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Minnesota Genealogical Society

Featured Plenaries

Judy Russell

Don’t Forget the Ladies: A Genealogist’s Guide to Women and the Law

In early America, women were all too often the people who just weren’t there: not in the records, not in the censuses, not on juries, not in the voting booth. The common law relegated women to “protected” – second-class – status and understanding how they were treated under the law provides clues to finding their identities today.

No Person Shall ... Gallop Horses In the Streets” – Using Court Records to tell the Story of our Ancestors’ Lives

Early court records give color and meaning to the lives and times of our ancestors. County courts often functioned as both judiciary and legislature, and appeals courts published fact-filled opinions. While the records often establish relationships to help build a family tree, they offer so much richness and depth to help tell a family’s story.

DNA and the Golden Rule: The Law and Ethics of Genetic Genealogy

Whose permission is needed to test a child or an adult unable to consent? Who owns our DNA? What can we disclose about a cousin who has tested? The rules of the road for the ethical challenges facing genealogists interested in using DNA evidence as part of their family history research. Learn how applying the Golden Rule can guide us through many if not most of the situations in which we as genetic genealogists find ourselves.

Rogues and Rascals – The Lighter Side of the Law

No, actually, our ancestors didn’t behave any better back then than we do today, and the records they left behind documenting their missteps and misdeeds are among the priceless – and hilarious – gems for genealogists to find.

David McDonald

Measuring Up: Obsolete and Archaic Terms for Genealogists

Better understanding of context and community is a critical component of genealogical research. We'll consider a variety of terms that researchers are likely to encounter in both records and in narrative discussions of the periods in which they work. In understanding the context, we can better grasp parallels in our research, and loosely "translate" what those outdated terms mean to a modern mindset. 

The Second Great Awakening: Religion in America in the 19th Century

The earliest years of the 19th Century were a period of substantial growth and religious change. Established patterns and state churches of the pre-Revolutionary period were stripped of their status and supplanted by less-European and more American expressions of religious freedom. As the former British colonies grew to expand across the continent, practitioners of less-liturgical, less legalistic bodies (read: creators of fewer formal records) gathered into membership many who had been disillusioned by earlier bodies. We'll explore the impact that such a decentralized approach to church life had on our forebears' lives and our own research.

Transcontinental Migration: How American Families Became Bicoastal

The old teaching concept of "Manifest Destiny" to describe the westward migration of settlers across North America is explored in light of a pair of lives, lived mostly in the 19th Century. Examination of records, unraveling family stories to learn more than just dates and places allows us to tell the story of our forebears and humanize these long-dead kin beyond a 2-dimensional photo and a couple of facts drawn from census records.

The Genealogist's Sacred Trust: Narratives with Integrity

Every genealogist has the responsibility to put into words, either on paper or via an online narrative, the stories of our research subjects. They can no longer do this work for themselves, and in many cases, their lives deserve a recounting. It can be tempting to trim or shade the stories we learn about our kin. Hiding divorces, illegitimacies, bankruptcies and the like can make a modern mindset feel easier about these humans we call family. Sadly, puffing up folks' importance, or hiding the narrative of their unsavory moments paints an inaccurate picture. We have an obligation to the truth to be sure that the unsavory is confronted, even only in writing. We have an obligation to our forebears to treat them with respect. We have an obligation to those who could not speak or write for themselves (sometimes literally) to see that their lives are recalled to the extent possible. Sound scholarship compels us to report accurately, but not hurtfully. Such is a fine line to balance, but an important one to undertake.