Saturday, April 30, 2011

What is happening to libraries -- Michigan and Indiana

The spring issue of the Michigan Genealogical Council newsletter chronicles the ongoing process.

On the positive side, state census films are being indexed by Ancestry, and are expected on by this fall. Naturalization records from at least 59 of the state's 83 counties are expected on within a a year. After that, look for "survey notes, plat maps and land state patents." (Note also information on GenealogyWise's Michigan discussion group about changing URLs for some Michigan resources, including cemeteries.)

On the other side, the Library of Michigan now staffs only three service desks 10am-5pm. "If additional information is needed feel free to call the reference desk phone line at 517-373-1300 and they will return your call as time allows." (The Archives of Michigan is already open from just 1-5 weekdays.) And draconian cuts in state help for local libraries will cause the Troy library to close May 1st and Detroit Public to reduce staff by 20 percent.

It's not just Michigan. The Indiana State Archives, although dreadfully understaffed, has put up a number of useful databases on line as the Indiana State Digital Archives, and volunteers there are working on more. But the physical state archives (the vast majority of which are unique records that are not microfilmed or digitized) are located in an old warehouse that would not stand up to a tornado and whose roof leaks. As Indiana librarians and county genealogists were informed at their April seminar, the governor isn't interested in fixing that situation until he can find private contributions for the project.

Just to be clear: this is what's happening, read it as you will.

Personally, I do not think that the expansion of virtual libraries justifies or compensates for the short-sighted cuts being made to physical ones. A library that you can get to easily is a ladder that even a bad student, a nonconformist, an outsider can climb. Cutting and closing them takes rungs off the ladder. No one rung is essential. You can usually find a workaround. But when enough rungs are gone, it's not a ladder any more. It's just some sticks on the ground.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Charles Baxter, whose short stories and novels I have yet to read, is quoted in the April 28 New York Review of Books about the Midwest -- "the blandness of the landscape and the ways in which people here don't always talk about what's on their minds."

(It took a few days for that to come around and hit me in the back of the head.)

The late Kurt Vonnegut Jr., an Indianapolis native, doesn't seem to have had this problem. He once characterized his home town as "the 500-mile Speedway Race, and then 364 days of miniature golf, and then the 500-mile Speedway Race again." ("Address to Graduating Class at Bennington College, 1970," p. 161 in Wampeters, Foma, and Granfaloons)

What are your favorite Midwesternisms?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Ghost counties?

This report identifies the ten US counties (containing more than 10,000 homes) that have housing vacancy rates over 50 percent. Five are in the Midwest. If you research there, show 'em some love! (Or some money!) And if you're planning to research there, do it soon, as the tax crunch will hit them hard if it hasn't already.

Lake County, Michigan
Vilas County, Wisconsin
Sawyer County, Wisconsin
Burnett County, Wisconsin
Aitkin County, Minnesota

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Illinois quarterly spring issue

The Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly (Spring, volume 43 number 1) features documented articles about two professional men. Neither has known living descendants.

Banker William Moody Dustin (1828-1917) of Lincoln, Logan County, Illinois, had troubles both financial and marital. (You'll feel better about your taxes.)

Physician Carl Clement Lawry (1876-1953) of Freedom Township and the tiny town of Harding in La Salle County, was the more successful. And for researchers in that area, he left us a valuable resource -- his 1911-1916 account book, with well over a thousand entries alphabetized and transcribed in the magazine. The article includes a well-deserved shout-out to the La Salle County Genealogy Guild.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Illinois and Wisconsin additions to FamilySearch

Recent additions to FamilySearch's increasingly impressive collection of free on-line record indexes and/or original images:

Marriages 1810-1934 -- searchable but no images -- in the Illinois counties of Adams, Alexander, Bond, Boone, Brown, Champaign, Christian, Clark, and Clay. This is an extra three-plus decades over the coverage of the venerable Illinois Statewide Marriage Index. I would be interested to see a comparison sample of the coverage between the two where they do overlap.

Probate estate files for various date ranges -- browseable images only -- in the Wisconsin counties of Green, Pepin, Shawano, and Trempeleau.

