Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Latin Legal Terms for Genealogists -- Part Nine

England got a double dose of Latin-speaking (i.e. now called Romance Languages) conquerors. First, in ancient times, the Romans invaded the British Islands and ruled from 43 A.D. to 410 A.D. Then in 1066, William the Conqueror came with his Norman-French army. In addition, because of the influence of the Catholic Church, Latin was commonly used in both church and legal proceedings.

In the United States, copying Europe, a classically educated person was supposed to be fluent in both speaking and writing Latin. Of course, since there are no recordings of people who lived before recording machines were invented, we have only a very sketchy understanding of how Latin, more particularly, ancient Latin sounded when spoken. We can make very educated guesses, but we cannot know for sure.

So, because of the preeminence of Latin in both the ancient liturgical and legal communities, we are still burdened by a large number of Latin phrases even up to the present day. As I have written previously, some of these Latin words and phrases have become so common, they have passed into the English language and are used as regular English words.

Genealogists run into Latin in legal documents of all kinds including, but not limited to, court records, land and property records, contracts and many other types of records. Fortunately, when a genealogist today encounters a Latin term, the researcher can use a quick Google search to give the meaning and the context of the term.

So, why am I writing these blog posts about Latin terms? Good question. Since I speak Spanish fluently and have had a long exposure to legal terms, I suppose I just might be able to give some insight into the practical, as opposed to the "dictionary" meaning of some of the more commonly heard terms.

Here I go again.

pro bono publico literally, "for the common good"
This phrase is usually shortened to "pro bono." At the present time, the word is applied to the practice of doing work for the good of the public and with a total disregard for compensation or credit. In most places in the United States, attorneys are encouraged to provide a certain number of hours of work for free each year under the guise of working pro bono. However, most of us did a lot more work for free than we planned to or expected to do. When the phrase is used as "pro bono publico" it usually refers to some kind of charitable work. 

prima facie literally, "at first face" of better yet "at first look"
This is another term that has passed into the English language but it does have a fairly complex meaning in English. It is often used when something is obvious or self-evident. But it is also used in a technical sense in court to refer to the fact that the evidence in a lawsuit has to exceed some minimal level of proof before the case is deemed at issue, as in the following: the attorney failed to make a prima facia case for his client and the matter was dismissed by the court.

post mortem literally, "after death"
This is yet another phrase that has passed into English. It refers to the actions of a coroner or any one else who performs services for the deceased after death. The phrase has become common in television shows about special police criminal investigation units.

posse comitatus literally, "power of the county" or more generally, "power of the community"
This phrase was appropriated by a far-right political group in the 1960s. It is commonly defined as the common-law or statutory law authority of a county sheriff, or other law enforcement officer, to conscript any able-bodied man to assist him in keeping the peace or to pursue and arrest a felon, similar to the concept of the "hue and cry." The phrase originally appeared in the English common law. See Wikipedia: Posse comitatus. It is commonly shortened to "posse" and overused in old western movies. It has been partially outlawed in the United States. 

persona non grata literally, "unwelcome person"
Some of these phrases have become so common that they have not only become English words but also have become used so frequently that they have, in essence, a single word. In this case, just as with the previous phrase, movies and TV converted this word into a household term and uprooted it from its classical Latin beginnings. Although I have heard this word in a lot of other contexts, I cannot remember ever hearing the phrase used in court or in a legal pleading. 

per stirpes literally, "by branch"
A method of distributing an estate to the descendants of a deceased legatee in which the estate is divided equally among the branches of a family, without regard to differing numbers of people in different branches. Wikipedia: Per stirpes. Well, that is about as simple as you can get with methods of distribution in an estate. The practical reality of this type of distribution is that, for example, each child of the deceased takes the same amount regardless of how many children they have. 

per se literally, "by itself"
This is one of two of the Latin phrases I use more than any other. It has a multitude of uses and I usually use it for the English phrase, "without more" or in the words of Porky Pig, "That's all folks."

per quod literally, "by which" or "whereby"
The English translation has no real meaning but the Latin implies an entire legal issue. Quoting from the Wikipedia article entitled, "Per quod"
Per quod is a Latin phrase (meaning whereby) used to illustrate that the existence of a thing or an idea is on the basis of external circumstances not explicitly known or stated.
The article goes on to give a legal example:
"Statements are considered defamatory per quod if the defamatory character of the statement is not apparent on its face, and extrinsic facts are required to explain its defamatory meaning." Kolegas v. Heftel Broadcasting Corp., 607 N.E.2d 201, 206 (Ill. 1992)
With defamation per quod, the plaintiff has to prove actual monetary and general damages, as compared to defamation per se where the special damages are presumed.
A quick search on Google Scholar showed 3,480 United States' legal cases that used the phrase.

per proxima amici literally, "by the next friend"
This phrase addresses the issue of when a minor child cannot maintain an action pro per, then the court must appoint an adult to act "pro proxima amici."

