It’s a brave new world out there

Those genealogists who, like The Legal Genealogist, use DNA testing as part of our family history research often have to answer questions from our cousins about the way their DNA test results can be used.

3D Police With Gun And Nightstick Ordering To StopThe truth is, except in really extraordinary cases where the crime is very serious and the police have no clues at all, the chances that the police are going to turn to genealogy DNA databanks are pretty slim.

Why? Because if the police have probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and that you committed it, they can walk into any judge’s office in this country and get a search warrant that will let them pick you up, trot you down to the nearest medical facility, and take whatever blood or saliva they want for a DNA sample and they’ll use their own lab, not 23andMe or AncestryDNA, to do the tests they want.1

And if the police don’t want you to know they’re on to you, they can sneak a DNA sample. They could watch you smoke at a bar and collect the cigarette butts when you leave. They could set up a phony job interview and give you a bottle of water to drink or a piece of cake to eat (in one case they gave the suspect a bottle of water AND a piece of cake and got DNA samples from the bottle and the fork). They could even send you something in the mail and get a DNA sample from the saliva you use on the flap of the envelope when you return that “send this in to WIN!” form.2

They can even have you flat out refuse to take a DNA test of any kind … and test your DNA anyway. Don’t believe me? Then you need to know about the Raynor case.

Now before I go into the facts, I need to say that this case presents all the tensions that can possibly exist in a criminal case. On one hand, the Constitutional rights of all people to privacy and to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. On the other hand, the rights of all people to know that the guilty will be found, prosecuted and put where they can’t hurt anyone again. It’s a tough balance, and one that may end up being decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case began in the early morning hours of a day in April 2006, when a woman in Maryland abruptly awoke to terror. A pillow pressed to her face. An assailant whose face she never saw. Rape. Repeated rape.

After the assailant fled, she ran to a neighbor’s home and reported the assault to police. The rapist, she told police, was white, had a medium build and had an odd metallic body odor. And, at the scene of the crime, DNA samples were collected.

But the samples didn’t match anybody. Not in any police database. Not any of the people the victim told police could have been involved. During more than two years after the attack, “the police obtained consensual DNA samples from approximately 20 individuals with possible connections to the 2006 rape, including several of the victim’s neighbors. None of those DNA samples matched the DNA collected from the victim’s home on the day of the rape.”3

Then in 2008 the victim gave the police one more name. The name of Glenn Raynor. He’d gone to school with the victim, was the prior owner of the home where the victim lived, he had the same basic build.

The police asked Raynor to come in for questioning. During a 30-minute interview at the stationhouse, they asked him for a DNA sample. He said no. He was not arrested and was allowed to leave the police station. But after he left the police swabbed down the chair where he’d been sitting, sent the swabs off for DNA analysis — and got a hit. They then used that evidence as the basis to ask for a search warrant and get a full DNA sample; testing proved it was a match.

Raynor moved to suppress the evidence, saying — in effect — human beings can’t move around in public without leaving DNA behind, and allowing the police to test it without a warrant is unconstitutional. The State argued that DNA when used solely for identification purposes wasn’t any different from fingerprints, and police don’t need a warrant to lift fingerprints from any public place.

Late last year, the Maryland Court of Appeals — the highest court in Maryland — came down on the side of the State in a 4-3 split of that seven-member court.

Writing for the majority, Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera agreed with the State’s argument that

(Raynor) did not possess an objectively reasonable expectation of privacy in the information the police analyzed because they tested only 13 junk loci, which, unlike other regions of the DNA strand, do not disclose the intimate genetic information … Instead, those loci reveal only information related to a person’s identity. In this regard, … law enforcement’s testing of the DNA evidence in this case is indistinguishable from its testing of fingerprints left unknowingly upon surfaces in public places, which does not implicate the protections of the Fourth Amendment.4

The Court’s reference to the 13 loci is to the CODIS markers, the ones used by the Congressionally-authorized database supervised by the FBI that holds and reviews DNA profiles from crime scenes and arrestees and convicts.

The four members of the Court noted that the public should be aware that DNA can be left around whenever folks are out in public and that, even if people don’t know that, “the fact that one has not knowingly exposed to the public certain evidence does not, by itself, demonstrate a reasonable expectation of privacy in that evidence.”5 It wasn’t a search or a seizure, they said, because the police “did not seize genetic material from (Raynor), nor in any way search him for it, but rather, collected it from an object on which the material had been left.”6

The dissenting judges in the case, in an opinion written by Judge Sally D. Adkins, strongly disagreed. Raynor’s interest in his DNA, they concluded, “is immensely personal and private, and deserves the staunchest protection under the Fourth Amendment. DNA has the potential to reveal enormous amounts of private information about a person. With today’s technology, scientists have the power to discern genetic traits, behavioral tendencies, propensity to suffer disease or defects, other private medical information, and possibly more.”7

The dissent warned that:

The Majority’s approval of such police procedure means, in essence, that a person desiring to keep her DNA profile private, must conduct her public affairs in a hermetically-sealed hazmat suit. Moreover, the Majority opinion will likely have the consequence that many people will be reluctant to go to the police station to voluntarily provide information about crimes for fear that they, too, will be added to the (police) database.8

And, the dissent added in a footnote, the majority ruling had implication for exercising routine rights of citizenship: “The Majority’s holding means that a person can no longer vote, participate in a jury, or obtain a driver’s license, without opening up his genetic material for state collection and codification.”9

A petition has been filed asking the United States Supreme Court to hear a challenge to the Maryland court’s ruling.[10. See Byron Warnken, “Raynor v. Maryland – An Update and the Cert Petition,” Warnken LLC Attorneys at Law blog, posted 22 Jan 2015 ( : accessed 7 Feb 2015). Whether the Court will choose to get involved is anybody’s guess.

So when that cousin asks you, once again, whether his genetic genealogy test can be used by the police, remind him, once again, that the police don’t particularly want it — and they don’t need it.

First, the tests we take for genealogy aren’t all that useful to the police. Our tests tell us how we are like other people — other family members who share common ancestors with us. The CODIS markers focus on parts of the DNA that make us unlike other people and set us apart as individuals.

And, second, if the police want our DNA, they will get it.

Even if we say no.

It’s a brave new world out there…


  1. See, for example, United States v. Allen, 631 F.3d 164, 167-168 (4th Cir. 2011) (“Baltimore and federal authorities sought and obtained … the … warrant (that) authorized the collection of Allen’s DNA”).
  2. The Office of the Denver District Attorney has the facts of some of these cases online. “Fourth Amendment DNA Cases,” DenverDA ( : accessed 7 Feb 2015).
  3. Raynor v. State, 440 Md. 71, 76 (2014).
  4. Raynor v. State, 440 Md. at 85.
  5. Ibid. at 94-95.
  6. Ibid. at 96.
  7. Ibid. at 108.
  8. Ibid. at 108-109.
  9. Ibid. at 108 n.14.
Posted in Court Cases, DNA | 28 Comments

Memories of Ma Bell

These days, it seems, there is nowhere you can go and be free from its demands.

Nowhere that it won’t insist on your attention.

Nowhere that it won’t interrupt anything else you might have had planned.

And nothing — nothing at all — that will stop the telemarketers from making it into what seems at time to be the instrument of the devil.

openclipart-user-andinuryadinThe telephone is everywhere these days. Including, for many of us, in a pocket or a purse every waking minute of every waking day … and on the bedstand next to us when we sleep.

Omnipresent. Ubiquitous. Annoying.

But it was not always so, was it?

