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.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Good news for researchers whose ancestors ever got sick or died of anything

The indispensable newsletter ResearchBuzz alerts us to the existence of the Medical Heritage Library, a free searchable archive of more than 1.7 million pages in more than 3,000 volumes of 336 old public-domain medical journals and reference materials. While researching what it might have meant to die of appendicitis in 1897 -- or what medical people were writing and publishing in 1850 -- don't forget to check their long list of related resources. And don't forget this is history, including many learned articles on long-refuted (if not actually murderous) medical claims and schools of thought.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Good news for Michigan researchers!

Seeking Michigan now has all state death certificates on line for free, 1897-1939. The most recent 18  years are new.