Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Good news for Ohio researchers: two lifetimes of newspapers!

These may not be news to you, but they're new to me and in a quick look I didn't find them in Michael Hait's compendium Online State Resources for Genealogy 3.0, nor on James Marks's The Ancestor Hunt:

Newspapers for Johnstown, Licking County, Ohio, have been digitized and are searchable 1884-1987. If you're close enough to wonder, Johnstown is in the northwest quarter of the county, near the Franklin and Delaware County line.

Likewise the Grove City Record in southwestern Franklin County, 1927-2011 with eight outliers in 1908.

Harold Henderson, "Good news for Ohio researchers," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 21 May 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, May 19, 2014

Methodology Monday with a golden oldie in Kentucky (NGSQ)

It just takes a while for people to "get" indirect evidence. I read and annotated and discussed "The Parents of Joseph Rhodes of Graves County, Kentucky" in the March 2009 NGS Quarterly five years ago. Most of my notes have to do with picking at the details, and I may have been looking for a full account of the family rather than a proof.

When I read it now I'm trying to figure out the logical skeleton of that proof. Tom Jones identifies four common logical skeletons in Mastering Genealogical Proof: single hypothesis, multiple hypotheses, building blocks, and "syllogisms" (AKA if-then statements). Basically the article follows the subject, Joseph Rhodes, forward from his first known record appearance in 1831. Then it follows an older 1831 neighbor, Benjamin Rhodes, forward from his revolutionary war service. There's direct evidence here involving his Benjamin's Edens in-laws, but in the end the author has sifted out eight shiny nuggets of indirect evidence that Benjamin was Joseph's father.

Each individual piece could be explained away; to explain away all eight would be a heroic task. Still, I know good genealogists who don't quite seem to believe in indirect evidence. It just seems fragile somehow -- although it would be much harder to forge, especially given the diversity of records involved in this case.

Reading the article now, I can't help but think the author had a hypothesis in mind for Benjamin as soon as it appeared he was nearby and the right age to be Joseph's father. But the article is presented  more in a building-blocks format, in which first Joseph's and then Benjamin's life stories are surveyed for evidence pro or con. The way the building blocks are constructed -- mostly following the two lives in chronological order -- may make it easier to grasp than other articles with the same skeleton.

Sarah R. Fleming, "Indirect Evidence for the Parents of Joseph Rhodes of Graves County, Kentucky," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 97 (March 2009): 5-15.

Harold Henderson, "Methodology Monday with a golden oldie in Kentucky (NGSQ)," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 19 May 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Friday, May 16, 2014

Illinois Civil War, Kalamazoo, Route 66, and more -- what's not to like?

Has anybody out there still not subscribed to the smart, knowledgeable, uncluttered weekly collection of links from the University of Wisconsin's Internet Scout Report?

If so, this would be a good week to take a look. It's almost as if Midwestern Microhistory had a secret agent there! Starting at the center of this blog's geographic interest and working out:

Digitized Civil War letters from Illinois (Northern Illinois University)

Photos from Kalamazoo College (Kalamazoo College)

Oral histories of Route 66 in Missouri (Missouri State University)

Central Pennsylvania landscape, landscape architecture, and architecture (Penn State University)

Old New Hampshire maps and atlases (University of New Hampshire)

Archive of Early American Images, 1600s-early 1800s (Brown University)

Even when we want to, it's not always easy for genealogists to find their way to the resources of academia. This outlet -- either as weekly newsletter or as web site -- is worth the time for that reason alone.

Harold Henderson, "Illinois Civil War, Kalamazoo, Route 66, and more -- what's not to like?," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 16 May 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Analyze This! Pattern Recognition in Genealogy

As budding (or not-so-budding) genealogists, we're taught to ask specific questions that will guide our search for evidence. But on our hopeful journey to a conclusion, we may find ourselves surrounded with data, and looking for a pattern in a sea of (say) seven dozen deeds.

Now, we pulled those deeds because they might be relevant (right county or close, relevant surnames or close, right century). But which ones will actually help and how is not always so obvious -- especially since difficult cases may have us hunting for a pattern that does not appear in any particular record by itself.

Of course it's essential to be immersed in the subject and the families. Beyond that I like the "kaleidoscope" approach. How many ways can I rearrange the data? Table? Spreadsheet sortable on all different fields? Timeline? Color-coded list for particular properties? Maps? Compared to the nearest census, or church membership book?

How do you ferret out patterns in your work?

Illustration from "Rabbit-Duck Illusion," Wikipedia ( : viewed 11 May 2014), citing "Kaninchen und Ente" ("Rabbit and Duck"), Fliegende Bl├Ątter, 23 October 1892.

Harold Henderson, "Analyze This! Pattern Recognition in Genealogy," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 15 May 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, May 12, 2014

Methodology Monday: Extending and Enriching the Story (NGSQ)

Not every genealogical question is, "Who were the parents?" In "Explaining the Sudden Disappearance of Mitch Evins of Georgia and Texas," William M. Litchman tackles the problem of a midlife disappearance. Finding where Evins went turned out not to be the hardest problem, thanks in part to one of those over-the-top census enumerators who listed county and state of birth.

In this case, the hard-core research came in finding court records that help characterize the family (not a laid-back bunch) and testing out the ongoing family story that Mitch's disappearance had to do with his Cherokee ancestry. In the end no source states outright why he took off, but the author gives the readers a much better (if less melodramatic) idea of what the factors may have been.

