Saturday, November 30, 2013

"I used to do some of my best thinking at the clothesline"

Sometimes professional genealogists discuss whether they should hire people to do some of the more routine tasks involved in the work -- straightforward lookups, or some aspects of report creation. Although I'm in favor of job creation, I've never seriously considered this (except for faraway record retrievals).

Now I've come to realize why hiring this kind of help doesn't fit my style. Sometimes I notice new things when I have to mess around with data or formatting one more time -- creating an associates list, or looking through a census page by page, or just trying to find the right image in a multi-volume digitized record set. It reminds me of someone's lament from sixty years ago or so, when mechanical dryers were replacing the once-ubiquitous backyard clotheslines. Most housewives were happy to be liberated from capricious weather conditions and boring labor, but one of them did lament: "I used to do some of my best thinking at the clothesline."

At some levels, genealogy is all about rearranging random things and trying to see patterns in them (in order to have something to verify!). And sometimes I think better when I'm not trying to. If this is your pattern too, you may be better off with more routine tasks to perform!

elvissa's photostream, per Creative Commons

Harold Henderson, "'I used to do some of my best thinking at the clothesline,'" Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 30 November 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Friday, November 29, 2013

Research guides for 17 Michigan counties!

Check out Sonja Hunter's alert and analysis at Bushwhacking Genealogy: Kalamazoo and Beyond. (Can you tell I'm behind in my blog reading?!)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Good news for New York researchers!

The Internet Scout Report tells about the New York State Library's new collection of "Selected Digital Historical Documents," that is, resources for finding historical materials about the Empire State, such as laws (including revised statutes of 1829 and 1882), and a list of bibliographies and indexes of state documents. Revolutionary and Civil War holdings are also available.

Don't miss the statistical summaries of the state censuses, which have what could be backhanded information about individuals (if you can identify them) as well as contextual information on what was happening in particular towns. The Town of Amity in Allegany County, for instance, had no lunatics, two idiots (both under 21), eleven sawmills, one distillery (producing $1100 worth of distilled product), and one ashery. I have mainly used these summaries to compare my research target's land and production with the town or county average.

Also don't miss the 1981 publication that gives a full listing of questions asked each year in both state and federal censuses.

The interface here is not ideal. The above-mentioned publication places original page 43 on digital page 49, for instance.

Harold Henderson, "Good news for New York researchers!," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 29 November 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The family ain't what it used to be . . . or what you think!

Those who have "family" somewhere in their job description will want to read this portfolio of revealing articles from the New York Times. Some are even genealogically relevant, especially the ones about the spread of what anthropologists call "fictive kin."

Friday, November 22, 2013

How to research

Yesterday at Allen County, I found a published cemetery reading. In order to take it home, I photocopied the page it was on, the earlier page that identified the cemetery, two earlier pages that located the cemetery in a map of the township, and the title page of the book. If the authors had written an introduction explaining how they conducted their project, I could have made six copies instead of just one.

Granted, it's not the best evidence -- that would be a visit to the original record (the grave marker or sexton's list) or a photo on Find A Grave or other similar collaborative site. But in order to know about the information I did have, I really did need all those copies. No normal person would remember a year later exactly where that single page came from.

Of course, that specific procedure of photocopying is 20th-century stuff. But the same principles apply when I pull a microfilm or whisk over to check an original census page on Ancestry or an Ohio probate on FamilySearch. Unless I know where the information came from, it's not all that valuable.

Taking the time to image or write down the particulars of the source before opening it up is the best way to research -- in any century.

Harold Henderson, "How to research," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 22 November 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Chicago's City Council from the Civil War to the Cold War

The Newberry Library and Internet Archive now have almost all the Chicago City Council minutes from 1865 to 1963 on line and searchable. If your Chicagoan might have had anything to do with the city -- such as getting paid for a contract or claiming damages -- you can search  individual volumes.