In English the person appointed by the Court is often referred to as the "next friend" of the court. 

per curiam literally, "through the court."In the United States, this term usually refers to decisions made by the U.S. Court of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court where the decision of the court fails to list the judges from a multijudge panel who did not support the decision.

Well, time to stop again. Who knows when the urge to dive into some Latin phrases will strike me again?

Here are the previous posts in this series.

Was your ancestor a criminal? Criminal Law for Genealogists -- Part One

It is fairly common among those searching out their family history to find someone who was jailed for some reason or another. To some, this may seem to be something shameful to be ignored or even edited out of the family's history, but to other researchers, everything that happens to our ancestors creates the potential for valuable historical records.

In researching my own family, I have found a few instances of ancestors who were accused and convicted of criminal laws. I found one ancestor who appeared in the U.S. Federal Census in a California prison. In another instance, our family tradition was that a certain ancestor had never been arrested or convicted even though the tradition was clear that he had violated the law. Through research in local newspapers of the time, I was able to find an account of his conviction, although he did not have to go to jail.

Today's media is almost saturated with depictions of crimes and criminals. Unfortunately, very few of these shows come even close to representing the reality of the criminal justice system either in the present or in the past. Most of the dramatic depictions either focus on criminal trials or incarceration. In my own experience, when I was representing criminal defendants as a court-appointed attorney, criminal trials are just about as boring and ordinary as any other type of court proceeding. In the United States for the last 50 years or so, only a very small percentage of criminal convictions are entered as a result of a trial. Almost uniformly the vast majority of criminals in the United States plead guilty as a result of some plea agreement.

Criminal law is statutory law. This means that crimes are defined by the laws passed by the legislature or other ruling entity and are distinct from civil laws by the penalties imposed: fines, forfeitures or incarceration. Although there are civil fines, criminal laws usually have incarceration either as an addition to a monetary fine or instead of a monetary fine. In the more distant past, criminal laws are sometimes depicted as harsh and unreasonable, but with any historical research, it is important to view events in the context of the time when they occurred. From our present viewpoint, the penalties and treatment of criminal prisoners may seem harsh and very unfair, but in the early 1800s and before, individuals had very few rights to which we now believe everyone is entitled.

If we wrongfully assume that the conditions that exist today are the same as existed in the past, we will often miss important historical information. For example, we may dwell on the hardships suffered by our ancestors because of their primitive living conditions, but in doing this, we fail to realize that everyone lived under those same conditions. When we go camping we may have to give up a few modern conveniences such as hot and cold running water and indoor plumbing, but most of our ancestors lived with those "primitive conditions" all of the time. When we see movies or read about the deplorable conditions suffered by prisoners in the distant past, we need to have some perspective about how the rest of the population was living.

The procedures in criminal court cases are extremely complex. But the good news is that genealogists do not have to understand all the reasons and ramifications for each of the complex steps in the judicial process, but if you are reviewing a criminal court file for genealogical information, it does help to have a general knowledge of the procedure. Here is a summary of the court process as it is presently in the United States:

  • Criminal act alleged or reported
  • Investigation
  • Arrest
  • Individual charged with criminal act (Note: there are several ways this can happen)
  • Appearance before a judge to determine incarceration or release pending further action
  • Initial appearance (used to determine further proceedings and scheduling)
  • Pretrial procedures including further investigation
  • Preliminary hearing 
  • Arraignment where defendant enters a plea of guilty or not guilty
  • Pretrial Proceeding
  • Trial
  • Sentencing
  • Appeal
This is a really sketchy outline. Depending on the severity and publicity of the crime, these proceeding can get really complicated. But again, in the vast majority of the cases in the United States, if the defendant pleads guilty, the case moves on to the sentencing phase and the case is essentially over. 

In future posts, I plan to discuss the documents that genealogists might use from actual court records. 

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Blogging and Social Networking for Genealogists

Blogging and Social Networking for Genealogists - James Tanner

The Brigham Young University Family History Library started off the month of January 2017 with a webinar about the Family Tree and another webinar about blogging. Here is the schedule for the rest of the month.

