Go and sin no more

On the 7th of February, 1856, the New Mexico Territorial Legislature took a stand.

moralityNo more living in sin.

That sort of depraved conduct just wouldn’t be tolerated.

From that day forward, it said:

Any person or persons who shall after the approval of this act, be found living together publicly as if they were married, shall be considered as living in a state of concubinage, and shall be required immediately to contract and join in the bonds of matrimony, if there shall be no impediment to prevent their so doing ; and if they do not form such union on the first requirement of any judge, and persist in their accustomed mode of life, they shall, on accusation thereof before any of the said judges, be fined in any sum not less than twenty-five dollars nor more than eighty dollars, for every time they shall be so found…1

That provision was in the criminal laws section of the New Mexico laws, in an act that also made it illegal for folks to “establish their residence in any part of this Territory, … who shall have no visible honest means of living, corrupting and giving a bad example by their vices to public society.”2

And it made it illegal to “scandalously discover the faults of married persons, by interfering in private life, from which may result the disagreement of the parties, causing thereby a terrible evil, and injury to their family.”3

Legislating morality is nothing new. In colonial Massachusetts, early laws went so far as to impose Biblical standards of conduct. One 1646 law provided that “If any child or children, above 16 yeares old, … shall curse or smite their naturall fathr or mother, he or shee shalbe put to death…”4

But for a genealogist, this sort of law is just wonderful, because it helps on occasion to explain not just what our ancestors did — but why. And why a particular action was taken at a particular time.

That quickie marriage we find in the records may not have been the shotgun marriage we thought it was. Oh, there might have been some coercion involved in tying the knot, but in New Mexico at least it might have been from being caught in the sack by the law.

This particular “if we catch you, you have to get married” rule stayed the law in New Mexico for a long time. It was still on the books, in exactly the same form, in 1915:

Any person or persons who shall be found living together publicly as if they were married, shall be considered as living in a state of concubinage, and shall be required immediatly to contract and join in the bonds of matrimony, if there shall be no impediment to prevent their so doing; and if they do not form such union on the first requirement of any judge, and persist in their accustomed mode of life, they shall, on accusation thereof before any of the said judges, be fined in any sum not less than twenty-five dollars nor more than eighty dollars, for every time they shall be found so…5

And it was still the law in 1941.6

And in 1953.7

Oh, by the way… in case you’re wondering… or worried…

It’s not the law today.8



  1. §27, “An Act Requiring and Authorizing Judges of Probate and Justices of the Peace to Punish Depraved Persons in Cases Herein Prescribed,” in Revised Statutes and Laws of the Territory of New Mexico, … 1865 (St. Louis: p.p., 1865), 388; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 30 June 2014).
  2. Ibid., §28.
  3. Ibid., §29.
  4. Laws of 1646, in Nathaniel B. Shurtleff, ed., Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay of New England, vol. 2 (Boston: W. White, 1853), 179.
  5. §1776, “Unlawful Cohabitation,” Title 33, Offenses Against Public Morals, in New Mexico Statutes Annotated … in Effect June 11, 1915, Volume 1 (Denver, Colo. : Courtright Publishing Co., 1915), 565; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 30 June 2014).
  6. New Mexico Statutes, 1941 (Indianapolis : Bobbs-Merrill, 1942); snippet view, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 30 June 2014).
  7. John W. Tranberg, editor, New Mexico Statutes Annotated, 1953 (Indianapolis : A. Smith Co., 1954); snippet view, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 30 June 2014).
  8. A search of the New Mexico statutes at the New Mexico Compilation Commission website for concubinate returned “No Documents Found.”
Posted in Statutes | 12 Comments

Digitizing law dictionaries

The Legal Genealogist‘s absolute all-time favorite law-related blog is In Custodia Legis, the blog of the Law Library of Congress.

LawDictsIts content is an eclectic mix, with reports on upcoming legal presentations or conferences, a regular pictures of the week feature (the latest was about the King John seal), interviews with the many and varied people who use or work at the library, from former members of Congress to current interns, and more.

It’s so much my favorite law blog (and I am so much of a law geek) that I freely admit that one of the highpoints of my blogging career was having a post of mine cited in In Custodia Legis — it was a link to a 2012 post about Henry Campbell Black, editor and compiler of Black’s Law Dictionary.1

And when you combine my favorite law dictionaries with my favorite law blog?


And that happened last week, when In Custodia Legis reported a development that we as genealogists should welcome with open arms: an initiative by the Georgetown University Law Library in Washington, D.C., to digitize its law dictionaries collection, adding a wide variety of new resources to our digital bookshelves when we need more help understanding just what some pesky legal record really means.

The author of the post, Anne Guha, a summer intern at the Law Library, wrote:

Recently, while conducting research in the course of my studies, I learned of a project currently underway at the Georgetown Law Library to digitize their collection of early legal dictionaries. This will facilitate the entry of these rare editions into the public domain and make them virtually accessible.

The project is on-going, but the collection titled Digital Dictionaries: 1481-1891, already offers digitized copies of almost 40 early dictionaries. … Georgetown Law Library currently plans to scan a total of 87 titles, comprising over 120 volumes. Chronologically, the completed collection will begin with Georgetown Law Library’s 1481 Jodocus Vocabularius–held to be the first printed legal dictionary–and will run through 1891, the year of the first edition of Black’s Law Dictionary. The collection will primarily include English language dictionaries, along with a few non-English European titles. Each dictionary will be divided into a set of color PDFs, which can be downloaded or accessed online in an embedded document viewer.3

Heading over to the Georgetown Law Library site, you can find the Digital Dictionaries: 1481-1916 collection at this link. The Library says — in fancy language — what I keep saying: when we’re stumped by what something means, it helps to have a dictionary that was in use as close to the time when the record was created as possible.

