Friday, April 30, 2010

History and Genealogy in Indiana with THG: Connections

The new issue of the semi-annual The Hoosier Genealogist: Connections (Spring-Summer 2010) is out, with a focus on the interconnections between genealogy and history. Robert W. White reflects on "Hoosier Genealogy and Indiana History: Using Each to Inform the Other." Tanya D. Marsh shows how it's done in "Following the Bee Line," an account of the Scherman/Sherman family who came to Indianapolis to work for the railroad and stayed to do many more things.

Other articles include a mysterious general store ledger from Bond County, Illinois, in 1888; a calendar of musical performances in Marion (Grant County), 1897-1898; abstracts of Montgomery County court papers; and letters from a not altogether appreciative itinerant bookseller, S. Harper Crawford, who attempted to sell books in Dearborn, Ripley, and Decatur counties in 1855.

Crawford didn't care for the wet lands in southeastern Indiana: "Their mode of building houses is as follows -- They select the driest spot they can find -- saw off oak logs about 5 feet in length [,] set them up on end and thereon erect their hut. I noticed a number of them with water enough under them to float a small boat."

White co-authors the second and final installment of the White-Eggleston family in Decatur County, Indianapolis, and points west. Timothy Mohon has a second very thorough installment on Baptist records, this involving two almost identically named Baptist organizations who covered the same western Indiana territory. (If you have Indiana Baptists, you need this resource!) And Autumn Gonzalez gets us started on federal documents.

And speaking of history, this issue begins the 50th year of the state historical society's publishing a genealogical magazine. Don't forget to visit its virtual companion, "Online Connections" as well, once it gets installed on the new IHS web site.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Methodology Monday with nonpopulation census schedules

Ancestry has started putting up the nonpopulation US census schedules, including my favorites, the agriculture schedules for 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880. If the link doesn't work, look for them in the census list, but not under U, C, or A -- they're under S for Selected, because not all states are up yet.

These records have been notoriously hard to find, and notoriously ignored by many genealogists, so this is great news. But don't forget to mess around with them and get acquainted before searching. When I did that, I discovered that at least two Michigan counties were improperly filmed for 1850 and 1860. Berrien and Hillsdale include only the left side of the mammoth double-page spread. Half the questions is still better than nothing, but not quite as advertised. I saw no similar problem in Fulton County, Illinois, for 1870, or Allegany County, New York, for 1880.

Always look that gift horse in the mouth.

Also: don't assume that everyone listed as "farmer" in the population schedule will get an entry in the ag schedule. There were much more precise thresholds for the ag schedule. And some folks who appear only once in the population schedule may appear twice in the ag schedule, I suspect because of their involvement in different farms.

The real fun with these is comparing one individual against his (occasionally her) neighbors, and against him/herself in later and earlier years. Also you can get an idea of the county average from published federal and state agriculture statistical summaries.

Even if you have zero interest in your ancestor's agricultural proclivities, these nonpopulation schedules may give you a second chance at deciphering his/her name, in a different handwriting. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Back from Ohio Genealogical Society in Toledo

The biggest state genealogy organization in the country wound up its annual conference yesterday in Toledo. High points for me were working with fellow Great Lakes APG members in the meeting, roundtable, and Ancestors Road Show; meeting old, new, and prospective ProGen Study Group members at lunch Friday; and hearing Connie Reik on farm sources, and Craig Scott on World War I and colonial wars. The syllabus has plenty of material to catch up on, and to make me sorry I couldn't go to more.

Saturday's variable weather gave me an opening to walk over to the Toledo-Lucas County public library. Newcomers are well advised to study the library's web site before going. I didn't, and wound up getting lost (there are two different third floors -- for local history you want the elevators at the back of the building, not the front). The library has great resources for its locality (which I didn't get to work with), and the very busy librarians were kind and helpful. For out-of-towners with Lucas County roots, the web site has an index to Toledo Blade obituaries, 1970-present.

But for Ohio counties and other states, the collection is saddled with a peculiar cataloging decision. Within each Ohio county and each other state, books are ordered by author or title, rather than by subject! This works fine if you happen to know the authors of all the books pertaining to, say, Green County, Kentucky, but most of us don't conduct our research that way. A glance at the online catalog ("classic catalog" allows search by subject) would have helped me make the most of the situation.

