Saturday, October 30, 2010

Lincoln and context and reading history forward

Very interesting review in the San Francisco Chronicle of The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery by Eric Foner, distinguished historian of the Reconstruction. In the reviewer's words, Foner's main point is that "We should not understand Lincoln from the myth-glazed outcome reading backward, but from the beginning, through one transformative event after another, looking forward. This is a historian's book, a lesson in context, but one hopes it will be widely read." It's not that Lincoln was consistent, or politically correct by our standards, but that he never stopped learning and growing. Hat tip to Legal History Blog.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

St. Louis Court Records from 1787 to 1875 on line -- well, some of them

The Scout Report highlights an interesting online resource for Midwestern researchers whose people of interest may have stopped and stayed awhile at the gateway to the west (and the metropolis of southern Illinois), St. Louis. It's the St. Louis Circuit Court Historical Records Project from Washington University. Cases include civil, criminal and chancery (equity) actions and are searchable by plaintiff, defendant, year, action, and case notes. Some documents are as old as 1787 and some as recent as 1875, but most are from 1804 to 1835.

This is not primarily intended as a genealogical resource, since it is not an every-name index, and since from using the search engine it would appear that the cases available are limited to those categorized as having to do with four predefined categories: Lewis & Clark, freedom suits (involving slaves or those threatened with enslavement), the fur trade, and Native Americans.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

September Crossroads from UGA

Leslie Albrecht Huber has the cover story in the current issue of Crossroads, published by the Utah Genealogical Association and executively edited by my friend Christy Fillerup, on "How to Write a Page-Turning, But True, Family History."

Also to be found inside are Rondina Muncy on a very important six-letter word in land platting, and my review of Gordon Wood's marvelous Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Reupblic, 1789-1815, under the heading "Re-Learning History."

Genealogy has its familiar handful of top-notch scholarly magazines, and -- even in this day of the internet -- many that publish whatever comes in. Crossroads is aiming to occupy some middle ground, and welcomes contributions and inquiries. As UGA's statement of objectives says, it seeks to "raise the standards of genealogy and family history research."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Is this a genealogy poem?

Wallace Stevens, "A Postcard from the Volcano":

Children picking up our bones
Will never know that these were once
As quick as foxes on the hill;

And that in autumn, when the grapes
Made sharp air sharper by their smell
These had a being, breathing frost;

If you can't find your copy of Stevens (why not?), the rest is here.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Articles from Ohio!

Ohio Genealogical Society Quarterly 50(3) Fall 2010

"The Cordwainer's Journey," by Rena Glover Goss, pp. 113-118

"Caleb Hall, Franklin and Delaware Counties, Ohio," by Joe R. Winney, pp. 137-145

Ohio Genealogy News
41(3), Fall 2010

"Bad River Rising: The Charles W. Croner Family and the 1913 Piqua Flood," by Joyce Quigley, pp. 13-15

"History of the Warren County, Ohio Obituary Project," by Arne H. Trelvik, pp. 17-18

Sunday, October 17, 2010

News from Illinois and Wisconsin

Real articles with sources, not just record collections!

Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly
42(3), Fall 2010

"Kathleen Matson's Pioneer Heritage in Stark County, Illinois," by Donald D. Schmidt and Marty Matson Hawk, pp. 133-149

"Civil War Diary of Gideon Richardson Taxis of Gardner, Grundy County, Illinois," by Marjorie Vance Rice, pp. 154-156

Wisconsin State Genealogical Society Newsletter 56(4), October 2010

"American Apostles: John Cunningham and Henry Harrison Deam," part 4 of 5, by Gregory R. Cunningham, pp. 211-226

"She Came from Strong Stock," part 1 of 2, by Robert E. Ash, pp. 227-230

Monday, October 11, 2010

Make the most of the ag census on methodology monday

Ever since I discovered the existence of agriculture schedules for the 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880 censuses, I've been so amazed that I can know how many pigs my ancestors slopped and how much maple syrup they spent endless spring hours cooking down.

So I've promoted these schedules as a way to add flesh to a skeletal family tree. What was grown, or not grown on the farm; how it compared to its neighbors at the time; how it developed (or failed to develop) over time -- all can tell a lot about what it was like to grow up and live there. Now I have even more reasons and fewer excuses to use these scandalously under-used records.

