Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Scary Evidence Evaluations I Have Known, Plus an Update

Wording tweaked, thoughts preserved, names omitted to protect the guilty...

More people have posted this than anything else.

Several people entered this, but some of the dates are different.

Go by the earliest census record.

Do you have a favorite?

In less scary news, I have updated my list of the numbers of all the Family History Library microfilms that were on indefinite loan at the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center as of 13 October.

Harold Henderson, "Scary Evidence Evaluations I Have Known," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 31 October 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Kind of Blog Every County Needs

Sonja Hunter at Bushwhacking Genealogy digs into the details of researching in Kalamazoo County, Michigan.

Harold Henderson, "The Kind of Blog Every County Needs," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 30 October 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, October 29, 2012

New Books and Old Manuscripts

The Indiana Historical Society acquired many items in June and July. Three that caught my eye:

* James Joseph Buss, Winning the West with Words: Language and Conquest in the Lower Great Lakes. One chapter reportedly focuses on squatters in the Michigan City and La Porte area of Indiana, but the large theme has to do with the erasure of the "wrong people" from popular history.

* Civil War and other letters and papers of James H. Guy, who served in the 35th Indiana Volunteers (organized in Indianapolis in 1864).

* Civil war diary and documents of Selar Mead, who served in the 93rd Indiana (organized in Indianapolis, Madison, and New Albany in 1862).

Reviewed in the current American Historical Review:

* Peter C. Baldwin, In the Watches of the Night: Life in the Nocturnal City, 1820-1930 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012). "Among the topics woven into the argument are the impact of variations in daytime workers' quitting times; bad behavior on trolleys or 'owl cars'; the growth of countercyclical nocturnal labor for sanitation, industrial, bakery, dock, and newspaper workers; the effect of crime-ridden early taxis, known as 'night hawks'; and efforts by reformers to combat delinquency after ark with boys' clubs." (p. 1236)

* James W. Feldman, A Storied Wilderness: Rewilding the Apostle Islands (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2012). "The author argues that officialdom would do better to recognize that 'wilderness' contains human stories" that do not need to be erased. "In the early nineteenth century, productive uses were not assumed to be incompatible with tourism, and . . . fishermen provided summer tourists with food, and local landowners augmented their incomes by building tourist lodgings and restaurants." (pp. 1265-66)

"New in Collections and Library," Indiana Historical Society INPerspective, vol. 19, no. 2 (November-December 2012): 13.

Harold Henderson, "New Books and Old Manuscripts," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 29 October 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Ration Books and Encyclopedia Annuals

Hat tip to the UpFront with NGS blog highlighting Illya D'Addezio's WW2 ration book collection at Genealogy Today. GT has a number of other offbeat but potentially very helpful sources to seek out.

And it reminded me of another source that you may need to be "a certain age" to remember: the encyclopedia "annual" or "Year Book" chronicling the events of the year just past. I picked up the 1944 Collier's Year Book, covering the events of 1943, at a used-book store years ago. It has a similar fascination to old gazetteers in that it tells the story as it looked when it was happening -- complete with political and sectional infighting -- not in the sentimental pastels of nostalgia. Here's Smith College historian Harold U. Faulkner on rationing during 1943:

On Jan. 2 the OPA [Office of Price Administration] banned all pleasure driving. . . . When pleasure driving was banned, the OPA continued to allow Eastern A-card holders three gallons a week for essential driving. Many car owners, nevertheless, criticized the ban on pleasure driving, insisting that if they were given oil, they should have the right to use it as they pleased. On March 22 the Government lifted the ban, but cut the Eastern A cards from three to one and a half gallons a week. This angered the East for the Middle West was getting four gallons. Black market buying increased and on May 20 the restriction on pleasure driving was renewed.
It wasn't always "all for one and one for all" even during the "good war."

This yearbook had articles from "accidents and accident prevention" to "zoology," plus photos, maps of war areas, and statistical tables, all from the point of view of sixty-eight years ago.

From front to back the annual was dominated by the world war. But even in time of total war there was still room for articles on college and professional football, which in 1943 were dominated by Notre Dame and the Chicago Bears respectively. Not all franchises were able to maintain a team: reportedly, "The Pittsburgh and Philadelphia clubs merged as the Steagles." I won't tell their present-day fans if you won't!

Harold Underwood Faulkner, "United States -- Rationing," p. 552, and Allison Danzig, "Football," pp. 187-88, in William W. Beardsley, ed., 1944 Collier's Year Book, Covering Events of the Year 1943 (New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1944).

Harold Henderson, "Ration Books and Encyclopedia Annuals," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 28 October 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Not All History Is Created Equal

World War II brought 20,000 jobs to rural La Porte County, where the county seat had a total population of only 16,000. Workers commuted up to 90 miles round trip per day to assemble explosive shells. The Kingsbury ordnance plant did hire black workers, largely from Gary, but it segregated them in lowly jobs (and separate bomb shelters!) and discriminated against them in workplace discipline. Nor were they allowed to live in the "new town" of Kingsford Heights near the plant.

Historian Katherine Turk has documented the situation in the new issue of the Indiana Magazine of History, drawing among other sources on files of employee letters to President and Mrs. Roosevelt and the Fair Employment Practices Commission, held at the National Archives in Chicago. It's not a pretty picture, and not one you'll hear much about in La Porte County today.

Turk's research interest is in documenting that the African American women's logic involved both equality and fairness, whereas later anti-discrimination laws tended to leave out the fairness part. My interest is in the power of local forgetting: how little is remembered of the virulent white racism that led the government bureaucrats and the contracting company alike to discriminate against black workers and lie to them about it. (Most responses to complaints were pro forma; one woman was turned away because the company doctor said she had high blood pressure, which her own doctor documented was not the case.) The plant would recruit as far away as North Dakota and Georgia rather than allow a black person to work in a job designated for whites.

