Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Indiana divorce laws guide!

 Meredith Thompson in the December 2013 Indiana Genealogist: "When railroads began to connect Indiana with the rest of the country in the 1840s, the state developed a reputation as a 'divorce mill,' with people coming from outside the state to file for divorce. Indianapolis was an especially popular destination; in 1858 two-thirds of Marion County divorce cases were filed by out-of-state petitioners."

Want more? Do you need the lowdown on Indiana's divorce laws? Waste no time in scrounging the internet: join the Indiana Genealogical Society and read Thompson's thorough source-cited explanation as just the first of your member benefits. Do it now and get your money's worth, as all annual memberships expire at the end of the calendar year.

Meredith Thompson, "Indiana's Pre-1940 Divorce Laws," Indiana Genealogist 24(4):13-20, December 2013.

Harold Henderson, "Indiana divorce laws guide!," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 26 February 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, February 24, 2014

Methodology Monday (NEHGR): Connecting across the Atlantic in the 1600s

In colonial New England, the classic genealogy dilemma -- "Where did they come from?" -- takes on a standard form: "Where in England?" Christopher Robbins and other researchers had Nicholas Robbins's 1650/1 will, a 1635 ship list that was a close match, and a tall brick wall across the ocean, consisting of far too many local English parish records to go through one at a time.

Technology came to the rescue, allowing him to search consolidated on-line indexes. The resulting parish registers in Kent matched the family almost perfectly. The author sought local help and was amply rewarded by an unpublished Ph.D. thesis with additional material on the family. Read the whole thing in the October NEHGR -- either on line if you're a HisGen member, or in any good genealogy library's collection.

But technology is not a cure-all. Without careful correlation between records, bigger and better indexes just offer ways to make bigger mistakes. Correlation is more fruitful when we have a family unit (or a group of associates). One match could well be a coincidence. Two or three are much more likely to be a breakthrough.

Christopher Robbins, "New Evidence for the English Origins of Nicholas Robbins," New England Historical and Genealogical Register 167 (October 2013):245-50.

Harold Henderson, "Methdology Monday (NEHGR): Connecting across the Atlantic in the 1600s," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 24 February 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Saturday, February 22, 2014

What I knew about PERSI that wasn't so

Genealogy periodicals don't get enough respect as research sources. And the Periodical Source Index (PERSI) -- once a print volume, now a virtual entity, but always based at the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center in Fort Wayne -- is almost the only way to get at them in bulk. (And that's important because people often publish where they are living and not where the ancestors were.)

Having used it for years, I recently learned that it has always been designed as a subject index -- not a title index nor an every-name index. This means that when you title your great new article, putting more than three surnames in the title will not help! The rule is that up to three principal surnames covered in the article or transcription qualify as "subjects" to be indexed; beyond that, not. I'm sorry if I misled anybody on this point.

The general subject headings PERSI uses are:
* biography
* cemeteries
* census records
* church records
* court records
* deeds
* directories
* history
* institutions
* land records other than deeds
* maps
* military records
* miscellaneous records
* naturalization records
* obituaries
* passenger lists
* probate records other than wills
* school records
* tax records
* vital records
* voter records
* wills

 Now and again folks ask for a checklist of important source types so that they don't miss any. There is no such animal, and no checklist you can run down in any given case and be sure you haven't missed something. But for a quick rundown of generally available record types, here you have it!

When you think about it, there is an awful lot of research that never gets known beyond the local or state periodical level. I would hesitate to start a sweepstakes for the "most underused" record type, considering that there are so many contenders, but genealogy periodicals are very much underused in my experience. I think the new Find My Past interface will entice more of us to use them (it's already got me going!). Those of us who live close enough to visit the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center on a regular basis can use that search function, and then locate the promising originals on our own on the site -- #1 in the world for genealogy periodicals. For this purpose I would rather be in Fort Wayne than in Salt Lake City!

Harold Henderson, "What I knew about PERSI that wasn't so," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 22 February 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, February 17, 2014

Methodology Monday (NGSQ): Paul Graham reopens a chapter of African-American history in Georgia

There's a strange idea out there that "genealogy" is boring and technical, while "family history" is the fun story-telling stuff. If any article can refute this notion, it's Paul Graham's lead article in the December National Genealogical Society Quarterly, "A Love Story Proved: The Life and Family of Laura Lavinia (Kelly) Combs of Atlanta and Augusta, Georgia."

Graham, whose work is showing up everywhere these days, is one of the few who hold both the AG and CG credentials. This article, which won NGS's 2012 Family History Writing Contest, carefully marshals a variety of indirect evidence to clarify and confirm a long-standing story that Mary Combs, a free woman of color, sold her property in Atlanta in order to purchase the freedom of her enslaved husband -- a tale that had stumped previous writers and historians who tried to verify it.

This is a great article for those who are new to the specific challenges of African-American research, or who are beginning to suspect that there's a whole world of genealogy out there beyond just chasing names on Ancestry or looking them up in indexes.

Just to start, Graham had to get the name straight. No African-American Mary Combs appeared in local records, but Laura Combs did. No deed stating that she bought or sold the city lot exists. But a neighbor's 1854 deed identified her as its owner, and a tax list the following year showed that Laura Kelly, under the name of her legally required guardian -- that same neighbor -- paid taxes on property worth $1000. And the white Combs women who lived on the property in 1859 owned a slave named John.

Already a trail snaking through property records (but not "Mary's"), tax records (under another name altogether), and a city directory.

