Resource Spotlight: Ancestry.com

Although it’s often used for genealogy, Ancestry can also be a valuable tool for legal research. Containing census records, military records, and immigration records, it can be helpful when looking into the history of a person or place, and especially when working with historical legal documents.

For example, in preparation for our last exhibit, which featured historical legal instruments from the Dean Hansell Collection, I used Ancestry to locate and verify some of the people and places mentioned in the items on display. This particular document mentions the names of several several justices serving on the Common Bench in 1657 (underlined in yellow):

Ancestry verified that the I had transcribed the document correctly and that there was, indeed, an Oliver St. John, Edward Atkyns, Mathew Hale, & Hugh Wyndham in London (Westminster) at the time. Noting their full names and life dates, I was able to discoverā€”using resources such as Google, Wikipedia, and the Dictionary of National Biographyā€”that these men were renowned and influential jurists, lending prestige to this particular document. It also lent it an element of humanity when I was able to find a picture of the first one listed, Oliver St. John:

Of course, Ancestry has more recent records, too. If you’d like to use it for your own research, you can find simply by typing in “Ancestry” on the main search bar:

And, finally, if you’d like to see any of the items in our special collections and archives, just fill out the form below!

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