Friday, November 30, 2012

A Day in the Life: Probate

You are six hours away from home. The probate clerk has unlocked the records room, containing probate information back to the beginning of the county, and left you to it.

The will books are there, but books of probate court proceedings from early days are hard to find. Where are the probate packets (AKA "loose papers")? In one corner, a likely-looking group of metal shelves contain boxes of  . . . original marriage returns, handwritten on scraps of paper, bundled up in groups for each year -- 1843, 1844, 1845. A treasure for another day.

You look for an overall index. You find volume 2 -- which begins in the 1850s. You find Volume 1, a different-shaped book with a slightly different label in another part of the shelving. The desired decedent, from the 1840s, is there. And her case has a number.

The probate packets are on the other side of the room in ranks of big metal file drawers. The packets are in strict numerical order, but the order is NOT chronological. Worse, the number you found in the index book applies to someone else's probate altogether.

You paw carefully through a drawer that contains three rows of tight-packed trifolds in their narrow heavy paper or light cardboard holders, all from the 1840s. The decedent you're looking for isn't there. But as you scan the jacket labels one by one, you notice that everybody in the drawer has a surname beginning with B, and every packet is dated in the 1840s. Since few people die in alphabetical order, a light dawns. You remember a classroom and a distinguished teacher admonishing students to think about how and why a given record was created. Now you need to think about how the record was treated after creation!

These 1840s probate packets were not fitted up with fine jackets back in the near-frontier days when the cases were heard in court. They were probably tied up in string and left in drawer, as the marriage returns remain to this day. At some point, perhaps in the comparatively affluent early 1900s, the probates got special treatment. The county clerk must have bought several gross of jackets, and someone went to work sorting, labeling, and numbering all the old probate packets so that they could be preserved and relocated at need.

How did the clerk organize the packets? Alphabetizing them all may have seemed like a herculean task, and it would mix probates from very different eras. But putting them in exact chronological order would have been difficult and largely irrelevant, since some probates that began in 1840 ended then, and others dragged on for years. Evidently a compromise was reached: sort them all by decade, then alphabetize each decade by the surname of the deceased, and number them in that sequence. Anyway, that's how it looks to you now, and your job is not to conjure up a history of one county's probate office but to find that one packet!

The theory was close enough to help. You quickly put your hand on the right packet -- with dozens of pages inside, each breathing a bit of life from the 1840s. Time to sit down and scrutinize every scrap, all the time wondering if someone else would have figured out this organizing scheme sooner, and how your experience might benefit the next comer.

Harold Henderson, "A Day in the Life: Probate," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 30 November 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, November 29, 2012

History for Non-Readers

Colorado State University Pueblo historian Jonathan Rees writes over at The Historical Society:

 . . . humanities professors faced with non-reading students have to teach their recalcitrant readers the kinds of reading skills that they’ve never learned.

. . . In their classic How to Read a Book Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren speak of Elementary Reading, Inspectional Reading, and Analytical Reading.  To get students to that third level, you have to read with them.  Open the book during class.  Make them read aloud to the class.  Discuss the implications of those ideas.
Rees is also the author of the recently published Industrialization and the Transformation of American Life, covering the US 1877-1929 (and available as an e-book). His list of "case studies" makes me suspect that even those of us who think we know some history may benefit from reading it . . . out loud or otherwise. (If it's as good as it could be, I might agitate for a prequel covering 1845-1877.)

Jonathan Rees, "Bend, Don't Break," The Historical Society, posted 26 November 2012 ( : accessed 26 November 2012).

Jonathan Rees, Industrialization and the Transformation of American Life: A Brief Introduction (Armonk NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2012).

Harold Henderson, "History for Non-Readers," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 29 November 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Being able to focus on just one thing for half a day is an unusual luxury in my world, but it's often the most fun and most efficient way to work. Our work rarely lends itself to that arrangement -- and I'm talking just within the framework of genealogy itself, not even taking into account extraneous events like illnesses, car breakdowns, oven fires, kids' and parents' urgencies, and vacations. Any given project often has to be set aside because the next step involves a trip or waiting for someone else to make the trip, or because a closer deadline takes precedence.

I get so used to being interrupted that I find myself interrupting myself (to check email or Facebook or FamilySearch for new databases, if nothing else). This is rarely a good thing. How do you do interruption management?

