Saturday, June 30, 2012

Weekend wonderings: input from other fields?

Most genealogists bring experience in other fields to this one. Often you can maximize your contribution by not hiding your previous light under a bushel (as one friend has reminded me). Common cross-pollinating careers that I've encountered are historian, journalist, teacher, librarian, artist, technology expert, audio-visual technician, anthropologist . . .

What was your previous life? What's the most unusual contributing career you've encountered?

Harold Henderson, "Input from other fields," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 30 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Friday, June 29, 2012

Professionals and amateurs, together forever

When genealogists get talking about professionalism, we often tend to compare genealogy unfavorably to well-established professions like doctors and lawyers. I think that better comparison groups are drivers, writers, and people involved in child care. (And this applies whether you define "professional" as "doing it for money" or as "doing it to high standards.")

Each of these three fields is divided between:

(1) a small group of experienced and knowledgeable professionals, and

(2) a large and constantly replenished group of amateurs. Some of the amateurs are quite competent. Others may actually be dangerous to themselves, their neighbors, and their respective professionals -- such as the guy who cut me off yesterday, or the amateur writer who omitted the comma from "Let's eat, grandma."

Within each occupational group, amateurs and professionals interact constantly and have an ill-defined and sometimes uncomfortable relationship.

In genealogy and driving, there are some standards-based ways to identify professionals based on performance. You have to have a certain class license to drive a semi, and you have to be OKd by the proper body to use the initials CG or AG. But the tension remains.

Just having standards and being able to enforce them in some ways doesn't erase the need to continuously negotiate the nebulous boundaries between amateur and professional. There will always be more amateurs, and some of them will look askance at those who do genealogy for pay, or who insist on reference notes. I don't see any long-term "solution," just ongoing discussion, education, and maneuvering.

Even the medical profession, which over the last century achieved strong control over who can practice medicine, is frittering away its franchise by what I (as the opinionated child of a physician) see as a combination of expense, inconvenience, arrogance, and industrial-style production-line health care. These days my wife and I  get our flu shots from a pharmacist, who unlike an M.D. is readily accessible at short notice. We also often get our everyday medical advice from family members in auxiliary health professions or from WebMD or the Berkeley Wellness Letter.

For professionals there is no permanent victory, only eternal vigilance -- and eternal flexibility.

Harold Henderson, "Professionals and amateurs, together forever," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 29 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Chicago in the 1890s, all the details

Indiana-born writer George Ade (1866-1944) wrote "stories of the streets and the town" in the Chicago Record between 1893 and 1900. The back-cover blurb for a published selection of them pays tribute to four key aspects of his work: "his keen eye for the absurd and sublime moments of daily urban life, his ear for the vernacular of late-nineteenth-century Chicago, his shrewd understanding of the midwestern character, and above all his firm belief that all of human life was worthy literary subject matter."

Acclaimed in his lifetime and largely forgotten since, Ade interested me particularly because he arrived in Chicago about the same time as my paternal grandfather and his father, brothers, and sister. The scenes he painted are those that Alexander Henderson lived: "Small Shops of the City," "Old Days on the Canal," "With the Market-Gardeners," "Little Billy as a Committeeman," "The Junk-Shops of Canal Street," "Vehicles Out of the Ordinary," "Sidewalk Merchants and Their Wares," "The Glory of Being a Coachman," "Life on a River Tug," and "Clark Street Chinamen." Ade also did mild social commentary on art, manners, and slang.

In these pieces there is no trace of sensationalism or self-promotion; Ade himself remains entirely in the background. Many of these pieces give no names or precise locations; others may use concocted names or are composites. But at least one is a real person. Ade visited with English-born Mrs. Sarah Barrington, then a widow taking in boarders and selling cigars at the historic Green Tree Inn, built in 1833 and later relocated onto Milwaukee Avenue.

She has the curtains drawn and the door chained. The visitor must pull vigorously at the bell-knob and she will inspect him through an inch or two of opened door before admitting him. She has one big room and a little kitchen. A portrait of the duke of Wellington hangs over her arm-chair. ... In the saloon and cigar store, as well as in Mrs. Barrington's private apartments, the floor is hilly and the widows have warped to an angle, the ceilings are low, the wainscoting narrow and the doorways cramped.... but in its general aspect the oldest building in Chicago is not sufficiently picturesque to attract attention on its merits.... [Mrs. Barrington] only hoped she could sell the place for enough money to take her back to England and keep her there.
This portrait of Ade's can be quickly filled out with a sketchy first search of indexes and records available on line: Sarah Murray and Alfred Barrington were reportedly married in Cook County 17 February 1872. In 1880 she was the 60-year-old wife of Alfred, a cigar dealer aged 70, on Milwaukee Avenue. In 1890 she was living at 35 Milwaukee Avenue, her business "cigars." The easily available records also show that her dream was not realized. Eighty-two-year old Sarah Barrington died 19 January 1902  of mitral disease of the heart and chronic rheumatism at the "Chicago Home for Incurables" and is buried at Rose Hill Cemetery.

Ade's papers are at the Newberry Library; the Chicago History Museum appears to hold copies of the eight early books that collected his columns. The edition I'm reading, cited below, is selected, and does not provide the dates when the originals were published.

George Ade, "At the Green Tree Inn," in Franklin J. Meine, ed., Stories of Chicago (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003), reprint of the Caxton Club 1941 edition, pp. 70-74.

Illinois Statewide Marriage Index, 1763-1900, Barrington-Murray 1872, citing Cook County vol. 76, license 1804; : accessed 28 June 2012.

1880 US Census, Cook County, Illinois, population schedule, Chicago, enumeration district 101, p. 433D (stamped), p. 28 (penned), dwelling 195, family 238, Alfred Barrington household for Sarah Barrington; digital image, ( : accessed 28 June 2012).