Unfortunately it's not always easy to tell which years are covered in which volumes, or how to get to the ones you want. Below are links to each of the volumes, from which you can browse page by page, search for surnames or agency names or any other useful word, or just download and work offline. Should be great for political history and microhistory as well as genealogy!

* = missing pages as described on the site
missing volume numbers = volumes the Newberry does not have

Volume 1, 1865-1866
Volume 2, 1866-1867
Volume 4, 1868-1869
Volume 5, 1869-1870

Volume 6, 1870-1871
Volume 7, 1871-1872
Volume 10, 7 December 1874-1 May 1876
Volume 11, 8 May 1876-23 April 1877
Volume 13, 1878-1879
Volume 14, 1879-1880

Volume 15, 1880-1881
Volume 16, 1881-1882
Volume 17, 8 May 1882-11 May 1883
Volume 18, 1883-1884
Volume 19, 1884-1885
Volume 20, 8 June 1885-8 April 1886
Volume 21, 1886-1887
Volume 22, 1887-1888
Volume 23, 9 April 1888-12 April 1889
Volume 24, 15 April 1889-8 April 1890

Volume 25, 8 April 1890-29 September 1890
Volume 26, 6 October 1890-20 April 1891
Volume 27, 27 April 1891-26 October 1891
Volume 28, 2 November 1891-11 April 1892
Volume 29, 18 April 1892-10 October 1892
Volume 30, 17 October 1892-10 April 1893
Volume 31, 17 April 1893-16 November 1893
Volume 32, 20 November 1893-4 April 1894
Volume 33, 9 April 1894-24 September 1894
Volume 34, 1 October 1894-3 April 1895
Volume 35, 8 April 1895-September 1895
Volume 36, 7 October 1895-10 April 1896
Volume 37, 13 April 1896-27 July 1896
Volume 38, 14 September 1896-12 April 1897
Volume 39, 15 April 1897-15 November 1897
Volume 40, 22 November 1897-6 April 1898
Volume 41, 11 April 1898-14 November 1898
Volume 42, 21 November 1898-5 April 1899
Volume 43, 10 April 1899-18 September 1899
Volume 44, 25 September 1899-4 April 1900

Volume 45, 9 April 1900-24 September 1900
Volume 46, 1 October 1900-25 March 1901
Volume 47, 8 April 1901-4 November 1901
Volume 48, 11 November 1901-2 April 1902
Volume 49, 7 April 1902-20 October 1902
Volume 50, 10 November 1902-9 April 1903
Volume 51, 20 April 1903-28 September 1903
Volume 52, 5 October 1903-6 April 1904
Volume 53, 11 April 1904-17 October 1904
Volume 54, 24 October 1904-6 April 1905
Volume 55, 10 April 1905-20 November 1905
Volume 56, 27 November 1905-7 April 1906
Volume 57, 7 April 1906-15 October 1906
Volume 58, 22 October 1906-4 April 1907
Volume 61, 17 June 1908-November 1908
Volume 62, 7 December 1908-29 March 1909
Volume 63, 12 April 1909-29 November 1909
Volume 64, 6 December 1909-16 April 1910

Volume 65, 13 April 1910-28 November 1910
Volume 66, 10 December 1910-17 April 1911
Volume 67, 17 April 1911-27 November 1911
Volume 68, 4 December 1911-22 April 1912
Volume 69, 22 April 1912-22 July 1912*
Volume 70, 14 August 1912-30 December 1912*
Volume 71, 2 March 1913-31 March 1913
Volume 72, 28 April 1913-30 June 1913*
Volume 73, 3 July 1913-29 December 1913
Volume 74, 5 January 1914-27 April 1914
Volume 75, 27 April 1914-24 August 1914
Volume 76, 10 September 1914-December 1914
Volume 77, 2 January 1915-26 April 1915
Volume 78, 26 April 1915-July 1915
Volume 79, 4 October 1915-December 1915
Volume 80, 10 January 1916-26 April 1916
Volume 81, 26 April 1916-10 July 1916
Volume 82, August-December 1916
Volume 83, 11 January 1917-23 April 1917
Volume 84, 23 April 1917-29 October 1917
Volume 85, 5 November 1917-22 April 1918
Volume 86, 22 April 1918-22 July 1918
Volume 87, 5 August 1918-28 March 1919
Volume 88, 18 April 1919-24 November 1919
Volume 89, 1 December 1919-31 March 1920