A research trip to Chicago’s Newberry Library last year reminded me that home telephones were still rarities in the 1930s and 1940s.1 I found a listing for a delicatessen my paternal grandparents briefly owned in the 1930s2… but not even a single home telephone for any of my Chicago relatives.

And there was a reason why news from the war front was sent by telegram — it was the only quick way to get the news to many American homes. As late as January 1948, my mother used the telegraph system to ask her cousin Fred Gottlieb to walk her down the aisle at her wedding, and he replied the same way. (I loved his answer, by the way, when I found it in my mother’s papers after her death: “Am getting married January 22nd but will arrange honeymoon so I can ditch her long enuf to escort you. Fred.”3)

So there was a time when being able to communicate by voice — communicate, not get harangued by sales pitches — was a big deal. First patented in the United States in 1876, the telephone spread to nearly 49,000 users by 1880, 600,000 by 1900, 2.2 million by 1905, 5.8 million by 1910. But it was the post-war prosperity that brought the telephone into most homes — 30 million as of 1948, 80 million by the 1960s, 175 million by 1980.4

And when it finally arrived in our homes, the telephone was a family gamechanger for most of us, wasn’t it? Remember back, all those years ago,5 when the telephone was something that only existed in one room of the house — if it was there at all — and, when it rang, all the people in the house hoped it would be for them?

When it was amazing that good news — and bad news — traveled so fast:

• My sister and I didn’t have to wait until our father came home to tell us that we had a brand-new younger sibling when the brother just younger than I am was born; he telephoned the neighbor who was caring for us, and she came out and told us.

• But I also didn’t have to wait when I was a 16-year-old college freshman, away from home on my own for the first time, and it was the telephone that let me know that my Uncle Barrett had lost his fight with a brain tumor.

When sometimes you had to listen to the ring to know if it was for someone at your house at all? Many homes in rural and suburban areas hooked into what were called party lines — shared or group telephone subscriptions. In 1950, 75% of residential customers were on party lines; that dropped to 27% by 1965. And “telephones on party lines would ring with a particular pattern unique to a household, so the customer would only answer the phone that rang with ‘their’ ring.”6

And that brings to mind what is, to me, my absolute favorite family telephone story.

It seems that back a kazillion years ago, when my mother’s parents were first married, they lived for a time with my grandfather’s older sister Addie (Cottrell) Harris and her family in Wichita Falls, Texas.

My grandfather Clay, born in April 1898,7 was the youngest of 10 known siblings; Addie, born in March 1881,8 was 17 years his senior. By the time my grandparents married at the grand old age of 18, Addie already had teenaged children, including a son who was only a little younger than my grandparents.

Sam Walter Harris, born in 1902,9 was always called Pete. And Pete fell madly in love with his 18-year-old aunt by marriage, Opal.

As the story goes, he made a right nuisance of himself in what everyone thought was a case of puppy love. The following-her-around. The deep sighs. The calf eyes. And he was heartbroken when Clay and Opal prepared to move to Oklahoma.

So he extracted a promise from Opal: when Clay died, he got her to promise, she would then marry Pete.

The years rolled on for the Cottrells and the Harrises. Pete went off to serve in World War II, lived and worked in St. Louis after the war, and went home to Texas to live with and care for his mother.10

And he never married. He would often remind my grandmother of her promise and she would often, with a smile, remind him that Clay wasn’t dead yet.

My grandparents lived in Oklahoma,11 in Texas,12 finally in Virginia, where they lived on a farm owned by their oldest son, my uncle Billy.13

Now for the longest time there was no telephone at the farm. If we needed to make a call, we would drive — or often walk — to the home of a neighbor family named Holland or to the general store that gave the post office its name: Kents Store, Virginia.

And then came the day in the 1960s when, finally, a phone was installed. A party line, to be sure, but instant communication! The ability to reach out to the world at large — and for the world to reach in!

And then came that magical moment when that phone rang for the very first time. Everyone froze, listening to the rings. Would it be…? Could it be…? Would it be for someone at the farm?

And it was. My grandmother reached out and picked up the receiver. In her oh-so-soft Texas drawl, she said hello.

And a scratchy voice on the other end spoke up.

It was Pete.

And the first words heard on that marvelous device?

“Opal, isn’t that son of a (bleep) dead yet?”

Family stories about the telephone.

We all have ‘em.

What’s yours?

Image courtesy of user andinuryadin

  1. See Judy G. Russell, “The delicatessen,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 13 Sep 2014 ( : accessed 6 Feb 2015).
  2. Chicago Telephone Directory, Summer 1930 (Chicago: Illinois Bell Telephone Co., 1930), 474, entry for Geissler, Hugo; microfilm, Dewberry Library, Chicago.
  3. Western Union telegram, Fred Gottlieb to Hazel Cottrell, 14 Jan 1948; privately held by author.
  4. 1870s-1940s-Telephone,” Imagining the Internet: A History and Forecast, Elon University School of Communications ( : accessed 6 Feb 2015).
  5. Okay, “all those years ago” for those of us whose hair is turning grey, okay?
  6. Party Lines,” AT&T Tech Channel, AT&T Archives ( : accessed 6 Feb 2015).
  7. Virginia Department of Health, death certif. no. 70-026728, Clay Rex Cottrell, 21 Sep 1970; Division of Vital Records, Richmond.
  8. Texas Department of Health, death certif. no. 38558 (1974), Addie Lee Harris, 6 May 1974; Bureau of Vital Statistics, Austin.
  9. Texas Department of Health, death certif. no. 60782 (1971), Sam Walter Harris, 5 Aug 1971; Bureau of Vital Statistics, Austin.
  10. “Early days recalled by Iowa Park pioneer,” likely from Wichita Falls (Texas) Daily Times, undated clipping, circa 1970; digital image of the original held by a great granddaughter, Odessa, Texas. The date was calculated by reference to the age of the subject, Addie Cottrell Harris, then said to be 89, who was born in 1881.
  11. 1920 U.S. census, Tillman County, Oklahoma, Haskell Twp., population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 170, p. 256(B)(stamped), dwelling/family 227, C.R. “Cottorell” household; digital image, ( : accessed 6 Feb 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication T625, roll 1488.
  12. 1930 U.S. census, Midland County, Texas, Midland City, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 2, p. 247A (stamped), dwelling 287, family 317, Clay R. Cottrell; digital image, ( : accessed 13 Jan 2012); citing National Archive microfilm publication T626, roll 2376. Also, 1940 U.S. census, Midland County, Texas, Midland City, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 165-3A, page (illegible)(B) (stamped), sheet 7(B), household 161, C R Cottrell household; digital image, ( : accessed 20 Sep 2013); citing National Archive microfilm publication T627, roll 4105
  13. See Judy G. Russell, “End of an era,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 31 Mar 2012 ( : accessed 6 Feb 2015).
Posted in My family | 33 Comments

Different degrees of violence

In the Mississippi Territory, in 1817, a jury of 12 men tried and true returned a verdict of not guilty against Nathaniel Christmas.

ForceThe court minutes reflect that the “Jurors return their verdict that the Defendant Nathl Christmas is not guilty in manner and form as charged in the … Declaration.”1

And the “manner and form as charged in the … Declaration”?

Trespass vi et armis.


Does it make you feel any better that The Legal Genealogist had to look that up too? I mean, seriously, I went to law school in the 20th century. They didn’t teach legal Latin then!

So off to Black’s Law Dictionary we go, and there we learn that vi et armis is Latin for “with force and arms.”2

Okay! Now we get it, right?

Um… what’s meant by “force and arms”?

