We can't change the past. But we can have attitudes about it. And they can't be altogether concealed.
* Is a baby born out of wedlock "illegitimate"? That was the word in the not-too-distant past; now it's often frowned upon, in that it casts aspersions on an innocent party. But we have to label the situation somehow.
* It's certainly trouble, but is it "incest" if a 30something man has a baby with his wife's 17-year-old niece living in their household? By some present-day definitions, yes.
* When a white northern family moves to Texas in the 1880s, is it a reasonable part of the context to note their many connections with the same white racist officials who were busy disenfranchising black people at the time?
These are not hypothetical examples, and I'm sure you can add more. My preferred solution is to state the facts, without euphemism but without moralizing either, so that the reader knows the picture and can put her own label on it. (Elizabeth Shown Mills has often pointed out the importance of swallowing our 21st-century ideas and quoting precisely whatever racial designations were used in the 19th.) But that can be pretty tough to do sometimes, especially when readers want certain things forgotten or sanitized, or alternatively want a good round condemnation.
Harold Henderson, "Right and wrong in the past," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 31 July 2013 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]
Wednesday, July 31, 2013
We can't change the past. But we can have attitudes about it. And they can't be altogether concealed.
Posted by Harold Henderson at 12:30 AM
Monday, July 29, 2013
* Are you traveling from the east via I-90, I-80, or I-76, toward Fort Wayne for the FGS conference three weeks from now? Consider using US 30 west from Mansfield, Ohio, rather than the Ohio Turnpike. It's now built to near-interstate standards, has no tolls, less traffic, and less construction than the alternative. You could even plan a visit to the Ohio Genealogical Society's beautiful new library south of Mansfield off I-71 at Bellville.
* If you have a knotty problem or other genealogical question, it is not too late to sign up for a free 20-minute genealogy consultation at FGS. These will be scheduled between 3:30 and 6 pm Tuesday, August 20.
* If you're aiming to research at the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center before, during, or after the conference, check out my free PDF booklet on how to prepare and what to expect: Midwest Roots under "Finding Ancestors in Fort Wayne." As always, the more preparation, the better the research experience.
* If you can't attend this time, check out Cinamon Collins's great post over at (Mis)Adventures of a Genealogist, on how to stay at home.
(I am on the publicity committee for FGS 2013, but this is an unofficial post, because since when does conference PR include tips on how to stay home?)
Harold Henderson, "Tips for FGS week (August 20-24)," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 29 July 2013 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]
Friday, July 26, 2013
Some things I learned on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at GRIP:
* The official print listing of courses for 2014 is out.
* Tricks for finding multiple volumes of digitized publications (books or magazines): try a variant title, search on the original title plus "volume 2," or use Google to search for the title on Internet Archive.
* Your ancestor may have applied for a military pension even if he didn't qualify under the current law -- and he may have provided evidence for successful comrades from the same Revolutionary or War of 1812 unit.
* Researching the western 1/5 or so of New York requires attention to land companies' business records at least as much as land records themselves.
* In one classroom during off time, those interested can read some successful BCG portfolios, and some BCG judges' evaluations of both successful and unsuccessful portfolios (anonymous, not accompanied by the portfolios being judged).
* Don't you dare miss the DAR library, either on line or when you visit Washington DC.
* Happiness is being able to open your down window and have cool air pour in from outside . . . in July.
* The dormitory walls are not as thick as you may think.
Harold Henderson, "GRIP Days 2-4," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 26 July 2013 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]
Thursday, July 25, 2013
"Proving something in genealogy doesn't mean that we're really really,
really sure. It means that we can convince our fellow genealogists and
relatives that it is true."
How can we tell whether we're convincing? Ten questions to ask yourself in my article just published a Archives.com.
Harold Henderson, "Did I Prove It? Ten Questions To Ask Along the Way," Archives.com (http://www.archives.com/experts/henderson-harold/prove-genealogy.html : viewed 24 July 2013).
Harold Henderson, "Proving conclusions in genealogy," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 25 July 2013 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
When a grown man gives his mother three different names over more than half a century, you know you've got trouble. That evidence was the beginning of my article just published in the new June 2013 National Genealogical Society Quarterly.
