Monday, August 31, 2009

Is Arkansas in the Midwest?

Not hardly, but that's where I'll be this week so the blog will look a little different. At least I get to drive the full length of Illinois, Chicago to Cairo (is this a reward or a punishment?!), and hopefully bring you a different kind of blog take on the Association of Professional Genealogists gatherings (late Tuesday and Wednesday) and then the Federation of Genealogical Societies (Thursday-Saturday), all in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas -- more the mid-South than the Midwest in my regional book.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Bookends Friday: Was the Civil War more civil than we think?

Robert Citino has an interesting review of Mark Neely's 2007 on The Civil War and the Limits of Destruction on H-net. Read the whole thing, but here's the gist:

the American Civil War was not a particularly brutal one... Volunteer troops in the Mexican War, for example, routinely visited depredations on the local civilians that their counterparts in the later war would never have dreamed of doing. The guerrilla war in Missouri, which has become an obsession of present-day civil war historiography, is here cut down to size as one of a series of “sideshows” (p. 71) to the larger war; sure, generals were more likely to make hard war on guerrillas, but much of the fighting in Missouri (Price’s Raid, for example) was of the conventional, force-on-force variety. The civil war in Maximilian’s Mexico was far more brutal than anything witnessed in the U.S. Civil War, with tens of thousands of liberales killed by the imperial government, their bodies hung upside down to rot as a warning to others who were loyal to Juarez. Sheridan’s alleged “burning” of the Shenandoah Valley was actually a much more surgical operation than usually portrayed, destroying anything that the Confederate Army could use, but leaving civilian supplies, provisions, and dwellings untouched (which is why all the wheat was burned but almost none of the corn). ...Another awful event, the revelation of horrific abuses against Union prisoners at Andersonville, complete with photographs that still shock the viewer today--with Union prisoners looking for all the world like inmates at Dachau or Buchenwald--led to some loose talk among Northern legislators about deliberately starving, shooting, or working to death Confederate prisoners in the North. But again, this is precisely what did not happen. Cooler and wiser heads prevailed, especially President Lincoln’s, and none of these dreadful scenarios came to pass.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Did your ancestor keep quiet in study hall?

When in doubt, read everything. There's not usually a lot of genealogical meat in Midwestern newspapers as old as 1855, but you just never know.

C. B. Smith was teaching school in Sterling, Whiteside County, Illinois, that spring, and he told his students that he would publish in the local newspaper "the names of all those who would not whisper in study hours for ten weeks; also the names of those who should whisper but once, or twice, or three times during the same period." And he did, in a "Communication" to the editor of the Sterling Times and Whiteside County Advertiser, 29 March 1855, page 3, column 2 (microfilm via interlibrary loan from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library).

No school census for Whiteside County that year? No problem:


John Aumont
Isaac Bryson
Marian Fassett
Catharine Price
Ellen Colder
Emma Wilson
Ruth Brink
Amos Miller
Alonzo Colder
Kate Wallace
Emma Colder [hmm, these names could be Golder]
Emily Worthington
Ann E. Wilson
Angie Stebbins
Sarah King

Jacob Bryson
Caroline Sackett
Josephine Worthington
Sarah Stebbins
J. G. Manahan
Mary Worthington
Frances Galt
Josephine Galt

William Penrose
Frances Fassett


Robt Penrose

Concluded Smith, "The evil is in great measure eradicated."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Willard Calvin Heiss, Hall of Famer

If you're preparing a new edition of Genealogist Trading Cards, get ready to add a new member of the National Genealogy Hall of Fame, Indiana Quaker scholar Willard Calvin Heiss (1921-1988). You don't have to spend much time working in eastern Indiana to recognize the name; details in the current NGS Magazine.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Montgomery County Illinois on line in a big way

The Historical Society of Montgomery County's digital archive holds tons of information that would be even better with a bit more context:

* searchable index of 27,044 death certificates 1877-1950, with a link to the form for requesting actual copies from the County Clerk/Recorder.