During the coming year, we plan to host about this number of webinars each month and also upload shorted training videos. If you have any suggestions for topics we would be glad to consider them for production. Remember to subscribe to the BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel for notice of the new videos. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Crashing Computers, Logins, Passwords and Genealogy

One overriding issue with using computers and the internet as tools in all my genealogical activities is that they become necessary and I become dependent on having computers that work and a connection to the internet that works. In the past while, we have had significant challenges both in maintaining an internet connection and in keeping our computers operating.

Yesterday, since we are on our way to a conference in Yuma, Arizona this week, I began getting our MacBook Pro laptop up and ready to go. I have been having problems with the computer so, I thought it would be a good idea to see how it was operating. After more than thirty years of working with computers, I usually begin to see things that make me think they are going to die. I became so concerned, that we went out and purchased a new Apple MacBook Air. Now, I know that Apple is likely abandoning that particular model, but the current model is a huge upgrade from my very old MacBook Pro and the new computer was on sale, which hardly ever happens with Apple products. Just in case you are wondering, it was a new computer right out of the box.

When we got home with the new computer, I found that the old MacBook was in the last throes of dying. The new computer arrived just in time.

Over the past year, I have been using an iPad Pro as a laptop substitute. I have found that the iPad Pro is a good substitute for about 90% of the things that I do on a computer, but that the remaining 10% is very difficult. The main issue for me is the ability to integrate images and text by importing images, particularly screenshots, into my presentations and blog posts. This can be done, but the process is relatively painful. Since I am confronted with a series of conferences and presentations in the next few months, I could not afford the extra time it takes to work on the iPad Pro. Don't get me wrong, I really like the iPad Pro and use it all the time especially for presentations, but I have not been able to use it as much for creating those same presentations.

This experience should be a cautionary tale for all of those genealogists out there who are using computers. The computers are machines and machines, even very advanced and sophisticated ones, eventually get out-of-date and die. They may seem to be immortal, like my old, banged up, MacBook Pro, but they will eventually need to be replaced. I do not keep any irreplaceable data on either my iPad Pro or my MacBook Pro and likewise, I will not keep any such data on my new MacBook Air.

While working in libraries and helping people with their genealogy, I am faced with a constant stream of people with old, out-of-date computers, operating systems and programs. In many cases, they are trying to transfer the old data to a newer computer or online. But what I do not hear about as frequently is the constant loss of information due to computer and storage device crashes (or in the case of flash drives; lost drives). What many genealogists do not factor in when they weigh the cost of upgrading a program, buying a new or larger hard drive, or replacing a computer is the cost in time of redoing all the lost work.

When I got home with the new Apple MacBook Air, I decided to work with the old laptop. We actually have a need for another computer since now both my wife and I are presenting at some of the conferences. The next problem was that I had forgotten my password for my laptop. It had a hint, but even the hint did not help me remember. Finally, my wife suggested a really old password and that turned out to be the right one. So even if we keep our equipment up-to-date, we still need to remember our logins and passwords to keep working.

Life with computers is interesting and sometimes very challenging.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Dreaming of Medieval Manuscripts: A Genealogical Nightmare

  • [Planta, J.], A Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Cottonian Library, Deposited in the British Museum (London, 1802), p. 220.
  • Tite, Colin, The Early Records of Sir Robert Cotton's Library: Formation, Cataloguing, Use (London: British Library, 2003), pp. 605-06.
Other than being written primarily in Latin and in an ancient script, their availability, their lack of reliability and lack of any indexing, there is not too much preventing genealogists from using ancient manuscripts to extend their genealogy back into the Dark Ages. However, by examining online family trees, you might get the impression that the current genealogical community was brimming over with medieval specialists.

Just in case you wake up in the middle of the night and have an insatiable urge to delve into this highly specialized area of genealogical research, I thought I would provide a sampling of where you might find some online offerings.

It might take you a while, but you can find a huge number of medieval manuscripts on the website.

This website has over 250,000 images and over 22,000 texts related to medieval documents. Almost all of these, unlike some other online sources, are available for re-use. You will be amazed at the quality of the images and your ability to enlarge and view the images. Here is a sample page.

Vincent de Beauvais , Miroir Historial [ Speculum historiale ], vol. 1, 2, 4 , traduction en français par Jean de Vignay. Miroir historial , vol. 2, Livres IX-XVI. [Paris, BnF, MSS Français 313] | Jean de Vignay (1282?-13..). Traducteur, Vincentius Bellovacensis (1190?-1264). Auteur du texte, Maître de la mort. Enlumineur, Pseudo Perrin Remiet. Enlumineur, and Perrin Remiet. Enlumineur

Most of the museums and larger libraries of Europe participate in providing content to and the website presently has 54,214,141 artworks, artifacts, books, videos and sounds from across Europe.

