Friday, October 30, 2009

On down the trail

Did your research targets move right on to Missouri? Or Alaska? (Hey, they're both west of here!)
Or did they stay put northwest of Chicago, say, in Mt. Prospect? Then check out the linked resources, all courtesy of the ever-vigilant New England Historic & Genealogical Society's eNews (click on a particular issue in the up-to-date archive for a signup link). The Missouri papers, part of an impressive online state presence, are fairly scattered; the Alaska index is mostly to headlines. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Your ancestor's been working on the railroad

Craig Pfannkuche, of the McHenry County and Chicago genealogical societies, and of the Chicago & Northwestern History Society, made a strong case at last week's Illinois State Genealogical Society conference for genealogists to pay a lot more attention to railroad records.

How come? At least four reasons: the railroads were the largest single industrial employer in the US in the 19th century; they were record-intensive operations, having to run widely scattered operations consistently and efficiently; they were labor-intensive operations, and needed to hire people of almost all trades, and none; and many of their records have been lovingly preserved by both general-purpose archives and by history societies like the CNWHS. If the listing linked above doesn't make you drool, check your pulse.

Better yet, Pfannkuche, as genealogical chairman of this latter group, will respond at no charge to requests for lookups -- if you have a reasonable idea of the time, place, and railroad your people may have been involved with. Given that tiny hamlets with no visible rail presence today were often thriving centers of activity a century or more ago, that requirement may not be as hard to fulfill as you think.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Genealogy is everywhere

Cynthia doesn't post real often at ChicagoGenealogy, but when she does you can be sure it's a good one. Yesterday guest blogger Barbara offered a finding aid under the title, "Adoption Research: Using the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin to Find Birth Names." Check it out -- it looks like it will be more useful the closer you know the date.

During my years of actual employment on the near north side, I often saw bundles of the latest CDLB being wheeled hither and yon on the sidewalks, and occasionally browsed an issue. It never dawned on me what a useful resource it might be for adoption and other Chicago legal matters relating to genealogy. Do you have an item in your past, long taken for granted, that might be as useful as this one?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

OGS Quarterly for fall

Three families are featured in articles in the fall 2009 Ohio Genealogical Society Quarterly:

"Newstedt Family -- Syke, Hannover, Germany to Cincinnati, Ohio," by Charles Knighton -- a true story about three teenage immigrant brothers.

"The Legacy of Lewis Seitz, Ohio Pioneer," by Karl Seitz. Lewis was involved in a migration from Rockingham County, Virginia, to Fairfield County, Ohio, based on his church's strong disapproval of slavery and their determination to have no "communion or visible fellowship" with slaveholders.

"The Mystery of Abraham Tope," by Eric E. Johnson, a War of 1812 soldier from Jefferson County who supposedly died in the war, but apparently didn't. The mystery is clarified but not fully solved -- will more records do the trick?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Methodology Monday with three census names for one person

You think the census is wrong? Way wrong? Read this article to get an idea of what you may need to do to prove it.

Midwesterners are the main fare in "Untangling Intertwined Branches: Caroline McNeill and Caroline Spencer in Lee County and Marion County, Iowa," by Marieta A. Grissom, CG, in the September 2009 National Genealogical Society Quarterly. She proves that 7-year-old Caroline McNeil in 1850, 12-year-old Issabelle Spencer in 1856, and 18-year-old Caroline Spencer in 1860, all in Warren and Nancy McNeil's household, are the same person...who was not a child of the McNeils. The journey involves censuses, vital records, probate records, and more in several counties and three states.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Not black and white

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., writing in The Root after the discovery of Michele Obama's white ancestor:

the social categories of “white” and “black” are and always have been more porous than can be imagined, especially in that nether world called slavery.

As I have learned since embarking upon my African American Lives series (for PBS), never before are more African Americans determined to ferret out the names of their slave ancestors, and never before have more resources, especially online, been available to facilitate these searches. But, be prepared. To paraphrase the Bible: seek; but fasten your seat belt as to what ye may find.

Specifically, only 5 percent of African-Americans can claim at least one Native American great-grandparent; but 58 percent can claim at least one white great-grandparent (or the equivalent thereof). The past is what it is, not what we may wish it was.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Not 100%

The ProGenealogists blog did a very nice thing in getting permission from author William B. Saxbe, Jr., to reprint his article from the March 1999 National Genealogical Society Quarterly, "Nineteenth-Century Death Records: How Dependable Are They?"

Read the whole thing, but basically Saxbe carefully compared three different records of deaths in Champaign County, Ohio, between 1 June 1879 and 31 May 1880: a county death register, the US census mortality schedule for the county, and obituaries published in the three county-seat newspapers. Conclusion: "No more than 35 percent of the known deaths produced obituaries, only 56 percent appeared in the county death registrations, and only 84 percent were picked up by that year’s mortality census." And almost half of the known deaths appeared in only one of the three sources.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Index to Indexes of Michigan Newspapers!