When we think of top-level genealogy publications, we don't usually think about problems of this kind -- but we should.

William M. Litchman, "Explaining the Sudden Disapearance of Mitch Evins of Georgia and Texas," National Genealogical Solciety Quarterly 102 (March 2014): 41-50.

Harold Henderson, "Methodology Monday: Extending and Enriching the Story (NGSQ)," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 12 May 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Surveyors and census takers run amok

(1) Ashtabula County, Ohio, isn't what you think. Yes, its land is divided into mostly rectangular townships, and they in turn are divided up into numbered most rectangular lots. But when the lots were divided by metes and bounds. (That's what you get when you cross the Connecticut Western Reserve with the Northwest Territory.)

But some of those metes and bounds may memorialize some lovely spring day when the surveying crew went fishing instead. After specifically describing three sides of the lot, the fourth side is to begin "so far south as to include fifty-five acres of land."

In other words, nobody knows exactly where that last property line is. Bad surveyor, no biscuit.

(2) We've all followed someone up the census decades, hoping desperately that they will make it to 1880 so as to product at least some sort of record of where their parents were born. Well, don't give up just because their grave marker says they died 3 January 1880 and the census date of record was 1 June 1880. Not only can any record be mistaken, sometimes the mistake is in our favor!

The census taker visited the Boggs household in New Brighton, Pennsylvania, and wrote down all the information for Margaret J. Boggs . . . and later put a line through it because she had died back in January. But the information, including her parent's alleged birth states, remains legible.

When in doubt, always prefer that wacky original to the fair copy.

Ashtabula County, Ohio, Deeds Z:271-2, Hiram & Sophia Boyd to Erastus Porter, 21 October 1839; Recorder, Jefferson.

1880 US Census, Beaver County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, New Brighton, ED 195, p. 291C, dwelling 24, family 28, James Boggs household for Margaret; digital image, ( : viewed 27 April 2014), citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 1097.

s griffith vandusen, Find A Grave memorial 54,029,186 created 23 June 2010 for Margaret J. Boggs 1831-1880, digital image of grave marker ( : viewed 29 April 2014), citing Grove Cemetery, New Brighton, Beaver County, Pennsylvania. Marker shows age at death 49 y 2 m, implying 3 November 1830 birth, contrary to memorial's statement. 

Harold Henderson, "Surveyors and census takers run amok," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 8 May 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, May 5, 2014

Methodology Monday: When Close Isn't Good Enough (NGSQ)

If your great-grandfather died 22 February 1922 at the age of 46 years, 7 months, and 23 days, how do you find out when he was born? Just plugging the numbers into your favorite date-calculating software may not be enough. Barbara Levergood's 25-page instructional article in the March National Genealogical Society Quarterly explains why, and much more.

His age at death may have been the result of a calculation, but we don't know what kind of calculation. "Such calculations are not primary information, may be incorrect, and may have been calculated using one of several methods," writes Levergood -- and different methods can produce different birth dates when we try to run the original calculation backwards.

It turns out that by taking up genealogy we didn't escape mathematics. Not all genealogical projects require us to determine every date to the day (and of course in any given case non-mathematical sources of error may overwhelm computation mistakes), but often proper technique can save a lot of trouble -- for instance,

  • when we need to establish a likely range of dates within which to search for a vital record, or 
  • when we need to distinguish spouses or children over several censuses, or 
  • when a brief biography gives an approximate initial date for one event and gives other events as happening "three years later," "about ten years after that," and so on -- and we want to know how large the reasonable date range may have become by the end!
Even if you outsource mathematics to a young whiz kid in the household, the article helps correct some of our casual habits of thought. "Common sense" may tells us that a 90-year-old man dying in 1870 was born in 1780, but as Levergood points out, even if the age and year of death are correct, the actual date range for his birth is nearly two years.

Members of the Association of Professional Genealogists will recognize this as a nice companion piece to Steve Morse's article on historical calendar changes in the March APG Quarterly. They're both keepers.

Barbara Levergood, "Calculating and Using Dates and Date Ranges," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 102 (March 2014): 51-75.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Perspectives from history: Shakespeare enthusiasts and naval life under sail

Sometimes we can benefit from stepping back from the daily grind.

Close reasoning about history belongs to other disciplines than genealogy. In a recent New Yorker (paywall or in any decent library) by the excellent Adam Gopnik, we learn of two long-running disputes about Shakespeare. See what you think. My take was that these people were not paying attention in the class where they were encouraged to try to disprove their own favorite hypothesis.

Sometimes we need a different kind of reminder -- about how different the past was. Good historical fiction can help us get a feel for that. My current recommendation would be a sampling (or more) of Patrick O'Brian's series of 20 novels of Napoleonic-era naval adventures, known as the Aubrey-Maturin series and listed in order on his Wikipedia page. Even as a non-aficionado of sailing, I was fascinated to see an entire tightly knit social world with highly developed expertise and hierarchical divisions of labor -- and of course now completely gone. Two hundred years ago might as well be two thousand. Maturin's medical practice alone should also cure readers of nostalgia for the "good old days."

Adam Gopnik, Life and Letters, “The Poet’s Hand,” The New Yorker, April 28, 2014, p. 40.

"Aubrey-Maturin Series," Wikipedia ( : viewed 1 May 2014).

Harold Henderson, "Perspectives from history: Shakespeare enthusiasts and life under sail," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted    2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]