Monday, August 30, 2010

Genealogy Bank comes through

I've been pretty hard on GenealogyBank in the past, so it's only fair to make note that today, when I needed information on an obscure hurricane on an island south of Cuba almost a century ago, the New York Times archive failed me, but GB came through with a topical article from New Orleans, background information from Cleveland, and an informative well-cited nugget from the American State Papers. It's not even 11 am and it's already a good day for genealogy!

In this case the technical feature I appreciated most was the ability to search by location, using only keywords, since the particular name was irrelevant at this stage. This ability gives the database microhistorical as well as purely genealogical value (at least as I use those words).

Friday, August 27, 2010

Three Great Online Resources

It's been a busy research week, so let's cut the cackle and mention three great online resources for the Midwest and beyond:

Genealogy Book Links, a guide -- by state, surname, and type of material -- to books freely available on line. Stop here first and you won't have to hit quite as many sites in your quest! Hat tip to Pro Genealogists' blog.

Miriam Midkiff's metadirectory of on line city directories, also free. I've mentioned this before, but considering how often I use it, I should mention it at least twice a week! (That's not all she's doing, either...)'s US Indexed County Land Ownership Maps, 1860-1918. Sorry, not everything on line is free, and I don't know if this is available on the version of Ancestry available through many public libraries. The index is by surname as written on the plat books, which can be a headache if you want the plat of some little fly-by-night nineteenth-century boom town, but it's still a great idea. I just used it today, and a quick survey of our five Midwestern states shows that something over 2.5 million landowners' names or initials are indexed here, just in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Enjoy!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Methodology Monday with the Karimjee Jivanjee Family

The University of Chicago Press is distributing for Amsterdam University Press The Karimjee Jivanjee Family: Merchant Princes of East Africa 1800-2000, by a Dutch historian Gijsbert Oonk. It is said to combine "family and political history with cultural anthropology" as well as being "a monument to cultural roots and family tenacity." Comparison with high-quality genealogical works of similar scope might be interesting.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Coles County Illinois Court Cases on line

Thanks to the Legal History Blog, I just heard of an online index or database to 19th-century circuit court cases in Coles County, Illinois -- an "ongoing project" whose web site describes as "current" the team from 2002-2003! (The internet has a history -- who knew?)

The index is or was the product of "an on-going investigation by student researchers and history professors at Eastern Illinois University and elsewhere." They're identifying and abstracting (as genealogists would call it) and indexing criminal and civil cases from Coles County from 1830 to 1899. These files are conveniently held by the Illinois Regional Archives Depository at Eastern Illinois University's library. According to the IRAD inventory, its holdings include circuit court case files 1832-1890, chancery files 1835-1900 (seemingly overlapping with the previous), and the chancery record 1849-1915 (these would be the court's bound record books).

The web site also includes several other valuable resources for researchers: maps and history of Coles County (which included current Douglas and Cumberland counties at various times prior to 1859), a list of the five "top" county cases 1830-1900, and samples of court documents (selected from later years when preprinted forms were in use).

The index itself currently includes cases as early as 1831 (which are cited to IRAD files, so sue me) and as late as 1906. Within those years the coverage is quite uneven, ranging from no cases at all for the years of 1879, 1880, and 1890, to over 100 cases for each of 1857, 1858, 1859, and 1865. CCLHP's "results" page essays a few generalizations from it, but genealogists and social historians might want to exercise caution in doing so, since the database is clearly not comprehensive, and there's no way to tell whether it's representative of all the cases in that 70-year period.

For each indexed case you can find the date of the underlying incident; the date the case was filed; the case type; the names, sexes, and literacy statuses of the plaintiffs and defendants; and a one-sentence description of the issues involved.

EIU's IRAD already has a separate and somewhat more terse index of cases heard in Mattoon's short-lived Court of Common Pleas from 1869 to 1873; its records were merged in with the circuit court after that time. But at this point IRAD has no reference pointer to the CCLHP index. You just have to know.

The CCLHP database is intended for "high school students, undergraduates, graduates, genealogists, and professional historians," but while extremely valuable it is not ideal for genealogists, in that (like the Mattoon index) it only indexes plaintiffs and defendants.

In my own work -- outside of probates or partition suits -- when seeking to identify a difficult person I would most want to know who stood up in court to guarantee his bail or payment of a fine, or who he stood up for. It's appropriate that a work of historical indexing should observe the standards of that discipline, but an every-name index is still the genealogical standard.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Chicago Family History blog

There aren't as many professional or aspiring professional genealogists blogging around Chicago as I would expect. I'd seen Jennifer Holik-Urban's blog Family History Research before, but until Tom MacEntee pointed it out, I had somehow failed to connect her with the City of Big Shoulders And Mayors Named Daley. Researchers with an interest in this part of the world will want to keep an eye on Chicago Family History.

