Historians are using families to tell history. Some examples, of which I have read only the first:
Anne F. Hyde, Empires, Nations and Families: A History of the North American West, 1800-1860 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2011). It's not news that long-range business transactions worked better when family ties were involved. The same was true in the fur trade and other trades on the far side of the Mississippi. Among other things that meant that the Chouteaus and the Bents had family connections with their Native American trading partners. Generations of mixed-race people worked together. But their world began to end as land-hungry squatters advanced on the west (loudly insisting that the government protect their often illegal intrusions), eastern Indians were forced westward onto the plains, and scientific racism sought to classify and divide by blood quanta. Although the book feels disorganized, reading it gave me a new outlook and attitude on the whole process (and on its less documented form east of the Mississippi a generation and more earlier).
Rebecca J. Scott and Jean M. Hebrard, Freedom Papers: An Atlantic Odyssey in the Age of Emancipation (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012). According to reviewer Maurice Jackson in the April 2013 American Historical Review, "a superb microhistory and a transnational history of Atlantic migration," focusing on a family beginning with Rosalie, kidnapped and enslaved from Senegal in West Africa and enslaved in Haiti, then to Cuba after Napoleon's 1801 invasion, then to New Orleans, then to Pau, Basses-Pyrenees, France. The story spans several generations, several revolutions, the US Civil War, the Holocaust, and Belgian tobacco merchants -- all in this mixed-race family.
Erika Kuhlman, Of Little Comfort: War Widows, Fallen Soldiers, and the Remaking of the Nation after the Great War (New York: New York University Press, 2012). According to reviewer Nancy K. Bristow in the June 2013 American Historical Review, "a triumph," bringing together many historical approaches and human voices. After World War I, officialdom in both the US and Germany "celebrated widows as symbols of patriotism and devotion to the nation." They "often served as justification for continued militarism. Widows, though, did not necessary accept this role."
Harold Henderson, "Telling history through families," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 19 June 2013 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Historians are using families to tell history. Some examples, of which I have read only the first:
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Five new or expanded Midwestern collections on FamilySearch in the last 2 days:
Illinois -- Lee County
Missouri -- Cole County
Ohio -- Trumbull County and Cleveland
Wisconsin -- 1865 state census
Monday, June 17, 2013
Everyone who's even thinking of going to the Federation of Genealogical Societies' national conference in Fort Wayne in August (or who's thinking of signing up before July 1 to get the early-bird discount) should already be reading both the FGS conference blog and the blog of the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library, one of the two local hosts. In just the past few days I've learned:
* how the center's unique adaptation of the Dewey Decimal System works, so that you won't miss anything in searching the printed materials, and
* that the librarians on staff there have among them more than 200 years' worth of genealogy experience.
My free 26-page guide to the center, Finding Ancestors in Fort Wayne, doesn't include either of these fun facts -- yet -- but it can still help you make the most of your limited time there.
Harold Henderson, "The 200-Year-Old Genealogist," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 17 June 2013 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]
Friday, June 14, 2013
I'll be at the Crown Point library to talk at the Northwest Indiana Genealogical Society meeting at 10 am central time Saturday on "Welcome to the OTHER Midwestern Archives," an idiosyncratic travelogue including advice on how to find your archive . . .
Posted by Harold at 5:26 AM
I shouldn't have been surprised -- but I was when I opened the April 2013 New York Genealogical and Biographical Record and found myself plunged into a series of trading voyages around and across the Pacific Ocean in the early 1800s, in the first installment of Edward E. Steele's lead article on Capt. William J. Pigot. Pigot and his family were New Yorkers all right, but he at least did not stay put. Steele combined a great story with great genealogy detective work to make sure the right story was being told about the right people.
(Those who read Steele's article will understand why this is the first genealogy article I ever read that brought to mind John Updike's early story, "The Blessed Man of Boston, My Grandmother's Thimble, and Fanning Island," in Pigeon Feathers; now also in The New Yorker's subscriber-only online archive for 13 January 1962.)
More conventionally, I was pleased to find a crop of Midwesterners in the first installment of George R. Nye's account of the Preserved Fish Deuel family, with locations including Minnesota (Cottonwood, Faribault, McLeod, Brown, and Ramsey counties), Illinois (Lake County), Wisconsin (Waushara, Marquette, and Green Lake counties), and Iowa (Wright, Kossuth, and Osceola counties).
It's not a slam on the article to say that I enjoyed the footnotes just as much. As the author notes, the article "demonstrates the types of sources and analysis that can be used to document a family" even when vital records are few and far between. Among the alternatives employed were the hybrid township-military records created by many New York town clerks during the Civil War, documenting not only the service but genealogically relevant facts about soldiers from their area.
