About the course

Decoding Records: Using the Law


Join Judy G. Russell and dive deeper into records—and learn how the law shapes our understanding of historical documents.

This engaging course goes beyond traditional record analysis. Through hands-on sessions focusing on various record types and practical assignments, you’ll master the art of interpreting legal documents to uncover the true stories of your ancestors. Transform your genealogical research by integrating the power of the law!

This four-hour workshop, Decoding Records: Using the Law, is offered on 23 and 30 May @ 7 PM Eastern US. Each session is two hours. Please remember to convert to your local time.

This workshop will be recorded and available for viewing for 14 days.

NOTE: Prices are in US dollars.

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We’re happy to see an ancestor’s name on a list of jurors from 1748 Virginia. But that name on that list means more than just that he lived in that time and place. Looking at the law, we’d know he also was a property owner and wasn’t the operator of a tavern or owner of a mill.

When we see an ancestor serving as executor of an estate in Connecticut in 1816, we conclude that he would have been at least age 21 to handle real estate sales, taxes and other issues. But looking at the law, we’d discover he could have been as young as 17 and been allowed to handle the estate.

Records don’t exist in a vacuum. They usually exist because of the law. Their contents are often dictated by the law. And it’s the law that tells us if we can rely on any part of those contents as evidence. Adding the law to the records, we gain a deeper, broader, more accurate picture of our ancestors.

Saying that we can’t understand the records without understanding the law is a truism of genealogy. But how do we do that?

Working from a set of provided documents, you will consider the nature of a genealogical source, the information it contains, the factors that determine what information may be relied upon as genealogical evidence and what sound conclusion may be drawn from that evidence to reach genealogical proof and how that entire process is impacted by the laws of the time and place.

Different document types (vital records, court records, etc.) will be the focus in each session and an interim homework assignment will hone skills at finding the relevant laws.

Dates: 23 and 30 May, 2024 @ 7 PM (Eastern US) (2 x 2-hour sessions)

About the educator

Judy G. Russell, JD, CG, CGL

The Legal Genealogist® Judy G. Russell is a genealogist with a law degree. She writes, teaches and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical topics, providing expert guidance through the murky territory where law and family history intersect. A Colorado native with roots deep in the American south on her mother’s side and entirely in Germany on her father’s side, she holds a bachelor’s degree from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and a law degree from Rutgers School of Law-Newark. Before she retired, she worked as a newspaper reporter, trade association writer, legal investigator, defense attorney, federal prosecutor, law editor and, for more than 20 years, as an adjunct member of the faculty at Rutgers Law School.

She is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists, the National Genealogical Society and numerous state and regional genealogical societies. A recipient of the Silver Tray Award from the Utah Genealogical Society and the 2017 Award of Excellence from the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, she now serves as a member of the NGSQ editorial board.

An internationally-known lecturer and course coordinator and faculty member at numerous genealogical institutes, she holds credentials as a Certified Genealogist® and Certified Genealogical Lecturer℠ from the Board for Certification of Genealogists®. Her award-winning blog appears at The Legal Genealogist® website (https://www.legalgenealogist.com).