Monday, March 31, 2014

Methodology Monday (NYGBR) with hair and William Mackey

Nineteenth-century American young women often made "hair scrapbooks," preserving locks of hair from friends and relatives along with inscriptions or poems. In the January 2014 New York Genealogical and Biographical Record Patricia A. Metsch uses one entry in such a book to distinguish one William Mackey (1786-1864) from another (1793?-1860) and to identify their parents. Sources don't come much rarer than this. (Yes, the article cites a book about it.)

Making the case requires additional evidence, some of which connects William to two brothers. It also involves acknowledging and analyzing some information that doesn't quite fit. Ultimately William's birth family is listed as "probable" -- not a bar to publication once the situation and the evidence are well explained.

Patricia A. Metsch, "Identifying the Parents of William H. Mackey (1786-1864) of Rensselaerville, Albany County, New York," New York Genealogical and Biographical Record 145 (2014):5-24.

Harold Henderson, "Methodology Monday (NYGBR) with hair and William Mackey," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 31 March 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Analyzing too much information with William Flint (1815-1878)

Often we have to eke out one precious fact at a time by analyzing and correlating terse and scattered records. But in the case of the agriculture schedules of the U.S. census (1850-1880), we have to find ways to  make sense of a cornucopia of information.

See how I did it for my great-great grandfather William Flint of St. Clair County, Illinois, in the new Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly (membership required). And if this puts you in mind of an Illinois topic you want to write about, managing editor Julie Cahill Tarr would love to hear from you.

Harold Henderson, "William Flint's Farm: Digging Deeper," Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly 46 (Spring 2014): 5-8.

Image: S.D. Fisher, ed., Transactions of the Department of Agriculture, State of Illinois, with Reports from County Agricultural Boards, for the Year 1879 (Springfield: Weber & Co., 1880), 66.

Harold Henderson, "Analyzing too much information with William Flint (1815-1878)," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 25 March 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, March 24, 2014

Methodology Monday with Elder Henry Hait (NYGBR)

Methodology is not always rocket science. It can involve dealing with many difficulties, each one small in itself but cumulatively daunting. In the case of the Elder Henry Hait -- the ancestor of Michael Hait, CG, and the subject of his article, the first installment of which is in the January New York Genealogical and Biographical Record -- it involves being aware of at least five potential research pitfalls:

* spelling variations. The title of a classic book on the family tells it: "Hoyt, Haight, Hight," not to mention Hoit or even Hyatt.

* common names in the area, in this case "Henry Hait"!

* borderline matters. For much of his life, Elder Henry lived along the Connecticut-New York border and created records (or failed to do so) in both states.

* family discontinuities, limiting available records and creating considerable uncertainty as to how he fit into the extended Hait family.

* a religious denomination that created useful records, but not the ones genealogists typically reach for first (infant baptisms and marriages).

These add up to a distinct lack of records that provide direct evidence. And even when a record is found naming the father of a Henry Hait, we still have to make sure it's the same person as Elder Henry. This is a US "Dark Age" problem, as Henry lived from 1779 to 1864.

NYGBR co-editors Laura Murphy DeGrazia and Karen Mauer Green make an important point introducing the issue. "Background research" does more than just provide general historical context or color. In this case, historical records of the Primitive Baptists actually provided first-hand information that helped cement the identification of Henry.

Like knowing the law, knowing the relevant denominational history (and its publications!) is like standing on a mountaintop and mapping the ridges and valleys below. It sure beats chopping our way through the brush and wondering where we are or which way we're going.

Michael Hait, "The Ancestry of Elder Henry Hait, Primitive Baptist Preacher of Connecticut and New York," New York Genealogical and Biographical Record 145 (2014): 25-38.

Harold Henderson, "Methodology Monday with Elder Henry Hait," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 24 March 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, March 20, 2014

URLs in citations, a conversation

HEALTH WARNING: If you are allergic to intelligent discussion of specifics of source citation, please discontinue reading now. Follow any links at your own risk.

I wish those of us in the first ProGen Study Group had dug as deep on citations and other subjects as some of the current students are doing. Jill K. Morelli, in her blog Genealogy Certification: My Personal Journal, has zeroed in on a difficult and mildly controversial topic in two recent posts, March 7 and March 17. Be sure to check out the comments and replies as well.