It’s a “phrase used in declarations of trespass and in indictments, but now unnecessary in declarations, to denote that the act complained of was done with violence.”3 And violence, we’re told, is “synonymous with ‘physical force.’”4 And arms? That’s “(a)nything that a man wears for his defense, or takes in his hands, or uses in his anger, to cast at or strike at another.”5

So now we’re all clear, right?

Sure we are.

Until we realize that, well, there are different degrees of force, and arms when used in “force and arms” doesn’t always mean a gun or a knife or a club, and exactly what’s meant in a court document like this is going to vary with the circumstances.

Force, we learn, means “unlawful violence. It is either simple, as entering upon another’s possession, without doing any other unlawful act; compound, when some other violence is committed, which of itself alone is criminal; or implied, as in every trespass, rescous, or disseisin.”6

And in addition to “force and arms,” there’s “force and fear” — which is the kind of undue influence that lets you out of a contract if you can prove you wouldn’t have signed it otherwise.7

Oy. It couldn’t be easy, could it?

So let’s break down our Mississippi case.

Trespass, the kind of case we’re dealing with here, includes “(a)ny misfeasance or act of one man whereby another is injuriously treated or damnified. An injury or misfeasance to the person, property, or rights of another person, done with force and violence, either actual or implied in law. In the strictest sense, an entry on another’s ground, without a lawful authority, and doing some damage.”8

In order words, something as basic as, say, riding a horse into another person’s garden and damaging the crops is a trespass.

And by adding the “vi et armis” part, we’re saying there were weapons involved, right? So this is a criminal case?

No. By definition, trespass vi et armis was “a common-law action for damages for any injury committed by the defendant with direct and immediate force or violence against the plaintiff or his property.”9 Tearing down a fence on your neighbor’s property would be a trespass vi et armis. Going onto his land and cutting down a tree. Riding down those plants in the garden.

Moreover, an action for damages is always a civil case. Person A suing person B for money. You don’t collect damages in a criminal case.

And just to emphasize that, the law actually has another category of force, force “with a strong hand,” words that “imply a degree of criminal force, whereas the words vi et armis (‘with force and arms’) are mere formal words in the action of trespass, and the plaintiff is not bound to prove any force. The statutes relating to forcible entries use the words ‘with a strong hand’ as describing that degree of force which makes an entry or detainer of lands criminal.”10

Trespass vi et armis. A — pardon the phrase — garden variety civil suit for property damage.


  1. Washington County, Mississippi Territory, Superior Court Minutes A: 17 (1817); FHL microfilm 1752975.
  2. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 1219, “vi et armis.”
  3. Ibid., 508, “force and arms.”
  4. Ibid., 1228, “violence.”
  5. Ibid., 88, “arms.”
  6. Ibid., 503, “force.”
  7. Ibid., “force and fear.”
  8. Ibid., 1187, “trespass.”
  9. Ibid., 1188, “trespass vi et armis.”
  10. Ibid., 1128, “strong hand.”
Posted in Legal definitions | 2 Comments

NYG&B’s new Guide

New York is such an important location for genealogists.

It’s important for those who, like The Legal Genealogist, have immigrant ancestors who came through Ellis Island or Castle Garden to begin their new lives here in the 19th or 20th centuries.

And for those whose ancestors may have arrived with the very first settlers, who spoke Dutch.

And for all those whose ancestors came from the Empire State in between.

But the importance of a location to genealogy sometimes seems to be inversely related to the ease of doing genealogical research there.

BOOK(3)And New York is no exception. Think about the fact that — in stark contrast to the careful town records of New England — most parts of New York don’t have vital records dating back to colonial times; it didn’t even try to require recordation of vital statistics until 1847 and that effort was a failure.1

Think about the fact that, “in 1911, a horrendous fire swept through the Capitol, causing wholesale destruction to everything in its path. The flames roared wildly through both the State and Assembly libraries reducing them to ashes.”2 Among the losses: some of the official records of the early Dutch period.

Think about the fact that research in New York is just plain complicated. It was a Dutch colony, then an English colony, then a state with all kinds of levels of government from tiny villages to behemoths like New York City, and sometimes different laws and different court structures in different parts of the state.

Yes, New York research poses challenges. To the point where it is repeatedly called the “Black Hole” of northeast genealogy.3

And it is that characterization that the entire New York Genealogical and Biographical Society (NYG&B) would like you to reject. Harry Macy Jr., FAGS, FGBS, writing for the NYG&B, would argue that “New York was wonderful resources for the genealogist” and that an “amazing number of records have survived from the colonial period to the present.”4

It’s just, he explains, that New York’s wide array of sources “may differ from sources found in other states, and one had to learn what they are and how to use them effectively.”5

And that’s the rub, isn’t it? How do we learn what these resources are and how to use them effectively?

It used to be that there wasn’t much help available. The only formal guide to New York research — Laura Murphy DeGrazia’s excellent contribution to the National Genealogical Society’s Research in the States series — was geographically limited to Research in New York City, Long Island, and Westchester County,6 and that was pretty much it.

Until now.

Now, there’s a brand new New York Family History Research Guide and Gazetteer, hot off the presses from NYG&B — 856 pages of strong evidence in support of Macy’s position that New York has wonderful resources — and it will guide the researcher to those resources across the state and county by county.

Three years in the making, with contributions from more than 100 experts,7 the Guide begins with a timeline of New York history from 1609 to the Second World War, and then presents, in Part One, a Guide to Record Groups and Research Resources. The chapters:

• Colonial Records
• Vital Records
• Census Records
• Immigration, Migration, and Naturalization
• Court Records
• Probate Records
• Land Records and Maps
• Military Records
• Cemetery Records
• Business, Institutional, and Organizational Records
• City Directories and Other Directories
• Newspapers and Periodicals
• Tax Records
• Peoples of New York (ranging from African Americans to the Scots-Irish)
• Religious Records of New York

Part One then wraps up with chapters on National and Statewide Repositories & Resources and a Reference Shelf for New York Research.

Part Two is titled County Guides, including Gazetteers, and as good as the Part One is with its general chapters, it’s here in Part Two that the Guide really shines. Each of New York’s 62 counties is presented with information about its formation, parent and daughter counties, county seat, major land transactions, its towns, cities and villages — including what other counties those may have fallen into during history — and then a complete review of the possible records locations for that county and whether and where records can be found in:

• New York State Census Records
• National/Statewide Repositories & Resources
• Countywide Repositories & Resources
• Regional Repositories & Resources
• Local Repositories & Resources, and
• Selected Print & Online Resources

You can order your copy of the Guide through the NYG&B website here, and I’ll warn you: this isn’t an inexpensive book. For NYG&B members, it’s $65; for libraries, $75; and for non-NYG&B-members, $85, plus $10 shipping.

But for those of us with those Empire State connections, it’s worth every penny.

Highly recommended.


  1. FamilySearch Research Wiki (, “New York Vital Records,” rev. 30 Jan 2015.
  2. The Capitol Fire,” New York State Assembly ( : accessed 4 Feb 2015).
  3. See e.g. Gary Jones, “Genealogical Scope,” Gary’s Genealogy Junk ( : accessed 4 Feb 2015).
  4. Harry Macy, Jr., Preface, in New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, New York Family History Research Guide and Gazetteer (New York : NYG&B, 2014), ix.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Laura Murphy DeGrazia, CG, FGBS, Research in New York City, Long Island, and Westchester County, NGS Research in the States series (Arlington, Va. : NGS, 2013).
  7. A very tiny contribution from The Legal Genealogist among them, to the chapter on court records.
Posted in General, Resources | 16 Comments

Paid to “loyal” owners

It was February 1864. The war had dragged on for nearly three years. And both sides were desperately concerned about one irreplaceable resource: manpower.

