Monday, November 30, 2009

Methodology Monday with reasonably exhaustive search

Good genealogy requires that we do "reasonably exhaustive" or "reasonably extensive" research, which according to Board for the Certification of Genealogists Standard 19 includes "appropriately broadening the search beyond the person, family, event, or record of most-direct impact on the project," and looking for possibly conflicting information.

Naturally newcomers and learners want more specifics, and there are plenty in Laura Murphy DeGrazia's article on the subject in the October-December NGS Magazine. (She is a Certified Genealogist and president of BCG.) She has a very nice paragraph on this exact point, from which I'll quote only the last sentence: "To meet BCG standards, every search must be extensive enough that a highly experienced researcher would consider it reasonably exhaustive, regardless of the level of experience of the person who conducted the research."

Friday, November 27, 2009

Hard core Chicago research info

Today I will give belated thanks for Cynthia's authoritative explanation of the so-called Chicago Burial Index over at ChicagoGenealogy. If you already understood all this, you are my idea of a seasoned Chicago researcher.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Case File Clues (plug)

For 29 cents a week, you can read a brief informative first-person account of ongoing genealogical research; it comes by email as a PDF attachment. And it just happens to be written by my favorite genealogist from western Illinois, Michael John Neill (who was also the headliner at last months Illinois state conference).

This week's issue of Casefile Clues deals with the vexing problem of when to hire a professional researcher, and how to go about it if you do. That's good information, but there's a bonus: the meat of the problem is hard-core Chicago research involving name changes, death/disappearance, probate, and property records. (Neill's ancestors pack more melodrama into a few decades than mine did into a few centuries.) Try it, I think you'll like it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Context files: Grand Army of the Republic

The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), the Civil War Union veteran's organization, is widely known as a public and political and fraternal force in the late 19th century -- and now as a genealogical resource where its records have survived. What I learned from Robert C. Nesbit's History of Wisconsin, volume 3, Urbanization and Industrialization, 1873-1893 is that the group was almost moribund prior to its 1880 "grand national encampment" in Milwaukee. After that it became a political power as its members moved into their peak years of numbers and political efficacy. Even so, at its peak, it recruited no more than one fifth of the available veterans.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Methodology Monday with Coin-Coin

The APG Great Lakes chapter's article discussion this month was Elizabeth Shown Mills's "Documenting a Slave's Birth, Parentage, and Origins (Marie Therese Coincoin, 1742-1816): A Test of 'Oral History'" from the December 2008 National Genealogical Society Quarterly (96:245-66).

The article operates on two levels, just as the double title suggests. On one level it's a vivid reminder that "tradition" and "local lore" have an amazing amount of junk encrusted around a possible inner pearl of truth. On another level, it's a demonstration of how to prove ancestry in circumstances when many genealogists would despair. If you like indirect evidence and conflicting evidence, you'll love this article. It definitely repays rereading. Mills also lectured from the same material at FGS Little Rock earlier this fall, so there's a companion CD from Jamb Tapes, Inc., in St. Louis.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Context files: Did your ancestor clear a Midwestern farm in the 1850s?

Economists Jeremy Atack and Robert Margo have confirmed what most of us might have expected: that the coming of the railroads in the 1850s did encourage Midwestern farmers to clear more land. That's the gist of their new paper at the National Bureau of Economic Research (full access by purchase or university affiliation).

The authors identified 278 counties in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Missouri that didn't change their boundaries, and compared land-clearing activity in counties that got a railroad during the 1850s with those that didn't. For many reasons the figures can't be precise, but they figure that between 1/4 and 2/3 of the land-clearing activity was inspired by railroad access, and the cheaper transportation and higher crop prices that it promised.

"Whatever else might have led Midwestern farmers to undertake the back-breaking labor of clearing their land," they conclude, "no other single factor seems likely to be as important as the potential gains from trade deriving from the arrival of the Iron Horse."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sanborn maps in Cincinnati!

I blogged about Sanborn fire insurance maps, a great resource for buildings up close and personal, in May and June. Now the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County has digitized two volumes with more to come. They're in color, 1904-1917 and 1904-1930. Even if they cover the same area (not a given), the distinction is important because these were working maps and often changes were pasted right over the original version.

While you're there, enjoy their excellent collection of Cincinnati city directories, beginning in 1819 and covering pretty much every year 1849-1895. That kind of close coverage is what researchers need.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Methodology Monday with a Tom Jones puzzle

What can you make of these five pieces of evidence from Tom Jones's "Uncovering Ancestors by Deduction," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 94 (December 2006):287-304 (free PDF download for NGS members)?

