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When researching genealogy, know the laws that governed your ancestors

When researching your ancestors’ lives, make sure you consider the laws in effect at the time.

Whether they lived under common law from England or the statutes passed by state legislatures, it’s handy to know some of the rules that governed them. Take, for instance, at what age could someone legally marry — with parental consent and without?

Before identification cards and driver’s licenses, brides were required to get their marriage licenses in their home counties. That way, the court clerk was in a better position to know if the woman was of legal age to marry and to hopefully know something about the man. Many of our ancestors eloped or just had common law marriages that were never recorded at the courthouse. Some just fibbed, like my grandparents in 1921. They gave their ages as 21 when they were 16 and 18.

Georgia laws in effect over the centuries can be found in various codes and digests from the University of Georgia’s School of Law, at digitalcommons.law.uga.edu/ga_code/. Similar websites are in other states at their schools of law or state archives.

Research guides online

A number of research guides are available on the Georgia Archives website, GeorgiaArchives.org. Go to the menu, and it’s under “research,” then “research services.” These handouts help guide you through some of the sources there. Topics include African American resources, documenting marriages in Georgia, land lotteries, tax digests, family history research, vital records and much more. Check them out.

Virginia history lectures free

The Virginia Museum of History and Culture at virginiahistory.org has a large number of lectures available for free on Virginia history and related topics. At the website go to “events” then “video and audio.” Lectures are listed there. Check out the rest of the website, as well. It includes the Virginia Historical Society and its collections. Searching for “genealogy” turns up many helpful guides. There is enough on the site in various areas to keep you busy. Visit the museum in Richmond when it reopens, as well as the Library of Virginia, the state archives, just across town. See lva.virginia.gov for online genealogy resources.

One Step Websites by Stephen Morse

The ever creative Stephen P. Morse continues to expand his “One Step Websites” to help you easily access important genealogy databases. So go to his website, stevemorse.org, to see the list. It includes Ellis Island and Castle Garden, census, foreign alphabets, biographies and interviews, and much more.

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Contact Kenneth H. Thomas Jr., P. O. Box 901, Decatur, GA 30031 or kenthomasongenealogy.com.