Friday, August 31, 2012

FGS Day Two (Thursday August 30)

High points of the day:

Waking up late on a day when I didn't have any early-morning commitments.

Talking with people about BCG certification at the booth.

Hearing Warren Bittner's awesome historical AND genealogical talk on illegitimacy in Germany in the 1810s and 1820s (AKA "Bittner's Bavarian Bastards"), in which his paternal-line ancestor was denied the right to marry for a decade, essentially because he was poor. No wonder American looked good.

What with committee work and other commitments, I don't get to attend all the lectures I would like, but this one was almost worth the price of admission by itself.

Harold Henderson, "FGS Day Two (Thursday August 30)," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 31 August 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, August 30, 2012

FGS Day One (Wednesday August 29)

A many-faceted day in which I attended Jay Fonkert's stellar talk on local society newsletters and journals. One radical lesson: don't publish because "we've always done it." Figure out if your publications fit your society's goals.

I learned that there is no air-conditioning in the exhibit hall during setup, but somehow managed to help set up the BCG booth anyway.

Michael Hait and I practiced our two-man talk (or is it a comedy routine?) on how NOT to get certified.

I learned that downtown Birmingham isn't terribly friendly to pedestrians, but nevertheless took two walks there for lunch and dinner. You'd never know from the weather here that New Orleans is drowning.

Harold Henderson, "FGS Day One (Wednesday August 29)," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 30 August 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

FGS Day Zero (Tuesday August 28): Save The Records!

If you sit down at a table near the Federation of Genealogical Societies registration booth in the Birmingham convention center, eventually everyone in the (genealogy) world will come by. In the course of the day I learned about certain early Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, probate records that are stored inaccessibly somewhere in "the mines" (presumably old coal mines), and about lumber companies in Mississippi tearing up whole cemeteries without a peep from cowed legislators.

Which pretty well set the stage for the Association of Professional Genealogists' usual Tuesday-night pre-conference roundtable on access to records and the "art of advocacy." Organized by Diane Gravel (New England) and chaired by Thomas MacEntee (Illinois), four knowledgeable panelists discussed how genealogists can deal with rampant misinformation about open records and then go on to advocate for:
(1) the preservation of records,
(2) open access to them, and
(3) adequate funding for the repositories that manage and maintain them.

Panelists were Alvie Davidson, CG (sm) (Florida), Teri Flack (Texas), Polly Kimmitt, CG (sm) (Massachusetts) and Kelvin L. Meyers (Texas).

The panelists took turns answering pre-set questions from the chair. Teri added a note of cheer in telling the tale of a Texas Court Records Task Force that led to a great improvement in record preservation and openness in the state (not spearheaded by genealogists but by judges, if I remember right). The panelists agreed that in the year 2017 genealogists will still be fighting over these three records issues -- and if we aren't, the results will be not be good. APG will be doing more work along these lines -- meaning ultimately that its members will be.

And in doing so we'll need to make friends and alliances with other groups that have similar interests, and find ways to dramatize their importance. Librarians have "Banned Books Week." What could we do to put "No Records Week" in the headlines? A visual representation of the 55 million Texas records unprocessed and unidentified for lack of funding? A story of a family of siblings reunited because Illinois recently opened its adoption records? Your idea here . . .

Harold Henderson, "FGS Day Zero (Tuesday August 28): Save the Records!," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 29 August 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Lincoln, Illinois, a century ago, in William Maxwell's eyes

I've been rereading one of my favorite books of any kind, William Maxwell's Ancestors. I am endlessly impressed by the imaginative sympathy he brings to his ancestors' lives. He also remembers his own past. He grew up in a small downstate Illinois town in Logan County about a century ago, as I did in a smaller one about half a century later.

Lincoln was not a typical small town, because there is no such thing, any more than there is a typical human being . . . . You could be eccentric and still not be socially ostracized. You could even be dishonest. But you could not be openly immoral. The mistakes people made were not forgotten, but if you were in trouble somebody very soon found out about it and was there answering the telephone and feeding the children. Men and women alike appeared to accept with equanimity the circumstances (on the whole, commonplace and unchanging) of their lives in a away that no one seems able to do now [1971] anywhere. This is how I remember it. I am aware that Sherwood Anderson writing about a similar though smaller place saw it quite differently. I believe in Winesburg, Ohio, but I also believe in what I remember. {188, 190}
I find it interesting that he does not mention Sinclair Lewis and Main Street -- perhaps because of Lewis's insistence that all small towns were the same kind of death trap, or perhaps because Lewis's style was crude compared to Maxwell's own ability to recall details and form them into a mosaic, not to build a case or prove a thesis, but just to see again what was there.

William Maxwell, Ancestors: A Family History (New York: Vintage, 1971).

Harold Henderson, "Lincoln, Illinois, a century ago, in William Maxwell's eyes" Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 28 August 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, August 27, 2012

When genealogy gets personal

Recently participants in the Transitional Genealogists Forum have discussed various situations where their work has been made unwelcome. We weren't talking about indifference here, but outright hostility and fear from a client's relative, or a client's spouse, or your own relative -- people who actually objected to their family tree being researched.

Responses varied considerably based on the details of the situation and the temperament of the researcher -- ranging from dropping the research altogether, keeping it confidential, not using the objectors' information, publishing no information on living people (duh), or forging ahead.

It was pretty obvious that aside from generalities like the Golden Rule, there is no bright line to follow. It was also pretty obvious that this is no joke. I know of one individual who took up genealogy and learned more than s/he ever wanted to know about a close relative, and as a result became vehemently opposed to the pursuit. Imagine that person's response if the knowledge had been pressed on her by an irrepressible genealogist!

What we have a right to do may not always be the right thing to do . . . either for us personally or for the profession as a whole. The Association of Professional Genealogists' code of ethics requires members to "promote the trust and security of genealogical consumers," which could easily be read to include their freedom to be non-consumers as well.

This is not usually an issue for historians, as far as I know. One reflective Midwestern blogger refers to genealogy as "the personal past." That's what makes it interesting . . . and difficult sometimes -- because live people are involved too.

Harold Henderson, "When genealogy gets personal," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 27 August 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Updated list of presentations

I've uploaded my latest brochure of presentations (known as "lectures" to those of us of a certain age) over at Midwest Roots. Paper copies (again for those of us of a certain age) will be available at the Genealogical Speakers Guild table at FGS conference in Birmingham, Alabama, this coming week. Mainly I'm about records, research, writing, and education, but with a twist. I'm also about the proof argument from hell, spiral staircases, and the genealogy police.

Harold Henderson, "Updated list of presentations," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 26 August 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Hait's Online Resources

The second and greatly expanded edition of Online State Resources for Genealogy is now available (more than twice the repositories and more than triple the links), compiled by my friend and colleague Michael Hait, CG.