The Lakeside Annual Directory of the City of Chicago 1890, p. 234, col. 2, Mrs. Sarah Barrington; digital image, ( : accessed 27 June 2012).
City of Chicago, Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Report of Death no. 967, Sarah Barrington, 1902; digital image,"Illinois, Cook County Deaths, 1878-1922," FamilySearch ( : accessed 27 June 2012).

Harold Henderson, "Chicago in the 1890s, all the details," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 28 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]


Chicago History, vol. 38, no. 1(Spring 2012):

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Learning to ask the hardest question

One of the essential, least expected, and least polite questions in beginning genealogy is also the simplest:

"How do you know?"

In the beginning, we have to ask the family member who is sure that your Websters are all related to Daniel Webster . . . somehow.

Later, we have to ask the helpful stranger who responds to an on-line query by sending you a virtual pile of alleged information about your mutual ancestors.

Later, we have to ask the client with preconceived opinions as to what more research will turn up.

Without this question, it's all for nought. No point in learning about citations if we don't know what to cite. No point in putting together a (nonfiction) book or article about the family.

To ask this question is to step out from the comfortable home hearthside into the cold still outdoor air of history. It also challenges others to do the same.

The people who ignore the question are happy with their mythology (some of which may well be true). Those who object indignantly to the question want the credibility of calling themselves genealogists without doing the work. Those who answer and try to improve their answer are on the road to success.

Harold Henderson, "Learning to ask the hardest question," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 27 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Mostly Midwestern genealogy finds on and off the web

* The summer issue of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly includes a well-cited article by Charlene Preston Mundy, "Five Ferguson Brothers from Scotland."A bonus for me: ISGSQ is using footnotes instead of the dreaded endnotes.

* As usual, the Ohio Genealogy News is packed with instructional articles of interest. For Summer 2012, I particularly enjoyed:

Chris Staats' "Deed Anatomy 101" with a clever graphic;

Joyce Quigley's "Online Cemetery Research" (interment records!); and

Delores Jones's "My Last Name is Jones (Success with a Common Surname)": "The only way I found my Jones family in the 1930 U.S. census for Mississippi was by reading my late aunt's papers again."

* Whenever you're in a law library, take the opportunity to snoop around. During IGHR at Samford, some sharp-eyed Pennsylvania researchers found an unlikely treasure: county-level court case reports for several counties in Pennsylvania, mostly from the 20th century. Who knew?

* Joe Beine has updated his wonderful index to on-line indexes of death records of various kinds, including indexes for ten Midwestern counties:

in Illinois -- DeKalb, McDonough, Sangamon, and Will;

in Michigan -- Menominee, Oakland, and Wayne;

in Ohio -- Montgomery; and

in Wisconsin -- Barron and Eau Claire.

Charlene Preston Mundy, "Five Ferguson Brothers from Scotland,"Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly, vol. 44, no. 2 (Summer 2012): 74-91.

Ohio Genealogy News, vol 43, no. 2 (Summer 2012).

Harold Henderson, "Midwestern genealogy finds on and off the web," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 26 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, June 25, 2012

My ancestor had $1000 in 1860 -- was he rich?

As genealogists, we need to make the world of the past as understandable as possible to our present-day audience. One way is to translate dollar values from, say, 1800, into current money. Sounds simple? It's not.

According to Westegg, $100 in 1800 would be worth $1265.30 in 2010.

According to the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, $100 in 1800 would be worth $1284.90 in 2010.

According to Measuring Worth, $100 in 1800 would be worth something between $1730 and $3,050,000 in 2010. It depends on exactly what you're valuing, and which of ten different measures you work with.

One problem with these translations is that the passage of time changes things in many dimensions. You could buy bread in both 1800 and 2010, but it was relatively more expensive in 1800. Not even a multibillionaire in 1800 could buy a car, a liver transplant, or a post on Facebook. Few people in 2010 could buy a buggy whip -- or a comfortable place to spend the night in a strange city without presenting an identity card. Not only have the items of the typical "market basket" changed, so have their values relative to one another. So even the best translations are unlikely to agree.

Of the three reputable sites above, Measuring Worth offers the most detailed and thoughtful explanation. Lawrence H. Officer and Samuel H. Williamson, both economists at the University of Illinois at Chicago, explain that it works best to use different measures to compare commodities, income/wealth, and projects over time. "There is no single 'correct' measure," they conclude, "and economic historians use one or more different indicators depending on the context of the question." On the site they use ten different measures -- check it out! You can measure by the Consumer Price Index or the proportion of Gross Domestic Product or the average laborer's wage, and get different results that highlight different aspects of the changes over time. (See the gasoline example at the bottom of this page: among other things, we learn that a gallon of gasoline is only one-sixth as great a part of the Gross Domestic Product now as it was in 1949.)

So even this piece of genealogical context isn't a simple lookup! I would suggest a couple of ways to use these tools without stretching them to absurdity, confusing your readers, or having to go back to school and major in economics:

(1) Focus on shorter time intervals. If your research target owned $200 worth of real estate in 1850 and $1,000 in 1860, how much of that was true gain and how much was inflationary? Many of the conundrums of long time comparisons do not apply to short-term comparisons, because the economic world didn't change radically during any single decade.

(2) Use cross-sectional comparisons -- where your ancestor stood relative to others, rather than trying for a precise dollar value. For instance, in the agricultural schedule of the US census for 1860, you can learn the cash value of your research target's farm -- and use Kennedy's 1864 statistical compilation of agricultural information from that census to calculate the average (mean or median, it could make a difference) value of a farm in their county. It may be more pertinent to learn how their farm stacked up against neighbors in that time and place than to get a dollar value in 2010, when farming is no longer such an omnipresent occupation.

In any case, studying the various comparisons gives us another sense of how different the past really was.

Lawrence H. Officer and Samuel H. Williamson, "Measures of Worth," Measuring Worth, 2010 ( : accessed 24 June 2012).

Joseph C. G. Kennedy, Agriculture of the United States in 1860 (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1864); digital image, Internet Archive ( : accessed 24 June 2012).