Southern conscription laws, bitterly resisted by some Confederate states, had gone into effect in 1862 and expanded in 1863 and again in 1864.1

TownsendSandersIn the North, conscription really got underway with the enactment of the Enrollment Act of 18632 — the first truly national draft law and the one that sparked the draft riots in New York City in July 1863.3

And then came 1864. On the 24th of February, Congress passed a bill amending the 1863 Enrollment Act4 — and it had an extraordinary provision that created some extraordinary records.

First a little history. Remember that as far back as 1792, African Americans were not allowed to serve in the Army. The Militia Act of May 1792 provided for the states to organize militias consisting of “each and every free able-bodied white male citizen” between 18 and 45 years of age.5 That became the rule in Army: no African American soldiers (even though many did fight in both the Revolutionary War and War of 1812).6

But in the summer of 1862, Congress passed a law that for the first time authorized the President “to receive into the service of the United States … persons of African descent”7 and it freed any slave who served the Union who was owned by anyone actively serving the Confederacy.8 A separate statute freed any slave whose master was “engaged in rebellion against the … United States” or who gave “aid or comfort” to the rebellion and who escaped into or was found in Union-held territory.9

Then came that statute in February 1864. That’s the act that established the U.S. Colored Troops. It provided that “all able-bodied male colored persons, between the ages of twenty and forty-five years, resident in the United States, shall be enrolled according to the provisions of this act, … and form part of the national forces…”10

Now the records of the U.S. Colored Troops are records we should all know. But there was another set of records created because of that same section of the law. And at least a handful of records from that not-so-well-known group still exists today.

That section of the law went on to provide:

when a slave of a loyal master shall be drafted and mustered into the service of the United States, his master shall have a certificate thereof; and thereupon such slave shall be free; and the bounty of one hundred dollars, now payable by law for each drafted man, shall be paid to the person to whom such drafted person was owing service or labor at the time of his muster into the service of the United States. The Secretary of War shall appoint a commission in each of the slave States represented in Congress, charged to award to each loyal person to whom a colored volunteer may owe service a just compensation, not exceeding three hundred dollars, for each such colored volunteer, payable out of the fund derived from commutations, and every such colored volunteer on being mustered into the service shall be free. And in all cases where men of color have been heretofore enlisted or have volunteered in the military service of the United States, all the provisions of this act, so far as the payment of bounty and compensation are provided, shall be equally applicable as to those who may be hereafter recruited.11

Now think about that for a minute. And think about the kind of records that might require.

A claimant would have to show:

• he owned a slave;
• the slave was drafted into or volunteered for Union military service; and
• he himself was loyal during the War.

A trifecta for descendants of slaves and slaveowners alike: proof of the master-slave relationship, proof of service and proof of loyalty.

Now you know it would be too good to be true to have all of those records still existing today and readily available online. But at least a handful of individual records of claims by slaveowners are known to exist in the National Archives — and digital copies of many documents are available online.

The records come from Missourians and, for some reason, ended up being held in the records of the U.S. District Court for District of Kansas in Topeka. And for the lucky few who find their family members in those records, they are wonderful resources.

Just as one example, on 1 January 1867, Sanders Townsend of Cooper County, Missouri, filed a claim based on the enlistment of his slave Lewis into military service. To provide his ownership of Lewis, he filed the bill of sale from Uriah Bailey, dated 29 July 1823, and giving Lewis’ age at the time as about 15. That’s the document you see here.

The records are held in Record Group 21, Records of the District Courts of the United States, 1685 – 2009, and these particular documents are at the NARA regional facility in Kansas City. If you want to check them out, you can do a search at the National Archives’ website,, through the Online Public Access (OPA) catalog, and use the search term Slave Compensation Records. The digitized online records are right at the top.

And, by the way, the fact that these records are online doesn’t mean there aren’t other similar records somewhere else in the National Archives. Using slavery as a search term at OPA produces 355 online holdings, 275 collection descriptions and so much more. Just as one example of other compensation records you’ll find there — check out the records of the District of Columbia Board of Commissioners for the Emancipation of Slaves, 1862–1863, in Record Group 217, Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of the Treasury.

Sigh… so many records, so little time…


  1. See James Martin, “Civil War Conscription Laws,” In Custodia Legis, posted 15 Nov 2012 ( : accessed 3 Feb 2015).
  2. “An Act for enrolling and calling out the national Forces, and for other Purposes,” 12 Stat, 731 (3 March 1863).
  3. See “NY Draft Riots,” Virtual New York ( : accessed 3 Feb 2015).
  4. “An Act to amend an Act entitled ‘An Act for enrolling and calling out the National Forces, and for other Purposes,’ approved March third, eighteen hundred and sixty-three,” 13 Stat. 6 (24 February 1864).
  5. “An Act more effectually to provide for the National Defence by establishing a Uniform Militia throughout the United States,” 1 Stat. 271 (8 May 1792).
  6. See “The Fight for Equal Rights: Black Soldiers in the Civil War,” Teaching with Documents, ( : accessed 3 Feb 2015).
  7. §12, “An Act to amend the Act calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of Union, suppress Insurrections, and repel Invasions, approved February twenty-eight, seventeen hundred and ninety-five, and the Acts amendatory thereof, and for other Purposes,” 12 Stat. 597, 599 (17 July 1862).
  8. Ibid., §13.
  9. §9, “An Act to suppress Insurrection, to punish Treason and Rebellion, to seize and confiscate the Property of Rebels, and for other Purposes,” 12 Stat. 589, 591 (17 July 1862).
  10. §24, Act of 24 February 1864, 13 Stat. at 11.
  11. Ibid.
Posted in Resources, Statutes | 7 Comments

Registration is tomorrow for the first session!

So … you’re ready to fast-track your research and build your skills in 2015, right?

Then it’s time to put on your sneakers and pack a lunch. Because registration for the first week of 2015′s Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP) opens at noon eastern time tomorrow, Wednesday, February 4th — and classes are going to fill up fast.

GRIP is going into its fourth season at LaRoche College in Pittsburgh. And there’s a stellar line-up of courses, selected by co-directors Elissa Scalise Powell, CG, CGL, and Deborah Lichtner Deal, offering in-depth immersion for an entire week in a range of topics, one of which might be just what you’re looking for.

There are two sessions at GRIP in 2015, and tomorrow’s registration is only for the first week, June 28-July 3. Registration for the second week, July 19-24, opens in two weeks, on February 18th.

Here’s the course line-up for the first week of June 28th:

Writing Your Immigrant Families’ Stories: From Research to Publishing
John P. Colletta, Ph.D. and Michael Hait, CG

You’ve researched your lineage back to “the shores”: now what? It’s time to write your ancestors’ stories! Using immigrant ancestors as examples, this course will teach you
• how to discover the facts,
• narrate the stories,
• and publish an account of your ancestors.

Determining Kinship Reliably with the Genealogical Proof Standard
Thomas W. Jones, PhD., CG, CGL

Learn how to achieve genealogical proof by planning and executing focused research, citing the resulting sources, testing the evidence they contain, assembling evidence into a conclusion, and explaining it clearly. Jones has edited the National Genealogical Society Quarterly since 2002 where many proof arguments are published. The course scope and sequence follow the content of his book, Mastering Genealogical Proof.

Research in New York State: Resources and Strategies
Karen Mauer Jones, CG, FGBS (formerly Green)

Land of the “Big Apple” and rural farms, New York is historic in its place in immigration and migration, and ethnic and religious survival. Learn how to access records and discover your ancestors who lived in the Empire State.

