Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Watchdog Wednesday with Randy Seaver

Most readers of this blog probably need no introduction to the endlessly prolific Geneablogger From the Lower Left-Hand Corner of the United States, but on Watchdog Wednesday I still want to call attention to Randy Seaver's good work on tracking the curious history of Footnote Pages. Since he writes faster than I can read, I'm not going to link to his every posting on these subjects. Track him yourself. You have been warned.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Good and bad genealogy news in Ohio

Second installment on the fall issue of the Ohio Genealogical Society's Ohio Genealogy News, which comes bearing both good news and bad:

* The Preble County District Library has scanned and indexed county marriage records 1808-1996 and various other historical records.

* Bowling Green State University's Center for Archival Collections includes manuscripts with online finding aids; local government records including hunting and fishing licenses, poll books, tax lists, and peddlers licenses, plus online indexes for Henry County 1853 plat books and Wood County probate estate case files 1820-1870; and online databases of Great Lakes vessels including photographs.

* OGS will sponsor its third annual writing contest (750-5000 words), accepting entries in January and February 2010. This is a great place to jump-start your genealogy writing career and get some critiques. If you're doing a lot of work in Ohio, you can submit up to two entries in each of four categories -- eight total.

Bad news: the Ohio Historical Society's archives and library will be open only on Thursdays during 2010 and the first quarter of 2011. Library hours will be reduced at the Hayes Presidential Center and at Columbus Metropolitan as well.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Methodology Monday with the Fall Ohio Genealogy News

The new issue of Ohio Genealogy News is so packed with information I need two blog posts to cover it. In the methodology department, we have:

* Cross-check Your Sources: Dan Reigle, co-editor of the Ohio Civil War Genealogy Journal, amplifies on an earlier article about the Veterans Grave Registration cards, showing how the cards are valuable sources but they do contain errors, and need to be cross-checked against other military records, "as with any thorough genealogical study," using the example of Garnett B. Adrain. More likely his name was Adrian, and he served not one but two separate hitches in the Civil War.

* Know Your History: Neil H. Elvick describes land and property research in Gallia County, which has two different sets of original land records, from the Ohio Company in the east, and from the US government in the western half.

* When Indexes Fail: Marianne Szabo describes how browsing the Cuyahoga County Birth Returns at enabled her to find a Booms relative. Searching alone had failed, because the data was indexed under the name Boomer.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Bookends Friday: Insanity and genealogy

Anyone who's crazy enough to get into indexing and abstracting records of 19th-century insanity commitments should spend an evening or two with a little book from Indiana: From Under the Cloud at Seven Steeples, 1878-1885: The Peculiarly Saddened Life of Anna Agnew at the Indiana Hospital for the Insane (Zionsville: Guild Press/Emmis Publishing, LP, 2002), by Lucy Jane King, M.D. Anna Agnew, evidently a sufferer from what we would now call bipolar disorder, spent seven years on the inside, and lived to get well and tell about it -- but she never got her seven years, or her family, back. King quotes extensively from Agnew's own book and explains the situations. (Her attempts to bring the mental-health story down to the present are less successful, in my opinion. Oliver Sacks has another perspective in a recent New York Review of Books ($).)

It's a unique and essential view of a group that had a rough time in that century. The huge asylum buildings that survive look like grim antiquated warehouses to us now, but warehousing was not what the medical people of the 1800s had in mind. They built asylums on the theory that people became insane because the world was too fast-moving and confusing for them; hence the attempt to create an atmosphere of serene regularity and beauty for the inmates. Of course, not everyone who worked there understood or appreciated that philosophy.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

September's Indiana Genealogist

"The Indenture of Harriett 'Hattie' Moss Dunihoo," by Randi Richardson.

"Juror Lists, Marion County, 1835," submitted by Ron Darrah from "numerous Marion County Circuit Court materials processed recently by volunteers at the Indiana State Archives."

[continued] "New History of the 99th Indiana Infantry," submitted by Meredith Thompson.

"Lake County Jurors, 1837," submitted by Marlene Polster.

