Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Top Five MWM Posts for August 2012

Once again it's time for the monthly popularity contest, listing the most-viewed blog posts made during August. Once again, #1 was far in the lead. I'll report on September in early November when the dust of that month will have settled.

1. Eight Tips for Those Considering Certification (August 15)

2. Is an Obituary an Original Source? Does It Matter? (August 2)

3. Writing: The Ten Suggestions (August 7)

4. Book Review: How History and Genealogy Fit -- or Not (August 24)

5. Why Ambitious Genealogists Need Credentials (August 14)

Least viewed:

Halfway home: map of the 46 Indiana counties with marriages indexed on FamilySearch (August 25)

Harold Henderson, "Top Five MWM Posts for August 2012," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 30 September 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Saturday, September 29, 2012

It's not too late to listen to the Forget-Me-Not writing show

Jane E. Wilcox, host of the Forget-Me-Not hour, reports on the show from two weeks ago where we talked about writing for genealogy publications. On Monday we were over 1000 listeners and Friday we were up to 1436. Those are good numbers in my world, but last I heard there was still room to listen ;-)   Jane has the link on her blog.

If you still have questions after that hour, you know where to find me.

While we're on the subject, some brief thoughts here by a non-genealogist who blogs once a week. I think I like his fourth realization best.

Harold Henderson, "It's not too late to listen to the Forget-Me-Not writing show," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 29 September 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Friday, September 28, 2012

Genealogy in Other Parts of the Library

Genealogists who visit the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center from out of town, such as me, may make the mistake of thinking that the genealogy part is the whole library. Even those of us who notice the other departments may miss the fact that they contain useful genealogical material too. Here are three from my experience:

Microfilmed editions of the Methodist publication Western Christian Advocate (published 1834-1929) are held in the reference division of Readers' Service Reference (on the first floor).

Physical copies of early local laws passed by the Indiana General Assembly (1828-1835, 1839, 1844-1852) are in the Indiana Documents part of Business and Technology Reference, at the opposite end of the second floor from genealogy. They are not uniformly catalogued in the library catalog, however.

The monumental compilation of summary figures of the agriculture schedule of the 1860 US census, J. C. G. Kennedy's Agriculture of the United States in 1860, 317.3 F51GA, is also in the business department. It's a good tool for comparing ancestors and others at that time. (It's also available on Google Books if that format is manageable for you.)

Harold Henderson, "Genealogy in Other Parts of the Library," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 28 September 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Talking about Professionalism

Genealogists are like journalists: many of us want to think of ourselves as professionals (and many don't), but we are often not thought of that way. The problem is exacerbated by the triple ambiguity of the term, which can mean doing it for money, doing it well, or just doing it in a calm and collected way.

The Transitional Genealogists Forum has just had a non-flaming discussion of the subject. If you're interested but in a hurry, I recommend visiting the archives for September and seeking out the thoughtful posts by Jillaine Smith, John Yates, and Connie Sheets.(Yes, I am outsourcing this post!)

I am well aware that some people want this topic to go away. It never will, as long as we individually and collectively have a reach that sometimes exceeds our grasp.

What can we do to make things better, raise standards in fact, and raise our collective reputation? Surely continuing education is paramount. Whether any group should require it is debatable. What kind of "best practices" any group should put forth is also debatable. But it's sure necessary, because the field is changing constantly, and newbies are coming through all the time.

Harold Henderson, "Talking about Professionalism," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 27 September 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

BCG portfolio Q & A

Some folks have asked questions about my recent BCG portfolio posts. They may be of interest to others who don't go back and look for comments!

Please observe my usual caveat: read the rubrics and the 2011 edition of the Application Guide, ask the authoritative folks on BCG ACTION list once you are on the clock, and don't take my unsupported word for anything. When necessary consult the key underlying document, the 2000 (current) BCG Standards Manual as well. In other words, use your research skills to get the best information available on certification just as you already do in genealogy itself.

Q1: In the Kinship Determination Project (requirement #7), is the applicant required to name every child -- for instance, if a record states that a woman had eleven children, two living, but information cannot be found for most of them?

The rubrics and the Application Guide appear to disagree on this point, but my non-authoritative opinion is that if you explain the situation and show that you consulted a wide variety of sources and correlated and analyzed them, and convincingly concluded (for instance) that the woman did have nine children but names of only five can be ascertained, then you would be meeting standards. In such a quest one would not limit oneself to direct evidence either.

Such a sub-problem in the KDP would certainly allow the applicant to display ability to locate, correlate, and analyze a wide variety of relevant sources, perhaps including business accounts, military records, and siblings' vital records among many more (some Cook County, Illinois, birth records gave the number of the birth to that mother). If an authoritative answer to this question were not forthcoming, however, I might choose a different family or a different set of generations in the same family. The point is to show what you can do (reread the rubrics!), not to tread on gray areas that might prove to be quicksand.

Q2: Does the Case Study (requirement #6) have to be a solved problem, or could it be "a no-stone-unturned study that did not answer the main question as to the end of a person's life-path"?

My answer: You have to solve the problem. The Application Guide asks applicants to "supply a case study (proof argument) drawn from your own research that (a) demonstrates application of the Genealogical Proof Standard and (b) resolves, in your opinion, a problem of relationship or identity that cannot be resolved from uncontested direct evidence."

Note that determining a date or place of death or burial, in itself, would not constitute a problem of relationship or identity IMO.

Note also that you can define the problem's scope. For my case study I defined the scope so that I was able to solve it. I sought the mother of a child born out of wedlock, not both parents. (It was still plenty hard.)

