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Atop the all-time leaderboard

The Legal Genealogist is wrapping up a seventh year of blogging here as December winds to a close, and in that time has written nearly 2,300 posts that have been viewed, in the aggregate, roughly 15 million times by roughly two million people who’ve left more than 25,000 public comments.

We won’t even mention the 154,000 spammers…

2018 top posts ever

Some of the posts on this blog over those years 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 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 2018:

At Number 10 in the all-time list:

Understanding the Y match (26 January 2014): “With all the attention paid to autosomal DNA testing these days — with good reason, since it’s the newest, most complicated, most difficult (and most fun!) DNA test to work with — we sometimes forget that there are other, older, somewhat simpler DNA tests out there that can sometimes answer our questions. And then again maybe not. Today’s reader question is one of those maybe-not situations.”

At Number 9:

Admixture: not soup yet (18 May 2014): “The Legal Genealogist wants everyone who’s ever taken a DNA test that provides a set of ethnicity or admixture estimate percentages to repeat after me: “It’s not soup yet.” And it may never be.”

At Number 8:

DNA: life after death (30 June 2013): “DNA testing was something that could always be done. Down the road. Someday. When there was time. And then, suddenly, there was no more time.”

At Number 7:

Great versus grand (25 February 2015): “The son of The Legal Genealogist’s niece is a little boy named Jack. He is my brother’s first grandson, the light of all of their lives, and a total charmer whom I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time this week, just in time for his first birthday. Which goes a long way towards explaining the dearth of blog posts lately. But his very existence creates a question… Is he my great nephew (or great-nephew) or my grand nephew (or grandnephew)? Answer: (Drum roll please…) Yes.

At Number 6:

DNA testing for adoptees: 2017 (8 January 2017): “There isn’t a week that goes by that the question doesn’t come in to The Legal Genealogist. “I am adopted,” the question begins. Or, perhaps, “I don’t know who one of my parents is.” And, the question continues, “can DNA testing really help?” The answer, of course, is yes.”

At Number 5:

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 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:

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 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:

DNA and the locks of hair (3 June 2012): “Reader John Henning asks: “I’ve come across some locks of hair from my great-great grandmother that were in a scrapbook of my grandmothers (and actually from several of my grandmother’s friends from the 1920s/30s). This sharing of hair apparently was a ‘thing’ back then. Anyways — is there a benefit for having ancestors’ hair tested for DNA analyses? …” 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.”

On to 2019…


  1. Judy G. Russell, “Big thanks, followed by no thanks,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 8 Mar 2012 ( : accessed 26 Dec 2018).
  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 include things like Ordering the SS-5, a 2013 post completely updated in December 2018, SSDI Call to Action!; and, with some regret, the post Gedmatch: a DNA geek’s dream site, because that post doesn’t include use of the site for law enforcement investigations. And yes, I hope I can get to an update of that post that brings it all together as well as an early 2019 comparative review of the various DNA tests… but only if things will stop changing so fast that I can’t keep up!!
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