Placing our ancestors in historical context involves being aware of uncomfortable issues and situations that now go unmentioned. Sometimes it takes an outside historian to pay attention to a part of the picture that local historians turn away from.

Katherine Turk, "'A Fair Chance To Do My Part of Work': Black Women, War Work, and Rights Claims at the Kingsbury Ordnance Plant," Indiana Magazine of Hisotry, vol. 108, no. 3 (September 2012): 209-44.

Harold Henderson, "Not All History Is Created Equal," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 27 October 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Friday, October 26, 2012

Does History Comfort Us?

If history is comforting, writes an anonymous historian, it's probably not very good history.

History is meant to make you uncomfortable. Clio, the muse of history, is like Jesus: she brings not peace but a sword. She will make you rethink everything you think you know; everything you think you hold dear; she will make you question everything. Everything you were brought up with; everything you thought natural. She’s not here to wrap you in cotton wool and say ‘there, there’ everything is just how it’s supposed to be. She’s not there to bring succour to your view of your country, or smooth over the bad stuff that it did, or to soothe your conscience about the massacres perpetuated in the name of your religion, or the slaughter committed by people who at least claimed to share your political beliefs. She’s there to make you uneasy. She’s there to stop you from falling victim to her evil twin, Myth. In a sense I want to free you from feeling like the past controls us; that we have to base our identities in the present upon myths. That means we don’t have to feel guilty or apologise, either – just to be aware; to understand.

This historian teaches medieval history; an example from WW2 Indiana tomorrow.

"Professor Grumpy's Historical Manifesto," Historian on the Edge, posted 12 October 2012 ( : accessed 25 October 2012).

Harold Henderson, "Does History Comfort Us?," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 26 October 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Right Map for the Road Trip

On any genealogy research trip, there's always something I wish I had thought to bring. Sometimes it's a piece of equipment like a charge cord for the cell phone. More often it's a piece of information that I forgot to upload, or I'm in a place where I need it on paper because there's no wi-fi.

Yesterday I was grateful to have brought along a must-have for anyone planning to work on tax lists or property records (I had both): a good map of the subdivisions of the county I was working on, which in the case of Michigan means a township map. And Michigan has a lovely one; I wish every state did it this well. Unless you know by heart the township and range of every township in your federal-land county, you need it too. How else will you realize (for instance) that the 1875 tax list is organized by township, not alphabetically but in order from the southeast corner to the northwest corner?!

Actually I could have used one other thing -- a list of all the former names of townships. But since only one or two had changed, there was a workaround.

Harold Henderson, "The Right Map for the Road Trip," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 25 October 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Smart Genealogy in LaGrange County, Indiana

The Midwest has a cameo in the current National Genealogical Society Quarterly, in Arlene V. Jennings's masterful article on the Yorkshire origins of Hanna (Watson) Smart. Most of the research action takes place in England, as the author matches up the Indiana and Yorkshire families almost as quickly (and a good deal more cogently) as a certain TV show. Then things get interesting, because Hannah Watson had no baptismal record in the village of North Newbald, where she was married.

In one of those laconic sentences that represents countless hours of work, the author observes that "of eighty-six parishes within a twelve-mile radius of North Newbald, candidates for Hannah appear in four parishes." (There's even a citation to a local demographic study justifying the choice of that size radius.)

Using clues provided by siblings, Hannah's parents are identified, but her father is William Watson, a common name in the area. Eight of the article's twenty pages are devoted to sorting out William Watsons in the area, using land tax assessments, churchwardens' accounts, poor rates, manorial records, maps, probate records, and censuses. These records provide an amazing level of detail about where Hannah's parents lived (near a boundary, of course) and where her parents had lived before their marriage. The genealogical summary shows Hannah's children ending up not only in LaGrange County, Indiana, but in St. Joseph County Michigan; Steuben County, Indiana; and Osage and Marion counties, Kansas.

Arlene V. Jennings, CG, "The Yorkshire Origins of Hannah (Watson) Smart of LaGrange County, Indiana," National Genealogical Society Quarterly, vol. 100, no. 3 (September 2012):199-219

Harold Henderson, "Smart Genealogy in LaGrange County, Indiana," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 24 October 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Midweek Wonderings

(1) Why don't more genealogy conferences adopt the Illinois State Genealogical Society tradition of a "white elephant" table where members or member societies contribute their obsolete or unwanted materials, and those who take them put a donation in a jar? One genealogist's trash can be another one's treasure.

That's where I picked up my copy of the BCG Standards Manual back in 2007. I naively supposed that with a 2000 publication date it was out of date. This year I obtained a CD of the Social Security Death Index and a number of possibly obsolescent print publications. It's like a combination genealogy bookstore and flea market.

(2) Would the new investors in treat it differently if they or their spouses were themselves genealogists? Would their fellow financiers make fun of them if they did?

(3) Did you ever hear a lecture on brick wall solutions and the very next day hear someone who hadn't been there asking about the same kind of problem?

(4) Would I have posted every day for the last six months without the encouragement of my manager/daughter-in-law? No need to wonder about that one.

Harold Henderson, "Midweek Wonderings," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 23 October 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, October 22, 2012

Dueling Birth Dates: Is Your Database the Solution or the Problem?

Yesterday there was a thought-provoking discussion on LinkedIn's "Genealogical and Historical Research" group, based on a real-life genealogy question, "How do you decide how to enter an approximate birth year when you don't have the birth record and other sources vary?"