Jill K. Morelli, "How Do You Handle URLS in Citations?" (7 March 2014) and "URLs in Citations Revisited" (17 March 2014), Genealogy Certification: My Personal Journal ( : viewed 18 March 2014).

Harold Henderson, "Long URLs in citations, a conversation," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 20 March 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, March 17, 2014

Methodology Monday in three dimensions

My friend and colleague Cathi Desmarais has produced an excellent metaphor for the dilemma every genealogist faces when we size up the evidence we have collected during our thorough  (but only reasonably exhaustive) search: we're trying to turn a complex three-dimensional knot into a smooth untangled piece of string that is easy to follow in two dimensions.

Those who deal regularly with actual knots and tangles of string might say that there's no substitute for just sitting there and working on it until done -- which is true although not very helpful. In genealogy we do have some of the steps broken down into
  • analyzing individual pieces of evidence, 
  • correlating (comparing and contrasting) different pieces of evidence, 
  • resolving any conflicts that appear, and 
  • writing up the result in a form that is clear and convincing (or to put it another way, in a form that does not require the reader to take your results on faith).
But the problem can still exist when one gets down to the writing part. And once again, there is no substitute to just sticking with it. As my grandfather-in-law (by consensus the most distinguished of any of my or my wife's ancestors) reportedly used to say, "The most important application in writing is the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair."

It helps if we have been writing all along -- in the research log to remind us of what we were thinking, as well as any any work-in-progress inspirations that cropped up along the way. It also helps if we had a clear research question to begin with, but sometimes the question changes along the way. And a late-arriving piece of evidence can shift the nature of the presentation even when the question stays the same.

It helps not to have to reinvent the wheel. The more our minds are furnished with the ways that other genealogists have tackled similar problems -- in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and other publications with similarly high standards -- the more different approaches we can try to see if they fit. (For instance, I love to use timelines, but they are not always the most efficient way to deal with a string of property deeds.)

One way to furnish the mind is to read and study a new article from the above publications every week or two. Another way would be to attend the course that Kimberly Powell and I will be co-coordinating at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy next January, "From Confusion to Conclusion: Writing Proof Arguments." And I'm sure you can think of others!

Photo credit: "Knot," Quinn Dombrowski's photostream ( : viewed 15 March 2014), per Creative Commons

Harold Henderson, "Methodology Monday in three dimensions," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 17 March 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Top Eight MWM Posts All-Time

The eight most popular posts to date on this blog are not necessarily my personal favorites, but that's OK. I compiled this list, in the spirit of March Madness, after realizing that the "count" of all-time most viewed posts that Blogger offers on its Stats tab is thoroughly and inexplicably broken, i.e. its numbers are different from and lower than the numbers given for each post individually, and some posts are omitted from that list altogether.

1. Finding Ancestors in Fort Wayne, 31 March 2013.

2. Why We Don't Write, 6 May 2012.

3. State and Regional Genealogy Journals (joint post with Michael Hait), 20 June 2011.

4. Getting Serious about Genealogy, 3 June 2013.

5. Moderately Recent Blog Posts I Have Enjoyed, 15 May 2012.

6. Eight Tips for Those Considering Certification, 15 August 2012.

7. Nine Indexes and Finding Aids on the Web Site, 5 July 2013.

8. What I Knew About PERSI That Wasn't So, 22 February 2014.

Harold Henderson, "Top Eight MWM Posts All-Time," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 13 March 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, March 10, 2014

Methodology Monday in NGSQ: Tracking Tatums

Pamela Strother Downs serves up a Southern-style methodology treat in the current issue of the NGS Quarterly. Carefully proceeding from a man who died in Louisiana back to Alabama and Georgia, she extends a Tatum line two generations downstream from where they were accounted for in John Frederick Dorman's Adventurers of Purse and Person.

As often in the Q, the map and the table accompanying the article are not just ornamental, and they repay careful study.

The map:  Census records list two landless people in Montgomery County, Alabama, in 1830 as being 28 pages apart. Downs located landowner neighbors and mapped their locations. Without locating just where the landless pair lived in 1830, the map shows that they had to live nearby because their landed neighbors did. This was a key piece of evidence in completing the lineage, and it's a key technique to use and reuse in Dark Age US research, wherever your people may be.