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

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Teaching What You Just Learned

James Lang, a professor of English at Assumption College, has an interesting review-and-commentary article dealing in part with Therese Huston's Teaching What You Don't Know.

Having read the article and not the book, I suspect they are mistitled, and that the correct title would be something like "Teaching What You Recently Learned." The core argument seems to be that novices (recent learners) remember better what it's like not to be learning a subject than do long-time experts. Lang quotes Huston: "A content novice is also more likely than a content expert to relate difficult concepts to everyday, common knowledge—to something the student already knows—simply because the instructor doesn't have a vault of specialized knowledge on the topic from which to draw."

There is surely some truth to this, but I can think of plenty of counterexamples in genealogy world. And surely one job of a good teacher is to retain that precious memory of their former ignorance and how they climbed out of it. Your experience?

[P.S. Yes, Huston's book was published almost four years ago. On this post-Thanksgiving week, I also thank the publishers and editors with the good sense to know that books published more than six months ago are still worth writing and talking about.]

James Lang, "Teaching What You Don't Know," Chronicle of Higher Education, 22 October 2012 ( : accessed 22 November 2012).

Therese Huston, Teaching What You Don't Know (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009).

Harold Henderson, "Teaching What You Just Learned," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 27 November 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, November 26, 2012

Always Room for More Black Sheep

The current New York Review of Books includes a nice review of what sounds like a good readable background book if your research takes you repeatedly back into the Gilded Age (say 1870-1900). It's called A Disposition to Be Rich, and follows the life of the author's great-grandfather Ferdinand Ward (1851-1925), who was the Bernie Madoff of his day and then some.

Ward grew up in Geneseo, New York, county seat of Livingston County, and it is suggested that his career of compulsive fraud may have been a reaction against the omnipresent piety of the Ward family household and the Burned-Over District in general. The side issue that interests me is that such towns often emphasize local history in their school curricula, but one Geneseo native I know never heard of the man. (It's not as though the town is deluged in celebrity.)

So the genealogical moral may be that, wherever we're working, we may well have plenty of local "black sheep" to rediscover. Then again, if they have been discovered (and are of an "acceptable" type?), they may be fantastically overexposed, like Belle Gunness of La Porte, Indiana.

Geoffrey C. Ward, A Disposition to Be Rich: How a Small-Town Pastor's Son Ruined an American President, Brought on a Wall Street Crash, and Made Himself the Best-Hated Man in the United States (New York: Knopf, 2012).

 Christopher Benfey, "A Magnificant and Audacious Swindle," New York Review of Books, vol. 59, no. 19 (6 December 2012):58, 60.

Harold Henderson, "Always Room for More Black Sheep," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 26 November 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Saturday, November 24, 2012


We all make mistakes . . . constantly. In my own lives, I have:

* constructed skylights that leaked persistently,

* nailed up clapboards on a chicken house backwards, so that they conducted water into the wall instead of away from it,

* publicly expressed bewilderment as to why anyone would cite the 1880 census any differently from the 1850, and

* submitted a writing contest entry about a three-generation family, in which I cited no probates or property records.

The question is not whether we're going to make mistakes. That's a given. But we have a choice of what we do afterwards.

Option 1: We can hug our mistakes to ourselves, and lash out at anyone who points out, even in a very general way, that they are mistakes.

Option 2: We can resolve to do better (or in my case, to take up something other than carpentry!) and learn from the correction.

The other day a fellow genealogist wrote an exasperated post complaining about "drive-by genealogists" and how much unsubstantiated genealogical information is posted on line. Without naming names or web sites, she outlined some of the basic standards of evaluating evidence. She did note that "a researcher might find a document that says a couple married on a specific date. That researcher may tell others that this 'proves' the marriage. In fact, it isn't proof, but it is evidence of the marriage and needs a bit more work."

A number of other genealogists responded by choosing Option 2 and complaining about her complaint! Some called it elitist. Some said they had no time for source citations. One commenter sarcastically expressed surprise that a document didn't prove a marriage. (It doesn't. One document by itself doesn't prove anything, because any document can be wrong. Proof comes from multiple sources that corroborate each other. Check it out here for starters.)