Volume 90, 27 April 1920-24 November 1920*
Volume 91, 1 December 1920-11 April 1921*
Volume 92, 20 April 1921-30 November 1921*
Volume 93, 7 December 1921-12 April 1922
Volume 94, 19 April 1922-18 October 1922
Volume 95, 1 November 1922-5 April 1923*
Volume 96, 16 April 1923-23 November 1923
Volume 97, 12 December 1923-23 November 1923
Volume 98, 25 April 1924-31 October 1924
Volume 99, 12 November 1924-April 1925
Volume 100, 14 April 1925-September 1925
Volume 101, 28 October 1925-31 March 1926
Volume 102, 7 April 1926-15 September 1926
Volume 103, 3 November 1926-6 April 1927
Volume 104, 1927-1928
Volume 105, 18 April 1928-17 October 1928
Volume 106, 31 October 1928-30 March 1929
Volume 107, 5 April 1929-31 October 1929
Volume 108, 6 November 1929-31 March 1930

Volume 109, 9 April 1930-30 October 1930
Volume 110, 5 November 1930-18 March 1931
Volume 111, 9 April 1931-4 November 1931
Volume 112, 5 November 1931-23 March 1932
Volume 113, 14 April 1932-31 March 1933
Volume 114, 13 April 1933-28 November 1933
Volume 115, 6 December 1933-11 July 1934
Volume 116, 13 August 1934-27 March 1935
Volume 117, April 1935-January 1936
Volume 118, March 1936-November 1936
Volume 119, December 1936-May 1937
Volume 120, June 1937-December 1937
Volume 121, January 1938-May 1938
Volume 122, June 1938-4 January 1939
Volume 123, January-March 1939
Volume 124, April 1939-October 1939
Volume 125, November 1939-April 1940

Volume 126, April-October 1940
Volume 127, November 1940-April 1941
Volume 128, April 1941-November 1941
Volume 129, December 1941-June 1942
Volume 130, July 1942-March 1943
Volume 131, April 1943-January 1944
Volume 132, February 1944-December 1944
Volume 133, January 1945- June 1945
Volume 134, July 1945-December 1945
Volume 135, January 1946-May 1946
Volume 136, June 1946-December 1946
Volume 137, January 1947-March 1947
Volume 138, April 1947-July 1947
Volume 139, August 1947-December 1947
Volume 140, January 1948-June 1948
Volume 141, July 1948-December 1948
Volume 142, January 1949-June 1949
Volume 143, July 1949-December 1949

Volume 144, January 1950-June 1950
Volume 145, July 1950-November 1950
Volume 146, December 1950-March 1951
Volume 147, April 1951-September 1951
Volume 148, October 1951-March 1952
Volume 149, April 1952-September 1952
Volume 150, October 1952-March 1953
Volume 151, April 1952-September 1953
Volume 152, October 1953- March 1954
Volume 153, April 1954-November 1954
Volume 154, December 1954-March 1955
Volume 155, April 1955-September 1955
Volume 156, October 1955-March 1956
Volume 157, April 1956- September 1956
Volume 158, October 1956-March 1957
Volume 159, April 1957-October 1957
Volume 160, November 1957-March 1958
Volume 161, April 1958-October 1958
Volume 162, November 1958-9 December 1958
Volume 163, 22 December 1958-March 1959
Volume 164, April 1959-November 1959
Volume 165, December 1959-March 1960

Volume 166, April 1960-September 1960
Volume 167, October 1960-March 1961
Volume 168, April 1961-October 1961
Volume 169, October 1961-March 1962
Volume 170, April 1962-October 1962
Volume 171, November 1962-March 1963

Harold Henderson, "Chicago's City Council from the Civil War to the Cold War," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 19 November 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Friday, November 15, 2013

Locals and cosmopolitans in genealogy

Genealogists divide up in many ways: young and old, amateur and professional, those who know who Tom Jones and Elizabeth Shown Mills are and those who don't. Another, similar, lesser-known divide is the one separating locals and cosmopolitans.