Problem Solving with Church Records
Rev. Dr. David McDonald, CG

The nature of Christian communities and churches through the centuries suggests that there is overlap in theological perspectives and outlook, with important similarities across denominational boundaries, and yet some very distinct differences within particular sects or traditions. Accordingly, traditions will be considered on a stand-alone basis and also in comparison with and in contrast to other bodies.

Advanced Research Tools: Land Records
Richard G. Sayre, CG, CGL and Pamela Boyer Sayre, CG, CGL

Land genealogy is as important as people genealogy for overcoming family history research barriers. This course explores land distribution in the current United States by colonial powers, private land claims, federal land records at both the National Archives and the General Land Office, and local-level county or town deeds. Students will learn about the Public Land Survey System and the metes and bound system. Course content illustrates the use of land records to prove kinship. Use of software and Internet resources for finding land records, mapping, and deed platting is demonstrated.

Practical Genetic Genealogy
Debbie Parker Wayne, CG, CGL, CeCe Moore and Blaine Bettinger, Ph.D., J.D.

DNA test results can be confusing and their application to genealogy unclear. This course is designed to provide the in-depth knowledge needed by those who wish to analyze results and further research goals for themselves, their clients, or a surname project. These three recognized experts in the field of DNA analysis will provide opportunities for practical, hands-on experience in analysis and correlation of DNA test results utilizing the latest tools and techniques and will give recommendations for further research.

Here’s the course line-up for the week of July 19th:

Law School for Genealogists
Judy G. Russell, J.D., CG, CGL and Richard G. “Rick” Sayre, CG, CGL.

Understanding the laws that affected our ancestors is essential for kinship determination and successful research. This course explores laws concerning courts, estates, family law, immigration, legal research, military, and property laws. Judy Russell, aka “The Legal Genealogist,” has a blog by the same name in which she wittily explores timely issues and genealogical problems. Rick Sayre’s areas of expertise include federal records, military records, urban research methodology, technology and mapping tools for genealogists, immigration, the Ohio River Valley, and Western Pennsylvania.

Intermediate Genealogy: Tools for Digging Deeper
Paula Stuart-Warren, CG, FMGS, FUGA.

Stuart-Warren focuses on unusual resources, manuscripts, methodology, and analyzing records. She researches across the U.S. and brings her experience into the class room. She encourages students to bring their own family history problems for brainstorming and discussion. This gives a personal approach to the course which gives a solid foundation and fills in knowledge gaps.

Advanced Research Methods
Thomas W. Jones, PhD., CG, CGL

Participants will develop advanced genealogical research, analysis, correlation and compilation skills. Hands-on activities, using original records, will enhance this learning. Examples are drawn from American states and colonies and European countries. Before the course begins participants will complete two pre-course reading assignments. Four homework assignments, providing opportunities for advanced skill development, are optional.

Refresh, Rebuild and Recharge Your Genealogy Career
D. Joshua Taylor, MA, MLS.

The field of professional genealogy offers multiple opportunities to find career success. During the week we will examine the steps to building a career in professional genealogy, looking beyond client-based research to provide best practices for strategic planning, marketing, developing products, and related topics. Faculty includes those working in across various dynamics within the industry, including commercial entities, small-business owners, small-proprietors, non-profit and more. Sessions include lectures, workshops, discussions, and live interviews with working professionals. During the week each participant will draft a strategic plan to refresh, rebuild, and recharge his or her current (or developing) business. This course is designed for those considering a career in genealogy, as well as seasoned professionals looking for a “boost” in the current climate.

Pennsylvania: Research in the Keystone State
Sharon Cook MacInnes, Ph.D. and Michael D. Lacopo, D.V.M.

The course is designed for intermediate to advanced researchers who understand how the Genealogical Proof Standard forms the foundation for solid research but may not know much about Pennsylvania resources. The goal is to present a practical, in-depth, and fast-paced exploration of Pennsylvania record groups with a bit of fun and hands-on exercises.

Practical Genetic Genealogy
Debbie Parker Wayne, CG, CGL, Patti Hobbs, and Blaine Bettinger, Ph.D., J.D.

DNA test results can be confusing and their application to genealogy unclear. This course is designed to provide the in-depth knowledge needed by those who wish to analyze results and further research goals for themselves, their clients, or a surname project. These three recognized experts in the field of DNA analysis will provide opportunities for practical, hands-on experience in analysis and correlation of DNA test results utilizing the latest tools and techniques and will give recommendations for further research.

Because this line-up is so solid, class space is going to go fast. If you want in, you need to be ready to go when registration opens Wednesday at noon Eastern, 11 a.m. Central, 10 a.m. Mountain and 9 a.m. Pacific.

There are registration instructions on the website that you’re going to want to read through in advance so you can be ready to go when registration opens. But because a countdown timer has been installed on the registration page which will go automatically at the “zero hour” to the registration management system you won’t have to watch the clock, hit refresh, or otherwise fear that you will miss the “opening bell.”

Remember: tomorrow’s registration is only for the six courses to be offered in June. Registration for the six July courses will take place in two weeks, on February 18th.

Good luck getting into the course you want!

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Making the most of your 2015 DNA testing dollars

In 2012, The Legal Genealogist led off a Sunday DNA blog by asking “how do you get the most bang for the DNA buck?”1

That was followed up in 2013 with an update after prices tumbled for autosomal DNA tests,2 and in 2014 with an update after technological changes at 23andMe blew some of the recommendations out of the water.3

And — with price changes, feature changes, the advent of international sales, and changes in the way data may be treated at some companies — it’s time now for another update.4

We’re talking here about autosomal DNA tests. Autosomal DNA testing, remember, is the kind of test that works across genders to locate relatives — cousins — from all parts of your family tree.5 That’s in contrast to YDNA testing, which only men can do and which looks at the direct paternal line,6 or mitochondrial DNA testing, which looks at the direct maternal line.7 If you’re interested if YDNA or mtDNA testing, Family Tree DNA is the only game in town.

There are three major autosomal DNA tests you can take for genetic genealogy — from Family Tree DNA, from 23andMe, from Ancestry DNA — and even a fourth test from National Geographic called Geno 2.0 with a scientific (rather than genealogical) emphasis.

All of which I have taken. Admittedly, I’m a DNA junkie. I’ve never met a DNA test I wouldn’t take. There are real advantages to testing as widely as possible: you’re looking to find people who match you, and the key person who can help you break down your brick wall may have only tested with one company.

But since nobody is handing out DNA kits for free, the question remains… how do you get the most bang for the DNA buck? And the answer depends in part on what it is you want to find out through your DNA testing.

Every one of the genetic genealogy companies has its pros and its cons. A comparison chart explaining what features the companies do and don’t have is available in the Wiki for the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG). Prepared by Tim Janzen, a medical doctor with a deep understanding of autosomal DNA testing, the Autosomal DNA testing comparison chart provides a good overview.

Here’s my own take.

If you can only afford to test with one company (no change from 2014): If you’re serious about using DNA as a tool in your genealogy toolkit and you can only afford to test with one company, then the company to test with is Family Tree DNA. It has more to offer the genealogist than anybody else in terms of the number of serious genealogists who use it and the features and ease of use it offers. Contacting matches is easy and the amount of information provided about matches is the best in the business.

If your primary interest is in medical information (updated for 2015): If you really want to know about the medical secrets hidden in your DNA, and you live in Canada or the United Kingdom, you can now test with 23andMe.8 In the international market, the company is free of the constraints it’s been under since late 2013 in the United States.9 Here in the U.S., the dust-up with the federal Food and Drug Administration over the representations 23andMe was making about what autosomal results meant for health issues has brought those reports to a halt10 and consumers here have to use a third party utility to get health-related reports. So if this is what you want, and you live in Canada or the United Kingdom, test with 23andMe. (Note that international pricing is higher than U.S. pricing!) If you’re in the U.S., your best bet is to test with any company you prefer for genealogy, and then run your raw data though a reporting system like Promethease.