There are no carpentry police, at least not out in the country. There are no genealogy police, and there never will be (although the original poster did kind of wish for some).

But there are plenty of people who can tell good from bad. It would not be elitist for others to snicker at my misbuilt chicken house, because it really did not protect the structure from the elements. Similarly, it is not elitist to point out that our family and other readers won't believe our family tree when it lacks a sound foundation. Of course there are better and worse ways to make this point. Good teachers and responsible genealogists will find ways to do it in a kind and encouraging manner. But whether stated well or badly, it remains a fact.

Cut-and-paste genealogists are free to spread unsubstantiated, dubious, false, or absurd information -- and will remain free to do so. We can build however we want. But what we can't do is build poorly, glory in it, and expect respect from those who know better.

Sharon Tate Moody, "Drive-by genealogists should learn a few rules," Tampa Bay Online, posted 18 November 2012 (  : accessed 23 November 2012).

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

Photo credit: garryknight's photostream at ( : accessed 23 November 2012), per Creative Commons.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Unfortunate Titles and the Value of Browsing

Strolling along an aisle of physical books in an actual library is a really retro thing to do. But given the imperfections of book production and storage, it's also a useful activity. I once discovered a whole set of marriage abstracts because I came across a book with an unpromisingly general title on the spine: "Marriages 1834-1855."

Because I came across it in the right part of the library, where my target location was, I pulled it out, and discovered what it was, and later found additional books in the series. These were obituaries and marriage notices in a place and time where newspapers were terse and vital records non-existent, abstracted from a denominational newspaper that shut down eighty years ago.

"You never know until you look." And you haven't looked until you've tried both the retro and the up-to-date forms of looking. 

Harold Henderson, "Unfortunate Titles and the Value of Browsing," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 23 November 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Giving Thanks for Pennsylvania Deeds

Many genealogists think of Pennsylvania and New York as exceptionally difficult places to research. But really, they are just places with different sets of strengths and weaknesses in records than what we're used to. As I was reminded last week, one asset many 200-year-old Pennsylvania deeds have that I rarely see in the Midwest is a tendency to recite the chain of title, or at least part of it. And when the chain of title is also a family tree, what's not to like?

Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Deeds 24:374, Moor to Hamilton, 4 August 1821; Department of Real Estate, Pittsburgh.

Harold Henderson, "Giving Thanks for Pennsylvania Deeds," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 21 November 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Downside of Search and Scroll

University of Wisconsin historian and AHA president William Cronon dives deep into the meaning of technology -- from physical scrolls to printed books to Google and Amazon -- in an amazing and unsettling essay in the new issue of Perspectives on History. He is no armchair critic hiding in a moldy library, and we will be hearing more about his "20-year effort to build digital libraries on handheld devices, and how frequently I've had to reformat public-domain e-books from .txt to .lit to .html to .doc to .pdf to .mobi to .epub, with no hope of retaining my own annotations in the process."

Another angle:

Can physical books come close to competing with computers when it comes to search? Of course not. But when one wants to relocate a piece of information in a particular context, and when one remembers that context better than the information itself, then it can be surprisingly difficult for search alone to recover what one wants.
How do disciplines the depend not just on details but on context reap the advantages of new hardware and software while minimizing the problems they create? Cronon doesn't have the answer but he knows there's a question.

William Cronon, "Recollecting My Library...and My Self," Perspectives on History, vol. 50, no. 8 (November 2012), : accessed 19 November 2012.

Harold Henderson, "The Downside of Search and Scroll," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 20 November 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, November 19, 2012

$500 Scholarship to the National Institute on Genealogical Research

Those interested in attending the 2013 session of the highly regarded National Institute on Genealogical Research at the National Archives in Washington, DC, should check out the recently issued press release reprinted below. I have heard only good things about this institute, and my understanding is that winners of the scholarship are often genealogical librarians or others very active in the genealogical community. In any case, they are expected to help others with the knowledge they acquire at NIGR. The application deadline is not far off, so pass the word to your non-blog-reading friends and colleagues!

Richard S. Lackey Memorial Scholarship Available

The National Institute on Genealogical Research Alumni Association (NIGRAA) announces the
Richard S. Lackey Memorial Scholarship for 2013. This scholarship is awarded to an
experienced researcher employed in a paid or volunteer position in the services of the
genealogical community. The amount of the Scholarship is $500, which covers full tuition for
the National Institute on Genealogical Research, attendance at the Alumni Association Dinner,
and will partly defray hotel and/or meal costs.

Applications must be submitted in PDF or Word format. The completed application form and
attachments should be e-mailed to Beverly Rice at and received by
15 December 2012. The application form can be found at the bottom of the NIGRAA website at

The winner will be notified no later than 15 February 2013. The scholarship winner will
automatically be accepted for the National Institute on Genealogical Research (NIGR), to be
held at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., from Monday, July 15 through Friday, July
19, 2013. NIGR is an intensive program offering on-site examination of federal records and is
intended for experienced genealogical researchers. Note: an application to attend in 2013 must
also be submitted to NIGR.

Membership in NIGRAA is open to anyone who has completed one or more sessions of the
National Institute on Genealogical Research or who has lectured at any session.

Bittner's Bavarians in the September NGSQ

F. Warren Bittner was co-winner of the National Genealogical Society's 2011 Family History Writing Contest, and his article leads off the September issue of the NGS's Quarterly. His paternal-line great-grandfather and two brothers are pictured on the cover.

Most "Q" articles are proof arguments of one sort or another, highlighting surprises, methodological innovations, or usually reliable records shown to be unreliable in particular cases. Contest winners are usually different.

The story of the Büttner family has many lessons for researchers of German families on both sides of the Atlantic, but the main lesson here is how different times and places make different ways. The main fact in their lives was Bavarian law, which "forbade 'frivolous marriage' between 'slovenly people who will breed only beggars and idlers.'" Legal marriage required substantial property holdings, "adequate" savings, and the consent of the village council.

As is often the case when such accusations are made, the Büttners were neither beggars nor idlers, they were oppressed by rich insiders. They had children out of wedlock because there was no other way. It took ten years for Leonhard Büttner and Margaretha Weiss to get permission to marry. No wonder three of their sons left for America.

The author also has several lectures based on this family's experiences. Don't miss a chance to hear the story in person!

F. Warren Bittner, "Without Land, Occupation, Rights, or Marriage Privilege: The Büttner Family from Bavaria to New York," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 100 (September 2012): 165-187.

Harold Henderson, "Bittner's Bavarians in the September NGSQ," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 16 November 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Sunday, November 18, 2012

APG Writing Discussion Monday 8 pm Central

I'll be on line to lead an Association of Professional Genealogists discussion, AKA group mentoring session,  on writing tomorrow evening the 19th at 6 pm Pacific, 7 pm Mountain, 8 pm Central, 9 pm Eastern time. Session open to APG members, first come first served, limit 25, open 15 minutes early. Entry information on the members-only section of the APG web site. Bring your questions and quandaries -- if I can't help, quite possibly someone else can!




Friday, November 16, 2012

Josephus Waters Family in The Genealogist

One of the greatest services a genealogist can do for colleagues and researchers everywhere is to publish results that distinguish families that are easily confused -- especially ones involving a common name or one that's hard to search for. In the fall issue of The Genealogist, Gale Ion Harris takes up the family of pioneer surveyor Josephus Burton Waters (1750?-1826?) of Maryland, Ohio, and Kentucky. He has also described, and will be describing further, the apparently unrelated but nearby Isaac Waters family. I hope more of us will be inspired to publish our "wrong" families, and not leave their evidence on the cutting-room floor!

Seven of Josephus's children had children. The author notes that there may be a few more unidentified, and still succeeds in locating 54 grandchildren. Many family members stayed in Kentucky; others dispersed to Texas, Louisiana, Oregon, and California, as well as various Midwestern counties: Marion and Jefferson in Illinois; Jennings in Indiana; Highland, Clermont, and Brown in Ohio; Jackson in Missouri; and Scott, Washington, Taylor, Wapello, and Lucas in Iowa. For reasons not made clear the author sometimes rested content with derivative sources for wills, deeds, newspapers, and court records, but other Waters family researchers need not look this spirited gift horse in the mouth, as enough information is available for them to fill in those omissions.

Gale Ion Harris, "Josephus Burton Waters of Maryland, Ohio, and Kentucky: A Pioneer Surveyor," The Genealogist 26, no. 2 (Fall 2012): 272-93.

