Thursday, December 30, 2010

Elkhart County, Indiana

Genealogists love free stuff, and if you have research targets in north central Indiana, resources have been kindly provided by your colleagues that you may not know about, although it is not technically news: an on-line index of microfilmed loose probate papers (and some related court cases) known by the acronym CRIMP.

You can read the full story there; the index was compiled by Ned and Bea Parcell. You can tell it was done by genealogists, because in addition to the numbers needed to access the records, they included a sprinkling of other names involved on each set of probate papers, so that readers of the index can get a notion of whether these are indeed the people they're looking for.

The index then allows you to visit the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, or visit a local Family History Center and order the appropriate microfilm (using a conversion table to get the right number, available on the above site). Or you can visit the Elkhart County Historical Society library located in the county historical museum in the former Bristol High School, where the films are available for viewing. It's also possible to download your selected images onto a thumb drive -- all at no charge. The amount of embedded effort involved in making one local record set accessible is hard to calculate, or appreciate. And one of the best ways to repay is to help add more records to the store.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Happy Holidays from the St. Joseph County Public Library!

The November-December newsletter from the St. Joseph County (Indiana) Public Library's Local History and Genealogy Services arrived before the 25th, but I didn't. Fortunately this is a gift without an expiration date, especially for those with "Michiana" research targets. Sara Allen compiled a list of area libraries' on-line obituary databases:

South Bend (St. Joseph County IN) 1913-present
Bremen (Marshall County IN) before 1997
Elkhart (Elkhart County IN) 1921-present
Michigan City (La Porte County IN) 1887-present
Niles (Berrien County MI)
Plymouth (Marshall County IN) 1922-1979
Wakarusa (Elkhart County IN)

You can google the public libraries in question, or hang on until this issue of the newsletter is up at the above site. More on Elkhart County in a later post.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Twas the night before Christmas, and a potential hiatus was looming

Due to a variety of conflicting commitments (doesn't that sound like those old obituaries that say so-and-so died of "complications"?), posting here will be more intermittent than usual for the next month. Don't neglect to visit my blogging buddies! (See the names in the subject line for hints.) If you weren't counting, this is post #720.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Unwrap this present BEFORE Christmas!

World Vital Records is offering free access to a number of 20th-century city and business directories -- too many to list here, and (I am told) ending on the 26th. For our area of interest, you're in luck if you need

Belleville, St. Clair County, Illinois
Kohler, Sheboygan/Ozaukee counties, Wisconsin
Plymouth, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin
Sheboygan, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin
Sheboygan Falls, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin

but there are plenty more. Check the whole list because not all the offerings for each place are together.

Hat tip to Diane Walsh on Rootsweb's St. Clair County list.

Sometimes there's no substitute for bricks and mortar

Recently I visited the William H. Willennar Genealogy Center, a free-standing portion of the Eckhart Public Library in Auburn, DeKalb County, Indiana. If you have ancestors in the tri-state area where Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan converge, and they might have been in DeKalb, this is the place to start. Call first (they're opening an hour later these days than the web site says), and come prepared. The main library catalog is helpful in determining their holdings ahead of time. I can tell you they include local newspapers on microfilm and a wealth of vital and cemetery records and indexes, as well as vertical files and a plenty of school censuses and yearbooks. Few of these items are on line. And it's a beautiful and friendly place to work.

Not every county has a local philanthropist this generous, but more and more have their own unique go-to place. And it can be called many names. In some places it's a historical society, in others a genealogical society, in others it is in the local library. You won't know unless you ask.

Depending on the nature of your quest, the courthouse may be the next stop, which in Auburn isn't far at all. And if your research targets created some more records across a county or state line, it doesn't hurt any that the Allen County Public Library's Genealogy Center is a half-hour's drive south on I-69.

Monday, December 20, 2010

You don't read enough blogs... here's a tip. I just bumped into The Historical Society blog (thanks to Legal History) and found:

* the post I went looking for, recommending Frank Luther Mott's 1947 Golden Multitudes: The Story of Best Sellers in the United States (including many you never heard of, but chances are your ancestors did), and

* a discussion of who people were probably thinking of when they named kids "Darwin" in the early 19th century. Both posts by Dan Allosso.

There's more. For the historically-minded genealogist (which I hope is all of us), this looks like a keeper.

BTW, Mott's book appears to be searchable but not previewable on Google Books. Check your library or AbeBooks.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Data mining past publications

Marian Pierre-Louis shared this interesting link from the Boston Globe via Facebook about a new study published in Science and a new tool Google has made publicly available. The gist:

Google is publicly launching the tool, Google Books Ngram Viewer, to allow scholars or the simply curious to ask questions, such as when references to “The Great War,’’ which peaked between 1915 and 1941, were replaced by “World War I.’’ The tool allows people to look up words or phrases that range from one to five words, and see their occurrences over time — the frequency that a word is mentioned in a given year divided by the total number of words written that year.

I'm sure we can learn a lot from this. And like all tools going back to the sharp stick, it can be misused as well. Counting things is never the whole story. As noted in the article, the way in which words are used may mean more than their frequency. And sometimes the revealing fact lies in what things that are not mentioned, what books were never published, or words whose meaning has subtly shifted over time.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Methodology Monday came on a Friday this week

I tend to assume that everybody reads Dick Eastman, and as a result I often forget to do so. That would be a mistake. There's plenty more to be said about internet searching, but what he relays from a recent FamilySearch conference call is plenty thought-provoking in itself.

This is one of the messages Elizabeth Shown Mills has been preaching for a while, and there are way plenty of genealogists (or as Craig Scott would have it, "people doing genealogy") who have not absorbed it yet.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ready-Made Democracy

Michael Zakim's 2003 book from the University of Chicago Press, Ready-Made Democracy: A History of Men's Dress in the American Republic, 1760-1860, is not just (as the author writes) "a history of men's dress in America. It is also a social history of capitalism and of America's 'great transformation' into a democracy." {2}

Zakim combines a genealogically detailed account of the players in this great and ironic drama, a fantastically detailed acquaintance with the source materials (largely but not exclusively in New York) and the precise details of how the technology of clothing was revolutionized, and always an idea of the larger significance.

The Revolutionary-era ideal of Americans as plain homespun-clad folks survived into the 1850s and beyond, but the reality had changed enormously. The same words now meant something quite different. "That inversion is the subject of this book: how capitalist revolution came to America under the guise of traditional notions of industry, modesty, economy, and independence." {3}

This kind of history is not to everyone's taste, so no guarantees. But if you like it at all, you'll love it. There is a preview on Google Books if you want to test the waters.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A new angle on the Civil War

One of the few mailing lists that I find just about as useful in genealogy as in my earlier life is that of the National Bureau of Economic Research. That's how I ran across the work of UCLA economist Dora L. Costa, coauthor with Matthew E. Kahn of Heroes and Cowards: The Social Face of War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008). From Chapter 1:

This book is about the heroes and cowards of the Civil War. It is about tests of adversity on the battlefield and on long marches and in the POW camps where so many soldiers died. It tells of glory and shame after the war, and of how former slaves made the transition to being free men. What do stories of deserters, POWs, returning veterans, and men throwing off the bonds of slavery have in common? While seemingly unrelated, these stories are connected by a common thread: how men interacted with their comrades, and how these interactions affected their decisions and their outcomes. . . .

Our analytical approach, like that of the authors of The American Soldier, is statistical. An advantage of this approach is that it permits us to weigh the relative importance of different motives in men’s decisions.

We begin with the stories of nine men who fought in the Civil War. They were ordinary men. They merit no mention in history books. But despite their anonymity, we can reconstruct their lives and the lives of their comrades from administrative and other official records. Their lives can suggest why some communities work while others do not, and why the distinction matters.

Costa's web page, linked above, includes the full text of some papers that went into the making of the book. I haven't read it yet, but it looks like valuable context for those who research Civil War participants on a regular basis.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Is it history or is it all clean and shiny?