Finally, be wary of thinking that "no stone unturned" refers to a search only for direct evidence (that tells you the answer). Most hard problems require indirect evidence (clues) in order to resolve them: either there is no direct evidence at all,  as in many NGSQ articles blogged about here earlier, or you have to use indirect evidence to get to the unindexed, unmicrofilmed, undigitized direct evidence. Often consultation with a more experienced researcher (or reading an article on a similar problem) will open up additional possibilities for building such a case. For portfolio purposes, I personally prefer to select cases where there is conflicting direct evidence to start with.

Harold Henderson, "BCG Portfolio Q and A," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 26 September 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Indiana Resources and Events

Back from a trip, and a lot of genealogy has been happening "back home in Indiana":

* The September issue of Indiana Genealogist is out! This may be the only state quarterly published exclusively online, available to Indiana Genealogical Society members. The color image potential of the web is being used well. More than half the issue is devoted to David C. Bailey Sr.'s intriguing listing of Indiana Civil War veterans who were members of California posts of the Grand Army of the Republic organization in 1886, based in part on a published source. Clearly there's still room for those with Indiana relatives to write their family histories for publication.

* The Indiana Historical Society has unveiled its collection of 495 documents totaling 3910 pages in its digital "Civil War Military Front" collection (scroll down to 5th item). The collection uses CONTENTdm, not a very user-friendly interface in my experience, but I was able to access seven soldiers' diaries without much trouble using the advanced-search feature. They are James M. Witt (39th Indiana Infantry), Lancelot C. Ewbank (31st Infantry), Andrew Jackson Smith (2nd Cavalry), Albert S. Underwood (9th Light Artillery), James F. Elliott (8th Infantry), David H. Reynolds (43rd Infantry), and Alva C. Griest (72nd Infantry).

* IHS has also published M. Teresa Baer's Indianapolis: A City of Immigrants. An earlier publication, Herman B. Wells: The Promise of the American University by James H. Capshew, got a quizzical review at History News Network, which got me thinking about how a certain kind of Midwesterner just likes to be nice . . . and opaque.

* The September Indiana Magazine of History has features on black women workers in WW2 jobs, and concrete houses in Gary a century ago, and a review of Murder in Their Hearts: The Fall Creek Massacre, that makes me think I'd better read about the 1825 Madison County case where three white men were -- unusually for the times -- hanged for premeditated murder of nine friendly Indians (two men, three women, and four children).

* On a lighter note, the Summer 2012 issue of Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History (also from IHS -- do these people sleep?) includes an article about old-time cartoonist Bill Holman and his "screwball comic strip Smokey Stover." New to me was the claim that Crawfordsville (Montgomery County) and Nappanee (Elkhart County) were especially productive of 20th-century comic-strip authors. Holman was born near Crawfordsville and reared in Nappanee, so there you are.

* Upcoming: Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center has daily events in honor of Family History Month during October. Also, Geneabloggers get together there October 13. (I've been trying for 13 years and I still haven't used that library up.)

Harold Henderson, "Indiana Resources and Events," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 25 September 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, September 24, 2012

Methodists in Meadville

Those who have research targets who were Methodists in western Pennsylvania need to know about the denominational archives at Allegheny College's Pelletier Library in Meadville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania. It would be a good destination anyway, but given the absence of early vital records from Pennsylvania it's a great one.

First of all, it's an archive, so don't try just dropping in. Use the contact information. Volunteer archivist William L. Waybright is very knowledgeable and helpful, but he can't be there all the time. It's by appointment only.

Second, don't expect the archives to be able to tell you whether your ancestor was a Methodist (or an allied denomination, such as Evangelical United Brethren).

Third, check the ancestor's own church first. As in most denominations, records reside at the local level. If a local church ceases to exist, its records may find their way to a denominational archive.

Fourth, be prepared to use a particular variant of cluster genealogy: what ministers were your research targets associated with? The archives will normally have much better records for those who carried the church's message than anyone else.

Fifth, don't be overly focused on western Pennsylvania. The archives has records and published reminiscences that cover adjoining conferences as well.

Sixth, when visiting, don't expect lots of space to spread out. We had the good fortune to meet other researchers who knew the area and resources better than we did, and we met them over what would be a normal-sized kitchen table.

Seventh, be alert to finding aids that area Methodist historians have prepared over the years. Pittsburgh-area Methodists published a weekly newspaper for about a century beginning in 1834, usually under the title of Pittsburgh Christian Advocate. Abstracts and indexes to its marriage and death notices have been published from through 1870. The newspaper itself has been microfilmed, but Meadville holds the films only up to 1890.

Finally, in the likely event that your Methodists went past Pittsburgh into the Midwest and West, additional regional resources do exist. The Chicago Genealogical Society's new blog recently posted on their instructional visit to Garrett Evangelical United Library in Evanston.

Harold Henderson, "Methodists in Meadville," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 24 September 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Sunday, September 23, 2012

What Are Friends, Associates, and Neighbors For?

A friend emailed the other day, wondering what to do with his list of names of nearby people in the census. Genealogically speaking, what are these neighbors for?

(1) They can resolve questions of identity. I have used neighbors to help establish that a common-name man in two different places was the same person.

(2) They may actually be relatives, such as in-laws.

(3) They may have come from the same previous place as the research target, but have better evidence for it.

(4) They may be the ultimate desirable neighbor: one who was affluent, talkative, gossipy, and verbose, and who left papers and diaries now held in an archive.

(Can you name more?)

