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Hint: It’s not a bird…

It’s institute time!

The Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research, now under the aegis of the Georgia Genealogical Society, is in its second day at the University of Georgia, and The Legal Genealogist is up to her eyebrows in advanced methodology and evidence analysis.

Eager students from across the United States and one foreign country — St. Kitts — have gathered at Athens to study, learn and network, and I’m honored to be coordinating the advanced course and helping out in others.

Which means time is in short supply, so let’s add one more entry in the 2019 legal alphabet soup. We’re up to the letter P, so today’s word is…

Um… Prothonotary, yes, but not that prothonotary. That’s a prothonotary warbler.1 The one we’re after is a court officer.

The basic definition comes from the law dictionaries: the “title given to an officer who officiates as principal clerk of some courts.”2

Some courts.


As in two, today. Pennsylvania and Delaware.

The Pennsylvania State Archives gives us some of the history of the term:

The prothonotary or chief notary is the officer responsible for maintaining the records of the civil division of the court of common pleas in each judicial district. These records relate to civil proceedings, divorce, equity and also include various types of reports filed by the county, municipal governments and school districts.


The 1682 Frame of Government made provision for the erection of county courts. … In 1707, Governor John Evans’ ordinance established two separate courts in each county – quarter sessions and oyer and terminer to hear criminal cases and deal with administrative matters, and common pleas to hear civil and equity cases. The term “prothonotary” appeared for the first time in this ordinance, and it was ordered that all writs and processes of the court of common pleas were to issue out of his office under the county seal and all returns were to be made to that office. A number of early laws defined the officer’s duties and responsibilities. Numerous laws were passed during the provincial period and in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries which continued this basic judicial structure on the county level with occasional jurisdictional changes. …


Before the 1701 Charter of Privileges, there was no clear indication how the clerk of each county court was chosen or his length of service. That document provided that each county’s justices nominate three people, one of whom would be selected by the governor to be “clerk of the peace.” This person also served as prothonotary when that office was established. The 1790 Constitution vested that power in the governor alone. It was not until the Constitution of 1838 that the office became elective with the individual serving a three year term, The Constitution of 1873 continued that practice, but a 1909 amendment increased the term to four years. …3

And in Delaware, the statute says: “The prothonotary of each county shall be the clerk of the Superior Court in and for that county.”4

So… not a bird. Not a plane. Not even Superman.

But one of the key people we need to know for county-level court research in Pennslyvania and Delaware.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “2019 alphabet soup: P is for…,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 23 July 2019).


Image: Melissa McMasters, via Flickr.com, CC-BY-2.0.

  1. See Melissa McMasters, “Prothonotary warbler,” 2018, Flickr.com (https://www.flickr.com/ : accessed 23 July 2019).
  2. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 958, “prothonotary.”
  3. County Office Descriptions: Prothonotary,” Pennsylvania State Archives (https://www.phmc.pa.gov/Archives/Pages/default.aspx : accessed 23 July 2019).
  4. 10 DE Code § 521 (2016).
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The dangers of uncritical acceptance

There are some really cool tools to be used these days to help analyze our DNA results up against our genealogical tree research.

But there’s a reason why they have names like Theory of Family Relativity (at MyHeritage) or ThruLines (at Ancestry) and not Proof of How We’re Related.

And we all need to exercise extreme caution when we review the hints and tips and clues we get from these tools, and not simply accept what they tell us as if it were proven fact.

The simple fact is, every one of these tools uses largely undocumented online family trees to suggest a possible relationship between two people who share some DNA.

The less documentation there is in these trees, and the more distant the relationship, the more likely it is that the theory will end up being disproved rather than proved.

Case in point.

In the new iteration of MyHeritage’s Theory of Family Relativity, I have a DNA match to an individual who shares less than 10 cM of autosomal DNA. That’s a pretty distant match, hard to trace under the best of circumstances. MyHeritage suggests, in its Theory of Family Relativity, that this match and I could be fourth cousins once removed through my Johnson line.



Almost as bad as Jones or Smith or Williams.

It begins by suggesting that there’s a 100% link between my tree and the tree of another person that includes my mother. I’ll buy that one, especially since tree #2 lists her father, my grandfather, with known information.