Here’s a small sampling of what the collection includes now — and check back periodically, because there are many more to come:

1607: John Cowell, Interpreter, or Booke containing the signification of words : Wherein is set foorth the true meaning of all, or the most part of such words and termes, as are mentioned in the lawe writers, or statutes of this victorious and renowned kingdome, requiring any exposition or interpretation (Cambridge : Printed by John Legate, 1607).

1641: Sir John Skene, De verborum significatione : the exposition of the termes and difficill wordes, conteined in the foure buiks of Regiam Maiestatem, and uthers, in the acts of Parliament, infeftments, and used in practicque of this realme, and with divers rules, and common places, or principals of the lawes (London : Printed by E.G., 1641).

1779: Robert Kelham, Dictionary of the Norman or Old French language: collected from such Acts of Parliament, Parliament rolls, journals, Acts of state, records, law books, antient historians, and manuscripts as related to this nation… (London : Printed for Edward Brooke, 1779).

1824: John Henry Adlington, Cyclopaedia of law Or, the correct British lawyer (London : Thomas Kelly, 1824).

1879: Andrew Wright, (Glossary from) Court-hand restored : or, The student’s assistant in reading old deeds, charters, records, etc… (London : Reeves & Turner, 1879).

1916: James A. Ballentine, Law Dictionary of Words, Terms, Abbreviations and Phrases Which are Peculiar to the Law (San Francisco : Bancroft-Whitney Co., 1916).

So go ahead. Let your inner legal geek out … and geek out in the law dictionaries.


  1. Clare Feikert-Ahalt, “Legal Curiosities: What I Am,” In Custodia Legis, posted 2 May 2012 (http://blogs.loc.gov/law/ : accessed 29 June 2014), citing Judy G. Russell, “Henry Campbell Black (1860-1927),” The Legal Genealogist, posted 6 Jan 2012.
  2. I told you I’m a geek. What? You didn’t believe me? Geez
  3. Anne Guha, guest poster, “Georgetown Law Library’s Digital Dictionaries Collection,” In Custodia Legis, posted 2 May 2012 (http://blogs.loc.gov/law/ : accessed 29 June 2014).
Posted in Legal definitions, Resources | 4 Comments

Linking family trees and DNA

You might, if you were so inclined, call it the Holy Grail of genetic genealogy.

Putting your tree online with your genetic information, and having it link — automatically — to everyone else you’re related to.

WikiDNA2Imagine, for a moment, being able to quickly identify the man who has to be your direct paternal ancestor, just by entering your DNA data with your personal data. Or being able to quickly identify the woman who is the furthest back in your maternal line.

It’s exciting stuff, this tie between family trees and genetics.

It’s what AncestryDNA is trying hard to do with its tree-matching function and its autosomal DNA tests. There, it’s exceedingly problematic, because (a) autosomal DNA changes with every generation so you can start seeing gaps in the genetic data by the third cousin level, with as many as 10% of third cousins not having enough autosomal DNA in common to show up as a match1; and (b) autosomal results can be skewed by cousins marrying cousins as well as by the random nature of the way autosomal DNA is inherited.2

And it’s what WikiTree is trying now to do with its newly-announced DNA Ancestor Confirmation Aid, and in a much more useful way.

WikiTree, you may know, is a free crowdsourced effort “to grow a single worldwide family tree that will make genealogy free and accessible for everyone.” Members “privately collaborate with … close family members on profiles of modern people” and since “all the profiles are connected on the same system the process is creating a single family tree that will eventually connect us all and thereby make it free and easy for anyone to discover their roots.”3

This new DNA Ancestor Confirmation Aid lets every WikiTree contributor indicate whether he or she has taken a YDNA test (showing the direct paternal line and requiring a male descendant to test4) or a mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) test (showing the direct maternal line of the test-taker, who can be male or female5).

It then provides a neat way to determine who else may be on WikiTree who might share your YDNA or mtDNA. It shows you five generations of your ancestors, back to your third great grandparents, and lets you quickly and easily see who else is on WikiTree who descends from your ancestors. If any one of those people has tested, there’s a tool that lets you compare the results and to indicate whether there’s a match as you expect.

And if nobody has tested, well, you now know who to go after for a sample, don’t you?

It’s a very nice addition to the genetic genealogy toolbox, especially — as noted by Roberta Estes of DNAeXplained, for folks who have mtDNA tested for whom there is no other real connection system.6 Melding and blending genealogical data and genetic data can be terrific.

But even with the WikiTree system, it’s necessary to add one cautionary note:

Yes, it’s where we all want to go.

And it is oh so very easy to be dead wrong.

Here’s the hitch. Let’s say John Doe, a WikiTree member, has YDNA tested and he enters his information into his profile. What WikiTree then does with that information is this: “If a male WikiTree member has taken a yDNA test we go up the male line, father-to-father, to find the member’s earliest-known paternal grandfather. Then, starting with this earliest-known paternal grandfather, we go down the various direct male lines. The system includes all sons and skips all daughters and profiles without a specified gender.”7

If John has mtDNA tested, it does the same thing for the direct female line: “If a WikiTree member (male or female) has taken a mitochondrial DNA test we will go up the direct maternal line and then back down all appropriate lines and attach the test information to their profiles.”8

Once John enters his information, this is the statement that appears on the page for every single person to whom his DNA result is attached by this automatic system: “It may be possible to confirm family relationships with Ancestor by comparing test results with other carriers of his Y-chromosome or his mother’s mitochondrial DNA.” That’s good. And then it says that there are either “Y-chromosome DNA test-takers in his direct paternal line on WikiTree” or “Mitochondrial DNA test-takers in the direct maternal line”.