One last thing: the ongoing tragedy of inadequate library funding was much in evidence. The library's hours are limited, and the joint was jumping midday Saturday, with a lot of folks hoping to be able to use local history computers for general purposes and not being able to do so. We as genealogists need to step up to the plate and say it straight out: free public libraries are a resource provided by the community for the community, an investment in equal opportunity. Taxes paid for libraries are a good thing. Period.

One other last thing: I took the scenic route home in order to take some cemetery photos. If you fail to associate "scenic drive" with Toledo, try taking Ohio 25 and US 24 southwest out of the city in mid-spring, with enough flaming purple redbuds along the river to light up the gloomiest day.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Michigan county clerks and archival blog

I've long been a grateful consumer of the Indiana Genealogical Society's very thorough county research address list. Now I learn that Michigan is growing the same thing (despite its disadvantage of not having a strong statewide organization) at the Archives of Michigan web site, a GoogleMap of county clerks. (I'm a little suspicious of that link; if it doesn't work, go here and follow.)

And if you've been keeping up with The Anecdotal Archivist blog byMark Harvey, you knew this.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

More ways to learn about Fort Wayne

The Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library has its own blog -- not to be confused with its e-newsletter. Check out the April 5 post. They have a 363-volume unindexed set of family research papers -- but there is a way to search for significant mentions of families by using the catalog.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Methodology Monday with Oglala Sioux

Is there even such a thing as specializing in "Native American" research as opposed to a specific tribe? This month's discussion article in the NGSQ study groups provokes thought on this point. But mainly it applies standard genealogical reasoning to identifying parents in the largely oral Oglala Sioux culture, which has an elaborate kinship system unfamiliar to other Americans, and which includes name changes during an individual's lifetime. It's by Dawn C. Stricklin: "Namesakes, Name Changes, and Conflicting Evidence: The Search for the Mother of John Little Crow," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 94 (December 2006): 245-58.

Don't expect to get it all on the first reading. Visit your good genealogy library, or pony up for an NGS membership and you can print out a PDF copy.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Yankees in Michigan

Writing in the April issue of the online history magazine Common-Place, Notre Dame professor-to-be Catherine Cangany isn't too enthusiastic about a new book by James Schwartz, currently at Eastern Illinois University, Conflict on the Michigan Frontier: Yankee and Borderland Cultures, 1815-1840 (De Kalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2009. 192 pp., $30.00).

I have not seen the book yet. Cangany writes

Schwartz's argument is this: with the influx of unprecedented numbers of Yankees into the Great Lakes Basin after the war (especially after the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825), Michigan's long-standing "hybrid" or "borderland" traits underwent a systematic "civilizing" process (4, 92-94). East-Coast newcomers waged war on the "savageness" of Indians, the "wildness" of backcountry whites, and the "lawlessness" of the West. They were determined to eradicate "inferior" and "dangerous" cultural practices and political attitudes, and in their stead impose order, restraint, and authority.
In her view he doesn't say enough about divisions among the Yankees, and gives readers little chance to hear the voices of the people, including those of French descent, they were trying to reform or remove. I look forward to being able to have an opinion. In the meantime, read the whole thing!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Miriam Foster 1921-2010

We buried my aunt yesterday, my mother's sister and best friend. Miriam (Thrall) Foster was born 27 years and one day before me, so we almost shared a birthday. Yesterday was a day she would have loved, with the redbud and dogwood flowering in the woods where the big trees are just showing green.

She was like a second mother, and we kids were always overjoyed to visit the Fosters, which brought together a cacophonic collection of nine kids born over a span of ten years (1946-1956) -- eleven when their brother and his family could be there too. She was soft-spoken and tough- minded, always asking the thought-provoking question or making the comment that went straight to the heart. At the memorial service, her foster son recalled a visit home when he said that people at work upset him; she replied that nobody could make you upset, that was up to you. Another son read from her diary entry for 7 December 1941, expressing her steadfast abhorrence of war even when it was most popular.

