Monday, August 18, 2014

Methodology Monday with three generations in three pages

Not all articles in top genealogy periodicals have to be long or involve a convoluted tangle of indirect evidence. If you're having a short-attention-span day, Arlene V. Jennings's recent inquiry into the mother of Jane (Fife) Smart (b. 1769) is quick and to the point in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

Sometimes good methodology is just about knowing where to look. In this case two parallel record sets give varying results: no name for Jane's mother in one, and two different surnames for her in the other. Probate files for her father and husbands provide the "glue" to piece together vital records, identifying Jane as a daughter of her mother's middle (second) marriage, and reaching back to Jane's mother's mother's surname in the early 1700s.

Arlene V. Jennings, "Jane Fife's Mother, Elizabeth (Sowersby) Stather Fife Hought," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 102 (June 2014): 93-95.

Harold Henderson, "Methodology Monday with three generations in three pages," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 18 August 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, August 14, 2014

New York Thursday with Elizabeth (Bassett) Porter's mystery in the July NYGBR

How could Elizabeth (Bassett) Porter (1798-1855) be included in her parents' family Bible record but never mentioned as an heir in her father's 1876 probate proceedings -- especially when New York law required all heirs to be named? In the July issue of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record I tell the story and try to cope with the conflicting evidence by confirming Elizabeth's ongoing role in the family, and looking into how probates were handled in Madison County, New York, in the 1870s.

NYGBS members can read this and other new and continued articles at the society's a preview and await the physical issue's arrival in their genealogy library. Non-members can become members here.
web site; non-members can access

Elizabeth was the husband of "Col." Harry Porter (a private in the War of 1812) and the oldest sister of my mother-in-law's great-grandfather Samuel Clark Bassett. One curiosity of this story is that Harry and Elizabeth in the late 1830s settled in the same small Illinois town where I grew up in the 1950s -- and are buried three blocks from our house!

Like most NYGBR articles, this one has a double purpose: to resolve a knotty problem (highlighting a prized New York record type) and to document a New York family. The documentation (genealogical summary) occupies more space than the problem-resolution part and is continued in later issues. Many thanks to editor Karen Mauer Green for her relentless help and encouragement in bringing this project into print.

Harold Henderson, “A Missing Heir: Reconnecting Elizabeth (Bassett) Porter to Her Parents, Lewis and Dorcas (Hoxie) Bassett” [Part 1], New York Genealogical and Biographical Record 145 (July 2014): 165-184.

Harold Henderson, "New York Thursday with Elizabeth (Bassett) Porter's Mystery in the July NYGBR," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 14 August 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, August 11, 2014

Quick hits: August, finishing, choosing, researching, and genealogy management

* Early August: the absolute best time to visit a university library.

* As genealogists, we don't finish enough things. It's as if we run from framing one house to framing another. But the finish work takes longer than anything, and sometimes it reveals the quality of the framing. That's one reason I'm in favor of trying for a credential -- or just writing thorough articles. Finishing teaches lessons that don't come any other way.

* On the Genealib list, Barbara J. Hill recently recalled one of her top priorities when buying for the California Genealogical Society's library: a book of local newspaper abstracts ("worth its weight in gold"). Not only are many small newspapers not digitized, even that may not help. Often the result of worn type on cheap newsprint may be such that only humans, not OCR, can decipher it.

* Not so many years ago, I would raid a library by way of the copy machine, then carry and sort and label the paper. Now I scan the pages with a smart phone app and try to email them to myself and then sort and label them from one program into another. I think I'm saving money -- not so sure about saving time, at least until I can refine the process. (It's also often an improvement on just taking notes.)

* Genealogy management and administration is almost a missing specialty (even with FGS in the vanguard). And I'm pretty sure one tenet of it would be not to try to do at the last minute tasks that in their nature require considerable preparation. Another tenet would be that its best practitioners deserves the same respect that DNA specialists and high-end editors and tech wizards receive. It's getting to be too important to be a sacrificial sideline.

* Don't miss Jill Morelli's new blog post, "What Kind of an Historian Are You?"