And that’s not quite so good.

Because John Doe could be wrong.

If John’s tree is wrong, if there’s a gap in his documentation, the people he identifies as being in “his direct paternal line” or “direct maternal line” may not be his ancestors at all. And yet every single one of those people, starting with the very earliest ancestor John identifies as being his ancestor (Charlemagne, for example…), is going to have John’s DNA information attached to his or her profile.

Only when someone else who identifies himself or herself as a descendant of one of those people also DNA tests and takes the time to compare results and determines that there is a mismatch is there going to be so much as a hint that John’s DNA linkage information is wrong. And even then it requires member action to figure out where the error is and correct it, in the trees and not in the DNA linkage. WikiTree explains:

It’s important that non-matching tests don’t appear on an ACA and an ancestor’s profile indefinitely.

They remain there for as long as the incorrect relationship(s) that connected them remain on WikiTree. That is, we don’t edit DNA test connections directly. We edit WikiTree relationships. Test connections are automatically rebuilt at night based on those relationships.

It might seem easier just to remove the tests. However, it’s part of our community ethos that we are all striving for an accurate single family tree. Wiki Genealogists want to remove inaccurate relationships from WikiTree. DNA testing is a powerful tool for identifying these inaccuracies.9

WikiTree acknowledges that — even at its best — its system involves something less than proof: “Confirmation is not absolute proof. There are always caveats. For example, a man can be an exact yDNA match with the man who raised him, yet his real father could be the man’s uncle or the man’s grandfather, etc. Scientifically speaking, absolute proof of a theory is always impossible. A theory can be tested — a genealogical theory can be DNA tested — and the test can confirm or disprove the theory. A test can definitively disprove something. But a test cannot definitively prove anything, strictly speaking.”10

So while this is a good tool, and it’s a good step forward, we need to recognize its limits.

The fact is, on WikiTree, on AncestryDNA, on any system where we’re trying to blend genealogy and genetics, we need to understand the risks of what’s called GIGO: Garbage In, Garbage Out.

And, if we join in this crowdsourced work, we need to make sure our own work isn’t garbage.


  1. See e.g. Judy G. Russell, “Another darned mismatch!,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 21 July 2013 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 28 June 2014).
  2. See ibid., “Endogamy and you. Really.,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 11 Mar 2012.
  3. About WikiTree,” WikiTree.com (http://www.wikitree.com/ : accessed 28 June 2014).
  4. See ISOGG Wiki (http://www.isogg.org/wiki), “Y chromosome DNA test,” rev. 5 Mar 2014.
  5. See ISOGG Wiki (http://www.isogg.org/wiki), “Mitochondrial DNA test,” rev. 30 Mar 2014.
  6. Roberta was quoted in the WikiTree press release on this new tool, since reposted on her blog. See Roberta Estes, “WikiTree Announces DNA Ancestor Confirmation Aid,” DNAeXplained, posted 26 June 2014 (http://dna-explained.com/ : accessed 28 June 2014).
  7. Automatic attachment of your test to WikiTree profiles,” DNA Features, WikiTree.com (http://www.wikitree.com/ : accessed 28 June 2014).
  8. Automatic attachment of your test to WikiTree profiles,” DNA Features, WikiTree.com (http://www.wikitree.com/ : accessed 28 June 2014).
  9. Removing relationships on WikiTree,” DNA Confirmations, WikiTree.com (http://www.wikitree.com/ : accessed 28 June 2014).
  10. Ibid., “Confirmation vs. Proof.”
Posted in DNA | 9 Comments

One word in the census

Over and over and over again, in that census record, the word appears in that “Profession, Occupation or Trade” column.

Enlist2.cropIt’s there by the name of 30-year-old Andrew Dean.1 By the name of 52-year-old Jacob Puttorf.2 By the name of 25-year-old William J. Griffith.3 And by the name of a 21-year-old farmboy, born in North Carolina, Martin A. Baker.4

The Legal Genealogist has no doubt that, at some times, in some years, that word in the “Profession, Occupation or Trade” column might have been there with pride. Had that census been taken just a year earlier, even just a few months earlier, it might have been there with dread.

But that census was taken on the 27th of June 1865.

And by the 27th of June 1865, we can hope that it was there with relief and with deep and abiding gratitude.

Because the word in the “Profession, Occupation or Trade” column that summer day in 1865 was “soldier.”

And the families who reported that “Profession, Occupation or Trade” to the census takers there in Leavenworth County, Kansas, had had more than two months to get used to the idea that their soldier sons and fathers and husbands and brothers were no longer at war.

That they might in fact be coming home.


And as well as they might be after years of brutal civil war.

David Davenport Baker and his wife (and cousin) Mary (Baker) Baker5 had had three sons of age to be at risk in that terrible conflagration.6 There’s no record that William, born in 1841, served in the Civil War. John, born in 1842, was recorded in that 1865 census at home with his family.7

But Martin… born in 1843 and named for his grandfather, another Martin A. Baker, Martin had gone for a soldier.