Like many good ideas, it seems a wonder nobody thought of it sooner: to collect all the (relatively) small free state and local on-line sources of information and original records that do not show up on Ancestry or FamilySearch. This edition runs from the Alabama Department of Archives and History's "Alabama Loose Records Index" to the Campbell County, Wyoming, Public Library System's "Local History Index." In between, I find Illinois with 21 repositories in 43 pages, Indiana with 17 repositories in 44 pages, Michigan with 9 repositories in 9 pages, Ohio with 23 repositories in 27 pages, and Wisconsin with 9 repositories in 14 pages.

When your work takes you to an unfamiliar state, this will be a comforting companion -- and a jumping-off place, because no compilation of this kind is ever complete.

Michael Hait, compiler, Online State Resources for Genealogy, version 2.0, PDF e-book (N.p.: Michael Hait Family History Research Services, 2012).

Harold Henderson, "Hait's Online Resources," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 26 August 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Halfway home: map of the 46 Indiana counties with marriages indexed on FamilySearch

Hat tip to the Indiana Genealogical Society blog.

Volunteer to help index: even on line, just spending time with original records is a learning experience.

Harold Henderson, "Halfway home: map of the 46 Indiana counties with marriages indexed on FamilySearch," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 25 August 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Weekend wondering: what laws do you wish you knew?

Sometimes we know exactly which law we don't know -- like the age of consent in Lower Slobbovia in 1666. Sometimes we just have a feeling that a legal eagle would spot something in a confusing record that we can't.

What laws would you like to have a handy reference for?

Harold Henderson, "Weekend wondering: what laws do you wish you knew?," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 25 August 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Friday, August 24, 2012

Book Review: How History and Genealogy Fit -- or Not

A few years ago a colleague asked me what kind of "microhistory" my blog title refers to. I had to admit that I didn't know there were kinds, and that I had only a vague notion of what the subdiscipline was officially supposed to contain.

I could answer that question better now that I've read Anne Patterson Rodda's new book, Trespassers in Time: Genealogists and Microhistorians. The author is a veteran genealogist and Irish specialist who is certified by the Board for the Certification of Genealogists. She looks at various flavors of history: political, economic, social (often quantitative), cultural, local, and micro. She concludes that microhistory -- basically a very small-scale approach that tries to let the records and ordinary individuals speak for themselves rather than go directly to overall theories -- was a good fit for genealogists to relate to. I think she quotes more from the Icelandic microhistorian Sigurdur Gylfi Magnusson than anyone else.

Genealogists have to deal with the fact that the particular people we happen to study may not fit the historical generalities -- to take obvious examples during the Civil War, a Unionist enclave in Mississippi or a Confederate volunteer from northern Indiana. They are sometimes outliers who don't fit the overall narrative -- neither would likely appear in even an encyclopedic history of the war -- but whose reality cannot be denied. We can't understand or tell about these people unless we do two almost contradictory things: know the history of the Civil War, and at the same time not force these people into categories or theories about the war that don't really apply to them. That kind of "double vision" is not easy to maintain.

At some points Rodda follows Magnusson into a rather extreme position:

My original intention was to find out how to place genealogy in historical context and, surprisingly, my research brought me to discard that idea in favor of treating each family story as a microstudy. {66} . . . [Genealogists' and microhistorians'] narratives may be quite microscopic views of certain aspects of local or family history, without reference to the wider history surrounding it. {185}
I don't know if this is possible or advisable, but all of Rodda's own case studies in the book's last three chapters do make ample use of big-picture history. And elsewhere she writes,
The key to producing a family history that can benefit current generations is in staying free of preconceived notions of what was typical for a time and place. . . . the researcher must be open to what the evidence suggests about the family being studied rather than looking for indications of ways their lives reflected the trends of the times. {184}
This thought-provoking book raises questions most of us don't spend much time on: How do we use our knowledge of history? Exactly how can we put our ancestors in the context of their times without abusing them?

Anne Patterson Rodda, Trespassers in Time: Genealogists and Microhistorians (N.p.: author, 2012).

Harold Henderson, "Book Mini-Review: How History and Genealogy Fit -- or Not," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 24 August 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Yorkshire to New York to Michigan in Letters

Ronald Hill draws on an amazing collection of letters and other saved family documents in following James Snowden (1805-1869) across the Atlantic to New York and the Erie Canal in 1833 and on to Kent County, Michigan, in 1843, all in the lead article of the current New York Genealogical and Biographical Record.

Publishing annotated letters is a sub-genre of genealogy writing that doesn't seem to get much attention, but it presents an ongoing tension between the imperatives of understanding and readability. The author needs to explain to today's readers the many items, now mysterious, that were familiar to the original correspondents. Full explanation of everything would clog up the story; none at all would leave the letters barely comprehensible. Hill follows a middle path.

There is no outstanding genealogical problem here, just a great deal of life as lived 175 years ago, give or take. A cousin and friends left New York for Pittsburgh in 1837; one friend had a certificate that no bank would cash due to the ongoing financial panic. There is much description of masonry jobs or the lack thereof; a page-long account of the death of James's wife's sister; a family tiff over money; and a lament that needs no explanation at all: in 1842 James wrote to his wife of a rental property, "It would all moast be as well to set it on fier when we have got the things out as to pretend to rent it."

Eventually James gave up stonecutting and became a farmer in Michigan, accumulating a compact 280 acres in Alpine Township, Kent County. Family papers include four years of Snowden's farm accounts  -- showing, as Hill explains, that Snowden was able to do much better as a farmer. Another installment is promised.

Ronald Hill, "James Snowden, Stonecutter on the Erie Canal: Part 1 -- The Snowden Letters," New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, vol. 143, no. 2 (July 2012): 165-85.

Harold Henderson, "Yorkshire to New York to Michigan in Letters," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 23 August 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Record That Isn't There

Last night I saw upon the chair
The little record that wasn't there.
It wasn't there again today.
How wish it'd go away!
(With apologies to the late William Hughes Mearns)

A while back I heard a story I can't get out of my head. A friend visited a doctor, who did a small routine treatment. The doctor mentioned that this treatment would not appear on the computerized record, because if it did appear there, then the doctor would have to charge her for it.

Genealogists worry about record loss all the time. It had not occurred to me to worry about records that never were created in the first place. But that idea has haunted me ever since. How many genealogically relevant events have "vanished" because the official rules didn't match up with what the actual people in that time and place considered to be right or fitting?

Harold Henderson, "The Record That Isn't There," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 22 August 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Michigan School Records

Genealogy is so local. If you didn't know Michigan and needed to consult school records, you might despair. These records are often lost; if not lost, they tend to be scattered in local repositories; and if in repositories, they are rarely catalogued and even more rarely indexed.

So you would be very happy to find Archives of Michigan's five-year-old circular listing its holdings from two dozen counties, with records as early as 1843 and as recent as 1982. And if your folks happened to be around Grand Rapids a century or so ago, you'd be overjoyed to find the Western Michigan Genealogical Society's on-line index to annual school censuses of Kent County 1903-1925 (over 200,000 listings). But that's only the beginning. Lansing and Grand Rapids are good destinations, but so is Decatur.