Harold Henderson, "Quick hits," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 11 August 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Methodology Monday with Elizabeth Shown Mills, the FAN club, and DNA

No, I will not retrace all the steps of Elizabeth Shown Mills's argument in the June National Genealogical Society Quarterly, "Testing the FAN Principle against DNA: Zilphy (Watts) Price Cooksey Cooksey of Georgia and Mississippi." But the article is significant in more ways than size (23 pages):

* It builds on previously published hard-won research. Two of the five generations discussed here were documented in previous articles. Most of us begin with some woolly family lore and work from there. That is the first step, and Mills does discuss family lore here. But building on prior research is what scholarly disciplines do. And it will become increasingly prevalent in genealogy as DNA evidence becomes ubiquitous.

* As the title says, it uses both documentary and DNA evidence. At least six previous NGSQ articles using both kinds of evidence were published in:

June 2012 (Warren Pratt, "Finding the Father of Henry Pratt of Southeastern Kentucky," vol. 100:85-104), 

June 2011 (Judy Kellar Fox, "Documents and DNA Identify a Little-Known Lee Family in Virginia, vol. 99:85-96),

September 2009 (Daniela Moneta, "Virginia Pughs and North Carolina Wests: A Genetic Link from Slavery in Kentucky," vol. 97:179-94),

March 2008 (Daniela Moneta, "Identifying the Children of David Pugh and Nancy Minton of Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee," vol. 96:13-22), and

December 2005, a themed issue on genealogy and genetics (Anita A. Lustenberger, "David Meriwether: Descendant of Nicholas Meriweather? A DNA Study," 93:269-282; Donn Devine, "Sorting Relationships among Families with the Same Surname: An Irish-American DNA Study," 93:283-293 with a brief September 2007 update 95:196). 

These earlier articles used Y-DNA (male line). As far as I know, Mills breaks new NGSQ ground here by using evidence from both mitochondrial (female-line) DNA and autosomal DNA (the 22 chromosome pairs that recombine with each generation).

* Mills builds an intricate documentary case with indirect evidence that Zilphy was actually "Lucy" (the name "copied from an old family record") daughter of Judith and Rev. John Watts, and that Zilphy's daughter Nancy was the mother of Elmira Parks -- based on approximate dates, multiple associations, multiple name duplications, and an analysis of handwritten L and Z in this time period. If you want the details, join the National Genealogical Society or visit a good genealogy library.

* Mills does not ask or answer the question, "Would these relationships be proved if we did not have the DNA evidence?" She assembles the documentary evidence, then the DNA evidence, which confirms it. THE DNA EVIDENCE COULDN'T EVEN HAVE BEEN COLLECTED WITHOUT DOCUMENTARY EVIDENCE SUGGESTING WHO TO TEST. The question of how DNA evidence functions within the Genealogical Proof Standard is for another day. Enough examples of this quality may render the question academic. The specific uses of DNA evidence in these articles is already under discussion among genetic and documentary genealogists.

 Although much genetic genealogy is necessarily shrouded in confidential situations, there are plenty of good publishable cases that have yet to be written up. Seven articles in nine years isn't enough! The more high-quality peer-reviewed articles we have, the easier it will be for us to learn more about how these two streams of evidence can converge. We need more people crossing the documentary-DNA line from both sides.

Elizabeth Shown Mills, "Testing the FAN Principle against DNA: Zilphy (Watts) Price Cooksey Cooksey of Georgia and Mississippi," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 102 (June 2014): 129-152.

Harold Henderson, "Methodology Monday with Elizabeth Shown Mills, the FAN club, and DNA," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 4 August 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Books: everyday life in three centuries

One of the pleasures of a national institute or conference is the chance to browse and buy good books. I bought the following four from Maia's Books at GRIP last week. I ended up choosing mostly books that told stories -- but that did so in a knowledgeable historical context, not just for quaintness' sake. We'll see. Hopefully this will not be the last you hear of them!

Stephanie Grauman Wolf, As Various as Their Land: The Everyday Lives of Eighteenth-Century Americans (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2000). Most of my mother-in-law's ancestors and a fraction of my mother's and father-in-law's ancestors were around for this.

Harvey Green, The Uncertainty of Everyday Life, 1915-1945 (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2000). Parents, grandparents, and most great-grandparents were active in these years. Growing up in the 1950s was not entirely different, in that much of the built environment was still there from the 1920s, but I could easily assume similarities that were not there.

Joan M. Jensen, Calling This Place Home: Women on the Wisconsin Frontier, 1850-1925 (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2006). In-laws were in Wisconsin early, whether from England, New England, New York, or Pennsylvania.

