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Extreme Genes Episode 162

Every so often, a fellow genealogist will share with The Legal Genealogist a riveting story of family history — usually with a question attached.

And it’s almost always the same question: can the law explain what in the world is going on here?

extreme-genesIt was no different just a few days ago when, in Salt Lake City, I had the chance to sit with Scott Fisher of Extreme Genes and talk about a riveting story of his family history: his great grandfather’s 1874 divorce in New York, which “proved” his wife’s adultery.

Scott and I first explored the facts as shown by the court record of his great grandfather’s divorce. Then we talked about what the law might be that was behind the record, and how the laws of New York would have impacted his family members.1

You see, there was one, and only one, ground for divorce in New York when that statute became law. Starting with the passage of the very first divorce law in the Empire State in 1787,2 and continuing all the way up to an amendment of the law in 1966, effective 1967,3 the single basis for granting a divorce was adultery.

It wasn’t until 1967 that New York finally permitted divorce on grounds of cruel and inhumane treatment, abandonment for more than two years, imprisonment for more than three years, and after a legal separation of more than two years.4

So, yes, the laws of New York undoubtedly played a big role in the story of Scott’s family — and the laws of divorce played a huge role in the stories of so many American families over the years.

Come listen in — the segment starts at 10:38 of the broadcast — and hear about divorce in the 19th century in various parts of the country, and what it took to get a divorce in those times. And about the states and territories that were very much in the business of divorce and how they worked.

It’s just one segment of this entertaining podcast, which also includes David Allen Lambert, Chief Genealogist of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and, discussing how DNA has tied the 300-year-old remains of a baby boy to his well known father, and Tom Perry from talking about preserving audio cassette tapes.


  1. Episode 162,” Extreme Genes ( : accessed 24 Oct 2016).
  2. Law of March 30, 1787, chapter 69, 1787 N.Y. Laws 494.
  3. Law of 27 April 1966, chap. 254, 1966 N.Y. Laws 833, effective 1 September 1967.
  4. Law of 27 April 1966, chap. 254, 1966 N.Y. Laws 833, effective 1 September 1967.
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