He was eighteen years old, a blue-eyed, light-haired, fair-complected farmboy standing all of five feet four inches in height when he signed on the dotted line in Easton, Kansas, on the 22nd of August 1862.8

His unit: Company A, 11th Kansas Volunteers. Originally organized as the 11th Kansas Infantry when it was organized in 1862, it was mounted and converted to the 11th Kansas Cavalry in 1863.9 Its infantry engagements included the Battle of Old Fort Wayne, in what is now Oklahoma and the Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas.10

Company A was the first to be mustered into service, and the entire regiment filled by the middle of September 1862. So quick was the unit’s dispatch into that first engagement that the men of the 11th Kansas couldn’t wait to be issued modern Enfield rifles, but had to draw weapons more than 40 years old: “The only infantry arms at Fort Leavenworth were a lot of Fremont’s Prussian Muskets, manufactured in 1818, of antique pattern, extra large calibre, and one-fourth heavier than either the Enfield or Springfield musket. These were hastily drawn and issued, and on the 4th of October, twenty days after its organization, the Eleventh Regiment, with eager steps, started on its first campaign.”11

As a cavalry unit, the 11th Kansas was involved in the battles at Lexington, Little Blue River, Independence, Byram’s Ford, and Westport, all in Missouri; Mine Creek in Kansas; and Platte Bridge Station in what is now Wyoming.12

And then came the peace.

And for the first time in three years families in Kansas could begin to breathe again.

Martin would not be home for another three months. Company A of the 11th Kansas Regiment was mustered out of service on the 26th of September 1865.13

But can you imagine the feeling David Davenport Baker must have had there, that summer day in 1865, when the census taker came to call?

He himself was just two days shy of his 46th birthday.14

And his son — Martin — the soldier — would go to war no more.

Talk about a birthday to remember…


  1. 1865 Kansas State Census, Leavenworth County, Leavenworth Ward 3, p. 80 (penned), dwelling 554, family 585, Andrew Dean; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 27 June 2014); citing Kansas State Census microfilm reel K-5, Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka.
  2. Ibid., p. 81 (penned), dwell. 561, fam. 593, Jacob Puttorf.
  3. Ibid., p. 83 (penned), dwell. 570, fam. 602, Wm J Griffith.
  4. Ibid., p. 89 (penned), dwell. 607, fam. 641, Martin A. Baker.
  5. See Macon County, North Carolina, Marriage Bond, 1839, David D. Baker and Mary Baker; North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
  6. Their first born son, Thomas, born in 1839, died as a child. Elma W. Baker, The Rugged Trail, Vol. II (Dallas, TX: p.p., 1973), 73, citing family Bible records and individuals who reported information to him.
  7. 1865 Kansas State Census, Leavenworth Co., Leavenworth Ward 3, p. 89 (penned), dwell. 607, fam. 641, John F. Baker.
  8. Volunteer Enlistment, 11th Regiment of Kansas Volunteers, Company A, Martin A. Baker; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 27 June 2014); citing Kansas Volunteer Regiments and Batteries (1862-1868), Record Group 034, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office of the State of Kansas, 1856-1993; Wartime Records (1861-1947); Enlistment Papers (1862-1869, 1917-1918); Kansas Historical Society, Topeka.
  9. Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “11th Regiment Kansas Volunteer Infantry,” rev. 28 May 2014.
  10. Ibid.
  11. W.S. Burke, Official Military History of Kansas Regiments During the War for the Suppression of the Great Rebellion (Leavenworth, Kansas: p.p. 1870), 323-325; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 27 June 2014).
  12. Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “11th Regiment Kansas Volunteer Cavalry,” rev. 11 May 2014.
  13. See “11th Regiment Kansas Volunteers–Cavalry,” Kansas GenWeb (http://www.skyways.org/genweb/ : accessed 27 June 20; citing Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Kansas, Vol. 1. – 1861-1865. Leavenworth, Kansas: Bulletin Co-operative Printing Company, Chicago. 1867.
  14. David Davenport Baker, oldest son of Martin and Elizabeth (Buchanan) Baker, was born 29 June 1819. Baker, The Rugged Trail, 73.
Posted in My family | 5 Comments

Come early!

It’s going to be a full house this afternoon for The Legal Genealogist‘s Legacy Family Tree webinar, Copyright Mythconceptions.

Copy.webinarIt seems that a lot of folks have questions about copyright — what’s allowed, what isn’t, and what we all think we know about copyright law that, well, just isn’t so.

So today’s webinar is going to be packed — and that means, seriously, some folks who’ve registered may not be able to get into the webinar if they don’t get there early.

If this happens to you, please don’t worry: you will be able to hear the whole presentation. Remember, the great thing about Legacy Family Tree webinars is that each one is available, free, for seven days after the webinar, and the webinar host, Geoff Rasmussen, does a terrific job of getting the full recording of each webinar online within hours. Right now, Angela Walton-Raji’s great webinar on Documenting Native American Families in 19th and 20th Century Records can be viewed for free.

And even after the free period, each recording is then available for purchase so you can review it more slowly, in more depth, at your own pace. Or you can just subscribe to the entire Legacy Family Tree webinar service, and get on-demand access to the entire archived set — some 250-plus hours of instruction already and new materials added every week. The cost right now is $49.95 for a year, and $9.95 for a month.

I know I often can’t sit in on daytime webinars, but I’ve been able to take in terrific presentations anyway and they’re available for viewing now through the subscription service or by purchasing a CD: Linda Woodward Geiger Using Tax Lists to Solve Genealogical Problems; James M. Beidler on German Internet Research: A Launching Place for Your Research; and Lisa Alzo on 10 Ways to Jumpstart Your Family History Narrative, just to name a few.

And if you do have time during the day to listen in live, the line-up of upcoming webinars for the rest of the summer and fall is terrific. Take a gander at the offerings at the Upcoming Webinars page and make sure your register in advance for any presentation that you want to hear.

Oh… and come early.

Things can get crowded, even online…

Posted in Copyright | Leave a comment

The soldier scholar

So The Legal Genealogist was back poking around the statute books yesterday and came across a Joint Resolution of the United States Congress, passed in January 1912.

