Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Two events to fit into your Salt Lake City plans!

Midwestern genealogists have two new reasons to wish that their ancestors had been more tolerant of the Mormon settlers in Nauvoo in western Illinois in the 1840s. If they had, then two big genealogy opportunities coming up in Salt Lake City might have been a lot closer!

On Saturday October 11, the Board for Certification of Genealogists will present six lectures from top genealogists Elissa Scalise Powell, Judy G. Russell, Stefani Evans, and Elizabeth Shown Mills -- free and open to the public at the Family History Library.

And this coming January 8-9, the Association of Professional Genealogists will hold its annual star-studded Professional Management Conference, with talks and workshops focused on professionalism both in the business and the expertise senses, at the downtown Hilton Hotel.

Both are open to anyone, not only to members of any particular group. APG is offering a discount to young (under-25) genealogists.

Harold Henderson, "Two events to fit into your Salt Lake City plans!," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 2 October 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, September 29, 2014

Two kinds of genealogists and the question that sorts them out

You're researching Thralls, and someone posts this image on line. What's your first thought?

(a) Thank the poster for breaking down your brick wall.

(b) Enter the information into your genealogy database.

(c) Message ten friends about this breakthrough.

(d) Ask "Where did that come from? How do they know?"

Options a, b, or c = Type 1 Genealogists

Option d = Type 2 Genealogists (For details, check out the first section of Evidence Explained.)

One goal of genealogy education, from which most everything else follows: to encourage Type 1 folks to recognize that (d) is a possibility, and to choose it more often.

Harold Henderson, "Two kinds of genealogists and the question that sorts them out," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 29 September 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Methodology Thursday: working with derivative sources

We can't say it often enough: if we have only an index entry or an abstract of a record, we need to find the original record, because the index or abstract may contain mistakes and it is likely to have left out some pieces of information that were in the original. Genealogists who take the easy way out and rely on indexes or abstracts are not only failing to meet standards but also may be creating their own brick walls.

The other day I was busy wallowing in derivative sources and realized that there are more dimensions to this question. I was trying to identify a J. W. Smith family living in Joplin Township, Jasper County, Missouri, in 1880, and had little luck backtracking them in previous censuses. Eventually I came across's database, "Jasper County, Missouri Deaths 1878-1905." 

My search for "J. W. Smith" (exact, in this database produced a remarkable result: 

Name: Mrs. J. W. @ Smith
Age or Birthdate: abt 78
Death Date: 14 Jun 1908

I was pleased to see that this person was about the age I was hoping to find. As a result, I didn't spot the oddity about this entry right away, but you probably did! When I did notice it, I looked to Ancestry's explanation of the source for this database. Ancestry says it came from two compilations by Kenneth E. Weant of newspaper death notices in the county, one volume 1878-1899, and another 1899-1905.

Obviously this information did not come from where Ancestry said it did. (I will say right now that I have long criticized Ancestry's shoddy quality control and will continue to do so, even though in some cases poorly cited and  poorly organized online data are better than nothing. But this post is not about Ancestry's lack of commitment to genealogical excellence, except as to the additional research skills it requires of us.)

Fortunately I was working at the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center, and I was quickly able to locate the volumes Ancestry had drawn on. In addition to the two the on-line giant named, there is a third: Kenneth E. Weant, Jasper County, Missouri, 6957 Deaths Reported in & Chronological Index to Selected Articles from The Joplin Daily News Herald 1 January 1906 to 31 December 1910 (N.p.: privately printed, 2002). Mrs. J. W. Smith appears on pages 100 and 294 of this book.

One mystery down. But you may well wonder why Mrs. J. W. Smith, with such meager information, appears twice in the book. The answer is that not all derivative sources are created equal. When Ancestry turned the book into an on-line database, it chose to omit a good deal of information that Mr. Weant had collected.

Mr. Weant also tells us that either Mrs. J. W. Smith or (more likely) her husband was a military veteran. (That's what the @ sign signified, as explained in the book but not in the online database.) In addition, Mr. Weant gives the date of newspaper publication and list of the specific newspaper microfilms he consulted and where to order them from. He also includes for most people a de facto partial abstract of relationships mentioned in the obituary: Mrs. J. W. Smith was named as the mother of Mrs. J. W. Cole and sister of Mrs. Mary Keane. 

For my purposes that day, this was enough to tell me that Mrs. J. W. @ Smith was not likely of interest to my research. But if I were to seek out the original record(s) here, in particular the published obituary, it would be a lot easier to do by going back systematically from Ancestry's data entry to its (unmentioned) source, because that source (Mr. Weant's third volume) is one step closer to the original and contains a lot more information than Ancestry troubled itself to reproduce -- just as the original obituary may contain its quota of useful information that Mr. Weant left out. 