Harold Henderson, "My ancestor had $1000 in 1860 -- was he rich?" Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 25 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Sunday, June 24, 2012

New at Midwest Roots and LibraryThing: Baptists, travel, and the worst of the 20th century

Last week I picked up an interesting resource for 20th-century research at Samford University library's perpetual used-book sale: the 1949 and 1950 student directories for the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Free lookups in these or my other 15 miscellaneous mostly Midwestern sources here.

Also new on my booklist at LibraryThing: Travel Accounts of Indiana, 1679-1961. So far my favorite quote comes from a Dunker Baptist head of household between La Porte and Michigan City. In 1836 he found a carriageful of travelers at his door, stranded by a flood and washed-out bridge, and greeted them cheerfully, saying: "You know you would not have staid with me, if you could have helped it; and I would not have had you, if I could have helped it; so no more words about it; but let us make ourselves comfortable." (p. 161) You just don't hear that frank talk from motels these days.

The most recent book on that booklist that I actually read straight through was Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands -- almost unendurable, but very important to tell because most published sources on World War II had access only to the Soviet or Nazi archives, not both. The total tale of the multiple deliberate mass murders in that stretch of country between Russia and Germany (including the Holocaust itself) is one of the worst stories in human history, and of course many Americans have ancestors and relatives who died there or who narrowly escaped by timely emigration earlier in the 20th century.

Directory 1949 and Directory 1950 (Louisville KY: Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2825 Lexington Road).

Harriet Martineau, [June 19, 1836], in Shirley S. McCord, comp., Travel Accounts of Indiana, 1679-1961: A Collection of Observations by Wayfaring Foreigners, Itinerants, and Peripatetic Hoosiers (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1970), Indiana Historical Collections, Vol. 47. "Her comments are in Michigan History Magazine, 7 (1923):61-72, from the original Society in America (3 vols., London, 1837)."

Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (New York: Basic Books, 2010).

Harold Henderson, "New at Midwest Roots and LibraryThing: Baptists, travel, and the worst of the 20th century," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 24 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Linkfest with historians, vampire hunters, and more

Links and unlinkable items of interest from the history side:

W. Scott Poole teaches history at the College of Charleston and explains (seriously!) "Why Historians Should Be Vampire Hunters." "These tales of terror illuminate rather than obscure important truths. Slavery did represent a kind of dark magic in which legal fictions transmogrified the bodies of human beings into property."

Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore's take on "Facebook for the dead."

Five excellent commandments for those researching in archives from Philip White at The Historical Society. Most applicable to us genealogists: "Process Your Materials ASAP."

Eric Jay Dolin's Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America has a good publisher, has had some good reviews (mostly five stars on Amazon), and has won some prizes. Writing in the June Indiana Magazine of History (recent issues not on line), David J. Silverman of George Washington University says that Dolin tells a good story but misses a lot, because the book's perspective and information are about a century out of date -- among other things, it neglects the Indian side of the story. I hope to read it and make up my own mind, but in the meantime the "Caution" light is up. If Silverman is right, Dolin would be making a mistake similar to the one genealogists make when they trust the "mug books" version of local history.

W. Scott Poole, "Why Historians Should Be Vampire Hunters," The Huffington Post: Culture, posted 20 June 2012 ( : accessed 22 June 2012).

Jill Lepore, "Books: Obama, the Prequel," The New Yorker, 25 June 2012, p. 72.

Philip White, "Lessons from the Archives," The Historical Society, posted 18 June 2012 ( : accessed 22 June 2012).

Eric Jay Dolin, Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2010). 

David J. Silverman, [Review of Dolin], Indiana Magazine of History, vol. 108, no. 2 (June 2012): 192.

Harold Henderson, "8 suggestions for genealogy writers," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 23 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Friday, June 22, 2012

8 suggestions for genealogy writers

Eight friendly suggestions for genealogy writers, after a few weeks' steady reading of many kinds of genealogical prose:

1. Ask your friends to read what you've written. Cultivate the friend who gives you the toughest critique.

2. A little sentimentality goes a long way.

3. White men wrote most of the histories you quote. They missed a few things.

4. Make me see the adorable baby or grandma. Piling on the adjectives won't help.

5. The ancestor who condemned beer gardens as degenerate may just have been a grouch.

6. Omit needless words. Then go back and do it again. (With apologies to Strunk.)

7. The past is what it was. Neither whining about it nor worshiping it will change any part.

8. Keep on revising until it's right.

Good luck!

William Strunk, Jr., The Elements of Style (Ithaca NY: W. P. Humphrey, 1918); digital images, Great Books Online ( : accessed 22 June 2012).

Harold Henderson, "8 suggestions for genealogy writers," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 22 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Two roads to CG

For those who choose to submit a portfolio to the Board for the Certification of Genealogists, there has always been the question of when to do the work.

At one extreme (Option #1), the applicant can choose to have all or almost all seven portfolio requirements ready, and then submit a preliminary application, putting the applicant "on the clock" with a deadline of one year to finish. (That deadline can be extended, for a fee, if needed.)

At the other extreme (Option #2), the applicant can go on the clock and then start working on the portfolio. Obviously these two polar options can be compromised.

I chose Option #1 both times, and it has advantages if you can keep the work going and resist daily distractions without an external deadline. One advantage is that if a chosen case study or kinship determination project doesn't work out, you can just pick another one and keep going without worrying about any particular deadline.

But judging from the advice given at the BCG certification seminar at IGHR (Samford) last week, something closer to Option #2 seems to be growing in favor.

For one thing, Option #2 does provide an external deadline, which can be extended (for a fee) if necessary.

Secondly, it provides greater access to the BCG ACTION list, which is open only to those on the clock and a group of BCG advisors. The list is a place to ask questions and get reliable answers -- as long as the questions do not pertain to the particulars of anybody's portfolio!

But either way, sooner or later, procedural niceties don't matter. You just have to finish those seven portfolio components. They're the interesting part. And if you're wondering whether you're ready to take the plunge at all, check out the BCG site's quiz and Michael Hait's post on the subject at Planting the Seeds last year.

Harold Henderson, "Two roads to CG," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 21 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The fast-moving world of dead people

You do already know that one of the many aspects of Elizabeth Shown Mills's on-line presence is a series of QuickLessons at Evidence Explained. Right?

QuickLesson #8, "What Constitutes Proof?" is a careful eleven-step account of how you get from zero to a conclusion in a genealogically sound manner, based not on a single document but on an argument involving a body of evidence drawn from numerous documents. (Read the real thing.)

The other day I ran into someone who claimed to like QL #8. Having praised it, the commenter proceeded to disagree with its main point. He thought that there should be a twelfth step in which the researcher crowns the case by producing a document containing definitive proof. Otherwise it just didn't feel "proved" to him. (I may be doing him an injustice, but I can't check as his comment has since disappeared from that particular forum. I bring it up here because I know many people feel this way whether they choose to say so in public or not.)

The idea dies very hard that proof is out there and all we have to do is find the key document that tells us the unquestionable unvarnished truth. I suspect that this misconception helped draw many of us to this field in the first place -- a sense that in genealogy (unlike, say, history) we could find "real proof" of past facts, some solid ground that would not change with new evidence or interpretations. Well, good-bye to that. Like any other legitimate discipline, genealogy requires multiple independent sources, preferably original -- and when they differ, as they often do, then evaluating and analyzing each, correlating them together, and writing it all up in a convincing argument. And results can and do change with new information and new insights. Elizabeth says it shorter: "History offers no certainties. All it offers are relics."

These are not things we expected when we started out. They take some getting used to. I have written elsewhere (in NGS Magazine last year) about the need for genealogists to accept ambiguity and uncertainty in the process of research as well. Not so very long ago we could expect that we could do genealogy more or less forever without having to learn about genetics and DNA. Or that we would never be long away from the smell of old paper and rotting leather.
My daughter-in-law says it shorter, too: "Welcome to the fast-moving world of dead people."

What other things did you (consciously or otherwise) expect from genealogy that have turned out not to be the case? Is the reality better than the expectation? (I would say, yes. YMMV.)

Elizabeth Shown Mills, “QuickLesson 8: What Constitutes Proof?” Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage ( 20 June 2012).

Harold Henderson, "The fast-moving world of dead people," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 20 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Revolutionary patriot Stephen Simmons in The Genealogist

Of the five most highly regarded US genealogy journals, The Genealogist publishes by far the longest articles. In the Fall 2011 and Spring 2012 issues, Dan W. Olds chronicled the parents and descendants of Stephen Simmons, who served in the Revolution from Connecticut and died near the banks of the Wabash in southeastern Illinois in 1835. The article occupies 57 pages (some books are shorter), and even so it followed the descendants of only three of the five children of Stephen Simmons and Mabel Hunt who lived to maturity.

The family moved west from Windham County, Connecticut, to Greene (then Albany) County, New York, before 1790; on to Scioto County, Ohio, about 1807; and to Wabash (then Edwards) County, Illinois, before 1820. The stories about Stephen, from a variety of sources, suggest a versatile and interesting person to know -- unless perhaps you were a sheriff delivering a court summons. One reported that Simmons "ansearede it by riding out of hearing."

The article rests in part on several wonderful sources -- Simmons's own declaration for a Revolutionary War pension in September 1832, a transcript of the family Bible record, and a collection of family letters from the Gunn family (into which one daughter married) 1808-1862. Most lines are carried to Stephen and Mabel's grandchildren, and two families of great-grandchildren are given as well.

The logistical challenges of managing such an extensive project have to be imagined, as it's so smoothly done. My only disappointment was that the article often cites marriages to index entries rather than to the original records -- an odd choice given that Illinois marriages are readily obtained through the relevant county or the Regional Archives Depository system. Citing derivative sources when originals are available does not seem in keeping with the publishing society's stated goal "to advance genealogical research standards," but perhaps there's more going on here than I know about.

Dan W. Olds, "Stephen Simmons (1765-1835), from Connecticut to Illinois: A Revolutionary Soldier and his Family," The Genealogist 25, no. 2 (Fall 2011): 169-199, and 26, no. 1 (Spring 2012): 133-160.

Harold Henderson, "Revolutionary patriot Stephen Simmons in The Genealogist," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 19 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, June 18, 2012

Genealogy disasters, a new record type for me

You know how birders have "life lists"? Well, I just added a record type to my genealogy "life list."

I was examining a manuscript collection left by a descendant of a prominent Gibson County, Indiana, politician to whom I am not related (but who is in the FAN club of a mysterious collateral). He was evidently an attorney for my great-great-grandfather's sister-in-law's sister, Mary [Balentine] Taylor. How else would some correspondence about her $54 premium note no. 2699 to the Illinois Mutual Fire Insurance Company show up in his papers?

I do not yet understand all the details of how a mutual insurance company worked in the mid-1800s, but it was such that the company sent out an annual list of the fire losses its policyholders had suffered and then assessed others (such as Mary) for an amount calculated to keep the company afloat. In any case they did send her and others a list of several dozen fire losses they suffered between April 1851 and March 1852 -- including the names of policyholders, locations, kinds of property lost, and the dollar amount of each loss.

Googling revealed a much shorter 1842 list of fires they insured, and WorldCat shows that the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library holds several annual reports (but not this one), including one that apparently lists all their losses from 1839 to 1868!

In the past I had used my grandfather's insurance-policy applications for research, but I love the idea that another kind of insurance company record could be good for another purpose: to serve as a kind of statewide dragnet for locating and learning more about people, including additional information published in local newspapers in the aftermath of the fires. (I also love the idea that a key record from an Illinois company headquartered in Alton, Madison County -- near St. Louis -- shows up in an archive in Indianapolis.)