But as another friend says, many people who were nearby are just nearby. "You have to kiss a lot of frogs to get one prince."

For a top-notch free tutorial on using friends, associates, and neighbors, visit Elizabeth Shown Mills's Historic Pathways web site. Scroll about halfway down the page for seven pertinent articles.

Harold Henderson, "What Are Friends, Associates, and Neighbors For?," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 23 September 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Advocacy: Honey or Vinegar or Both?

Genealogists make do. When we encounter an obstacle, we find a way around or over it. Property records lost? Let's try tax records.  Courthouse burned? Let's check out the records kept in the state archives. State archives closing? Let's check -- ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

There's little point in protesting a century-old courthouse fire. But an economy-minded state government closing down a public archive? Sometimes we have to switch gears, from making do to making waves. And while Georgia may have disgraced itself by being the first state to do this, there is real danger that it may not be the last.

In on-line discussion among genealogists there was nevertheless a division of the house. Some emphasized the need to complain vigorously. Others suggested setting up ways to publicly praise good archives as well. The right mixture of honey and vinegar remains to be determined -- but the need for both seems indisputable.

There's also a delivery problem. An excellent archivist can make a poorly-funded archive look good by providing exemplary service. And a gaggle of stingy politicos who pay only lip service to history can leave archivists with few ways to help patrons . . . if not actually unemployed. In these situations, I tend to think that the decision-makers need the vinegar and the front-line professionals deserve the honey. But every situation is different and we need to be paying attention.

Harold Henderson, "Advocacy: Honey or Vinegar or Both?," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 22 September 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Friday, September 21, 2012

Subterranean Direct Evidence: A Research Travelogue

In my experience, aspiring genealogists who read the top journals would love to read more than the polished, logical summary. They also want a taste of the research process that made the polished, logical summary possible. Here's one taste, involving my mother-in-law's great-grandfather's sister Elizabeth Bassett, who married Harry Porter. In this case finding Harry's origins was the problem.

I met up with some other folks on line who had also been researching Harry for a while. They had been using original records and had found much about his life in western New York and later western Illinois (Fulton County). Better still, they had some good clues indicating that he might well be the same Harry Porter who had grown up in Jefferson County, New York, with half a dozen brothers and sisters, none of whom had migrated to Illinois with him or had any known contact with him in later life.

Was Harry of Jefferson County the same man as the Harry who married Elizabeth and lived in Illinois? There might be enough indirect evidence to make a case, but there was plenty more research to do. Jefferson County Harry's father, John S. Porter, died in 1840, by which time Elizabeth's Harry had settled in Illinois. Any record that named Jefferson County Harry's residence would pretty well seal the deal one way or another.

Of particular interest, my new-found cohorts had unearthed an on-line newspaper item stating that two of Jefferson County Harry's sisters had received land from their father John S. Porter in a partition suit in the Jefferson County Court of Common Pleas. (Partition is a court case in which heirs ask that the decedent's real estate be divided among them.)

I consulted a researcher in Salt Lake City, who located the only deed Harry ever executed in Jefferson County. Shortly after father John's death, Jefferson County Harry sold all his rights to John's land to his sister Lydia Maine. Unfortunately the deed did not say where Harry was living at the time.

With this background knowledge I went to Jefferson County with two specific research targets:

(1) the loose papers in John S. Porter's probate, which should contain a list of heirs and a receipt from Harry, either of which might say where he was living; and

(2) the partition suit, which might also name Harry in some useful way.

Target #1 didn't work out. John's probate did list Harry as a recipient of a share of the estate, but it did not say where he was living at the time. And I found no receipt from Harry at all, although there should have been one. Probates can be like that sometimes.

That left Target #2. I had hoped to find a row of bound court books from the period, with in-book indexes. No such luck. The individual court sessions were each bound separately with no hard covers and no indexes, and with the three different kinds of courts (General Sessions, Common Pleas, and Oyer and Terminer) mixed together. Worse yet, according to the labels on the archival folders, there were no Common Pleas sessions for 1840 in the box at all!

Never trust a label when you can look. I looked at a file labeled General Sessions. Halfway through the writing was upside down. I flipped the booklet over and saw the "back" page was labeled "Common Pleas." The courts had saved paper by using the same set of pages for both courts' records, but only one was mentioned in the folder label. The needed Common Pleas sessions were there after all, stored archivally and in chronological order.

After that scare, I soon found records of two key court sessions: one where the court received the Porter heirs' petition for a partition of John S. Porter's land and named commissioners to divide it up, and another where the court approved the commissioners' proposal. Sister Lydia was to have two shares, and Harry's name was not mentioned. Having seen the deed, I knew why, but I still didn't know if this was our Harry or not.

While the court session records were being copied, I thought hard and realized I had one last option. I asked if they had any loose papers from Common Pleas, in the hopes (a) that the papers might include the actual petition the heirs had submitted, and (b) that if they did, the petition might contain more detail than the court's ruling had. I was soon rewarded with a box tight-packed with a year's worth of "trifold" papers from various cases, as they had been submitted to the court 172 years ago and then folded for storage. They were called "law papers," so there was no assurance that they would even include petitions.

Like the cases themselves, the trifolds had no index, but at least they were in chronological order. I worked my way through November and into December. (Time was running out in my world too.) But then, there it was: not one but two copies of the petition the heirs had filed with the court. And it named one of the heirs as "Harry Porter of Farmington Fulton County Illinois." O happy day!

