The Duke University Libraries now have access to Ancestry Library Edition, the institutional subscription level for Ancestry.com. All members of the University community can now access the popular genealogy database via campus computers, or from off-campus with a NetID and password.
This news comes right on the heels of a Library of Congress blog post encouraging readers to use the holiday season as an opportunity to begin tracing family histories. But if family trees don't interest you, there may still be hidden treasures in the Ancestry database. Genealogists have long known the value of legal research materials; for example, see Kurt X. Metzmeier's 2006 bar newsletter article History in the Law Library: Using Legal Materials to Explore the Past and Find Lawyers, Felons and Other Scoundrels in Your Family Tree, available on SSRN. With this campus-wide access to Ancestry, perhaps legal researchers will discover the value of genealogical materials in turn.
Ancestry’s "Card Catalog" of available databases includes several topics of interest to legal researchers, including immigration records, military service records, property ownership and probate materials, and even selected historical "Court, Governmental and Criminal Records" from around the world. The collections are strongest in the United States and Commonwealth countries, but some international materials (particularly European) are also available. The "Birth, Marriage and Death Records" section may also be useful for people-finding research, particularly the Social Security Death Index.