In a perfect world I would now jump whole hog into "insurance disaster genealogy":
* study how such companies worked;
* look for formal or informal histories of the company;
* investigate its fate following the Great Chicago Fire (which destroyed many an overextended insurance company without ever touching their offices);
* visit Springfield and consider indexing that 1839-1868 list, and
* look for more records or similar companies in other states and other archives. (If you get to do any of these things, let us know!)

But in this world I have impending deadlines, so for now I leave you with the wonderful list.

Illinois Mutual Fire Insurance Company, schedule of losses, fiscal year 1851-1852; Box 4, Folder 1, Lucius C. Embree collection L52, Indiana State Library, Indianapolis.

Harold Henderson, "Genealogy disasters, a new record type for me," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 18 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Don't assume that probate courts only do probate!

A friend of mine was stuck on finding her immigrant ancestor's mid-1800s naturalization record in southern Indiana. This is a notoriously tricky research task, since the law at the time allowed newcomers, after the proper lapse of time, to make known their intention and later petition for their naturalization in any court of record, wherever they happened to be at those two times.

A nationwide reference book said the naturalizations could be found in the county's probate court order book. A reference librarian at a very prominent library thought the notion was absurd.

At first, I agreed with the reference librarian. I certainly don't recall ever seeing a naturalization in my home county's probate court records (they're all over the circuit court books). But a small voice said, "Y'know, a probate court is a court of record." And I recalled a speaker at our society who had mentioned how probate courts often heard non-probate cases.

Of course by now you know what happened. The probate court order book was the last place I looked, and there was the immigrant ancestor's naturalization.

The point here is that I did look. Sometimes the best methodology is the one that finds the record.

Harold Henderson, "Don't assume that probate courts only do probate!" Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 17 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Unsolicited advice for national conference and institute recidivists

There is no sixth day of Samford but it's still making me think.

Many sets of advice exist for first-time attendees of national conferences or institutes, regularly and appropriately repeated. In the post-Samford recovery period, it occurs to me that there's not much advice for those who come back for seconds, and thirds, and -- well, you know. My list is short:

(1) Realize that you are likely to accumulate a whole new set of wonderful friends. I'm not sure that that's any serious/transitional/professional genealogist's goal. (We do tend to be less likely than average to be social butterflies, given the solitary nature of much of our work.) But it happens.

(2) Realize that you will become overcommitted.

What follows from these two is that we soon find ourselves in need of establishing our goals, planning accordingly, and keeping track of conversations had and promises made more or less casually in the course of a meal, or a day. (Samford is not heaven -- we still have to work, and besides, there are snakes.) Asking folks to remind us with an email is a good strategy too, but what if they forget?

I don't care if we keep track 20th-century style with notes or some later way. But if we get in the habit before we have to -- like learning to cite sources when we know perfectly well what and where they are -- then we'll have it when we really need it.

Feel free to add less obvious suggestions in the comments!

Harold Henderson, "Unsolicited advice for national conference and institute recidivists," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 16 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Friday, June 15, 2012

IGHR Samford Day 5: why law?

On Friday, the final morning at Samford, Claire Bettag's whirlwind yet detailed account of civil law (mainly known in Louisiana in the US, but quite prevalent elsewhere) made me wish either that I had French ancestors or that there were more US states that followed civil law -- what a great source of records!

Overall, Course Six (picture of the week's inhabitants in their natural habitat here, thanks to Sandi Hewlett) gave us a good start on a practical working knowledge of the common-law records we more often deal with. But what is the point, when we could just hunker down and eyeball records without knowing anything about law behind them? After this week I think there are two reasons for genealogists to study law, but I may be missing others:

(1) Legal records that appear in law libraries (that is, records of state appellate and supreme court decisions, and of federal trial, appellate, and Supreme Court decisions) can be a source of direct information about ancestors, and in really difficult cases can be used as another nationwide dragnet to locate them in time and place. They do have limitations. Only a fraction of cases filed are tried, only a fraction of those tried are appealed, only a fraction of those appealed actually complete the appeal, and sometimes not even all of those are recorded and published. When they are published the courts' focus will tend to be on legal principles rather than the facts of the case. And the indexes also can be somewhat difficult to use for our purposes. But when we score a hit it can be a uniquely good one.

(2) The law codes themselves (which come in various forms and flavors) provide a framework for reaching conclusions by deduction, i.e., using indirect evidence. If all we know about an ancestor is that she had to have parental consent to get married in Ohio in 1835, and if we know how to find out the age at which women could legally marry only with such consent, then we have good (not irrefutable) evidence as to when she was born. Without knowing the law we have only a vague guess.

So even dry dusty law books can be part of the process that Dr. Larry H. Spruill eloquently and humorously described at Thursday night's banquet: genealogy as resurrection of the forgotten dead.

Harold Henderson, "IGHR Samford Day 5," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 16 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, June 14, 2012

IGHR Samford Day 4

The penultimate day of Course 6 was a smorgasbord. In the morning, Patricia Walls Stamm served up heaping portions of government documents tied to the settling and mapping of the US as it grew. Did you know that maps are an under-appreciated portion of the U.S. Serial Set? We learned the key to the secret code "ASP035-08 (24-1) 1349, map 1."

After lunch, Ruth Ann Hager of the St. Louis County Public Library gave an exquisitely organized and timed presentation on four key resources for research in the Civil War era:
* states' slavery laws,  
* The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion (1861-65),
* War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, and
* Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion.

All have varying degrees of off-line and on-line availability. Key insight: these last three items have more to say about civilians and fugitive slaves than one might expect.

And after all that we had an hour and a half to do instructive "homework" on both phases. A major point of the whole day, if not the whole course, was to temper our genealogical inclination to search only for names.

With just the banquet and a half-day to go, it's time for class photos, preliminary farewells, and preliminary packing. Even Craig Scott's mobile bookstore is boxed back up.