And it climbs that tree to his mother, Martha H. (Johnson) Cottrell, who was born in 1857, and from Mattie to her father Mathew Johnson, my nemesis second great grandfather. Nemesis because I only have a few records — census, marriage, tax — and a possible place of birth, Virginia. No parents, no specific location in Virginia. And a surname of Johnson.


So I’m intrigued to see a link with an assigned 75% confidence level to another Matthew Johnson who’s going to be the linchpin in this theory of how I’m related to this DNA match, because this Matthew has a father in the tree where he appears.

But there’s just one little problem with this Matthew.

He died before the birth of the daughter from whom I’m descended.

No chance that Mattie is his posthumous daughter. This Matthew died 41 years before Mattie was born.

He wasn’t born in the same place as my Matthew. He didn’t die in the same place as my Matthew. So how we get to 75% confidence that he’s the same guy is beyond me.

Which means that even these very-high-confidence-level suggestions are often going to turn out to be just a theory, with nothing at all except a name in common to produce even a suggested link.

Now don’t get me wrong here. I’m going to look at every shred of evidence in every one of these trees and hints and theories on MyHeritage and in every ThruLine at Ancestry. I’m looking at enough of a brick wall with Matthew that I’ll consider any hint three times before throwing it out. Maybe my tree is wrong. Maybe my Matthew is the son of another Matthew and I’m missing a generation.

But what I can’t do — ever — is just accept that the suggested John Johnson born in 1750 is my Matthew’s father and drop him into my tree.

Because there’s a reason why these tools have names like Theory of Family Relativity or ThruLines and not Proof of How We’re Related.

These are hints and tips and clues — not evidence.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Just a theory,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 21 July 2019).
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Into belief

It was just a few moments before 11 p.m. Eastern time, 50 years ago today.

The Legal Genealogist — and anyone else alive at the time — remembers it as if it were yesterday.

Gathered around television sets, radios, anything that would carry a signal, we watched and we listened.

The hatch of the landing craft opened.

Neil A. Armstrong carefully and slowly descended the ladder.

And at 10:56:20 p.m., he stepped off the ladder onto the lunar surface, with words we will none of us ever forget:

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

As far as all of us watching were concerned, the Space Race was over.

We had won.

I was a fledgling reporter for a New Jersey daily newspaper that no longer exists. It had been called The Perth Amboy Evening News, and later became The New Tribune of Woodbridge before being absorbed into something called the Home News Tribune that’s a mostly-online subset of USA Today now.

The offices were in Perth Amboy that summer of 1969, and the editor was Kenneth Michael. I was on the night shift — 7 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. — covering local news in the Borough of Carteret. There were probably 10-15 people total on the night shift with editors, reporters and everyone counted — and nobody but nobody was anywhere outside of the paper’s offices in those moments just before 11 p.m.

Everyone who could fit crowded into Ken’s editor’s office upstairs, the one place with a small black and white television.

And with a loud, wise-cracking, hard-drinking, hard-swearing, tough-minded group of news professionals gathered around that office…

You could have heard a pin drop.

The absolute awe was palpable.

The sound was scratchy and a little time-delayed.

The images were grainy, as if it were snowing on the moon.

They were in black and white only.

And every moment of it was magnificent.

Years of effort. Scads of science and engineering. Tons of money. Buckets of sheer raw courage.

And we had done it.

We were walking on the moon.

All of us who witnessed that moment have one particular memory of that night. Something that sticks out and will never leave us.

Mine is the memory of a thought that crossed my mind as that hushed crowd of news reporters watched those first footsteps on the moon.

I thought of my grandmother, who — I hoped — might be watching at her home in Central Virginia.

My grandmother, Opal (Robertson) Cottrell, born in 1898 in rural Texas.

Who had crossed from Texas to what was then the Oklahoma and Indian Territory around the turn of the century.

In an ox-pulled covered wagon.

From the covered wagon to the moon, in one lifetime.

And in that amazing moment I believed.

There was nothing we couldn’t do if we just had the will to do it.

To those men of the Apollo 11 mission whose raw courage gave us that moment — Armstrong and Aldrin in the lunar lander, Michael Collins in the command module — thank you.