"In-Genious: Finding Luther Martin's Grandfather: Valuable Clues in Newspaper Article," by Annette Harper. Census entries and newspaper articles make the case that he was George Martin; "land transfers were not searched, but might reveal a transfer to Nelson from his father."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Deal with it: the 20th century is history

One way to make sure you have blog fodder is to transcribe and annotate a diary or series of letters. That's being done quite a bit, and I just learned of a quintessentially Midwestern version being done by Sherry Jones of Michigan. "Leaves on the Trudgian Tree" follows the diaries oft her 20th-century relative Lillian Trudgian of rural Galena, Jo Daviess County, in the extreme upper-left-hand corner of Illinois. In recent episodes the family cans catsup by the quart, spends an entire morning doing laundry, goes shopping in Dubuque, and picks up "crabs" at a neighbor's. (Crabapples, that is.) Lillian's 1913-1931 diaries require more annotation than you might think!

It's fun to read the entries, but there's also a genealogical reason to do so, unless your farm people from a century or so ago also kept extensive diaries. You'll want to bookmark this as a reference for your "context file" when writing the family history.

BTW, the surname is from Cornwall.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A law professor treads close to genealogy

Tanya Marsh did some research on the close-up history of Indianapolis's Brightwood neighborhood, using Sanborn maps and other resources. Read more at PropertyProf Blog. Hat tip to Legal History Blog.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Methdology Monday with a reminder about unusual sources

Sally Phillips gave a presentation on "little used sources" at the Northwest Indiana Genealogical Society meeting this weekend, with lots of sprightly examples. Have you used yearbooks? Newspapers for more than just vital records? Censuses for more than just the obvious questions in the population schedule, including the fantastically detailed agricultural schedules for 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880? Letters, diaries, and journals? Newsletters? City directories? (You may be surprised at how small a place supported the occasional city directory.)

In this vein I also call to mind Paula Stuart Warren's presentation at FGS on school records, of which there are more kinds than you ever dreamed.

With the exception of some digitized newspapers and city directories and letters, these sources are not as easy to locate, and not always as easy to use, as the more familiar ones. But they are worth the trouble. I once encountered an entire page that my grandmother had written about the value of studying mathematics, when she was a young woman teaching it in high school in northern Illinois.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Bookends Friday: letters from St. Clair County, Illinois

From the September issue of the St. Clair County (Illinois) Genealogical Society Newsletter, two new books by Stephen W. Reiss. I have not seen these but how could anyone with southwestern Illinois connections go far wrong?

It Takes a Matriarch: 780 Family Letters from 1852 to 1888 Including Civil War, Farming in Illinois, Life in St. Louis, Life in Sacramento, Life in the Theater, Wagon Making in Davenport, and the Lost Family Fortune -- letters to Margaret Basler Reiss Ebert.

Quilter, Granger, Grandma, Matriarch: Life on the Reiss Family Farm 1949-1953 St,. Clair County, Illinois -- diaries of Catherine "Katie" Reiss.

More information at the publisher's web site.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A scattering of free newspapers online

The folks who track free genealogy resources on line have a generous conception of the Midwest, and a nice listing of free newspaper images for:

Illinois -- Barrington, Quincy, Sterling*, and Urbana

Indiana -- Evansville clippings*, Muncie, and Vevay/Switzerland County*

Michigan -- Saugatuck/Douglas

Ohio -- Cleveland Press clippings

Wisconsin -- clippings


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Watchdog Wednesday with Genealogy Bank in Cincinnati

[A series dedicated to keeping up with the quirks of the indispensable big indexing companies, and suggesting workarounds or even actual changes to deal with them...]

Late last month I searched for a man who might well have been mentioned in a Cincinnati newspaper during 1856. I examined the list of six Cincinnati newspapers at Genealogy Bank's Historical Newspapers, and found two with the right coverage -- "Cincinnati Daily Gazette (1835-1883)" and the "Whig (1802-1882)." (Since the coverage varies between the library subscription and the individual subscription, I'm not sure you'll find the same listings on the library version.)

