Monday, February 28, 2011

"Ghost Signs" -- another resource?

Hat tip to the COOK-CO-IL Rootsweb mailing list for alerting me to another category of potential historical information: Ghost Signs.

This site is a work in progress by Nicole Donohoe, MS candidate in Historic Preservation at the School of the Art Institute, Chicago. By a rough estimate there about 170 ghost Chicago signs listed with addresses, and about 70 are linked to pictures. I like the very faded "Daily News" signs, among the last public relics of a great newspaper. But the cartage and boarding stable is a keeper too.

As if I needed more ways to waste time, I find that on Flickr a search on "ghost signs" produced 15,272 results. A group photo pool with that title has 14,819 images and claims 1,667 members. Clearly I'm a bit late to the party, but in a sense that's the whole point (we're not collecting current signs, for heaven's sake!).

No, I don't know how to cite them, but if I ever need to I'll check Evidence Explained and find a way. Certainly the address and date of viewing would be essential elements, and a quick digital photo would be a memory-enhancer.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Aerial photo books from the 1950s

Those who do 20th-century Midwestern genealogy may already know about this series of county histories whose most desirable feature at this distance in time is their aerial photographs of named farms in a couple dozen Illinois counties and a few in Iowa, Indiana, and Wisconsin. A larger list is available on WorldCat, where I searched on "american aerial history county series." Many are available on line at Internet Archive (first link above) and other locations.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Abominable Snowman of Genealogy

If I can believe recent blog posts, there are four kinds of people involved in genealogy (organized from the largest to the smallest in numbers, as I suspect):

(1) Those who don't care about keeping track of how they know what they know about their ancestors (AKA citing their sources);

(2) Those who do care, but claim to be constantly annoyed by "genealogy police" or citation cultists who abuse them for misplacing commas or other trivial offenses;

(3) Those who do care and who don't mind learning more, even if the teacher were to have an attitude; and

(4) The Abominable Snowmen of Genealogy, i.e., the aforementioned "genealogy police" or citation cultists who berate members of the other three groups in uncivil ways, and actually may drive members of group #2 in the direction of group #1.

I know that group #1 exists because they have blogged and commented. I know that group #2 exists because they have blogged, and because people I respect and trust have talked to a bunch of them. And I know that group #3 exists because I'm a member of it.

I am in search of evidence that group #4 exists. I have never met such a person, and in more than three years of participation on the listservs of the Association of Professional Genealogists and the Transitional Genealogists Forum, I don't recall having seen one in operation. (My memory could be faulty, hence this post.) No blog or commenter that I have linked to above offers any quotation, or names any name; only one claims to have been contacted by a member of group #4.

Please feel free to educate me by offering actual evidence of the existence of group #4 by citing examples of their obnoxious behavior. My primary purpose is selfish: as a member of group #3, I would like to behave in such a way as not to be mistaken for group #4. My secondary purpose is social history research: I have an alternative hypothesis as to why people might think there is a group #4 even if there isn't.

If you name names, I won't pass them along. If you don't want to comment in the comments, email me at hhsh AT earthlink DOT net. I do aim to report in a generic way later on, whatever the results may be. Thanks!

Oh yes -- and if I should be strangled later today by an Abominable Snowman, feel free to draw your own conclusions ;-)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Today's topic is "records about records" -- how cool is that?

Midwestern researchers should be familiar with the WPA county records inventories from the late 1930s. They do not exist for all counties but are valuable when they do -- at least you know what was available then and where it was. (If you're not familiar, the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center has the Allen County inventory on line.)

For those who have New York forebears, one of the assets that state has is a set of county-level inventories done out of Cornell University in the 1980s. The generic title is "Guide to Historical Resources in Generic County, New York, Repositories." They are funny-shaped books with an idiosyncratic format, but your time with them will not be wasted. Really good genealogical libraries such as Allen County and the Wisconsin State Historical Society have them, but be careful how you search on WorldCat, as sometimes they are catalogued without the commas.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Clue Wagon!

