Friday, February 26, 2016

Corpus Juris: Advanced Legal Concepts for Genealogy

This is part of my ongoing series featuring guest authors writing reviews of the courses offered at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. I am excited to to have these friends share their perspective on the institute and the education they received. 

My Experience With SLIG's Corpus Juris Course
By Debra Hoffman

As genealogists researching and compiling the history of our families, we need to understand the time and place in which they lived. A crucial part of that understanding is learning about the laws that were in effect and their impact on our ancestors.

One of the best ways of receiving a comprehensive education on legal records is to take Judy Russell’s courses at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. She is the coordinator for a two-part curriculum. The first part, The Family History Law Library, will be offered in 2017. You can access more information here. In 2016, I attended the second part, Corpus Juris: Advanced Legal Concepts for Genealogy.

Besides Judy being a knowledgeable and entertaining speaker, the course contained substantial information to assist genealogical researchers in their encounters with legal records. To briefly summarize, the topics included: an overview of the legal system, research tools and strategies, statutes, session laws, probate records, court records, debt records, criminal records published materials, canon law, and civil law. As you can see from the topics, it was a jam-packed week!

One of my favorite parts of the course was the visit to the University of Utah Law Library. R. Lee Warthen, JD, MLS treated us to a personal tour of each floor of the library pointing out all the relevant resources that were available. It was a special treat to see the collection of old law books that were available to researchers. We also had the opportunity to do hands-on work at the library and a chance to put our new knowledge to the test as we worked through the exercises. I located a 1799 case that referenced a family with land in both Maryland and Virginia. The digest provided insight into the particulars of the case and it was amazing how many genealogical details could be gleaned from the summary. It is exciting to think about how much information might be available in the court records!

R. Lee Warthen, JD, MLS, leading the tour of the University of Utah Law Library

I also enjoyed the hands-on exercises that Judy incorporated into the course. From the ones at the law library to the documents that were reviewed during the lectures, it was beneficial to see actual documents that illustrated the concepts and provided for critical thinking and analysis. Best of all with the Family History Library right down the street; I was even able to put my new knowledge to work when conducting personal research.

One evening at the FHL, I was reading circuit court minutes for Hawkins County, Tennessee. I came across a writ of Scire Facias. Luckily, that was one of the topics that Judy had covered that day. It was satisfying to be able to apply my newfound knowledge! For those unfamiliar with that term, it is a “judicial writ, founded upon some matter of record, such as a judgment or recognizance and requiring the person against whom it is brought to show case why the party bringing it should not have advantage of such record, or why the record should not be annulled and vacated.”[1]

As a genealogical researcher, the benefit of taking this two-part series will be realized in the increased knowledge you will gain and the ability to apply that knowledge to understand and appropriately analyze legal documents in the future.

Specializing in Maryland and German research, Debra A. Hoffman is a professional genealogist and the owner of Hoffman Genealogical Services. She has a certificate in Family History from Brigham Young University and, since 2009 she has completed courses at the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research, the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy and at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh. Debra is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists and serves on the boards of several genealogical societies. She belongs to the William Winchester Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution as well as many other state and local genealogical societies.

[1] Henry Campbell Black, Black’s Law Dictionary: Definitions of the Terms and Phrases of American and English Jurisprudence, Ancient and Modern with Guide to Pronunciation, 4th ed. (St. Paul, Minnesota: West Publishing Co., 1951), term “Scire Facias.”

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