Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Maps without copyright

For those who worry about copyright issues with the many wonderful maps available on the internet, I know of two good recourses that do not involve delving into the arcana of either the general rules on fair use of maps or a particular source's claims of rights. These are maps produced by the federal government, making good use of our tax dollars:

the National Atlas, and especially the mapmaker part, which deserves an extended discussion in itself but won't get it here; and

the Census Bureau, which has individual state maps of counties in outline, as well as a map of the whole country with counties in outline. That last comes in especially handy when your research targets thoughtfully lived next to the state line. (Thanks to Kathy Lenerz.)

Just because these are not copyrighted does not mean you can claim you made them yourself! Stay calm and cite your source.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Common Law in Colonial America

I picked up a copy of William E. Nelson's slim volume, The Common Law in Colonial America, volume 1, The Cheseapeake and New England, 1607-1660 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), at an online Oxford University Press sale.

It's of interest to those trying to track the role of common law in American laws. I also found it an interesting quick overview of the New England and Chesapeake colonial societies, how different they were, and how they both used the English common law in shaping their different legal traditions. Virginia and New England remain interestingly different places even after centuries of change and homogenization.

Here's a taste from the introduction:

As it functioned after 1625 in Virginia, the rule of law mattered not because the law had a particular content, but because its content was known, fixed, and not subject to arbitrary change [allowing lenders to count on being able to collect debts]. In contrast, the content of the law mattered enormously in colonial New England, where . . . a key issue was the discretion of magistrates. The magistrates wanted to rule by the law of God, but most of the people in the towns found God's law too ambiguous. {9}

Friday, May 27, 2011

Spring Ohio Genealogical Society Quarterly!

The new issue of the largest state genealogical society's flagship publication boasts a handsome new format and four articles with citations:

"Researching the Family of Samuel B. Kates," by Darlene F. Weaver

"Stephen and Mary Senko of Lorain and Lakewood, Ohio," by Marianne Szabo

"Notes from William Hogan (1836-1936) of Marion Ohio," by N. James Pruitt and Kate De Wein

"Out of the Unity of Friends: The Remarkable Legacy of Abner and Mercy Heston," by Jane Dempsey Gramlich, which was the first-place winner of the 2010 OGS writing contest

Two new features of note -- a Lighton family Bible record both transcribed and fully imaged, and new editor Margaret Arnold kicks off what one hopes will become a regular series with a "Locality Guide" to twelve Delaware County repositories.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

1890 census fragment backwards and inside out

Most of the newspaper squibs that people contribute to genealogy magazines are just colorful filler. Not Craig Pfannkuche's in the current Chicago Genealogist, Spring 2011, 43(3):94-98. He transcribed a Chicago Tribune article from 18 August 1890, listing 4 1/2 pages of names and addresses of Chicagoans who claimed to have been missed by census takers.

I suppose the moral is, always complain when you're missed. The record of your complaint may outlive the record you're complaining about being omitted from!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

New online records from Joe Beine

If you don't know this resource, you should. If you do, you shouldn't be reading this ;-) Midwestern marriage additions to Joe Beine's "Online Birth & Marriage Records Indexes for the USA":

Illinois: Champaign County

Indiana: Statewide Marriage Index 1993-2004 (years added)

Michigan: Charlevoix, Clinton, and Emmet counties

Ohio: Cuyahoga, Hamilton, and Lake counties

Wisconsin: Langlade and Milwaukee counties

Monday, May 23, 2011

Michael Hait's new blog

Michael Hait's home base is Delaware and Maryland, so our actual research paths don't cross too often. His new blog, "Planting the Seeds," focuses on professional genealogy -- meaning that it has solid information for anyone who takes their genealogy seriously, even if they never do it for money and never attend an institute or a state or national conference. His posts are longer and more substantive than most genealogy blogs, including this one. My recent favorites include a careful dissection of FamilySearch's inadequate citation practices for their many new on-line offerings, and "Do You Have a Genealogical Project?":

By fully exploring the family and other relationships within a single community, we are able to gain insight into that community, and our ancestor’s relative place within it. But more importantly, it is through broad community projects of this nature that we are able to break down even the toughest brick walls.
Check it out.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

More on endangered libraries

David Morris of the Institute for Self-Reliance:

"The word 'public' has been removed from the name of the Fort Worth Library.
Why? Simply put, to keep up with the times."