The question, and some of the answers, assume that we need to decide how to enter a birth year given varying evidence. Is this true?

First of all, how many problems of relationship or identity turn on knowing an exact birth date? Some do, for sure, but it's not a given.

Second, if not, why this urgency about deciding? Isn't it a sign that the tail is vigorously wagging the dog? Old-timers are used to filling out pedigrees and family group sheets; an increasing majority of genealogists are wedded to entering data into their database programs from Personal Ancestry File or Family Tree Maker on up.

Paper or electronic, I've used many of these forms and database programs; for years I spent much of my genealogy time breaking down the information I had into small enough components to enter each one into the program, and then tweaking it so that the outputs would be understandable. Some were better than others with problems of this sort.

But is a smoothly running database the reason why we started researching our families? I think not. The database is a tool, and doing our genealogy so that it will fit into the tool is not very different from a carpenter trying to saw a board using a hammer . . . because that's his favorite tool, and saws are too much trouble.

The real genealogical question here is how we deal with conflicting evidence of any kind. The right way doesn't have much to do with any form or database that I'm acquainted with (and if my acquaintance isn't wide enough, let me know). It has to do with listing out the different birth dates and where they came from, and evaluating each of those sources for evidence of reliability. Do we have the original source? Do other entries show some bias or impairment in the record creator? Did the informant have an incentive to deceive? And so on. For a checklist of ways to approach this task, read the last seven pages of the first chapter of Elizabeth Shown Mills's Evidence Explained, or visit the same-name web site for any recent discussions (such as this one on a brick-wall problem).

If our family or our problem dictates that we come to a best possible conclusion, a table or other format may help focus our thoughts. But in the end there is no substitute for the fifth prong of the Genealogical Proof Standard: a "soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion." No rule of thumb (such as relying cautiously on the earliest census record) is a good substitute for a well-documented, clearly reasoned, explicit statement explaining why our conclusion is the best, based on the weight of all the available evidence. Accept no substitute.

Harold Henderson, "Dueling Birth Dates: Is Your Database the Solution or the Problem?," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 22 October 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Sunday, October 21, 2012

APG members writing discussion Monday evening

APG's busy Professional Development Committee is sponsoring another first-come-first-served online discussion about writing for genealogists. I'll be there as a resource person to keep the discussion going, but NOT giving a lecture. The mentoring/discussion is open to members only. Check the members-only portion of the web site for directions to attend. Or you can join and attend the next one in November!

Illinois Newspaper Indexes at ALPL

One benefit of showing up at a conference is learning about resources that are new to me. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum in downtown Springfield has a printed list of newspaper indexes that it has in its collection. They are not complete for the referenced localities, and not on line as far as I know. Until the day that all newspapers have been well digitized these resources remain precious. (Heck, just knowing that they exist helps!) They include some newspapers in the following counties:

Bond (Greenville)
Bureau (Buda, La Moille)
Cook (Chicago, Franklin Park; also Defender, Denni Hlaslatel, Dziennik Chicagoski)
Dekalb (Shabbona)
Dewitt (Farmer City)
Franklin (Benton)
Jackson (Carbondale)
Jo Daviess (Galena)
Knox (Galesburg)
La Salle
Macon (Decatur)
Macoupin (Bunker Hill, Carlinville, Staunton, Virden)
Madison (Alton)
Massac (Metropolis)
Rock Island (Moline)
St. Clair (Millstadt)
Sangamon (Springfield)
Stark (Toulon)
Tazewell (Tremont)
Union (Jonesboro)
Washington (Nashville)
Will (Lockport, etc.)

Another kind of finding aid is on their website, an "obituary finder" of citations to obituaries found by researchers at the library, organized by surname. You can browse as well by searching a blank entry.

Harold Henderson, "Illinois Newspaper Indexes at ALPL," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 21 October 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Weekend Wonderings: Back to Life

When we get back past living memory, often we don't quite know our ancestors. And then sometimes we find a record that shows them in the life -- letters or a pension file. What records have you found that revivified your people?

Harold Henderson, "Weekend Wonderings: Back to Life?," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 20 October 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Friday, October 19, 2012

Some Top-line Genealogy Books

The American Society of Genealogists' Donald Lines Jacobus award is 40 years old this year. It's given to "a model genealogical work published within the previous five years," from nominations made by ASG Fellows who edit publications that publish book reviews.

The other day at the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center I hunted up half a dozen of the more recent ones that were straight family histories, hoping to find a common model for how they handled source lists. I didn't -- they were all different -- but I found several that I would like to spend more time with. 

The challenges of a book are much different from a magazine article of any kind. We're often advised to read the best genealogy periodicals, but not so often are books recommended. Maybe that's because books are more quirky, not being so subject to editing. Here are a handful of the Jacobus winners that I hope to be stranded at Allen County long enough some day to dig into:

Peter Haring Judd, The Hatch and Brood of Time: Five Phelps Families in the Atlantic World, 1720-1880 (Boston: Newbury Street Press, 1999) ACPLGC 929.2 P512JU  I couldn't not notice the preface by David Hackett Fischer (Albion's Seed).

Willis H. White, The TillotsonFamily, Long Island Cordwood, and the Decline of East Coast Sail (N.p.: Penobscot Press, 2008) ACPLGC 929.2 T467WHA This happened to be the first one I picked up and I spent the most time with it. I've never seen any family account of any length that blended so perfectly with the historical context -- it was all one. Surely every family could have a theme, but most of them would be farming.