To all those whose efforts before Apollo 11 made it possible, thank you.

To the scientists and engineers and mathematicians, thank you.

To those with the political will to spend the money and make it happen, thank you.

You gave us hope.

And that belief.

That there was nothing we couldn’t do if we just had the will to do it.

We could sure use a dose of that today…

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “One giant leap,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 20 July 2019).
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The language of the law. Part Latin, part Anglo-Saxon, all confusing.

It’s mid-way through the GRIP week, and The Legal Genealogist is exhilarated… and tired.

I’m a student this week, at least mostly, back in the classroom at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh, picking up tips and tricks on research and — my weakest suit — organizing my research from an instruction team led by Kimberly Powell and Angela McGhie.

It’s fun, it’s great to be on the other side of the podium1 and it’s time-consuming.

So the blog has been a little quiet, hasn’t it?

But one of my colleagues here popped me a question I can’t resist sharing, with her permission.

Peggy Clemens Lauritzen came across this early 19th century notice in the Maryland Gazette2 and, she wondered, just what was a sheriffalty anyway:

The question is simply answered in the legal dictionaries: a sheriffalty is the “time of a man’s being sheriff. The term of a sheriff’s office.”3 Or, perhaps a bit more completely, the “office of sheriff, the time during which a sheriff is to remain in office.”4

But think about that notice, versions of which ran in the newspaper starting at least as far back as 18055 and as late as 1809.6

You know what this is, right?

This is a campaign notice.

Solomon Groves is throwing his hat into the ring as a candidate for sheriff.

How cool is that!?!?! An early 19th century campaign ad!

And oh yeah… he won.7

What a neat find… and what a great reminder that our ancestors may have stood for election, and we need to look for those records…

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Into the ring,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 17 July 2019).


  1. Mostly. I did do one evening lecture, on the ethics of genealogical sharing, sponsored by the Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society, and will do one copyright presentation in the writing course tomorrow.
  2. Notice, (Annapolis) Maryland Gazette, 4 Aug 1808, p. 4, col. 2; digital images, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 17 July 2019).
  3. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 1091, “sheriffalty.”
  4. 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), 2: 521, “sheriffalty.”
  5. See Notice, (Annapolis) Maryland Gazette, 18 Apr 1805, p. 3, col. 1; digital images, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 17 July 2019).
  6. See ibid., 27 Sep 1809, p. 1, col. 2.
  7. George A. Martin, compiler, “Vital Records from the National Intelligencer,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 44 (March 1956): 25.
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Yet another sad farewell

They were 12 in number, born between the First World War and and the early years of the Second World War.

The children of Clay Rex and Opal (Robertson) Cottrell, The Legal Genealogist‘s maternal grandparents.

Ruth Marie, the first-born. Born in Tillman County, Oklahoma. Tiny, perfect, perhaps too perfect.

Taken at the age of six months.

A failure to thrive baby.

Then came Billy Rex, in Oklahoma. As large and hale as his sister had been small and frail.

Then Eula Cladyne, always called Cladyne, the first Texas-born child, born in Colorado City, Mitchell County.

Then Monte Boyd, the first of many born in Midland, Texas.

Hazel Irene, my mother.

David Fred.

David Fred Cottrell and Hazel (Cottrell) Geissler

Donald Harris, called Dooter.

Carol Ray, bringing the number of surviving children to seven.

But then came 1932. Dooter, lost to smallpox.

And so there were six.

Jerry LaStone.

Marianne, the only one born in Wichita County.

Then back in Midland, Michael Vance.

And bringing up the tail end of the parade, another Midland baby, Patricia Ensign.

Twelve in number. Ten surviving to adulthood.

Tall, dark-haired and dark-eyed, strong in body and in will. Taking on partners. Adding to the branches of the family tree.

Always adding. Never subtracting. Never.

But never doesn’t ever last long enough.

For our family, it was only until 1994.

Monte, the first to be lost. And so there were nine.

1999, and Hazel, my mother. And so there were eight.

2007, Marianne. And so there were seven.

2008, Billy. And so there were six.

2009, Cladyne. And so there were five.

2012, Carol. And so there were four.

2016, Jerry. And so there were three.