AlienNow many joint resolutions are things like allowing the Grand Army of the Republic to borrow tents for its encampment in Pullman, Washington, in June 1912,1 or thanking the captain of the Carpathia for that ship’s efforts to save the lives of passengers from the Titanic.2

This one, though, was a little different:

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the Secretary of War be, and he is hereby, authorized to permit Mr. José Pasos Diaz, of Nicaragua, to receive instruction at the United States Military Academy, at West Point : Provided That no expense shall be caused to the United States thereby, and that the said José Pasos Diaz shall agree to comply with all regulations for the police and discipline of the academy, to be studious, and to give his utmost efforts to accomplish the courses in the various departments of instruction : And provided further, That in the case of said José Pasos Diaz the provisions of sections thirteen hundred and twenty and thirteen hundred and twenty-one of the Revised Statutes shall be suspended.3

Reading through it, you can’t help but ask… who in the world was José Pasos Diaz of Nicaragua, and why did it take an act of Congress to get him into West Point?

Let’s look at the second question first, because there’s a big fat clue right in the language of the resolution itself.

See it? I’m sure you do. It’s that part that says that “in the case of said José Pasos Diaz the provisions of sections thirteen hundred and twenty and thirteen hundred and twenty-one of the Revised Statutes shall be suspended.”4

So… what were the Revised Statutes? They were the end result of the first official codification of federal law, codification being lawyer-speak for the “process of collecting and arranging the laws of a country or state into a code, i.e., into a complete system of positive law, scientifically ordered, and promulgated by legislative authority.”5 In 1870, Congress passed a law authorizing the President to hire three commissioners to put the code together.6

You’ll find the Revised Statutes online at the Library of Congress Century of Lawmaking website, as Volume 18, Part I, of the Statutes at Large, and that’s where you’ll find out what “sections thirteen hundred and twenty and thirteen hundred and twenty-one of the Revised Statutes” were.

Section 1320 required that each cadet admitted to West Point “take and subscribe an oath or affirmation” to “support the Constitutipon of the United States and bear true allegiance to the National Government,” to “maintain and defend the sovereignty of the United States, paramount to any and all allegiance, sovereignty, or fealty” owed “to any State, county, or country whatsoever.”7

And section 1321 required each cadet to agree to serve eight years in the U.S. military.

A bit of a problem for a young man described as “of Nicaragua.”

As in the Central American country, tucked between Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south.8

Where his father was then serving as the American-supported President of Nicaragua. As explained by the U.S. State Department:

In the years leading up to the First World War, the United States and Mexican governments competed for political influence in Central America. As a result, the U.S. Government intervened more directly in Nicaraguan affairs in two separate, but related, incidents in 1911 and 1912, with the objective of ensuring the rule of a government friendly to U.S. political and commercial interests and preserving political stability in Central America. …

Nicaraguan President José Zelaya… had come to power in a military coup in 1893. … In the fall of 1909, a revolt broke out against Zelaya in Nicaragua, and … when two U.S. citizens who were serving as officers in the rebel army had been captured and executed by Zelaya’s forces(,) U.S. Marines landed on the Caribbean coast… Thereafter, the Nicaraguan government agreed to a U.S. loan, a new constitution, the abolishment of monopolies, and conceded to the previous demands that the United States had placed on the new government in exchange for recognition (and a new President’s) political rivals succeeded in replacing him with his vice president, Adolfo Diaz.

…In July 1912, Diaz’s political rival, the Minister of War, Luis Mena, began a revolt to seize power. Although he had already won election to succeed to the presidency in 1913, Mena was uncertain of securing U.S. backing. Diaz asked the U.S. Government to intervene in order to secure the property of U.S. citizens. With U.S. support, Diaz maintained his hold on power, and Mena left the country. Concerned about preserving stability in Nicaragua, the U.S. kept a small detachment of 100 marines in Nicaragua until 1925.9

Which pretty much answers the first question. The kid was connected.

He wasn’t the only non-citizen admitted to West Point with a waiver of these two sections of the law. In that same year, Humberto Mencia and Juan Dawson of Salvador10 and Manuel Aguero y Junqué of Cuba11 were also the beneficiaries of special resolutions that would have allowed them to enroll.

Only Diaz appears to have actually entered West Point, however, and he didn’t graduate. His name is on the roster of the class of 1916 with an x before the year — designating a non-graduate.12

And you thought only U.S. history — and U.S. genealogy — would be found in U.S. laws…


  1. 37 Stat. 633 (22 Apr 1912).
  2. 37 Stat. 639 (6 July 1912).
  3. “Joint Resolution Authorizing the Secretary of War to receive for instruction at the United States Military Academy, at West Point, Mr. Jose Pasos Diaz, of Nicaragua,” 37 Stat. 628 (26 Jan 1912).
  4. Ibid.
  5. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 216, “codification.”
  6. “An Act to provide for the Revision and Consolidation of the Statutes of the United States,” 16 Stat. 96 (4 May 1870).
  7. Rev. Stat. §1320.
  8. See “Nicaragua,” The World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook : accessed 25 June 2014).
  9. U.S. Intervention in Nicaragua, 1911/1912,” U.S. Department of State, Archive 2000-2009 (http://2001-2009.state.gov : accessed 25 June 2014).
  10. S.J. Res. 87, 37 Stat. 632 (19 Apr 1912).
  11. Ibid., S.J. Res. 91 (19 Apr 1912).
  12. Alphabetical Locator of Graduates and Former Cadets,” West Point Association of Graduates (http://www.westpointaog.org/ : accessed 25 June 2014).
Posted in Legal definitions, Statutes | Leave a comment

350 years of records

We are brash, we are loud and we are always a bit confused.

How else can you live in a state with a football stadium where not one, but two different professional teams play… and both of them take their names from a city that isn’t even located in the state?

Where all of the television stations are located across a river to the north and east or the south and west?

