Thursday, March 29, 2012

"The New American History"

I've been reading a 22-year-old anthology in which a baker's dozen of historians summarized some of the ways in which historical knowledge has evolved since many of us got our childhood dose. Here are six items that stuck out for me. (I do wish some of the chapters had been more thoroughly footnoted, but the bibliographies of books and articles to follow up are great.)

Eric Foner, ed. The New American History. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990. (There is a "revised and expanded" 1997 edition which is available in limited preview on GoogleBooks. In addition, individual chapters are for sale cheap in pamphlet form in the AHA bookstore.)

"In early Virginia, New England, and New Netherlands, the intruders -- not the Indians -- introduced the tactic of the deliberate and systematic massacre of a whole community." (John M. Murrin, "Beneficiaries of Catastrophe," 10; 12 in 1997 edition)

"Rural northeasterners who could not make a go of [farming in the early 1800s] tried to avoid entering the urban wage-labor market . . . . [They] headed west instead, most of them hoping to reconstruct the independent yeoman communities that had crumbled back home." (Sean Wilentz, "Society, Politics, and the Market Revolution," 55; 65 in 1997 edition)

By the end of the Civil War, "some 180,000 blacks had served in the Union army -- over one-fifth of the black male population of the United States between the ages of eighteen and forty-five." (Eric Foner, "Slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction," 80; 93 in 1997 edition)

Progressives in the early 1900s "typically began by organizing a voluntary association, investigating a problem, gathering relevant facts, and analyzing them according to the precepts of one of the newer social sciences. From such an analysis a proposed solution would emerge . . . [nevertheless] men and women were commonly surprised by the results of the reforms they so fervently sought." (Richard L. McCormick, "Public Life in Industrial America," 107, 114; 122, 129 in 1997 edition)

"As Kenneth Jackson demonstrated, the Klan [in the 1920s] had its greatest support in northern and midwestern cities." (Alan Brinkley, "Prosperity, Depression, and War," 125; 139 in 1997 edition)

"By 1910 the nickel theaters showing silent motion pictures . . . could be labeled 'the academy of the workingman' . . . . Initially catering to working-class audiences with a tolerant indulgence of drinking and casual family comings and goings, the movie theaters began to take on more lavish, disciplined, middle-class standards only in the 1920s." (Leon Fink, "American Labor History," 243; 343 in 1997 edition)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Good news for Indiana genealogists

If you've hung around Indiana genealogy much at all, you've probably seen, met, and heard Ron Darrah. Now you can keep up even from a distance, with his new blog IndyGenealogy.

In my experience the genealogy world is somewhat short of folks like Ron who will speak their minds and let the chips fall where they may. In one recent post he notes that the Indiana State Library appears to be suffering from underfunding as to printers and microfilm readers, and doesn't seem to have a plan for digitizing its marvelous but obsolescent newspaper microfilm collection. In another he introduces us to a lesser-known Indianapolis facility, the American Legion library. And more recently, check out his restrained but devastating analysis of the much-hyped Indiana Digital Archives.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Androids and electric sheep again

David McMillen has a sort of gruesome post over at the blog of the US National Archives, NARAtions, with this conclusion:

Perhaps the future of archives is that we shut the doors of the museum that cannot compete with the digital world. The building is left for those interested in pawing through the boxes of documents much like it was in 1935, documents that no one will pay to scan.
Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Good news for Chicago genealogists

The April issue of the Chicago Genealogical Society's newsletter includes two items of good news, and Facebook adds a third:

* From CGS president Julie Ann Benson, CGS contributions have aided the Newberry Library in acquiring seven reels of Chicago "delayed birth" applications from the Family History Library. And contributions will also facilitate the digitization of nearly 40 years of the Chicago Genealogist quarterly.

* From CGS member Wesley Johnston comes news that the on-line Hyde Park Herald newspaper for 24 August 1960 published the full assessment list for Hyde Park Township, alphabetical by street name and then by street number within each. Names of landowners and valuations for improvements and land are included. No index. It's not really a head-of-household census but it's as close as we'll see until 2032!

* Writing at the Chicago Genealogy group on Facebook, Jennifer Holik-Urban alerts us all to the Newberry Library's online version of the Foreign Language Press Survey -- thousands of translations from articles of non-English newspapers made by Works Progress Administration employees during the Great Depression. I have yet to figure out the search function, but the collection is browseable in several ways. For additional information check this post at ChicagoGenealogy and this explanatory note on the FLPS web site. And bear in mind the usual methodological cautions: these words are not the original source. They were translated and transcribed from the original publications; if any fine points of meaning or spelling are involved, don't rest content with your own guess as to what the on-line material actuall says.

Historical note: this resource would not exist if the federal government had not combated the 1930s depression by hiring unemployed people to do needed jobs.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Indiana Genealogy Crash Course March 20

I'll be giving a webinar at Family Tree University Tuesday night March 20 -- a "crash course" on Indiana genealogy with time for questions afterwards. Time is 8pm Eastern 7 Central, 6 Mountain, 5 Pacific.

