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Atop the all-time leaderboard

The Legal Genealogist is wrapping up the fifth year of blogging here as December winds to a close, and in that time has written nearly 1,700 posts that have been viewed, in the aggregate, more than six million times.


Some of them have been whimsical.1

Some have been painful.2

Some have been furious.3

Some have been calls to the genealogical community for action.4

Some have practically broken my heart.5

And some have been just plain fun.6

These are all among my own favorites from the blog — but readers’ choices? Well, they tell a different story about the hot topics in genealogy.

And if anybody had any doubts about what those hot topics are… well, let’s just say that DNA and copyright still blow 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.7

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 2016 (updated and corrected! — thanks, Norm!):

At Number 10 in the all-time list:

Those percentages, if you must (14 August 2016): “It just doesn’t seem to matter. No matter how many times The Legal Genealogist says that the ethnicity estimates part of autosomal DNA tests are not a whole lot more than cocktail party conversation,1 that’s what so many people keep coming back to … Folks, really. Really. Really. You can’t rely on DNA tests to give you exact percentages of your ethnic origins beyond the continental level (European, versus African, versus Asian).”

At Number 9:

No, actually, we’re not related (20 October 1016): “The Legal Genealogist refused to trade her lederhosen for a kilt just because the AncestryDNA ethnicity estimates might have said so. And I refuse to add cousins to my family tree — even cousins I might like to be able to add — just because of some app from Ancestry either.”

At Number 8:

No right to sharing (18 February 2016): “Reader Ruth is offended when people post things on the internet and don’t make it easy for others to use them. … some people claim ‘ownership’ of photos of documents– they either claim the photo is copyrighted, or they somehow superimpose something over the photo that shows they ‘own’ it… She explained that: ‘in part anyway, I just don’t understand the POINT of it. I frequently make trips to the branch of the National Archives near me, and I take photographs of documents for people who are hoping to find information about their ancestry, ALL THE TIME– and when I send them the photos, I don’t write my name across it and ruin the photo for them, nor do I claim to ‘own’ the photograph or try to copyright it.’ The Legal Genealogist understands this viewpoint… but doesn’t entirely share it.”

At Number 7:

Ordering the SS-5 (31 May 2013): “Getting a copy of this (SS-5) form (from the Social Security Administration) is almost always worth it. The information on the SS-5 form was usually provided by the applicant, and so is often the best source of information about what the applicant knew about his or her own birth and parentage.”

At Number 6:

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 5:

Admixture: not soup yet (18 May 2014): “We have to keep in mind what these admixture tests do: they take the DNA of living people — us, the test takers — and they compare it to the DNA of other living people — people whose parents and grandparents and, sometimes, even great grandparents all come from one geographic area. Then they try to extrapolate backwards into time. Nobody is out there running around, digging up 500- or 1,000-year-old bones, extracting DNA for us to compare our own DNA to.”

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 2012): “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 2017…


  1. Judy G. Russell, “Big thanks, followed by no thanks,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 8 Mar 2012 ( : accessed 20 Dec 2015).
  2. Ibid., “Another kind of thankfulness,” posted 24 Nov 2016.
  3. Ibid., “We paid in blood,” posted 29 Apr 2012.
  4. LVA needs our help,” posted 18 Oct 2016.
  5. Ibid., “End of an era,” posted 31 Mar 2012.
  6. Ibid., “Oh George… you stinker!,” posted 9 June 2012.
  7. 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. And yes, there will be a 2017 review of the DNA tests… Really.
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