Monday, September 29, 2014

Two kinds of genealogists and the question that sorts them out

You're researching Thralls, and someone posts this image on line. What's your first thought?

(a) Thank the poster for breaking down your brick wall.

(b) Enter the information into your genealogy database.

(c) Message ten friends about this breakthrough.

(d) Ask "Where did that come from? How do they know?"

Options a, b, or c = Type 1 Genealogists

Option d = Type 2 Genealogists (For details, check out the first section of Evidence Explained.)

One goal of genealogy education, from which most everything else follows: to encourage Type 1 folks to recognize that (d) is a possibility, and to choose it more often.

Harold Henderson, "Two kinds of genealogists and the question that sorts them out," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 29 September 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Methodology Thursday: working with derivative sources

We can't say it often enough: if we have only an index entry or an abstract of a record, we need to find the original record, because the index or abstract may contain mistakes and it is likely to have left out some pieces of information that were in the original. Genealogists who take the easy way out and rely on indexes or abstracts are not only failing to meet standards but also may be creating their own brick walls.

The other day I was busy wallowing in derivative sources and realized that there are more dimensions to this question. I was trying to identify a J. W. Smith family living in Joplin Township, Jasper County, Missouri, in 1880, and had little luck backtracking them in previous censuses. Eventually I came across's database, "Jasper County, Missouri Deaths 1878-1905." 

My search for "J. W. Smith" (exact, in this database produced a remarkable result: 

Name: Mrs. J. W. @ Smith
Age or Birthdate: abt 78
Death Date: 14 Jun 1908

I was pleased to see that this person was about the age I was hoping to find. As a result, I didn't spot the oddity about this entry right away, but you probably did! When I did notice it, I looked to Ancestry's explanation of the source for this database. Ancestry says it came from two compilations by Kenneth E. Weant of newspaper death notices in the county, one volume 1878-1899, and another 1899-1905.

Obviously this information did not come from where Ancestry said it did. (I will say right now that I have long criticized Ancestry's shoddy quality control and will continue to do so, even though in some cases poorly cited and  poorly organized online data are better than nothing. But this post is not about Ancestry's lack of commitment to genealogical excellence, except as to the additional research skills it requires of us.)

Fortunately I was working at the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center, and I was quickly able to locate the volumes Ancestry had drawn on. In addition to the two the on-line giant named, there is a third: Kenneth E. Weant, Jasper County, Missouri, 6957 Deaths Reported in & Chronological Index to Selected Articles from The Joplin Daily News Herald 1 January 1906 to 31 December 1910 (N.p.: privately printed, 2002). Mrs. J. W. Smith appears on pages 100 and 294 of this book.

One mystery down. But you may well wonder why Mrs. J. W. Smith, with such meager information, appears twice in the book. The answer is that not all derivative sources are created equal. When Ancestry turned the book into an on-line database, it chose to omit a good deal of information that Mr. Weant had collected.

Mr. Weant also tells us that either Mrs. J. W. Smith or (more likely) her husband was a military veteran. (That's what the @ sign signified, as explained in the book but not in the online database.) In addition, Mr. Weant gives the date of newspaper publication and list of the specific newspaper microfilms he consulted and where to order them from. He also includes for most people a de facto partial abstract of relationships mentioned in the obituary: Mrs. J. W. Smith was named as the mother of Mrs. J. W. Cole and sister of Mrs. Mary Keane. 

For my purposes that day, this was enough to tell me that Mrs. J. W. @ Smith was not likely of interest to my research. But if I were to seek out the original record(s) here, in particular the published obituary, it would be a lot easier to do by going back systematically from Ancestry's data entry to its (unmentioned) source, because that source (Mr. Weant's third volume) is one step closer to the original and contains a lot more information than Ancestry troubled itself to reproduce -- just as the original obituary may contain its quota of useful information that Mr. Weant left out. 

Harold Henderson, "Methodology Thursday: working with derivative sources," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 25 September 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

New online death records and indexes

Joe Beine has additional death records and indexes posted. For our five-state Midwestern focus, they are:

Illinois: Boone and Cook counties

Michigan: Ottawa County

Ohio: Cleveland

Harold Henderson, "New online death records and indexes," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 23 September 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, September 22, 2014

Middle West Review!

A tip of the hat to Paula Stuart-Warren for alerting us to a new twice-yearly journal from the University of Nebraska Press. The editors and editorial board (slightly different lists) are all academics but seem open to "nonscholars" as well. Here's their opening elevator pitch:
"The Middle West Review is an interdisciplinary journal about the American Midwest and the only publication dedicated exclusively to the study of the Midwest as a region. It provides a forum for scholars and nonscholars alike to explore the contested meanings of midwestern identity, history, geography, society, culture, and politics. What states belong within the Midwest? Is the Midwest inherently rural? Are Chicago and Pacific Junction, Iowa, part of the same region? If so, what links them? What traditions or features define the Midwest? Does the Midwest have a particular economic identity? Is the Midwest 'queer'? How does the Midwest’s racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity square with its popular perception as a homogenous space? Is the Midwest 'distinctive'? If so, why do Americans often conceive of it as a 'normative' site, one divorced from the historical intrigue and conflict of the South and the West?"
The last link above is both blog and website. The table of contents for the Fall 2014 issue is here.

