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Title: Genealogy and the Law
Author: Freilich, Kay Haviland & William B
Publishing Information: National Genealogical Society
General Statement: Part of the NGS’s Special Topics Series that combines the perspectives of Law and Genealogy that may help in resolving genealogy problems. Written by a Certified Genealogist and her husband an attorney and past Chief Judge of a US Court of Appeals this book combines genealogy and law in an easy-to-follow format.
Review: Each chapter includes various topics and a quiz at the end. Learning the legalities in the place and time where your ancestor has lived is often an area that is often not studied. This book helps with basic legal education in an easy-to-understand format. There have been times, over the years, when learning this information about a time and place I have been researching has been crucial to understanding what was happening with my ancestors. Many footnotes include URLs to online resources.
Understanding the Law:
Quiz example: ‘In 1816 a couple “of legal age” married in Licking County, Ohio. How old were they?’ [FYI, “Males of age eighteen and females of age fourteen were of legal age to marry in Ohio...”]
Understanding the Terminology:
Use with glossary in Appendix 1
Types of Law:
Fairly detailed description of the various types of laws such as Statutory Law, Case Law,
Etc. and gives examples. The chapter also includes this interesting example of an online index:
Finding the Pertinent Law:
Known as ‘compiling a legislative history’ it is the way to determine the pertinent law that may have governed an ancestral action. An interesting, and detailed step-by-step example for a 1783 division of real estate in Pennsylvania. Another example of an 1847 naturalization requirement process.
Sources to Use:
One section notes that Session laws generally appear in bound volumes numbered and indexed in chronological order which can be helpful to trace a law back to an ancestral
event. Another source example is ‘Women and the Law of Property in Early America.”
State Blue Books are also mentioned including the online “Wisconsin Blue Books”.
Where to Research:
All types of libraries are included. The Familysearch library is noted with examples of
keyword searches such as ‘subject’ > “Colorado Law.” Online sources include Legal
Information Institute [] that publishes online free legal
information, and Bowling Green State University Libraries that include a research guide
to the laws of all thirteen original colonies that is quite interesting. The quizzes for this
chapter require that you use online catalogs or visit a repository in person.
Citing Legal Sources:
This chapter will assist you in writing citations for legal records. It details how citations
are usually written in legal briefs and how to adjust them for genealogical purposes.
Mills’ book Evidence Explained! is given as the best source for legal record citations.
Applying the Law to Ancestral Events:
Five case studies are included. Each gives background, asks a question and then
describes which statutes during the time and place may have played a part in the result,
and where they were found.
Appendix 1 Vocabulary of the Law
Appendix 2 Selected Bibliography: Sorted by subject
Appendix 3 Answers to Quizzes
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