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Family history is more than begats

Yesterday’s post about a resource on military legal history prompted friend and genealogical colleague Gordon Remington to offer his own reminder of another tome that genealogists will find useful.

It’s one The Legal Genealogist has mentioned before… and it’s always worth mentioning again because … well… it’s just too much fun.

It’s a little book called The Complete English Lawyer; Or, Every Man his own Lawyer : Containing a Summary of the Constitution of England; Its Laws and Statutes.1 The version I have is the fourth edition, published in 1820, and … well… have I mentioned yet that some of this stuff is just too much fun?

Now my own forays through the pages of this book always have me focusing on things like Gifford’s comment in the introduction that “part of the unwritten, or common law of England, are particular customs, or laws which affect only the inhabitants of particular districts.”2

Particular customs like gavelkind and borough-english.

Gavelkind was the particular custom throughout the County of Kent by which lands descended to all of the sons in equal measure.3 And borough-english was “the custom prevails in divers ancient boroughs, … that the youngest son shall inherit the estate in preference to all his elder brothers.”4

What else could you expect from a law geek?5

Gordon, on the other hand, went so far as to extract a family history from the covers of a copy of an even earlier version the book that he’d been given from the estate of his grandfather, a New York attorney. As Gordon notes, both his grandfather, John Warner Remington I of Rochester, New York, and great grandfather Harvey Foote Remington, were attorneys.

You can see an image of that extracted history with this blog post — Gordon published it in the New York Genealogical & Biographical Record 126 (1994):104 — but to me the best part is the record not of the history of the family but rather the history of the book:

• Henry Mott Junr 1761

• Garret Burtis 1780

• G Burtis 18246

What a treasure, isn’t it?

We tend to think of genealogy as the begats, and they are of course recorded on those covers of that book.

But family history is so much more!

Like the record of the ownership of that book.

Carefully recorded, through the hands of three different 18th and 19th century men, on the covers of a little law book.

And I’ll bet every one of us has a treasure like that tucked somewhere in our own personal libraries.

Are we noticing?

Recording those details?

We should be…


  1. John Gifford, Esq., The Complete English Lawyer; Or, Every Man his own Lawyer : Containing a Summary of the Constitution of England; Its Laws and Statutes, 4th ed. (London : A. Whellier, 1820); CD-ROM reprint (Columbia, Md. : Archives CD Books USA, 2002).
  2. Ibid., “Introduction. Of the Laws of England,” 6.
  3. Ibid. See also Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 533, “gavelkind”.
  4. Gifford, The Complete English Lawyer, 6. See also Black, A Dictionary of Law, 148, “borough english.”
  5. See Judy G. Russell, “Gavelkind and borough-english,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 6 July 2012 ( : accessed 22 Mar 2017).
  6. Gordon Remington, “A Burtis Family Record,” New York Genealogical & Biographical Record 126 (1994):104.
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