If your primary interest is in the admixture data (updated for 2015): If your primary interest is in the numbers — what percentage European or African you are, all three major consumer testing companies are providing updated reports, with varying degrees of success. 23andMe is generally regarded as doing the best job in estimating relatively recent origins (where your family lived 500-1,000 years ago),11 but remember that — no matter who you test with — the numbers are really good only at the continental level (European versus African, for example). At the country level (Irish versus German, for example), they’re just a guess.12 If you want to help everybody understand admixtures better for the future, and you can afford it, consider testing with National Geographic’s Geno 2.0. That’s where the real scientific work is being done and, if enough people test, maybe someday the information we all get about deep ancestry will be better as a result. It’s not cheap — $199 for the test, occasionally less if you catch a sale — and there’s not much useful genealogical information, so this is a commitment to science for tomorrow, not a test to do for genealogy today.

If the person you want to test is very old or very young (no change for 2015): Most of the time, how you test doesn’t matter. But if the person you want to test is older or younger, you may need to avoid a test that requires saliva, such as the tests from AncestryDNA and 23andMe. Older people sometimes can’t produce enough saliva to test and it’s impossible to tell a baby how to produce the kind of saliva needed. Family Tree DNA uses swabs rubbed on the inside of the cheek and that avoids this problem.

If you want to link your DNA results to your family tree (updated for 2015): The only company right now that links DNA results to your family tree and compares it to others’ family trees is AncestryDNA. Tests for new accounts created after October 2014 must include a subscription, costing $49 a year, to get access to matches’ family trees and the shaky-leaf hints when you have both a DNA match and a tree match, and — if you are a subscriber and have a public tree — it will try to group you and others who are also subscribers with public trees into what are called DNA Circles based on what it thinks are the likely common ancestors.13 When the tree information is right, it’s a wonderfully useful tool. It’s considerably less so when — as is common — the tree information is wrong, or your match doesn’t have a tree at Ancestry, or your match’s tree is private. There are no real analytical tools at AncestryDNA to compare DNA when there is no tree match — and no plans to add any. Note that 23andMe has just partnered up with MyHeritage,14 which does have a strong family tree system, but just how it’s going to work is anybody’s guess.

If you don’t want your data sold to Big Pharma (new for 2015): Many genealogists — because of our general interest in research — are perfectly happy to have their DNA data used for health- and medical-related research. But it’s important to know just who might be getting the data in order to do the research. It isn’t, say, the National Institutes of Health, with the benefits and findings from the research universally shared with all Americans. It’s the pharmaceutical industry, which will patent its findings and charge what the market will bear for any treatments or drugs that result. There’s nothing legally wrong with this — but it makes some of us uncomfortable. So understand what you’re agreeing to if you test. The terms of use at 23andMe allow it to sell the data of anyone who has consented to participate in research15 and, in fact, it has just entered into two agreements with major pharmaceutical companies to do just that.16 And it can share your data combined with that of all other 23andMe users even if you didn’t consent to research. Those who agree to participate in AncestryDNA’s research project agree to allow their genealogical, genetic, and health information to be used and shared with third-party researchers17 — which can include private companies like the pharmaceutical industry. Both companies will require additional specific consent to share your personal identifying information (name, address and the like). If you don’t want your data used this way, you should only test with Family Tree DNA. Its terms of use (from parent company Gene by Gene) provide that you will be individually asked for consent if it ever wants to share your genetic data with anyone.18

If you want to fish in all the ponds for the lowest price (updated for 2015): Of course, the best way to get all the matches you can possibly get it to test with all three major companies. These days, testing with all three is less expensive than it used to be to test with just one. But you can save yourself a little bit of money and get your results into all three databases this way:

Step 1. Test with AncestryDNA first. It’ll cost you $99 in the U.S. — maybe a little less if you catch a sale. (Remember: since late 2013, we haven’t been able to use 23andMe tests for this first step because its V4 testing chip isn’t compatible with the Family Tree DNA system.) Updated note: Remember that to see full matching data and the family trees of your matches, kits activated under accounts created after October 2014 have a $49 annual subscription fee. You don’t need to pay that to test and get your raw data, but do need to pay it to see everything AncestryDNA has to offer.

Step 2. The minute you get your results from AncestryDNA, transfer your raw data to Family Tree DNA. When I say “transfer,” that doesn’t end your matches at AncestryDNA, it just gets you into the Family Tree DNA system with all of its benefits. You can do this for free but remember that “no free lunch” bit: the information you get with a free transfer is very limited. So you have two ways to unlock the really useful data: get four other people to transfer in their data or just pony up $39 and unlock the information right away.

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

That puts you into all three pools for a total (assuming you have to pay full freight for everything) of $237 — less than what you used to pay for one such test in the past.


  1. Judy G. Russell, “More bang for DNA test bucks,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 6 May 2012 ( : accessed 31 Jan 2015).
  2. Ibid., “Update: More bang for DNA test bucks,” posted 28 July 2013.
  3. Ibid., “2014: Most bang for DNA bucks,” posted 6 April 2014.
  4. Actually, yesterday was the right time for the update, but that plan went off the rails with a combination of an obligation to teach a law school seminar, a computer glitch, a desperate need for a nap, and some minor football game…
  5. See generally Judy G. Russell, “Autosomal DNA testing,” National Genealogical Society Magazine, October-December 2011, 38-43.
  6. ISOGG Wiki (, “Y chromosome DNA test,” rev. 12 Jan 2015.
  7. ISOGG Wiki (, “Mitochondrial DNA,” rev. 4 Sep 2014).
  8. For Canada, see 23andMeMedia, “23andMe Announces New Service for Canada,” 23andMe Press Releases ( : accessed 1 Feb 2014). For the UK, see ibid., “23andMe Brings CE Marked Personal Genome Service® to the UK,” 2 Dec 2014.
  9. See Caroline Humer and Christina Farr, “After Canada, UK, 23andMe wants DNA test growth abroad,” Reuters, posted 15 Jan 2015 ( : accessed 1 Feb 2015).
  10. See Judy G. Russell, “23andMe suspends health tests,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 6 Dec 2013 ( : accessed 31 Jan 2015).
  11. ISOGG Wiki (, “Autosomal DNA testing comparison chart,” rev. 30 Jan 2015).
  12. See Judy G. Russell, “Admixture: not soup yet,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 18 May 2014 ( : accessed 31 Jan 2015).
  13. See generally Judy G. Russell, “Changes at AncestryDNA,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 20 Nov 2014 ( : accessed 31 Jan 2015).
  14. 23andMeMedia, “23andMe and MyHeritage Announce Strategic Collaboration and Product Integration,” 20 Oct 2014, 23andMe Press Releases ( : accessed 1 Feb 2015).
  15. 23andMe, Full Privacy Statement, updated 13 Nov 2014 ( : accessed 31 Jan 2015).
  16. See 23andMeMedia, “23andMe Announces Collaboration with Pfizer Inc. to Conduct Genetic Research Through 23andMe’s Research Platform,” 12 Jan 2015, and “23andMe and Genentech to Analyze Genomic Data for Parkinson’s Disease,” 6 Jan 2015, 23andMe Press Releases ( : accessed 1 Feb 2015).
  17. AncestryDNA, AncestryDNA Informed Consent, undated ( : accessed 31 Jan 2015).
  18. Family Tree DNA, “Privacy Document – Gene by Gene, Ltd.,” Legal Issues – Privacy Policy and Terms of Service, undated ( : accessed 31 Jan 2015).
Posted in DNA | 58 Comments

Bitter realities

Six times.

