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All those cases about…

Okay, The Legal Genealogist has come to the conclusion that people are simply obsessed.

And they always have been.




Is there a delicate way to say with sex?

Sigh… I guess not.

But judging from the cases reported in the various courts of the United States, I’m sticking to my guns on this one.

In other words, I’m giggling my way through some searches in the terrific database called the Caselaw Access Project, an effort by the Harvard Law School Library to digitize all of its volumes of published court cases to make them readily available, searchable, free, online.

The Project “includes … every volume designated as an official report of decisions by a court within the United States (from) all state courts, federal courts, and territorial courts for American Samoa, Dakota Territory, Guam, Native American Courts, Navajo Nation, and the Northern Mariana Islands” and includes cases ranging from as early as 1658 to as late as 2018.1


It’s a blast.

I mean, where else are you going to find 7,444 hits on the word “bastard”?2

Starting with a 1735 Virginia case where the issue was the legal legitimacy of a child described in his father’s will this way: “Whereas to my unspeakable Grief my Wife Ann did some Years past elope from me & hath ever since lived in Adultery & hath lately bore a Child of her Body I not having had carnal Knowledge of my said Wife for several Years last past Therefore I do not think fit to give or bequeath any Part of my Estate real or personal to my said Wife or her Child.”3

And coming all the way forward to a 2017 Maryland case involving the paternity of a child who turned out by a DNA test not to be the biological child of the mother’s husband.4

Not sexy enough for you? How about 3,704 hits for the word “fornication”? Or 21,506 involving “adultery”? (My favorite is the one involving a fight over insurance benefits between the absent wife and the live-in mistress of an electrical worker. The wife won.5)

Okay, okay, so genealogists can word-search this database for surnames, which can turn up some real goodies. Or read through the reported cases of a time and place to get a sense for the conditions under which our ancestors lived.

But hey… for sheer entertainment value, I’m going with things like the 1830 New Jersey case saying you can’t convict an unmarried man of the crime of adultery even if the woman is married, and you can’t convict a married man of the crime of adultery if the woman is unmarried.6

Definitely obsessed.

And definitely fun.

And you thought the law was boring…

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “All that foolin’ around…,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 20 Sep 2021).


  1. About,,” Caselaw Access Project, Harvard Law School Library ( : accessed 20 Sep 2021).
  2. Now don’t go asking me how I came to be doing this research. I’m not obsessed with anything, of course. Well, except maybe the law… and genealogy… and…
  3. Doe Lessee of Myhil v. Myhil, 2 Va. Col. Dec. 152 (1735).
  4. In re B.C., 234 Md. App. 698 (2017). Note I did have to eliminate a more recent federal case in which there had been a drunken brawl between two flight crew members from Etihab Airways in which one attacked another, saying — and hey, don’t blame me, this is a direct quote from the case — “I’m going to kill you. You Peking British bastard.” Baylay v. Etihab Airways P.J.S.C., 881 F.3d 1032, 1036 (7th Cir. 2018). Although it uses the word, it doesn’t appear to be technically about… you know … that.
  5. Electrical Workers’ Benefit Ass’n v. Brown, 26 F.2d 981 (D.C. Cir. 1928).
  6. State v. Lash, 16 N.J.L. 380 (Sup. Ct. 1838).
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