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.]

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Understanding and classifying Indiana marriage records

Have you squeezed out all possible information about your ancestors' Indiana marriages? Probably not if you haven't checked for sources beyond the license and return.

Beginning in the early 1880s, Indiana marriage records provided increasing amounts of information. They also caused increasing confusion, because both the information and the forms it was recorded on changed and were inconsistently named. At times different records were called by the same name, and the same records were called by different names.

Records were created under the auspices of the state Board of Health decades before the informative marriage applications were made mandatory in 1905. Some counties cooperated in creating these earlier records; some have preserved them; some continued to use them even after 1905, giving lucky genealogists a chance to glean additional information by comparing the records. The story is spelled out in my new article in the Indiana Historical Society's twice-yearly The Hoosier Genealogist: Connections.

If you have Indiana people, you need this magazine.

Harold Henderson, "How Hoosiers Got Hitched," The Hoosier Genealogist: Connections vol. 53, no. 2 (Fall/Winter 2013), 13-24.

Harold Henderson, "Understanding and classifying Indiana marriage records," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 3 April 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

More Midwestern death records news via Joe Beine

Joe Beine's Genealogy Roots Blog yesterday announced new death records on line. In the Midwest there's more for more than 8 counties in four states:

Illinois: Kane and Lake counties.

Michigan: Kent and Ottawa counties.

Ohio: Several counties added to the already excellent Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center obituary collection.

Wisconsin: Chippewa, Green, Richland, and Sheboygan counties.

Harold Henderson, "More Midwestern death records news via Joe Beine," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted    2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]