courthouse there opened in 2010.1

Its size today is 363 square miles (part of that is water). Its 1790 population was just over 9,000, and it hovered around that for decades. In 1880, it had 10,572 people; even today its population is only about 35,000.2 Just by way of contrast, Henrico County — just outside the City of Richmond — has 245 square miles and a 2010 population of more than 300,000,3 while Fairfax County — in the Northern Virginia suburbs — has 406 square miles and a 2010 population of more than 1,000,000.4

Now the Isle of Wight is far from Virginia’s smallest county — Arlington County in Northern Virginia has only 26 square miles5 — and not the least populated as of 2010 — that was Highland County in western Virginia.6

So why am I introducing you to this particular county?

Two reasons: (1) because I think it has a really cool name — even the county seat is called Isle of Wight — and (2) because so many of its court records have already been digitized. In that, it’s an exception: there may be other courts whose records have been as thoroughly microfilmed, but few if any where so many have already been put online. You can see them on FamilySearch in its Isle of Wight County Records database.7

So… what else can there be? Here’s an abbreviated version of the court records digitized and available in that database:

• Chancery execution book vol 1 1832-1908
• Chancery order book vol 1-6 1831-1909
• Chancery papers 1844-1855
• Chancery process book vol 2, 4 1831-1855
• Chancery rule book vol 1 1871-1903
• Charter book 1870-1905
• Circuit Court bond book vol 1 1889-1909
• Circuit Court common law docket vol 2 1871-1905
• Circuit Court common law order book vol 1 1831-1840
• Circuit Court common law process book vol 1 1849-1870
• Circuit court docket vol 5 1831-1858
• Circuit Court rule book vol 3 1885-1905
• Common law docket and rule book vol 6A 1846-1885
• Common law docket vol 1-5 1883-1887
• Common law docket vol 6 1836-1845
• Common law docket vol 6A 1859-1870
• Common law record book vol 1 1841-1889
• Common law witness docket vol 1-3 1831-1875
• County account book vol 1 1882-1885
• County Court common law execution book vol 2 1832-1842
• County Court docket index vol 1 1900
• County Court docket vol 13 1845-1870
• County Court execution book vol 4 1870-1892
• County Court judgments vol 1 1878-1888
• County Court order book and index 3, 19 1871-1873, 1893-1898
• County Court order book (8 vols.) 1866-1931 (gaps)
• County Court process book vol 1-2 1845-1865, 1892-1903
• County Court rule book (6 vols.) 1828-1874
• County Court witness docket (3 vols.) 1832-1870 (gaps)
• County executions vol 3 1849-1869
• County fund 1913-1919
• County road fund 1914-1915
• County road fund 1918-1919
• Court case book (new causes) vol 1 1797-1803
• Court case book vol 2 1803-1807
• Court docket 96 vols.) 1839-1894 (gaps)
• Court minute Book vol 1 1826-1830
• Court papers vol 1-17 1846-1914 (gaps)
• Court papers-miscellaneous vol 1-23 1746-1903
• Court rule book vol 1-2 1838-1871
• Execution book vol 1-2 1838-1870
• Execution book vol 1(A) 1903-1906
• Executions returned vol 1 1883-1898
• Fee book vol 1-38 1773-1879
• Fiduciaries (1-3) 1906-1930
• Hardy District road fund 1914, 1918-1919
• Index to fee book vol 1 1780-1781
• Index to judgment docket vol 3B 1871
• Index to reservations of title 1891-1905
• Index to vendors and vendees 1850-1950
• Judgment docket and index vol 1 1841-1870
• Judgment docket vol 2 1870-1897
• Judgments 1833-1834
• List of warrants vol 1 1884
• Miscellaneous court records 1847-1857
• Miscellaneous court records 1873-1943
• Miscellaneous court records 1907
• Newport District road fund 1914-1915, 1918-1919
• Order book and index vol 15 1879-1881
• Poor fund 1914-1915, 1918-1919
• Record of criminal cases vol 1 1888-1901
• Register of convicts vol 1 1871-1917
• Reservations of title 1891-1905
• Supreme court rule book vol 1 1900
• Windsor District road fund 1914-1915, 1918-1919
• Witness docket book vol 1-3 1871-1916

Let’s see here… yes, there are the order books of the county court. Those would be the day-to-day records of happenings in the county courts.

And what else can there be?

Criminal court cases, a register of convicts, books with lists of witnesses in civil and criminal cases, dozens of volumes of fee books with lists of fees paid for so many things (registering freedom papers for emancipated slaves, as just one example). Tons of case papers — where some of the best details can be found. Records of the county road funds and the poor funds and charters for corporations that did business in the county and… and… and…

This is just one relatively small county. And just from this list, you can see why it pays to take that road trip, go to the courthouse and take the time to do the one thing we just can’t do online: look around. That dusty volume over there? The one nobody has looked at in years, much less ever microfilmed? That’s the one that might have the answer to our most perplexing brickwall question.