Scroll down the whole list looking for the little asterisks on the right to see what's new lately. I don't promise to be able to keep up even with just the Midwestern portion of this enterprise.

Thanks to Michael John Neill for the heads-up.

Thanks to Michael John Neill for the heads-up.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Puzzles and proof

Most researchers have trouble with the idea that you can prove an identity or relationship even if you never find a piece of paper that says it. Even those of us who know that it's true have trouble applying it to our real-life genealogy problems.

Industrious Ohio researcher and blogger Chris Staats comes out of the recent Ohio Genealogical Society conference and in his blog takes up Tom Jones's favorite puzzle analogy for genealogical "proof," which was discussed there.

This point needs to be made more often at the grass-roots level where we all start. For the full dose, pick up a CD of Jones's lecture "Inferential Genealogy" from JAMB Productions, (it's F-95 in the Philadelphia 2008 FGS listing, and no, I don't get a commission!) or read the underlying National Genealogical Society Quarterly article, “Uncovering Ancestors by Deduction: The Husbands and Parents of Eleanor (nee Medley) (Tureman) (Crow) Overton,” NGSQ 94 (December 2006): 287-304 -- (available in good genealogical libraries or free to NGS members on the web site). And of course, you can find the Genealogical Proof Standard in all its non-metaphorical glory at the BCG web site.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

When the dead gain power

Recently I heard from genealogist/researcher Barry Fleig, who I hadn't talked to in 22 years. Back then he was an indispensable source when I wrote an article about the unanticipated exhumation of people buried in anonymous graves on the former grounds of a Chicago mental health facility in the Dunning neighborhood. (It was a genealogy article, but I was comprehensively ignorant of the subject then.) He had just seen report of a similar situation developing in Lexington, Kentucky, at the Eastern States Hospital. More on that story here. More on the general topic in several February posts at Graveyards of Illinois.

In both cases it's in the interest of powerful individuals, businesses, and bureaucracies to deny the existence of these poorly documented graveyards and the people in them, and to withhold any records that survive. (Some preposterous provisions of HIPAA and even more preposterous misunderstandings of it now make the situation even worse.)

But the people buried in these forgotten places -- usually unsuccessful, unappealing, and unlucky in life -- have a surprising power in death. Living people (the majority without a vested interest) might well have scorned them in life -- but we do not want their remains randomly dug up and tossed about.

One obvious thing that Barry and I both missed at the time is that pretty much every site of an old asylum or mental hospital is also going to be the site of extensive and poorly documented burials from the 1800s and at least the first half of the 1900s.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Mis-understanding history

How many genealogists are better off than these poor students? A lot, I hope.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Two good free resources via Scout Report

The Internet Scout Project dates back to the DOS and maybe even the green-screen Apple era, and they're still at it. Recently they highlighted two genealogically useful resources:

From the Iowa Digital Library, a collection on African American Women in Iowa. There are a variety of resources here, with more scope than the title makes it sound. Being a text guy, I gravitated to the typewritten 27 June 1963 newsletter of the Fort Madison NAACP. It is (I must say) rather like a blog, with lots of specific news entries: "Freesmeier's Dairy has hired one of our number, Thomas Humburd," calling off the boycott and encouraging patronage. And it is searchable!

And completely searchable images of "every known issue" of Chicago's Hyde Park Herald, covering most of the 1880s and then everything since 1926 -- a primo resource right into the 21st century!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Lillian update

Volume 2 of Lillian's Diaries (blogged here) is now available on Amazon.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sundown towns in NE Illinois 1950s

The Historical Society has an interesting first-person reminiscence by Jeremy Bangs of the white racist custom of "sundown towns" as manifested in northeastern Illinois in the 1950s. This, too, was part of our ancestors' world.

I think I grew up in such a town. At least one of the "tough" kids in the neighborhood made some such statement, but then he was an admirer of Hitler and may have just been stating his opinion. I was too young and naive to have one -- kids can take amazing things for granted -- and I have never investigated the facts of the case.