Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Genealogy Christmas . . .

You didn't want to get anything done today, anyway! Good and potentially good things (I haven't looked at them all yet), moving from west to east . . .

* Chicago in Maps, cartographer Dennis McClendon's on-line collection of Chicago maps from 1834 to 2014.

* M. Susan Murnane's new book, Bankruptcy in an Industrial Society: A History of the Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Ohio (Akron: University of Akron Press, 2014), said to be "a social and institutional history of the Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Ohio. The work explains the development of the court and the story of the people who worked there and of those who sought refuge in the bankruptcy court, within the context of northern Ohio's changing economy."

* Friend and colleague Amy E. K. Arner's new book, Abstracts of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, Tax Records 1815 (Berwyn Heights, MD: Heritage Books, 2014).

* Not new at all: Historian Thomas Bender's Community and Social Change in America (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1978): "There were apparently two populations in nineteenth-century towns, an economically successful permanent group who shaped the values and direction of social life in the town, and a floating, largely unsuccessful group. We know little about those who left nineteenth-century towns." By contrast, in his view, "in contemporary America, men and women do not so much move from one town to another as follow an advantageous career path that may take them to a number of basically incidental locations." {93} Now the successful are the floaters?!





Harold Henderson, "A Genealogy Christmas . . . ," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 14 December 2014 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Methodology Thursday: Indirect evidence adds to the New England Ruggles family

Even old New England genealogy is never done. In the October issue of the New England Historical and Genealogical Register (available on line to NEGHS members), Samuel Paine Sturgis III shows that Joseph Ruggles (say 1743-1815) was a son of Rev. Benjamin Ruggles (1700-1782) of Middleborough and New Braintree, Massachusetts, even though no record actually states their relationship. How Sturgis proved it is relevant to all researchers, whether or not we have Ruggles -- or any New Englanders at all -- in our tree.

Key to the case are Joseph's associations with known family members, pattern recognition in property records (an unusual pattern in this case), and a 1904 reminiscence from a family friend. We often hear of researching women by researching the better-documented men in their lives; in this case important corroboration for Joseph's ancestry came by way of his wife Sarah Brakenridge.





Samuel Paine Sturgis III, "Joseph Ruggles of New Braintree and Greenwich, Massachusetts," New England Historical and Genealogical Register 168 (October 2014): 256-270.


Harold Henderson, "Methodology Thursday: Indirect evidence adds to the New England Ruggles family," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 11 December 2014 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]



Monday, December 8, 2014

A great new book and a need for connection

Robert Charles Anderson, FASG, best known for the definitive Great Migration series published by the New England Historic Genealogical Society, has written an important book of genealogical methods and theory, laced with real-life examples. Anyone who's serious enough to know what the Genealogical Proof Standard is, or who reads the New England Historical and Genealogical Register or the National Genealogical Society Quarterly for more than just the names of their ancestors, should read Elements of Genealogical Analysis. It's instructive and thought-provoking.

Such readers may also find themselves feeling a bit dizzy. Anderson defines sources and records and methods differently than the Board for Certification of Genealogists. It's as if someone were doing carpentry and building good houses with an entirely different set of tools and measurements.

More remarkably, Anderson nowhere mentions the Genealogical Proof Standard or the more detailed standards that have been widely distributed since 2000. (He does acknowledge that other systems are possible and that they "quite likely . . . might be developed.") {xv}

For myself I don't mind this. As an avid consumer of the Great Migration books (long before I understood anything else about genealogy), I don't mind it.

As a professional I do mind it. Insofar as genealogy is a profession, it cannot grow the way it has  mostly grown: with every lone wolf taking his or her own tack with little regard for others. It has to grow incrementally, building on and revising and improving others' contributions. So I am disappointed that Anderson saw fit to publish his system, complete with its own concepts and methods, without any explanation of how they relate to the standards and methods that have been publicly available for more than a decade -- and that are the creation of a many skilled genealogists, not just one.

Having read the book, I know it offers deep thought and good counsel. Genealogy must include both these thoughts and the body of work surrounding the GPS, as well as a clear understanding of how they all fit together. And sooner or later it will.



[Full disclosure: Although I serve as a trustee of BCG, the above are my personal opinions only.]


Robert Charles Anderson, Elements of Genealogical Analysis: How to Maximize Your Research Using the Great Migration Study Project Method  (Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2014).


Harold Henderson, "A great new book and a need for connection," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 8 December 2014 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]





Friday, December 5, 2014

Let's not have any g-d- swearing here

Guerrilla war was the norm in Kentucky as white settlers tried to move in on the Shawnee and Cherokee in the 1770s. I've been reading John Mack Faragher's biography of Daniel Boone (no reason except he's a wonderful historian -- nobody with the slightest interest in Sangamon County, Illinois, should miss his Sugar Creek).

Boone's life was researched quite a bit by interviewers late in his life and while those who knew him were still alive. So there are quite a few first-person accounts of the siege of Boonesborough in September 1778. And it is known that the settlers and the Indians frequently exchanged profane insults during the battles -- but it is mostly not known what exactly they said.