Whether you choose to spend $40 for two issues a year or not, be sure to check out the working bibliography of recent "Midwestern Histories and Studies" from editor-in-chief Paul Mokrzycki  -- 39 so far (all but one published in the last 25 years), including two of my all-time favorites, William Cronon's Nature's Metropolis and Richard White's The Middle Ground -- and several more that I need to become acquainted with!

Compared to other regions, this is not a big bookshelf.

Harold Henderson, "Middle West Review!," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 22 September 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Genealogy for non-relatives

When people ask me about blogging, one point I make is that it helps to be dependable. If you can post every day fine, but if not try to be there once a week. Otherwise your reader(s) will lose touch. It's standard advice. 

But every rule has its exceptions. If you can blog as engagingly as Cynthia at ChicagoGenealogy, then I don't care. "RunKeeper to the Rescue: How I Found Mr. Janes' Grave" is her second post since April and I'm just fine with that. It's got everything: A cemetery, a story, a song, a research travelogue, technology, a town called "Onarga," and a recognition that we are related to people with whom we share no discernible blood tie.

Harold Henderson, "Genealogy for non-relatives," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 18 September 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Virtual Institute -- a new and hopefully vigorous hybrid

The excuses for not continuing genealogy education are steadily dwindling.

Another excuse winked out last week, when three friends and colleagues announced the Virtual Institute of Genealogical Research. The Virtual Institute will offer a series of short courses on-line in webinar format: four lectures of 90 minutes each, plus copies of the video and some exercises, all for about $70 per course. The format is two lectures on each of two consecutive Saturdays. Cofounders Michael Hait, Melanie Holtz, and Catherine Desmarais are all board-certified genealogists.

Compared to a standard webinar, a Virtual Institute course takes much longer and can go much deeper, and it will be limited to 100 students each. Compared to a standard institute course of 30 that lasts five days, a Virtual Institute course is much larger and much shorter -- and also much less expensive in money (no travel, no lodging) and in time (no week-long absence).

What The Virtual Institute cannot offer is the camaraderie and personal contact of a regular institute. But it has a corresponding asset the regular institutes can't match: much greater flexibility in offering specialized courses at all levels. (Traditional institutes were notoriously slow in recognizing the need for courses in DNA.) The first five planned courses illustrate the point: proof arguments (Michael Hait, CG), agricultural records (Mark Lowe, CG), family photographs (Maureen Taylor), Irish research strategies (Donna Moughty), and autosomal DNA (Blaine Bettinger).

For those of us who want to learn and can't get out, The Virtual Institute will be the place to "go." It will add significantly to the many ways that genealogists can learn from the best.

*Note 22 September 2014: VIGR has been rechristened "The Virtual Institute" and this post has been revised to reflect that change.*

Harold Henderson, "The Virtual Institute -- a new and hopefully vigorous hybrid," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 15 September 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Harold Henderson, "VIGR -- a new and hopefully vigorous hybrid," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 15 September 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Top three posts since March

By definition, if you're reading this post, those listed below are probably familiar. But in case you're an outlier, the three most popular posts on this blog in the last six months:

(1) "Cleanup in Aisles 1-1000"  (10 April). This one was controversial, too!

(2) "What I would have liked to know as a newbie" (19 June).YMMV but I'm sure you know the feeling.

(3) "Methodology Monday with Elizabeth Shown Mills, the FAN Club, and DNA" (3 August). Part of my ongoing series to showcase some of the best work being done in genealogy. Includes a list of NGSQ articles using various forms of DNA.

Harold Henderson, "Top three MWM posts since March," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 11 September 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, September 8, 2014

Methodology Monday backtracking Jacob Wynkoop (NGSQ)

Jacob Wynkoop died in Morgan County, Ohio, in 1842, placing his entire life in what I call the "Dark Ages" of US genealogy, before the first every-name census was taken in 1850. In the June 2014 issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Stephen B. Hatton traces the Wynkoop family back by studying their associates (and in one case the associates' associates), the Sears, Power, McNabb, Brabham, and Combs families.

These five families lived near one another, intermarried, went to court, sometimes bought land -- and, most importantly, produced more records than the Wynkoops did! Clues from both Ohio and Virginia show that they all went back to Loudoun County, Virginia.