Jane Thompson-Stahr, The Burling Books: Ancestors and Descendants of Edward and Grace Burling, Quakers (1600-2000), 2 vols. (Baltimore: Gateway Press, 2001) ACPLGC 929.2 B9248TH  In terms of my original quest, this was most informative. The author organized the source list and footnotes by abbreviation, a useful technique as sources may otherwise be alphabetized differently from what the reader might expect from the reference notes.

Abbott Lowell Cummings, The Descendants of John Comins (ca.1668-1751) and his wife Mary, of Woburn and Oxford, Massachusetts andWindham County, Connecticut (Boston: Newbury Street Press, 2001) ACPLGC 929.2 C9114BY  Anyone up to wrangle more than 7700 footnotes in one sequence? I'd like to get into the following proof issue too. The author writes, "The long-sought documentation of my Willington hypothesis has never materialized. Instead, the curious reader will find no less than seven pieces of circumstantial evidence set forth which have led me to the unshakable conclusion that William was an unrecorded son of John Comins of Willington, despite the fact that not a single piece of 'hard' proof has yet been found."

Check out the full list at the first link above.

Harold Henderson, "Some Top-line Genealogy Books," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 19 October 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, October 18, 2012

There Is No Such Thing as a Primary Source

Many people are still under the impression that there are such things as "primary sources" and "secondary sources." Like the idea that it's wrong to split an infinitive or end a sentence with a preposition, this is one more rule that many of us learned young and now need to unlearn -- including, in my opinion, professional historians. (If you have read and reread and absorbed the first two chapters of Evidence Explained, this post will be a review or else you've already gone over to the web site to see the detailed discussions there.)

The distinction is not completely bogus but when applied to original documents -- sources -- it is so imprecise as to be useless. It's like claiming that a two-toned car is either red or white.

An original source is a document created at or near the time of the event, in which the event is first reduced to writing. (If five people witness an event and go off and each write their own account of it, those would be five original sources.)

A derivative source is derived from another written source, not from the described events themselves. When confronted with a document, ask yourself, "Where does it come from?" and then look for that document, continuing until you get to the original. When a court record describes a petition submitted by heirs, that description is derived from the original petition. The original petition may contain more information, so you want to find it. As Tom Jones says, every derivative source is an invitation to find out what it was derived from!

Primary information is eyewitness information.

Secondary information is secondhand.

Obviously these overlap; many original documents contain primary information. But the reason for the distinction is that many original documents contain BOTH primary and secondary information. Like the two-toned car, it's only a problem if you don't think it through and use the terms you were taught in high school.

Also obviously, primary information can be right or wrong, and so can secondary. Original documents may contain right information or be a complete tissue of lies. One reason we genealogists prefer original documents is not that they are always right, but that the derivative sources are subject to error in the process of indexing, abstracting, or quoting -- over and above whatever errors might exist in the original.

Finally there is direct evidence (that directly answers your question) and indirect evidence (that provides only a clue toward your answer). So altogether there are eight possible combinations. I word better from examples, hence this table with an example for each.

1. Original source, primary information: Death certificate, cause of death

2. Original source, secondary information: Death certificate, birthplace of father

3. Derivative source, primary information: Published abstract of death certificate, cause of death

4. Derivative source, secondary information: Published abstract of death certificate, birthplace of father

Any of these could be either direct or indirect evidence, because that depends on the question you're asking. If you're wondering what Joe died of, #1 and #3 are direct evidence because they answer your question (rightly or wrongly is a separate issue). If you're wondering whether heart disease ran in Joe's family, #1 and #3 are indirect evidence because they offer a clue without directly answering your question.

If you're wondering where Joe's father was born, #2 and #4 offer direct evidence (again, they may be wildly wrong but they're giving you a direct answer). If you're wondering where Joe's father spent most of his life, #2 and #4 offer indirect evidence -- a hint but not the whole answer.

Harold Henderson, "There Is No Such Thing as a Primary Source," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 18 October 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Fun with Gazetteers

Meldon J. Wolfgang has a nice article in the current New York Researcher on gazetteers in general and New York's six 19th-century ones in particular, all now visible on line: 1813, 1824, 1836, 1842, 1860, and 1872.
(The New York Genealogical and Biographical Society is planning to issue its own New York Family History Handbook: Research Guide and Gazetteer later this year.)

The old gazetteers are something like a cross between the best parts of a newspaper, an almanac, and a history book. (They're a bit like an encyclopedia annual edition, if you remember those.) Every little place in the state gets its mention -- not as it seemed to a historian or sentimental genealogist a century and a half later, but as it seemed to them right then. I can't think of a better source, pre-photography, for seeing the country as our ancestors saw it.

Closer to home, the 1849 Indiana Gazetteer has four detailed paragraphs on the Indiana Medical College in La Porte (a long-since-faded memory); the names of all the Methodist preachers in every district; and a brutally honest dollar-by-dollar account of the 1830s internal improvements fiascos, from a point in time when it was not quite clear whether canals or railroads were going to save the state. And now, they're almost sinfully easy for us to find and read. Which one is your favorite?

Meldon J. Wolfgang, "Exploring New York State's Nineteenth Century Gazetteers," The New York Researcher, vol. 23, no. 3(Fall 2012): 54-55.

The Indiana Gazetteer, or Topographical Dictionary of the State of Indiana, 3rd edition (Indianapolis: E. Chamberlain, 1849), illustration at 167; digital image, GoogleBooks ( : accessed 16 October 2012).

Harold Henderson, "Fun with Gazetteers," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 17 October 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Marriage Records and Indexes: Choose the Original

The other day I was asked, "Is it worth getting the marriage license? They say so little, doesn't the index capture all the information?"

Short answers: Yes, and Not usually.