The Library of Michigan soldiers valiantly on despite the stress being laid on it by state government cutbacks. The new issue of the sadly truncated Michigan Genealogist brings welcome good news from research LeRoy Bennett who has completed an 8-page PDF listing, "Indexes to Michigan Newspapers," covering more than 200 newspaper indexes whether on-line, in-library, or completely off-line. Adrian, Michigan, has an online index of death and marriage records in Lenawee County newspapers, 1850s-1870s, on GenWeb. At the far end of the alphabet, vital records from the Ypsilanti Commercial have been indexed from 1876 to 1883, and the index is in the Burton Collections of the Detroit Public Library (fee for entry).

Note that the indexes are listed alphabetically by city AND BY COUNTY, so if you don't find your town of choice you may possibly find tidbits from it indexed under the county name. My ownrecent research targets of Cheboygan and Montcalm counties didn't show, but maybe next time. I just love finding aids to finding aids.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Methodology Monday with Jonathan Turner's widow

This month's feature for the Transitional Genealogists article study group is Rachal Mills Lennon's 2004 National Genealogical Society Quarterly article, "The Wives of Jonathan Turner: Identification of Women in Pre-Twentieth-Century South Carolina." Don't turn the page because you don't have SC ancestors. The message is for all researchers everywhere: when the going gets tough, the tough research families, not individuals.

Lennon describes "a task many researchers fail to undertake: investigating the widow to find out if she can supply additional information about her husband. ... if a propertyless widow 'disappears' from the census or if evidence suggests she was not the mother of the child on whom a researcher is working, the genealogist may be tempted to drop that widow from the research plan."

As they say in the horror movies, "Don't do it!" In Lennon's case study, she found: "In 1894, fourteen years after her last census appearance, the seventy-seven-year-old Preshey applied for a widow's pension, identifying her late husband, Jonathan, as a veteran of the 'Florida War,'" and identifying Turner's preceding wife and the mother of three of his children. There's more -- join the National Genealogical Society and read it all in PDF format on line: NGSQ 92:245-255.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Bookends Friday with theater genealogy

What were your ancestors watching? Chances are Joe Jefferson was in it.

This review in the New York Review of Books ($) inspired me to pick up The Man Who Was Rip Van Winkle , by Benjamin McArthur, from my local library. Partly it's because some of my research has touched on the theater world of the late 1800s and early 1900s (if you recognize the name "Eunice Goodrich," whose company toured out of Chicago, you have the same problem!).

What McArthur has done is use the career of Joseph Jefferson -- a masterful comic actor and household word 130 years ago -- to follow the history of the country and in particular the theater within it through the nineteenth century. The Jefferson family (no known relation to the third president of the US) was a theatrical clan back in the days when actors were at best marginal characters in society. Joe himself went from riding down the Mississippi on a flatboat from one small-town gig to the next, to an opulent old age. Again, this is one for the context files. At one point they presented their repertoire in a pig pen in Pekin (Tazewell County), Illinois, and later gave several plays to an audience in a remote Mississippi barnyard, with no light other than the moon.

(The Yale University Press web site above claims to include a table of contents and index but did not when I visited.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Got Evangelicals?

Writing in the September 30 issue of Allen County Public Library's email-zine "Genealogy Gems" (issues through 2008 archived here), Dawne Slater-Putt calls attention to the library's complete run of the Evangelical Church's periodical, the Evangelical Messenger, published weekly from 1848 to 1946. The library has two partial indexes of obituaries appearing in EM, one in print by David Koss abstracting obituaries 1848-1866 and named A-Schnerr, the other on line by Anne Dallas Budd, Rita Bone Kopp, and Sally Zody Spreng, covering 1893-1913 and growing. Those of us who visit this great library frequently may lose sight of its growing virtual presence.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Context Files: Indiana Sheet Music on line

What were your ancestors singing?

Four institutions have partnered to produce the web site IN Harmony: Sheet Music from Indiana, with about 10,000 items of sheet music from 1800 to 1990. Indiana University's Lilly Library, the Indiana State Library, the Indiana Historical Society, and the Indiana State Museum between them hold close to 200,000 pieces of sheet music. The items on line are searchable and browseable. For the decade 1820-1829 there are seven items, and for the decate 1910-1919 there are over 5,000. Selections include "Ah Grammachree Molly" from 200 years ago to the "11th Indiana Quickstep" from 1863. The title refers to a military unit, not to ten previous iterations of the dance.

Hat tip to the University of Wisconsin's Scout Report.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Methodology Monday with institutionalized ancestors

For some background in the down-and-up-and-down-again history of mental health, check out The Discovery of the Asylum by David J. Rothman, or the book and article blogged here a while back. For some first steps in researching your institutionalized ancestors, check out Gena Philibert Ortega's note in the October 8 issue of the GenealogyWise newsletter (the link is to the archives but that issue isn't up yet).