Harold Henderson, "Josephus Waters Family in The Genealogist," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 15 November 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Hire an Expert without Buyer's Remorse

My "Expert Series" contribution to is up, entitled, "Getting The Most When Hiring a Professional Genealogist." Hint: if you prepare properly, you might discover that you don't even need the help!

Harold Henderson, "Hire an Expert without Buyer's Remorse," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 15 November 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sowing Primary and Secondary Confusion

Attorney, genealogist, and prolific blogger James Tanner continues to use obsolete terminology, which understandably creates confusion.

In a recent blog post, he lists a number of common genealogical sources:

U.S. Federal Census Record
Official State Birth Certificate
Official State Delayed Birth Certificate
International Genealogical Index
Ancestral File Family Tree
Church Parish Register
County Assessors Recordings
City Tax Roll

and then asks which of them are primary sources.

He concludes, I think correctly, that the question makes no sense. (It's like having to say whether every car on the road is either black or white, when they're almost all gray!) And then he draws the very odd conclusion that the problem lies in any attempt classifying sources, information, and evidence. But the real problem is that the distinction between primary and secondary sources is much too coarse for clear genealogical thinking.  A more useful distinction among sources is between original sources (first reduction of information to writing, such as a parish register) and derivative sources (a copy of an original or an earlier copy, such as a published index to the parish register).

Sources contain multiple pieces of information, each with somewhat different origins and quality and credibility. "Primary" and "secondary" are more usefully applied to those pieces. In a birth certificate, for instance, the information about the time of the birth is primary, coming from an eyewitness, whereas the information about the parents' birthplaces may well be secondary. No wonder we can't decide whether the certificate is primary or secondary; it contains both primary and secondary information!

Information is not evidence until we ask a question. Direct evidence answers the question directly, indirect evidence offers a clue but does not directly state the answer.

No reputable genealogist claims that these classifications are the be-all and end-all of evaluating and analyzing evidence. They are just the beginning. But it is an important beginning. Just as we can't carve wood well with a blunt chisel, we can't think clearly about these topics while using imprecise terms like "primary source."

In fact, direct evidence can be mistaken. Primary information can be mistaken. Original sources can contain false information. No serious genealogist thinks otherwise. These are not magic keys, just better tools. Even a sharp chisel won't work if you don't know how to hold it. The National Genealogical Society Quarterly is filled, issue after issue, with well-thought-out arguments that often show that what seems to be high-quality information is in fact false. Their reasoning is based on the Genealogical Proof Standard, which for some reason Mr. Tanner does not mention although it is the only proof standard in genealogy.

To learn the proper terminology takes some time and practice (as Bart Brenner demonstrates in a recent meticulous blog post). And once it's learned, the irony is that we don't need to verbalize it in every analysis, any more than we think about balancing on a bicycle most of the time. But knowing and using the terminology allows us to see, for instance, that when we have a derivative source in hand (say, an abstract of a probate case) we need to go beyond it, if possible, and read the original probate file from which it was derived. This is not because we are sure the probate speaks only truth. It's simply because the act of copying from the original has the potential to create errors and to omit important details. Again, no reputable genealogist says that all original sources are correct and all derivative ones are mistaken. 

Tanner arrives at a reasonable conclusion: "We also need to remember that within the same document or record part of the entries may be trustworthy and others may not. Every piece of evidence needs to evaluated on the basis of its consistency, historical context, timeliness and believability." Corroboration and resolving contradictions are key as well. And understanding original vs. derivative sources, primary vs. secondary information, and direct vs. indirect evidence is the first step in this ongoing process.

Tanner quotes a judge's instructions to the jury as a model for genealogists. It's a good step. A more complete list of considerations in evaluating evidence, specifically designed for genealogy, is readily available in Chapter 1 of Elizabeth Shown Mills's book Evidence Explained. I have no idea why Tanner would discuss this subject without referring even in passing to the acknowledged authority in the discipline.

James Tanner, "Primary and Secondary Sources: Who do you trust?," Genealogy's Star ( : accessed 12 November 2012).

Harold Henderson, "Sowing Primary and Secondary Confusion," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 14 November 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Three Talks at FGS 2013

I will be giving three talks at the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference in Fort Wayne next August (just a little more than nine months from now):

Thursday, August 22, 5pm, "First Steps in Indiana Research," from Indiana's Big Four to some archives and county-level resources.