Longer answer: BCG Standard No. 21 reminds us that "the original is the most authoritative source." Are these sketchy old-school records an exception? No. Six reasons from a mainly  Midwestern viewpoint:

(1) Indexers are human. They can leave something out or transcribe something wrong. This is not a rare occurrence. In this 2008 article I compared marriage indexes to each other and the original records they referred to.

(2) The licenses and returns that I've dealt with name the person who married the couple; many indexes do not. That person's identity, denomination (if any), and location may provide clues as to where the couple lived or where they created other records.

(3) They also give the dates of both events if different.

(4) Some licenses and returns give the bride's or groom's ages, or their places of residence, or both. Some also name witnesses.

(5) Sometimes the bride's or groom's ages are implied by a parent or guardian's note giving consent to the marriage. My all-time favorite in this category comes from La Salle County, Illinois (see illustration). Elizabeth Shown Mills has called such records "land mines." This one sure was.

(6) Sometimes auxiliary records such as marriage applications appear in the guise of regular marriage records; if you don't ask, you  may not receive. In Indiana, many researchers know to look for marriage applications beginning in 1905, and better ones 1940-1977. Not so many know that there are two earlier forms with extensive additional information available for some counties as early as 1882.

Choose the original. You won't regret it.

La Salle County, Illinois, marriage record no. 2093, Dickinson-Berry, 1873; microfilm, La Salle County (Illinois) Genealogy Guild, Ottawa.

Board for the Certification of Genealogists, The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual (Washington DC: BCG, 2000), 8-9.

Harold Henderson, "An Index Is a Treasure Map -- Do You Dig?," Indiana Genealogist, vol.19, no. 3 (September 2008):147-150.

Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2007), 16.

Harold Henderson, "Marriage Records and Indexes: Choose the Original," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 16 October 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Michigan and Ohio Newspapers

GenealogyBank has just posted significant additional runs of four Midwestern newspapers:


Kalamazoo Gazette 1870-1904  (total reported: 1837-1922)

Grand Rapids Press 1901-1922 (total reported: 1893-1922)

Jackson Citizen-Patriot 1866-1922 (total reported: 1859-1922)


Columbus Ohio Monitor 1820-1835

Since this blog does not systematically report all such accessions at all the possible sites, consider this as a generic warning that there is more material on line than you thought!

Harold Henderson, "Michigan and Ohio Newspapers," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 15 October 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Weekend Wonderings: Did You Ever . . .

. . . did you ever research a deceased relative, and somehow for no reason took against him? Especially when he never seemed to have a job?

And even when he went to Wisconsin and had a little farm and a big family, you still wondered?

And then he signed up for the war in October 1861, when he was in his 40s? And couldn't be found in 1870, but his oldest daughter and two youngest children were there?

And finally, on the screen, the roster of his company, neatly printed out, as precise and orderly on paper as it rarely was in life, with his name and home town and date of enlistment and the words

Missing in action, Apr. 6, '62 Shiloh

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Mistake You Can Only Make in Indiana

There's a twenty-year blip in Indiana's judicial history, from 1853 to 1873, when there were two courts of original jurisdiction, the Circuit Court and the Court of Common Pleas. The Court of Common Pleas in Indiana lasted only twenty years, during which time it adjudicated many a divorce, probate, and other civil case. But it has been a long time since any living person could recall the existence of that court, and as a result the valuable records it created during those decades often go uninvestigated. (Just last week I sent a puzzled researcher to the records of this court, where he found the information he'd been looking for elsewhere.) There was a lot going on in Indiana during those years, and a good bit of it happened in this court.

This is something Hoosier genealogists just have to know, because few if any employees in the county clerk's office do. For a more detailed breakdown, see John J. Newman's 16-page pamphlet, Research in Indiana Courthouses: Judicial and Other Records.

John J. Newman, Research in Indiana Courthouses: Judicial and Other Records (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1981).

Harold Henderson, "The Mistake You Can Only Make in Indiana," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 13 October 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Friday, October 12, 2012

Genealogy: At the Intersection of History and Memory

Not long ago at a meeting of northwest Indiana County Genealogists the conversation turned to those people who insist that their old family story must be true, no matter how conclusive the evidence against it. I thought at the time, "Well, some folks just are knuckleheads."

But maybe there's more going on than that. It's the difference between memory (personal and collective remembrance) and history (what can be rethought and documented publicly).

People get into genealogy because they want to preserve and extend their family memories. But genealogy is not scrapbooking, it's history. It deals with what actually happened. Often genealogists encounter facts that show their cherished memories were false. Some can deal with that, others can't.

There's a nice discussion of memory and history -- so often joined, so often at odds -- in the book Thinking the Twentieth Century, pages 275-78, a conversation between two 20th-century historians. But since this is a genealogy blog, I'll substitute a personal example of how the two can collide:

In the mid-1950s our family was driving through downtown Peoria, and one of my young sisters for the first time saw Catholic nuns in their traditional black-and-white habits. In great excitement, she yelled through the open window, "MOMMY, LOOK! WITCHES! REAL LIVE WITCHES!" My mother was mortified; we drove away; and the episode entered the family memory. For years afterward in retrospect we attributed the yell to Mischievous Middle Sister. That was our memory, confirmed and reconfirmed with every repetition.

But it was false. Decades later we were sorting through the near-daily postcards our mother had sent to her mother in those days -- just about the length and tenor of a quick email or Facebook post would be today. One of them told the story of that day, except that, contrary to our memory, it had been Sweet Quiet Sister who had yelled those words that day.

Genealogy stands or falls on our ability to recognize that a contemporary earwitness account (history, from a document) trumps years or generations of false repetitious memory.

Tony Judt and Timothy Snyder, Thinking the Twentieth Century (New York: Penguin, 2012).