Why not? Because the language offended the researchers conducting the interviews. Faragher writes,

"Vulgar gibes were tossed back and forth, although nineteenth-century decorum kept even the best of collectors from recording much of this language. One salty-tongued Kentuckian informant, reviewing the notes that one antiquarian had taken during his interview, protested the absence of the profanity, arguing that the story simply couldn't be told 'without these necessary ornaments.' The interviewer, however, defended the expurgation, maintaining that the swearing was 'repugnant to good taste, and renders the narrative obnoxious to persons of refined and Christian feeling.'"
Have you ever left out part of the historical record for such reasons -- or any reasons?



John Mack Faragher, Daniel Boone: The Life and Legend of an American Pioneer (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1992), 196. 


Harold Henderson, "Let's not have any g-d- swearing here," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 5 December 2014 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]


Monday, December 1, 2014

Methodology Monday with the genealogy of mislabeled records

Somehow, somewhere in the depths of the 19th Century U.S. Department of War, a unit of Revolutionary War soldiers got moved from Virginia to Connecticut. Probably it happened when the Compiled Military Service Record cards for George Markham's Revolutionary War company were created from a single 1781 original muster roll. It took a massive systematic effort by Craig Roberts Scott, in the current (September) National Genealogical Society Quarterly, to prove that they should be moved back.

The muster roll itself had "Virginia" written on its side, and no original source places them in New England. Scott first found that Markham himself was closely tied to Chesterfield County, Virginia, both before and after 1781. Then he correlated dozens of the individual officers and soldiers in the unit to same-name men on record in that county. One at a time.

A groundbreaking (or rather, ground-restoring) project of this kind doesn't have to be fancy, but it does have to be thorough and systematic. This one also reminds us to pay close attention when a derivative record makes a claim that cannot be confirmed in the original. That's like a sign saying, "DIG HERE."


Craig Roberts Scott, "Captain George Markham's Military Company: Virginia not Connecticut," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 102 (September 2014): 201-30.


Harold Henderson, "Methodology Monday with the genealogy of mislabeled records," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 1 December 2014 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]




Friday, November 28, 2014

Methodology Friday from immigrant origins to economic causes

In the current (September) National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Allen R. Peterson pieces together a Sandham family that showed up in Derbyshire out of the blue in 1806. Where did they come from?

The IGI -- used as an index to the underlying records -- suggests a hypothesis. The family may have come from 56 miles away in Lancashire. Comparisons of names and birth and death information from the two places confirm that the parents and 4-5 children are the same in both places at different times.

Why did they move? By digging through records ot taxes, inheritance, and warnings-out involving both ancestors and in-laws, Peterson goes beyond "pure" genealogy, making the case that the parents were probably leaving a marginal agricultural existence and seeking steadier factory work in Derbyshire. Those without English ancestry can learn something here about taking the next step of restoring more than just dates and places in the past.




Allen R. Peterson, "The Origin of Peter and Jane Sandham of Thornsett, Derbyshire," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 102 (September 2014): 189-200.


Harold Henderson, "Methodology Friday from immigrant origins to economic causes," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 28 November 2014 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]



Monday, November 24, 2014

What I learned from one year's family postcards

More than half a century ago my mother wrote dozens of postcards to her mother, who lived an hour away. The families also visited two or three times a month. At this time there were five children under nine years old in the house. Reading them over is fun, sometimes a bit spooky, and it made me think about using family resources because in this case I can remember some of that year.

Yes, these are original sources containing primary information (from an eyewitness). Reading cards from a later year completely overturned a well-established family story. Another family story about when I gave up a nickname is kiboshed by one of these cards. Memory is changeable. So one lesson from these postcards is that we need to write down verbal accounts ASAP. Over time, what we remember of that verbal account will change in ways that the written one will not.

So in some contexts these family records are pretty authoritative. But as usual, the more we know (and reflect on) how these records were created, the better we can evaluate them. First of all, they can contain mistakes. In some ways like diaries, they leave out things, sometimes the very things we would most like to know. Because these happen to fall within my memory, I can see some warning signs as to how we use them. In general, they may not be good sources of negative evidence. If they never mention X, that may not be very strong evidence that X was not the case or did not happen.

For instance:

(1) Some difficult or embarrassing or upsetting things. I had to change schools that year (2nd grade), which was a big deal. I threw at least one major fit. It's not in the postcards.

(2) Current events that Mom and her mom had surely discussed during their visits. Our move across town took place that spring, but it is only alluded to in a couple of places; a casual reader might even miss the clues.

(3) Background information that everybody knew and took for granted. Sometimes these facts are alluded to: on one day the big news was that the baby had a tooth and that Mom was caught up on her ironing. ("Grandma, what's an iron?") Everybody who lived in town walked to school -- including my father to his teaching job; he would sometimes add a quick P.S. to a card or letter at the post office on his way. Some background is not mentioned at all: diapers were made of cloth and were regularly washed and hung out to dry and reused; coal was delivered by truck and shoveled into the "coal room" in the basement where it was later shoveled into the furnace.

I think I will read the previous generation's letters more carefully after this experience. What lies between the lines and beyond the lines? These precious records deserve our best attention even when there is no brick wall in sight.



Harold Henderson, "What I learned from one year's family postcards," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 24 November 2014 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]