Where you pay a toll to leave, but not to enter?

And where, yesterday, we celebrated a big, bold, brash birthday?

We are New Jersey, and yesterday was our 350th birthday.

NJ Archivist Joseph Klett with West Jersey Proprietors records

NJ Archivist Joseph Klett with West Jersey Proprietors records

All across the state, at noon, we rang our church bells, blew our sirens, even blew the shofar, for a full minute in celebration of the day, 350 years ago, when James, Duke of York, relinquished lands he’d received from Charles II to Sir George Carteret and John, Lord Berkeley. The lands were described as “all that tract of land adjacent to New England, and lying and being to the westward of Long Island, and Manhitas Island and bounded on the east part by the main sea, and part by Hudson’s river, and hath upon the west Delaware bay or river, and extendeth southward to the main ocean as far as Cape May at the mouth of the Delaware bay.”1

Three hundred and fifty years of history.

And three hundred and fifty years of records.

Starting with the most amazing set of records imaginable: the records of the Proprietors of East and West Jersey.

You see, the original colony of New Jersey was divided into two parts. Governance of East Jersey was centered in Perth Amboy, which became the provincial capital in 16862 and in Burlington for West Jersey.3

The Proprietors of those two provinces gave up the right to try to govern the “increasingly restless and riotous” residents4 but kept the right to control the land.

And do you know how long the Proprietors kept control of at least some New Jersey land?

Here’s the answer:

In 1998, the East Jersey Proprietors—then New Jersey’s oldest corporation—dissolved and sold their rights to unappropriated land to the state’s Green Acres program. … The West Jersey Proprietors continue as an active corporation based in Burlington, NJ, and retain legal ownership of their original records.5

That’s right. Right up to today in West Jersey, to 1998 in East Jersey.

Now think about all those years… and all those records. And, as New Jersey’s State Archivist Joseph R. Klett explains, when the East Jersey Proprietors dissolved, “the East Jersey records were transferred from Perth Amboy to the State Archives in Trenton. In December 2005, the West Jersey Proprietors deposited their records with the State Archives as well, thus uniting all of New Jersey’s colonial land records under one roof.”6

What can you find in those records? Klett describes them this way:

The records of the East and West Jersey Proprietors document over three hundred and forty years of land transactions and settlement in New Jersey. While the earliest volumes of proprietary deeds, surveys and government commissions were united in the office of the Secretary of State at the time or soon after Trenton was established as the state capital in 1790, a large volume of books containing just surveys or warrants and certain other early records were retained by the proprietors.

Since the recording of land conveyances is and has always been voluntary, and since this function was not fully available in the county seats until 1785 for deeds and 1766 for mortgages, proprietary survey records are vital for documenting colonial land-owning families. Throughout the records are buried innumerable genealogical facts and connections. …(V)ery little has been published in terms of abstracts or transcripts of the proprietary land records…7

Minutes of the Proprietors — 1685 to 1998 for East Jersey and 1688 to 1951 for West Jersey — are in the collection. Deeds and wills, surveys and warrants, road books, quit-rent records, dividend records, maps and account books exist for East Jersey. Minutes, account books, surveys and warrants, rules and regulations, fee books, maps and drawing for West Jersey.

A veritable treasure trove of colonial records…

All available — at least in part, already (some processing and cataloguing remains to be done) — at the New Jersey State Archives.

Consider it a present from the birthday state of New Jersey to anyone with colonial ancestors from here.


  1. The Duke of York’s Release to John Lord Berkeley, and Sir George Carteret, 24th of June, 1664,” The Avalon Project, Yale Law School Lillian Goldman Law Library (http://avalon.law.yale.edu: accessed 24 June 2014).
  2. Joseph R. Klett, “Using the Records of the East and West Jersey Proprietors,” New Jersey State Archives (2008), PDF at 6 (http://www.nj.gov/state/archives/pdf/proprietors.pdf : accessed 24 June 2014).
  3. See ibid., PDF at 1, 7.
  4. Joseph R. Klett, “The Founding of New Jersey,” The Official NJ350 Blog, posted 20 June 2014 (http://officialnj350.com/category/the-official-nj350-blog/ : accessed 24 June 2014).
  5. Klett, “Using the Records of the East and West Jersey Proprietors,” PDF at 1.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
Posted in Resources | 6 Comments

How different can the law be?

So… within minutes of each other two comments arrived in The Legal Genealogist‘s email box yesterday that underscore a critical point when using the law in genealogy.

24JunBoth focused on yesterday’s post about Virginia’s post-Revolutionary War statute setting priorities for who would be appointed administrator of the estate of a person who died without a valid will. Under the 1785 statute highlighted, a surviving spouse would have first priority, followed by the son or daughter (or other descendants such as grandson or granddaughter); father; mother; brother or sister (or their descendants such as nephew or niece); grandfather; grandmother; uncle or aunt (or their descendants such as cousins); and “so on … without end.”1

The first was from reader Jeffrey D., a Virginia resident, who focused on the comment in the blog post that we always need to look at the specific statutes in effect at the time and in the place when the record we’re looking at was created. “How different,” he asked, “could be the law possibly be in one place with one common heritage and history like Virginia?”

And the second, as if anticipating Jeffrey’s question, was from Barbara Vines Little, CG, FNGS, FVGS, and Virginia expert extraordinaire. She reminded me that the colonial Virginia Legislature had also spoken on the subject of priorities for estate administrators.