Harold Henderson, "Genealogy: At the Intersection of History and Memory," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 12 October 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Cite Your Low-Rent Sources!

Sometimes as genealogists we have trouble distinguishing between our grubbies and our Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes.

Source citations tell our readers what our evidence is. When the work is finished and meant to prove our conclusion, the sources will usually be original records. But when the research is in progress, our best evidence may not be very good. (And some books and articles may simply be created in order to systematize the pile of records and notes found in grandma's attic, and make them accessible, not to prove anything.) They're really more leads to follow up on.

Failing to distinguish these two uses of citations may be a cause of "source snobbery," a disorder in which genealogists (your blogger included) sometimes refrain from perusing Ancestry trees for fear of polluting our minds or our databases. (Of course taking those trees as gospel is an even more widespread disorder among newbies, but we're not worrying about that here.)

Sometimes we need to be polluted in order to become successful -- much as a cop might need a drunken snitch's whisper to get started on a trail, even though it wouldn't count for anything when the case came to court.

My wife's ultra-mysterious great-great grandmother Jennie (Cochran) Boren was born in North Carolina and died in Pittsburgh, but her maiden name was so common we never had any luck finding her in her parents' household. The break we received was not due to our diligence. Somebody who didn't answer emails posted an unsourced tree of Jennie's family from the North Carolina Cochran side, and from that lead we were able to amass plenty of evidence proving the long-lost connection.

Leads document our chase, and later on higher-quality sources document our case, helping us convince our skeptical peers. Don't confuse the two.

Harold Henderson, "Cite Your Low-Rent Sources!," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 11 October 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Explain This!

Sometimes the problem in genealogy education is not explaining things . . . it's knowing what to explain. Every time I attend a talk for beginners I learn, especially when people ask about things that we no longer recognize as needing to be explained. Two real-life examples:

"What is the DAR?"

"What is a 'census'?"

As a writer, I know that even just one undefined (or unclear) term is likely to doom a whole paragraph (or article, or book). Readers will slide over it and then discover themselves in a swamp of mysterious verbiage, and give up in puzzlement. Same goes double for lectures.

Good beginners will ask these questions. But, quite aside from the embarrassment, it can be hard to know how to ask.

I'm frequently on the other side of this gulf when talking about technology hardware and software. If I don't ask, I'm going to be under water so fast . . .

Whether I'm on the asking end or the answering end, what's usually needed is not a dictionary definition, but a vivid example showing how it's used in practice. The definition can come later if at all.

So two teaching talents are called for here: recognizing what needs to be explained, and finding ways to do so effectively.

Photo credit: MrJVTod's photostream, : accessed 7 October 2012, per Creative Commons.

Harold Henderson, "Explain This!," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 10 October 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

ROAD TRIP! The Things We Carry

Last week members of the APG members and TGF lists talked about what people take with them when researching at the repository or the cemetery. My fourteen-item list remains a work in progress and it reflects the fact that I straddle the physical/digital divide. Of course, it is possible to purchase, or to make do without almost everything on this list -- except the final two items. But "making do" takes precious time.

* Maintenance materials: water to drink, aspirin or equivalent, a snack depending on schedule, a book to read in case there's an unpredicted long wait.

* Shoulder bag to contain pretty much everything else listed below. Sometimes this will be my laptop bag, with the power cord and everything else crammed into it, sometimes another bag in addition or instead of that. This has a compartment for storing photocopies where (once labeled) they can lie flat, in order, and in peace during the trip.

* Laptop and power cord. I don't use it much on courthouse trips (often there's no space) but if I'm going to a library or other place with wi-fi I'll at least catch up on email.

* Blank spiral-bound notebook. For use where space is limited or when I don't have time to boot up the laptop. My computer notes are more legible and more easily uploaded to Dropbox, but sometimes the old way works best. Pages are perforated so that they can be removed and placed in binders by subject and thus promptly reunited with any photocopies or computer notes that belong with them.

* Pens -- and pencils, just in case. In my experience, archives that (wisely) require pencils also provide them.

* Calendar containing itinerary (and directions if needed).

* Relevant maps or directions. GPS is fine but I try not to be without the appropriate state atlas (we use DeLorme) because I usually want to have an overview, not just a path. If it's a county I've been to before I may have a really detailed local map in my map drawer!

* Thumb drive(s). Bring more than one if there's any possibility that you absent-mindedly filled up one! Digital images straight from microfilm (whether there's a charge or not) are a wonderful thing.

* Cell phone and charger. Sometimes the phone doesn't realize it's short of power until I actually try to make a call.

* Change purse packed with mainly dimes and quarters. My local library has good microfilm printers that ONLY accept dimes. Those at the Indiana State Library ONLY accept quarters. The copiers at Allen County Public Library ONLY accept special cards that are filled by using bills, not change. And sometimes I'm headed for a repository or a parking situation where I don't know the quirks.

* Digital camera with battery charger. Useful for documents in some situations, and it's rarely a mistake to take pictures of courthouses etc.

* Hat, coat, raincoat, umbrella as dictated by the weather. In my experience, extreme weather is much commoner in cemeteries than anywhere else.

* Most importantly, my "shopping list" of questions to be answered and relevant resources to be sought, organized first by repository and then by project. For places with good on-line catalogs this can get very specific.

* Of equal importance, as much information as possible to consult in case of surprises during the day -- such as names and dates of the research target's family members and other contextual information that suddenly turns out to be important. The best and most compact such companion may be the actual research report in progress and (hopefully) up to date. At less organized times it may have to be a couple of binders, or relevant files and images and emails downloaded to the laptop (in case of need when wi-fi isn't around).