One moral of this story: it would have done no good at all for me to go to Jefferson County "looking for Harry Porter." Genealogy at this stage requires knowing much more than the target's name -- the family, the type of record, the approximate date, the name of the court, the process involved in the original court proceeding -- enough that you can get to the unindexed records, keep going, and hopefully do some good with them.

Harold Henderson, "Subterranean Direct Evidence: A Research Travelogue," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 21 September 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, September 20, 2012


The Maine Maritime Museum has something for everybody. For my wife, who works in three dimensions, the explanation of how boats of old were made from 1:48 actual models -- no blueprints -- was very revealing. I was drawn to the documents -- handwritten ship logs, especially the one for the McLellan, which survived a horrific encounter with a hurricane in September 1849 while attempting to carry molasses and other cargo from Cuba to Boston. The original log is on display in the museum along with a painting of the boat in extremis -- a very effective piece of museum work. I was torn between deciphering the writing (and the unfamiliar boilerplate) and following the tale itself.

I haven't had any occasion yet to use ships' logs in actual research, but they are surely among the most amazing sources we can have. How would you like to have a blow-by-blow account of your ancestor's work day? That's what it amounts to.

Harold Henderson, "Genealogy-by-the-Sea," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 20 September 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

From the blogs: 14-year-old fathers, on-line yearbooks, 1790 in western Massachusetts, and more

I can't read all the blogs or pick the best posts, but here are some recent items I enjoyed.

* The Plausibility Police! Dawne Slater-Putt at the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center was confronted with two different 14-year-old "fathers" in one day of work. Here's how she ascertained the facts in the first case and in the second.

* If you want a publishable research challenge but don't want to get into a lot of writing, check out your own and all your friends' and relations' trees for an under-documented resident of western Massachusetts in 1790 -- and then check out the New England Historic Genealogical Society's project.You will be edited, but that's a good thing!

* On-line yearbooks are getting common, but here's a bouquet from Loyola University (Chicago).

* Get thee to a law library for a legal-history closeup on black people in court in South after the Civil War. "This article draws on more than 600 higher court cases in eight southern states to show that African Americans succeeded in litigating certain kinds of civil cases against white southerners in southern appellate courts between 1865 and 1920." Hat tip to the Legal History Blog.

* Do you worship history? Debunk it? Or use it as a tool to "fluff out" your trees? Here's Diane Haddad's take at Family Tree magazine's blog.

Harold Henderson, "From the blogs: 14-year-old fathers, on-line yearbooks . . .," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 19 September 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Portfolio Choices for BCG Certification, Part 5 of 5: Kinship Determination Project

The kinship determination project is often the longest single piece in a BCG portfolio. Strictly speaking, it doesn't have to be. The specific requirements are to prove the two connections between three generations of the same family, and to place them in historical context. My second KDP was 71 pages long; a friend's was 13. We both passed.

The KDP can be deceptive, because we tend to identify it with the Complete Family History many of us aspire to write. In fact, a KDP doesn't have to encompass all of a family's children [NOT QUITE ACCURATE, FOR CORRECTION SEE JUDY RUSSELL'S FULL STATEMENT IN THE COMMENTS] and it doesn't have to contain all imaginable information about the family. (It is supposed to be a narrative -- in other words a story, and not a great pile of facts.) When you choose a family in your own direct line, however, the temptation to throw everything in is very great!

Another temptation is to put far more effort into it than into any other part of the portfolio, on the implicit assumption that it must be the most important item. But it's only just as important as any other.

Choosing a family for a KDP should not be as hard as some other choices. While we are required to connect generations, those proofs do not have to involve conflicting evidence (as does the case study). They do need to involve good-quality evidence of various kinds. This is the main thing the KDP has in common with the complex-evidence case study and even the client report: ideally they will all show off our skill at finding the relevant information, and analyzing and correlating different kinds of information from different kinds of records. That's what it's all about. Check out the work samples on the BCG site; just don't think that you have to do everything exactly the way those authors did it.

Harold Henderson, "Portfolio Choices for BCG Certification, Part 5 of 5: Kinship Determination Project," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 18 September 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, September 17, 2012

Portfolio Choices for BCG Certification, Part 4 of 5: Case Study

The complex-evidence case study may be the hardest piece of the portfolio to choose; it was for me. We have to pick a non-trivial problem and solve it -- and the problem has to involve either conflicting direct evidence or conflict between direct and indirect evidence, or only indirect evidence. I personally recommend finding a problem of the first two types. (There are plenty of problems for which there is no relevant direct evidence, but you cannot tell which they are at the start.)

If you think that the problem is finding conflicting evidence -- as I did four and a half years ago -- you probably aren't ready to submit. As I was told at the time, "If you haven't found a conflict, you haven't done enough research." Just make sure the conflict is significant. A straightforward simple census error or a disagreement of one day over a date would not normally qualify (in my opinion).

For many of us, doing this part of the portfolio is an important step in our journey from what Craig Scott calls "people doing genealogy" to "genealogists." Part of it is learning how resolving conflicts is fundamental to genealogy, not just an annoying thing that happens sometimes. Another part is learning and displaying how to put the Genealogical Proof Standard to work and in particular how to gauge when we have conducted reasonably exhaustive research.

Yet another part is learning how to structure the argument so that our case for the conclusion makes sense and is convincing. This may be hard because it's unexpected. Genealogists are often very detail-oriented people, and that's good. It's a necessary condition, as the philosophers would say, but not a sufficient condition.

Nit-picking has great value, but it can't substitute for being able to present a convincing case to the jury of our peers. If this is hard for you as it is for most of us, check the work samples on the BCG site; check any issue of the NGS Quarterly over the last 20 years or so; and try writing some up from research you've already done just to get a better feel for what it demands.

