Sunday, January 27, 2008

Searching County Biographies on line, part 1

Dennis Partridge reports on his blog Genealogy Research that he's adding biographies from John Forkner's 1914 History of Madison County, Indiana, to the free online site Access Genealogy. Anyone who can remember, or imagine, being confronted with a ten-pound century-old book full of biographies of the upper and middle crust of a given county, in no particular order, with no index of any kind, will want to thank him.

As of 27 Jan 2008, AG claims to have 14,478 biographies in its biography center. The collection is searchable by surname; some individual titles are searchable and browsable, but not all. There's also a feature allowing you to browse biographies in which a given state is mentioned.

It's not clear how many different books (as opposed to individual biographies) they have included (Partridge says he's halfway through the Madison County inputting process). Most listings appear to be transcripts retyped from the originals. Some listings give better citations than others. At one extreme, there's full citation information and page images for the 1897 History of the Scandinavians and Successful Scandinavians in the United States covering Iowa and Wisconsin. At the other extreme, the biographies pertaining to Ida County, Iowa, are said to have been "extracted from numerous sources" not given, although there's an email address to contact the compiler.

Given the possibility of typing errors, best research procedure would be to use this as a finding aid (and what a finding aid it is!) and following up by consulting the underlying books, when you can get to Salt Lake City or Fort Wayne or wherever tells you they're available.

Midwestern coverage, as far as I can tell, is reasonable but not lavish. Two book titles are listed separately under Wisconsin. Otherwise, the state browse function produces 2659 hits for Illinois, 2625 for Ohio, 1553 for Indiana, 696 for Wisconsin, and 658 for Michigan. Most of these are mentions of the state in biographies published elsewhere. (I see this as a feature rather than a bug.)

This is by no means the only free site where the late 1800s and early 1900s county histories are being indexed and made available, either in transcriptions or images, but it has the merit of making them searchable across the board, not just within each book. That's a great help when you're looking for that pesky relative or ancestor who moved around a lot.

No comments: