Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Chronicling America, but not much of the Midwest

The Library of Congress's admirable Chronicling America, covering various years between 1860 and 1922, has so far put up on line pages of 14 Ohio newspapers, 1 Chicago political weekly, and nothing from Wisconsin, Indiana, or Michigan. Check out the full list for your own favorite states. And yes, what's up is searchable!

Monday, September 27, 2010

"Smart Catalog" coming to Fort Wayne

One of the Midwest's premier research destinations will roll out a new on-line catalog system this Thursday! See the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center's video on their blog.

On first viewing of the video, I'm excited about having a visible search trail and alerts via RSS feeds. I'm hopeful that this new system will make it possible to unify the Genealogy Center's microtext catalog with the main catalog in searching -- and that it will make it easier to figure out the proper configuration of words for subject searches, especially geographical ones. And I hope that the ability to view books title by title as they appear on the physical shelves will be preserved.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Family stories

This could be another way of thinking about family stories, from home-schooled historian, writer, and professor Susan Wise Bauer:

Epic tales . . . display the fears and hopes of the people who tell them -- and these are central to any explanation of their behavior. Myth, as the historian John Keay says, is the 'smoke of history.' You may have to fan at it a good deal before you get a glimpse of the flame beneath; but when you see smoke, it is wisest not to pretend that it isn't there.
That's on page xxvi of what promises to be an excellent read: The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome (New York: W. W. Norton, 2007).

Monday, September 20, 2010

Looking after their own

Christopher A. Schnell writes in "Women and the Law of Property," in In Tender Consideration: Women, Families, and the Law in Abraham Lincoln's Illinois (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2002), pp. 150-151:

As early as 1828, and with increasing frequency through the next three decades, women in Sangamon County wrote wills to maintain control over the division of their property.... In almost every instance the author assigned her assets to her children, either directly or by trust.... Several wills exhibited the propensity of women to favor female heirs, often transferring trust property from their own name to their daughter's or granddaughter's name. Women who transferred property exclusively to their daughter(s) sought to control their property so that their daughters had at least the same measure of support that their mother had garnered, without interference from husbands. Jane McCann put all her property in trust for her daughter and specifically excluded her son-in-law from access to the title to the land. Thus, no matter what became of her daughter's marriage, Jane McCann ensured some financial support for her daughter.

Plus more examples. Read the whole thing.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

New Indiana sources

(Partly cross-posted from the La Porte County Genealogical Society blog. Sorry for any inconvenience.)

Three from the Hoosier state:

(1) The Indiana State Archives has some information on line for Indiana National Guard members 1898-1940. (Hat tip to Fern Eddy Schultz and Pat Harris, and to the volunteers who did the underlying work.) The "digital archives" also includes institutional and other military records unique to Indiana. These databases are not browseable and not searchable by location. They do allow searching by beginnings, thus "Smi" will produce all surnames that begin with those letters. (Remember: if you find something good, there may be even better in the original source it came from. Check it out.)

(2) The Indiana State Genealogical Society's ever-growing collection of databases (388 as of 12 September) has a new one for my home county of La Porte, taken from H.C. Chandler & Co.'s Railway Business Directory and Shippers Guide for the State of Indiana. Most of these databases are members-only and they're an increasingly good reason to join the state organization. They are searchable by name only, but if you are uncertain of the name a blank search will produce the entire list for browsing. (What I said after #1.)

(3) A century ago Indiana was a leader in the promotion of eugenics (which combined the ideas that mental slowness was inherited and ineducable and drew the policy conclusion that people so diagnosed should be sterilized). These days the history of this dead-end pseudo-science is a frequent topic in the Indiana Magazine of History. What struck me most in the current (September) issue, however, was the photographs and the sense of just how isolated rural dwellers could be in the time before even radio.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Methodology Monday with multiple records

Midwestern newspapers in the 1850s were a sorry lot, genealogically speaking: weekly, four pages, half ads (few of which changed from week to week), the other half mostly boilerplate copied from other newspapers or the federal government. Local news was mainly court-required publications of notice of pending cases.

Thus the Niles (Michigan) Enquirer for November and December 1856, which I had occasion to read last week. In its last eight issues of that year, it took note of a grand total of six marriages. One involved a former resident who got married in Tennessee; another involved a couple from Racine, Wisconsin. The other four marriages were local:

16 November, R. J. H. Beall and Eleanor A. Weever (27 November issue, p. 3 col. 2)
23 November, Alfred L. Wood and Rhoda J. Fowler (27 November issue, p. 3 col. 2)
7 December, E. R. Griswold and C. Chapman (18 December issue, p. 3 col. 1)
16 December, Francis J. Hadlock and Mary Snorf (18 December issue, p. 3 col. 1)

Of course, the marriage I was actually looking for wasn't there, even though I had obtained the original record of it from the holdings of the Berrien County Historical Association a while back. How about these folks?