So all we need to do is choose a case study that is difficult enough to show that we can meet a challenge, and easy enough for us to solve it. Again, the rule of "Never Use Your First" rears its head. If you have done a few projects involving conflicting evidence, you'll be able to choose the one (quite possibly the most recent!) in which you feel you finally began to "get it." Among other things, that will be one that you can put away in a drawer for a month or two, and then pull it out and reread it and still like it.

Don't hurry. The time saved will soon be gone; the flawed work that results will last.

Tomorrow: Requirement #7, the kinship-determination project.

Harold Henderson, "Portfolio Choices for BCG Certification, Part 4 of 5: Case Study," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 17 September 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Portfolio Choices for BCG Certification, Part 3 of 5: Client Report

The client research report is a unique part of the BCG certification portfolio in that it must be presented exactly as it was sent to the client -- no cleaning up typos or anything else! -- and it must be accompanied by the client's permission for use and the client's statement of the question to be answered.

In theory it should be easy to choose which report to include, because we can't tinker with it or improve it. And in practice that restriction should emphasize the most important portfolio piece of advice after "follow the directions": Never, ever, submit the first one you did of anything. (Well, it's important to me. If I had followed it I would have been certified two years earlier!) In other words, we want to have enough client reports on hand so that we can choose the most appropriate, not have to hold our nose while choosing the least inappropriate.

Ideally the client report will show what we can do; an impeccably conducted and typo-free lookup in a published index is not going to impress. But success at answering the client's question is important too. There's nothing against submitting a well-done, on-target, thorough report that did not reach an answer. But we do have to say whether we think the client's objective was met. It's probably easier to show what we can do with a report where we were, um, able to do it -- but that is not a requirement, and there could be a report that showed great skill but didn't succeed in reaching the research goal. A particular concern here is that we do in fact direct our research to the client's actual question, not some nearby question that proved easier to research. (That only seems like a funny sort of mistake to those who haven't faced the temptation yet.)

There are plenty of options for those who haven't had any clients, including lurking on surname or locality lists and offering to do research pro bono for inquirers, in exchange for their allowing us to use the report in a portfolio. So why have it as a requirement? (As in all these posts, these are my personal opinions with no official sanction of BCG -- or anybody else, for that matter.) It's valuable because it shows how we deal with being dropped into a family that we've never studied before, and having to get oriented quickly and formulate reasonable plans. Trust me: it's completely different from working away on your same old own family!

Tomorrow: Requirement #6, the proof argument AKA complex-evidence case study.

Harold Henderson, "Portfolio Choices for BCG Certification, Part 3 of 5: Client Report," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 16 September 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Saturday, September 15, 2012

"Writing Genealogical Articles" on Blogtalk Radio

Jane E. Wilcox and I talked about all kinds of writing that genealogists can (and should!) do last night on the Forget-Me-Not radio hour, which overflowed the standard 60 minutes, lasting 1:16. As she says, "Your ancestors want their stories to be told." We had fun and I hope listeners will too! (The first page of my two-part article on William Berry in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register annual American Ancestors Journal even has a cameo role.)

If your download begins with Peggy Lee singing "Fever," you do have the right audio file. Jane's point is simply that if there weren't any of what Peggy is singing about, there wouldn't be any ancestors . . . or descendants for that matter.

Harold Henderson, "'Writing Genealogical Articles' on Blogtalk Radio," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 15 September 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Portfolio Choices for BCG Certification, Part 2 of 5: The Document

Requirement #4 in a BCG portfolio is to do a document. We get to choose it, and then we have to cite it, transcribe it, abstract it, analyze it, identify a focus person in it, and make a brief research plan based on it.

The word is "document," not deed, but most deeds are a handy size. A will or a marriage record would do fine.

I had trouble making this choice because I'm not used to looking at records from this angle. My first inclination was to choose a deed that had something cool in it that most don't have, like a description of the building on the lot, or a statement of relationship. But eventually I realized that what I wanted was a document that would be interesting to analyze and that would lead to interesting research, not necessarily one that told me something unusual. For a while I was tempted to use a very long deed from central Indiana that included metes and bounds (just because that surprises people and it provided a chance to deal with both major kinds of land description), but it turned out to be Really Long and thus a major transcription headache. In the end, for my second portfolio I chose a deed that had been part of a larger project (not used anywhere else in the portfolio), because in that case I had a clearer idea of how I had used it and where the research plan should go. There is no requirement to pull a document from thin air. The equivalent of that is requirement #3, where BCG supplies their choice of document for you to work up.

Compared to the other parts of the portfolio, this task may seem like an afterthought. It is small, but only in size! Analyzing and using documents is basic. Failing to meet standards on this portfolio item is at least as serious as on any other. Check out the "skillbuilding" articles on the BCG site, and the work in the sample portfolios at the BCG booth at major conferences. Note how much explaining goes on in them -- explanations that an instructor might give a class, but not explanations that would normally appear in your own notes to yourself, or in a quality genealogy journal (where readers are expected to know the basics). So explain! A portfolio in many ways is a unique animal.

Tomorrow: the client report (requirement #5).

Harold Henderson, "Portfolio Choices for BCG Certification, Part 2 of 5: The Document," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 15 September 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Friday, September 14, 2012

Portfolio Choices for BCG Certification, Part 1 of 5

When we start thinking about seeking certification from the Board for the Certification of Genealogists, one of the first things that comes up is our choices for the five items on which we choose to be evaluated: one document, one client report, one case study or complex-evidence proof argument, and one three-generation kinship determination project. What should we choose for each one? How can we even decide?

