Saturday, May 23, 2015

Good news for researchers with Missouri black sheep!

Missouri now has arguably the best on-line information about prisoners, including PDFs of the log book including any identifying scars. Two other Midwestern states have transcriptions which may or may not be complete: Illinois and Indiana. (For Indiana, choose "Institution" from the drop-down menu "Record Series," then choose one of several correctional institutions from the drop-down menu "Collections." The resulting search form can be tailored for county and span of years. A null search will not work, so just go through the vowels to develop your own custom list for a given county and period.) Cyndi's List has numerous links but the actual pickings are slim.

So you definitely want your ancestral miscreants to have been caught in the Show-Me State. And while you're there, check out all the other good records Missouri is putting on line. If you state's prison records can better Missouri's, let us know in the comments.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Underhill, Chittenden County, Vermont, on FamilySearch -- and other odd partial indexes

In order to use the relevant part of the FamilySearch collection of Vermont town records -- specifically those from Underhill, Chittenden County -- I have ascertained where the various volumes begin. This collection is browse-only, not indexed. But finding where individual volumes begin and end can make the browsing process far more efficient.

Volume 1, page 1 = image 13 of 649. It is preceded by some handwritten notes, and followed by a table of contents covering the first 64 pages of volume 1. This includes minutes of the first town meeting in 1795.

Either volume 2 is continuously paginated with volume 1, or it is missing.

Volume 3, cover = image 193 of 649. Reportedly 1805-1810.

Volume 4, cover page = image 286 of 649. Reportedly 1808-1814.

Volume 5, page 1 = image 476 of 649. Reportedly 1815-1820. Last entry is February 1820.

Several other off-the-beaten-path indexes are on Midwest Roots: a FamilySearch file of Allegany County, New York, probates; the 1857 assessor's list for Porter County, Indiana; and microfilmed small-town directories from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

Since there are no in-book indexes, this is all browsing all the time. I have so many relatives here that I'm just working backwards from the end of volume 5 and have already found some goodies. It appears that most items are deeds. (Volume 1 may be more variable.) There is at least one tax list.

Someday no doubt there will be an every-name index to this collection, but I don't think it would be wise to wait!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Three ways to get your genealogy material out there without actually publishing

A recent discussion on the Transitional Genealogists Forum got into the question of how we can get our research findings "out there" without actually publishing them. I myself am a big advocate of getting stuff published, but it's worth knowing that there are alternatives. The first two came up in the discussion, and the third didn't occur to me until it was over.

(1) FamilySearch accepts various kinds of record donations.

(2) The Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center has a "photocopy exchange" program, where if you send them a manuscript, they'll bind one copy for you and one for their shelves.

(3) National Genealogical Society writing contest winner gets published in the NGS Quarterly, but other entries can end up in the NGS book loan collection at the St. Louis County Public Library. I was surprised and mostly pleased when I heard from someone who had located and read my non-winning submission on a Wisconsin family from back in 2008. "Mostly" pleased because that work had some deficiencies that I've always intended to fix . . .

The good thing about publishing in journals, instead of the above, is that some of them have editors who will help us improve our reasoning and writing. (And all of them need more material!) So I'm still a big advocate of that; the only way I'll become a lesser advocate would be if I went on a diet.

What all these options require is that we Actually. Write. Something. Do it! It's the best method of preservation.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Learning from what went wrong

We usually want to learn from the best -- the perfect novelist, the triumphant quarterback, the most cogent genealogist. But sometimes we can learn more from things that didn't quite go right. I can understand basketball and chess strategy better from games played by high-schoolers than the pros.

That's the idea behind my article in the May issue of OnBoard, the newsletter of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, "Anatomy of a Failure: What I Learned from My First Portfolio," i.e., the one that came back unsuccessful in 2010.

OnBoard's slogan could be "not available in libraries," or at least I don't see it there. It comes out three times a year and anyone can subscribe for $15. Selected past articles are in the "Skillbuilding" portion of BCG's website. If you find them interesting, a subscription might be a good expenditure.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Take your own mind-blowing tour at NGS in May: Cahokia Mounds

A thousand years ago in downstate Illinois, across the Mississippi from where St. Louis is now, a world-class engineer designed a 100-foot-tall structure that still stands. He made it out of mud.

I think it's the most amazing destination in the Midwest. I wrote about it 15 years ago.

The latest visitor information is here.

Harold Henderson, "The Rise and Fall of the Mound People," Chicago Reader, 29 June 2000.

Photo per Creative Commons (

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Crossing the Continent with Common Names and Living to Tell the Story

As we genealogists soon learn, an amazing number of people have common names. I ran into a few of them seven years ago while working on my first BCG portfolio: Who were the parents of Ina Smith who married Frank Burdick in Kansas City in 1885?

He was the third generation on my kinship determination project, so I didn't have to deal with this side issue right then. But I was intrigued.

It turned out that Ina's parents were John and Elizabeth Smith. They appeared to have come from Indiana, but which ones were they, and where in Indiana -- and was Elizabeth's maiden name Smith too?

I made several runs at this problem over the years, going from thinking it was hopeless to thinking it was too easy. Now I'm on even keel, and the finished article is in the newly posted March issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, so readers can see how I solved it. This version is a little sharper than the original submission, thanks to peer review and good editors.

Of course, it's not likely that either of these two Smith families is one of yours. But you may have a similar sort of problem with different people. Hope it helps!

 NGSQ is a benefit of membership in the National Genealogical Society. Members can read the latest issue (and many old ones) as soon as it is posted.

"Crossing the Continent with Common Names: Indiana Natives John and Elizabeth (Smith) Smith," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 103 (March 2015): 29-35.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

136 years ago: the Upper Midwest from the back of a horse

During the 1800s, even ancestors who would end up staying home often tried going West to see how it suited them. My great-grandfather spent a few years in Kansas hoping to alleviate his wife's asthma, but they returned to southern Illinois.

And in the spring of 1879, my wife's great-grandfather left his young family behind for several weeks and took a 430-mile horseback ride west across part of Wisconsin and most of Minnesota. He sent back postcards and letters, which I transcribed and annotated, and which have now been published in the Minnesota Genealogical Quarterly. It's all there -- the rain, the cold, the boredom, the jokes, the universal presumption that if your traveling companion fell sick you could find him a bed in a farmhouse along the way, and forge on.

"Across Wisconsin and Minnesota on Horseback, 1879," Minnesota Genealogical Quarterly vol. 45, no. 4 (2014): 7-9.