July 9th, 2019.


And so there are two.

Two left with the memories.

Two left to tell the stories.

Two left to stand between me and mine and the status of oldest generation.

Two who need to make never last a whole lot longer.

RIP, Uncle David.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “David Fred Cottrell, 1928-2019,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 13 July 2019).

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The language of the law. Part Latin, part Greek, part law French, even part Anglo-Saxon. And all confusing.

It’s institute season.

This week was the Midwest African-American Genealogy Institute (MAAGI) at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Next week is the second week of the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP) at LaRoche College.

The week after that is the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR) at the University of Georgia.

The week after that will see both the Researching Family in Pennsylvania program at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and the Genealogical Institute on Federal Records (Gen-Fed) at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

And The Legal Genealogist is involved in all of them. Teaching in at least one class at every one, plus taking a course at GRIP.

So you know what that means… time for the blog is at a premium.

And that means an occasional foray into legal alphabet soup.

We’re up to the letter O so far in 2019, so today’s word will be olograph.

No, that’s not misspelled.

Olograph, not holograph.

Even though — sigh — they both mean exactly the same thing in the law.

An olograph, by definition, is an “instrument (e. g., a will) wholly written by the person from whom it emanates.”1

And a holograph, by definition, is a “will or deed written entirely by the testator or grantor with his own band.”2

In short, both an olograph and a holograph are instruments written completely by the person making the instrument, by hand.

So… why do we have two words for the same thing?

As far as I can tell, it’s because the Civil Law dropped the H.

Remember that there are two basic legal systems that were imported into North America from Europe. The English colonists brought over the English common law, and the term used in the common law jurisdictions for this handwritten document was holograph. It’s not an English word itself — its roots are in Latin and Greek: “Late Latin holographus, from Late Greek holographos, from Greek holos whole, complete + graphein to write.”3

So, just as one example, you’ll find the term used in the decision of the New York Supreme Court in Mason v. Williams in 1893: “The probate of this will was contested upon the ground that it was radically different from a holographic will written by the testator six weeks earlier…”4

But the Dutch, the French and the Spanish followed the Civil Law — a legal system originating from the written legal code of the Roman empire of the Emperor Justinian and “distinguished from the common law of England.”5 And in Civil Law jurisdictions — particularly in Louisiana — the word is spelled without the initial H.

So, again just as one example, you’ll find the different spelling used by the Louisiana Supreme Court in State v. Martin in 1847: “An olographic will, to be valid, must be entirely written, dated, and signed by the hand of the testator.”6

Although you will see some older references to the term spelled that way in California,7 these days, it’s pretty much confined to Louisiana. In fact, one modern law encyclopedia says an olographic will is just “the Louisiana term for what other states call a holographic will.”8

Which means, in essence, that if you see the word used without the leading H, it’s most likely from Louisiana.

Aren’t you glad you know that? I mean, seriously, could you have gotten through the rest of the day without that?

You’re welcome.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “2019 alphabet soup: O is for…,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 12 July 2019).


  1. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 847, “olograph.”
  2. Ibid., 575, “holograph.”
  3. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (https://www.merriam-webster.com/ : accessed 12 July 2019), “holograph.”
  4. Mason v. Williams, 6 N.Y.S. 479, 480 (N.Y. Sup. Ct., 1st Dept., 1889).
  5. Black, A Dictionary of Law, 207, “Civil Law.”
  6. State v. Martin, 2 La. Ann. 667, 677 (1847).
  7. See e.g. In re Estate of Rand, 61 Cal. 468, 475 (1882).
  8. Wex, Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School (https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex : accessed 12 July 2019), “olographic will.”
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Archive those pages

A friend and genealogical colleague was lamenting this week that information he curated and contributed to one of the genealogical wikis had disappeared in the course of later edits. The problem now appears to be curable and folks are trying to work together to get that information returned to the wiki pages.

But in the course of the conversation, The Legal Genealogist asked the colleague if he’d checked to see if the pages he’d contributed to had ever been captured by the Wayback Machine — that wonderful feature of Internet Archive that serves as a collector of so many pieces of web information that would otherwise disappear.1 When he checked, they hadn’t been captured.

And that’s something we can do something about.

