Sunday, February 25, 2018

History as Quicksilver

From the fictional 98-year-old narrator of a novel:

"Wars  make history seem deceptively simple. They provide clear turning points, easy distinctions: before and after, winner and loser, right and wrong. True history, the past, is not like that. It isn't flat or linear. It has no outline It is slippery, like liquid; infinite and unknowable, like space. And it is changeable: just when you think you see a pattern, perspective shifts, an alternative version is proffered, a long-forgotten memory resurfaces."

Kate Morton, The House at Riverton (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006)

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Widow's Tale in MGSJ

Civil War pension files tell tales that are not necessarily about the soldiers. Sometimes the thanks of a grateful nation came with strings attached, making otherwise private matters public, especially when the nation required soldiers' widows to disprove anonymous accusations. In this case the soon-to-be-ex-pensioner was Ella (Bartlett) (Middlekauf) (Crandall) Haley of Baltimore. Her Crandall husband was my great-great grandfather-in-law. So often the best stories happen out on the far end of the branches of the tree!

This article's publication had its genesis at the 2016 Association of Professional Genealogists Professional Management Conference in Fort Wayne [CORRECTION -- IT WAS 2017 NGS IN MAY!], when incoming Maryland Genealogical Society Journal managing editor Malissa Ruffner was working the room, asking folks if they had any Maryland-related articles in mind. I didn't . . . and then I remembered that I did. (Moral: always think twice before telling an editor "no"!) 

Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to reading the lead article in this issue . . . about Babe Ruth's paternal-line ancestors!

“The Widow’s Tale: Ella A. (Bartlett) (Middlekauf ) (Crandall) Haley and Her Baltimore Neighbors,” Maryland Genealogical Society Journal 58(3), 2017: 411–26.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Simon and Elizabeth James in OGSQ

Simon James (1771-1822) could dig a grave, weave a piece of cloth, preach a good Baptist sermon -- and, when necessary, wrestle a ghost into submission. On his way from Wales to Pennsylvania to Ohio, he learned how to prosper in frontier real estate: buy land, subdivide it, and sell the subdivisions. But the formula never worked for him.

You can read more about my favorite ancestor in the Ohio Genealogical Society Quarterly 57(4):353-63 (Winter 2017). (Ohio Genealogical Society members can read it on line.) He is my maternal grandfather's great-grandfather. He had thirty grandchildren and I hope to be writing about them later. His children married into the following families: Owens, Blackmer, Foos, Gosnell, Aye, Jacobs, and Thrall.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Mozley-Van Natta article in Minnesota Genealogist

My great-great-grandfather-in-law probably didn't make many Baptist converts during his time in Green Lake County, Wisconsin (1846-1877), but he kept at it until his death there at age 55.

He and Elizabeth Van Natta had seven children. Two daughters and two sons have descendants. Their eighteen grandchildren divided into three roughly equal groups: farmers and blue-collar workers; white-collar workers from clerk to chemist; and -- lest we forget -- those who died young. Thanks to generations of careful family members we have several of his and Elizabeth's letters.

They gave their youngest son the middle name "Fremont" in 1862, which likely refers to John Charles Fremont, the famous explorer of the Far West, first major-party Presidential candidate to oppose slavery (1856), and an impetuous if not insubordinate officer in the Mexican War and the Civil War. A daughter was named after a then-famous Baptist missionary who died young overseas, Harriet Newell.

Thanks to Minnesota Genealogist co-editors J. H. Fonkert, CG, and Elizabeth Gomoll for accepting, editing, and publishing this article. Eventually portions of it will fit into a book on the family starting with Rev. Thomas's grandparents in England and including a first-hand account of their emigration from England in 1833.

“Midwest Migrations of Rev. Thomas and Elizabeth (Van Natta) Mozley and Allied Families of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin,” Minnesota Genealogist 48 (Winter 2017): 14-26.

Monday, December 18, 2017

City Directory Coverage Can Be Spotty in Many Ways

These days my genealogy life is busy and not very productive of blog posts. But this morning I re-learned a lesson already known to genealogists who are cautious or experienced or both.

We've all benefited greatly from the increased on-line presence of city directories on commercial websites. Today I was trying to track a particular couple through a few years of on-line city directories for Kansas City, Kansas.

The name I sought was not in's index for 1945, 1947, 1954, 1955, and 1959 -- but when I went into the directory itself, it was there for each of those years. The error was not systematic; other family members with the same fairly distinctive surname were indexed.

Not every year is represented on, and I wondered if KCK directories were not published every year, or whether the microfilming was more complete than digital coverage. It is, a little bit: the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center's microtext catalog shows that they have the 1948 KCK directory, which does not have (and which I will have to check on my next visit). On the other hand, has the 1961 and 1963 directories, which may or may not be on the shelves in Fort Wayne, but are not in the microfilm collection.

Of course, directories themselves are not gospel either, though sometimes they may be about as close as we can get to some facts. I remember having one person's death record I had: she was survived several years by her directory listing!

No news here, just a reminder that good genealogy standards and practices survive digitization and other novelties. You'll find this one in Genealogy Standards #13: "Wherever possible, . . . research plans follow such materials [indexes and family histories and similar items] to original records and primary information." Happy Searching Holidays!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Review of "The Art of Creative Research"

Those fortunate (or wise) enough to be members of the Association of Professional Genealogists and now read the December issue of the APG Quarterly, which includes numerous relevant articles for serious genealogists, as well as my review of Philip Gerard's The Art of Creative Research: A Field Guide for Writers. The general title is correct -- the book has applications well beyond genealogy -- and my misgivings about some passages don't change the fact that there is a lot to learn here and a lot of good stories as well.

For those who have occasion to look online for the complete list of my genealogy articles, the best way is to look here.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Two provoking new books

Here's a book and a blog that might be of use to genealogists focused on the southern US and/or African-American ancestors. So far I have only seen the first blog post. Court records may be the least efficiently used of readily available sources in genealogy! And blogging is a cool way to tempt people to read your big book.

Speaking of books about history, on a whole 'nother level, here's a review of James C. Scott's Against the Grain, one that could turn your mind inside out.