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Atop the all-time leaderboard

The Legal Genealogist is wrapping up the fourth year of blogging here as December winds to a close, and in that time has written more than 1,300 posts that have been viewed, in the aggregate, more than two million times.


Some of them have been whimsical.1

Some have been somber.2

Some have been expressions of outrage.3

Some have been calls to action.4

Some have been public service announcements.5

Some have been poignant.6

And some have been just plain fun.7

But if anybody had any remaining doubts about what the hot topics are in genealogy? Well, let’s just say that DNA and copyright blew everything else away in terms of reader interest — and that doesn’t even count the posts I’m setting aside because their info is — or is about to be — just too dated to have continuing value.8

And I’m not including my own choices here — they might have been a little different… but that’s a post for another day.

So… what’s at the top of the all-time leaderboard here at The Legal Genealogist?

Let’s do the last Top 10 countdown of 2015:

At Number 10 in the all-time list:

Facts matter! (3 May 2015): “In genealogy, we get this point: facts matter. In genealogy, the point shouldn’t have to be repeated: facts matter. And in genetic genealogy, the point really shouldn’t have to be repeated: facts matter. Particularly when the ‘fact’ being bandied about is one that might cause some of our cousins to stop dead in their tracks and perhaps even refuse to consider being DNA-tested for genetic genealogy.”

At Number 9:

Opting out (26 July 2015): “The announcement came in just about a week ago, that AncestryDNA had finally begun to do what The Legal Genealogist and many others have long expected it would do: monetize its huge and fast-growing DNA database.”

At Number 8:

SSDI access now limited (30 December 2013): “Yes, the budget bill was signed into law. No, there wasn’t any Christmas miracle. Yes, the language that eliminates public access to the Social Security Death Master File — also known as the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) — for three calendar years after an individual’s death was in the budget bill when it was signed. No, nobody crossed out the language exempting the SSDI information from the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).”

At Number 7:

Ordering the SS-5 (31 May 2013): “Reader Janet Buchanan is helping a friend, now in her 80s, with a major conundrum: wading through too many names for her paternal grandparents. The friend’s father had one sibling and ‘between the two of them on the birth, death and marriage certificates there are many different sets of names,’ Janet wrote. ‘So, we want to send away for their Social Security applications to see what names they have listed there.’ The father died in 1958, the aunt in 1981. And what Janet and her friend want most to know is exactly what to order from the Social Security Administration, how to order it — and ‘whether we will spend the money and get nothing.’”

At Number 6:

DNA and the locks of hair (3 June 2012): “It’s absolutely possible to get DNA from a sample of hair. Scientists have used hair from ancient and aboriginal remains and even from a woolly mammoth to obtain DNA for testing. But that doesn’t mean you should go ahead and test that lock of hair from your great-great grandmother, because hair poses some problems in terms of what DNA you can get.”

At Number 5:

Copyright & the newspaper article (19 March 2012): “Reader Aija Rahman has a collection of newspaper articles she’s put together. She wants to compile them into book form for her family and has copyright questions. … I want to introduce you to Peter B. Hirtle. He’s an archivist and digital information expert at Cornell University. And he’s put a ton of information about all the possible time frames for materials either being under copyright or passing into the public domain together in chart form…”

At Number 4:

A DNA test not to bother with (1 April 2012): “(I)f you’ve been tempted to stick your toes into the water of DNA testing with a new service called ConnectMyDNA (, offering something called Gene Circles, save your money. … (F)rom the standpoint of genealogy, this service is about as handy as a handle on a duck’s rear end.”

At Number 3:

Cemetery photos: permission required? (17 October): “Reader Timothy Campbell in Elmira, Ontario, Canada, and a cousin of his in Grand Rapids, Michigan, have encountered some problems in taking gravestone photographs. ‘As an active genealogist I have taken part in transcribing and photographing headstones in cemeteries,’ Tim writes. ‘I was recently told that I could not photograph headstones in our municipal cemetery without permission from the municipality. … The same scenario happened to my cousin in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in May. … What law does this fall under?’ The answer to this question is really basic, but it’s one that just about every genealogist — including The Legal Genealogist — tends to forget. It’s the law of property rights.”

At Number 2:

Copyright and the old family photo (6 March 2012): “The photograph you see … here is of my grandmother, Opal (Robertson) Cottrell. Isn’t she adorable? Offhand, I’d say she might be all of two years old in this image, so it was probably taken around 1900. … 2012 minus 1900… that photo was taken 112 years ago. I own this copy of the photo. The person depicted in it is my grandmother. Nothing to worry about in using this photo, is there?”

And the Number One all-time post, still relevant today:

Gedmatch: a DNA geek’s dream site (12 August 2012): “(L)et me introduce you to a wonderful website:, with tools for genetic genealogy research that carry a whopping big price tag of exactly zero. That’s not a typo. The site is free, though donations are gratefully accepted and anybody who uses the site really should kick in — it isn’t cheap to provide the kind of computing power Gedmatch provides.”

On to 2016…


  1. Judy G. Russell, “Big thanks, followed by no thanks,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 8 Mar 2012 ( : accessed 20 Dec 2015).
  2. Ibid., “Memorial Day thanks,” posted 28 May 2012.
  3. Ibid., “We paid in blood,” posted 29 Apr 2012.
  4. Ibid., “SSDI Call to Action!” posted 29 Jan 2012.
  5. Ibid., “Facebook follies,” posted 18 Dec 2015.
  6. Ibid., “End of an era,” posted 31 Mar 2012.
  7. Ibid., “Oh George… you stinker!,” posted 9 June 2012.
  8. Top all-time posts excluded because of they’re just not relevant any more are, in order of popularity, 2014: Most bang for DNA bucks; 2015: Most bang for the DNA buck; Update: More bang for DNA test bucks; NY and MD limits on 23andMe; More bang for DNA test bucks; SSDI Call to Action!; and News from the SSDI front.
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