Decatur? In Van Buren County? Population under 2000? Not even the county seat (that honor being reserved for Paw Paw)?

Yes, because Decatur is also the home of the Van Buren District Library's Local History Collection, which in turn is the home of the Bess Britton One-Room Schoolhouse Collection: eight wide-body file drawers of material covering 80 of 83 counties, 4770 schools, and 58,616 records.

I hasten to add that not all the schools have records and not all counties have equal coverage. The VBRGS blog has more information on the collection in three posts from earlier this year: part one, part two, and part three.

The collection itself is not on line, but various indexes are. For researchers who can pinpoint their family in a target county (or better, township), the geographical index may work best although it is reported to be partial. There is also a 954-page PDF available listing all the schools in alphabetical order (browseable only).

Those hoping to do a broadcast name search are not going to do so well. hosts a spreadsheet of names and locations, which can be browsed or searched. As far as I have been able to tell, the browse function is slow (100 names at a time and you have to start with A), but the search function pulls up results from all of Ancestry's institutional holdings. So browsing may be the better choice. Going to Decatur may be the best.

And if you have figured out how to work around those browse and search functions, let us all in on the secret before you take off on that road trip!

Harold Henderson, "Michigan School Records," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 21 August 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, August 20, 2012

Three Brothers Northamer: More NGSQ Genealogy Olympics

No vital records, no church records, no helpful probates or deeds, no useful pension records, no useful guardianships -- how is a Pennsylvania genealogist to identify which of three brothers fathered Jacob Northamer and William Northamer in the late 1700s? Not from family speculations, as it turned out.

Northamer descendants Catherine Becker Wiest Desmarais, CG, and Noreen Alexander Manzella found a way. They describe it in the third article of the amazing June issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

Stage one -- logically, not chronologically! -- was elimination. Census, cemetery, and church records helped eliminate two of the three brothers. They also distinguish young William from a same-name first cousin five years older.

Reasoning by elimination can be a good start, but by itself it's not terribly convincing. In stage two, the authors found affirmative evidence connection young Jacob and William to the third brother, Nicholas Northamer.

Tax records showed that the young men were of the right ages, lived in the same township as Nicholas, and moved together. Even better, the same records also showed that the young men worked in the same trade as Nicholas, again unlike Nicholas's two brothers. (Woven into the logic of discovery are hints at some colorful and tragic family stories, which hopefully will see the light elsewhere.)

None of these records comes right out and names Nicholas as the father. This brick wall was felled by a weaving of gossamer threads of evidence, no one of which by itself looks like a match for a brick. But together . . .

Cathi Becker Wiest Desmarais and Noreen Alexander Manzella, "Who Fathered Jacob and William Northamer? Pennsylvania Tax Records Help Determine Kinship," National Genealogical Society Quarterly vol. 100, no. 2 (June 2012):123-32.

Harold Henderson, "Three Brothers Northamer: More NGSQ Genealogy Olympics," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 20 August 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Weekend Wonderings: Finished Yet?

All of us have calendars crowded with overlapping responsibilities and simultaneous deadlines. It's not just the kids, it's not just the clients (if any), it's not just our other jobs, it's not just our procrastination, and it's not necessarily ADD.

Few projects can be finished quickly without interruption even if we had no other demands in our lives. If the material is all local, there's probably too much of it. And usually some material is far away or even uncertain of existence -- so we have to wait for remote libraries or archives or researchers to come through, or for us to make the trip to them.

As a result we wind up with a goodly number of projects going at the same time. Then they start interfering with each other and some fall off the back of the desk. That plus our perfectionism leads to even longer delays. We work all the time, and nothing ever gets done!

I'm not sure that generic time-management programs (digital or otherwise) are a lot of help on this. Actually I'm not much help either, but here are three thoughts:

(1) Consider breaking your big family book project into article-sized pieces. As Tom Jones points out, their titles will be centrally indexed by PERSI, the Periodical Source Index, so cram in all the surnames you legally can. (Headquartered at the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center, PERSI is also available via HeritageQuest through many local libraries.) The time management point is more milestones closer together allows us to see some "finished" work sooner, with the satisfaction and additional communication that entails.

(2) Any promised submission to a diligent editor or an insistent cousin can focus the mind wonderfully.

(3) Not to repeat myself, but the BCG certification process commits applicants to a deadline. Even with extensions, it forces us to finish some things. Irrespective of the outcome, that in itself is a good experience to have.

What other ideas have worked for you? Always traveling and never arriving is no fun. Give yourself the gift of some intermediate destinations. And think how happy those editors and cousins will be!

Harold Henderson, "Weekend Wonderings: Finished Yet?," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 19 August 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Indiana Genealogist and other Hoosier records on line

My favorite from the June issue of Indiana's online quarterly, Indiana Genealogist (IGS members only), is Ron Darrah's instructional article on the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s. It had never occurred to me that CCC workers' records would be at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis! The June issue also includes a delinquent tax list from Jasper County for the mid-1870s. Better that than no tax list at all...

Two other Indiana online sources are easy to miss but well worth finding:

Deep in the Indiana Historical Society web site are on-line companion articles and databases related to various articles that have appeared in their print semi-annual, The Hoosier Genealogist: Connections. These companions are basically well-annotated small databases grouped in three bunches under the heading "On-Line Connections":
Regional Sources and Stories with items from 27 counties including "Jasper County, Voters Listed in Poll Book for Fourth Precinct, Rensselaer, 1932 Primary"; 
Genealogy Across Indiana, with ten items including "Hoosier Baptist Records, 1809-2006"; and
Family Records, with ten items including "Family Genealogy Extracted and Compiled from the Kidd Family Papers, 1815-1887."
New items are to be added in September from La Porte, Hancock, and Switzerland counties, along with more Baptists and Armstrong family papers.

The Indiana Genealogical Society's blog brings word of a newly digitized resource, "Early Vincennes, 1732-1835."  It's hosted at Wabash Valley Visions and Voices, which has many other interesting sources as well, both pictures and text. "Early Vincennes" has 738 items, mostly court and probate cases, which are genealogically and historically valuable at any date, but especially from this early.

This digitization is a great boon to early Indiana researchers. It's now possible to view these images without driving for hours or days to the courthouse. The images are beautiful and clear and can be magnified. Each item is briefly described, and many have dates indicated.

Unfortunately, some information is lacking and organization erratic. I have found no overview explaining where the original papers came from, which makes it difficult to cite them properly. The items are in alphabetical order by the last name of the plaintiff or decedent (although some are inexplicably filed differently -- all but two pages of John Light's probate are listed under "evk"). The only way to learn what other names are contained in each item is to read the documents. Filed under "N" for Northwest Territory is a 271-page "minute book" for the Knox County Court of Common Pleas, 1796-1800. Another book for the same court covers the same years and is called by the same name, but a glance inside reveals that it provides a complete narrative of significant cases, as opposed to the day-by-day record of proceedings called a "minute book." Petitions are listed under P, and recognizance bonds under R, regardless of the names of those involved. Look for criminal cases under U, because the plaintiff was the United States. Bottom line: no researcher can casually say that so-and-so is "not found" in these records.