From the Media release on the rebranding of the Fort Worth Library

Fort Worth, you leave me speechless. You’re certainly correct about one thing. The public library is indeed an institution that has not kept up with the times. But given what has happened to our times, why do you see that as unhealthy? In an age of greed and selfishness, the public library stands as an enduring monument to the values of cooperation and sharing. In an age where global corporations stride the earth, the public library remains firmly rooted in the local community.

Morris has much more to say. (I was interested to learn that no public library closed its doors during the Great Depression.) He points to an alleged villain I had not heard of, the library privatization firm Library Systems & Services (LSSI).

In genealogy, we have gained useful access to a lot of information via some forms of privatization. Those who did research before Ancestry.com existed can tell stories, and do. I think most would agree that Ancestry has been a net benefit to the field, even though there are aspects of its work that do not meet professional standards. With that rather general comparison in mind, are there librarians or library users out there who have a good word for LSSI?

(Hat tip to Sam Smith's "Undernews" newsletter.)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Midwest in major journals

This is the blog post where we pick up top genealogical journals, in which skilled genealogists scrupulously apply recondite methodologies to obscure records -- and ask only whether they discuss anyone from the Midwest.

Fortunately for this post, they do. (And all deal with people from the difficult pre-1850 period.) In the March 2011 National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Judy G. Russell's account of Josias Baker (1787-1870) includes his lengthy sojourn in Monroe County, Indiana, en route from North Carolina to Texas. Indiana's being a free state helped create one piece of evidence connecting Josias to his home, in that he chose to sell a slave in Burke County, North Carolina, in 1835, rather than in nearby Kentucky. And B. Darrell Jackson applies both DNA and documentary evidence to the ancestry of George Craig (1782/3-1868) of Howard County, Missouri.

In the April 2011 New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, Perry Streeter concludes his article, "Streeter Immigrants of Greene and Steuben Counties," with a genealogical summary that documents Ann "Nancy" Streeter (1814-early 1860s), child of Thomas and Louisa, who was born in Steuben County, New York; married Michael Buchanan; and later lived in Tuscola, Saginaw, and Genesee counties, Michigan.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Yeah, the marriage license is on line. What about the other stuff?

Kim's post on courthouse research at her blog "Ancestors of mine from Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Beyond" has many useful tips. This one struck me because it's an interesting kind of error we're all prone to:

Despite the growing amount of materials appearing on the internet, some records (or at least the complete file of those records) can only be accessed at the courthouse of origination. I have learned over time that I may find a copy of the "original record" online only to learn later that there are 4 or 5 other papers that go with that marriage record that had I not spent some time digging in the county I would never had known and would have missed some very important clues.

Read the whole thing.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Why do you do genealogy?

If you don't keep track of where you found your genealogy evidence, you lose.

In the editors' introduction to the March 2011 issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Melinde Lutz Byrne and Thomas W. Jones fire a shot across the bow of those who say their genealogy is just a hobby, so they don't need to document anything:

"Beyond amusing themselves, how do genealogists succeed? . . . Genealogists who bypass documentation self-indulge and self-delude. They leave undependable work, requiring others to redo it to test its results. Their research might as well have been cast out like an old toy. That is not success."

Subscribe and read the whole thing.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Live at NGS Charleston: Day 3

Today's report is truncated because I spent most of the day involved with the Association of Professional Genealogists -- meeting, luncheon, and booth duty. Strategic planning is the order of the day there, and the process is NOT intended or expected to last forever, or to languish unimplemented.

I was able to attend Richard Sayre's lecture on the various systems of veterans' homes, mainly established once it became apparent that Civil War amputations and other injuries were overwhelming both private resources and the pension system. Aside from the many underlying individual tragedies of the war, he also noted the destruction of many case files in 1930, although samples do remain, as do indexes to register books that Ancestry.com has digitized. The records of these homes remain a remarkable resource.