This intermediate level of thinking and worrying comes in between the decision to go for it or not and the level of generic tips and thoughts. And it's harder than it may look.

My thoughts here and elsewhere are unofficial, neither endorsed nor condemned by BCG as far as I know. And if you read anything here that contradicts the standards or the application guide or the judging rubrics, believe them and not me. (There is no surer guarantee of failure than to think you know more about what BCG wants than it does, or to think you're above following basic directions.)

In general, most of us want to choose the hardest problems that we can deal with well. Of course, that's tough to calibrate. If we already knew exactly what we could do well, we might feel less need to test ourselves against an objective standard!

There is an alternative view, based on the fact that BCG evaluation is pass-fail. If we meet the standards and rubrics, we pass. So we could just submit our regular work, not something "special." I have no quarrel with this, but I think it works better for those of us who are going through the process for the second time after having been turned down once. I had a much better grasp of the meaning of the requirements the second time around! Trying to calibrate just what meets requirements could also be difficult. We could fail by trying only to pass.

Another way to think about it is that a certification portfolio does not just reveal how many record types we know about, or whether we know what to do with them once we've got them. It also shows our underlying mindset, or disposition, or orientation. Do we care as much about how we get there as what we find out? Can we remember, and do, the right research thing at the end of a long day or a long project as surely as at the beginning? Professionals are people who can.

Tomorrow: the document (requirement #4).

Harold Henderson, "Portfolio Choices for BCG Certification, Part 1 of 5," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 14  September 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Are Citations the "Endgame" of Genealogy?

Many people think chess is boring, or too hard. Many chessplayers think endgames -- where most of the pieces have been traded off and much of the action is limited to kings and pawns -- are boring, or too hard. Yet if a chessplayer doesn't know how to play simple endgames, an astute opponent will steer for those endgames and win. I used to say that endgames were the "chess" of chess, the hard core of the hardcore.

Citations in genealogy are a bit like that. Many people think genealogy is boring (and if they knew more about it they might say it was too hard, too!). Many genealogists think citations are boring, or too hard. But genealogists who don't cite their sources probably don't understand them. And that's dangerous.

It's not dangerous because we'll forget where the source is. That does happen, but these days it's often a relatively minor problem. The danger lies in not knowing what the source is. Confusing an on-line database with an on-line image of an original, or confusing a Compiled Service Record card with a muster roll can lead to being confused or deceived. As Elizabeth Shown Mills puts it on her web site Evidence Explained, citing sources is all about "the details researchers need to capture while using a record, in order to understand (a) the nature of the source and (b) the strengths and weaknesses of the information that source provides." So the best citations are written on the scene rather than afterwards.

So are citations the hard core of the hardcore of genealogy? Maybe, although I might reserve that honor for the construction of a good proof argument. What do you think?

Harold Henderson, "Are Citations the 'Endgame' of Genealogy?," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 13 September 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Midweek Writing Tips

We can recover from having been taught bogus writing rules, but it helps to know which they are. Here's a start from Geoffrey Pullum.

We can also say more with less. PR man and blogger Mickie Kennedy names 20 verbose phrases that can go away. (Hat tip to Laura DeGrazia on Facebook.) But I would argue he doesn't go far enough.

Here's his first paragraph:
I’ve always been a firm advocate for getting your point across in as few words as possible. Today’s readers are more pressed for time than ever before, and as it relates to PR, reporters are bombarded by pitches all day long, so the faster you can get to the point, the better.
A shorter version:
I've always believed in making your point in the fewest possible words. Today's readers have less time than ever, and reporters are bombarded by PR, so the quicker the pitch, the better.
If this doesn't come naturally to you with a little practice and self-surgery -- or even if it does! -- enroll in Tom Jones's writing class at Samford IGHR. You'll be amazed at what he can do with your supposedly well-trimmed passage.

Harold Henderson, "Midweek Writing Tips," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 12 September 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Many Lives of GW Edison Jr. -- NGSQ Genealogy Olympics

We expect records to be occasionally mistaken, but few of us expect our ancestors to lie repeatedly. When they do, we have to step our research methodology up a notch. That's what Tom Jones did in the fourth of four articles in the amazing June 2012 issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. (I've already posted on the Pratt, Hackenberger, and Northamer articles.)

Those of us who enrolled in the first Advanced Evidence Practicum at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy in January got to wrestle with this problem for a day, in confidence, prior to publication. I think I'm safe in saying that it pinned most of us to the mat.

The individual in question -- George Wellington Edison Jr. (1861-1940) -- came from a good family and often held a skilled job. He also, in Jones's words, "used four names, married five times, was divorced twice, committed bigamy once, and had twelve children." Raised in Quincy, Adams County, Illinois, he bounced around Illinois, Missouri, and Indiana, helped build the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and died in Decatur, Macon County, Illinois.

Genealogists tracking an accomplished con man like this need to be wary, maintain a broad focus, and constantly test and correlate information from a variety of sources. For the specifics and the many intriguing sub-problems, I encourage you to read and reread!

Thomas W. Jones, "Misleading Records Debunked: The Surprising Case of George Wellington Edison Jr.," National Genealogical Society Quarterly vol. 100, no. 2 (June 2012):133-56.

Harold Henderson, "The Many Lives of GW Edison Jr. -- NGSQ Genealogy Olympics," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 11 September 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, September 10, 2012

On the radio Friday the 14th

Friday night I'll be on Jane Wilcox's Forget-Me-Not radio hour.