The gist: don't limit yourself to what the institution or its successor has to offer: "In the case of my great-great grandmother," Ortega writes "who was institutionalized in her latter years, her admission record from the Oregon State Hospital was available from the state archives. This gave me some info about when she entered the facility and why." Court records may also be public where the institutional records themselves may be lost, destroyed, or restricted.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Bookends Friday: 56,000 pages about Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Historical Society is more than generous with its online offerings. Recently Kathy Lenerz reminded me of their "more than 80 standard county histories," most published between 1850 and 1920 and affectionately nicknamed "mug books," at Wisconsin County Histories. You can search by county and browse individual books, search by community name, or just search full-text of all of them together. Enjoy -- but don't totally believe everything you read!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Early 20th Century in Marinette County, Wisconsin

Plat books and yearbooks are the current offerings of the Marinette County Library System and the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections at Marinette Local History. Some text is searchable, but not all. Browsing may be more satisfactory, and it's a long drive from most places to the western shores of Green Bay, so enjoy. MCLS hopes to do more digitizing to preserve the original records.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Old News in the Chicago Genealogist

The Fall Chicago Genealogist, from the Chicago Genealogical Society, is divided into two parts:

The third installment of Virginia Dick's translations of items from the Illinois Staats Zeitung, July 1872 -- a unique window on post-Fire Chicago.

"Remembering the 1920s Decade," by Raymond E. Johnson, recalling Roseland, dirigibles, and a Model-T Ford. "Junk men drove their one-horse wagons down the alleys calling out a standard cry meant to be 'rags -- old iron," but each had his own version and none was intelligible."

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Fall features in the ISGSQ

"Woodcarvers and Furniture Designers: The Anderson Family of Chicago, Illinois," by Diane K. McClure.*

"Early Polish Immigrants Settled in Southern Illinois," by Joseph F. Martin.

"Shamgar Hewitt's Story -- Soldier, Privateer," by Raleigh Sutton.

"The Stevenson-Ives Library and Archives: A Genealogist's Treasure Trove in Central Illinois," by Julie Cahill Tarr.

* Footnoted.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Methodology Monday with the ISGSQ

The Fall issue of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly seems especially puzzle-oriented. I'll get to the feature stories tomorrow; here are the puzzles:

* "Illinois Connections of Richard Milhous Nixon" poses the puzzle that one source gives the final resting place of Revolutionary War veteran George Nixon Sr. as Glenwood Cemetery, Coal Valley, Rock Island County, Illinois. Another places him in Glenwood Cemetery, Colona, Henry County, Illinois. What is not mentioned but makes the puzzle more piquant is that these two places are only about seven miles apart. Are they really two different places? Being as it's fall, it might be more fun to solve this by going outdoors rather than googling.

* An 1817 grant of land to War of 1812 veteran John Adams was found in Henry County deed records. Adams' ownership predated the existence of both the state and the county, but evidently it was in either his or a subsequent owner's interest to record the fact at a later time. Whether Adams has any interested descendants has not been determined...yet.

* Editor Oriene Morrow Springstroh presents her research exercise in identifying the author of an interesting Civil War soldier's letter from Texas. The author has no living descendants, so the letter's ultimate destination remains undetermined.

* Finally, a straightforward transcription from a late 19th-century "mug book" biography of John S. Sloan, born and married in McLean County, Illinois, but written up later in life in Hamilton County, Iowa. If Sloan himself were your ancestor, you'd be unlikely to miss this. But if you were stuck on his brother Richard or sister Kate (Sloan) Holland, it might take an effort to think of seeking their information in their brother John's life story.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Bookends Friday: Frontier cities

Fifty years ago historian Richard Wade published The Urban Frontier: The Rise of Western Cities 1790-1830, in which he argued that "The towns were the spearheads of the frontier" in the 19th century US, not the isolated coonskin-capped frontiersmen. Specifically he wrote about how Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville, Lexington, and St. Louis were key to the settlement of the Ohio River valley and farther west. This month the Indiana Magazine of History commemorates the book with five essays from later generations of historians about Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville, St. Louis, and Indianapolis -- commending, critiquing, and extending Wade's thesis. "Rarely," writes David S. Stradling, "does a single book so quickly and thoroughly change the way historians think."

Ahem. I like to think of myself as a history buff (it's what I should have majored in) and an advocate for genealogists to be more historically aware. I think I had heard of Wade's, er, trailblazing book before, but I have never read it. And, frankly, when I'm not paying attention, I find it hard to remember that those five cities were laid out before their hinterlands were settled. We all have a lot of dubious history to unlearn. I'm adding this fifty-year-old book to my list; its high time for it to "quickly and thoroughly change" the way genealogists think too.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Ohio Records & Pioneer Families 2009 #3

"Descendants of Mary Margaret Matilda Seaman," by Diane VanSkiver Gagel

"The Bissells of Nebraska" [continued], by Susan L. Simon*

"Wood County Marrriages, 1820-1856," by Lolita Guthrie

"First Families of Ohio: The Early Years" [continued], by Kay Ballantyne Hudson

"Revolutionary War Pension Application Abstracts" [continued], by Lois Wheeler

"Merchants, Manufacturers & Traders of Ohio, 1885," by Laura Connair

"Ohio Births Documented in Civil War Pension Files," by Michael Elliott

"Rachel Nutmeg Wanger Millar, 1798-Dec. 1., 1865," by Lois Wheeler

"Griffy Griffis & Catherine Moore Griffis," by Stanley Aultz

"Looking for the Worden & Van Tuyl Families Who Lived in Middletown, Ohio," by Barbara Rehorn