Navigation within the chosen CONTENTdm(R) system is no picnic either. The only way to view all of a page within the two multi-page books is to activate the thumbnail and move the red box around on it. In order to leave the court book and resume browsing the other 737 items, I had to leave the Vincennes collection altogether and start over from the main page. Once back in the Vincennes collection, even if I remembered that those books were on page 27 (doubtful!), there is no quick way to navigate from 1 to 27.

 All that said, it's still better than what was available before.

Ron Darrah, "Did Grandpa Serve in the 'Tree Army'?," Indiana Genealogist, vol. 15, no. 2 (June 2012):15-17 ( : accessed 11 August 2012).

1934 image from Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, National Archives and Records Administration; 20th Century History ( : accessed 13 August 2012).

"Early Vincennes, 1732-1835," Wabash Valley Visions and Voices 
 ( : accessed 11 August 2012).

Harold Henderson, "Indiana Genealogist and other Hoosier records on line," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 18 August 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Friday, August 17, 2012

Know what you're looking for

Irrepressible geneablogger and ex-Midwesterner Kerry Scott is back, asking why anyone could possibly dislike's ad campaign with the tag line, "You don't need to know what you're looking for. You just need to start looking."

She and many commenters, including Elizabeth Shown Mills, think it's just fine. I don't, for two reasons.

For one thing, taken literally, the statement is false. You do need to know something in order to start looking. Anyone whose parents put them up for adoption as a baby in a state where adoptions are sealed knows this. They have no idea what they're looking for, and just starting to look won't help them a bit.

My own newbie research style was to head for the genealogy books and look up my maternal grandparents' mildly rare surname and see what turned up. If I hadn't known that name, the genealogy books would have held much less charm for me.

Secondly, I have no problem with newbies not knowing stuff. We've all been there. My problem is with profitable companies glorifying ignorance -- especially when they can make just as much money with ads that don't pander (like the ones, "We can help you find...") and don't encourage the already omnipresent notion that everything genealogists need is just a keystroke or two away.

There is a kernel of truth in the slogan: when you do look, you often find surprises, things you did not know to look for or to expect. But the less you know to start with, the less likely you are to look where the surprises are, or to recognize them when you find them. The old Gary Larson cartoon -- where the kid asks the teacher to excuse him because his brain was full -- has it wrong. Your brain is more like the coatroom behind the classroom: the more coathooks you put up, the more it can hold.

I remember a sadder-but-wiser article in the Ohio quarterly a few years ago, written by someone who for years had dismissed out of hand family records involving people who spelled the surname a little differently. Not knowing what to look for, just jumping in and seeing what happened, cost that person years of research and knowledge of his family. (I'm sure I mentioned that somewhere in this blog, but can't find it. Guess I'm one coathook short of a load today.)

Genealogy is attractive enough in itself, as it really is. is plenty attractive as a research tool. A deceptive sales pitch does no credit to either one.

Kerry Scott, "You Don't Have to Know What You're Looking For," Clue Wagon, posted 15 August 2012 ( : accessed 16 August 2012).

Harold Henderson, "Know What You're Looking For," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 17 August 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Professional Work: 96 Deeds, 204 Years

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the second article in the June NGS Quarterly (free with National Genealogical Society membership) is the longest article the journal has ever published. With 21 maps in 18 pages, it's the most visual genealogy argument I've ever seen in print.

The article is a collaboration between the late Birdie Monk Holsclaw, CG, and her literary executor (and NYGBR editor) Karen Mauer Green, CG. It is a fine memorial in itself and one can only hope that there might be more.

George Hachenberger (d. 1830) of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, married Anna Maria Hollinger, but the name is not distinctive enough in that time and place to identify her parents. Anna Maria was identified by tracing the land her husband was reported to own on neighbors' deeds, which in the process revealed much more genealogical information.

To make the case, 96 deeds involving neighboring properties were winnowed down to ten. Each of those ten purchases is portrayed in an individual map and then fitted in to the neighborhood on a second map. But the most hair-raising phrase in the entire article is the statement that the ten deeds required to make the case were recorded between 1766 and . . . 1980.

One moral of the story (the authors give seven): you can't do brick wall research in Pennsylvania and other state-land states unless you're prepared to plat metes-and-bounds deeds.

Karen Mauer Green and Birdie Monk Holsclaw, "'Beginning at a Black Oak...': Hachenberger Evidence from a Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Neighborhood Reconstruction," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 100 (June 2012): 105-22.

Harold Henderson, "Professional Work: 96 Deeds, 204 Years," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 16 August 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Eight Tips for Those Considering Certification

(If you think becoming a CG or AG isn't worth the trouble, check out yesterday's post.)

Since I chose to go the certification route rather than accreditation, these tips apply to the Board for the Certification of Genealogists' portfolio and requirements. These are my notions and have no official sanction of any sort -- and are no substitute for BCG's own suggestions and work examples. But having been through the process twice (not succeeding the first time), I suggest the following.

(1) Use your research skills to learn BCG's standards and procedures. Rely on the published Standards Manual, Application Guide, and the rubrics used by judges. If hearsay tells you something dubious, check it out.

(2) Recognize that the five key portfolio items – two pieces of document work, a client report, a case study (AKA proof argument), and a three-generation kinship determination project – are each equally important demonstrations of your skills.

(3) Be detail-oriented and remember the big picture. The judges will note mistakes, but (as the judging rubrics make clear) a single misplaced comma or an omitted footnote will not ruin your chances. Nor will letter-perfect citations save your illogical and unconvincing case study!

(4) Don't hurry. Never submit your first attempt at anything. You're probably not ready if you can't fathom NGSQ articles, or if you can't bear to reread your draft submissions with a cold eye.

(5) Don't procrastinate. Meeting standards is the goal; perfection is not.

(6) Recognize the value of the research/writing/finishing experience itself, and enjoy it. And yes, I did intentionally put "finishing" in there. Certification requires us to finish several pieces of work, an opportunity we don't get as often as we need.

(7) Take advantage of educational opportunities, including BCG's free skillbuilding articles; BCG's on-line list for those on the clock; APG's webinars, discussions, and members-only mailing list; the Transitional Genealogists Forum; week-long institutes like IGHR, NIGR, Salt Lake, and GRIP; Elizabeth Shown Mills's web sites HistoricPathways and Evidence Explained; Angela McGhie's blog, Adventures in Genealogy Education; and of course the five top-line genealogy periodicals.

(8) Remember that becoming certified is not the end of the process, it's just one more step on a ladder of learning with no visible end. More on that here.

Image from Rick Payette's photostream  per Creative Commons, at


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Why Ambitious Genealogists Need Credentials

Few of us know exactly what we don't know. And few of us have the right sort of friends, mentors, and teachers -- those who will tell us! That's what the credentialing programs offered by ICAPGen (accreditation) and the Board for the Certification of Genealogists (certification, my choice) do.

Nobody needs a credential in order to be a good or great genealogy researcher. But until we try to meet those standards, we don't know how good we really are. There are plenty of people who will pat us on the back and say, “It's fine,” whether it is or not.

I always knew I wanted a credential. I was impressed that BCG's is entirely performance-based. Attendance at conferences, institutes, or universities may help you learn but is not required. Degrees and attendance records don't count. Being good in class or talking a good game doesn't count. How you actually research and report is all that matters.

Many people will express skepticism about having "letters after their name." Some have encountered or heard of credentialed people who made mistakes. But that's a straw man: no one ever claimed that being certified or accredited would make you infallible! Ideally, we don't make as many as we used to, and we learn from the ones we do make.

Others say, "Well, I think I'm pretty good and all my friends and clients say so, I don't need it." The first part may well be true, but the second part does not follow. It takes a staunch friend to point out that your citations are inconsistent and your lectures wander. The judges upholding the value of CG or AG designations aren't under the obligations of friendship.

And frankly, we've all had the experience of thinking we were pretty good when we weren't. I submitted an entry to the NGS writing contest a few years back. It was a lot of work; it chronicled a large family -- and it contained close to zero citations to either property or probate records. Needless to say, it didn't win, and one of the judges explained that was one reason why. 

Later on, I tried for certification twice and recently succeeded the second time. Tomorrow, a few thoughts on what worked and what didn't.

Harold Henderson, "Why Ambitious Genealogists Need Credentials," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 14 August 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, August 13, 2012

Indiana Nurses, Coach Wooden, and the Underground Railroad

The Spring/Summer issue of The Hoosier Genealogist: Connections has a wide variety of articles for Indiana-minded researchers and maybe even non-researchers.

Three Morgan County experts present the first installment of a series on the family and early life of legendary basketball coach John Wooden (1910-2010), based on new documents, and correcting some previous reports.

Editor M. Teresa Baer gives a list of the records indexed and abstracted by the late Jane Eaglesfield Darlington (1928-2012). You may have seen her name while wandering the library. I've benefited most from her transcriptions of local tax records, but I had no idea that she had produced at least one year for 17 different counties: Fayette (1842), Greene (1843), Harrison (1844), Dearborn (1842), part of Franklin (1822), Marion (1842), Marshall (1843), Morgan (1840), Noble (1847), Perry (1824-1826, 1828-1829, 1832, 1835-1837, 1840-1843, 1845), Posey (1842), Scott (1839), Spencer (1846), Switzerland (1843), Tippecanoe (1848), Vigo (1828), and Whitley (1841).

In "Escaping Slavery," Jeannie Regan-Dinius has an easy-to-follow history of the Underground Railroad in Indiana, a history of the research on it, and a how-to guide on how to pursue the research. Court records are often critical.

Indiana State Archives volunteers Ruth May and Sandy Ricketts describe the on-line indexes at Indiana Digital Archives for several now-closed nurses training schools in Bloomington (1906-1946), Vincennes (1908-1959), South Bend (1907-1975), Indianapolis (1899-1932), Goshen (1909-1938), South Bend (1894-1988), Terre Haute (1900-1965), Evansville (1914-1955), and Indianapolis (1883-1980). The extracted data on line is a small fraction of what can be ordered from the archives provided that the records are 75 years old or more.

It would be interesting to be able to view and compare all the various state genealogy publications. After the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, this one has to stand near the top.

M. Teresa Baer, "Jane Eaglesfield Darlington: A Bibliography of Works by a Master Indexer of Hoosier Records,"The Hoosier Genealogist: Connections, vol. 52, no. 1 (Spring/Summer 2012):4-5.

Curtis H. Tomak, Joanne Raetz Stuttgen, and Norma J. Tomak, "John Wooden: A Revised Beginning," Part 1, The Hoosier Genealogist: Connections, vol. 52, no. 1 (Spring/Summer 2012):6-14.

Jeannie Regan-Dinius, "Escaping Slavery: Discovering Indiana's Underground Railroad Connections," The Hoosier Genealogist: Connections, vol. 52, no. 1 (Spring/Summer 2012):15-25.

Ruth May and Sandy Ricketts, "Nurses' Records: The Indiana State Archives Houses Records for closed Indiana Nursing Schools and Indexes Them Online," The Hoosier Genealogist: Connections, vol. 52, no. 1 (Spring/Summer 2012):57-61.

Harold Henderson, "Indiana Nurses, Coach Wooden, and the Underground Railroad," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 13 August 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Railroads, Economic History, and Your Ancestors

Neither of the following sources is new on line, but they're both new to me, and perhaps to you.

The Encyclopedia of Economic and Business History, part of the Economic History Association, has more than 140 articles by good authorities writing on topics they know about, including agriculture, apprentices, banking, bankruptcy, the 1893 depression, the Dust Bowl, Freedmen's Bureau, fur trade, Gold Rush, indentured servitude, insurance, the Confederate economy, the Revolutionary War, slavery, turnpikes, and toll roads. It's comforting to know that if you need a history of the US carpet industry, it's here. Not to mention fire insurance, or Sweden's economy from 1800.

I do not recommend quoting them as gospel, for three reasons. One, each article is followed by a number of references so that it's possible to do some comparative research and not just a lookup. Two, these are economists and sometimes they can have a rather blinkered view of human actions and motivations. Three, the site's terms of use seem rather strict. All in all, it's better to understand multiple sources, put that understanding in your own words, and cite. (Each article comes with a suggested citation.)

The University of Missouri at St. Louis has the American Railroad Journal, a weekly, issues 1832-1857, 1865-1878, 1887, 1888, and 1890-1900. (Hat tip: Internet Scout Report.) It's well presented and easy to navigate and search, but has little descriptive material about the site or the gaps in holdings. The periodical is every word searchable and it has unpredictable amounts of information on plank roads and canals as well as business and technical arcana about railroads in general as they were growing up. (Other sites, including HathiTrust Digital Library, have some issues -- and some that UMSL lacks -- but are more difficult to navigate, and seem to have included different magazines under this one title.)

Even genealogists with one-track minds will find material here. The magazine, usually based in New York City, included marriage and death notices in many of its 1833 issues. Its title changed over time, beginning as Rail-Road Journal (January 1832), and changing variously to American Railroad Journal and Advocate of Internal Improvements (January 1837), American Railroad Journal and Mechanics' Magazine (January 1842), American Railroad Journal: Steam Navigation, Commerce, Mining, Manufactures (January 1853), The Railroad and Engineering Journal (January 1887: "the oldest railroad paper in the world"), American Engineer and Railroad Journal (January 1900), and more.

What I have seen indicates a closer focus on railroad business and stocks and bonds than on those who worked in the business, but there is a great deal to explore here -- and a wealth of as-it-happened information and speculation that is often painted over in large-scale histories. And you've gotta love the cute woodcut mastheads from the early days!