What would you add or subtract?

Photo credit: darastar's photostream, : accessed 7 October 2012, per Creative Commons.

Harold Henderson, "ROAD TRIP! The Things We Carry," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 9 October 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, October 8, 2012

Valparaiso, Your #3 Genealogy Library Stop in Indiana?

Larry Clark has done a lot at Valparaiso. He oversees the genealogy room there, part of the Porter County (Indiana) Public Library System. The most visible thing about the room is that it's ringed with marriage and court records from the county clerk's office, in the process of being indexed. Next most visible are the impressive array of periodicals, including four of the five best in the field: The American Genealogist, New England Historical and Genealogical Register, New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. (And you can read the current issues!) Also visible are the extensive book collections for many states besides Indiana. Also visible, but expected, are good microfilm collections of local newspapers.

Less visible but highly valued are microfilmed records of the Gary Diocese, covering many years between 1850 and 1991, including births, deaths, confirmations, marriages, and christenings. Least visible but especially interesting to me is the large collection of city directories, with microfilms for 24 cities in Indiana, 14 in Illinois, 10 in Ohio, 4 in western New York 3 in western Pennsylvania, 3 in Michigan, and one in Wisconsin. These are not complete runs but they are way more than you'll find in most local genealogy collections. I have posted a list of the cities and dates at Midwest Roots -- part of my ongoing series there of "unfindables," undercatalogued collections in various libraries, including microfilms of old Indiana newspapers in Mishawaka and of small-city directories in Fort Wayne.

After Allen County and the Indiana State Library, this could well be the third best public library for genealogy in Indiana. Check it out!

Harold Henderson, "Valparaiso, Your #3 Genealogy Library Stop in Indiana?," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 8 October 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Past Prophecies

Morris Sleight, writing in his diary, probably on 30 June 1834:

"Chicago is thought by the Inhabiters is to be[come] the Largest city in the world. I think it is entirely overrated . . . it is a Low Muddy Place and no country within 30 miles to Back it."

He wrote letters (transcribed here) and settled in Napervville.

Morris Sleight papers (1834-1837 & 1850-1854; 1953), diaries, folder 9 of 11, book no. 2, entry preceding 3 July 1834; Chicago History Museum, Chicago.

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

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Are We Reading Too Fast? And a Chicago Antidote

University of Wisconsin historian William Cronon worries about some aspects of today:

I embrace and celebrate the digital age. I believe historians should use blogs and tweets, Wikipedia entries and YouTube videos, web pages and Facebook postings, and any number of other new media tools to share our knowledge with the wider world. But I also celebrate complicated arguments that need space to develop and patience to understand. And I love long stories that can only unfold across hundreds of pages or screens. What I most fear about this new age is its impatience and its distractedness. If history as we know it is to survive, it is these we most need to resist as we practice and defend long, slow, thoughtful reading.
Perhaps there will be room to maneuver a bit even within those confines. Cronon asserts that "the most effective blogs are typically one to three paragraphs in length," but the most popular post by far in the last month on this blog was a full six paragraphs long.

Meanwhile, anyone with the slightest interest in Chicago or Midwestern history can dig into Cronon's masterpiece, Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West. In another life, I had the privilege of reviewing it: "Cronon's research is so thorough, his explanations so deep, his sprinkling of evocative details so apt that the reader sees the 'obvious' with new eyes." Cronon's colleague Kenneth Jackson put it more straightforwardly: "No one has ever written a better book about a city."

William Cronon, "How Long Will People Read History Books?," Perspectives on History, vol. 50, no. 7 (October 2012), : accessed 5 October 2012.

William Cronon, Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West (New York: W. W. Norton, 1991).

Harold Henderson, "Past Prophecies," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 6 October 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Friday, October 5, 2012

Three Hours from Fort Wayne

A generic warning notice to all readers of this blog for the next 10 1/2 months. On top of my normal partiality towards the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center in Fort Wayne, I will be helping out with publicity for the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference to be held there 21-24 August 2013.

So I'm not entirely disinterested (if I ever was) when I take note of good points about ACPLGC . . . or its location. Check out Fort Wayne. It's in the upper-right-hand corner of Indiana. Within a fast three-hour drive are Columbus, Toledo, Detroit, Lansing, Kalamazoo, and Indianapolis. In the unlikely event that ACPLGC has no research attraction for you before, after, or during FGS, you will be positioned within driving distance of the premier repositories of three states.

Make that six states if you can keep the pedal to the metal. Just down the road a little farther are Cleveland, Cincinnati, Louisville, Springfield, Chicago, and Madison, home of the Wisconsin State Historical Society. As they sometimes say in real estate, this place is "convenient to everything."

Of course, if you don't like crowds or conferences, you could visit at some other time. (Oh. Was I not supposed to say that?)

"Regional Map," Visit Fort Wayne Indiana ( : accessed 2 October 2012).

Harold Henderson, "Three Hours from Fort Wayne," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 5 October 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Words from Ohio -- Fall OGN

I learned several things from the Fall 2012 Ohio Genealogy News:

* The Ohio Genealogical Society writing contest will be open during January and February 2013, up to four entries per person. Winners will be published in either OGN or the flagship Ohio Genealogical Society Quarterly, so pay attention to the rules, which reflect their length and formatting requirements. Writers whose  potential subjects evaded Ohio (not an easy thing to do!) should consult Kimberly Powell's listing of writing contests at

* Aubrey Brown chased a series of scattered records to learn more about the forgotten residents of the Knox County Infirmary, AKA Knox County Poorhouse, AKA Mount Vernon Bible College: two ledgers of monthly expenditures preserved in the county archives; microfilmed newspapers with occasional notes mentioning the place; County Commissioners' Journals; and the US Census. The changeability of the name, the scarcity and dispersion of records, and the value of county commissioners' records are all themes that extend beyond Ohio.