She brought classical music and a cosmopolitan taste to our family, but I also recall her making a point of watching Charles and Diana's royal wedding, and doubled over with laughter at a Dave Barry column. When I first wrote a short piece for publication, it seemed perfectly natural that I would frame it as a letter to her.

At the memorial service we sang familiar hymns and my mind ran back to her father, her grandfather (Methodist ministers both), and her Welsh great-grandmother Hannah (James) Thrall -- left a widow on the Illinois prairie in the winter of 1852 with five children -- the songs carrying them forward into the blank and forbidding future that became us.

Outside my window this morning, the redbuds are reaching for sun. They came from her.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Chicago Maritime History

The fate of Chicago's maritime history is a lot like the fate of all of its newspapers that were not the Chicago Tribune: for want of a wealthy present-day patron, it languishes and is hard to learn about or use. The 33 articles, essays, book excerpts, and court decisions that make up From Lumber Hookers to the Hooligan Fleet: A Treasury of Chicago Maritime History are a big step in the right direction, thanks to the Chicago Maritime Society and Lake Claremont Press. Chicago was once a major port; today's scenic green-park-with-skyscrapers banks of the Chicago River downtown used to be packed with lumber storage and boats of all kinds.

An entire industry -- several of them -- have just disappeared. This was brought home to me in a recent research project which tangentially involved a guy who lived on the opposite coast of Lake Michigan and who made his living sailing on the lake in the summers and working in the woods in the winters. Just a few decades later, when evidence of his life and death were needed, there was almost no one around who knew or remembered the 1860s maritime culture.

As one would expect, this treasury does not draw on a deep well of material, and as a result is a choppy experience to read from cover to cover. Some facts are repeated from one essay to the next; others are repeated several times within the same one. My favorites include A. T. Andreas's long quotation on the Flood of 1849 (a fine example of European settlers' ignorance of their surroundings and its cost, although that's not how Andreas saw it); Elisha Sly's too-short workingman's view of life on the Illinois and Michigan Canal; Tom and Chris Kastle on maritime music; and Ann Gordon's devastating investigation of the (non-)investigation of the worst Great Lakes disaster of all, the overturning of the excursion boat Eastland at the dock in Chicago. Chicago's maritime role in World War II is accounted for and provides the context for Richard Brady's harrowing account of living through a South Pacific typhoon with winds over 200 mph. (The story is included because the boat he almost died on was built in Chicago.)

The enthusiastic amateurism without which this book would not exist also makes it sometimes difficult. Researchers who want to follow up on a provocative statistic will look in vain for reference notes of any kind. Some articles were written by experts who lovingly describe the technical specifications of a boat or an engine, but not the context or how they matter.

But professionalism isn't all it's cracked up to be, either. As a genealogist, I was mightily annoyed with historian Richard J. Wright. He spoke on wooden shipbuilding in Chicago 1836-1890 in a 1984 presentation at Loyola, reprinted here. In it he lamented that "nothing is known of a biographical nature or of the site locations" of the shipbuilders' yards, including "Hewitt & Judd, Stephen Gosselin, Matthews & Kenefick, and Akhurst & Douglas." Had he not heard of city directories?

Anyone with an interest in Chicago history or the Great Lakes will want this book. Hopefully a new generation of researchers will do the work to make the next treasury even more of a treasure.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Michigan County bibliographies

Do you need to bone up on one of Michigan's astonishingly numerous counties? The Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University has you in mind with its collections of books and theses pertaining to each county. If you don't know the difference between Wexford and Missaukee this is your chance! While you're there, check out some of their other resources like the manuscript finding aids and the index to the Michigan Historical Review, or else I'll blog about them in the future . . .

Monday, April 5, 2010

Methodology Monday with a new fallacy collection

This week I'm outsourcing the methodology post to Kory Meyerink of ProGenealogists, who has compiled an organized list of genealogical fallacies, ranging from the obvious (believing what feels good) to the arcane (assuming averages apply). Check it out!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Two dozen more reasons to join NGS

The National Genealogical Society's online newsletter on March 25 announced that six more years of the society's flagship publication, the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, have been made available in PDF format to members, now reaching back to 1996. This new set includes the much-sought-after (and I believe out of print in hard copy) September 1999 special issue on evidence.