Some Legalities You Might Have Missed–

Among the legalities that affect your genealogy research–matters which are taken for granted in documents and legal processes–include these:

  1.  Massachusetts Body of Liberties, 1641–“When parents dye intestate, the Eldest sonne shall have a doble portion.”  The use of “eldest son” is a legal term and does not mean that there are other sons.  In 1660, the law was restated “the Eldest Sonn shall have a double portion” whether the parents dye intestate or not.  See Robert Charles Anderson, “Eldest Son,” The American Genealogist 69 (April 1994): 86 for actual examples in the records themselves.
  2. In early Connecticut, using the English Common Law, women had no control over their property after they married.  The law was changed in 1723–“An Act for preventing the Sales of Real Estates of Heiresses, without their consent…” Women who had inherited property was legally required to acknowledge deeds before a Justice of the Peace.  Enforcement of the law was strict.  See Marsha Hoffman Rising, “Researching Women in Land Conveyances:  Groton CT Deeds, Vol 5, 1743-1760,” The American Genealogist 69 (Jan 1994): 15-21 for abstracts from 603 deeds.  Rising discovered that 70% of the family connections (including names of parents and siblings) known about the women named were found in these deeds only.  And 30 women did not have marriages that were recorded either.

All of the American colonial law codes have been reprinted and can be found in research libraries across the country.  Look for those that apply to the particular state where your research takes you.  You will enjoy reading the early laws.  And, your understanding of the records you search will increase immensely.  Legal documents assume a knowledge of the law!  Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS  Many genealogy periodicals carry articles, like the two cited above, by savvy genealogists showing the application of the law in the extracts of the documents themselves.  Don’t neglect the genealogy periodicals .


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