David T. Hawkings, Pauper Ancestors: A Guide to the Records Created by the Poor Laws in England and Wales (Stroud, Gloucestershire: The History Press, 2011). In 1819, my two-year-old great-great-grandfather's impoverished family was removed from the parish of Long Bennington in Lincolnshire to the parish of Teigh in Rutlandshire.

Harold Henderson, "Books: everyday life in three centuries," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 31 July  2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Saturday, July 26, 2014

GRIP 2014: Leading with DNA

The nationwide moveable village of genealogists appeared in the form of the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh at La Roche College in suburban Pittsburgh on Sunday the 20th and disassembled Friday the 25th. In between, friendships were renewed, projects discussed, books were bought, business cards were exchanged, genealogy TV was watched, sleep was in short supply, and a lot of teaching and learning happened in six courses.

This third annual session of the institute arguably places GRIP in a leadership position among genealogy institutes, as it offered the first ever full five-day course on genetic genealogy, coordinated by Debbie Parker Wayne, with top-notch faculty CeCe Moore and Blaine Bettinger. (Who knew that three collaborating instructors could be so good in such different ways?)

The trio taught 73 students in two sections and were generously applauded by the students at the final session. The course lived up to its title of "Practical Genetic Genealogy," based on biology but focusing on multiple genealogical applications, and will be offered twice at GRIP in 2015. (Note: in January the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy will include a similar course as well as the first-ever advanced DNA course.)

I took the course as a comparative newcomer to the subject, and I am now astonished to recall  discussions (not very long ago) about whether there was really enough information to fill a five-day course on the subject of DNA! Clearly there has been enough information for quite a while. Now, if anything, there is too much material to pack into one week, especially when one tries to include the exercises and workshops that newcomers need to sharpen their understanding and skills.

Six years ago DNA was still an optional side order in genealogy, useful at most in researching only the direct male and female lines -- a small fraction of our ancestry. With increased computing power, technological innovations, and deeper understanding of autosomal DNA, it is now no longer a side order but part of the main course. Moore demonstrated the power last January, at the Professional Management Conference of the Association of Professional Genealogists. (For instance, by comparing the DNA of second cousins, genealogists can often identify specific segments as the "genetic signature" of the cousins' shared great-grandparents.) That taste drew many researchers to GRIP this summer

As Wayne said in the concluding session at GRIP, there was a time when genealogists complained about having to learn to use computers; now they're indispensable.

I expect that similarly, and in an equally short time, knowing and applying DNA evidence will be as commonplace and integral to proving our conclusions as computers have become, and as property and probate records have long been. For individual genealogists and genealogy educators alike, there is no alternative to keeping up.

Photo credit: GRIP Facebook page with permission

Harold Henderson, "GRIP 2014: Leading with DNA," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 25 July 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Methodology Sunday with NGSQ: A Boren Family in Pittsburgh

Samuel W. Boren's 1898 Pittsburgh death certificate said that he was 69 and that his parents were both named Boren. Ten years later his grandson wrote down a more informative, brief, and entirely unsourced profile of Samuel's birth family. In the June issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, I treated it as a hypothesis and managed to confirm it, relying on indirect evidence and evidence from better-documented siblings.

Key records were censuses, city directories, Methodist newspapers and records, tax lists, property records, and vital records (in a state other than Pennsylvania). Key tools included establishing a migration chronology (mostly in and around Pittsburgh), creating tables to condense and correlate multiple pieces of evidence, and establishing connections between Samuel, each of his two brothers, and their sisters.

Of course, the conclusion that Samuel's parents were John Boren and Elizabeth Moore just sets up two more tricky parentage problems in early 19th-century "Dark Age" western Pennsylvania genealogy.

Like many articles, this one has had multiple incarnations. It is the more finished version of a case presented to half of the January 2014 Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy Advanced Evidence Practicum. And it will be one of several proof arguments to be dissected in the January 2015 SLIG course "From Confusion to Conclusion." Samuel was or is my great-great-great grandfather-in-law.

Harold Henderson, "Testing Family Lore to Determine the Parentage of Samuel W. Boren of Pittsburgh," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 102 (June 2014): 97-110.

Harold Henderson, "Methodology Sunday with NGSQ: A Boren Family in Pittsburgh," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 20 July 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]