Sunday, April 12, 2015

Take your own mind-blowing tour at NGS in May: Cahokia Mounds

A thousand years ago in downstate Illinois, across the Mississippi from where St. Louis is now, a world-class engineer designed a 100-foot-tall structure that still stands. He made it out of mud.

I think it's the most amazing destination in the Midwest. I wrote about it 15 years ago.

The latest visitor information is here.

Harold Henderson, "The Rise and Fall of the Mound People," Chicago Reader, 29 June 2000.

Photo per Creative Commons (

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Crossing the Continent with Common Names and Living to Tell the Story

As we genealogists soon learn, an amazing number of people have common names. I ran into a few of them seven years ago while working on my first BCG portfolio: Who were the parents of Ina Smith who married Frank Burdick in Kansas City in 1885?

He was the third generation on my kinship determination project, so I didn't have to deal with this side issue right then. But I was intrigued.

It turned out that Ina's parents were John and Elizabeth Smith. They appeared to have come from Indiana, but which ones were they, and where in Indiana -- and was Elizabeth's maiden name Smith too?

I made several runs at this problem over the years, going from thinking it was hopeless to thinking it was too easy. Now I'm on even keel, and the finished article is in the newly posted March issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, so readers can see how I solved it. This version is a little sharper than the original submission, thanks to peer review and good editors.

Of course, it's not likely that either of these two Smith families is one of yours. But you may have a similar sort of problem with different people. Hope it helps!

 NGSQ is a benefit of membership in the National Genealogical Society. Members can read the latest issue (and many old ones) as soon as it is posted.

"Crossing the Continent with Common Names: Indiana Natives John and Elizabeth (Smith) Smith," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 103 (March 2015): 29-35.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

136 years ago: the Upper Midwest from the back of a horse

During the 1800s, even ancestors who would end up staying home often tried going West to see how it suited them. My great-grandfather spent a few years in Kansas hoping to alleviate his wife's asthma, but they returned to southern Illinois.

And in the spring of 1879, my wife's great-grandfather left his young family behind for several weeks and took a 430-mile horseback ride west across part of Wisconsin and most of Minnesota. He sent back postcards and letters, which I transcribed and annotated, and which have now been published in the Minnesota Genealogical Quarterly. It's all there -- the rain, the cold, the boredom, the jokes, the universal presumption that if your traveling companion fell sick you could find him a bed in a farmhouse along the way, and forge on.

"Across Wisconsin and Minnesota on Horseback, 1879," Minnesota Genealogical Quarterly vol. 45, no. 4 (2014): 7-9.