Register ($) and learn about the Big Four repositories, the two general-interest genealogy magazines, and the 92 archives in one of the best states in the nation to dig for ancestors!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Another angle on professionalism

William Cronon has been one of my favorite historians ever since 1991, when he published the definitive account of 19th-century Chicago and its hinterland, Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West.

Now he's the president of the American Historical Association with some interesting thoughts on that profession in the March 2012 AHA newsletter Perspectives on History:

. . .professional historians who work in the academy should be immensely grateful when they are joined in an organization like the AHA by professional historians who make documentaries, design web sites, post blogs, curate exhibits, teach school, and publish popular books. Only if we all gather together under the same big tent will we be able to learn from each other the ways good history can be more effective in reaching the many audiences that hunger for its insights. Forty million people watched Ken Burns's documentaries on The Civil War. Barbara Tuchman probably influenced more people's understanding of the First World War than any other historian of her generation. Public school teachers shape the historical consciousness of many millions more students (and citizens) than college teachers ever will. And so on and on.

How do we avoid professional boredom? By making sure we don't define "professional" too narrowly.
Read the whole thing!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Blogs to watch

For researchers with western Michigan targets, Sonja Hunter is blogging about Kalamazoo-area records and repositories including one of my own faves, the Western Michigan University Archives and Regional History Collections. She's at Bushwhacking Genealogy.

For researchers who know you can't do real genealogy without property records, but are still hesitating to jump into the pool, Donna Moughty's blog, Donna Moughty's Genealogical Resources, has some recent posts to help those getting started. Here's her introductory post on federal-land states, which includes all the states regularly covered in this blog.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

How to prove parents without direct evidence

What can you do to find missing parents when no record tells who they are?

Linda Dowd Vivian has published "Nathan W. Dowd of Ohio: Whose Child Was He?" in the current (December 2011) issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. Aside from his Midwesternness, I have no particular personal interest in Nathan, who was born in Ohio; lived in Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska; and died in Florida. But I was curious how she found his parents in a difficult case.

Vivian faced obstacles that would have sent a lesser genealogist to a wailing (brick) wall. Nathan's obituary says that he was born in Athens County, Ohio, on 19 December 1833, but it doesn't name his parents. He died in Florida, but the state has no death certificate. He can't be found in the 1850 census, when he might well have been residing in the parental household. Besides searching all variant names in that census, Vivian read through four likely Midwestern counties with no result, part of the "reasonably exhaustive search" prescribed by the Board for the Certification of Genealogists' standards.

Making full use of the oft-disdained 1840 census, Vivian found four Dowd men in Athens County who could have been Nathan's father. Three of them had boys in the household between the ages of 5 and 10. She identified two of those boys as different men. The third, in the household of William Dowd and Martha Woodard, could have been Nathan.

Can this hypothesis be proved? No probate or death notice named William and Martha's children. In 1852 an Iowa state census showed four probable sons in their household in Wapello County; various sources name four of them -- William E., Alex, David, and Ichabod. Was Nathan the fifth?

In the course of her research, Vivian unearthed nine additional pieces of evidence, all consistent with the idea that William and Martah were his parents, but none decisive by itself:

* In 1856 Nathan married in Wapello County, Iowa; at the time, William and Martha were living in adjacent Henry County. (Nathan's bride also came from Athens County, Ohio.)

* In 1856 Nathan had reportedly been in Iowa five years, as had William.

* Martha had a brother named Nathan B. Woodard.

* In 1860 Nathan's family was living in Kansas Territory with Alexander Dowd, who was the right age to be William and Martha's known son.

* In 1869 (following father William's 1865 death), Nathan bought land from William E.

* In 1869 Nathan and Martha made an agreement concerning the land.

* In 1869 Nathan witnessed an affidavit for Martha.

* In 1870 Nathan lived in the same township as Martha and Alexander.

* In 1880 and 1885 Nathan lived in Wapello County, adjacent to the county where Martha and David were living. Martha died in 1886 and Nathan moved to Nebraska.

From this evidence Vivian concluded that Nathan was indeed William and Martha's son: "Their associations over their lifetimes support this conclusion, and no known evidence contradicts it."

If you've done this kind of work on your family, you too may have an NGSQ article in your future!

Linda Dowd Vivian, "Nathan W. Dowd of Ohio: Whose Child Was He?" National Genealogical Society Quarterly 99 (December 2011):275-80.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Resources from Michigan, Kokomo, Common-Place, and Randy Seaver

In a 28 February post, "X Marks the Spot", on his blog, Kris Rzepczynski shows a fascinating new dimension of Seeking Michigan's 1897-1920 death records. Your research target may have death certificates in two different jurisdictions!

The on-line journal of early American history, Common-Place, has a good critical review of Alan Taylor's recent history of the War of 1812 -- an awesome book if you have any interest in the war at all.

In NEHGS's "Weekly Genealogist," the indefatigable Valerie Beaudrault points us to the Kokomo library's on-line index to the 7439 burial records of the Rich Funeral Home there 1893-1956. (That's Howard County, Indiana.)

Those wrestling with how to work with conflicting pieces of evidence in commercial genealogy database programs will want to check out Randy Seaver's typically and laudably transparent presentation of his own work over at Genea-Musings.