* searchable index of 6,946 first land purchases, mid-1800s; helpful information on how to read these descriptions is at the Illinois State Archives' web site, from which at least some of the information appears to come.

* vintage photos, biographies, and historical tidbits for 17 towns from Butler to Witt.

* searchable list of 10,214 veterans with DD 214 discharge forms registered with the county clerk/recorder, going back to World War I.

* searchable index of 22,737 obituaries 1980-2008 from two local newspapers, as scrapbooked by society members.

* names and detailed location information for 125 cemeteries.

And that's just on the research tab! If you don't lose track of the time perusing this site, your ancestors sadly must not have passed this way.

Hat tip to Cyndi's List What's New.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Methodology Monday with the Otts

This month the Transitional Genealogists are reading and discussing T. Mark James's article, "Abraham Ott of Orangeburg, South Carolina: Direct vs. Indirect Evidence," published in the June 2005 issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, a free download for NGS members. The article has many interesting aspects, of which two at least will stick with me:

* the author resides in New Zealand, but he didn't let that keep him from researching a 200-year-old South Carolina burned-county puzzle.

* the irritant that produced the pearl, in this case, was a list of intestates (people who died without wills) that included a name that shouldn't have been there -- a name that suggested there might after all have been two Abraham Otts alive in the same time and place. The moral (for me): don't duck or casually minimize those odd bits of data. In fact, seek them out. They may be trying to tell you something, and usually it's: Do More Research.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Bookends Friday: Mongrel Nation

Over at HNN (History News Network) there's an interesting review of Clarence Walker's new Mongrel Nation: The America Begotten by Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings (which book I have not seen although I admiringly devoured every word of Annette Gordon-Reed's masterful The Hemingses of Monticello). The review is by historian Jim Downs of Connecticut College. Here's the part that caught my attention as a genealogist:

historical narratives in the United States have both mythologized certain prominent actors from the past while simultaneously creating silences around those with less power. According to Walker, chroniclers of the American past have mythologized Thomas Jefferson, making it difficult for scholars like Gordon-Reed and others to actually present an image of Jefferson that does not glorify him. More to the point, Walker reveals how a number of historians, archivists, and writers that have been involved in preserving, documenting, and writing about the past have purposely ignored the topic of racial amalgamation, and instead have posited an image of the United States as a lily-white nation since its conception. While historians within the Academy have certainly refuted this interpretation, the mainstream public continues to embrace this vision of the American past—which, by the way, is only further buttressed by the popularity of bestselling history books and biographies on the “Founding Fathers.” Such interpretations of the past that lionize white men in power unwittingly (and sometimes purposely) eclipse the experiences of ordinary Americans whose alleged anonymous lives form the mere backdrop to the “master” narrative of American history.
So maybe good genealogical or microhistorical writing about ordinary people (like Sugar Creek: Life on the Illinois Prairie or Mr. and Mrs. Prince and The Sea Captain's Wife) is the antidote to the endless parade of Founding Father books and the "great man" theory of history?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Illinois Fall Conference October 24 in Elgin

No, it is not too early to be thinking about fall conferences. No time or money for the big national events? There's good stuff closer to home. Western Illinois' own Michael John Neill is the featured speaker at the one-day, four-session conference of the Illinois State Genealogical Society at Elgin Community College Saturday, October 24. Also Craig Pfannkuche on railroad research, Lesley Martin on "Finding Your Roots in a Chicago Building," and Tina Beaird on preserving family heirlooms, and more. Program and directions here and registration here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Midwesterners in NGS Magazine July-September

Didn't we just get a new NGS Magazine? And now here's another one, the July-September issue, including David W. Jackson with excellent guidance on migration research, featuring David McCord Campbell of Clayton, Adams County, Illinois, at whose house Lincoln is said to have stopped during his circuit-riding days.