Harold Henderson, "IGHR Samford Day 4," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 14 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

IGHR Samford Day 3

Today Course 6 jetted from the 19th-20th century in the morning and into the 21st in the afternoon. In the morning, we worked on eight genealogical problems that can be solved through law library books. Most of us were able to solve only one or two in the allotted time. Then after lunch, with the help of a gentleman from WestLaw, we whizzed through all eight in just over an hour. (Of course, WestLaw is far from free, but sometimes available to patrons at university law libraries.) The value of reporters and digests, however accessed, is now clear in our minds as a genealogical research tool in itself, quite aside from and in addition to the importance of knowing "the law" in order to wring more information out of recalcitrant records.

It was a good sequence, first being grounded in the physical world and then seeing it in a different light. (I'm told that's how law schools themselves try to do it.) But lack of sleep is also beginning to take a toll now that the week is more than half over.

Harold Henderson, "IGHR Samford Day 3," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 13 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

IGHR Samford Day 2

Today's high points included being (re)introduced to legal research in general and to the law library of the Cumberland Law School here at Samford. It's a beautiful building with a circuitous entrance and generous long hours. It's full of reporters, digests, session laws, statutes at large, legal encyclopedias, legal journals, microtext, and even some regular books -- headed by a kindly reference librarian with degrees in both law and librarianship. We will see more tomorrow, spurred on by several research problems posed by our Course 6 instructors.

In the evening, Tom Jones and Elissa Powell headed up a seminar/discussion on the BCG certification process for those who are interested or who might be. Several of us spoke on why we applied, how we applied, and why some of us didn't succeed on our first try. I think some fun and information were had by all. (Don't submit the first one you do of anything!)

Many of my cohort stayed up too late talking last night and are now just a bit brain-dead, but that's part of the experience too. The weather has been more clement than average, so far. We hear good reports of Thursday night's banquet speaker. If you prefer your news from here in visual form, do check out Maddy McCoy's photo blog at Historic Wanderings.

Harold Henderson, "IGHR Samford Day 2," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 12 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, June 11, 2012

IGHR Samford Day 1

Co-coordinator Ann Carter Fleming walked our class, Course 6, through the wonderful overlapping world of government documents, and then set us some puzzles to solve with them. Government documents (that is, those authored and published by the government) just don't behave like many other documents of genealogical interest. Only in some new on-line incarnations are they even indexed by name. But even to blunder around creatively you need to understand the landscape, which is complicated. Searches in print indexes by subject and geographic location sometimes work well. I found out personally that searching hopefully in a document that my ancestor or an associate might have been involved in does not work so well, but I am told that it does sometimes. That kind of uncertainty is a familiar quantity in genealogy.

What was most apparent from Fleming's lectures and from our own searching and browsing is that a great many things turn up in government documents that normal people would never expect to see. Would you like a nice list of neighbors in between censuses? Look for the record of a contested election!

Samford's library is a good place to have this class. The library affords quite a bit of choice in searches: at least two physical approaches to the Serial Set, and maybe as many as half a dozen on-line avenues.

Tomorrow we have a phase change, and it's all aboard for the law library . . .  I am reminding myself that "statutes at large" does not refer to a jailbreak by a bunch of Michelangelo sculptures!

Harold Henderson, "IGHR Samford Day 1, " Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 11 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Sunday, June 10, 2012

IGHR Samford Day 0, resting briefly in the shade

If you've been to IGHR (the week-long Institute for Genealogical and Historical Research) at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, you don't need my description. And if you haven't been there, you may not understand it when I call it a cross between a conference and a homecoming, in which the party comes the evening before the work begins.

For me, the advent is a two-day car trip, this year solo. Saturday I stopped off at the Indiana State Library and wound up hitting almost every research target I aimed at. (More on that later.) Sunday I drove and listened to recordings of talks given by Tom Jones and Elizabeth Shown Mills at the National Genealogical Society conference last month. Tom managed to condense documentation into five questions and then into two basic principles; Elizabeth laid out a plan for organizing research so that you won't have to go back and do it over. I need to recheck the syllabus material in order to get the most out of them.

And there was no time for that once I arrived on the hillside campus, what with getting registered, getting settled, greeting friends old and new, telling newcomers where to go next (it's my fourth year here so I can pass for an old-timer), checking out the used books for sale in the library, and even selling a few of my wife's heavy-duty coffee mugs emblazoned with trees.

Debra Hoffman filled in ably for the absent ProGen Study Group leader Angela McGhie at the study group reunion and recognition. Afterwards the conversation devolved into small groups. Mine got into stories and advice about writing genealogical articles, and we were far from the last to leave.

Director Lori Northrup borrowed the best line of the evening when she quoted Samford's president: "We rest in the shade of trees we did not plant." At the end of a long day that's a good thought to mull over in the calm before the storm of genealogical activity set to begin at 8 am sharp Monday morning.

Harold Henderson, "IGHR Samford Day 0," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 10 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Weekend wonderings: footnoting the fun stuff?

A brief but lively discussion on the Transitional Genealogists Forum provokes me to ask how others manage to write something "light" and informal (say, for a family reunion) without risking being professionally embarrassed because it might leave sources uncited or some problems unplumbed. The issue is sharp, because the internet and social media make it easy for something written in one context to be transposed into another, where it may no longer be obvious that it was an informal or "occasional" piece of work. I can think of some finesses, but really, can we have it both ways?

Harold Henderson, "Weekend wonderings: footnoting the fun stuff?" Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 10 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Top Five MWM Posts for February-March 2012

The people's choices during February and March on this blog:

1. Another angle on professionalism (March 14)

2. How to prove parents without direct evidence (March 8)

3. Good news for Chicago genealogists (March 20)

4. Resources: Chicago Examiner (February 7)

5. Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy's new milestone (February 1)

Harold Henderson, "Top Five MWM Posts for February-March 2012," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 9 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Friday, June 8, 2012

Drainage tile, anyone?

You never know when history is going to happen to you. I went outside the other morning and started clearing up a junk corner my wife and I had targeted for extinction. One item I picked up was a hollow burnt-orange cylinder with walls about half an inch thick -- a drainage tile.