These terms come out of 20th-century sociology. One classic source is available free on JSTOR, as long as you read sociologese: Alvin W. Gouldner, "Cosmopolitans and Locals: Toward an Analysis of Latent Social Roles," Administrative Science Quarterly 2 [December 1957]:281-306. Technically, these terms describe people's loyalties or behaviors that they and their fellows aren't necessarily fully aware of -- whether their main loyalties are to their localities (often where they grew up) or to a non-local set of standards or procedures. Gouldner was actually writing about 20th-century corporations, elaborating on the difference between "company men" and "experts." My personal take is that if you ask people whether they loved high school or couldn't wait to get out, those who loved it would mostly turn out to be locals and those who left ASAP would mostly be cosmopolitans.

Genealogy in many ways is based on microscopic local knowledge. Often it's critical to know what the local insane asylum was called in the 1870s, or all the different names a particular rural graveyard had. So localism in genealogy cannot be disparaged as ignorant provincialism the way it might be in physics or chemistry. And it's certainly not incompatible with high standards and wide knowledge.

In the long run and in the hard cases genealogy also requires a problem-solving orientation that cuts across many localities -- especially in the US where so many people moved so often. And since many of us ourselves move often, and didn't enjoy high school, genealogy also attracts people who are themselves inclined to be locals only on occasion and only by choice.

In my limited experience, local societies tend to be dominated by "locals" in this sense. This may only become obvious when the meeting's program consists of members sharing stories about their first day of school -- and almost everyone is of course talking about schools within a few miles of the society's meeting place. Also in my experience, locals may tend to have a skeptical attitude, verging on self-satisfaction, toward non-local expertise and non-local societies.

Do you find these concepts helpful? Do you have your own local/cosmopolitan stories? Or are you both?

Harold Henderson, "Locals and cosmopolitans in genealogy," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 15 November 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Good news for Wisconsin researchers!

The Wisconsin State Historical Society kindly takes us behind the curtain and lets us know that it's about halfway through digitizing its 8,000 Sanborn insurance maps, proceeding alphabetically. So this is especially good news if your town of interest is big enough and falls in the alphabet between Ableman (Sauk County, 1912) and Marshfield (Wood County, 1904). The rest of the alphabet should be done by next spring, and will be followed by digitizing the 800 insurance maps for Milwaukee, which present special problems. You can go direct to their free on-line map images too.

And if there's anyone reading this who never heard of Sanborn Fire Insurance maps, you are in for the treat of your genealogy life. Intended to record information relevant to the insurability of specific buildings and towns, for us they offer detailed enough information to build a replica of our ancestors'  late-19th- or early-20th-century home towns. (I used them a bunch when writing about my relatives in Wharton, Texas, a place where I have never set foot.)

Harold Henderson, "Good news for Wisconsin researchers!," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 12 November  2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Sunday, November 10, 2013

What to do with your family history

Yes, you're just writing it for your family, but your family is bigger than you think! Dr. James Ryan explains what to do over at The In-Depth Genealogist.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Unique. Pioneering. Exemplary. Did you know a future Hall of Famer?