In a 1748 statute, the colonial House of Burgesses directed:

That administration of the estate of every person dying intestate… shall be granted in manner following: That is to say, first, to the husband or wife of the deceased, and if none such, or if they refuse, then secondly, to the child or children, or their legal representatives, and if none such appear or claim, then thirdly, to the father or mother, or if none such, then fourthly, to the brothers and sisters, and if none such, then to the next of kindred to the deceased person.2

Now let’s extend our legal research just a little. Let’s come forward in time to the first codification of Virginia law. (Codification, by definition, is the “process of collecting and arranging the laws of a country or state into a code, i.e., into a complete system of positive law, scientifically ordered, and promulgated by legislative authority.”3)

In 1819, Virginia’s legislature directed that “there shall be published an edition of the laws of this Commonwealth,”4 and set out exactly what was to be included. Among the contents was a chapter on Wills, intestacy and distributions, and in that chapter a revised rule on administration priority:

The general court, and the several courts, respectively, shall have … jurisdiction to hear and determine the right of administration of the estates of persons dying intestate … and shall grant certificates for obtaining such administration, to the representatives who apply for the same ; preferring first the husband or wife, and then such others as are next entitled to distribution, or one or more of them, as the court shall judge will best manage and improve the estate.5

And let’s come forward just once more, to the 1849 codification, in which the rule was:

Administration shall be granted to the distributees who apply therefor ; preferring first the husband or wife, and then such of the others entitled to distribution as the court shall see fit.6

So we now have the law on who should be given priority as administrator of an estate during a period of just a little more 100 years, from 1748 to 1849. And we can see just how different the law can be:

• All of the statutes gave first priority to the surviving spouse.

• The 1748 explicitly, and the 1785 and 1819 statutes implicitly, gave next priority to the children of the deceased.

• In 1748, a legal representative of a child had the same priority as the child himself. So the executor or administrator of a deceased child’s estate was in the mix. That preference was gone from the law by 1785.

• In 1785, the descendants of a potential administrator were expressly added to the mix, so a grandchild or great grandchild would be considered before a parent or sibling, and a niece or nephew before a cousin. That was likely the practice under the 1748 law — but it wasn’t spelled out earlier.

• In 1819, the law started subtly changing to give the courts more discretion to choose among potential administrators. The law still told the courts to look at “such others as are next entitled” but also gave the courts the power to “judge” which of those “will best manage and improve the estate.”

• By 1849, the courts had broad discretion if there wasn’t a surviving spouse willing and able to serve. The law allowed judges to choose “such of the others entitled to distribution as the court shall see fit.”

What this means for us as genealogists is that we need to be careful in drawing conclusions about relationships between the deceased person and the administrator and always think about the law at the time and in the place when the record was created.

Because the law can be very different… even in one place with one history and one heritage.


  1. See Judy G. Russell, “A matter of priority,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 23 June 2014 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 23 June 2014), citing .
  2. §XIV, “An Act directing the manner of granting probat(e)s of Wills, and Administration of Intestates Estates,” Chapter V, Laws of October 1748, in William Waller Hening, The Statutes at Law; Being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia from the first session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619, vol. 5 (Richmond: p.p., 1819), 454, 458; digital images, Internet Archive (http://www.archive.org : accessed 23 June 2014).
  3. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 216, “codification.”
  4. §1, “An Act providing for the re-publication of the Laws,” Chapter 1, in B.W. Leigh, editor, The Revised Code of the Laws of Virginia, … 1819 (Richmond: State Printer, 1819), 1; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 23 June 2014).
  5. Ibid., §32, “An act reducing into one, the several acts concerning wills, the distribution of intestates’ estates, and the duty of executors and administrators,” Chapter 104, at 382.
  6. §4, Chapter 130, “Of Personal Representatives ; Their Powers and Duties as to Personal Assets,” in The Code of Virginia, … 1849 (Richmond: Public Printer, 1849), 541; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 23 June 2014).
Posted in Legal definitions, Methodology, Statutes | 8 Comments

Estate administration

Reader Erick Montgomery recalled once found a newspaper article that explained that there was a legal order to who would be appointed administrator for an intestate estate in early Virginia.

“I kept the clipping for a long time, but have lost it,” he wrote. “As I recall, according to the column, the order was something like this: widow, father, son, brother, brother-in-law, grandson, greatest creditor… there may have been others, and I may have them out of order.”

12HeningHis questions: “Is this true? What is the authority for this law, if it is indeed a law? Do similar situations apply in other states?”

Yep, sure is, and you’ll find it set out clearly in the Virginia statutes as far back as 1785.

That was a year when the entire probate system of the new Commonwealth of Virginia was revised from the old common law English-based system to a new statutory structure chosen by the new post-Revolutionary War government.

In that revision, Virginia eliminated the common law favoritism shown to oldest sons and changed its system so that — in intestate estates (by definition where there wasn’t a will or wasn’t a valid will1) — all legitimate children would share equally in a parent’s estate and an illegitimate child would share in his or her mother’s estate.2

It was in a companion statute, passed at the same 1785 session of the legislature, that Virginia established its own rules for the priority in which family members and others would be considered for appointment by the court as the estate’s administrator: the person charged with seeing that the estate is properly handled and distributed to the heirs.3

In section XXVI, that statute provided:

The general court, and the several courts, respectively, shall have the like jurisdiction to hear and determine the right of administration of the estates of persons dying intestate, as is herein before mentioned, as to the proof of wills, in respect to the intestate’s place of residence, or death, or where the estate shall lie, and shall grant certificates for obtaining such administration to the representatives who apply for the same, prefering first the husband or wife, and then such others as are next entitled to distribution, or one or more of them, as the court shall judge will best manage and improve the estate.4

And it ended up saying that if no-one else stepped forward to administer the estate, “the court may grant administration to any creditor or creditors who apply for the same, or to any other person the court shall in their discretion think fit.”5

So it’s easy to tell from the statute that the surviving spouse always came first in terms of preference, and a creditor or some other person deemed fit by the court came last… but who were the folks in between? Who were “such others as are next entitled to distribution”?