Harold Henderson, "Methodology Thursday: working with derivative sources," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 25 September 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

New online death records and indexes

Joe Beine has additional death records and indexes posted. For our five-state Midwestern focus, they are:

Illinois: Boone and Cook counties

Michigan: Ottawa County

Ohio: Cleveland

Harold Henderson, "New online death records and indexes," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 23 September 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, September 22, 2014

Middle West Review!

A tip of the hat to Paula Stuart-Warren for alerting us to a new twice-yearly journal from the University of Nebraska Press. The editors and editorial board (slightly different lists) are all academics but seem open to "nonscholars" as well. Here's their opening elevator pitch:
"The Middle West Review is an interdisciplinary journal about the American Midwest and the only publication dedicated exclusively to the study of the Midwest as a region. It provides a forum for scholars and nonscholars alike to explore the contested meanings of midwestern identity, history, geography, society, culture, and politics. What states belong within the Midwest? Is the Midwest inherently rural? Are Chicago and Pacific Junction, Iowa, part of the same region? If so, what links them? What traditions or features define the Midwest? Does the Midwest have a particular economic identity? Is the Midwest 'queer'? How does the Midwest’s racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity square with its popular perception as a homogenous space? Is the Midwest 'distinctive'? If so, why do Americans often conceive of it as a 'normative' site, one divorced from the historical intrigue and conflict of the South and the West?"
The last link above is both blog and website. The table of contents for the Fall 2014 issue is here.

Whether you choose to spend $40 for two issues a year or not, be sure to check out the working bibliography of recent "Midwestern Histories and Studies" from editor-in-chief Paul Mokrzycki  -- 39 so far (all but one published in the last 25 years), including two of my all-time favorites, William Cronon's Nature's Metropolis and Richard White's The Middle Ground -- and several more that I need to become acquainted with!

Compared to other regions, this is not a big bookshelf.

Harold Henderson, "Middle West Review!," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 22 September 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Genealogy for non-relatives

When people ask me about blogging, one point I make is that it helps to be dependable. If you can post every day fine, but if not try to be there once a week. Otherwise your reader(s) will lose touch. It's standard advice. 

But every rule has its exceptions. If you can blog as engagingly as Cynthia at ChicagoGenealogy, then I don't care. "RunKeeper to the Rescue: How I Found Mr. Janes' Grave" is her second post since April and I'm just fine with that. It's got everything: A cemetery, a story, a song, a research travelogue, technology, a town called "Onarga," and a recognition that we are related to people with whom we share no discernible blood tie.

Harold Henderson, "Genealogy for non-relatives," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 18 September 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Virtual Institute -- a new and hopefully vigorous hybrid

The excuses for not continuing genealogy education are steadily dwindling.

Another excuse winked out last week, when three friends and colleagues announced the Virtual Institute of Genealogical Research. The Virtual Institute will offer a series of short courses on-line in webinar format: four lectures of 90 minutes each, plus copies of the video and some exercises, all for about $70 per course. The format is two lectures on each of two consecutive Saturdays. Cofounders Michael Hait, Melanie Holtz, and Catherine Desmarais are all board-certified genealogists.

Compared to a standard webinar, a Virtual Institute course takes much longer and can go much deeper, and it will be limited to 100 students each. Compared to a standard institute course of 30 that lasts five days, a Virtual Institute course is much larger and much shorter -- and also much less expensive in money (no travel, no lodging) and in time (no week-long absence).

What The Virtual Institute cannot offer is the camaraderie and personal contact of a regular institute. But it has a corresponding asset the regular institutes can't match: much greater flexibility in offering specialized courses at all levels. (Traditional institutes were notoriously slow in recognizing the need for courses in DNA.) The first five planned courses illustrate the point: proof arguments (Michael Hait, CG), agricultural records (Mark Lowe, CG), family photographs (Maureen Taylor), Irish research strategies (Donna Moughty), and autosomal DNA (Blaine Bettinger).

For those of us who want to learn and can't get out, The Virtual Institute will be the place to "go." It will add significantly to the many ways that genealogists can learn from the best.

*Note 22 September 2014: VIGR has been rechristened "The Virtual Institute" and this post has been revised to reflect that change.*

Harold Henderson, "The Virtual Institute -- a new and hopefully vigorous hybrid," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 15 September 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Harold Henderson, "VIGR -- a new and hopefully vigorous hybrid," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 15 September 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]