It's very easy not to know what a huge role this piece of ceramic hardware played in the process of turning the often-swampy Midwestern prairie into productive farms connected by actual roads. Not only did it require the technology of creating standardized tile (these days I think they use continuous rolls of corrugated flexible black plastic), but the laws and organization necessary to create drainage districts, because the process won't work unless all the neighbors agree on it.

Tile was just as essential, but less charismatic or conspicuous than barbed wire, because once the fields are drained there's nothing to see. But eastern Illinois, western Indiana, and northwestern Ohio (just to name the parts I'm personally familiar with) would look entirely different if our ancestors and relatives hadn't participated in this process.

This process was not without controversy, then or now. A diverse prairie ecosystem was destroyed and replaced by what are now monocultures of corn and soybeans, dependent on annual doses of oil and chemicals to produce high yields. (In some places those once universally despised swamps are being re-created.)

Law professor James E. Herget wrote a thorough legal account in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society back in 1978; Englishman Hugh Prince's 1997 book Wetlands of the American Midwest: A Historical Geography of Changing Attitudes, at least part of which is available on a German offshoot of GoogleBooks, is more wide-ranging and even-handed.

How much have people used drainage district records in genealogy? Well, it's not unheard of. The Illinois State Archives holds some such records, and some relevant court records have been abstracted on US GenWeb for Stoddard County, Missouri. I'd love to hear more if anyone has gone beyond staring at an old piece of clay tile.

James E. Herget, "Taming the Environment: The Drainage District in Illinois," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society vol. 71, no. 2 (May 1978):107-118; digital image, Northern Illinois University Libraries Illinois Historical Digitization Project, "Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society," [1950-2006] ( : accessed 4 June 2012).

Hugh Prince, Wetlands of the American Midwest: A Historical Geography of Changing Attitudes (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997).

Harold Henderson, "Drainage tile, anyone?" Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 8 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Are you On Board?

Arguably the thrice-yearly newsletter of the Board for the Certification of Genealogists, OnBoard, has the highest information per ounce of any genealogy publication. In the current (May) issue it's Tom Jones 1, "source snobbery" 0; and Stefani Evans shows just how closely we can analyze even a derivative source.

You do not need to be certified in order to subscribe, and a subscription also supports an organization crucial to maintaining and advancing genealogy research standards.

If you don't have $15 to spare, or aren't sure, check out the generous sampling of articles published 1995-2010 under "Skillbuilding" on the BCG web site. Whatever our level of research, reading these short articles will make us better.

Thomas W. Jones, "Perils of Source Snobbery," OnBoard, vol. 18 no. 2 (May 2012):9-10, 15.

Harold Henderson, "Are you On Board?" Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 6 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Genealogist behaving badly, but not for long

Good examples are indispensable, but sometimes a bad example at the right time can teach a lesson that stays taught. Here's one published example from a few years ago, and here's another, simpler one:

Once upon a time, a friend of mine started a project with the information (source unknown) that the person of interest had been born in 1849 and married early in 1870. She sneaked a peek at the census and found the couple all right, noting that he was a property owner. She was in a hurry and didn't make a copy or write down the citation. How hard could it be to find a census again?

Then she looked for the marriage record. It wasn't in the index for 1870, or 1869, nor was it in the chronologically organized register itself. Then she looked for a deed of purchase. Again, not there. Annoyed but not altogether surprised, she went back to the 1870 census and looked again. Now she was surprised. The household wasn't there either -- even though it had been the day before!

That sound you hear is not the old "Twilight Zone" theme. It turned out that the census she had viewed, showing an apparently newly married couple, was for 1860, not 1870. The provided birth and marriage dates were more than a decade too recent, and in the absence of notes or copies she'd misremembered the date of the census she had consulted. (By 1870 the family had moved west.) The project went on to a successful conclusion with only an hour or so wasted.

And maybe it wasn't wasted. I'll skip the language of standards for the moment: No matter how picky we may appear to our non-genealogist friends, chances are we aren't picky enough.

Harold Henderson, "Genealogist behaving badly, but not for long," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 5 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Midwestern Deeds On Line -- More or Less!

Finding local property transactions on line isn't easy. (I'm not talking about plat maps or lists of the first landowners, but the deeds and mortgages that record all buying and selling after that.)

Many county recorders have only recent records, say the last 10-60 years, on line -- and even this limited access seems tailored for the deep-pockets crowd. Some charge $5 per search or have subcontracted the access to places like and (I'm not opposed to paying for on-line convenience but that seems a little steep.) Genealogy-friendly on-line access seems rare, but it can't be as rare as my unsystematic searching has found!

FamilySearch has browseable deeds for two Midwestern counties:

* Outagamie County, Wisconsin (deeds 1867-1900, indexes 1870s-1957)

* Clay County, Minnesota (deeds 1825-1901 and later in a few books; grantee indexes 1879-1901, grantor 1839-1901)

In local initiatives:

* Will County, Illinois, has searchable grantor-grantee deed indexes 1836-1885, available through the Illinois Digital Archives (offering only surnames A-K in a user-unfriendly format) or through the Plainfield Public Library site Will County: Preserving History's Heritage (only very terse transcriptions of the index).

So far, the best I've found are in Ohio's Western Reserve, where direct free access to deeds of any age from:

* Stark County, Ohio's Recorder. Complete a simple signup, sign in, and go to "archive search."

Sometimes the best solution is to go there. On line or off, it helps to be familiar with the many indexing systems used. (In Stark County the indexes are by first letter of surname, first letter of given name, and then chronological. There are good reasons for this but for the novice it can be challenging.)

But check around first and feel free to add to (or correct) this little list in the comments!

Harold Henderson, "Midwestern Deeds On Line -- More or Less!" Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 7 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, June 4, 2012

I know what you asked, but it's not what you need to know

More than a decade ago, I was working in crowded library room where folks were giving and receiving genealogy advice. I overheard the ultimate beginner question from an anxious newbie: "Where is my family tree?" (I wish I could remember how the volunteer in charge responded!)

These days, when someone asks me a question, I usually have two answers.