For that, you have to go back to the first 1785 statute, and its very careful rules as to who would inherit from someone who didn’t leave a will:

II. To his children or their descendants, if any there be:

III. If there be no children nor their descendants, then to his father.

IV. If there be no father, then to his mother, brothers and sisters; and their descendants, or such of them as there be:

V. If there be no mother, nor brother, nor sister, nor their descendants, then the inheritance shall be divided into two moieties, one of which shall go to the paternal, and the other to the maternal kindred, in the following course, that is to say:

VI. First to the grandfather:

VII. If there be no grandfather, then to the grandmother, uncles and aunts on the same side, and their descendants, or such of them as there be:

VIII. If there be no grandmother, uncle nor aunt, nor their descendants, then to the great grandfathers, or great grandfather if there be but one:

IX. If there be no great grandfather, then to the great grandmothers, or great grandmother if there be but one, and the brothers and sisters of the grandfathers and grandmothers, and their descendants, or such of them as there be:

X. And so on in other cases without end; passing to the nearest lineal male ancestors, and for the want of them to the lineal female ancestors in the same degree, and the descendants of such male and female lineal ancestors, or to such of them as there be.6

So the order of priority would be (for a man): widow; son or daughter (or other descendants such as grandson or granddaughter); father; mother; brother or sister (or their descendants such as nephew or niece); grandfather; grandmother; uncle or aunt (or their descendants such as cousins); and “so on … without end.”

This kind of priority system did exist in other states, but each one had its own priority system and the specific statutes in each location at each particular time would have to be consulted to see what law was in effect at the time an estate came into the court system.

Now Erick notes, “If true, it obviously can help in suggesting the relationship of the deceased to whomever is ultimately appointed administrator by the court.”

Yes, but… we need to be careful in drawing conclusions and make sure we follow the whole paper trail. What you’ll find very commonly is that someone high up in the priority chain (the widow, for example) would choose not to serve as administrator and would make a specific request to the court to appoint someone else (a son, a son-in-law, a brother).

As long as no-one else objected, courts routinely granted those requests — so the person appointed might not be in the usual priority chain.

But it is a good clue, it’s worth considering… and it points up, once again, why it’s so important to know the law at the time and in the place of the record we’re using.


  1. See Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 640, “intestate.”
  2. See “An Act Directing the Course of Descents,” Chapter LX, Laws of 1785, in William Waller Hening, Hening’s Statutes at Law, Being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia from the first session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619, 14 vols. (1819-1823; reprint ed., Charlottesville: Jamestown Foundation, 1969), 12: 138 et seq.
  3. See Black, A Dictionary of Law, 40, “administrator.”
  4. “An act concerning wills; the distribution of intestates estates; and the duty of executors and administrators,” Chapter LXI, Laws of 1785, in Hening 12: 140 et seq. at p. 146.
  5. Ibid., section XXVII.
  6. “An Act Directing the Course of Descents,” Chapter LX, Laws of 1785, in Hening 12: 138.
Posted in Legal definitions, Methodology, Statutes | 6 Comments

Show-and-tell for DNA info

If there’s one thing people complain about, over and over, it’s that figuring out how to really use DNA testing in genealogy is hard.

how.toAnd they’re right.

The Legal Genealogist agrees 100%.

It is hard.

And thank heavens there are folks out there who are trying to make it easier.

Let me highlight three for you today who are trying to show us — visually — how to make the best use we can of our DNA results.

How-To DNA Launches

First off, there’s a new website that’s just been launched by Blaine Bettinger, who blogs as The Genetic Genealogist, called How-To DNA, described as a how-to guide for genetic genealogy.

The site will have short instructional how-to videos for beginners, as well as presentations and webcasts for the advanced genealogist. Already available are two short videos:

Download Raw Data from 23andMe

Download Raw Data from Family Tree DNA

Upcoming topics include things like interpreting DNA results, using a chromosome browser and using free third-party tools like GEDmatch.

Family Tree DNA Webinars

There isn’t much available anywhere online about genetic genealogy that can hold a candle to the free webinar lineup offered by Family Tree DNA.

This ongoing series already has a stunning archive on topics ranging from an introduction to Family Tree DNA itself to managing an FTDNA surname, geographic or haplogroup project.

In between those two are an astounding array of presentations on every type of DNA testing used in genealogy, including:

• “Family Tree DNA Results Explained: Family Finder”

• “Family Tree DNA Feature Update: myOrigins (Population Finder)

• “Family Tree DNA Results Explained: Y-DNA Markers, Matching & Genealogy

• “Family Tree DNA Results Explained: Y-DNA Haplogroups & Deep Ancestry

• “Advanced Topics at Family Tree DNA, Part 1: Y-DNA

• “Family Tree DNA Results Explained: mtDNA Matching & Genealogy

• “Family Tree DNA Results Explained: mtDNA Haplogroups & Deep Ancestry

• “Advanced Topics at Family Tree DNA, Part 2: mtDNA

AncestryDNA Youtube channel

For those who’ve tested with AncestryDNA, there’s a whole set of Youtube videos covering the testing there.

The must-see videos there start with Crista Cowan’s “Ancestry DNA: I Got My Results. Now What?.”

Others you should watch include:

• “AncestryDNA: What To Do With All Those Matches

• “AncestryDNA: Using Filters to Focus on One Family at a Time

• “AncestryDNA: Contacting and Collaborating with Cousins

• “Frequently Asked Questions About AncestryDNA

• “Frequently Asked Questions About AncestryDNA: Part Two

Posted in DNA | 6 Comments