Select Page

Revealed by a Washington document

It’s a wonderful article, despite its persistent misspelling of the word “genealogy.”

Written by Karin Wulf and posted at just this morning, the article proclaims: “This Long-Ignored Document, Written by George Washington, Lays Bare the Legal Power of Geneaology.”1

Smithsonian article

The point the writer makes — using a document written by George Washington in the 1740s and 1750s — is a critical one: “ancestry still has (literally) grave consequences. Matters of inheritance and heritage are at the core of many functions of the state, from birthright citizenship to Native American ancestry to matters of probate. Such is the reality now, and so it was in the founding years of the United States.”2

And, she emphasizes, “In Washington’s Virginia, family was a crucial determinant of social and economic status, and freedom.”3

Um… no foolin’…

The Legal Genealogist coulda told ’em about the legal power of genealogy (spelled right, too) a long time ago…

And genealogists plural have been emphasizing this forever. For the writer to say that “through geneaology (sic), historians are finding new ways to expand our conceptions of what family means and to show us the power, privilege, and even violence of family connections in the past”4 is to ignore — even deliberately overlook — the reality that family historians have been recognizing and explaining these concepts for decades even as the academic-type historians have denigrated and downplayed the value of family research.

I’m glad to see the “historians” finally joining the genealogists in understanding and presenting just what family history brings to the table for us all — and how knowing the law helps us all understand the past — and the present — so much better.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “The legal power of genealogy,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 18 June 2019).


  1. Karin Wulf, “This Long-Ignored Document, Written by George Washington, Lays Bare the Legal Power of Geneaology,”, posted 18 June 2019 ( : accessed 18 June 2019).
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email