1781: Ignatius Tureman's will names daughter Lucy and wife Eleanor.

1788: Obadiah Overton marries Eleanor Crow.

1796: Obadiah Overton puts up $150 bond for Lucy Tureman's marriage to John Kinzer.

February 1804: Elizabeth Crow, a minor and orphan of James Crow, requests that Obadiah Overton be her guardian. John Kinzer provides the bond for this guardianship.

August 1804: Guardian Obadiah Overton consents to Elizabeth Crow's marriage.

How are all these people related? Combining this evidence with knowledge of Virginia law at the time, Jones proposes a series of hypotheses and tests them using a deed that by itself makes little sense.

This puzzle is only the overture to the bulk of the article (and Jones's lecture "Inferential Genealogy"), in which the names of Eleanor Crow's parents are deduced.

If you can see how these puzzle pieces might fit together, without having read the article or heard the lecture, you may have the makings of a top-notch genealogist.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lost Schoolhouses in St. Joseph County

The feature article in the October South Bend Area Genealogical Society Quarterly Newsletter is by Sadie Stuck on "The Lost Schoolhouses of St. Joseph County." She enumerates every township, but not every school. It would appear that a lot of them have literally been forgotten -- as in, "The only other school known to have existed [in Union Township] is one of unknown name built in 1939 at 64500 Kenilworth Road." And this is not the only such case.

As the old play asks, "Are we so soon forgot?" Just seventy years ago and even its name is unremembered? Perhaps there is more information out there, but I found this to be a very sobering article. Forgetting is real, forgetting happens.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Watchdog Wednesday with FamilySearch Labs in Jefferson County, Ohio

OK, time for some hard-core research help if anyone shares my distress with the online images of Jefferson County, Ohio, tax records on FamilySearch Labs. These are important records since census information for Ohio is way sparse in these early years.

The FSL site gives little information on these records and no table of contents, so even though these records cover every year from 1816 to 1828, a search on a name returns an image that is impossible to place in chronology unless you develop your own yearly table of contents. Note: this record set currently contains four eastern Ohio counties, and the only one I have dealt with is Jefferson. Anyone willing to share similar information for Columbiana, Guernsey, or Harrison counties is more than welcome. (Those using the underlying microfilm may experience a similar problem; I haven't done so.)

There are two time series for Jefferson, 1816-1825 (493 images) and 1826-1828 (699 images). For any given name search result, you can click over to the image. When that opens, the upper-right-hand corner will indicate which image you are at out of either 493 or 699. That tells you which era you are in (but only if you know the code). Within each era, you need to know at which image each year starts. Here is the table of contents as I have found it for the first series:

1816 tax records start at image 435 of 493
1817 tax records start at 464 of 493
1818 tax records start at image 1 of 493
1819 = image 30
"1819 and 1820" = image 62
1821 = image 129
1822 = image 184
1823 = image 256
1824 = image 312
1825 = image 434

In the second series of 699 images,

1826 = image 1
1827 = image 240
1828 = image 482

In some years, there are little extras thrown in (browse around image 60 in the first series) and as time goes on I think various kinds of taxes are listed separately. IOW, your research target may appear more than once under 1827 -- don't miss him!

Yes, I think this has implications for how to cite these records properly, but that is way beyond the scope of this blog post, especially at this time of night. Hope this helps!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

October News from Wisconsin

The new issue of the Wisconsin State Genealogical Society Newsletter (membership required) includes a bird's-eye view of the combined libraries of the Marathon County Historical Society and the Marathon County Genealogical Society. The available goodies include high-school yearbooks from 1919, wills and probates 1850-1918, Wausau city directories and telephone books from 1883, various church records 1860-2003, school censuses 1919-1962, plat books from 1882, and a marriage index 1899-1960.