Some of the countries of Europe are very protective of their collections and subsequently, they limit their online availability and utility. Great Britain claims a Crown Copyright, for example, that applies to a work is made by Her Majesty or by an officer or servant of the Crown in the course of his duties". The Crown can also have copyrights assigned to it. There is, in addition, a small class of materials where the Crown claims the right to control reproduction outside normal copyright law due to Letters Patent issued under the royal prerogative. This material includes the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. See Wikipedia: Crown Copyright. Unfortunately, many items kept in the British Library are restricted even where Crown Copyright does not apply. By the way, Great Britain is not at all alone in this practice, many institutions in the United States and elsewhere restrict access to old or even ancient documents for all sorts of reasons, none of which involve enforceable copyright claims.

Here a sampling of other sources of information and content about medieval manuscripts:

Sunday, January 15, 2017 Reports Record Sales for DNA Products

Ancestry announced that it sold 1.4 million AncestryDNA test kits during the fourth quarter of 2016. The announcement indicates that Ancestry:
  • Sold more than 560,000 AncestryDNA consumer genomics test kits globally over the holiday weekend starting on Black Friday
  • Sold 1.4 million kits in the fourth quarter
  • Sold 390,000 more kits in Q4 than were sold in all of 2015
Quoting from the press release:
The company also announced that AncestryDNA has reached a new milestone as its consumer DNA platform became the first to exceed three million participants, further establishing the company as the leader in the rapidly growing consumer genomics industry.
AncestryDNA is owned and operated by DNA, LLC, a subsidiary of, LLC.

Planning for #RootsTech 2017: Don't forget the Expo Hall

While most of the people who attend RootsTech 2017 will attend classes don't forget to spend some time in the Expo Hall with the exhibitors. Many of the exhibitors have booths where they teach about their products and programs. Not all of these are commercial enterprises. There are usually quite a few of the exhibitors that have a place where they teach classes and provide support for their products. In addition, there is the Demo theater where you can sit and rest while different presenters give 15-minute presentations and demonstrations.

This year, I have opted to do all my presentations in the Expo Hall. So far, I will be doing presentations for The Family History Guide and As we get closer to the Conference, I will post my own presentation schedule. RootsTech 2017 has apparently not yet published a list of the exhibitors, but once that list is made available, perhaps in the program handed out when you register, you should review the list to make sure you visit the booths of the exhibitors you would like to contact. But also remember that the Conference gives you a valuable opportunity to learn about new products and services you may not now know about.

You should also be ready with some kind of business card. Many of exhibitors have drawings and giveaways and collect entrants' business cards or have the entrants fill out a paper. Some attendees print off pages of labels with their contact information to avoid the need to stand there and fill out a card or paper. Some just bring a stack of pre-printed cards. Some of the exhibitors have shopping bags as giveaways. The attendees can then use these bags to collect information and giveaways from the other exhibitors. My wife then uses these same bags when she buys groceries instead of using the stores' plastic or paper bags.

There are food vendors in the Expo Hall, but bear in mind that the lines can be long. Last year, it turned out that several of the food vendors were tucked away from the main part of the Expo Floor and if you find a long line for lunch, you might want to check to see if there are other vendors whose lines are not so long.  Of course, you can fill up on soda pop and candy if that is all you want to eat.

In past years, I have tried using a wheeled pull-tote or rolling suitcase or briefcase. All of these are a real bother and hazard when moving through crowds. It is much easier to bring a backpack or over-the-shoulder bag to carry items than try to maneuver through the crowds with a wheeled pull device. I carry a backpack with my computer and other things I need. I have a coat that stuffs into a compact bag and that helps to avoid having that extra item to carry around in my hands.

The Salt Palace is really big and you will find that outside of the Expo Hall places to sit are at a premium. In some cases, you can find a seat in the large presentation halls between classes or at other times.

During the first couple of years of RootsTech, there was considerable congestion in the elevators. Now that the Conference has spread out over more of the Salt Palace, the congestion is not so bad but you still have to keep moving to get a seat in some of the classes.

If you are driving to the Conference, you need to plan ahead for parking. This year we are going to take the Trax light rail downtown and avoid the parking problem altogether. We will park at one of the Trax stations and then ride downtown to the Conference sessions. Remember that there are some events that go on late into the evenings and your parking may expire before the event is over (speaking from experience).

We have been having some cold and very snowy weather lately and you might want to be prepared.