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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Adventures at GRIP- Genealogical Institute at Pittsburg: Pt 2

by Lisa S. Gorrell


Classroom at GRIP 2014. Photo: Lisa S. Gorrell

Wow, what I week I had! “Law School for Genealogists” was a heavily packed course with an abundant of information taught by three very experienced and knowledgeable instructors: Judy G. Russell, Richard G. Sayre, and Marian L. Smith. Judy and Rick are both certified genealogists and genealogy lecturers. 

Marian leads the Historical Research Branch at the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Department of Homeland Security. Her knowledge of naturalization and immigration was wonderful.

So what did we do for a week studying law? The course was divided up into subject matters. This was basically an advanced class covering many of the basic records one learns about as a beginning genealogist but with the viewpoint of the law. Whenever a question was asked about a possible solution or why a document was created, we would say, “Look at the law.”

After an introductory course called “Freshman Orientation” that covered why genealogists should understand law, and how law has developed over time, we covered the following subjects:

• State courts and their records

• Federal courts and their records

• Legal Research 101, which covered how to use the website, Century of Lawmaking at the Library of Congress

• Legal Research 102, which covered the Serial Set, American State Papers, and Territorial Papers

• Legal Research 103, which covered The Claims Committees of the Congress and US Court of Private Land Claims

• Legal Research 104: The Serial Set and more with case studies

• Estate Law 101 & 102 (Wills, Intestacy and Probate; and Dower, Curtesy and Guardianships)

• Immigration and Naturalization 101 & 102

• Property: Federal Land Law (Public land)

• Property: State Land Law (Deeds, Mortgages)

• Military Law 101 (Military Pension law)

• Family Law 101 & 102 (Marriage and Divorce, and the law of women and children)

• Legal Research 105: Federal Prisons and Investigation

So you can see we covered a lot of subjects common to genealogy but our class was focused strongly with the law. The hardest parts for me were the Legal Research classes because I was unfamiliar with the Library of Congress website Century of Lawmaking and the National Archives website.  Our course binder was also filled with wonderful bibliographies in each of the class handouts and we received a link to a Google Drive folder with more goodies. We also got the opportunity to purchase Black’s Law Dictionary on CD for $19.95. One cannot begin to understand the law unless you understand the terminology!

The best thing I learned? A lot of business in Congress had to do with issues regular people had. 

These individuals made claims and Congress wrote private laws to relieve an individual or groups of individuals. These reliefs could be waivers, refunds, or torts. We learned how to search these papers and journals to find information about our ancestors. 

I also learned that knowing the law behind records explains its purpose. Knowing this will aid in your analysis of the information you find in the record. Judy and Rick will be teaching a similar class at SLIG in January and this course again next summer at GRIP.


Lisa S. Gorrell with genealogist Judy G. Russell. Photo: Lisa S. Gorrell

But what about the dorm life? I enjoyed staying in a dorm on the La Roche College campus. The dorms were in the building next to the classroom building which also held the cafeteria. The beds were already made for us and towels hanging in the bathrooms, too. All we had to bring were toiletries and an Ethernet cable to hook up to the internet. My next door neighbor was Kathryn Doyle! The food was tasty in the cafeteria and the classrooms mostly comfortable (one can’t please everyone anyway). There were lectures in the evening after dinner and on Wednesday, many of us watched Who Do You Think You Are all together in the lounge. Many of us were yelling back at the T.V. saying, “What else was in the Civil War file?” or “Do some DNA!”

All in all, I had a great time at GRIP and recommend it to anyone who would like an in-depth study of one subject.



Copyright © 2014 by Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, California Genealogical Society and Library.

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