Harold Henderson, "On the radio Friday the 14th," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 10 September 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Reviewing Research from 2002

In 2002 my wife and I made a memorable joint research trip to Pittsburgh in quest of certain of her paternal grandmother's Boren ancestors. We got acquainted with the Historic Pittsburgh web site, the Carnegie library, the Beaver County Genealogy and History Center, and a motel lobby full of bikers. I wrote up a 40-page booklet about the project (minus the bikers) for family members.

How does it look now? Well, the citations are nonstandard, but at least they're there, as are images of original records. I used a variety of records but didn't always suck all the juice out of them. (And this is a problem that requires that.) Judging from what I found in my old files, I also spent a lot of time printing out census images and retrieving unsourced trees from the web. (They may yet come in handy.) So there's some work to re-do, not too much to undo, and a lot more sources to seek out.

The main problem I see now in that booklet is its logic. I wasn't sure where to start. My wife's great-grandfather's grandfather is the last well-documented ancestor, so (as I know now) that would have been the best place to start work. But there is a fairly plausible candidate for HIS grandfather who made a detailed deposition for a Revolutionary War pension in 1839. It was just too tempting, so I tried to work from both ends. Go thou and do not do likewise!

We still don't know if he's for real (he never got the pension, as his service records were not found), and in the meanwhile I have learned that it's not good practice to skip over that intervening generation. Also in the meanwhile more compiled abstracts have been published, more original records are on line, and I have gotten acquainted with a number of knowledgeable genealogists in the left-hand end of the state. Pittsburgh is in our sights once again.

Harold Henderson, "Reviewing Research from 2002," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 10 September 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Sunday, September 9, 2012

No Wonder He's a Distinguished Professor

James Oakes, distinguished professor of history at the Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York, was writing about history, and Civil War history, in this passage. But the words work for genealogists too, or at least the kind of genealogist I'd like to be:

. . . there's always something new to learn. The more documents I read the more nuances I'm likely to notice in the next one I read. It's like learning a language I didn't even know existed. It's hard to figure it out, but it's also fun; serious, but joyful. It's why I love what I do. Because every day the past seems just a little bit different to me than it seemed the day before.
His new book is due out in December: Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States.

James Oakes, "On Changing My Mind," Perspectives on History, vol. 50, no. 6 (September 2012), : accessed 7 September 2012.

Harold Henderson, "No Wonder He's a Distinguished Professor," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 9 September 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Saturday, September 8, 2012

One Thousand and Counting

According to Blogger, this is my one-thousandth post since Midwestern Microhistory opened up 23 January 2008. Not a huge deal, since those geneabloggers who started sooner and/or post oftener whizzed past this milepost a long time back.

This blog still benefits from my daughter-in-law's original layout, but its original relentless focus on the Midwest has been relieved a bit by doses of methodology. (It's true: when I started blogging I had yet to hear Tom Jones speak.) But my heart and my business remain close to Chicago, however much the occasional blizzard or drought makes me wish otherwise. 

Blogging tends to be impromptu, unedited (except sometimes in remorseful afterthought), brief, occasional, sometimes disputations, and always sociable. I have argued elsewhere that its spirit predates the net. When I have to explain blogging to non-bloggers, I say that a blog is a cross between an email and a web site: a temporary communication that stays put and that folks can see later. Not sure that helps much.

In principle blogging on the internet should make us more honest. It's a web log, and that implies linking. We might want to say, for instance, that members of the other political party are morons, or that the "genealogy police" are abusing innocent hobbyists on a regular basis. If we're talking or writing for print, 20th-century style, we can just make the claim and hope no one asks for evidence. But if we're blogging, we are expected -- if not morally obligated -- to link to an example of what we're talking about. It shouldn't be that hard to do (even if our claim turns out to be false, there should be a plausible example somewhere). And if we can't find anything to link to that illustrates our point, then maybe our thesis is flawed and should be retired for the time being in favor of a post about a new record type, or some cute pictures of kittens or grandchildren.

Sometimes blogging is real writing (by which I mean not fancy but something that sticks with you), and sometimes it's the prelude to it. I think it suits genealogy well, because both enterprises rest on the firm foundation described some time ago by Robert Louis Stevenson:

The world is so full of a number of things,
I think we should all be as happy as kings.

Robert Louis Stevenson, "Happy Thought," A Child's Garden of Verses (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1895), 44; digital image, The RLS Website ( : accessed 5 September 2012).  The virtual book is on Internet Archive.

Harold Henderson, "One Thousand and Counting," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 8 September 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Friday, September 7, 2012

What DO You Get When You Cross a Genealogist with an Antique Dealer?

What you get is JustAJoy, a web site (and sometime genealogy conference vendor) that combines three quests in one: genealogists' quest for information, antique dealers' quest for sales, and everybody's quest to locate and identify lost heirlooms. It's a marketplace, a lost-and-found, and a research aid: what's not to like?

Anyone can visit and search the site; the $20 annual membership fee allows you to view additional information, receive notification emails when they acquire an item pertaining to any of your 20 closest family surnames, and to post items of your own. The information stays on line even after the piece is sold, so the site succeeds in appealing to those of us who cannot or would not pay thousands of dollars for an original Civil War muster roll.

And the artifacts on offer are not your typical antiquer or genealogist fare. As Kimberly Powell recently noted over at, JustAJoy recently acquired a gaggle of century-old wanted posters. Not only are the pictures amazing, the information about the individuals pictured (and sometimes what they heisted) is absolutely fascinating. It may be wrong to say so, but for sheer curb appeal they beat a family Bible any day.