Friday, August 23, 2pm, "Beyond Fort Wayne, Madison, and the Newberry: Lesser-Known Midwestern Archives," a personal selection of useful archives I have known in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

Saturday, August 24, 8 am, "Three Ways to Improve Your Speaking Ideas," sponsored by the Genealogical Speakers Guild with some ideas applicable even to those who don't lecture.

If none of these tickle your fancy, FGS has plenty more to offer, and the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center as a jumbo-sized research bonus.

Harold Henderson, "Three Talks at FGS  2013," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 13 November 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, November 12, 2012

We Can All Teach Something . . . Within Reason

When I was a more serious chess player, I often ran into guys (almost always guys) who had learned the game well enough to routinely beat everyone in their extended family, school, or neighborhood. Then they showed up at a regular chess club or rated tournament, and lost every game. At the other end, although I was never in any position to judge, I had it on good authority that there were both "weak grandmasters" and "strong grandmasters." There were just more rungs on the chess ladder than I could have imagined.

Genealogy is similar (although we don't really have a ladder, it's more like a maze). No matter how little we think we know, each of us probably knows plenty to answer some newbie questions. And no matter how much we think we know, there are questions we find it wise to leave to others.

Two things to watch out for, though:

(1) The temptation to give advice that takes the form of "I don't know much about X, but . . . " Make sure that what follows the "but" is actual knowledge.

(2) The temptation to reinvent the wheel, as when we find ourselves about to

* pontificate about citation without mentioning Evidence Explained;

* talk about sources, information, and evidence without knowing that sources are original or derivative, information primary or secondary, and evidence direct or indirect; or

* discuss proof without understanding the five-part Genealogical Proof Standard.

None of these are sacred cows -- they can all be critiqued and improved, or just milked. (And amateurs are free to disregard them altogether, as long as they don't complain when they get no respect.)

But 9999 times out of 10,000, it makes no sense to disregard these tools. We grow as genealogists when we use them to build.

Besides, nobody really enjoys being the neighborhood champion who goes 0 for 4 in the tournament.

Picture cropped from Ed Yourdon's photostream per Creative Commons:

Harold Henderson, "We Can All Teach Something . . . Within Reason," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 12 November 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Friday, November 9, 2012

Chicago Research En Route to FGS 2013

Besides containing one of the premier genealogy libraries -- the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center -- and hosting next year's Federation of Genealogical Societies conference, Fort Wayne is also surrounded in every direction by other useful repositories. The following (by me) was just posted on the FGS 2013 conference blog, first in a series of short posts on ways to pack in extra research on your way to or from the conference in Fort Wayne.

* Chicago, the de facto capital of the Midwest, a little over three hours west of Fort Wayne, has ample entertaining destinations for any non-genealogists in your group. Travelers can consider parking at an edge location (such as O'Hare or Midway airports) and taking transit into one or more repositories.

* The Newberry Library, 60 West Walton Street, Mammoth historical collections, national and international in scope, with very knowledgeable genealogy and local history librarians. Quality in-house bookstore. If you can only visit one location, this is the one.

* National Archives at Chicago, 7358 South Pulaski Road, Federal records for six states, both microfilm and physical archives. Call ahead.

* Chicago Public Library, 400 S. State (Harold Washington Library Center), A public library with significant genealogy and local history holdings. Note special and neighborhood collections at Woodson Regional, 9325 S. Halsted,, and Sulzer Regional, 4455 N. Lincoln,

* Chicago Historical Museum, 1601 N. Clark, Entry fee. The ultimate for specifically Chicago research – old phone books, newspapers, manuscripts. Note that the research center has shorter hours than the museum.

Harold Henderson, "Chicago Research En Route to FGS 2013," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 9 November 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Indiana Marriage Images and Statewide (almost) Index

Today FamilySearch added several counties and -- for the first time! -- a large number of images to the Indiana statewide marriage index 1811-1959 on FamilySearch. The following counties have not yet been indexed: Perry, Pike, Porter, Pulaski, Putnam, Scott, Shelby, Spencer, Stark, Switzerland, Tipton, and Vermillion -- but the other 80 have been. Exactly how much of how many county records have images I don't know -- reportedly the total up now is 1.5 million. Check it out and add to the comments if you have more information!