Robert Whaples, editor, "Encyclopedia -- Custom," ( : accessed 10 August 2012).

"American Railroad Journal, Full Text, 1832-1900," John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library, St. Louis Mercantile Library, University of Missouri - St. Louis, University of Missouri Digital Library ( : accessed 10 August 2012).

Harold Henderson, "Railroads, Economic History, and Your Ancestors," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 12 August 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Midwestern Deeds Online Update

In the five-state area of our focus, I now know of a total of five counties that have historical deeds on line. (Here's my original post on the subject from June.) These are all free sites. I've improved the linkage, and DeKalb is new!


DeKalb County via FamilySearch (browseable with indexes)

Will County via Illinois Digital Archive (indexes only, surnames A-K only)


Cuyahoga County via fiscal officer (searchable by book and page numbers only)

Stark County via recorder (sign up, archive search, first search index by letter, then deeds by book and page)


Outagamie County via FamilySearch (browseable with indexes)

These are strictly deeds, the meat and potatoes of property research -- not patents, maps, plats, or tract books. (As far as I can tell, Ancestry has nothing at all in this category.) Surely there are more!

Harold Henderson, "Midwestern Deeds Online Update," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 11 August 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Friday, August 10, 2012

Comparisons: One Way to Add Flesh to the Bones

What does it really mean to "put your ancestors in historical context"? Especially when you have no letters or first-person accounts of them at all?

One approach for 19th-century folks involves that most commonplace of genealogy sources, the census. Use it differently. Compare your people with the neighbors (cross-sectional analysis) and compare them with themselves over time (longitudinal analysis). Sure, we'd all love to have a diary or a set of revealing letters. But lacking that, go for the numbers.

In 1850, 1860, and 1870 census enumerators were supposed to write down the value of any real estate owned (plus figures for personal property in 1860 and 1870). In those years, my great-great grandfather's widowed sister-in-law, Cynthia Balentine Thrall, lived in Wabash County, Illinois. Her husband Aaron had died before 1850, so the family was already a bit shadowy. The census population schedules reported that her real estate was worth $2,000 in 1850 and $10,000 in 1860. The 1855 state census showed her livestock worth  $450, and the 1865 state census showed her farm produce all together was worth $2350.

Of course you can convert these numbers into 2012 dollars, but that process is fraught with measurement problems and uncertainty. The census process itself is fraught with uncertainty (we don't know who provided the numbers, and from other research it's not at all clear to me that she owned five times as much in 1860 as in 1850), so I'm not crazy about a longitudinal comparison here either. Tax records would be a good corrective but this is a burned and tornadoed county.

My preferred way to make some human sense of these figures is to set them against those of her near neighbors in each census year: the adjacent five pages on both sides in 1850 and 1860, and the adjacent one page on both sides in 1855 and 1865 (which had only one line per household). These relative cross-sectional rankings were a bit more consistent than the raw numbers:

In 1850 five of her 70 near census neighbors had more real estate than her $2000, placing her (conservatively) in the top 10 percent.

In 1855, thirteen of her 86 near census neighbors had more livestock than her $450, placing her in the two 20 percent.

In 1860, only one of her 82 near census neighbors had property worth more than $10,000, placing her in the top 3 percent.

In 1865, five of her 117 near census neighbors had farm products worth more than her $2350, placing her in the top 6 percent.

These figures should not be taken as precise. I rounded the percentages up to give a more moderate result and to allow for poor-quality information and the randomness of which neighbors were visited. But it's clear that her family was better off than most of their neighbors -- maybe in the top 6-10 percent if we discard the outliers.

There are at least two ways to take this further: the agricultural schedules and overall county averages (perhaps a fairer comparison than immediate neighbors). As luck would have it, in 1860 she did appear in the agriculture schedule, and that was the year for which a diligent census-bureau employee compiled elaborate county-level statistics, obviously by hand (the book was several years in the making). So I was able to learn that the agriculture schedule had a much lower value for her farm in 1860 than the population schedule had.

The agriculture schedule shows that she had 120 acres of improved land; the median sized farm in the county (probably including unimproved land) was a little over 50 acres. In the preceding year her farm had produced 2000 bushels of Indian corn, more than triple the county average (mean). The household's production of butter and hay and buckwheat was also well above average. In terms of basic farm power, Cynthia had five horses (county average 3.5) and $200 worth of farm implements and machinery (county average $101). Some of these numbers can be qualified because she had significantly more land than average to work with. On yield-per-acre basis, for instance, her corn production was likely not so far above the average as the raw number of bushels would suggest.

These figures are reflected elsewhere in their lives. Her son and daughter who lived to have offspring both married into families who were better-off than the Wabash County average (although I haven't finished quantifying that casual observation yet!).

For this particular process, it helps if your folks didn't move around too much, and it helps to be comfortable with numbers and the difference between mean and median when working with "averages." This is just one approach among many possibilities.

Joseph C. G. Kennedy, Agriculture of the United States in 1860; Compiled from the Original Returns of the Eighth Census (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1864), pp. 34-37, line 93 (Wabash County totals), and p. 197, line 93. Also available on GoogleBooks.

1860 US Census, Wabash County, Illinois, agriculture schedule, no subdivision named, p. 25, line 26, Cynthia Thrall;
NARA microfilm publication T1133, “Illinois Nonpopulation Census 1850-1880,” “1860 Agr.: Vermillion [sic] pt.)-

1850 US Census, Wabash County, Illinois, population schedule, no subdivision named, pp. 404-9 (stamped), pp. 805-15
(penned), families 185-254; digital images, ( : accessed 30 October 2011), citing
NARA microfilm publication M432, roll 130.

1855 Illinois State Census, Wabash County, pp. 15-17, “Township 1”; digital images, (http://www. : accessed 3 November 2011), citing Record Series 103.008, roll 2196; Illinois State Archives, Springfield.

1860 US Census, Wabash County, Illinois, population schedule, Bonpas Precinct, pp. 143-53, families 1015-96; digital
images, ( : accessed 30 October 2011), citing NARA microfilm publication M653,
roll 234.

1865 Illinois State Census, Wabash County, pp. 11-13; digital images, (http://www. :
accessed 3 November 2011), citing microfilm of Record Series 103.010, roll 2185, Illinois State Archives, Springfield.

Harold Henderson, "Comparisons: One Way to Add Flesh to the Bones," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 10 August 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Memories of War

"There is no one American memory of either world war," writes Jay Winter in his interesting review."We need to acknowledge the messiness of remembrance, the absence of uniformity, and the heterodox tendency of people who survive war to speak their minds and express their feelings in their own ways." (Of course, one way of remembering -- not so useful to the genealogist or historian -- is simple silence, which seems to be what my great-grandfather practiced.) Winter commends four books:

Steven Trout, On the Battlefield of Memory: The First World War and American Remembrance, 1919-1941 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2010).

John Bodnar, The "Good War" in American Memory (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010).

David Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002). Harvard's publicity describes it as "a history of how the unity of white America was purchased through the increasing segregation of black and white memory of the Civil War. Blight . . . . resurrects the variety of African-American voices and memories of the war and the efforts to preserve the emancipationist legacy in the midst of a culture built on its denial."

Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008). This one I can recommend personally, having already read it. What sticks with me is her description of what was then conventionally viewed as "A Good Death," and how surviving soldiers did their best to describe their fallen comrades' deaths accordingly.

Jay Winter [featured review], The American Historical Review, vol. 116, no. 3 (June 2011):755-58.

Harold Henderson, "Memories of War," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 9August 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Finding Fathers: NGSQ-style Genealogy Olympics

If you've been dithering about whether to join the National Genealogical Society, this might be a good time to jump in and do so. The current (June) issue of its Quarterly (NGSQ for short) just astonished me to death! Each of its four main articles could have been the lead article in any other issue.

And the 19-page lead article, "Finding the Father of Henry Pratt of Southeastern Kentucky," by Warren C. Pratt, deserves its position. Henry was born to Elizabeth Pratt in 1809; family traditions name his father as a Huff or as a Virginian named DeWitt. Elizabeth had seven children, and one of them stated in court that she had never been married to anyone.

Few genealogical problems challenge a researcher more than identifying an unmarried father more than 200 years ago in a frontier area not known for meticulously kept records. The solution involved both DNA testing and hard-core traditional documentary research on Elizabeth and her relatives and neighbors. And it did not involve at last finding a written acknowledgment of paternity at the end of the rainbow. The evidence is indirect (circumstantial, if you will) but it is conclusive.

IMO it's well worth joining and reading the article several times to tease out its beautiful logical structure. I'll leave that pleasure to you, and just mention three points that made me gasp:

(1) The author used a road record to help establish neighbors. (Yes, we've all heard of them, but when was the last time you used one?)

(2) "A study of Bedford County Witts identified twenty possibilities for Henry Pratt's father."

(3) One piece of clinching evidence (that's a non-technical term, folks) was a mistaken date.

As time permits I hope to post on the other three articles, each at least as amazing in its own way. But you don't have to wait. Check 'em out.

Warren C. Pratt, "Finding the Father of Henry Pratt of Southeastern Kentucky," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 100 (June 2012):85-103.

Harold Henderson, "Finding Fathers: NGSQ-style Genealogy Olympics," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 8 August 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Writing: The Ten Suggestions

Writing is how genealogists preserve, propagate, and prove our findings about our families. For those who never quite get around to it, the following suggestions may help:

(1) Furnish your brain with good examples. I am very fond of Ian Frazier's Family, Martha Hodes's The Sea Captain's Wife, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's The Midwife's Tale, Leonard Todd's Carolina Clay, and William Maxwell's Ancestors -- as writing. Some are better at source citations (#10) than others.

(2) Don't try to do the whole family at once. Consider writing up smaller parts of the family and publishing them as articles in state or local or regional genealogy or history publications. Package them into a book later. Articles have a quicker turn-around time (thus more satisfaction), allow for experimentation, and unlike books they are indexed in the Periodical Source Index (PERSI) where the rest of us can find them!

(3) Expect to be sent back to do more research. One reason why the Board for the Certification of Genealogists defines a cogently written argument as an integral part of proof is that the act of writing itself often highlights erroneous or incomplete research.

(4) Read the problem-solvers. There are other kinds of genealogical writing than those named in #1. If you run into serious conflicts in evidence, or no evidence, then get acquainted with the people who deal with these situations well, who are published in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

(5) Consider taking a writing course at a genealogy institute. The two best genealogy writing instructors I know, Tom Jones (editor of NGSQ) and John Colletta (author of Only a Few Bones), have completely different approaches.
The shortest, cheapest, and best writing instruction book is still Strunk and White's Elements of Style.

(6) Draw up an agenda before starting. Usually it helps to have something in mind when firing up the ballpoint pen or word processor. Some people make outlines, some have a killer lead paragraph in mind, some list out the points they want to include, some use the currently fashionable "mind-mapping."

(7) Revise, revise, revise. Don't correct yourself as you go, just get it on paper -- then it can be fixed. Start the process early so that you can put your draft in a drawer for a week and then read it cold. (One person in a million can sit down and write a book that needs no revision. None of them are reading this.)

(8) Seek out editing, amateur or professional. We all need it. Prefer friends who tell you where the problems are -- whether they're at the level of words, paragraphs, sections, tone, rhythm, or the whole concept. Prefer publications that edit your work (and show you the results prior to publication!) over those that do not. Enter contests for the judges' comments, not the prize.

(9) Know the mechanics in order to benefit from #7 and #8. Yes, this means grammar and punctuation. Even an amateur car mechanic knows the name of "that big plastic thing in the middle under the hood" and when the job calls for a Philips-head screwdriver. Similarly, writers need to know which words are adverbs and what the passive voice is. Find out.

(10) Cite your sources so that you can understand them in the first place (and find them again if need be) -- and so that your readers know that your work deserves respect. Use Evidence Explained. Author Elizabeth Shown Mills maintains a web site of the same name that offers ongoing continuing education. The book is large because it is chock-full of examples. Read the first two chapters over and over; consult the rest as you would any reference work.

Writing is like genealogy. There's always more to learn, and every day is a fresh start. Good luck!

Harold Henderson, "Writing: The Ten Suggestions," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 7 August 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, August 6, 2012

ProQuest Historical Newspapers(TM) in Academic Libraries

Genealogy is local, but we're not. Often we need access to newspapers in distant places. Some digitized titles are available by subscription. Some subscriptions are not available or affordable to individuals. ProQuest is one such, and in my experience libraries tend to subscribe to it just for their own localities if at all.

Here's where academic libraries can help the determined researcher, even if he or she is not formally affiliated there. Those libraries that allow the public (most, in my experience) have not only scholarly article databases like JStor, they may also subscribe to an interesting variety of ProQuest Historical Newspapers (TM), which has impressive runs of 38 titles. Those of particular Midwestern import in the ProQuest fold are the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Defender, Cleveland Call and Post, Detroit Free Press, Indianapolis Star, Louisville Courier Journal, and St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Public computers at one Midwestern university library recently had about half of the 38 titles listed at the above link. These were not for printing out or emailing, however, so be prepared to take notes the old-fashioned way. In actual use the titles are not consistent, so a continuous run of an Atlanta paper, for instance, actually involves several titles, not all of them alphabetized under "A."

UPDATE POSTED MONDAY MORNING: Over on the Transitional Genealogists Forum, Michele Lewis just posted word of a useful low-budget resource for those seeking on-line newspapers, on Wikipedia. And of course, being Wikipedia, it's a resource we can all contribute to.

Harold Henderson, "ProQuest Historical Newspapers(TM) in Academic Libraries," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 6 August 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Weekend Wonderings: What Genealogy Periodicals Do You Actually Read?

