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Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Mining legal records for genealogical gold

Modern mining operations develop huge open pit mines. In these monster excavations, the mining companies process millions of tons of rocks to extract a small percentage of valuable minerals. Even though these mines exploit copper or other minerals, often there is a very small, but significant percentage of gold and silver as a by-product of the mining operation.

These large scale mining operations have a direct analogy to a genealogical search through legal records, you have to search a lot of records and the amount of information you gather may be small but very valuable. There are two huge legal record mining operations in the world, Westlaw and LexisNexis. Both of these Websites are rather expensive subscription sites, however, it is likely that they may be available, either for free or for a fee, at a law library near your home.

Both Westlaw and LexisNexis contain vast numbers of legal documents, including almost every reported case in the history of the United States. Both have a complex search engine technology designed to help legal professionals find case law, statutes, forms, commentary and many other resources. We are a very litigious society and it would not be unusual for a family member or ancestor to be involved in some legal dispute. Finding the case reported in the database means that there are likely a lot more legal documents sitting in some courthouse across the country. Many of the older cases are now on microfilm or even online.

Westlaw has a newer database called a Peoplemap, which is advertised as follows:

Westlaw PeopleMap will help you:
  • Quickly discover relationships between people, assets, and other public records
  • Visualize results to make your research more focused
  • Communicate your research findings more easily with professional reports
Before you've even started your research, Westlaw PeopleMap already has made connections between individuals from billions of public records across the country. Westlaw PeopleMap then brings those connections to you, making it faster and easier to identify a person of interest and their relevant relationships.
Westlaw PeopleMap features:
  • Smart linking technology connecting billions of records to individuals
  • An intuitive interface that's easy to use, simplifying your research
  • A dynamic interactive graphical view that helps you see connections quickly
  • A mapping feature to help home in on the person you're looking for
  • Downloadable reports in professional formats to easily communicate your findings
Expand your research in the graphical interface
If you want, you can expand your research with the intuitive graphical interface with identifying icons to easily see connections between people and records. Just click on an icon and see where the dynamic trail leads you.
Then, download a professional report with the information that's relevant to you: Comprehensive, Core, Assets, or Adverse.

Sometimes genealogists get a bit insular, believing that their records and databases are all there are in the world to help with genealogical research. You might try branching out to help from other disciplines.

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