No results for his surname, no results for common surnames, and no results when I left all the search terms blank and hit the search key. I had been prepared not to find him, but I had not been prepared to find nobody at all. Hmmm...

Eventually I found that a blank search on these two papers for the years 1845-1866 yielded 77 hits, and a blank search for the years 1846-1867 yielded 29,074 hits. But a blank search of 1846-1866 yielded -- nothing.

Am I doing something wrong? Or is GenealogyBank claiming to index 20 years' worth of two newspapers when they don't have a single issue up?

I posted the above on a mailing list earlier, and received two helpful suggestions but no answers to the main question. The Library of Congress's newspaper directory suggests that GB may suffer in part from a typo problem, as there doesn't seem to be any Whig paper of those dates in Cincinnati (and in fact since the Whig Party disintegrated in the 1850s we shouldn't expect there to be one).

Meanwhile, it looks like I should follow this trail the old-fashioned way: my Indiana State Library appears to have relevant issues of the Cincinnati Daily Gazette, and their account of what they hold appears to be much more specific, showing the gaps.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Civil War as they saw it

"Astounding" is the word the ResearchBuzz newsletter used for a collection of lively 19th-century news sketches now on line. Here's the word straight from the web site of the Becker Collection:

The Becker Archive contains approximately 650 hitherto unexhibited and undocumented drawings by Joseph Becker and his colleagues, nineteenth-century artists who worked as artist-reporters for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly observing, drawing, and sending back for publication images of the Civil War, the construction of the railroads, the laying of the transatlantic cable in Ireland, the Chinese in the West, the Indian wars, the Chicago fire, and numerous other aspects of nineteenth-century American culture.
Those within striking distance of Boston might consider a visit to the McMullen Museum of Art or a purchase of the exhibit's $50 catalog. Otherwise you can browse the on-line material by subject, artist, date, reference number, and location.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Methodology Monday in Philadelphia

This month the article study groups of transitional genealogists (mailing list archives here) are reading and discussing an article from the December 2004 National Genealogical Society Quarterly by Kathryn C. Torpey, CG: "Assembling and Correlating Indirect Evidence to Identify the Father of Susan Kennedy (1815-59) of Philadelphia." (The issue is available free in PDF format to NGS members. Aren't you one yet?)

One rule about all these articles is that rereading them pays off, and sometimes rerereading too. The writing is packed. A single sentence may stand in for months of frustrating work, such as this one from page 258: "Extensive research in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Chester County, Pennsylvania sources -- church registers, Bible transcriptions, military records, pension files, tax lists, deeds, wills, estate papers, and orphans' court records -- has turned up no direct evidence that Robert Kennedy was her father."

The only direct evidence (that is, evidence that says straight out who her father was) came from family tradition and from an unsourced family history from 1906. She was able to find various bits of evidence that confirmed various elements of family tradition, among them a newspaper marriage announcement of Robert's 1811 marriage, a city directory entry calling him a carpenter, and -- most importantly -- an 1841 city directory entry locating Robert's mother Margaret either in or next to the household of Peter Devlin and Susan (Kennedy) Devlin. Of such gossamer threads are proofs woven.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Bookends Friday: Moravians in the Upper Ohio Valley in the 1700s

A recent review on H-Net alerts us to the 2005 book The Moravian Mission Diaries of David Zeisberger, 1772-1781, translated by Julie Tomberlin Weber and edited by Hermann Wellenreuther and Carola Wessel. I haven't seen it, but it appears to be as much about the Delaware Indians as about the Moravian sect, and it includes both genealogical and historical material. From Elisabeth W. Sommer's review:

"In addition to the diaries themselves, Wellenreuther and Wessel include an eighty-seven-page introduction, copious notes, a list of all congregants of the mission settlements, the minutes of two mission conferences, a set of the statutes governing one Indian mission, and the minutes of an Indian council held at Detroit in 1781. They also include a series of maps, but unfortunately, as is often the case in publications today, most readers will need a magnifying glass to make good use of them.