If you want to know how Graham figured out the rest, join the National Genealogical Society and read the article on line, or make your way to the nearest good genealogy library. We can't even begin to tell the story without having done the technical work.

Paul K. Graham, "A Love Story Proved: The Life and Family of Laura Lavinia (Kelly) Combs of Atlanta and Augusta, Georgia," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 101 (December 2013): 245-66.

Harold Henderson, "Methdology Monday (NGSQ): Paul Graham reopens a chapter of African-American history in Georgia," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 17 February 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Friday, February 14, 2014

Wisconsin Probates On Line at FamilySearch

As of 13 February 2014, nine Wisconsin counties had probate materials on line at These are all browseable but not searchable. When I say they're indexed, I mean that a handwritten or typed index has been scanned for part or all of them. Please note that FamilySearch's own list of what's on line is inaccurate on several points, including the claim to have Burnett County.

This is a supplement to the syllabus for my 18 February 2014 webinar, "Probate Will Not Be the Death of You," for the Wisconsin State Genealogical Society. Even if you're scared of courthouses or allergic to them, you can learn plenty about probate from browsing these images.

Bayfield County 1874-1919 loose papers, no index

Fond du Lac County 1866-1932 loose papers (incomplete, starts late), index for 1918-1948

Green County 1848-1923 loose papers, no index

Jackson County 1878-1931 loose papers (incomplete, starts late), no index

La Crosse County 1874-1910 loose papers (incomplete, starts late), no index

Outagamie County 1872-1912 will and administration books, indexes 1894-1980

Pepin County, 1900-1935 loose papers (incomplete, starts late), index? 1869-1950

Shawano County, 1861-1933 loose papers, no index

Trempealeau County, 1889-1920 loose papers (incomplete, starts late), no index

Outagamie County is in its own collection, "Wisconsin, Outagamie County Records, 1825-1980 -- Probate." The other eight counties are in the collection "Wisconsin, Probate Estate Files, 1848-1948."

Harold Henderson, "Wisconsin Probates On Line at FamilySearch," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 14 February 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


The taking and correcting of minutes:

1800s-early 1900s: Handwritten in a special bound book from handwritten notes. One copy only -- each meeting they are read and corrections made as needed.

1900s: Typewritten from handwritten notes, kept in a binder. Maybe one carbon copy -- each meeting they are read and corrections made as needed.

2000s: Keyboarded directly at the meeting. Revised and copies emailed to every attendee the following day for correction while memories are fresh. Reading is superfluous; copies made available to those who missed the meeting.

How many societies are keeping their records in the wrong century?

(FYI: This blog was "locked" by Google over the past weekend for unspecified alleged offenses. My wonderful tech person discovered a possibly offending widget and removed it. She then requested a review [as I had done earlier] and we were back in business Monday morning. My personal takeaway: there is no excess of due process or basic fairness in a world where we depend on giant corporations to communicate with one another.)

Coming next week: a new blogging regime. Call it Methodology Mondays.

Harold Henderson, "Secretarying," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 11 February 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Writing and building

A word of cheer to those writing for publication or portfolio: Sometimes it's like building a house. You know how fast the basic structure goes up? And then once it's enclosed, how loooonnnng the finishing process takes?

It's the same on the screen (or on paper, if you're stuck in the 20th century). Hunting down those last sources, honing the citations, making sure the format is at least consistent and preferably correct -- even rethinking a key paragraph late in the game -- is much like getting the molding and the surfaces finished. It may seem like forever, but you really will be done.

A related tip: If you have a citation that just won't work -- especially a complicated one involving an on-line image of material originally in print -- try browsing to the relevant page rather than reaching it by search. You may discover that there are more chapters, subchapters, sections, subsections, and parts in the original that may enable you to make the confusions clearer.

(Special to members of APG only: please feel free to drop in on an informal on-line discussion of writing and blogging Friday evening at 9 pm Eastern, 8 pm Central, 7 pm Mountain, and 6 pm Pacific US standard times; world times accordingly. I'll be there but I don't have a speech planned, so bring your questions and observations! Software limits the group to the first 25 who show up. Thanks to the Professional Development Committee for setting this up.)

Harold Henderson, "Writing and building," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 5 February 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Everyone an "expert"?

A friend reminded me to read a couple of interesting opinion posts outside the field of genealogy:

"The Death of Expertise" by Tom Nichols, and

"No, You're Not Entitled to Your Opinion," by Patrick Stokes.

Both writers are dismayed at the popular notion that any ignorant opinion is as good as a well-informed one. Neither draws much on history, but it is well to remember that the US was founded on a healthy skepticism of authority, and the ensuing presidency of Andrew Jackson intensified this American characteristic.

But like all good things mistrust of authority can be carried too far. A politician who uses her position of authority to assert without evidence that history supports her position (or that she can see Russia from her house) may indeed deserve skepticism. Someone who played a dad on TV and who now shills for a finance company deserves something stronger than skepticism.

Many of us come to genealogy thinking that we're already experts. Most of us learn that we're not, and then proceed to learn what we need to know. At least genealogy has a clear set of standards that anyone can read and understand. Those who choose not to follow them will still be judged by them.

We're not all experts, and we don't have to be. We do need the wit to seek our genealogy from those who follow standards, our business news from the Wall Street Journal, our climate science from actual climate scientists, and so forth -- not trying to make one source do for all. Common sense, right?

Harold Henderson, "Everyone an 'expert'? ," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 31 January 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]