Kimberly Powell, "Wanted: Family History in Wanted Posters," Genealogy, posted 4 September 2012 ( : accessed 5 September 2012).

Harold Henderson, "What DO You Get When You Cross a Genealogist with an Antique Dealer?," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 7 September 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Chicago 2401 months ago, and other books

Two hundred years and one month ago, at the start of the War of 1812, the Potawatomi obliterated Chicago. Last month the University of Chicago Press announced a new book on the subject by historian Ann Durkin Keating: Rising Up from Indian Country: The Battle of Fort Dearborn and the Birth of Chicago. With blurbs from Donald Miller (City of the Century) and Lee Sandlin (Wicked River) it looks to be a good read. (Sandlin's take is not wholly favorable, however.)

Other recently reviewed books of potential microhistorical interest:

Alan Allport, Demobbed: Coming Home after World War Two, reviewed here.

Harold Henderson, "Chicago 2401 months ago, and other books," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 6 September 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Probate: Open Your Present! has just published an article in which I ask why genealogists look only for wills when the best stuff is often deeper inside the courthouse . . . and explain why we should: "Probate Records: A Gift Many Genealogists Fail to Open," featuring loose papers, with the Thrall, Webster, and Ambrose families in supporting roles.

Harold Henderson, "Probate: Open Your Present," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 5 September 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Statements that tell more about the speaker than the subject

"National Genealogical Society Quarterly  is boring."

"Bach is boring."

"Red and green are the same color."

Harold Henderson, "Statements that tell more about the speaker . . . ," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 4 September 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, September 3, 2012

Top Five MWM Posts for July 2012

Time for the monthly popularity contest, listing the most-viewed blog posts made during July. #1 was well in the lead. I'll report on August in early October when the dust of that month will have settled.

1. Get a GRIP and Go Read Another Blog! (July 24)

2. How Can I Prove My Mom? (July 26)

3. STOP Creating Former Ancestors! (July 15)

4. Weekend Wonderings: Taking Notes (July 14)

5. Be Kind to the Newbies (July 12)

Least viewed:

Local, the quarterly (maybe) (July 22)

Harold Henderson, "Top Five MWM Posts for July 2012," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 3 September 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Sunday, September 2, 2012

FGS Day Four (Saturday September 1)

The South Carolina backcountry could be the US headquarters of brick walls, so it behooves dedicated researchers to pay attention when Elizabeth Shown Mills devotes an entire lecture to the region, as she did Saturday, the final morning of FGS 2012 in Birmingham. It doesn't matter whether you have, or ever expect to have, research targets there. To paraphrase an old song about a big city, "If you can solve it there, you can solve it anywhere." My only problem with the talk was that not everyone at the conference was there to hear it.

Squeezed in around the lecture I enjoyed a pleasant breakfast with fellow APG board members Joan Peake and Kimberly Powell, picked up a 75%-off book at the booth, and got to the Birmingham airport before midday, leaving plenty of time to chat with the selection of early-departing genealogists in Concourse C. (Speaking of vendor booths, earlier in the conference I was pleased to meet up with a new and very promising hybrid that could be the answer to the riddle, "What do you get when you cross an antique dealer with a genealogist?" -- to be blogged about in the near future.)

By leaving midday Saturday, I missed another very interesting-looking talk about exceedingly obscure federal pension records by Kenneth W. Heger, on NARA Record Group 48 (Records of the Department of the Interior) including pension commissioners' reports on appeals and correspondence.

Thanks to all the volunteer workers who made this conference possible. I'm looking forward to next year's edition in the Midwestern research mecca of Fort Wayne, Indiana!

Harold Henderson, "FGS Day Four (Saturday September 1)," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 2 September 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Saturday, September 1, 2012

FGS Day Three (Friday August 31)

When I attended my first national conference (NGS in Kansas City 2008) I knew only one or two of the many hundreds of people present. I had no meetings or other events to attend beyond the scheduled presentations. Basically everything I knew about the entire event was public. I could have blogged in some detail about every day (don't think I did).

Now at FGS Birmingham 2012, I know a lot more people, I have a lot more fun with friends from across the country. I also attend a more meetings and fewer lectures, and much of what I learn is not public, or if public not terribly interesting. I missed out on Mark Lowe's talk on Baptist missionaries due to an arduous meeting; while on what you might call courier duty, I heard the last ten minutes of Tom Jones's new talk on citations. (If you're kind of stuck on the subject, check it out and see if his approach helps.)

I love talking to the folks who come by the Association of Professional Genealogists and the Board for the Certification of Genealogists booths about their interests or research issues, but it's hard to explain them all. An Indiana friend and I compared notes on a favorite central-Indiana courthouse where the old records are on the skylit fourth floor instead of the usual dank basement and which is ground zero for a pesky ancestral problem. I could tell all about how APG is continuing a dynamic but difficult phase of growth, but that would only be interesting to those members who are benefiting from our new webinars and other features. I heard Mary Penner's hilarious APG luncheon talk on ten reasons not to write your family history, but -- well, you had to be there.

As a result, it's hard for me to say a lot about FGS this time around. And it has become easier for me to understand how some folks attend the event, stay in the hotel, hang in the restaurants and exhibit hall, spend all day talking to people on business, and never actually enroll in the conference itself. They are just as concerned with genealogy as ever, but their conference lives have been turned inside out, and what was once the core has almost disappeared.

Harold Henderson, "FGS Day Three (Friday August 31)," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 1 September 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]