Saturday, July 29, 2017

Postpone that genealogy road trip . . .

. . . and take a good long look at your target records and counties in the Family History Library catalog.

If the records you want are on films that have been digitized (those are camera icons in the right-hand "format" column), then you may get to have a genealogy staycation instead.

I just viewed the index books (also digitized) and pulled two key deeds for an ancestor in Ashtabula County, Ohio, whose property was sold to satisfy a court decree in 1844 (after he had paid the then-princely sum of $2400 for it six years earlier). Most likely he borrowed money on it and couldn't pay, but we'll see.

Actually I still need that road trip, because the underlying court records -- which hopefully will explain how he got into this fix -- were not filmed, and due to the current Microfilmpocalypse may never be. But now I can zero in on them instead. Jefferson, Ohio, is nice in the summer.

from OZinOH  per Creative Commons 2.0

Monday, July 24, 2017

How others see us

There are people who hate genealogy -- often because it dealt them a nasty surprise. And there are rather more people who are just puzzled by it. William Maxwell, the late great New Yorker writer and editor, wrote a whole book of stories and memories about his family (Ancestors) in the early 1970s, but he was never one of us.

Carefully placing his own feelings at several removes, early in the book he recalled having dinner with an older cousin who was the family genealogist (and who later died relatively young). William was shy and perhaps a bit intimidated. He reflected later,

“I wish I had somehow given him a chance to say what it was that he hoped to gain for himself as he went about collecting facts having to do with births, deaths, and marriages of several generations of self-respecting, not very well-educated, for the most part devout men and women nobody has ever heard of.” (17)

It's a good question -- in a way a very "New York" question even though Maxwell lived his early life in Lincoln, Logan County, Illinois -- and one that deserves our consideration as we go about our work.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Death Will Bring Us Together; or, Look to the Future to Learn the Past

A classic problem: a woman born in the early 1880s appears in her parents' household in 1900 with a stupendously common name for the time (Mabel). And then she vanishes, whether into death or marriage I can't tell. Two potential husbands fail the test, as marriage records show their Mabels as having the wrong parents. The known parents don't show up in her household in later years, nor she in theirs.

It's an old lesson but it bears relearning. We often bewail our failure (or our parents' failure) to learn all the genealogical details we might have obtained from elderly relatives, but we often also ourselves fail to seek out their knowledge in records they helped create.

When Mabel's mother died in the 1930s, the newspaper death notice -- in infinitesimal, worn type -- named an extra daughter (as Mrs. H. Husband, naturally) living on the other side of the state. Mrs. Husband appeared again as the informant on mother's death certificate, with a tiny scrawled street address as well. Case closed when Mr. Husband's death certificate bore the same address. Strictly speaking, I didn't even need to know that her name was Mabel!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

New Illinois books to look forward to!

It's not every day, or even every week, that I get to order two promising new books about Illinois -- one from an old friend, one from a new one:

James Krohe Jr., Corn Kings and One-Horse Thieves: A Plain-Spoken History of Mid-Illinois (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2017),  $29.50

Darcie Hind Posz, The Chicago Stones: A Genealogy of Acquisition, Influence and Scandal (, 2017), $14.99

(And a hat tip to Barbara
Mathews for posting about
the Stones book on Facebook!)

Sunday, July 2, 2017

A week to remember

Genealogy institutes are a hybrid between national conferences (lasting a few days with something new every hour or two and attendance in the thousands) and regular college courses (lasting a semester or so). At institutes (attendance in the dozens or hundreds), several courses are offered but genealogists spend five days in just one of their choice. Compared to conferences, there's more time to focus, and more opportunities to find like-minded friends, but not as many topics covered. I've been a fan ever since I first discovered them in 2009 in Salt Lake City and Birmingham.

At the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP) last week, Kimberly Powell and I taught the third iteration of the course "From Confusion to Conclusion" on writing proof arguments -- with great help from William Litchman, Karen Stanbary, and Melissa Johnson, plus a cameo appearance by retiring New York Genealogical and Biographical Record editor Karen Jones.

 Our students were outstandingly inquisitive. Two of them -- Pam Anderson and Shannon Green -- will soon have articles published in the June National Genealogical Society Quarterly, and so were obliged to host the traditional GRIP Thursday night party. (This is Pittsburgh -- we don't do banquets.)

It's a small and intense world but big news still percolates in: this was the week FamilySearch announced the end of microfilm loans. Meanwhile GRIP keeps rolling along, with three separate week-long sessions and several new courses on tap for 2018, including various levels of DNA studies.