I don't think I've said enough about Milwaukee-based blogger Kerry Scott's "Clue Wagon." If I may paraphrase my mom on a different subject, Scott is old enough to know what needs to be said, and young enough to go ahead and say it. Unlike me, she doesn't cheap out with a quick reference to some other good site. You get a good read, good advice, an occasional ancestor profile, and a full dose of attitude. If you haven't read this recent selection of my favorites, you should:

"Why It Doesn't Matter Which Genealogy Software You Use"
(7 February)

"Why The Facebook Cartoon Pictures Make Me Want To Poke My Eye Out with a Fork" (10 December)

"In Which I Pretty Much Piss Off the Entire Genealogy Establishment" (20 October)

"5 Reasons I Wish I Could Travel Back in Time and Smack My 1995-Self" (28 September)

I don't read anybody's blog faithfully any more, so I've probably missed some good ones. I will betray my age if I say that Scott has a bright future in print venues as well, but I certainly hope she does. If she doesn't, the days of print are numbered.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

More on line records from Michael Hait

My friend Michael Hait has just published the first edition of his PDF book, Online State Resources for Genealogy, an ambitious undertaking devoted to materials brought on line by states, counties, towns, organizations, and individuals. It has many sites you could easily miss, including vital records but with much more specialized information. Indianapolis or Milwaukee Sanborn Maps, anyone? Inmate case records from the boys' industrial school in Lancaster, Ohio? Poor farm records from Morgan County, Illinois? The WPA index of land and buildings in Hillsdale County, Michigan, 1936-1942? These can be brick-wall breakers if you know about them and know how to use them.

Listings are organized by state and by repository within each state; there is also an index. The book does not include any of the national-level web sites like Ancestry, Footnote, Findagrave, or FamilySearch. It does include many databases not covered in specialized free sites like Joe Beine's or Miriam Midkiff's city directory reference site.

The first edition of Online State Resources runs to 310 pages, and a second edition is anticipated around midyear. I'll be surprised if it isn't twice the size. And I'll be astonished if you don't learn several new things from the current version. In my opinion it's well worth the $15 download, and that price includes the second edition too if you register.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

More on -line death records from Joe Beine

The vast majority of records of interest to genealogists are not on line, and may never be. Few genealogical problems can be solved using only on-line resources. But there are always more places to get started using on-line indexes and images of original documents.

Joe Beine has updated his Online Searchable Death Indexes & Records site, including material for more than twenty Midwestern counties: three in Illinois (Champaign, DuPage, and St. Clair), eight in Indiana (Carroll, Cass, Elkhart, Howard, Marshall, St. Joseph, Starke, and Switzerland), three in Michigan (Berrien, Charlevoix, and Oakland), five in Ohio (Columbiana, Cuyahoga, Greene, Lake, and Wayne), and two in Wisconsin (Eau Claire and Portage).

Friday, February 4, 2011

The problem of diaries

Diaries are original sources from an eyewitness. Why aren't they always as illuminating as we would like? Maybe they lack that thing we call "perspective" . . . or context. I was provoked to think about them when I reviewed Lillian's Diaries: Whispers from Galena's Past, which recounts seven years in northwestern Illinois' Jo Daviess County from the point of view of Lillian Trudgian, a young farm woman. The review is just out in the December 2010 issue of Crossroads, the ambitious quarterly of the Utah Genealogical Association. (More on the issue later.)

Then I was provoked to think some more when reading Paul Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory. He called two war diarists to witness the problematic nature of their creations (pages 310-311). Playwright Lillian Hellman hoped to preserve important experiences in her 1944 diary, but later found that they had somehow omitted "what had been most important to me, or what the passing years have made important." And RAF flyer Robert Kee later reflected on his own diary: "From all the quite detailed evidence of these diary entries I can't add up a very coherent picture of how it really was to be on a bomber squadron in those days."

Sometimes up close and personal can be too close -- or it needs to be supplemented with more.