The language of the law. Part Latin, part Anglo-Saxon, all confusing.

Well, maybe not all confusing.

Which is why The Legal Genealogist loves Henry Campbell Black.

Born in Ossining, Westchester County, New York, on 17 October 1860, educated at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and trained in and admitted to practice law in Pennsylvania, he decided in a short time that he really didn’t want to practice law. He moved to Washington, D.C., became a legal scholar and wrote or edited things about the law.1

And one of the things he edited and compiled was a law dictionary that has become pretty much the gold standard of law dictionaries in the United States, with a first edition published in 1891.2

Which is where today’s alphabet soup word turns up.

Because, today, G is for…

2019 letter G

Genealogy.

Really.

A defined term in the legal dictionaries.

Now I don’t much care for the way it’s defined in another classic American law dictionary. John Bouvier’s 1856 edition defines it as the “summary history or table of a house or family, showing how the persons there named are connected to each other. It is founded on the idea of a lineage or family. Persons descended from the common father constitute a family.”3

Ugh. Fill out a family group sheet and you’re done. Bleah.

But Henry Campbell Black? He defined it more broadly as an “account or history of the descent of a person or family from an ancestor; enumeration of ancestors and their children in the natural order of succession.”4

That leaves a lot of room for the context of those lives as they descend from generation to generation — a history of the family, not just a fill-in-the-blanks table where you don’t even have a family without a common father (hello? John Bouvier? You had a mother, for cryin’ out loud!).

So in this one case, thanks to Henry Campbell Black, the language of the law isn’t at all confusing.

I really do love that man.


SOURCES

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “2019 alphabet soup: G is for…,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 26 Mar 2019).

  1. See Judy G. Russell, “Henry Campbell Black (1860-1927),” The Legal Genealogist, posted date (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 26 Mar 2019).
  2. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891).
  3. John Bouvier, A Law Dictionary Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States of America and of the Several States of the American Union, rev. 6th ed. (Philadelphia: Childs & Peterson, 1856), I: 555-556, “genealogy.”
  4. Black, A Dictionary of Law, 533, “genealogy.”
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