Some background.

The Wayback Machine, as the site explains, allows users to “Explore more than 371 billion web pages saved over time.”2 And, as its blog noted more than two years ago, “The Internet Archive has been archiving the web for 20 years and has preserved billions of webpages from millions of websites. These webpages are often made up of, and link to, many images, videos, style sheets, scripts and other web objects. Over the years, the Archive has saved over 510 billion such time-stamped web objects, which we term web captures.”3

Materials available through the Wayback Machine can include full copies of websites that no longer exist anywhere else. Websites that have been taken down because the creator no longer maintains them. Older versions of websites that were perhaps more complete or easier to understand or navigate. Prior versions of websites with different content.

So in effect what the Wayback Machine does is serve as a permanent archive — or as permanent as anything gets on the internet — of websites and resources that might today be inaccessible but for the fact that we can get to the archived copies.

But here’s the point: the Wayback Machine also lets us — the users — add pages we find particularly useful to that permanent archive.

The link shown in the image above is to the Save Page Now feature — the utility of the Wayback Machine that lets anyone add a page to the archive. In the words of the site, to “Capture a web page as it appears now for use as a trusted citation in the future.”4

So, fellow researchers, this is something we can use — you and I — to save bits and pieces of web information that we think is important for the future. Find a particularly useful website with accurate and well-resourced information for family history? Don’t just save it to your own web browser. Save it for the future at the Wayback Machine.

And contribute something you think is permanently useful, accurate, and well-sourced to a wiki? Don’t just add it to the page. Save it for the future at the Wayback Machine.

There is one limit to this service: the site where the page resides has to allow crawlers. That’s a bit of software that crawls the web mostly to index sites for search engines.5 Not all sites do allow crawlers, but many do, and it’s worth trying to save any page just in case.

In short, don’t just bookmark that resource you find.

Wayback it.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Wayback it!,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 9 July 2019).


  1. See Judy G. Russell, “Using the Internet’s time machine,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 8 Jan 2018 (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 9 July 2019).
  2. Wayback Machine,” Internet Archive (https://archive.org/ : accessed 9 July 2019).
  3. Vinay Goel, “Defining Web pages, Web sites and Web captures,” Internet Archive Blog posted 23 Oct 2016 (https://blog.archive.org/ : accessed 9 July 2019).
  4. Wayback Machine,” Internet Archive (https://archive.org/ : accessed 9 July 2019).
  5. See Wikipedia (https://www.wikipedia.com), “Web crawler,” rev. 19 June 2019.
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Get ready for genealogy’s winter camp

If you’re one of those whose schedules won’t allow you to attend any of the “summer camps for genealogists” — the week-long institutes in June and July offered by the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR) in Georgia or the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP) — you may be looking longingly at the winter version: the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) in January.

And the 2020 offerings are truly stellar, with 15 courses in the regular SLIG program from January 12-17, 2020, and another seven courses in what’s called SLIG Academy, aimed at genealogical professionals — and professional wannabes — from January 19-24, 2020, both at the Salt Lake Hilton.

With that many options, there really is something for everybody.

So… if this sounds like just what you’re looking for — here’s a big heads-up: registration opens Saturday — this Saturday — July 13th — at 9:00 am Mountain time (that’s 8 a.m. Pacific, 10 a.m. Central, 11 a.m. Eastern and whatever it is in the rest of the world) for the regular SLIG courses and at 2 p.m. Mountain time for the SLIG Academy courses (1 p.m. Pacific, 3 p.m. Central, 4 p.m. Eastern).

Some of those courses — including, of course, the one you want — are bound to fill up in minutes.

Because you need an account before you can register, you’ll need to read up on the registration process. For both SLIG and SLIG Academy, there’s a Registration FAQ and a separate Registration page. And there’s a

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Why not use autosomal DNA

Lots of The Legal Genealogist‘s readers are helping out with ideas for the Great 2019 Research Caper: putting paid to the genealogical question of “who was the mother of Margaret (Battles) Shew?”

