Thursday, April 24, 2014

Now up to eleven mostly Midwestern indexes and finding aids

In addition to the nine links posted last year, two additional research aids are available on my web site:

Wisconsin Small City Directories 1903-1936 -- four rolls of microfilm published by City Directories of the United States, containing 29 directories for various years for more than 24 different towns and 7 different counties -- but labeled neither on the boxes nor at the beginning of the films themselves!

In order to make this resource useable I have spooled through the four films and listed title and publisher (when available) and date, and posted the lists and indexed them. This Wisconsin listing joins similar listings for Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. I have included CDUS's numbers as well as the numbers assigned to them at the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center, where I consulted them.

Few of these towns were able to support annual or even biennial directories, but it's a good bet that diligent researchers who visit local libraries and archives will find directories for more years than were microfilmed here. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries each of these towns had their own confident local business community.

Indiana private laws relating to La Porte County 1843-1847 and 1850, abstracted from Google Books. This is an experiment in making this relatively obscure resource more available. These are drawn from "session law" books describing the laws passed relating to particular people and organizations in each legislative session. Are your people mentioned?

Harold Henderson, "Now up to eleven mostly Midwestern indexes and finding aids," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 24 April 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, April 21, 2014

Methodology Monday with William Gray and an earthquake (NGSQ)

What's worse than a burned county? Would you believe an earthquake county? In the September 2013 National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Melinda Daffin Henningfield expertly traces a common-name ancestor, William Gray, who was briefly a judge in New Madrid County, Missouri Territory, just after the gigantic earthquakes of 1811-1812, during which the Mississippi River briefly ran backwards.

Those who have common-name brick walls, missing records, and tantalizing potential records scattered across several states can pick up ideas from Henningfield's account, even if their problem family has another name. They will also appreciate the variety of records she brings to the table.

Readers of Thomas W. Jones's Mastering Genealogical Proof will find here an example of one of the less common ways to structure a proof argument: the "building blocks" approach (p. 89). The author moves from one cluster of evidence to the next, but the clusters are organized more by relevance to the case than by chronology or other logic. Gray was in middle age at New Madrid; gradually his later Kentucky and earlier Virginia residences come to light, as do the family Bible. Census evidence, church records, handwriting samples, and onomastics (naming patterns) come late in the story. No piece of evidence names William's father, but the combined weight of the evidence from seven counties and four states is as hard to resist as -- an earthquake.

Melinda Daffin Henningfield, "A Family for William Gray of New Madrid County, Territory of Missouri," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 101 (September 2013): 207-28.

Photo credit: Richard Miller Devens, Our First Century (Springfield MA: C. A. Nichols, 1881), 220; digital image, Google Books ( : viewed 21 April 2014). Also,

Harold Henderson, "Methodology Monday with William Gray and an earthquake (NGSQ)," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 21 April 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Glimpse of the past: at work 181 years ago

The seven commonest reported occupations in a New York City directory of July 1833:

No Business Named . . . 3326
Widow . . . . . . . . . . . . .  2963
Merchant . . . . . . . . . . .  2255
Grocer . . . . . . . . . . . . .  2106
Carter . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1581
Carpenter . . . . . . . . . . . 1392
Shoemaker . . . . . . . . . .   999

At the other end, I spotted a total of only 350 clerks/accountants/bookkeepers/secretaries, nine "comedians," one "bone turner," and one "philosophical instru. maker."

Most of these people did not have "jobs" as we think of them today. They were in business for themselves.

Edwin Williams, "Classification of Citizens," in The New-York Annual Register for . . . 1834 (New York: author, 1834), 267-74, citing Longworth's July 1833 City Directory; digital images, Google Books ( : viewed 1 April 2014).

Harold Henderson, "Glimpse of the past: at work 181 years ago," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 17 April 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, April 14, 2014

Methodology Monday and the man with two last names (NGSQ)

People who change names without warning shake the ground that genealogists walk on. In US research, especially prior to 1850, it can take serious digging to figure out whether the two names represent two people or one.

In the March 2014 National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Mary Foote W. Lund deals concisely and precisely with such a problem. Using mostly indirect evidence, she shows that Micajah Bennett  fathered four distinctively named Bennett children born between 1800 and 1810. The same four children were directly identified by a seemingly reliable neighbor and relative as children of Micajah Wheeler. The author can't explain why Micajah used both surnames, but she does marshal additional evidence to confirm that there was only one of him.