I do suspect that the famous top five genealogy journals are more revered than read, but would be happy to hear otherwise. FYI they are National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ), New York Genealogical and Biographical Record (NYGBR), New England Historical and Genealogical Register (NEHGR), The American Genealogist (TAG), and The Genealogist.

For more popular fare, I tend to prefer NGS Magazine and NEHGS's American Ancestors to the commercial publications. With state and local publications, I tend to be inconsistent because (from my point of view) most of them are. This is not a slam on them, it's a slam on us because we don't write enough.

What do you look forward to reading and why? (Especially things I haven't even mentioned!)

Harold Henderson, "Weekend Wonderings: What Genealogy Periodicals Do You Actually Read?," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 5 August 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Top 5 MWM Posts for June 2012

1. Professionals and Amateurs, Together Forever (June 29)

2. Continue Growing (June 1)

3. Are You On Board? (June 7)

4. Midwestern Deeds On Line -- More or Less! (June 5)

5. Don't Assume Probate Courts Only Do Probate! (June 17)

The first three ran well ahead. I'll list the favorites from July in early September once the dust has settled.

Least viewed:

IGHR Samford Day 2 (June 12)

News not blog related: I'll be speaking about lesser-known Midwestern archives a week from now, Saturday morning the 11th, at the South Suburban Genealogical and Historical Society in Hazel Crest, Illinois. Check out their web site in any case -- they have some records you won't find anywhere else!

Harold Henderson, "Top Five MWM Posts for June 2012," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 4 August 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Friday, August 3, 2012

Reading Wish List: Hidden History of the Midwest

I look at a lot of history journals, but I rarely read the articles. The book reviews, on the other hand, are tasty treats that call attention to future tasty treats, all having to do with under-reported if not hidden parts of Midwestern history. On my to-read list are (emphases added, quotations from the linked publisher sites):

Jay Gitlin, The Bourgeois Frontier: French Towns, Fur Traders, and American Expansion (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009). "The Seven Years War brought an end to the French colonial enterprise in North America, but the French in towns such as New Orleans, St. Louis, and Detroit survived the transition to American rule. French traders from Mid-America such as the Chouteaus and Robidouxs of St. Louis then became agents of change in the West, . . .pursuing alliances within Indian and Mexican communities in advance of American settlement and re-investing fur trade profits in land, town sites, banks, and transportation. The Bourgeois Frontier provides the missing French connection between the urban Midwest and western expansion."

Robert Wooster, The American Military Frontiers: The United States Army in the West, 1783-1900 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2009). "Western military experiences . . . illustrate the dual role played by the United States Army in insuring national security and fostering national development."

Stephen J. Rockwell, Indian Affairs and the Administrative State in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010). "The romantic myth of an individualized, pioneering expansion across an open West obscures nationally coordinated administrative and regulatory activity in Indian affairs, land policy, trade policy, infrastructure development, and a host of other issue areas related to expansion."

Stacy M. Robertson, Hearts Beating for Liberty: Women Abolitionists in the Old Northwest (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010). "Female antislavery societies focused on eliminating racist laws, aiding fugitive slaves, and building and sustaining schools for blacks. This approach required that abolitionists of all stripes work together, and women proved especially adept at such cooperation."

J. L. Anderson, Industrializing the Corn Belt: Agriculture, Technology, and Environment, 1945-1972 (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2009). For those who recognize that the 20th century is now history! "The industrialization of agriculture gave rural Americans a lifestyle resembling that of their urban and suburban counterparts. Yet the rural population continued to dwindle as farms required less human labor, and many small farmers, unable or unwilling to compete, chose to sell out." Focused on Iowa, "through the eyes of those who grew the crops, raised the livestock, implemented new technology, and ultimately made the decisions."

Harold Henderson, "Reading Wish List: Hidden History of the Midwest," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 3 August 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Is an Obituary an Original Source? Does It Matter?

Above is the obituary for my wife's maternal grandfather's second cousin's wife Ina (Smith) Burdick, 1862-1932. Some members of the ProGen Study Group have been debating whether an obituary is an original source. As all genealogists and historians should know but some still don't, sources may be original or derivative; the information they contain may be primary or secondary; and the evidence drawn from that information may be direct or indirect depending on the question we're asking at the moment.

Those of us who have left behind the "rip and run" school of genealogy want to analyze this evidence well, and these terms help us think clearly. But in my opinion the thinking is what matters, not which basket we decide to put it in. "Original" is no kind of baptism that absolves a record from all sin and error!

In Evidence Explained, Elizabeth Shown Mills defines an original source as "material in its first oral or recorded form" (p. 24). By that definition, this newspaper item probably doesn't qualify. Ina's surname has been butchered, one suspects by a sleep-deprived funeral director or journalist taking hasty notes over the telephone. His or her notes in turn were set in type, and somewhere along the way Ina acquired in death a surname she never had in life. Note that the presence of error itself does not make the source derivative -- many original sources contain errors. But this particular error looks like an error in hearing, because even very bad handwriting doesn't make a V look like a B. In all likelihood, there was at least one earlier written form of this information from which the published obituary was set.

But we are most unlikely to be able to find the reporter's notes for an 80-year-old six-line obituary, so what was published may be as close to the original as we can get. (Any surviving records from J. P. Finley & Son's funeral home would be worth seeking out, though.) Another consideration: when we think of derivative sources, we usually think of, say, a published index of obituaries published in the Oregonian in 1932, or perhaps an on-line database created by re-keying the print index. Those derivatives would be at least one or two steps further removed from its first written form, and hence more prone to error. So some sources are more derivative than others. (And, as Tom Jones has been known to explain, a source that is derivative to any degree can be considered a red flag telling us to look for what it's a derivative of.)

So much for theory. What we really want to know is, IS IT TRUE? That question, alas, cannot be answered by staring fixedly at the obituary, nor by analyzing to death its exact degree of derivativeness. It can only be answered by correlating its information with information from other sources. The point of wondering whether it's original or derivative is not to provide a label ("APPROVED" or "TOXIC"). The point is to consider how that record was created and how it stacks up to Elizabeth's ten categories of textual criticism (pp. 32-38), so that we can weigh it properly in the balance along with any other obituaries, Ina's death certificate, Aleen's birth record, family letters, census returns, etc.

In plain language, we need to know where that information has been and what wringers it has gone through. Once we have that understanding, the choice of label becomes academic, because we're ready to weigh this source against the others. (Sound weird to learn the terminology and then rarely use it? Welcome to the spiral staircase of genealogy learning!) Confirmation, or proof, is never done solo, and never just by applying a label. It's always a group affair.

ADDED Saturday afternoon 4 August 2012: For more depth on this whole topic, plunge into Evidence Explained Quick Lesson #10.

"Ina Veurdick," [Burdick], obituary, Morning Oregonian (Portland), Wed. 13 July 1932, p. 7, col. 7.

Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2007), 24, 32-38.

Harold Henderson, "Is an Obituary an Original Source? Does It Matter?," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 2 August 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]