Friday, September 8, 2017

Just when you think you've got the whole family . . .

Few things genealogical are more fun than finding a probate that reveals a supposed bachelor marrying, fathering five children, and dying -- all within the 1880-1900 "little dark age." Without the probate they and their mother would have been difficult or impossible to find. We're talking Pennsylvania here, no marriage records. And so far this branch of the family appears not to have been in communication, even though it was one of the few who remained in Erie County. Did somebody have a quarrel?

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Five generations of New York women

Ye fair that cast on this an eye
By me a pattern take and
Spend your time industriously
And such a sampler make
Polly Holmes her work done
In the year 1824

Polly Homes did not live to see 25, but she is the 5G grandmother of our granddaughter. The sampler she stitched 193 years ago survives, a little faded in parts. I tell the stories of her five generations of non-living female descendants in the July 2017 New York Genealogical and Biographical Record. Cuddle up with a copy and see what you think.

Samplers were a part of schooling at that time, and to some extent an insurance policy: wives marked their linens, and many a widow or grass widow plied the needle for a living. Books and surveys have been published based on samplers, some of which are beautiful and some of which document family trees. For more, check the informative and illustrated books by Betty Ring, Susan P. Schoelwer, and others. For now, I'm just happy to have these Holmes-Denison-Crandall-Burdick-Bassett female lines documented: just as much a family as those who share the same surname every generation. And thanks to NYGBR retiring editor Karen Jones for  being willing to publish a "cross-grained" lineage.


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

In the middle of the middle of the Middle West

Those of us with ties to the 44 or so Illinois counties lying between I-70 and I-80 have received a gift, but we don't all know it yet. Corn Kings & One-Horse Thieves: A Plain-Spoken History of Mid-Illinois, by my friend and onetime colleague James Krohe Jr., comes closer to unriddling the riddle of the Midwest than anything else I've seen. How is it that a place so bland has such a violent history and uncertain future? 

One way to begin to understand the past is not to blink at it. The author accurately compares the "removal" of Native Americans to recent episodes of "ethnic cleansing at its most ruthless." Similarly in agriculture: "Most of the prairie was  simply destroyed to get at the soils that lay beneath it"; what remains is appropriately preserved in tiny pioneer cemeteries.

The book's eleven chapters proceed both chronologically and thematically, keeping close to the ground. We learn that Decatur was the hub of railroad Illinois, selling more tickets than Chicago or St. Louis; that it took four days for Canton's abandoned International Harvester factory complex to burn down; that the Corn Belt Liberty League did not survive farm prosperity. (The attempted academic renaissance of midwestern studies should do this well.)

There is no slack water here; the author is always thinking. "On a memorable night in 1895, the Fulton County courthouse in Lewistown was burned to the ground as the last act in a bitter county seat war between that town and Canton. The incident provided material for several of Edgar Lee Masters's poems, making it one of the few times county government has inspired readable verse."

And he earns the epilogue, a reflection on the barely casual interest in the region's past that allowed Galesburg's first settlers' "Log City" and the massive World War II Camp Ellis in Fulton County to be obliterated. "The mid-Illinois landscape is peopled with spirits of these forgotten people and places and things . . . Old interurban and streetcar tracks still run through many a Main Street, buried beneath newer paving; where streets are worn, the rails sometimes are exposed, like the bones sticking out of a grave."

For those with roots south of the Quad Cities and north of Alton, this is a must-have. Others may find it a model for the kind of detailed and honest history other states and regions could use.

Krohe writes weekly in Springfield's Illinois Times and there provides a better biographical background than his publisher. His roots in mid-Illinois go back two centuries. "How does one find oneself turned around, looking backwards rather than forwards the way a real American should? I can say honestly that it was not my fault. My ancestors lured me into it."

Monday, August 14, 2017

Where to arrange to have your ancestors buried

One of my 32 great-great-great grandparents (my mother's father's father's mother's father, ~1771-1822) turns out to have been buried in Mound View Cemetery, which overlooks the town of Mount Vernon, county seat of Knox County, Ohio. I recommend that you arrange to have yours buried there too, if possible. Let me count the ways:

* Twenty-five years ago the local chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society completed readings of all the county cemeteries, including checks against the burial records (which picked up one of my relatives, the last of her line -- evidently nobody was left to add her name to the stone).

* The resulting two-volume cemetery compilation includes maps at two (sometimes three) different scales including lot numbers and owners' names.

* The cemetery roads themselves have the section numbers painted on them, so it is possible to find a given grave marker without hiking for miles.

Another excellent place to be buried, for similar reasons, is Erie, Pennsylvania. What's your favorite?

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Back to the future in a self-driving car

Nobody knows what genealogy will be like in 2117. But three weeks from today, at the BCG luncheon at FGS Pittsburgh, you can hear some things I think might happen. It's not all good news but some of it could be funny.

Benjamin Franklin supposedly asked to be waked up every 100 years to be told what was going on. Is he just as glad we didn't?

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Postpone that genealogy road trip . . .

. . . and take a good long look at your target records and counties in the Family History Library catalog.

If the records you want are on films that have been digitized (those are camera icons in the right-hand "format" column), then you may get to have a genealogy staycation instead.

I just viewed the index books (also digitized) and pulled two key deeds for an ancestor in Ashtabula County, Ohio, whose property was sold to satisfy a court decree in 1844 (after he had paid the then-princely sum of $2400 for it six years earlier). Most likely he borrowed money on it and couldn't pay, but we'll see.

Actually I still need that road trip, because the underlying court records -- which hopefully will explain how he got into this fix -- were not filmed, and due to the current Microfilmpocalypse may never be. But now I can zero in on them instead. Jefferson, Ohio, is nice in the summer.

from OZinOH  per Creative Commons 2.0

Monday, July 24, 2017

How others see us

There are people who hate genealogy -- often because it dealt them a nasty surprise. And there are rather more people who are just puzzled by it. William Maxwell, the late great New Yorker writer and editor, wrote a whole book of stories and memories about his family (Ancestors) in the early 1970s, but he was never one of us.

Carefully placing his own feelings at several removes, early in the book he recalled having dinner with an older cousin who was the family genealogist (and who later died relatively young). William was shy and perhaps a bit intimidated. He reflected later,

“I wish I had somehow given him a chance to say what it was that he hoped to gain for himself as he went about collecting facts having to do with births, deaths, and marriages of several generations of self-respecting, not very well-educated, for the most part devout men and women nobody has ever heard of.” (17)

It's a good question -- in a way a very "New York" question even though Maxwell lived his early life in Lincoln, Logan County, Illinois -- and one that deserves our consideration as we go about our work.