Tony Judt is writing here about England, but I'm pretty sure we can all recognize parts of our own local histories and genealogies in the US:

In England's West Midland potteries district, tourists and local schoolchildren were encouraged to learn how Josiah Wedgwood, the eighteenth-century ceramics manufacturer, fashioned his famous wares. But they would search in vain for evidence of how the pottery workers lived or why the region was called the Black Country ([In his book The Road to Wigan Pier, George] Orwell described how even the snow turned black from the belching smoke of a hundred chimneys.) . . .

Industry, poverty, and class conflict have been officially forgotten and paved over. Deep social contrasts are denied or homogenized. And even the most recent and contested past is available only in nostalgic plastic reproduction.
Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (New York: Penguin Press, 2005), pp. 772, 773

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Fall/Winter 2010 Hoosier Genealogist: Connections

There's a lot to like in the new issue of The Hoosier Genealogist: Connections from the state historical society.

There's history in Richard M. Lytle's timely "Desperate Times: Hammond, Indiana, Endures the Great Depression."

There's hard-core genealogy data in another installment of Timothy Mohon's "Hoosier Baptists" and their records.

There's a repository review on the state library's History Reference Room.

There's a reflection on the personal meaning of the classic Midwestern matchup between border Southerners on one hand and Yankees and New Englanders on the other -- Randy K. Mills's "'Not Like Your Father's People.'"

There's an institutional and records context for finding the hardest-to-find people in Rachel Popma's study of the Blackford County Asylum for the Poor, "Finding Destitute Ancestors."

And, of course, there are three classic family chronicles:

"Along the Wabash: Dora Family History Leads Back to Indiana's Earliest Recorded European Settlers," in which Rob Dora works the French records from the 1700s.

"Pioneer Politician: John Kennedy Graham, Clark and Floyd Counties 1805-1841," by Geneil Breeze.

"Maria's Journey: From the Mexican Revolution to Indiana's Steel Mills," by Ramon Arredondo and Trisha (Hull) Arredondo.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Methodology Monday with upstate New York in Allen County Public Library

Plenty of Midwesterners came from, or through, New York -- and in doing so created multiple migraines for their descendants who have to cope with a gigantic state that has few statewide record sets for the 19th century (always excepting those wonderful state censuses).

John Beatty, writing in the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center's monthly e-zine "Genealogy Gems" for November 30, offers an introduction to using the 185-roll microfilm collection of New York State DAR transcribed records, largely of cemeteries, vital records, and Bible records. (If the direct link doesn't work, start here. This is the genealogy center's microtext catalog, for which their elegant new AquaBrowser catalog is NOT a substitute!) Back issues through 2009 and a free electronic subscription form are also available here.

You do want to read this article before jumping in, as the arrangement and indexing is not quite state of the art. But sooner or later, you're going to have to crack a New York family. Why not now?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Indiana Genealogist December 2010

The current issue of the Indiana Genealogist quarterly is the last one you'll see in print, unless you print it out from your computer, reports editor Rebecca E. Tomerlin of Valparaiso. Indiana Genealogical Society members can view this issue and later ones in PDF format.

The issue contains more than twenty items, including a number of good pictures of Indiana soldiers' graves and memorials in Tennessee, and much more. My eye was caught by two footnoted articles and a "lost" record retrieved:

Dawne Slater-Putt, "Establishing a Possible Identity of Ford Myers: a Fort Wayne Photo Subject," an especially good detective story if you've ever sighed over an orphaned photo in an antique shop.

Penelope Mathiesen, "Burgoon Church and the Burgoon Family in Monroe County, Indiana" -- the family donated land to the Baptist church but were not members; the children moved and married elsewhere but several returned for burial.

Marjorie Weiler-Powell's find of a complete family record of James and Grace (Cade) Davis in the Dearborn County Circuit Court records for 14 July 1829, under the heading, "Register of Free Persons of Color."

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cleveland public cemeteries on line

Another urban Midwestern resource has come on line, the Cleveland City Cemetery Index. It's a five-year-old project of the East Cuyahoga County Genealogical Society, and it includes more than 300,000 burials at ten locations. If you know where your Cleveland person of interest wound up, you can also search individual locations. But if you don't find your person, he or she may still be buried in Cleveland . . . in a private cemetery.

Thanks to Kelly Cogan Holderbaum for her Facebook note on this.