Equally fun is Anne J. Miller's case study of Charles and Polly (Jones) Colton, long supposed to have died around 1820 in Cayuga County, New York. Information from an 1833 probate "resurrected" them and led researchers on a chase to Livingston and Oakland counties in Michigan.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Midwestern genealogy in New England Ancestors

New England Ancestors is to the New England Historic and Genealogical Register as the NGS Magazine is to the National Genealogical Society Quarterly -- more popular, less formal and scholarly. NEA and NGSM have less prestige but wider appeal and more flexibility. This quarter NEA is featuring western New York (an important and complicated feeder to the Midwest among other things), but two articles touch immediately on our area of focus:

The regular feature "Diaries at NEHGS," by archivist/editor Robert Shaw, excerpts and puts in contxt the diaries of Diadema (Bourn) Swift (1812-1888), who after enduring her husband's long absences on whaling voyages, after his death emigrated to Benton County, Indiana, and then to Des Moines, Iowa, in hopes that her sons would not follow the sea.

Jim Boulden takes on a difficult task in "Betting on Land in Missouri: A Family Story" -- chronicling his Ely and Hyde ancestors' rarely investigated pioneering of Marion, Alexandria, and St. Francisville in northeastern Missouri (just across the Mississippi River from Illinois). Previous family genealogists ignored failure and defeat, and it can be difficult to research when the records were lost with the enterprise. But a family history that is all good news is unfaithful to the reality of our ancestors' lives.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Methodology Monday in La Salle County, Illinois

Last week I spent a profitable hour at the La Salle County Genealogy Guild (you'll see their sign on southbound Illinois Route 23 in downtown Ottawa), where Jim Collins kept me hopping between all the newspaper indexes and probates and county histories and cemetery readings collected in their building. We were disappointed that the relevant 1873 marriage license (on microfilm) was too old to be likely to contain any juicy information like parents' names.

But we looked at it anyway -- and a good thing, too. In addition to the preprinted forms was a handwritten note, where the bride's father gave consent to "the marriage of my adopted daughter."

There's nothing sophisticated or earthshaking about the idea of looking at original records. (Hey, it's the middle of August! You want sophisticated, you have to wait until the Midwestern average temperature gets below 70!) This is just a reminder that the reason for looking is not because it's a Rule, but because you really don't know how that record might change what seemed like a genealogically unproblematic situation.

"Change," of course, is a euphemism. Elizabeth Shown Mills puts the point more sharply in Evidence Explained {16}: "Any relevant record that goes unexamined is a land mine waiting to explode our premature theories."

Friday, August 14, 2009

See the Midwest 60 years ago

The Newberry Library has been able to digitize and place online a selection of the 3,000 photographs taken in the late 1940s for the 1955 centennial of the Chicago, Burlington, & Quincy Railroad. It's not just railroad shots, either -- a Chicago fruit auctioneer, commuters waiting for the smoke-belching locomotive to haul them downtown, yard ornaments in Princeton, a Memorial Day parade in Galesburg, a coal mine in Fiatt. You will probably not see your Midwestern ancestors, but you will see some of what they saw.

This online exhibit -- "Daily Life along the Chicago Burlington and Quincy Railroad" -- is just a fragment of the Newberry's 5,000 cubic feet of CB&Q archives, which "mainly document the nineteenth century operations of the Burlington and its component roads. Beyond their significance for the study of nineteenth century railroad history and labor history, the archives are a relatively unexplored and valuable resource for those interested in topics related to the social and economic development of the region served by the CB&Q." The archives are said to be "relatively unexplored." Who said the frontier was closed?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

That picture on the June NGSQ cover

Those of us who read both the Indiana Genealogist and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly had a serious "deja vu" when the current NGSQ arrived in the mail. Where had we seen that haunting cover photo before of Jessie (Fordyce) Krinn, husband George, son Donald, and daughter Berneil?

We saw it in the June issue of IG, where Dawne Slater-Putt laid out the full tale of a tough research project that could only go so far in "Who Was Not Jessie's Father?"