I did finally break down and purchased the second edition of Gordon Remington's book on New York state probates, and the Jamb Inc. CD of Tom Jones's afternoon talk on the Genealogical Proof Standard. The talk reportedly succeeded in addressing both those who have barely heard of this kind of GPS and those who know it by heart. The late line at the Jamb table included folks on their way home who were ordering CDs for Saturday talks not yet delivered, as the exodus from Conference World begins.

In informal conversation I learned where and how to look for information on the Holland Land Company -- a must-know for those with interest in early western New York.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Live at NGS Charleston: Day 2

[During Blogger's lengthy outage this was first posted on Facebook.]

One of the best and least communicable things about a conference is meeting old friends and making new ones, starting with the folks chowing down on the free breakfast at my out-of-the-way motel. We recognized each other from the new FamilySearch t-shirts.

Living legend Helen Leary spoke on the early (1790-1840) censuses and demonstrated how to wring the maximum information out of them, spiking the instruction with deadpan humor. After showing how one can often estimate many things from ultra-minimal 1790 census, she made an interesting distinction between evidence for proof and evidence for use: "We know that 'close enough' in genealogy is not close enough, but this estimate will help you look for the record you want to look for."

Elizabeth Shown Mills packed several decades of real problems into an unreal will and deed, and took the audience through them line by line. "No skill is as important to a genealogist than the ability to analyze a document."

Laura Murphy de Grazia gave a stunning example of the kind of mistake you can make if you stop researching too soon, in the course of explaining as much as can be explained of the requirement that a genealogical proof include (among other things) a "reasonably exhaustive search."

Engineer Tim Cross of FamilySearch thought out loud with his audience about what is about to happen as cloud computing, mobile applications, geospatial computing, and social media converge -- and genealogical information begins to flow as easily and uniformly as electricity, regardless of its web site of origin. The audience was not entirely on board -- "You don't know if they're right." He surmised that ultimately in the genealogy cloud, there would be both fluid collaborative information changing with new contributions, and a well-document "historic" portion that would remain stable. "It's important to know what's right and can be audited," i.e. the path of evidence and reasoning to conclusion can be followed, "and to know what's false and why. We're still figuring that out." It does sound like documentation and good research practices will continue to be indispensable in the forthcoming faster, mobile-app-intensive, crowd-sourced, geotagged, and Google-Goggled world.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Live at NGS Charleston: Day 1

Like public radio, the National Genealogical Society's 2011 conference in Charleston SC, "Where the Past is Still Present," has sponsors. One of them got to give his pitch just ahead of the Archivist of the US at Wednesday morning's opening ceremony. Archives.com has big things in mind and we'll clearly be seeing more of their digitized records.

The US archivist (that's archives.gov) reported an attendance of over 5,000 at their genealogy fair last month in DC, and in general NARA is getting with the digital program -- not just with a redesigned web site but with eleven blogs, 29 Facebook pages, and its own YouTube site.

Elizabeth Shown Mills held forth on "Finding Fathers" in her traditional talk in the first regular session of the first day. Suspecting that her audience already knew her advocacy of FAN Club research by heart, she emphasized the importance of also getting to know the problem person's community -- its history and then-current concerns -- by reading the local newspaper. I think this would be a good CD purchase, although some points definitely gained from being illustrated. NGS members can check out the underlying article in NGSQ 91:19-30 on the National Genealogical Society site.

The lunch meeting of mentors, alumni, and current students in the ProGen Study Group educational program drew 15 to Jim & Nick's Bar-B-Q, enough to produce three or four separate lively conversation centers at our long table, following initial introductions all around. I was amazed that Group 12 has started (and that a member of it shares Licking County, Ohio, ancestry with me). When we had the first group we had no idea that it would produce additional groups, or that they would start having numbers!

After lunch, NGSQ co-editor Tom Jones gave a characteristically precise and systematic account of how evidence conflicts, why, and what what to do about it it in practice and in writing. Especially illuminating for me were his tables itemizing the disagreements and sources on each specific point, so that you can see potential patterns and analyze better how to resolve the contradiction insofar as possible.