The table paired two timelines of same-name Tatum men to show that an earlier DAR application confused one with the other.

Tatum researchers will appreciate the two extra generations; we all can appreciate seeing good technique in action.

Pamela Strother Downs, "Ancestry of Henry Tatum of Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana: Migration and Mistaken Identity," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 101 (December 2013): 273-90.

Harold Henderson, "Methodology Monday: Tracking Tatums," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 10 March 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Organized crime, Blackfoot redemption, and illicit Puritan sex: history books for genealogists

Books I'd like to read, as reviewed in the American Historical Review 119(1) February 2014:

Robert M. Lombardo (Loyola University Chicago), Organized Crime in Chicago: Beyond the Mafia (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2013). According to reviewer Robert C. Donnelly of Gonzaga, this book treats a sensational subject sensibly. It "deflates the theory that organized crime in the United States was imported from Italy, and . . . provides ample evidence to prove that organized crime in the city evolved from social structure, frontier immorality, and political corruption." (p. 195)

William E. Farr (University of Montana, Missoula), Blackfoot Redemption: A Blood Indian's Story of Murder, Confinement, and Imperfect Justice (Norman: University of Oklahoma Pres, 2012). Convicted in 1880 Montana for a murder in Canada, Spopee (Turtle) spent more than three decades in an insane asylum in Washington, DC, before being discovered by a Sioux delegation and pardoned. The story and its context are grim (Spopee could not communicate at all with his lawyers); reviewer Blanca Tovias of the University of Sydney describes the writing as "knowledgeable, attentive to detail, and vivid." (p. 187)

M. Michelle Jarrett Morris (University of Missouri), Under Household Government: Sex and Family in Puritan Massachusetts (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013). This book draws on 500 court cases in Suffolk and Middlesex counties between 1660 and 1700. According to reviewer Gloria Main (University of Colorado, Boulder) it is also distinguished from its predecessors by "using genealogical means to uncover the kinship relations of the principals and witnesses in criminal trials involving illicit sex." Main also has a genealogical complaint: "Genealogical research succeeds only when individuals can actually be traced, but surviving records favor those owning land, paying taxes, joining a church, and baptizing children. Morris has combed local archives, but among those she left undisturbed, regrettably, are church records." (p. 169)

Harold Henderson, "Organized crime, Blackfoot redemption, and illicit Puritan sex," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 6 March 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, March 3, 2014

Methodology Monday: The questions we ask in genealogy

Most genealogical questions, according to Thomas W. Jones in Mastering Genealogical Proof, ask about relationship (R), identity (I), or activity (A). Of course we can think of much more tangled ones, but usually they are "supporting questions" enabling us to better answer one of the basic ones. (p.8)

After a Facebook discussion the other day, I wondered how this idea checked out at the top end of the field in 2013. Classifying articles this way turned out to be more difficult and more subjective than I expected, and I never found anything that quite fit "activity." Activity-type questions may end up in DAR applications more often than in published articles.

The New England Historical and Genealogical Register (NEHGR) and American Ancestors Journal: R 14, I 3, A 0, others 2.

The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record (NYGBR): R 10, I 1, A 0, and others 3.

The National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ): R 11, I 3, A 0, others 2.

The Genealogist (TG): R 6, I 1, A 0, others 0.

Totals: R 41, I 8, A 0, others 7. Roughly three-quarters ask about relationships. The "others" are generally individual life stories, or ask what would usually be supporting questions, such as, "Where was he buried?"

How does this play out in less formal publications like NGS Magazine, American Ancestors (NEHGS), and some state magazines? What questions do their articles answer? Your turn!

Harold Henderson, "Methodology Monday: The questions we ask," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 3 March 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Saturday, March 1, 2014

On-line newspapers by state

Digitized newspapers are everywhere, but so many different outfits -- both free and commercial -- are getting in on the act that it can be hard to keep with which ones are available where your ancestors lived. Kenneth R. Marks over at The Ancestor Hunt has a series of listings by state, including Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana, as well as New York, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Maine. I haven't used them all . . . yet.

Harold Henderson, "On-line newspapers by state," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 1 March 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]