When Jethro Potter died at the age of 94 in Ohio in 1963, he reportedly had more than two dozen grandchildren. But his parentage was cloaked in mystery and possibly deception. The article identifies his parents by tracing a plausible mother's life forward, a lengthy process that eventually led to five key documents, all of them created decades after Jethro's birth, and only one directly naming the parents. In the course of the research eight Alberson half-siblings and two McCroskey half-siblings were identified.
This all-Midwestern story has many colorful subplots and stories, most of which were not relevant to establishing the genealogical framework. The scene shifted among multiple counties in four states: Ohio (Darke, Portage), Indiana (Randolph, Wells, Jay, Marshall, Starke), Illinois (La Salle, Livingston), and Michigan (Muskegon).
As for records, I did not find or use anything exotic. In the end the 66 footnotes contained standard genealogical fare: census, vital, Social Security, military, court, newspaper, probate, property, cemetery, and funeral home. Many records contained mistakes and omissions requiring the records to be analyzed and correlated and corrected.
This article grew out of two client reports that first grew into a case study for BCG certification. (It is much more condensed and focused than the case study.) Those who are working on credentialing of any sort should keep NGSQ and similar publications in mind if you want your work to last, and especially if you want it to get a really thorough going-over!
Harold Henderson, "Jethro Potter's Secret: Confusion to Conclusion in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 101 (June 2013):103-112.
Harold Henderson, "Jethro Potter's secret in NGSQ," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 24 July 2013 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Things I learned on the first day of GRIP 2013:
If I sit in the alcoves on the side of the main dining room, I can hear what other people at the table are saying!
Somebody needs to write the book on advanced correlation and use of tax records.
Trying to organize a carload of genealogists to go shopping or to a library gets real complicated real fast.
When in the archives, avoid announcing yourself as a genealogist. Ask for particular records, don't get steered to the ordinary fare.
When evaluating compiled genealogies, read more than your target family and try to reverse-engineer the likely sources for particular items in the text.
The Church History Library in Salt Lake City includes much information about non-LDS churches in the 1820-1870 era.
Harold Henderson, "GRIP Day 1," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 23 July 2013 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]
Monday, July 22, 2013
Arriving and settling in at a new location is always the hardest time of a conference or institute for me. Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh co-directors Elissa Powell and Deb Deal did a good job of arranging things so that this transitional period was as painless as possible. LaRoche College looks like a pleasant environment for study (and its climate is more suited to late-afternoon walks than Birmingham in June or Salt Lake City in January!).
Even before the 2013 courses open at 8:15 am Monday morning, the big news from Sunday evening's welcome is the slate of six courses to be offered next year (21-25 July 2014). [Please note that the following is from my notes scribbled at the dinner table and is subject to correction; I expect that reliable official information will appear on the GRIP web site.] Two of this year's courses will repeat (the names are coordinators, who will be assisted by other faculty):
Thomas W. Jones on Determining Kinship Reliably through the Genealogical Proof Standard
Paula Stuart-Warren on Intermediate Genealogy: Tools for Digging Deeper
Four new courses will be offered:
D. Joshua Taylor on Mastering the Internet (Databases and Repositories)
Judy Russell on Genealogy and the Law
J. Mark Lowe and Deborah Abbott on African-American Genealogy
Debbie Parker Wayne on Practical DNA
Four 2013 offerings will not reappear next year: Taylor on the 1780-1840 gap, Craig R. Scott on military records, John P. Colletta on telling immigrants' stories, and Rick and Pam Sayre on advanced land research. Those who postponed attending these courses will have to hope that they will appear elsewhere or elsewhen.
Bottom line: if any of the six 2014 offerings appeals to you, be sure to enroll in it in 2014 while you have the chance!
Harold Henderson, "GRIP Day 0 -- 2013 courses about to begin, 2014 courses announced," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 22 July 2013 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]
Friday, July 19, 2013
One way to increase your writing output without adding a large amount of work time is to recast the underlying material into a different form. It occurred to me that -- in addition to news about the community (who got credentialed, which genealogy business has bought another), there are basically three kinds of genealogy writing:
(1) technical -- proving identities, relationships, and lineages. Usually this kind stands alone only when it's an especially difficult problem, or in a client report. But it is the foundation for everything else. Examples are in every issue of NGSQ, NYGBR, NEHGR, TAG, and The Genealogist. Each one may contain fragments of stories (#2 below), but they are only present insofar as they provide evidence to construct the proof.
(2) stories -- telling the life stories of ancestors and lineages. This is the stuff all genealogists and many non-genealogists crave, often even when the stories are terrible and sad. Without #1, the stories may get distorted or attached to the wrong people, but this is the payoff.
(3) instructional -- explaining how to accomplish #1 and #2. This is the meat of most popular genealogy magazines (the ones whose titles always start with a number), professional publications (like the APG Quarterly), many blogs (such as Kimberly Powell's at About.com, or Archives.com's expert series), and much of the traffic on genealogy mailing lists and social media discussions. Technology tips fit here too. (Theoretical articles, of which genealogy has few so far, are at the high end of this range.)
Of course all of these are far more valuable when they cite their sources.
Here's the point. Each family or part of a family provides material for all three kinds of writing. Years ago I found my Gedney ancestors on a New Orleans ship list from the 1840s, where their surname had been written "Kidney." That was a humble kind of technical finding (#1), and of course could play a part in an instructional article or talk (#3). But there are hints of stories there as well (#2): my recently wed great-great grandparents, William Flint and Mary Gedney, were on that cramped boat for two months with their extended family, and it seemed likely that her father bankrolled the emigration. Then again, I could tell those stories better if I did just a little more research . . .
Harold Henderson, “From England to St. Clair Via New Orleans: William and Mary Gedney Flint,” St. Clair County (Illinois) Genealogical Society Quarterly 26, no. 3 (2003):141-44.
Harold Henderson, "Recycle your writing!," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 19 July 2013 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Last week at a local antique store I picked up a copy of issue no. 263 of The Pocket List of Railroad Officials, a book that, among other things, provides a nationwide alphabetical index of more than 20,000 railroad officials (management, NOT rank and file employees -- roughly down to local freight agents, traffic managers, and track superintendents), as of approximately the last week of July 1960.
The book includes a listing of more than 500 advertisers, companies that supplied the railroads, listed alphabetically with mid-level sales officials, such as agents of Caterpillar Tractor Co. in Waco, Joplin, Colusa, Aberdeen, and other locations.
I have not found this 1000-page booklet in libraries or on line. I've listed it at Midwest Roots among my other on-line lookups.
The Pocket List of Railroad Officials no. 263, Third Quarter 1960 (New York: The Railway Equipment and Publication Co., 1960).
Harold Henderson, "1960 railroad resource (new lookup)," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 17 July 2013 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]
Monday, July 15, 2013
There are three kinds of genealogists: those who are good at math, and those who aren't.
Seriously, some days I do think there might be two kinds. I define them this way. Suppose you're in a group of genealogists, and someone suggests that members of the group might need to learn something, or attend an institute or national conference, or test themselves against a standard of some kind. What is the immediate response (overt or otherwise)?
Type 1: "I've been researching for 20 (or 30, or 40) years and I think I'm pretty good. All my friends say so. Anyway, I don't have time. I feel insulted that you would suggest doing X; it makes me want to quit this group."
Type 2: "Where can I get me some of that?"
I would like to be Type 2 always. But I am more likely to sound like a Type 1 when I'm asked to learn Russian, or Bayesian probability, or advanced DNA analysis.
I'm pretty sure of three other things:
* Type 1 responders may in fact be competent genealogists.
* But they don't actually know whether they are or not.
* The more often I find myself responding as Type 1 rather than Type 2, the closer I am to being done with genealogy, if not life itself.
Harold Henderson, "Type 1 and Type 2 genealogists," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 15 June 2013 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]
Posted by Harold Henderson at 12:30 AM
Friday, July 12, 2013
Two recent articles open up records and publications with a lot to say about the practice of medicine and the treatment of orphans in the late1800s and early 1900s in the Midwest.
Writer and editor Greta Nettleton was bequeathed four trunks full of long-stored family memorabilia, which among other things revealed the career of "Mrs. Dr. Rebecca J. Keck" (1838-1904) of Davenport, Iowa. "She may have been one of the most prominent self-made female entrepreneurs in the Midwest," writes Nettleton in the current issue of American Ancestors: New England, New York, and Beyond from the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Keck was the object of legal and personal attack by orthodox medical practitioners in both Illinois and Iowa (but bear in mind that mainstream 19th-century medicine was itself little better than witchcraft). Evidently a book is in the works. I hope it will get into more detail about her business and medical views as well as the official doctors' views, and her therapies as viewed today.
Megan Birk, Purdue graduate and historian at the University of Texas-Pan American, has an article in the current issue of the Indiana Magazine of History. She gives a fascinating account of a forgotten champion of institutional care of orphans and neglected children, Lyman P. Alden of the Michigan State Public School in Coldwater and later the Rose Orphan Home in Terre Haute, Indiana. Alden's contention that good institutional care is better than placement in just any home, a view that has long gone out of fashion -- indeed, many of the histories of orphans and orphanages were written by advocates of home placement. Again, a book on "the rural placement in the Midwest" is in the works.
The article refers to work on other Indiana orphanages, but not the Indianapolis Orphan Asylum, for which records are readily available at the Indiana Historical Society, as well as a master's thesis from the 1940s and my article in The Hoosier Genealogist: Connections in 2011.
The asylum does not seem to fit the expected pattern, as the women in charge fostered and supervised placement in homes even though the institution's revenue largely came from per capita payments from public authorities. I haven't seen the Rose records at the state archives (names indexed on line by the Indiana Genealogical Society) but the IOA records contain information at the individual level that could be used to determine the institutions' actual policies about placement, as contrasted to they said they were doing.
Greta S. Nettleton, "Researching Mrs. Dr. Keck and Her Daughter Cora," American Ancestors vol. 14, no. 2 (Spring 2013):30-34, 41.
Megan Birk, "Lyman P. Alden: Setting an Institutional Example," Indiana Magazine of History vol. 109, no. 2 (June 2013):89-113.
Harold Henderson, "Early Midwestern Orphanage: The Indianapolis Orphans Asylum, 1851-1941, A Way Station on the Winding Road of Life," The Hoosier Genealogist: Connections vol. 51, no. 1 (Spring/Summer 2011): 6-17.
Harold Henderson, "A quack? in Davenport and a leading orphanage in Terre Haute," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 12 July 2013 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Hamlin Garland is not now a household word, if he ever was, and his late-Victorian writing style hasn't helped. But those seeking a realistic portrait of pioneering in the upper Midwest (Wisconsin, Iowa, South Dakota) will enjoy reading A Son of the Middle Border. He spent his boyhood, youth, and young manhood pioneering and ended in 1893 telling his father Richard,
Father, you've been chasing a will-o'-the-wisp. For fifty years you've been moving westward, and always you have gone from certainty to uncertainty, from a comfortable home to a shanty. For thirty years you've carried mother on a ceaseless journey -- to what end? Here you are - snowbound on a treeless plain with mother old and crippled.... You must take the back trail.This message may be unwelcome to many 21st-century genealogists, as it was to the old Civil War veteran. But it's closer to real life than the sentimental sketches in the mug books being published around the same time.
Hamlin Garland was a man of his time. He maintained, and probably believed, the fiction that the Indians just "melted away" before white settlement. His critique of pioneering had nothing to do with the immorality of white people's stealing Indian land; it had to do with the resultant quality of life for the white people themselves.
A completely different approach to a similar subject is a recent working paper by economists on the results of the 1832 Cherokee land lottery, in which land recently "acquired" from Indians was offered at random to white settlers. The economists compared those who received the windfall with those who did not, using 1850 census data, and found that most of the benefits accrued, not to the poorest, but to middling and wealthy.
History is rarely what we expect; no wonder the future is so surprising.Almost two decades after the lottery, winners were, on average, $700 richer than a comparable population that did not win the lottery. The gains in wealth, however, are not evenly distributed among the lottery winners. Indeed, the poorest third of lottery winners were essentially as poor as the poorest third of lottery losers.
Hamlin Garland, A Son of the Middle Border (New York: Macmillan, 1917).
Hoyt Bleakley and Joseph Ferrie, "Up from Poverty? The 1832 Cherokee Land Lottery and the Long-run Distribution of Wealth," National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper, 21 June 2013 version (http://home.uchicago.edu/~bleakley/Bleakley_Ferrie_Up.pdf : viewed 5 July 2013).
Harold Henderson, "History -- not quite what we thought," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 10 July 2013 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]
Monday, July 8, 2013
The oldest (and for me the most useful) social media I participate in are simply discussion email lists with a genealogy focus. I moderate one (lightly and rarely) and I participate in another which is members-only. I find them both useful but not everyone does. They have remained informal, cooperative, and non-corporate. They have played a major part in my genealogical "upbringing" and I would be happier if they were better understood.
Two recent episodes, it doesn't much matter what list they occurred on:
(Episode #1) A vigorous discussion developed about a particular proposal to apply mathematical and programming techniques to genealogical research and proof. Some of it was too technical for me, some of it was philosophical (OK by me), some of it was basic genealogy: exactly what it is we do when we research and evaluate sources, information, and evidence. [If these terms are news to you, visit Evidence Explained or one of the ongoing groups tackling Thomas W. Jones's Mastering Genealogical Proof.]
Some folks objected to this discussion because they were relative newbies and didn't understand all of it. The point was made that all of us are newbies to some part of genealogy, and all of us have more to learn. A few people left the list because the discussion continued and was not banned.
(Episode #2) A vigorous discussion developed about a large genealogy corporation changing its search function. Some genealogists objected vigorously on the grounds that they were used to the old one; some on the grounds that the new one didn't work right. Others replied that the new one works fine once you learn it, and was in fact an improvement. They offered instructional links that had been available for a while. A few proposed specific problems they had encountered, and these were discussed. A few more defended the large corporation.
Another group, not visible on that list but visible to me since I also frequent Facebook, made oblique comments, not naming the list, about how pleased they were to have quit the list because they didn't like the ongoing discussion. The comparison was also made to a meeting, where the chair normally will end discussion that has run its course and (in the opinion of the chair) become repetitive -- apparently implying that the list could or should be run that way.
My takeaway from these two transitory episodes? Many of us have no concept of what a mailing list is and does.
In Episode #1, some people felt that the list should be like a class that was personalized to their needs of the moment, excluding all else. In Episode #2, an entirely different group had a similar feeling. They felt that it was like a meeting where discussion is devoted to reaching a decision by vote and action by the overlying organization. Both objecting groups seemed to be relying on the premise -- which I would not care to defend -- that a bright line can easily be drawn between beginners and more advanced genealogists, or between just enough discussion and too much.
But of course there is no organization; there is no class. A list is a bunch of people drawn together by an interest in advancing their knowledge of genealogy and fellow genealogists -- and who likely get very different things out of it, whether lurking or participating.
In some exchanges I act more like an instructor, in others more like a refractory and backward pupil, but neither analogy is quite right. Sometimes we share knowledge; sometimes we share ignorance. Some exchanges I delete without reading. Some of us pick up on new ideas faster than others; some of us like to argue and discuss more than others. Some of us are more interested in genealogy education than others; some of us are just fascinated by the ways different people approach this subject. Sometimes we get fascinated with trivia.
As long as the discussion doesn't become abusive -- and neither of these episodes came within a country mile of that -- it all comes with the territory. This territory has boundaries, but they are broader than usual, and often we define them for ourselves by selective departure -- using the delete key without anyone being the wiser.
Harold Henderson, "What is an email list?," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 8 July 2013 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]
Friday, July 5, 2013
Continuing our holiday observance of free, here are five indexes and four finding aids available in full for your consultation at Midwestroots.net:
1857 Porter County, Indiana, Assessor's Book (all townships)
1902-1933 Indiana small city directories on microfilm; where to find specific cities and years on 5 otherwise unlabeled films, Adams County to Winchester.
List of Indiana newspapers available at the Mishawaka Heritage Center.
Finding Ancestors in Fort Wayne: The Genealogist's Unofficial One-Stop Guide to the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center
1902-1933 Illinois small city directories on microfilm: where to find specific cities and years on 12 otherwise unlabeled films, Addison to Winfield.
1902-1935 Michigan small city directories on microfilm: where to find specific cities and years on 7 otherwise unlabeled films, Allegan to Sturgis.
List of Midwestern city directories available on microfilm at the Valparaiso Public Library.
Estate Papers 1807-1930, Box 2, Allegany County, New York, indexed by name and initial image number as found in the FamilySearch collection, “New York, Probate Records, 1629-1972.” These would be deaths in the 1830s and 1840s.
FHL microfilms already in the Midwest, including a listing by number of those held at the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center.
Harold Henderson, "Nine indexes and finding aids on the web site," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 5 July 2013 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]
Wednesday, July 3, 2013
It's a famous midsummer holiday, and what better to celebrate than free? Midwestroots.net now offers free lookups in 16 resources (actual indexes and finding aids in the next post).
1830s La Porte County court records every-name index
1830-1855, 1886-1906 St. Joseph County marriage index
1910 DePauw University Alumnal Record
1971, 1986, 1987, 1990 La Porte directories
1975 Indiana Place Names
Pre-1979 Genealogy Articles in the Indiana Magazine of History
1986 Manuscript Collections in Indiana Historical Society and Indiana State Library
1931 Chicago Tilden Tech yearbook
2009 Illinois Place Names
1986 Michigan Place Names
1804-1823 Western New York Land Transactions
1949 Gulf Coast pilot's guide, Key West to Rio Grande
1949-1950 Southern Baptist Theological Seminary directories
1834-1850 Obituary Abstracts from the Western Christian Advocate
1870-1898 Flint-Thrall letters (southern Illinois)
1976 Thrall genealogy
Please do not abuse this offer. If you use any of these regularly and it is purchasable, support the author and publisher and buy your own.
Harold Henderson, "Sixteen lookups on the web site," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 3 July 2013 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]
Monday, July 1, 2013
I'm fond of Licking County, Ohio, not only because of its unique name, but because I have many ancestors and relatives there. It is one of Ohio's burned counties, having suffered a courthouse fire in 1875.
Fortunately, the property records survived intact. Court and marriage and probate records, not so much. But there are substitutes. One potential substitute is partition records -- court records of those cases where heirs agree on (or dispute) the partition or sale of land they inherited jointly. Sometimes these records include cute little maps of the divided-up property; very often they list all the heirs.
The situation in Licking County is complex and somewhat obscure, and you may find similar tangled webs in your burned county of choice. The county's partition records escaped the fire, and in fact have been not just microfilmed but recently digitized by FamilySearch in the "Ohio Probate Records 1789-1996" collection, totaling 7 million images. Like many such collections, there is no volunteer-created index (yet), and the digitized the in-book indexes fail the Mills Index Test: they do not cover all the cases in their own books.
Meanwhile, at some point the Licking County Clerk had the original partition records retyped, surely a huge job (and judging from the falling-apart character of the microfilmed originals, necessary). Apparently about this same time the clerk created an every-name index to these partition cases, including maiden and married names for the women. It occupies three heavy volumes now slumbering in the courthouse basement in Newark. (I almost missed them but the kind and helpful clerks found them.)
Fortunately, the original handwritten partition records were microfilmed. Unfortunately, the every-name indexes were not. That's a resource that court researchers would commit serious mayhem to have in THEIR county.
So while the partitions themselves are on line in their original form via FamilySearch, there is no decent index to them UNLESS you go to Newark on a weekday and ask at the clerk's office for the index books to be brought up from the basement so that you can tell which record book you need. (FYI the indexes do not give dates, but I can tell you that Partition Book C covers 1844-1851, E 1861-1865, and G 1869-1873.) This is the best substitute for the burned probates that I have seen yet -- provided that your family had real estate to partition!
Licking County does have its own Records and Archives Department. Its lists of old records and their whereabouts were indispensable in this quest, and then I learned about their new online catalog, still a work in progress. Their knowledge was also indispensable when I needed to consult mortgage indexes and mortgage books from before 1892 (the earliest index available in the recorder's office). They located the earlier indexes (still in the inventorying process) and the two actual mortgage volumes I needed, on short notice.
Apparently these are an extremely underused resource. I was happy to be (apparently) the first person to ask for them in decades, but hopefully others will follow much sooner. They add a dimension, especially in cases where the trail of deeds grows cold.
Photo credit: Licking County Courthouse, banukab's photostream, IMG 7587, flickr.com, per Creative Commons
Harold Henderson, "Not everything burned -- partitions and mortgages in Licking County, Ohio," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 1 July 2013 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]