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

More Ohio Civil War Genealogy

Contents of the third 2009 issue of the Ohio Civil War Genealogy Journal:

"The 15th Ohio and the Copperheads," by Robert Bundy

"Henry Louis Fuller, 10th OVC," by Margaret Lance Cheney

"Noah McMullin, 122nd OVI, by Daniel R. Fickes

"Leonard Lauer, 163rd OVI, Mansfield OH," by Dan Reigle & Nadine Muth

"John Alexander Harper, 73rd OVI," by Alyssa Daugherty & Tyler Kimmet

"John Harper, 73rd OVI and The Good Hope Quilt," by Dennis Allen & Shannon Meehan

"Ohioans in the XV Corps' Volunteer Storming Party at Vicksburg," by Dan Reigle

"Clearcreek Twp., Fairfield Co. OH, Volunteers as of 1863," by Tom Neel and Dan Reigle

"Edward & Lewis Obenauf, 61st OVI," by Jocelyn Wilms

"Ask the Experts," with questions on C. W. Grimes, 52nd OVI; James M. C. Black, Monroe County, OH; Calvin Baker, 1st OVC; Andrew J. Fair, 194th OVI; Stephen Liles, 8th OVI; and William Young, 39th Ovi. Even if you're not specifically interested, you can read these answers for methodology -- can you do any better than the experts?

"1883 Census of Pensioners, Warren County, Ohio," by Michael Elliott

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

State organization databases

Indiana has never been as large, as populous, or as old as Ohio, but that doesn't stop us from trying. Last week I surveyed the online databases provided by the two societies: Ohio has 73, and the Indiana Genealogical Society has well over twice that many. In both states a few teasers are free, but the good stuff is reserved for members . . . which you too can be.

These are great ways to jump-start your research and plan research trips, but most are indexes and transcriptions with all their potential for human error, and to leave out the little tidbit that may be the clue you need. Check the original!

Monday, August 10, 2009

We interrupt this blogcast . . .

My business web site is now up at Midwest Roots. If you think you might want more help than a blog can provide, check it out. Thanks!

Methodology Monday with Nancy (Donnally) Bane

On her web site, Sharon DeBartolo Carmack posts some past articles, including an interesting and easy-to-follow account of her research into a mentally ill woman in the 1880 census: "Mania -- and Nancy Bane: Identifying the Family of Nancy (Donnally) Bane, Inmate at the Central Ohio Lunatic Asylum and the Athens Insane Asylum," The American Genealogist 79 (Jan.-April 2004):121-34.

There's no particularly intricate logic or much indirect evidence here, just persistent and knowledgeable digging, and careful elimination of near-matches. It's a good research model and a good read (be prepared to learn a few unpalatable things about late-19th-century "treatments" for mental illness), and a reminder that TAG, one of the top-notch magazines in the field, is open to more than just articles about the English origins of New England colonists!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Bookends Friday with Communities of Kinship

A genie friend once described Communities of Kinship: Antebellum Families and the Settlement of the Cotton Frontier by Carolyn Earle Billingsley was "a giant kinship determination project," referring to the seventh and final requirement in the portfolio for the Board for the Certification of Genealogists. But actually it's not -- that hard genealogical work was already done before the book was written, and the underlying facts about the Keesee kinship group are not footnoted to a genealogical density.

Billingsley argues that historians will understand the past better if they pay more attention to kinship, and finding a rich lode of examples in her genealogical work on the Keesees. The point is that just checking to see who has the same surnames will not do, because we're talking "family" out to first and second cousins and people who marry second cousins. Her summary is better than mine:

The received wisdom of ante-bellum southerners migrating ever westward as rugged individuals or in nuclear families units is patently false -- the overwhelming majority migrated as family groups and formed settlements of kin. In a society with weakly organized or nonexistent institutions, families remained the main organizing principle in the everyday lives of antebellum southerners. Kinship groups also provided the social capital necessary for success, from shared emotional and physical burdens to financial capital or aid and even to survival at times. {147-48}
Of course, I didn't need much convincing and you probably don't either. What strikes me is that this book is (or ought to be) part of an ongoing conversation -- not about whether kinship matters -- but about how much and under what circumstances. Even in the Alabama-Arkansas-Texas frontier she describes, sometimes kin break off and go elsewhere; some stay behind. In one case a whole group of kin provides substantial security -- for a man whose kinship connection to them remains undetermined! {52-53}