East-central Ohio (Coshocton, Licking, and Fairfield counties) also was a landing place for one descendant of the Pine-Pettit-Dorlon connection documented in the concluding part of Robert J. Meyers' account.
Edward E. Steele, "William J. Pigot, Captain of the Forester," New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, vol. 144, no. 2 (April 2013), 85-100.
George R. Nye, "Children and Grandchildren of Preserved Fish7 Deuel of Cambridge and Massena, New York," New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, vol. 144, no. 2 (April 2013), 123-39.
Robert J. Meyers, "A Pine-Pettit-Dorlon Connection: Untangling the Family of Elias D. Pine (1793-1866) of Hempstead, Long Island, New York (concluded)," New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, vol. 144, no. 2 (April 2013), 140-54.
Harold Henderson, "Tour the Pacific of 200 years ago in the April NYGBR," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 10 June 2013 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
"The eternal search for our ancestors is reaching its end game," claims the two-year-old on-line magazine The Verge, which covers "the intersection of technology, science, art, and culture."Senior features editor Laura June dropped in on RootsTech and concluded that, between on-line records and DNA advances, genealogy and genealogists can only go downhill from here. "In the next five to 10 years, it will become increasingly simple to find out who your ancestors were even several generations back, with relatively little effort . . . . It’s not hard to imagine a future where the mysteries most of us have in our ancestral past will simply no longer exist." Uh huh. And when I was a kid it wasn't hard to imagine a future when we would all have personal flying cars.
It's a good article in that it is well-written and long enough to convey multiple points of view. Unfortunately, its length was not put to that use. Instead, it confirmed the author's (and no doubt the magazine's) preconceived view. (Hat tip to Stephanie Hoover, who sparked an ongoing LinkedIn discussion on the subject in the group Genealogical and Historical Research, with the somewhat different headline "Another nail in the coffin of professional genealogists...:?")
June did not quote or mention any of the top genealogists now working -- people who might have challenged her assumption that everything Ancestry.com executives say is gospel. She noticed that the Family History Library is built in the architectural fashion known as modernism, with straight lines and planes and glass and stone. She wants to think that genealogy is about to become equally shiny and clean and well-defined, no more dusty attics or dank basements or old paper that shatters when you touch it. I say, dream on.
The part of genealogy that is going away is the lookup. (The article makes some sense if you think lookups = genealogy.) I recently was hired to go to a remote county in Indiana where the property records had not been microfilmed. That's an anomaly and it will go away. I got my first glimpse of genealogy from my mom's first cousin back in the 1980s, who spent much time sending letters to relatives and typing her results on multiple carbon paper copies in typewriters. She did valuable work but at the end of the day it was a good-sized journal article, nothing more. That world is gone, and few of us miss it.
Genealogy is changing and will change a lot more, but will it become so easy to find any ancestor that genealogy will be as outdated and trivial as a printed table of logarithms? Not likely, for at least five reasons, none of which got any hearing in The Verge:
(1) Most records useful to genealogists are not microfilmed, not digitized, and not indexed. (More records are useful to genealogists than even we can imagine.)
(2) Even if everything were digitized tomorrow, genealogists still need to know how to find the relevant records. One genealogical fact Laura June didn't disclose: often key records in a proof do not name the person of interest.
(3) Much of the "information" Ancestry makes available is in the form of user-supplied family trees, which are notoriously unsourced and error-prone.
(4) Some of the "mysteries we all have in our past" can be solved by better search engines and DNA and shared documentation. But not all. The unchanged facts of genealogy are that records are scarce; they can be hard to understand; they contradict each other; and they confuse each other (common names). It takes first analyzing individual records and then correlating multiple conflicting records. If Laura June talked to anyone who knows this, such as the author of Mastering Genealogical Proof, she kept it out of the article.
(5) As for the fate of professional genealogy, the possibility of doing it yourself (DIY) in any field rarely translates into the universality of DIY. There are plenty of tools on sale to help anyone grow their own garden, or maintain a vast lawn, but last I checked plenty of professional gardeners were working.
None of the above is meant to disparage or minimize the enormous value that FamilySearch, Ancestry.com, and other on-line repositories and search engines have brought to genealogy. (Just ask those of us who were around when they weren't!) It is meant to disparage and minimize popular articles that move straight from preconception to conclusion without finding more than one point of view.
Laura June, "Who am I? Data and DNA answer one of Life's Big Questions," The Verge, 7 May 2013 (http://www.theverge.com/2013/5/7/4258094/who-am-i-data-and-dna-solve-one-of-lifes-big-questions : accessed 10 June 2013).
Harold Henderson, "Does genealogy have a future? Don't ask a journalist," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 12 June 2013 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]