The importance of this sizeable pile of evidence becomes even clearer near the end of the article, when the author reveals a much smaller pile of direct evidence about Jacob's family, and shows how the pieces fit together. See the article itself for details (the quarterly is a benefit of membership in the National Genealogical Society and is available in good genealogy library collections).

Many of us would have put the direct evidence up front, but I think Hatton is on to something in this case by playing his strongest cards -- indirect evidence from friends, associates, and neighbors -- first. Check it out and see what you think!

Stephen B. Hatton, "Using Networks to Backtrack the Migration and Identify the Parents of Jacob Wynkoop of Morgan County, Ohio," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 102 (June 2014): 111-27.

Harold Henderson, "Methodology Monday backtracking Jacob Wynkoop (NGSQ)," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 8 September 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Friday, September 5, 2014

Autumn 2014 presentations! Bloomington, Kalamazoo, Terre Haute, Indianapolis

All four of my presentations this fall are in the Eastern time zone, even though I myself am in Central. Check your calendar and join in the fun if you get the chance!

Wednesday 15 October, 3 pm -- "Why We Don't Write and How We Can," Monroe County Public Library, 303 E. Kirkwood, Bloomington, Indiana (advance registration required before 5 pm 8 October: Plus a second hour of discussion and examples.

Short version: If we don't write, we won't need to wonder what will happen to our genealogy stuff when we're gone. New.

Monday 20 October, 7 pm -- "Probate Will Not Be the Death of You," Kalamazoo Valley Genealogical Society, Portage District Library, 300 Library Lane, Portage, Michigan. (I spoke on property records here last spring: these people ask good questions!)

Short version: Everybody dies. Most have probates. Few make wills. Good genealogists will not stop with wills. Previously given at 2013 Indiana Genealogical Society conference in Bloomington.

Monday 10 November, 6:30 pm -- "A Case Study: Are We There Yet?" Wabash Valley Genealogical Society, Vigo County Public Library, One Library Square, Terre Haute, Indiana.

Short version: Follow the Chilcote trail from the 1900 Chicago census to an unmarked Ohio grave – and decide when there’s enough evidence to prove that George and Edward are two men or one man with two names. Previously given at 2013 National Genealogical Society conference in Las Vegas.

Saturday 22 November, 10 am -- "How Hoosiers Got Hitched," Indiana Historical Society, Eugene and Marian Glick Indiana History Center, 315 West Ohio, Indianapolis, Indiana (registration and entry fee:

Short version: Indiana marriage records have changed over the years. Between 1880 and 1930 in some counties more than one record was created for each marriage – some with different information than the others. A new naming system can help us tell them apart. New, based on the article of the same title that appeared in the Fall/Winter 2013 issue of The Hoosier Genealogist: Connections.

Harold Henderson, "Autumn 2014 presentations! Bloomington, Kalamazoo, Terre Haute, Indianapolis," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 4 September 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

FYI: A new institute that Midwesterners can drive to!

Internet genealogy, Germanic genealogy, intermediate genealogy, advanced genealogy -- these are the four courses that will be offered May 28-June 1, 2015, in Galesburg, Knox County, Illinois, at the Carl Sandburg Institute of Genealogy.

Michael John Neill (probably the first "real" genealogist I was ever aware of) is the organizer; course coordinators in order are Cyndi Ingle, Teresa McMillin, CG; Debra Mieszala, CG, and Neill. Details are in the works and you can sign up for updates via their Facebook page, but if for some reason you can't wait, ask Michael at

Harold Henderson, "FYI: A new institute that Midwesterners can drive to!," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 3 September 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, September 1, 2014

Methodology Monday and Labor Day with Philippina Kicherer

Genealogy is about remembrance, not just descendants. Or as Tom Jones puts it in Mastering Genealogical Proof, genealogical questions are usually about a relationship, identity, or activity (pp. 7-8).

Judy Kellar Fox's article leading off the June 2014 National Genealogical Society Quarterly is an example of an activity question, but not one like whether someone served in the Revolution. Her subject, Philippina Magdalena (Kaiser) Kicherer, emigrated and married late, helped raise stepchildren, ran a Jefferson County, Pennsylvania, farmhouse, and died in 1909.

How and why did she come there?

Without the aid of family letters or reminiscences, Fox spotted the name of a man who was Philippina's associate, not her husband's, and the name of a particular part of Germany rarely included in US census designations -- and worked out Philippina's otherwise forgotten story. Sometimes the supposedly dry bones of technical genealogy are the only way to learn those stories.

Judy Kellar Fox, "Why and How Did Philippina Kicherer Immigrate to Jefferson County, Pennsylvania?," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 102 (June 2014): 85-92.

Harold Henderson, "Methodology Monday and Labor Day with Philippina Kicherer," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 1 September 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]