Margaret is my 3rd great grandmother. Her father, William Battles, was married twice, and it’s entirely possible that either wife could be Margaret’s mother. We have an mtDNA match to a documented descendant of wife #2, Ann Jacobs; we now need to rule out the possibility that wife #2 shared a common female ancestor — and thus mtDNA — with wife #1, Kiziah Wright.1 Since we don’t know if Kiziah had any descendants, we need to find someone else who would share that same mtDNA signature — we need to find a documented female line descendant of Kiziah’s mother, whom we now know was Lucy (Jones) Wright Williford.2

One Wright descendant keeps trying, diligently, to help by providing more and more information about the Wrights, producing possible test candidates for autosomal DNA testing. And that cousin isn’t quite sure of the answer to the question: why not use autosomal DNA in this case?

It’s because it’s not going to help.

Here’s why:

• Autosomal DNA recombines — mixes randomly3 — in every generation, meaning that less and less DNA is passed from any one ancestor to any one descendant in every generation.4

• By the fourth cousin level, the odds of two cousins inheriting enough autosomal DNA in common to show up as a match drop to 50% or so, and by the fifth cousin level, the odds are up to 90% against having a detectable match even if the two are really fifth cousins.5 In other words, autosomal DNA punks out after just a few generations.

• Once autosomal DNA begins to punk out, it can’t disprove a relationship. If two people don’t match at an expected fourth or more distant cousin level, it doesn’t mean that they’re not fourth or fifth or sixth cousins. All you can say is that they didn’t inherit enough autosomal DNA in common to show up as a match.

As Blaine Bettinger explains, “In reality, everyone has two family trees. The first is a Genealogical Tree, which is every ancestor in history that had a child who had a child who had a child that ultimately led to you. Every decision made by every person in that tree contributed to who and what you are today. However, not every person in that tree contributed a segment of your DNA sequence…. As a result, we have a second family tree – a Genetic Tree – which is a tree that contains only those ancestors who contributed to our DNA.”6

So… here’s why I’m not looking for descendants of Frances and Lucy Wright to test against:

Anybody at my level would be — at best — a sixth cousin with a minute likelihood of having inherited enough autosomal DNA in common to be detected. Even if we test candidates at the suspected fifth cousin level — and I do have aunts and uncles to use as match candidates — getting a negative result against a descendant of a different child of Frances and Lucy (Jones) Wright doesn’t tell me we’re not related. It just tells me we didn’t get a match.

And here’s the real kicker: if we do get a match to a descendant of a different Wright child, it won’t tell me we’re related through the Wright line. I’d have to rule out every other possible shared ancestral line to be able to say, with assurance, that the shared DNA could only have come through the Wrights.

Stack that up against the possibility that I can disprove the possibility that we descend from Kiziah Wright by testing just one or two known female line descendants of Lucy (Jones) Wright, and there’s a pretty clear answer to the question we began with: why not use autosomal DNA in this case?

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Finding Margaret’s mother, part 5,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 7 July 2019).


  1. See generally Judy G. Russell, “Keeping that DNA resolution,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 28 Apr 2019 (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 7 June 2019).
  2. Ibid., “Finding Margaret’s mother, part 2,” posted 18 May 2019.
  3. ISOGG Wiki (https://www.isogg.org/wiki), “Recombination,” rev. 14 Apr 2019.
  4. See ibid.,“Autosomal DNA statistics,” rev. 3 Sep 2018. See also Blaine T. Bettinger, “How Do DNA Segments Get Smaller?,” The Genetic Genealogist, posted 31 Jan 2015 (https://thegeneticgenealogist.com/ : accessed 7 July 2019).
  5. ISOGG Wiki (https://www.isogg.org/wiki), “Cousin statistics,” rev. 20 Sep 2017.
  6. Bettinger, “Q&A: Everyone Has Two Family Trees – A Genealogical Tree and a Genetic Tree,” The Genetic Genealogist, posted 10 Nov 2009.
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Celebrating the Fourth in memory

It didn’t happen again this year.

And The Legal Genealogist doesn’t know when it will.

But it will. For sure. That’s a promise I keep making to myself.1

One of these years I will be where I want to be on the Fourth of July weekend.

I want to be at the Annual Louisa Firemen’s Fair.

It’s the 77th such fair tonight, July 6,2 in that small town in central Virginia.3

And just thinking about it takes me back in time.