And oh by the way that court record list above? It doesn’t include the probate records — wills, guardianships, estate bonds — all those neat things we want to see to help us prove relationships. That’s a separate list and it includes …

We’ll leave those for another day.


Image: “Map of Virginia highlighting Isle of Wight County,” David Benbennick, via Wikimedia Commons

  1. Wikipedia (, “Isle of Wight County, Virginia,” rev. 10 Jan 2014.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Wikipedia (, “Henrico County, Virginia,” rev. 15 Feb 2014.
  4. Wikipedia (, “Fairfax County, Virginia,” rev. 4 Mar 2014.
  5. Profile,” Arlington Facts and Stats, Arlington County, Virginia ( : accessed 25 Mar 2014).
  6. Virginia QuickFacts,” Advanced Search, American FactFinder, U.S. Census Bureau ( : accessed 25 Mar 2014).
  7. Digital images, “Virginia, Isle of Wight County Records, 1634-1951,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 25 Mar 2014).
Posted in General, Resources | 6 Comments

Even when they add up to dimes

The Legal Genealogist is changing hats this morning to association member.

Like many of you, I received an email yesterday advising that the dues for the Association of Professional Genealogists would be going up effective 1 July 2014.

APG.duesAnd maybe you’re sitting there wondering if membership is worth what the new higher dues will be:

• For full membership, worldwide, the dues will be $100 U.S.
• There’s a new youth member category, for those under age 25, and dues will be $50 U.S.
• And to subscribe to the APG Quarterly alone, the cost will be $45.

Or maybe you’ve been thinking about joining APG, and now you’re really wondering if it’s worth it.

I can only give you my take on it. And my own answer is yes, yes, and (can I say this online) hell yes!

That’s my answer in part because of the obvious up-front benefits of being an APG member:

Webinars that are free for everyone but available only to APG members if you can’t attend in real-time. Among the ones recorded and available right now on the member website are:

DNA Explained. Part 1: An Intro to DNA for Genealogists, Roberta Estes
DNA Explained. Part 2: Yikes, My DNA Results are Back! Now What?, Roberta Estes
Working with Autosomal DNA: Intermediate/Advanced Applications, CeCe Moore
Juggling Complex Projects While Staying on Track, J. Mark Lowe CG
Facts, Photos and Fair Use: Copyright Law for Genealogists, Judy G. Russell JD, CG, CGL

Discussion groups just about every week that cover topics ranging from writing and blogging to forensic genealogy and building a business as a genealogist. The schedule for just the next few weeks includes:

• March 26, 9 p.m. EDT

Writing and Blogging, led by Harold Henderson, CG

• April 4, 11 a.m. EDT

Personal Branding and Diversifying Your Business to Make a Profit, led by Michael Hait, CG

• April 8, 9:00 p.m. EDT

Keeping Your Business Plans Up-to-Date, led by Angela Packer McGhie, 8 April

• April 9, 1:00 p.m. EDT

Starting a Business, led by Amy Arner

• April 16, 12:00 p.m. EDT

Writing and Blogging, led by Harold Henderson, CG

• April 30, 9:00 p.m. EDT

Forensic Genealogy, led by Cathi Becker Wiest Desmarais, CG, Melanie D. Holtz, CG, and Kelvin L. Meyers

The APG Quarterly, a publication I read from cover to cover every time it comes in. In addition to articles on professional development, there have been goodies like a whole explanation of trademarks by my Rutgers Law colleague John Kettle and a thorough guide to Irish research by Cathi Becker Wiest Desmarais and a primer on heraldry and coats of arms by Bruce Durie.

The APG Professional Management Conference each year, where topics include again both professional development and others focused on our individual skills as genealogists — whether we take clients or not.

And if that’s not enough, there’s the work APG does behind the scenes with the APG Advocacy Committee, working with the broader genealogical community on records access and other issues.

Except perhaps for those few with inherited wealth, genealogists in general have fixed budgets. We have to give a little here to get a little there.

And every year it’s a struggle to decide what societies to join, what organizations to support.

But here’s one where I have no hesitation about paying my dues in order to get the member benefits.

My take: APG is worth every penny.

Even when they add up to dimes. Or dollars.

Posted in General | 2 Comments

Next in an occasional series on copyright

We have all been there, done that, those of us who grew up in the United States.

On a day appointed, with black eyes, or braces, or missing front teeth, or hair that won’t behave, or the shirt our mothers detested, or an attitude that couldn’t be repressed, we have sat there on those chairs.

Glaring, staring, sometimes even smiling.

yearbookAnd had our pictures taken for the yearbook.

Only to find, all these years later, that somebody wants to digitize those yearbooks and put them on the internet.