Two lessons stand out:

(1) Research the whole family; you're probably going to have to anyway. Records from a grandson and from Micajah's father-in-law -- including one created after Micajah's death -- provided key information.

(2) NGSQ-worthy problems do not all require 15 or 20 pages to solve. Small is beautiful.

Mary Foote W. Lund, "Parents of Stephen Preston Bennett of Franklin County, Virginia," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 102 (March 2014): 5-10.

Harold Henderson, "Methodology Monday and the man with two last names," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 14 April 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cleanup in Aisles 1-1,000

Last month on Facebook Dave McDonald admonished fellow genealogists to start sorting and weeding their stuff now. Or, in other words, don't wait until you're dead to get started.

He is so right. As an amateur I filled at least two four-high file drawers, and eventually I just quit filing and started shoving unfiled papers into a drawer of their own.

What did I think I was doing? I was caught up in the enthusiasm, and didn't fully realize how incomplete (read: useless) a collection of records can be if it is not linked together by a train of thought -- necessarily a coherently and clearly written train of thought. Putting the pieces in a database doesn't count.

These days I'm sorting and discarding and saving in a 10-minutes-a-day routine, so that the overall task does not become too onerous. The only reason I can do it at all is that I know there are gems in there for some collateral families that I may live to write up. But all that time and energy in the accumulation! -- I could sure use some of it now.

The point is not to clean house. For that I could hire three college students and a dumpster. The point is that there is no point in researching what we are not going to turn into a story of one kind or another. Nothing else is likely to survive. Raw materials for sure will get the dumpster solution. When I look at the raw materials now, I can usually (not always) recall which of my 4 grandparents any given surname connected to ten or twelve years ago. So they are retrievable and useable.

If there were only one portal through which people could enter into genealogy, and if I could sit there 24/7, and if I were allowed to say only one thing to every happy hopeful entrant, it actually would not be about citations or even standards. Just this: "Don't consume records faster than you produce written conclusions and stories."

If it's not worth writing up, it's not worth researching in the first place.

Harold Henderson, "Cleanup in aisles 1-1,000," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 3 April 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, April 7, 2014

Methodology Monday with many Robert Walkers (NGSQ)

So you have a flash-in-the-pan ancestor with first and last names common as dirt who left no clues whatsoever after 1830, let alone 1850? Check out how Pamela Stone Eagleson dealt with Robert Walker of North Carolina and Indiana in the September 2013 National Genealogical Society Quarterly. Her article may help even if your difficult person is John Smith.

Robert did future researchers one favor by marrying Charlotte Pirtle (NOT Jane Smith!) in Rockingham County, North Carolina; moving with her to Orange County, Indiana; and leaving two children before he disappeared down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers looking for work in 1829. Their marriage date helped establish his age. One Rockingham County Walker family lived near her father. That Walker's estate got tied up in a year-long lawsuit over land he had sold but for which he had not executed a deed. Too boring to follow up on? Think again. The papers included a neighbor's deposition naming all the heirs, including Robert.

But was Robert the heir really the same guy as Charlotte's husband? In addition to parental proximity, the evidence making this "likely" includes timelines, analysis of deeds, a Y-DNA comparison, and naming patterns. The clues add up and no contradictory evidence appeared. Every case is different but the tools -- and the persistence -- can be applied anywhere.

Pamela Stone Eagleson, "Parents for Robert Walker of Rockingham County, North Carolina, and Orange County, Indiana," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 101 (September 2013): 189-99.

Harold Henderson, "Methodology Monday with many Robert Walkers (NGSQ)," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 7 April 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Saturday, April 5, 2014

April speaking engagements

I'm looking forward to talking genealogy with folks in and around Plymouth, Indiana, and then Kalamazoo, Michigan!

April 15, 6 pm EDT -- Plymouth IN, Marshall County Historical Society: "Beyond Fort Wayne, Madison, and the Newberry: Welcome to the Other Midwestern Archives"

April 21, 7 pm EDT -- Kalamazoo MI, Kalamazoo Valley Genealogical Society: "Land and Property: The Records No Genealogist Can Do Without"

Harold Henderson, "April speaking engagements," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 5 April 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]