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Celebrating the law

Happy First of May!

You know what that means? It’s Law Day here in the United States!1

Law Day as a day to celebrate the rule of law and its role in creating and protecting American freedoms was first recognized in 1958 with a proclamation by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.2

In 1961, a joint resolution of Congress called for an annual proclamation of Law Day,3 and each year the American Bar Association chooses a different theme. For 2013, it’s Realizing the Dream: Equality for All.4

Obviously the best holiday of the year from the standpoint of The Legal Genealogist. And one that should be right there at the top of the list for every genealogist.

Because the tools of our trade — the bits and pieces and clues we gather to try to tell the stories of our ancestors’ lives — the very records without which genealogy would be essentially impossible — exist because of the law.

Let’s take the theme of this year’s Law Day and consider, just for a moment, the records we have of our ancestors who were both slaves and slaveholders that exist only because of the law:

     • African repatriation records
     • Apprenticeships of freed children
     • Bills of sale
     • Civil rights case records
     • Deeds of gift
     • Dower slave records
     • Emancipation compensation records
     • Estate records and inventories
     • Execution warrants
     • Freedmen’s marriage registers
     • Fugitive Slave Act case records
     • Legislative petitions for and against slavery
     • Manumissions
     • Private laws to free slaves
     • Slave census records
     • Slave importation records
     • United States Colored Troops
     • Wills

And that list doesn’t even include the big three: the records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (Freedmen’s Bureau); the Commissioners of Claims (Southern Claims Commission); and the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company.

I can’t imagine doing family history research without the records required by law. It’d be a nightmare, assuming it was possible at all.

So, once again, let’s hear it for Law Day. For a genealogist, it’s the best holiday there is.


  1. See 36 U.S.C. §113.
  2. Proclamation No. 3221, 3 C.F.R. 143 (1958).
  3. See 75 Stat. 43.
  4. American Bar Association, “Law Day 2013” ( : accessed 30 Apr 2013).
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