The "fewer excuses" part is that Ancestry now has agriculture schedules on line for fourteen states including Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan. They're under the obtuse heading of "Selected US Federal Census Non-Population Schedules, 1850-1880," which is not included in the drop-down menu of other US censuses.

One caution if you haven't dealt with these in microfilm or hard copy before: In 1850 the entries for each farm are so numerous they stretch across two pages. On the left side of one page are the names and the first set of entries, and then on the back side of that page (the following image in Ancestry) are the remaining numbers. So to get all the good stuff you need to click forward and match up line numbers. (This also means that every knowledgeable citation to these records will refer to two page numbers, not just one!)

The "more reasons" part is that the agriculture schedule is not a perfect mirror of the population schedule. This means at least two things. One, some people show up there who own no property according to the population schedule (either a mistake was made or they are "managers"). Two, some people have their names grossly mangled in one schedule and not in another. A man who is probably not a relative of my wife (another story!) is indexed in Genesee County, New York, as "Rosabel" in the population schedule, but more accurately as "Roswell" in the agriculture schedule. I'm sure there's more, but the point remains the same: this data set is a must-do for any serious researcher.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Sixty Million Acres!

Thanks to the helpful folks on the Transitional Genealogists list, I have now purchased and read James W. Oberly's detailed study, Sixty Million Acres: American Veterans and the Public Lands before the Civil War (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1990). It's definitely worth your time if you deal regularly with bounty-land recipients under the four different Congressional acts passed in 1847, 1850, 1852, and 1855, which together involved most veterans of most wars from the War of 1812 through the Mexican War. It's also good microscopic historical background, connecting these laws with the changing politics of that era, and also reviewing and modifying past interpretations by earlier generations of historians.

Oberly starts with the politics: how Congress decided how to distribute the public land (it all started with the need to boost recruitment pronto during the Mexican War), how the administrative offices implemented distribution, and how the recipients (veterans and widows) used their warrants.

At the time, there was much concern about speculators monopolizing land or bilking veterans. Oberly finds little evidence that they did, but they did make some windfall profits.

The expectation that these warrants would spark additional settlement by the veterans themselves was also not fulfilled. (A very rough comparison: if the government offered Alaskan bush land to Vietnam-era veterans now, how many would choose to go?) In Oberly's random sample of warrants, fewer than 5 percent of the recipients used them to "locate" land for themselves. {92} Most warrants were sold, often through middlemen, and there were intertwined national and local markets for them. The market seems to have been competitive, and somewhat volatile. In general Oberly thinks the sellers did OK. (Genealogical lesson #1: if you find such a warrant in use, the odds are very good that the person who took up the land was not the original recipient and quite possibly not a veteran of any of those wars.)

The line of settlement pretty much determined where the warrants ended up being located: Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin together make up roughly half the acreage, with Missouri and Minnesota close behind. {85} Southern states were underrepresented in part because the big boom state in those years was Texas, which had its own public-lands system inherited from its brief independence.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Northwest Territory papers on line

Apparently the best way to browse the 551 items in the Indiana Historical Society's Northwest Territory collection is to go to their main web site, click on collections, and from the drop-down menu pick "digital image collections." On that page, click on the link in the sentence "You can search across all collections here."

Then select "Northwest Territory Collection, 1791-1825" and click add. If you want to browse, type "northwest" in the top bar of the search and your result will be 551 documents with tidy descriptions off to the right. There's a lot of military stuff, because the resident Indian tribes were not yet willing to give up their land.

There's also useful information if you're a Vertner or Kilgore researcher in the area: an order from a not clearly identified court for the sheriff of Ross County in the Ohio territory to seize "Nathan" (I read the name as Mathew) Kilgore's goods in order to collect a debt he owed Daniel Vertner, originally of $47 but now with interest and court costs ballooned to $65.

(You won't find these people in the census. There's little useful census information in Ohio for another twenty years.)

There doesn't seem to be a lot of context here, and I looked in vain for an overall description of the collection, or why it is labeled as it is, since it contains at least one document from 1764. More diligent visitors should feel free to enlighten me in the comments!

Hat tip to Region Roots from the Lake County (IN) Public Library.