Maybe this will also be an incentive to those of us who have been lounging on our laurels since the 1940 census got done to get back to volunteering . . .

Hmmm . . . also the site appears to be rather busy!

UPDATE: I finally got hold of a sample. Evidently one part of the compromise allowing the images to be published is that they are labeled as unofficial. In this case we learn that the couple married five days after being licensed and that they were married by a Justice of the Peace. Locating him in other records might help locate them if that was a problem; if they had been married by a minister, that might be a clue to where to find further records of them. Some of the other marriages on this page may have been licensed or performed in Starke County. I have not investigated this but it may be of interest to researchers who are missing a Starke county marriage! State law did require the female to have resided in the county of marriage at least 30 days, and I disremember whether a license in one county in 1858 was good in any other county. (And, yes, I did choose this example randomly! Genealogy is just shot through with exceptions.)

Marshall County, Indiana, marriages A-2 (1854-1862), p. 258, M. W. Downey to Sarah T. Miller, license 14 October 1858, married 19 October 1858; digital image 143 of 255, “Indiana, Marriages, 1811-1959," FamilySearch ( : accessed 8 November 2012).

Harold Henderson, "Indiana Marriage Images and Statewide (almost) Index," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 8 November 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Kosciusko County and Many Other Maps On Line

Dick Eastman broadcast a nice local digital newspaper story about the Kosciusko County, Indiana, Historical Society placing grave listings and photographs on line as part of the county's GIS mapping system for properties.

But there's more to the story: The web site is part of a multi-county service called Beacon: Local Government GIS for the Web. Kosciusko and 26 other Indiana counties also have multi-purpose zoomable GIS maps and searchable information on current properties under this format. Four counties in Illinois (Cass, Morgan, Ogle, and Whiteside), one in Michigan (Berrien), and several in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, South Carolina, and South Dakota also have this feature. So far as I've been able to tell, Kosciusko is the only place going the extra mile with the cemetery database and images bonus. (So it is now possible to cross-check these against other on-line listings such as Find a Grave, as well as non-digital published readings.)

Just click on the "All States" drop-down menu and pick your favorite state and county (if available) and spend some time with the maps. They don't have all the features genealogists would want by any means, but they have a lot.

Harold Henderson, "Kosciusko County and Many Other Maps On Line," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 7 November 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Lost Causes in NGSM

Were your ancestors supporters of Prohibition? Did they regard World War II as a bad idea? Lost causes can be genealogical opportunities (they created records too). And seeing the world as these folks saw it can remind us that history did not have to turn out the way it did. Check out my article in the new NGS Magazine.

Harold Henderson, "Lost Causes as Genealogical Opportunities," NGS Magazine 38, no. 4 (October-December 2012):23-26.

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

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Back Door to Chicago

Most genealogy societies have been around long enough that they have a significant amount of history, including a written trail of published research results, queries, and transcriptions. Many local periodicals are not indexed. Many are indexed by surname only (making researchers of names like Smith or Jones apoplectic). Many are indexed one issue, or one year, at a time. And then you have to find those indexes.

Fortunately there is a trend to digitize these potential clue factories. Thanks to the Newberry Library and the Chicago Genealogical Society, the Chicago Genealogist now has volumes 1 through 39 (1969-2007) on line and searchable.

Anyone who might have Chicago people should check it out (and then you'll be happier, but as far behind on your day as I am!). But if you're looking for my piece on a Civil War letter from Samuel Lowe, son of Cook County's first sheriff, it's still too recent, but you can read it here.

And speaking of urban research, the front door is open in Pittsburgh, where Historic Pittsburgh has an impressive run of early directories. They are not fully covered in my usual go-to reference, United States On Line Historical Directories.

Harold Henderson, "The Back Door to Chicago," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 5 November 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Top Five MWM Posts for September 2012

Once again it's time for the monthly popularity contest, listing the most-viewed blog posts made during September. Time permitting, I'll report on October in early December when the dust of that month will have settled.