The National Genealogical Society is looking for the 29th person to be inducted into the National Genealogy Hall of Fame, at its Richmond conference 7-10 May 2014. To be considered for this honor, the person must:

* be nominated by a genealogical society,

* have been active in genealogy for at least 10 years,

* have been deceased for at least 5 years, and

* have made "unique, pioneering, or exemplary" contributions to the field. Possible examples given by NGS (italics added by me) include having
  • authored books or articles that added significantly to the body of published works, and/or that serve as models of genealogical research and writing;
  • made genealogical source records more readily available to the public by preserving, transcribing, translating, abstracting, indexing, and/or publishing such records;
  • shared with others knowledge of genealogical research methods and sources through teaching and lecturing and/or publication of educational materials; and
  • contributed time, labor, and leadership to a genealogical organization or a genealogical periodical publication, thus enabling that organization or publication to make significant contributions to the field of genealogy in the United States.
The first member, elected in 1986, was the indefatigable Donald Lines Jacobus (above), who should need no introduction here; the most recent, elected in 2013, was Earl Gregg Swem, who among other things compiled the Virginia Genealogical Index.

For examples, see the names, pictures, and accomplishments of the 28 honorees to date. I was interested to learn that three Hall of Famers made their contributions from the Midwest: Michigan (Lucy Mary Kellogg 1899-1973), Illinois (Lowell M. Volkel 1936-1992), and Indiana (Willard Calvin Heiss 1921-1988).

Submissions are due January 31. See information on the nominating procedure, the call for nominations, and the nominating form.

Harold Henderson, "Unique. Pioneering. Exemplary. Did you know a future Hall of Famer?," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 9 November 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Friday, November 8, 2013

Just another day at the office . . .

What you can learn by spending a day on actual printed materials at the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center . . .

. . . there are worse things than surname-only indexes, but not many. (In another couple of generations "indexes" may be as little understood as cursive writing.)

. . . a genealogical periodical from Omaha is called "Remains To Be Found."

. . . the father-in-law of the son of a main character in a forthcoming article died of unnatural causes in 1835 in Canton, Fulton County, Illinois: a tornado drove a wagon-wheel spoke through his groin. This unexpected death information appeared in an abstract of an 1892 newspaper article.

. . . Walsh County, North Dakota, published four volumes of cemetery readings labeled as volumes 25, 26, 27, and 28.

. . . the charmingly titled book Forty Years of Funerals did not include the funeral I was looking for.

. . . the first case heard by the (traveling) Supreme Court in Greene County, Ohio, was the first-degree murder of an Indian (Billy George AKA Kenawa Tuckans) by two white men in 1804.

. . . when you're J. P. Morgan's son and you die in 1943, you get an obituary that names seven generations of ancestors. (OK, it was in the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, but still . . . )

Harold Henderson, "Just another day at the office . . .," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 8 November 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

But Grandma always said . . .

James Tanner recently posted a fascinating list of six signs that a genealogist has moved up from beginner status. He made me wonder why we talk a lot about "beginning genealogists," but not "beginning historians" or "beginning physicists."

One reason genealogy has such an enormous range is that it is inevitably two very different things: a personal quest based on personal memories and attitudes formed at a young age on one hand, and a demanding technique and profession on the other. The two blend and confront in many different ways, but each of us has a moment when our personal memories run head-on into original eyewitness documents that say otherwise. Beginners may reject documents that conflict with their personal impressions, often going into great intellectual contortions to do so; higher-level genealogists give the documents serious consideration, while recognizing that they too could be wrong.

This confrontation is the downfall of the popular notion of laissez-faire genealogy -- the idea that there are lots of ways to do genealogy and nothing is really wrong. There are lots of ways that work, but the denial of conflicting evidence is not one of them.

No one who dismisses documentary evidence out of hand in favor of "Grandma said..." can be taken seriously as a genealogist. Of course they may be wonderful people, and in any case we should always be polite, always be kind. But a genealogist has to be willing to weigh conflicting evidence -- to analyze and correlate and resolve contradictions. Sometimes Grandma wins, sometimes she doesn't. (Yes, even my own.)

Those who simply cling to family stories may know valuable facts that no one else does, but they aren't genealogists, any more than those who deny evolution are biologists.