NuckelsSix times in fifteen years.

On the 28th of January 1892.

On the 22nd of August 1893.

On the 5th of March 1896.

On the 26th of February 1898.

On the 12th of December 1904.

And, 107 years ago yesterday, on the 30th of January 1907.

Those six times in those 15 years, Carsten Hinrich Wilhelm Nuckel and his wife Juliane Margarethe (Smidt) Nuckel — The Legal Genealogist‘s great grandparents — went to the cemetery together.

The losses are staggering — the mortality rate simply unimaginable to 21st century minds.

The Nuckels were both from Bremen, Germany,1 and married there around 1888. They had six children that I’m absolutely sure of:

• Son Carsten Hinrich Wilhelm (I), born in March 1889. He was two years and nine months old when he died 24 January 1892. He was buried 28 January 1892 at Reichsburg Cemetery in Bremen.2

• Daughter Marie Margarethe, born 9 February 1891, my grandmother.3

• Son Carsten Hinrich Wilhelm (II), born 1 July 1892. He was one year and 20 days old when he died 19 August 1893. He was buried 22 August 1893 at Bunthenthor Cemetery.4

• Daughter Henrietta Johanna, born around 14 September 1895. She was five months and 16 days old when she died 1 March 1896. She was buried 5 March 1896 at Bunthenthor Cemetery.5

• Johann Friedrich Wilhelm, born around 10 May 1897. He was 11 months and 12 days old when he died 22 April 1898. He was buried 26 April 1898 at Walle Cemetery.6

• A daughter, stillborn on 10 December 1904, and buried 12 December 1904 at Walle Cemetery.7

There were three more than I’m fairly sure of — daughters Adelheid and Gretel and son Gerd — but German privacy laws have thus far stumped me in figuring out how to obtain documentary proof of those three, so getting their full names and birthdates is still on the “to-do” list.

They’re the survivors you see in the photograph here. Adelheid married Heinrich Thoms and had a daughter Henni; Gretel married Amko Lauterbach and had a daughter Erna; Gerd married Sophie and had children Wilma and Friedel.8

So the first trip my great grandparents made to the cemetery was to bury their first-born in 1892.

The second was to bury his namesake, their second born son, in 1893.

The third, to bury Henrietta in 1896.

The fourth, to bury their next son Johann Friedrich in 1898.

The fifth, to bury their stillborn daughter in 1904.

And the sixth… oh, the sixth… that last and final trip together to the cemetery in 1907.

That one was different.

Not because of the kind of burial. It was a fourth class burial — with the hearse drawn by two horses draped with black, eight black-clad attendants wearing triangular hats, the coffin draped in black,9 but some of those earlier burials had been fourth class as well.

Not because of where it was — Buntenthor was one of the cemeteries used by the family before.

But because, on that cold day in January 1907, my great grandparents did not come home together.

That was the day when Carsten Hinrich Wilhelm Nuckel came home from the cemetery alone.

Leaving behind Juliane Margarethe (Smidt) Nuckel, aged 42, mother of as many as nine children and probably four surviving, in her own grave at Bunthenthor Cemetery.10

The losses are staggering — the mortality rate simply unimaginable to 21st century minds.

And the only comfort that can be offered by this American descendant to her Bremen ancestors is the knowledge that, after the family arrived in America, there have been no more losses of this kind.

We have never buried a child.

We have never buried an adult in her prime.

We are so very fortunate.

And your experience teaches us to treasure every minute of our good fortune.


  1. For Carsten, see Bremen Standesamt, Zivilstandsregister 1811-1875 (Bremen city registry office, civil status registers 1811-1875), Geburten (births) 1860, Reg. Nr. 1931 (13 Nov 1860), p. 973; FHL microfilm 1344170, Family History Library, Salt Lake City. For Juliane, see ibid., Geburten 1864, Reg. Nr. 2367 (15 Nov 1864), p.1177; FHL Film 1344173.
  2. “Die Leichenbücher der Stadtgemeinde Bremen von 1875 – 1939” (The Funerary Records of the City of Bremen, 1875-1939), book 1892, page 59; online database, Die Maus – Family History and Genealogical Society of Bremen ( : accessed 30 Jan 2015).
  3. Bremen birth certificate, attached to visa application, Form 255, 4 December 1924, Marie Geissler; photocopy received 2004 via FOIA request by Judy G. Russell from U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (now U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services).
  4. Bremen Funerary Records, book 1893, page 451.
  5. Ibid., book 1896, page 117.
  6. Ibid., book 1898, page 234.
  7. Ibid., book 1904, page 871.
  8. The names and marriage information were written on the back of the photograph you see here. The annotation is in my father’s handwriting; the caption heading is “Mom’s Folks Bremen 1932.” If you’re a descendant of one of them, please contact me!
  9. “Die Leichenbücher der Stadtgemeinde Bremen von 1875 – 1939: Vierte Klasse” (The Funerary Records of the City of Bremen, 1875-1939: Fourth Class), Die Maus – Family History and Genealogical Society of Bremen ( : accessed 30 Jan 2015).
  10. Bremen Funerary Records, book 1907, page 99.
Posted in My family | 31 Comments

Underutilized resources

It is a supreme irony that genealogists in general assume that they could never find anything useful for their family history in the records of one particular court.

The Supreme Court of the United States.

StevensonAnd it’s ironic for two reasons:

• Because of the requirement in the U.S. Constitution that federal courts can only hear cases and controversies1 — meaning real disputes that affect real people, there is always a back-story to a Supreme Court case. It’s always going to matter, deeply, to the individual people and families involved.

• Because it’s the highest court in the United States, the decisions of the Supreme Court widely affect people’s lives and may very well help explain why an ancestor did what the ancestor did when the ancestor did it.

Consider, for example, the case of Stevenson’s Heirs v. Sullivant, decided by the High Court in 1820.2 It’s a case about bounty land, issued for Revolutionary War service, and the legal issues the Court had to confront dealt with the rights of the soldier’s children to the land granted for their father’s service.

Here are the facts, as given by the Court:

Previous to the year 1775, Hugh Stephenson, of Virginia, lived and cohabited with Ann Whaley, and had by her the appellants in this cause, whom he recognized as his children. In July, 1775, he made his will, in which he described the appellants as the children of himself, and of his wife Ann, and devised the whole of his property to them, and to their mother. In July, 1776, he intermarried with the said Ann Whaley, and died the succeeding month, leaving her pregnant with a child, which was afterwards born, and was named Richard. The will was duly proved after the death of the testator. In June, 1776, the testator was appointed a colonel in the Virginia line, upon continental establishment, and died in the service. After his death, and the birth of Richard, a warrant for 6,666 and two thirds acres of military lands, was granted by the State of Virginia to the said Richard, who died in the year 1796, in his minority, without wife or children, and without having located or disposed of the above warrant. His mother also died before the year 1796. The defendant claimed the land in controversy under John Stephenson, the elder paternal uncle of Richard; and the appellants having filed their bill in the Court below to recover the premises in question, the same was dismissed, and the cause was brought by appeal to this Court.3

So let’s see what family-related facts we learned from just this one paragraph:

• Hugh Stephenson and Ann Whaley lived together and had a bunch of kids before July 1775.

• Hugh and Ann didn’t marry until July 1776.

• Hugh died in the Revolutionary War in August 1776.