It's a must-see if you have research targets in north central Wisconsin. As always, call ahead to check on hours and availability.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Methodology Monday: What The Mug Books Miss

If all you read are the late-19th-century county histories, then you're getting a distorted picture of historical reality. Nostalgia and its corporate manifestation, Disney, have already inclined us to think of quiet, stable small towns. It warn't necessarily so. Check out Robert C. Nesbit in The History of Wisconsin, Volume III: Urbanization and Industrialization, 1873-1893 (Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1985), pp. 214-215:

A detailed study of five...villages in Grant County found that 56 per cent of the people listed in the 1880 federal census did not appear on the rolls of the 1885 state census. Between 1880 and 1895, fully 78 per cent dropped from view. The author suggests that m ost of those who left were 'wage earners rather than petty entrepreneurs,' but this is at variance with the findings of a better-known study of Trempealeau County that small businessmen were equally mobile.
Nesbit cites Merle Curti, The Making of an American Commmunity, and Peter J. Coleman, "Restless Grant County: Americans on the Move," Wisconsin Magazine of History, Autumn 1962. Later on (pp. 282-3) he acknowledges that their mobility numbers are probably too high. (I suspect that historians aren't as good as genealogists at spotting misspelled names of people who stayed behind but got their names differently misspelled.) I'd love to hear of more recent references on this topic.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Bookends Friday: Inheritance in America

I'm still working my way through Inheritance in America from Colonial Times to the Present, a 12-year-old book by Carole Shammas, Marylynn Salmon, and Michael Dahlin (Galveston: Frontier Press, 1997). It's not a genealogy book, or a genealogical methods book, but a very specialized and quantitative history book -- also, contrary to this blog's policy, a largely bicoastal book with focused studies on inheritance practices in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and in California. Still it's great background. The authors are very good on how the changes in the kind of widespread wealth affected inheritance practices: when most wealth was tied up in land it was often difficult to turn the family inheritance into cash for distribution; later on as wealth became more intangible the situation changed.

My favorite passage so far, on the 19th century disputations that led to laws allowing married women to hold property in their own names: "Age and gender had already been dismissed as criteria in discriminating among children as heirs with the abolition of primogeniture. The feme covert status of married women seemed as riddled with contradictions as the position of the chattel slave, yet a family with two heads seemed unthinkable." {87} The past really was a different country...

Thursday, November 5, 2009


The new issue of Connections: The Hoosier Genealogist from the Indiana Historical Society -- arguably the best genealogical journal between the coasts -- has a fascinating pair of cover stories. The first, by Elizabeth Flynn, details the history of mental health care in the state; the second, by Alan January of the State Archives, describes the histories of the various state facilities, their many records, and how the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act has made them very difficult to access.

Key point: Indiana law opened most records to the public after 75 years; under HIPAA all individually identifiable health records are closed forever (although there may be ways around this on a case-by-case basis, depending on your state). The magazine carefully blacked out the name of an individual from a document about her release from the Indiana Hospital for the Insane in 1863, in order to protect her privacy.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Ohio Civil War Genealogy Journal #4 of 2009

The new issue of OCWGJ features a memorial to indefatigable Andersonville researcher John H. "Jack" Lundquist. Other contributions include the following footnoted articles:

Cora Slack, "Albert L. Slack, 121st Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Delaware and Marion Counties OH"

S. A. Mendenhall, "Four McLin Brothers from Hocking County: Thomas, Andrew, James, and Ezra, and Their Service to the Union During the Civil War"

Darrell Helton, "Clement L. Vallandigham and the Copperheads"

Also reviews of William James Smith's Memoirs of the 2nd Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, Company M, and History of the 55th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.

And it wouldn't OCWGJ without "Ask the Experts," which features questions and detailed answers that transparently describe the research. If you're new and want to start getting a feel for how the pros deal with questions about ancestry and documentation, this is a fun way to get into it.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Methodology Monday with Basil Williams

"Perhaps more frequently and firmly than many genealogical sources, land records enable kinship determination." That's Nicki Peak Birch, CG, writing in her article, "Tracking Basil Williams of Maryland and Pennsylvania Through Changing Residences and Multiple Marriages," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 96:23-37, March 2008. Some members of the Great Lakes Chapter of APG discussed it a couple of weeks ago.

One of the article's basic questions is whether the Basil Williams of Frederick County and Anne Arundel counties in Maryland and Washington County in Pennsylvania are the same man. The answer is, yes and no. "Debt books" recording land in Maryland help show that there was only one Basil Williams there, but Revolutionary War pension files show that there were two Basils later. The argument is not simple, and it may get another workout in a discussion session at the spring Ohio Genealogical Society conference in Toledo.

In any case, Birch's message could use some repetition. I find county land offices (by whatever name) some of the easiest places to work -- they're used to people coming in and going about their business -- but rarely are my elbows jostled by fellow genealogists.