September was unusual in one way, and typical in another. Usually the most-read posts have to do with genealogy standards and related questions. In September my five-part non-authoritative and non-official series on how to choose which projects to submit in a BCG portfolio swept the top five spots: part 1 introducing the discussion, part 2 on the document work, part 3 on the client report, part 4 on the complex-evidence case study, and part 5 on the kinship determination project (complete with a correction).  The next-ranking posts were not close.

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

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Wonderful Wisconsin and a Warning

I haven't spent enough research time in Wisconsin in the past three years, and a long day trip earlier this week was a partial make-up. Because I was mainly doing lookups for an article I was able to cover a lot of ground -- three counties' registers of deeds plus the state archives and library in Madison. (I was reminded why Dave McDonald has made a case that the Wisconsin Historical Society is the #2 genealogy repository in the country, not that I am either equipped or inclined to adjudge the matter.)

Everyone I met in the various offices was kind and helpful, and they have a good institutional framework within which to work. I especially appreciate Wisconsin's openness with vital records. They are in the custody of the county registers, rather than the health departments. Copies are costly but the information is available within reason.

In my absence from Madison, the bound volumes of the agricultural schedules of 19th-century US censuses have moved upstairs from the library to the archives. That means more exercise (good news) and an earlier closing time (not such good news). And that gets to my warning. In examining Waushara County for 1860, I learned two facts that had escaped me years ago. One is that the census taker often changed jurisdictions or left off for the day in mid-page, labeling those points. The other is that the pages for some reason were not bound in the numerical order the census taker gave them. As a result, farms in Richford Township appear on four different pages (I believe) in three different locations in this small county.

Perhaps this was the only county so treated. (I don't know; I was doing well to leave five minutes before closing time as it was.) But if you're working with these books -- or with any microfilmed or future on-line version -- be very careful. It would be easy to miss some of the deceased farmers that you were seeking.

Photo from the photostream of wackybadger (Joshua Mayer) per Creative Commons
( : accessed 2 November 2012)

Harold Henderson, "Wonderful Wisconsin and a Warning," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 3 November 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Friday, November 2, 2012

We'll Always Need Advanced Genealogy Education

Stanford historian Sam Wineburg, interviewed by Randall Stephens over at The Historical Society blog, explains another reason why good classes in evidence evaluation, analysis, and correlation are unlikely ever to become unnecessary. Even today, even the best students are not learning this stuff.

Wineburg describes how he uses a popular book that many history students (but few professional historians) love, the late Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States 1492-Present.

Please note (as some of the commenters on the original post do not) that the issue here is not whether Zinn's claims are true/false/absurd/other, nor whether his book on balance has value, but how to think about any historical claims. If you know the book you probably have an opinion on those questions too; please share it elsewhere.

I have students take a claim and then follow the chain of evidence for it back to its source. This is not easy with Zinn, as the book contains no footnotes. So, we have to figure out where Zinn gets his information by looking at his bibliography (there is no archival research in the book—all of Zinn's references are to secondary sources). So, I have students go back to the books Zinn read, and then have them go to the notes in these books to try to figure out how Zinn has used this information and whether its original context has been preserved.
This course is part of Stanford's freshmen seminar program, so my students are young people who only months before had been in high school. They have never experienced anything like this before. Nearly all of them are survivors of AP history, where history class meant memorizing copious amounts of factual information to do well on the 80 multiple choices items so they could get into a college like Stanford. . . . Students know how to find information but many are ill-equipped to answer whether that information should be believed in the first place.

Sound familiar? From our point of view, the roots of genealogical malpractice run deep.

Randall Stephens, "Teaching History to Undergrads: An Interview with Sam Wineburg,"The Historical Society, posted 29 October 2012 ( : accessed 30 October 2012).

Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States 1492-Present (New York: HarperCollins, 1980-2003).

Harold Henderson, "We'll Always Need Advanced Genealogy Education," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 2 November 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Disasters Are Part of Genealogy, Too

Kimberly Powell, blogging at, lists the ten deadliest US disasters (and the most lethal is not the most famous -- sorry, Galveston), with some great related resources on each. Less systematic but also worth checking out is the aggregator site Gen Disasters: Events That Touched Our Ancestors' Lives. Even though its home page appears to have gone away, you can browse by state or by disaster type.

Photo credit:, from dedhed1950's photostream per Creative Commons

Harold Henderson, "Disasters Are Part of Genealogy, Too," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 1 November 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]