NEHGR editor Henry Hoff's talk on errors took a closer-to-the-ground approach but also included Hoff's Theory of the Perversity of Ancestors, according to which same-name people are likely not only to settle in the same place, but also to interact! Among many other things, be advised that not all baptismal sponsors actually showed up in person.

In the evening, NGS Magazine editor Elizabeth Kelley Kerstens dramatized the difficulties and potentials of documenting women's activities even in the Civil War era with a case study from southeastern Michigan. Names are rarely found, but she did find records of exactly what supplies volunteers from now-disappeared hamlets sent to needy soldiers at the front (not only clothing that the women sewed, but also casks and barrels of food and "1 lb. of rags"). And some counties have records of aid given to destitute soldiers' families.

Evidence in NGS Magazine

My short article on evidence, "Will You Answer When Genealogical Opportunity Knocks?" is in the new (April/May/June 2011) issue of the NGS Magazine. You can read it on line if you're a member. (What? You haven't joined yet?) In brief:

Few of the records we use were created with genealogy in mind. They exist to protect health, record ownership, secure a debt, punish an offender, save a soul, or send young people to war. We are already using the records for other purposes. So why allow them to put their questions, and only their questions, into our minds?
I plugged this magazine before I was in it, and I will continue to do so. It's readable and relevant and facts not common knowledge are specifically cited. More on the rest of this issue in a later post.

Monday, May 9, 2011

"Christianity, American Indians, and the Doctrine of Discovery"

Robert Miller of Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon, has posted a useful paper on line for those who need a quick review (or refresher course) of one reason why few Europeans had a problem with taking the land of the aboriginal inhabitants of Australasia and the Western Hemisphere. It's called "Christianity, American Indians, and the Doctrine of Discovery," (free download PDF) and he carries its history from the Crusades through the era of Columbus and up through Manifest Destiny. (The paper was part of an anthology, Remembering Jamestown: Hard Questions About Christian Mission, Amos Yong, Barbara Brown Zikmund, eds., Pickwick Publications, 2010.)

The analysis is detailed, and different stages of the doctrine are distinguished as it grew and became incorporated in American law. Miller ultimately identifies ten components, one of them being the notion (my paraphrase) that it was OK to take Indians' land because they weren't really using it. Interestingly, many versions did include some limitations on what the superior Europeans were allowed to do -- the doctrine was not always supposed to be a blank check.

Miller notes that the doctrine (and the laws and judicial decisions growing out of it) are firmly based on the idea that Christianity is the only true religion (which at least makes it plausible that natives should be forced to give up their land and independence in return for being converted). I gather from his final paragraph that some Christians nowadays would like to see the doctrine repudiated. The main issue for genealogists and historians is to understand it and to realize how deep it runs.

(Hat tip to the Legal History Blog.)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Advice for Illinois researchers

The other day I needed a Cook County death certificate from the 1940s. It appeared in the online database of Illinois death certificates 1916-1950, but not in the online database of death certificates in Cook County at the County Clerk's genealogy site.

I thought I had only three options: pay the Clerk $15 to look for it, pay the Illinois Department of Public Health $10 to look for it, or visit the Illinois State Archives in person.

I paid the clerk and waited 6 weeks, when I received a form letter to "valued customer" referring me to public health without explaining why they couldn't find a death certificate in their own jurisdiction. When I called to ask, I was referred to another number which rang 20 times without being answered.

The state Department of Public Health asserts (as if it were an ontological truth rather than an irrational quirk of state law) that death certificates are "not public records" and hence are available only to a few. It does acknowledge that it will make "genealogy" death certificates available for deaths more than 20 years ago -- and then offers only application forms that exclude the genealogy possibility.

The state archives are many hours away by car in a direction I rarely have occasion to travel.

The best option? None of the above. I logged on to Genlighten.com, looked for lookups in Springfield, Illinois, hired Molly Kennedy for less than any of the above figures, and received the desired death certificate within 1 (that's one) business day. What ever possessed me to do anything else in the first place?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A thought on what we publish and what we don't

Actually, it's a joke with a thought-provoking punchline. Those who will be offended by a little profanity should not click on this link to Crooked Timber, one of my favorite non-genealogy blogs.