The short version answers the question they asked. ("Umm, well, no, there were no birth certificates issued in Illinois in 1830.")

The longer version, which the questioner may not want to hear or read, answers the question they should have asked. ("Here are some ways you might be able to prove parents without a birth certificate.")

Highly skilled question-answerers can make this transition smooth enough that the asker sees the point before s/he stops reading. I have a ways to go on this part.

But we're all question-askers sometimes. How do we learn to ask better questions? I think it's part of moving from seeing genealogy as a series of lookups to seeing it as a long and sometimes circuitous research process. To be more specific, it's also a process of surgically removing assumptions from the question itself. Of course, in order to do that, you have to know what your assumptions are! (How many wannabe Native Americans ask what kind of kinship system their supposed tribe has?)

Check out page 11, standard 28, in the BCG Genealogical Standards Manual for starters. The standard is that "Previous assumptions (presumptions) brought to the correlation, often unconsciously, are recognized," and it's followed by thought-provoking examples of good and bad assumptions.

Improving our genealogical habits usually involves moving away from our comfort zone in time and space, into places where people had very different assumptions and expectations and institutions . . . and records. Sometimes part of the quest is just to figure out exactly how strange this new place is. What words have changed meaning? What did these people take for granted that I don't, and vice versa?

If we don't manage to ask ourselves these kinds of questions first, we may wind up as the research equivalent of a boorish foreign tourist, talking louder instead of learning the language, and wandering randomly into trouble.

[According to Blogger's count, this is the 900th post since Midwestern Microhistory began 23 January 2008.]

Board for the Certification of Genealogists, The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual (Provo UT: Ancestry Publishing, 2000).

Harold Henderson, "I know what you asked, but it's not what you need to know," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 4 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Weekend wonderings: when counties do have money...

It's interesting to research in a county courthouse where they've had relatively good times and reliable tax revenues with which to manage their records. Money definitely improves matters, but it doesn't always lead to the best decisions. In a single office I have observed:

(1) lamination of old worn books' pages (good short-term, not always so good long-term);

(2) retyping of old, presumably worn, books (seemingly well done, but where are the originals?); and

(3) good microcopies of every page of every book for copying purposes (gold standard!).

Quite a mix. Where have you seen money especially well used (or otherwise)?

Harold Henderson, "Weekend wonderings: when counties do have money," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 3 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Top Five MWM Posts for April 2012

I have my own favorites, but these are the people's choices from April (rankings as of late May):

1. Illinois Small City Directories Content and Index (April 5)

2. Indiana Genealogical Society seminar (April 28)

3. Michigan Small City Directories Content and Index (April 30)

4. Top Genealogists on the Web (April 8)

5. Tales from the Courthouse (April 20)

Oh yes, and for you contrarians, this post was the least viewed:

Volunteer for the 1940 Census Indexing! (April 7) 

I'll post the favorites from May in early July, once the dust has settled. Sometimes folks read posts a few days or weeks after the fact.

Harold Henderson, "Top Five MWM Posts for April 2012," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 2 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Friday, June 1, 2012

Continue Growing

This morning I got the welcome news that my portfolio met the standards of the Board for the Certification of Genealogists and effective today I am Certified Genealogist(SM) no. 1029.

I know a lot of folks find the initials "CG" intimidating, or even feel that they reflect some kind of repellent exclusivity.

I think they mean that we chose to test our work against the standards of genealogy. Nobody has to do that, not everyone needs to or wants to, but choosing not to do so doesn't make you better. One thing I learned by doing so is that I'm not as good as I thought I was -- I have a lot more to learn. Those initials could also stand for "Continue Growing."

And I know I couldn't have done it without my wonderful (and long-suffering) teachers and friends and clients and wife.

FYI for those embarked on or considering the same path:

* This was the second portfolio I submitted; the first one (two years ago) didn't qualify.

* I believe this was the first portfolio submitted electronically (as a PDF file).

* It took less than four months from submission to notification, although I'm told the usual is closer to six.

* Putting together a portfolio does take a lot of time from other pursuits, but in both cases I learned a great deal just from doing it, especially from carrying the case study and kinship determination project to conclusion (not that they are more important than the other five elements!).

* I have not yet seen the judges' comments, and they will undoubtedly give me some things to work on.

* Never submit the first one you do, of anything.

Harold Henderson, "Continue Growing," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 1 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Honesty is the best policy

"Promote the trust and security of genealogical consumers" is the third of eight items in the code of ethics every member of the Association of Professional Genealogists signs on joining. I think it offers a relatively quick and easy answer to many ethical dilemmas we experience as genealogists, whether professional or not.

Item 3 does not say, do what's right. It says, do whatever will make it easier for people to trust a genealogist. Or, more dramatically, treat every person in such a way that they will not run screaming for the hills the next time they meet a genealogist!

This is actually prudence, just as honesty and treating-others-as-you-would-like-to-be-treated are usually good policies as well. Dorm-room bull sessions and philosophical journals do not linger long at this point, because it's not very entertaining or hard to figure out. By contrast, you can really get into an argument over eight people in a seven-person lifeboat, or -- back in the day -- whether to let a neighbor into your fallout shelter when the bombs are falling.

But most everyday ethical decisions (including decisions we don't even realize we're making) rest on the firm foundation of simple prudence. If I were to use client reports without getting the clients' OK, and they found out, they would have reason to badmouth genealogists ever after. If a relative gave me information in confidence and I used it or published it, ditto. So this isn't just about professionals.

In a former life I was a journalist, and I was always very conscious that my livelihood depended greatly on the willingness of strangers to talk to me. Genealogists are not in quite as dire a situation, but we do depend on the goodwill (or tolerance) of record custodians, and of one another, in order to do our research well. So prudence plays a big part.

Don't get me wrong. It's important to think about right and wrong, and there are really hard cases that require us to do so. But most of the time simply being prudent will lead us in the right paths.

Harold Henderson, "Honesty is the best policy," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 1 June 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]