And of course, from a Midwestern viewpoint, the question of comparison looms large. (Susan Gray's The Yankee West, which explores the ongoing tension between making money and maintaining family ties in Kalamazoo County, Michigan, seems like a good place to start.) How much different was the role of kinship to the settlement of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin as compared to the "Old Southwest"? Have any historians or genealogists taken up Billingsley's challenge and written articles and books I have either forgotten or not heard of yet?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

War of 1812 Records

As if you needed another reason to join the National Genealogical Society? The current (April-June) issue of its NGS Magazine includes a detailed how-to article by Marie Varrelman Melchiori, CG, CGL, on how to find relevant War of 1812 veterans' records in the National Archives. I do mean nitty-gritty: "When using the microfilmed indexes for the 1812 pensions, there are pages that appear to be blank . . . [meaning that] the film needs to be turned," because applicants under the "Old War" pension act have jackets with a stamped form at the very bottom of the envelope. Don't even think about working these people without this article in hand.

Some of these veterans received bounty land warrants for portions of land in what is now more than a dozen counties in western Illinois -- between the Illinois River and the Mississippi, AKA the "Military Tract."

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

SBAGS July Quarterly

"SBAGS April 2009 Meeting" -- Andrew Beckman, archivist for the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, came bearing information: they have very little record of employees, but they have lots of engineering drawings, all employee newsletters, production orders, financial ledgers, photos, and early sales catalogs.

"Mishawaka Orphan's Home Residents" for 1900 and part of the listing for 1910, transcribed from the US census.

"'True Life is Life Within': Mother Angela Gillespie, C.S.C.: A biographical Sketch," by Ken Reising.

"St. Joseph County's Honored Dead," transcribed from South Bend Tribune 7 December 1944.

"Anniversaries/Reunions" and Richard Berkheiser's "Newspaper Tidbits," transcribed from various issues of the South Bend Tribune.

"New Books on the Shelf" at the St. Joseph County Public Library's Local & Family History Department and the Mishawaka-Penn-Harris Public Library Heritage Center.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Ancestry Goes Public

Nothing to do (directly) with the Midwest, but the indispensable will be on the stock market. Here's the article, and here is the SEC filing, where you can learn just how much money they make, how much their top executives are earning -- and whether you might want to invest some money in their business.

Hat tip: my former boss, who reads everything...

Methodology Monday with Stefani Evans and Alletta Sadler

Does a genealogist really need to read "Class Formation in Nineteenth-Century America: The Case of the Middle Class" from a 1993 issue of the Annual Review of Sociology? Or The Middling Sorts: Explorations in the History of the American Middle Class (2001) by Burton J. Bledstein and Robert D. Johnston?

Hint: The third footnote in the second article in this month's National Genealogical Society Quarterly cites these two publications and four more like them.

Knowing the workings of class divisions in eighteenth-century America helped Stefani Evans, CG, to identify two of Alathea "Alletta" Sadler's children in New York City and Poughkeepsie when no records of any kind did so. (Between them they went on to have 21 children, so there's genealogical significance here.) Her husbands, their associates, and her descendants were skilled artisans and craftsmen -- people who "built houses, published newspapers, crafted watches, stitched clothing, and populated cities. They employed unskilled laborers from the bottom of the social pyramid, and they sought patronage from the upper classes, who sat at the top and did not work with their hands."

IOW, "occupation" is not just a blank to fill in on some ancestral checklist, it can be a methodological tool. Join NGS and read the whole thing to find out how.

Connoisseurs of documented negative searches (hello, fellow transitional genealogists!) will like this article. The sentence, "James and Henry Sadler's numerous transactions reveal no contact with Alletta or her associates," has its own 20-line footnote in fine print documenting all the places where they didn't meet up.

And connoisseurs of "difficult" sources will enjoy seeing how Evans deals with a 1928 transcript of an alleged 1851 Bible record that includes manifest errors but also forms a part of her case. It's from the Kewanee Chapter of the DAR in Illinois.