* Shelley Bishop's article on finding, reading, and researching with blogs includes a list of "20 Great Ohio Genealogy Blogs." Chances are you'll find some you didn't know about -- I did.

* Like laws, library acquisition notes are a nifty "secret entrance" to genealogy. Thomas Stephen Neel, who directs the OGS Library, reports that the library has acquired Kenneth Weant's ten volumes of newspaper abstracts covering '49ers who passed through Missouri during the Gold Rush (1849-1853), including of course many Ohioans and other Midwesterners. Researching these folks has much in common with researching infirmary residents, so all help is welcome. The library is also aware that the 20th century is now history, having purchase digitized records of Warren County, Ohio, marriages 1963-1979. As Neel writes, "The time period is after LDS stopped filming and these folks already have grandchildren."

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Forgotten French of the Midwest

 The time is 1823. The place is Fort Wayne. Indiana has been a state for seven years. The dismayed writer is William H. Keating, who has just arrived from the east:

Not being previously aware of the diversity in the character of the inhabitants, the sudden change from an American to a French population, has a surprising, and to say the last, an unpleasant effect; for the first twenty-four hours, the traveller fancies himself in a real Babel. . . . The business of a town of this kind differs so materially from that carried on in our cities, that it is almost impossible to fancy ourselves still within the same territorial limits.
This quote leads off Yale historian Jay Gitlin's book The Bourgeois Frontier: French Towns, French Traders and American Expansion. Whether he liked it or not, Keating knew what we have systematically forgotten.

Not only was French spoken frequently "in an enormous region stretching from Detroit to St. Louis to New Orleans," as Gitlin explains, the story of this Francophone Midwest "has never found a place in American history textbooks for three related reasons: the dramatis personae have never been correctly identified; the geographical setting of the story lies upon a north-south axis and therefore lies counter to the traditional east-west presentation of U.S. history; and the story has been dismissed as being irrelevant to the general themes of American history." {2}

Gitlin is out to fix this. His story centers on the powerful and prosperous Chouteau family (sometimes called a dynasty) of St. Louis and westward, who do not fit the cheerful-lazy-voyageur stereotype propagated by early US historians. These French came from many places, not just Canada; they were cosmopolitan; and they were deeply involved in commerce and trade. This was an urban frontier before it was a farmers' frontier. From the start it was "urban, cosmopolitan, connected, and diverse." {188} Gitlin concludes that the French have remained invisible, not because they were uninvolved in nation-building, but "in part because their story demands that we accept a frontier past that transcends our old dichotomies of heroes and villains, settlers and Indians." {190}

This book will change your idea of the Midwest, and its smooth readable style will leave you wanting more.

H-Net also has an interesting review of a related book, Claiborne A. Skinner's The Upper Country: French Enterprise in the Colonial Great Lakes.

Jay Gitlin, The Bourgeois Frontier: French Towns, French Traders & American Expansion (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010).

Claiborne A. Skinner, The Upper Country: French Enterprise in the Colonial Great Lakes (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008).

Harold Henderson, "The Forgotten French of the Midwest," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 3 October 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Records in Unpredictable Places

One more thing probate records do: make unexpected connections between unexpected places in unexpected ways.

The largest county in the Midwest -- Cook County, Illinois -- is also a burned county. While abstracting probates three counties away in Indiana, I came across three pages copied from pre-Fire Cook County probate court records from the 1840s. The originals turned to ash in the Great Chicago Fire 141 years ago.

These records connect two early Midwestern movers and shakers. Micajah Terrell Williams -- an Ohio politician-entrepreneur with an interest in improved transportation and a founder of Milwaukee, Wisconsin -- had died in Cincinnati. William B. Ogden, Chicago's first mayor and a transportation leader cut from much the same cloth, was making a claim on Williams's estate. Following Williams's death, Ogden had been involved with land Williams had owned in (among other places) La Porte and Porter Counties in Indiana. Williams's probate appears to have been a tangled and lengthy affair, and there may be more to the story.

Only because a wealthy Cincinnatian invested in some Indiana farmland did a bit of long-gone Chicago history survive the fire in this courthouse 60 miles away. This piece of history will be a lot easier to find once we get these probates abstracted and indexed!

Micajah T. Williams estate no. 336, loose papers, La Porte County, Indiana; microfilm E-1, County Clerk, La Porte.

Harold Henderson, "Records in Unpredictable Places," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 2 October 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, October 1, 2012

See the Mid-20th Century in Cushman Color

Hat tip to colleague Malissa Ruffner on Facebook for alerting us to Indiana University Archives' on-line collection of the photography of Charles Weever Cushman. The collection is easy to view and well categorized -- the heart is the more than 14,000 color slides from 1938 to 1969. Most-photographed years? 1965, 1952, and 1955. Most-photographed places: the US (11,374), United Kingdom (759), and Austria. Among the states, there are 4723 photographs of California, 2484 of Illinois, and 943 of Arizona. Cushman graduated from Indiana University and had some genealogical interests, so Indiana got 350, but Wisconsin (83), Ohio (20), and Michigan (6) don't get much attention. Thematically, landscape, architecture, and cityscapes are his commonest themes.

Few photos have names; many of the cityscapes, especially of Chicago, have addresses. There are some great "then and now" shots to be taken. If you want to see circuses from the 1940s, you're in luck. If you're bewildered, check out the highlights.

Harold Henderson, "See the Mid-20th Century in Cushman Color," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 29 September 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]