• When Hugh died, Ann was pregnant with a son who was born after his father’s death and was named Richard.

• Ann died before 1796.

• Richard died in 1796, without leaving a wife or child, and was still a minor when he died.

• Hugh had a brother named John.

There’s a lot more, of course. We know that at least some of the children Hugh and Ann had before 1775 were still alive in 1820, taking their fight for the bounty land all the way to the Supreme Court. We know that Hugh left a will naming the children (William, John, Magnus, Hugh, Nancy and Betty4) that was “duly proved” after his death.5 We know that the land, and the land fight, was in Ohio.6 We know that John Stephenson, Hugh’s brother, had disposed of his interest in the land to the respondent in the case, Sullivant.

All from one paragraph of the decision.

Clearly, anyone with any ties to the Stevenson family, or to the Sullivant family, wants to know about Stevenson’s Heirs v. Sullivant.

But there’s much more to this case that might affect so many other families.

What the Court was dealing with was inheritance rights of illegitimate children. Though it focused on Virginia law, the principles it reviewed were of general application at the time. And as to that, the Court said that “it is never to be lost sight of, that the appellants are to be considered as bastards, liable to all the disabilities to which the common law subjects them, as such, except those from which the (law) itself exempts them.”7

It discussed the fact that Virginia law at the time of the Revolution allowed an illegitimate child to inherit from the mother, but added that although illegitimate children may inherit from their mother, “they are, nevertheless, in all (other respects) bastards, and as such, they have, and can have neither father, brothers, or sisters. They cannot, therefore, inherit from Richard Stephenson, because, in contemplation of law, he is not their brother…”8

Think maybe that might have affected family dynamics in a few situations? Caused a falling out among older and younger children, perhaps? Driven an illegitimate child to enmity with legitimate siblings? Driven that illegitimate child to strike out on his own?

Now maybe nobody in your family ever had an illegitimate child and maybe you don’t descend from one. In that case, maybe you don’t need to think about this case when you’re trying to understand the reasons behind some of your ancestors’ actions.

For the rest of us — and for The Legal Genealogist in particular9 — it would be a supreme irony not to consider how a decision like this might have affected what our ancestors did, when they did it — and why.


  1. United States Constitution, Article III, §2.
  2. Stevenson’s Heirs v. Sullivant, 18 U.S. 207 (1820).
  3. Ibid., 18 U.S. at 207-208.
  4. See Ross B. Johnston, West Virginians in the American Revolution (Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publ. Co., 1977), 273.
  5. Stevenson’s Heirs v. Sullivant, 18 U.S. at 208.
  6. Ibid. at 207.
  7. Ibid. at 260.
  8. Ibid. at 261.
  9. I have at least two illegitimacies in just three generations in one of my lines…
Posted in Court Cases, Resources | 4 Comments

Copyright guide from US Copyright Office

It is 1,288 pages long.

Pages from 2014compendiumIt has very few graphics or illustrations.

Some of it is in fairly technical language.

On the downloadable version, the internal links don’t work but rather take you back to the online version.

Yet with all those problems, anyone who writes or takes photographs or in any way creates copyrightable materials must have a copy of it.

And even anyone who uses writings or photographs or other copyrightable materials would be well-advised to grab a copy as well.

It’s the third edition of the Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices,1 and you can read it online here or download it in a PDF file format here.

Released after public comment and input in December 2014, this third edition does in updated detail what its 1967-73 and 1984 predecessors were also designed to do:

The Compendium documents and explains the many technical requirements, regulations, and legal interpretations of the U.S. Copyright Office with a primary focus on the registration of copyright claims, documentation of copyright ownership, and recordation of copyright documents, including assignments and licenses. It describes the wide range of services that the Office provides for searching, accessing, and retrieving information located in its extensive collection of copyright records and the associated fees for these services. The Compendium provides guidance regarding the contents and scope of particular registrations and records. And it seeks to educate applicants about a number of common mistakes, such as providing incorrect, ambiguous, or insufficient information, or making overbroad claims of authorship.2

Among those common mistakes people make about copyright that are fully discussed in the new version are issues focusing on what can and can’t be copyrighted. Just as one example, you may recall the brouhaha some months ago about the photograph of a female Celebes crested macaque that was taken — by the monkey.

Seems the photographer had traveled to Indonesia, set up his equipment to take pictures automatically, and then watched as one of the macaques actually hit the button to take a picture. Intrigued by the sound, the macaque continued to press the button and took hundreds of pictures.3

Macaque selfies.

The photographer argued that that the images wouldn’t exist if he hadn’t set up the equipment, and that he did all the post-processing of the images to make them useable, so he was entitled to copyright protection. Wikimedia Commons took the position that any image created by an animal is in the public domain.4

At that time, in August 2014, because the Compendium was in the revision process, we weren’t sure what the Copyright Office might say about animal selfies.5 The prior version of the Compendium had said that “for a work to be copyrightable, it must owe its origin to a human being. Materials produced solely by nature, by plants, or by animals are not copyrightable.”6

The new Compendium has come down squarely on the side of Wikimedia and has made it even clearer, giving as a specific example of a work that can’t be copyrighted: “A photograph taken by a monkey.”7

Other sections of this massive guide talk about how much originality has to be shown to register a copyright in a work,8 who’s entitled to claim authorship or be named as the claimant for a copyright,9 copyright issues for websites,10 and more.

You can find a history of the Copyright Office and an explanation of the way it’s organized,11 and even a timeline of important historical dates in copyright law.12

Of course there are limits to what this document covers, two of them clearly stated by the Compendium itself:

• When the Compendium and the law conflict, the law governs. “The Compendium does not override any existing statute or regulation. The policies and practices set forth in the Compendium do not in themselves have the force and effect of law and are not binding upon the Register of Copyrights or U.S. Copyright Office staff. However, the Compendium does explain the legal rationale and determinations of the U.S. Copyright Office, where applicable, including circumstances where there is no controlling judicial authority.”13

• The Office may do something other than what the manual says. “The Compendium does not cover every principle of copyright law or detail every aspect of the Office’s administrative practices. The Office may, in exceptional circumstances, depart from its normal practices to ensure an outcome that is most appropriate.”14

But even with those limitations, it’s a document we should all have, and read through, and consult, when we’re trying to understand copyright issues under American law.

And, of course, as an official publication of the United States Government, the Compendium itself is not copyrighted.15


  1. U.S. Copyright Office, Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices, Third Edition (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Copyright Office, 2014).
  2. Ibid., “What the Compendium Covers,” at 1-2.
  3. See generally Ashley Feinberg, “Wikimedia Won’t Take Down This Photo Because a Monkey Took It,” Gizmodo, posted 6 Aug 2014 ( : accessed 7 Aug 2014).
  4. Ibid.
  5. See Judy G. Russell, “link to blog post“>Copyright curiosities,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 7 Aug 2014( : accessed 28 Jan 2015).
  6. U.S. Copyright Office, Compendium II of Copyright Office Practices, §202.02(b); html version, reproduced from an OCR scan of the compendium ( : accessed 7 Aug 2014).
  7. U.S. Copyright Office, Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices §313.2 (3d ed. 2014). Note that this citation format is the one recommended by the Copyright Office itself. Ibid., “Citing to the Compendium,” at 1.
  8. Ibid., §308.
  9. Ibid., Chapter 400.
  10. Ibid., Chapter 1000.
  11. Ibid., §101.
  12. Ibid., §102.7.
  13. Ibid., “Standard of Deference for the Compendium,” at 2.
  14. Ibid., “What the Compendium Covers,” at 2.
  15. See 17 U.S.C. §105.
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