To my amazement, not one of these four marriages is in the BCHA collection, and only one of them (Beall-Weaver) is in the Family History Library's microfilm of the records of the County Clerk. Unless they appear in ministerial or church records, this scrap of ancient newspaper looks to be the only record of these marriages. I never would have found them at all without some sleuthing help from Sharon Carlson, director of the Western Michigan University Archives and Regional History collection in Kalamazoo. She found two years of the Enquirer, unlabeled, at the back of a microfilm there.

Don't imagine, as I did, that those newspaper marriage notes are merely a subset of the official marriage records that might contain an extra tidbit of information. They may just be your last best hope.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Reading past history

I know all history is past, but I just finally read a book that has sat on my shelves for decades -- so long that it became a kind of landmark there. It's Main Line of Mid-America: The Story of the Illinois Central (New York: Creative Age Press, 1950), by Carlton J. Corliss -- the official centennial history of one of the dominant Midwestern and Southern railroads, written near the peak of its corporate power and glory.

The book is sixty years old. Its subject has ceased to exist, although some of its physical lines are still run by other public or private entities. (Even the simplified Wikipedia article is hard to follow, but suffice to say that the railroad's former parent company was recently absorbed by PepsiCo.)

Reading a history book from the past, especially an official one, uncovers people's assumptions like nothing else. What's not in here? Much awareness of the rails' uphill struggle against other modes of transportation (trucks and planes) that received even more government help than they did. Women and black people are barely mentioned; and those pictured are uniformly old white guys. (Remember that?)

As a genealogical source, this is mainly historical context, although if you have research targets who worked on the IC or who lived in its corridor, you may find something specifically helpful. (There is an index and bibliography.) What struck me most forcibly was the powerful economic incentive the railroad had as an institution to paper over the Civil War as quickly as possible, and to return to ignoring the plight of the victims of slavery. If you want to know more about the enslaved people who helped build portions of the road, look elsewhere.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Methodology Monday with directions

A while back I had to follow some directions that turned out not to be quite right. As I began to realize there was something wrong, I spotted a landmark from later on in the directions and managed to reach my destination in good time.

I think that scrutinizing genealogical records that are often in error was a help. "What's wrong with this record and how might it have been intended to read?" is an ever-present question once you get past the indexes and transcriptions and down into the real good stuff.

Part of genealogy is being picky, but that is not everything. Part of it is being comfortable in a gray area, where no source is completely trustworthy and none is completely worthless (well, some come close!), and we have to be able to suspend judgment, sometimes for years, while remembering accurately what they did say. Evidently this mindset has its uses in real life as well.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Good thoughts from other blogs

I've been enjoying the "Daily Genealogist" from NEHGS, AKA the New England Historic Genealogical Society, AKA "HisGen" -- in particular Michael J. LeClerc's heart-rending tale in the issue of 1 September. If that doesn't get you motivated to keep track of family treasures, perhaps you have no relatives at all!

In the 31 August (issue #78) e-newsletter "Genealogy Gems" from the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Steven W. Myers alerts us to the existence of The Gerritsen Collection of Women’s History, 1543-1945. It's a source useful for historical context that also contains genealogically specific materials as well. English-language portions are at the Genealogy Center on microfiche. Check their online microtext catalog, but really, just go there!

ProGenealogists' blog continues as useful as it was before the firm was purchased by In the 31 August post, Sherry Lindsay asks, "Why does this record exist?" and gives some generic answers for common record types. But this should remain a live question in every case, because particular records may have additional interesting reasons for being created.

In general I like any question that shakes us out of our routine and makes us relate those dusty, scrawly, faded records back to the lives they touched -- like, "Just how did those two ever meet in the first place, much less get married?" Even questions that can't be answered can make you think different.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

She's Everywhere! She's Everywhere!

News item #1: The new Hoosier Genealogist (September, volume 21, issue 3) -- available in good genealogy libraries everywhere, and in the members-only section of the Indiana Genealogical Society along with over 300 databases -- includes "The Jeffries-Robinson/Roberson Family, Allen & Whitley Counties, Indiana," a heavily documented seventeen-page account of four generations of this mixed-race family from the 1780s into the 1900s. (Note that aside from its other merits, the article is titled to maximize the information indexed in PERSI.)

News item #2: The Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne has just announced an online database of information on Indiana deaths prior to 1882 (when the state started public registration of deaths). Much of the underlying information is available at the center. (The database allows fuzzy, exact, or Soundex matching. It does not allow wild cards, browsing, or searching by anything besides first and last names. It does have this interesting property: if you type in any combination of one or more letters in either name box, it will produce up to 1,000 listings of death records for people whose names contain those letters next to each other in that sequence anywhere within it. Think about it.)

Genealogy Center librarian Dawne Slater-Putt, CG, is the author of #1 and compiler of #2. What will she think of next?