"The lengthy introduction, written by Wellenreuther, contains a section on 'The Diary as Source,' a very thoughtful analysis of the challenges posed by the diaries." If you have people in this far eastern edge of what was not yet the Midwest, this sure sounds like a must-have.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The little archive that could -- Calumet Regional Archives, Indiana

The lone archivist of the Calumet Regional Archives, Steve McShane, spoke to my local (La Porte County) genealogical society earlier this week. CRA is housed in the library at Indiana University Northwest, just off I-94 on Broadway in Gary. Its holdings focus on Lake and Porter counties (with spillover into Michigan City on the east and South Chicago on the west), and on the 20th century because that's when heavy development and population came to the area.

Almost any records can be of genealogical interest, but McShane highlighted employment records for Gary Screw & Bolt and for Pullman-Standard, as well as some land and mortgage records for 19th-century Lake County.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Watchdog Wednesday

[A series dedicated to keeping up with the quirks of the indispensable big indexing companies, and suggesting workarounds or even actual changes to deal with them...]'s collections of city directories are admirable for offering images rather than transcriptions, and for covering long continuous spans of time (any one year's directory can be wacko).

Unfortunately, they also rely on the notion that there was only one directory for each city for each calendar year. After 1875, that was pretty much true in Chicago -- where most of my experience lies. But prior to that time there were often competing directory companies, which often adhered to different publication schedules. Footnote has dealt with this by interleaving all the different directories that it has assigned to the same year. (That's right, all page 4s appear one after the other. City directories are notorious for random and inconsistent pagination in various sections anyway; this just makes it worse.)

Under "1856," for instance, Footnote compiles together three different Chicago directories. (Note -- to use these links you must either be a subscriber or use a library that subscribes.)

Hall's Business Directory of Chicago (Chicago: Hall & Company, 1856), published 1 November 1856.

Business Card of John Gager & Co. Being a Mercantile Record of the Business Men of Chicago (Chicago: Solis, Zeller, Dow & Co., 1856), published 1 October 1856.

John Gager, comp., Gager's Chicago City Directory for the Year Ending June 1st, 1857 (Chicago: John Gager & Co., 1856), published 1 December 1856.

For any given page being viewed, the careful user can tell which book s/he is looking at by checking under "publisher" in the "About This Document" sidebar that Footnote thoughtfully provides. Careful researchers will be alert to this because they know that there is no such animal as the "Chicago City Directory for 1856." The careless user may not know this, or may not notice -- and may search the year for a target surname, get one result or none, and go away satisfied -- but without having viewed the comparable pages in the competing directories. I don't know of a way to search any one of these three directories by itself.

This was a competitive business with a short time horizon, not a public utility. I'm sure Mr. Gager would be astonished to know that we are still using (and misusing) his ephemeral compilations in the 21st century.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

More Midwestern Death Records Online

Joe Beine's 1 September addition to his indispensable Online Searchable Death Indexes & Records includes new and added materials for:

Cook and La Salle counties in Illinois;

Shelby County, Indiana;

Arenac, Jackson, Monroe, and Van Buren counties in Michigan, plus an update on statewide listings 1897-1920;

Erie, Lucas, Summit, and Wood counties in Ohio; and

Marathon County, Wisconsin.

IMHO, anyone who can put their finger on Arenac County without resorting to Google ought to get a free cemetery lookup at least!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Partial Saturday in Little Rock -- sign a petition for the Library of Michigan!

I had to leave early on the last day of the FGS conference, but did pick up a few thoughts:

* Got an ancestor in the 1830 census and no idea where he or she lived, because the county wasn't yet divided into townships? As part of the discussion of her "sure-fire never-fail" "5-P test for proving identity," Elizabeth Shown Mills gave a whirlwind demonstration of how to use census neighbors' landholdings to track the path of the census taker and thus locate individuals who hadn't purchased land.

* Paula Stuart Warren went through at least 20 different kinds of school records (I lost count) and almost as many different places to find them.

* Richard Sayre gave the nuts and bolts of topographic maps and the relevant coordinate systems. This seems to have been map day, because he too wound up showing how to correlate a variety of maps to find the exact present-day location of an ancestral farm, using online sources.