Harold Henderson, "But Grandma always said...," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 6 November 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, November 4, 2013

Daily work for boys in southeast Ohio around 1820

One way to break a Dark Age deadlock is to find a literate and gossipy neighbor who wrote things down. Even better is to find one who had his or her reminiscences published. Best of all if it's someone that you're actually related to.

When you find such a treasure, don't stop at extracting the genealogical gold (like an overseas grandfather's date of death). In fact, if you have any people anywhere in eastern or southeastern Ohio in the early 1800s, you will enjoy William Cooper Howells's Recollections of Life in Ohio from 1813 to 1840. His son was the well-known literary man William Dean Howells (1837-1920), and Howells families (with a terrifyingly small set of given names) are tangled throughout the Midwest and right back to eighteenth-century Wales. The senior Howells's lucid and astringent recollections also provide a model of style and tone for those of us likely to fall into sentimentalism or other kinds of editorializing.

As young boys, William Cooper Howells and his brother Tom plowed difficult ground with a difficult horse and not much harness:

When the corn was small [Paddy the horse] would get out of the rows and trample the corn, and when it had grown to some size he would stop to eat it in spite of all the efforts we could make with loud hallooing on my part and vigorous thrashing on Tom's part. . . . We had no buckles to the harness, and with our little hands we could not tie a knot that would stand. It was the same when we hauled wood, which we mostly did by the process called "snaking." We would tie a chain around the end of a log, and thereby drag it on the ground. If the log was small, or there was snow, we got along pretty well; but if the load was heavy, we usually had a scene of balking and harness breaking trying to my patience and unpleasant to Tom if he rode. Paddy was a safe horse -- that is, he was small, and it did not hurt any one to fall from him, and if he didn't stay in his tracks he was always to be found where there was something to eat.
In the spring of 1821 his (unnamed) uncle Howells decided to move 80 miles to an unsettled area of Coshocton County, where he could only afford to lease land. With young William's help, they took along cattle, sheep, and pigs as well as household goods and tools.
The loading up of the wagons occupied nearly the whole day of starting, and it was late in the afternoon when we mustered the cattle, sheep and pigs in the rear of the wagons. . . . To start off with such a mixed drove of animals was no trifling affair, for, though they would drive pretty well after getting used to the road and a day or two's experience, their obstinacy and contrariety at first was without parallel, and a boy to each animal was little enough. First, a pig would dart back and run like a deer till he was headed and turned, by which time the others would meet him and all have to be driven up; while in the meantime a cow or two would be sailing down a by-lane with elevated head and tail, and a breathless boy circling through a field or the woods to intercept her career . . . . We worked along till night, when we put up, about seven miles from the starting point.
Plenty more where that came from . . .

William Cooper Howells, Recollections of Life in Ohio from 1813 to 1840 (Cincinnati: The Robert Clarke Company, 1895), 82-83, 87; digital images, Internet Archive ( : viewed October 2013).

Harold Henderson, "Daily work for boys in southeast Ohio around 1820," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 4 November 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Sunday, November 3, 2013

More good news for Ohio genealogy geeks

Chris Staats strikes again! and unearths a promising resource on Ohio legal history, which may be as complicated as its land history. Worldcat will tell you where copies exist, and the Newberry Library's Atlas of Historical County Boundaries will show the size of certain relevant territorial counties' jurisdictions.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Words of few syllables: elitism

No matter what I'm saying or doing, somebody somewhere knows more about it than I do. Having that fact pointed out may embarrass me, but it does not constitute elitism on the part of the person who pointed it out. It's just a fact, whether the subject is lawn care, genealogy, quantum physics, fashion, making a pie, lepidoptera, or muscle cars.

If I don't like the fact, in today's world I can readily find many ways to learn more. If I choose not to learn more, then I need to become comfortable with where I have chosen to stop.

Photo credit: loop_oh's photostream, Rupert Ganzer ( : viewed 29 October 2013), per Creative Commons

Harold Henderson, "Words of few syllables: elitism," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, post no. 1270, posted 1 November 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]