2014 Law School for Genealogists

Law School for Genealogists

(Offered in Pittsburgh)

Coordinators: Judy G. Russell, J.D., CG, CGL and Richard “Rick” G. Sayre, CG, CGL
Additional instructor: Marian L. Smith

Overall Course Objective: Students will acquire an understanding of various domains of law relevant to genealogical research. Students will study specific domains of the law and learn to use resources created by legal processes and other government actions.

NOTE: The following topics will be covered during the eighteen sessions during the week. Order subject to change.


8:15 a.m.: Freshman Orientation (Russell)
Introduction, course outline, and overview of the legal systems affecting genealogy (common, civil, canon and statutory law).

10:00 a.m.: Courts 101: Federal Courts and their Records (Russell)
From the original 13 U.S. District Courts created by the Judiciary Act of 1789 to the multi-layered federal system now in place, federal courts adjudicate civil, criminal and administrative matters of interest to genealogists. Learn the structure of the courts, the nature of the records they create, and how and where to find them for use in family history.

12:45 p.m.: Courts 102: State Courts and their Records (Russell)
Courts created by state law can be called the People’s Courts, since they are the courts with which our ancestors had the most interaction. Understand the organization of these courts, the division of functions among the various courts, the record-keeping systems historically in use and the scope of court records of value to genealogists.

2:30 p.m.: Legal Research 101: Century of Lawmaking (legislative process through the resources of the Library of Congress) (Sayre)
Many individuals are mentioned in or the subject of laws passed by the Congress.  Also many laws passed by Congress created records of genealogical interest. Learn about the legislative process to include how a bill becomes law. The principal records created – debates, journals of congress, and statutes will be described. Learn how to find and use the Statutes at Large.


8:15 a.m.: Legal Research 102: The Serial Set, American State Papers, and Territorial Papers (Sayre)
These publications contain the reports of the Congress and the Executive branch and are an essential source of American history. Thousands of people are mentioned in these documents. Learn about the creation, the content, and genealogical importance of these core publications of the federal government. Learn how to locate and access these publications.

10:00 a.m.: Legal Research 103: The Serial Set et al Illustrated (case studies and usage concepts) (Sayre)

12:45 p.m.: Estate Law 101: Wills, Intestacy and Probate (Russell)
Probate records created on a person’s death are among the most valuable of genealogical resources. Learn the differences between testate and intestate estates, the ins and outs of the probate process in both cases, the types of courts that supervised probates, and the wide variety of records created in a typical probate case.

2:30 p.m.: Estate Law 102: Dower, Curtesy and Guardianships (Russell)
An ancestor’s death triggered more than the probate process of disposing of property. It also triggered automatic legal systems in place to protect widows, widowers and minor children. Understand the records created when the law sought to enforce a widow’s right of dower or a widower’s right of curtesy, or to name and supervise the actions of a guardian for children.


8:15 a.m.: Immigration & Naturalization Law 101: The Early Years (Smith)
Effective use of the records of immigration and naturalization in the United States requires an understanding of the evolution of legal controls exercised by government. Social, political and economic changes drove United States policies, and the laws enforcing those policies dictated the collection, maintenance, and ultimately the disposition of records. Part I reviews the early years, to the early 20th century.

10:00 a.m.: Immigration & Naturalization Law 102: The 20th Century (Smith)
Effective use of the records of immigration and naturalization in the United States requires an understanding of the evolution of legal controls exercised by government. Social, political and economic changes drove United States policies, and the laws enforcing those policies dictated the collection, maintenance, and ultimately the disposition of records. Part II reviews the complex laws and records of the 20th century.

12:45 p.m.: Property 101: Federal Land Law – Disposing of Public Land (Sayre)
Beginning with the Land Ordinance of 1785 several key acts of Congress created the public domain. Subsequently, some 3,000 laws governed the disposition of the public domain. Through the use of case studies we will explore the key laws governing land entry. Discover how the contests over land entry and the ensuing legal complexities generated rich records of genealogical significance

2:30 p.m.: Property 102: State Land Law – Deeds, Mortgages and More (Russell)
Land acquisition, through grants, purchase, inheritance and more, was closely controlled by colonial and state law. Who could acquire land, what limits were imposed on sale, transfer and use, and how those transactions were recorded were all dictated by law. Learn how the records created can be the key to resolving many questions of relationship.


8:15 a.m.: Military Law 101: Military Pension Laws (Sayre)
Almost every military conflict resulted in the award of pensions and other benefits. Discover how pension law created records of genealogical significance. Understand how the constantly changing eligibility requirements determined if an individual was awarded a pension or bounty land.

10:00 a.m.: Legal Research 104: The Claims Committees of the Congress and the U.S. Court of Private Land Claims (Sayre)

Beginning in 1794 and continuing well into the twentieth century Congress created 14 different claims committees, acting in effect as an appellate authority over the decisions of the executive branch. Favorable resolution of these claims often resulted in the passage of a private act. Understand the jurisdiction and operation of these committees and discover the importance of these private acts in genealogical research.

12:45 p.m.: Family Law 101: The Law of Marriage and Divorce (Russell)
Who could marry, when, and under what circumstances after what legal formalities – these are the fundamentals of the law of marriage. How old the persons had to be, whether consent was required, how closely they could be related, and what the consequences were if the marriage was void or voidable will be reviewed, along with the laws governing the other end of the marriage and the availability, grounds for and authority to grant divorces.

2:30 p.m.: Family Law 102: The Law of Women and Children (Russell)
Many aspects of the law distinguished between men and women, generally to the disadvantage of women. From property ownership to voting, the English common law in particular was distinctly patriarchal, with men given authority over both wives and children. Learn how the law treated women and children, and what records may have resulted from that distinction.


8:15 a.m.: Legal Research 105: Federal Prisons and Investigation (Sayre)
Prison records and investigative files reveal details of an individual’s life available nowhere else. Understand how to locate federal records of investigation and incarceration. Learn about the genealogical value of these records including records of the Bureau of Prisons and the investigative case files of the FBI (1908–1922).

10:00 a.m.: Evidence 101: Using the Law to Prove a Case (case studies) (Russell and Sayre)
Case studies showing how the law can often provide the key to solving difficult genealogical problems.

11:15 a.m.: Wrap-up and certificates before Friday lunch