Reader Gary Matz recognizes the genealogical value of yearbooks: any time you nail somebody’s feet to the floor at a particular time and place, it’s a good thing. And yearbooks often offer details about the person’s activities and interests that can’t be found anywhere else.

But when the genealogical library he works with is asked to copy a yearbook from a school or a college, he worries about copyright.

He wonders first if it’s an issue at all. “Since the public schools and colleges are taxpayer supported, can they have copyright or license rights on something they publish?” he asks. “Would private schools and colleges have rights?”

And if it is an issue, what does the library need to know?

As always, The Legal Genealogist offers kudos to Gary for realizing there could be copyright issues here. It’s an issue all too often overlooked. And the fact is, he’s right to be concerned.

First, let’s deal with the question of whether schools can have a copyright.

Simple one word answer: yes.

Doesn’t matter if they’re public or private, doesn’t matter if they get (or got) tax dollars. There’s no provision in the copyright law that says you do or don’t get copyright based on your status as a public entity.

The only provision anywhere in the law that carves out a whole category is in §105 of the copyright statute: “Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government, but the United States Government is not precluded from receiving and holding copyrights transferred to it by assignment, bequest, or otherwise.”1

Under that section, any work created by an employee of the United States Government as part of his or her official duties for the government isn’t copyrighted. Note that doesn’t apply to state governments or county governments or — ahem — local school boards or college alumni associations.

So we have to start with the notion that yearbooks are — or were — copyrighted. And that means finding out, first and foremost, if they’re still copyrighted today.

And that’s not always so easy. Copyright law has changed from time to time and there are different rules that apply depending on when the yearbook was published. Let’s take a look at the key categories that are likely to apply to yearbooks published far enough back to have genealogical value:2

Publication Date


Copyright Term
Before 1923 None In the public domain
1923 – 1977 No copyright notice. In the public domain
1923 – 1963 There was a copyright notice but it was not renewed as required after 28 years. (Only a few publishers or authors ever renewed.) In the public domain
1923 – 1963 There was a copyright notice and the copyright was renewed. 95 years after publication date
1964 – 1977 There was a copyright notice. 95 years after publication date

And that’s the easy part. It gets more complicated after 1977, with all kinds of “if this-then that” situations, until you finally get to the point where copyright notice isn’t at issue any more and everything is automatically copyright protected. There’s a terrific chart with just about every possible combination of “if this-then that” situations by Peter B. Hirtle of Cornell University that we should all have bookmarked by now. It’s here: “Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States.”

So when Gary asks if he should consult with the schools involved before copying a yearbook — and if we’re sitting out there thinking about putting our old yearbooks on our websites — part of the answer is in when it was published and whether it had the copyright notice required at the time. If it clearly is no longer copyright-protected, if it ever was protected, then the only reason to consult is courtesy, rather than law.

But if it isn’t clear that the yearbook is out of copyright, then consulting with the institution and its legal department is a really good idea. Because if it is still copyrighted, figuring out who owns the copyright may be harder than it seems.

You see, the usual rule is that the creator of a work owns the copyright.3 Easy enough: the school published it, right?

Not so fast.

There was a photographer, perhaps a photo studio, that took the individual pictures of the students, wasn’t there? Unless there was a contract between the photographer or the studio and the school, making it what’s called a work for hire, the copyright to those photos belongs to the photographer, not the school.4

And there were students who took some of the photos, of the student activities and clubs and sports events, weren’t there? Guess what? Same problem about ownership of the copyrights to those pictures.

All the school might have, depending on its arrangements with all the contributors, is what’s called a compilation copyright, and if so:

The copyright in a compilation of data extends only to the selection, coordination or arrangement of the materials or data, but not to the data itself. In the case of a collective work containing “preexisting works” — works that were previously published, previously registered, or in the public domain — the registration will only extend to the selection, coordination or arrangement of those works, not to the preexisting works themselves. If the works included in a collective work were not preexisting—not previously published, registered, or in the public domain or owned by a third part y— the registration may extend to those works in which the author of the collective work owns or has obtained all rights.5

In short, there are a lot of potential copyright problems in copying and republishing yearbooks. Consulting with a professional whenever the yearbook even possibly could still be in copyright is the only safe way to go.

We’ll leave to another day the pesky issue of what happens when one of those students doesn’t want that picture republished on the web…


  1. 17 U.S.C. §105.
  2. Information for table drawn from Peter B. Hirtle, “Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States,” Cornell Copyright Center ( : accessed 23 Mar 2014).
  3. U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 1: Copyright Basics, PDF version at p. 2 ( : accessed 19 Mar 2014).
  4. See Judy G. Russell, “Copyright and the genealogy report,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 20 Nov 2013 ( : accessed 23 Mar 2014).
  5. U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 14: Copyright in Derivative Works and Compilations, PDF version at p. 2 ( : accessed 23 Mar 2014).
Posted in Copyright | 24 Comments