Back to the time when forty-’leven cousins would be piled into the bed of Uncle Billy’s pick-up truck as part of a caravan for the 15 or 16 miles from our grandparents’ farm near Kents Store in Fluvanna County.

Yes, it was legal then. No, we weren’t wearing seatbelts or helmets. Half the time we weren’t even sitting in the truck bed; at least we bigger ones would be perched on the sides.

It was a different time then.

A time when the roads were gravel at best and dirt more often.

When the air was hot and sticky and we wore pedal pushers and flip flops.

When boys got buzz cuts for the summer and girls under the age of 10 didn’t bother with shirts unless we went to town.

And when going to town on the Fourth of July meant gathering together with everyone I loved… and going to the Fair.

It was one of the highpoints of long hot summers spent at my grandparents’ farm. My mother would pack us up within hours of the end of the school year for the 300-mile drive from our New Jersey home to central Virginia, and my aunts and uncles around the country would pack up their kids and head for the farm as well.

For a few days in the middle of June, we would all enjoy each other’s company and the novelty of all those extra playmates and sing-alongs under the trees.

And then the novelty would wear off. And we’d start thinking more of the downsides than the upsides of all those people in one farmhouse. Of chamber pots and outhouses instead of indoor plumbing. Of open windows and fans (if you were lucky) instead of air conditioning. Of the snakes in the creek instead of the floats in our backyard pool.

By the Fourth of July, those forty-’leven cousins would be divided into camps: them against us, me and her against those, them and those others against me and her and him. Grownups would be spending as much time breaking up squabbles as visiting.

And everyone — everyone — was glad when the Fourth of July rolled around.

Because going to town on the Fourth of July meant gathering together with everyone I loved… and going to the Fair.

Even with all the cousins in the truck bed, going to the fair meant a caravan of vehicles. And maybe because there were all those people and all those veheicles, we always got to the fair a little late…

More troublesome to us cousins was the fact that, for some reason I have never understood, we always left there a little early.

Oh, we got to ride the ferris wheel and, if you had the stomach for it, the tilt-a-wheel. We pitched softballs at targets trying to win stuffed animals. We ate snow cones and cotton candy and listened to the music.

But what we never, ever, got to do was stay for the fireworks.

Every year I can remember, not long before the fireworks were to start, the grownups started rounding us up. Stragglers tried to hide and wait it out, but we got collared and hauled off and dumped back into that pickup bed for the ride back to the farm.

Every year I can remember, every kid in that pickup had eyes glued to the north-northeast as we drove away from the fair.

Every year I can remember, we tried to see what we could of the fireworks as the caravan of truck and cars headed back to the farm.

And every year I can remember, we gave up after a few minutes when the trees and the dust from the road obliterated any real view of the skies over Louisa.

Never, not even once, did we ever see so much as a single burst of fireworks at the Louisa Firemen’s Fair.

So I have promised myself that, one of these years, I’m going to make a trip back to Virginia on the Fourth of July weekend.

And I’ll go to the Louisa Firemen’s Fair.

I’ll ride the ferris wheel and pitch softballs to win stuffed animals.

I’ll eat a snow cone and cotton candy and listen to the music.

And I’ll stay until the bitter end and watch every one of the fireworks before even thinking of trying to find the car.

And — just for a moment — I will close my eyes and take a deep breath.

And I’ll pretend — oh only for that moment — that I am one of forty-’leven cousins piled into the bed of Uncle Billy’s pick-up.

That the roads are gravel at best and dirt more often.

That the air is hot and sticky.

That the boys all have buzz cuts and the girls are wearing pedal pushers and flip flops.

And that I’m in town on the Fourth of July, gathered together with everyone I loved… so many I loved and have lost… all together one last time at the Fair.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “One of these years…,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 6 July 2019).


  1. See Judy G. Russell, “The Louisa fair,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 6 July 2013 (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 6 July 2019).
  2. See 2019 Firemen’s Fair, Louisa Volunteer Fire Department (http://louisavfd.com/ : accessed 6 July 2019).
  3. The population in 1960 was 576. It was only 1400 by 2000. See Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “Louisa, Virginia,” rev. 8 Apr 2019.

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