I was especially disappointed to miss Tom Jones on "Solving Problems with Original Sources," including such rarely consulted sources as Revolutionary War pension final payment vouchers, Federal district court papers, and "loose" probate papers (that is, the evidence and forms filed in the case, as opposed to the matter copied and preserved in will and probate record books). Fortunately, this session, like most, was to be recorded on CD by Jamb Tapes, Inc. of St. Louis and hopefully will soon be available via their web site. Their people had a several-times-daily aerobic workout coordinating the recording of speakers at far opposite ends of the Peabody Hotel and Statehouse Convention Center complex.

State-level news: Illinois has started planning for hosting the 2011 FGS in Springfield. And the joint FGS-NGS Records Preservation and Access Committee has started an on-line petition to save the Library of Michigan. The legislature can still reject the governor's ill-advised executive order that would disperse the library's collections; so far only one house has acted.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Friday in Little Rock

Not entirely random tidbits from the September 4 sessions at the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference:

* Richard Sayre on different indexes to the United States Serial Set: on Lexis/Nexis he gets 2,189 hits on "Sayre." On HeritageQuest, he gets 93. The nicest thing he could say about that discrepancy was, "There's a big filter there."

* Elizabeth Shown Mills on finding evidence of parentage in a deposition made 115 years after the child was born: "Do you carry your research down that far?"

* At the Association of Professional Genealogists' 30th anniversary luncheon, Desmond Walls Allen read extensive excerpts from her copy of the June 2030 APG Quarterly. I look forward to obtaining the confirmatory evidence 21 years from now.

* Beverly Rice on diaries and letters: "Too many people read them once, and don't read them [or transcribe them] again."

* Barbara Vines Little found the only evidence for the father of an illegitimate child in -- Baptist church minutes, where the relevant couple was "dismissed from the church for violating the seventh commandment."

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Thursday in Little Rock

Not necessarily representative tidbits from my day at the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference in Arkansas' cap city:

* At the opening ceremonies: Jim Hastings of the National Archives, discussing the rationale for their many partnerships in digitizing records: "Our goal is to make our information available to people who don't know we exist."

* Elizabeth Shown Mills' 7th principle for jump-starting your research: "Accept reality. Don't demand a smoking gun."

* Tom Jones: "Any source can err. Therefore, genealogical proof results only from a reasoning process, not from any record." BTW, he's still looking in the peer-reviewed genealogical literature for any example of a case in which (1) no source specifies X's parentage (or when a source specifies it wrongly), and (2) a source states that Y is not the ancestor of X, and (3) it is finally proved that Y is. This may seem like an unusual quest, and it is, but I can't explain it without recapitulating the most challenging theoretical genealogical lecture I've ever heard.

* Marie Varrelman Melchiori on military records in the National Archives: Anyone who served through 1855 could have Unindexed Bounty Land, regardless of whether they had a pension. Check it out.

* Tim Pinnick: you will not believe what hard-core genealogy information you can find in Congressional hearings. Start with the 42-volume index in most university libraries.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Wednesday in Little Rock at the APG PMC

People can and do complain about the Association of Professional Genealogists, but I'd have to say that today's Professional Management Conference alone justified the $65 annual dues. I attended five of the nine presentations. All were thought-provoking and worthwhile, and two were truly outstanding:

* New Mexico genealogist Mary Penner combined hard-core FAN club genealogical research on Henry O'Neill, a seemingly isolated, hard-to-research bachelor in 1850s Santa Fe, with advice on how to conceive and use an in-depth research project in several revenue- and reputation-enhancing ways.

* MBA Natasha Crain crunched the data on a few thousand customers her company has had in the last four years and outlined ten very different kinds of genealogy customers, from "dabblers" and "avid hobbyists" to attorneys and the "affluently curious." For those struggling to define their business and marketing plans, it was a godsend, because it's hard hit what you don't aim at, and it's hard to know what to aim at if you don't know how the universe of potential clients is divided up. Times, places, and media that will attract avid hobbyists will never be seen by attorneys or gift-givers.

Hopefully we'll be hearing more from these folks in the months and years to come.