Monday, August 16, 2010

La Porte County, Indiana resource

Local genealogical society newsletters often have extracts and abstracts of local records that aren't found anywhere else. But they are rarely indexed except in PERSI, which is valuable but far from an every-name index and even farther from an every-word index.

Thanks to then editor Donna Nelson's keeping them on CD in word files, the La Porte County (Indiana) Genealogical Society's quarterly newsletter now has sixteen back issues posted on the society blog -- December 2005 through December 2009, minus September 2006 -- which are every-word searchable. Because they're in a single blog post, one search does it all. (I'm the current secretary, and I made the post, defects and all.) If you have research targets in this part of the world, you might find a lead on someone here.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The state of play in genealogy

"Most genealogical research and compilation is done badly. Objective reviewers regularly criticize the accuracy of genealogical books, and the Internet makes voluminous genealogical errors available to all. Many family historians, including some with professional standing, base their conclusions on inadequate indexes, haphazard and incomplete research, and poorly documented compilations and databases. They do not recognize that their results sometimes are erroneous and often partial or unnecessarily tentative. Many thorough researchers using reliable sources lack the expertise to recognize clues that could reveal generations beyond those that records specify directly. Many have no glimmer of what they do not know."

Ouch! That's Tom Jones, writing in the Jewish genealogy journal Avotaynu 23 (Fall 2007): 17-23. His whole article, titled "Post-secondary Study of Genealogy: Curriculum and Its Contexts," is available on line (PDF with formatting quirks), and proposes what a professional genealogy curriculum could look like, and needs to look like in order to remedy the condition of the field.

For free genealogy education, it's hard to beat the Transitional Genealogists Forum, where I first learned of this article.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Watchdog Wednesday: GenealogyBank Advertises 35 years of Coverage, Provides 9 -- NOTE CHANGES BELOW

[CORRECTION TO HEADLINE: it wasn't an advertisement, it was a blog post. Precision in all things!]

[NEWS FLASH: The original post has now been changed with excellent added information.]

I love what GenealogyBank does in digitizing old newspapers from all over. I am a subscriber and will continue to be.

I don't love the way they promote it. Yesterday a post on the GenealogyBank blog proclaimed "Chicago Times (Chicago, Illinois) Newspaper Archives (1854-1888)." (BTW, the Chicago Times is a very interesting newspaper historically in addition to its genealogical value as a pre-Fire information source. During the Civil War, it was in many ways a Copperhead paper in Union territory, and was briefly suppressed by an overanxious military officer. Preserving it digitally is especially important because few people today know of it.)

I clicked on the GenealogyBank link to the newspaper and started searching. Many searches came up empty. Then I started conducting searches without specifying any search term except a range of years. With a little clicking I found out that instead of preserving thirty-five years of the Chicago Times, GenealogyBank is (as of the evening of 10 August 2010) in fact preserving, at most, nine.

An honest blog post from GenealogyBank would have announced that they have digitized at least some issues of the Chicago Times for the years 1854, 1855, 1856, 1859, 1864, 1879, 1884, 1885, and 1888. Not "1854-1888." . . . I hope they will soon have many more years posted.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Midwest in 1858

ResearchBuzz just made note of some new maps on the David Rumsey Map Collection, which provoked me to look around there. I was especially struck by the regional maps with counties and railroads from an 1858 atlas.

Just go to the Rumsey site and type in "Colton 1858 [your state name here]" minus the quotes and the brackets. I love the unformed counties, but especially the sparseness of the railroad lines. You can see where it would have been comparatively easy for your ancestors to travel, assuming they had the cash and a schedule!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Travel in time 162 years back

Learn about a fantastic photographic panorama of the Cincinnati waterfront in 1848 in -- Wired magazine?! We can look forward to seeing the whole thing on the web site of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County in a few months. A little more information from their web site.

Hat tip to colleague Rondina Muncy on the Transitional Genealogists Forum.

Monday, August 2, 2010

What we do is kind of new

John Burrow's A History of Histories (New York: Vintage, 2009, orig. 2007) is a fun read for those of us who haven't read most of the historians he writes about. But he made me think about something else: what genealogists and historians regularly do now was hardly ever done before, say, 1500.

Before then, "History was the retrieval and presentation of what deserved to be remembered, against the remorseless flow of time. For a long time there was relatively little sense that the past lay inert, but potentially revivable, until quickened by the researcher and historian, in documents and archives." (Emphasis added)