Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Loyal Acorn: A Day in the Life

Curiosity killed the cat, but it only slows down the genealogist. Our first wood-burning stove (1974) was a quasi-antique with the quaint name "Umpire Estate," I presumed some company's attempt to sound like the nickname for New York. The other day I was checking transcribed court cases for a township in La Porte County, Indiana. In 1882, a man was being sued for unpaid bills; he had purchased two stoves, one called "Loyal Acorn."

I went right down that rabbit hole and searched on "loyal acorn" and stove. Up came an informative ad. And the excursion was actually relevant, because the printed ad revealed that I had mis-transcribed the surname of a company owner: it was Sard, not Lord.

But one mystery always leads to another: for some reason, Google thinks that the magazine containing this advertisement was volume 11 of Sanitary and Heating Age. In fact, as I paged back, it was the 29 March 1879 issue -- volume 11, yes, but of The Metal Worker: A Weekly Journal of the Stove, Tin, Plumbing, and House Furnishing Trades. Just one more reason to triple-check what we're citing.

"The 'Acorn' Line of Wood Cook Stoves," advertisement for Rathbone, Sard & Company, The Metal Worker: A Weekly Journal of the Stove, Tin, Plumbing, and House Furnishing Trades vol. 11 [number illegible], Sat. 29 March 1879, p. 5; digital image, Google Books ( : accessed 16 February 2013).

Harold Henderson, "Loyal Acorn: A Day in the Life," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 27 February 2013 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, February 25, 2013

New History Books

It's always fun when a new issue of the American Historical Review comes around and I pick out books published a year or more ago that I never heard of but now want to see (quotations from reviewers in the February 2013 issue):

James Joseph Buss, Winning the West with Words: Language and Conquest in the Lower Great Lakes (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2011). This sounds like a much more sophisticated version of my usual rant about how many mug books may have genealogical value while being just bad history. Reviewer John P. Bowes: "In the states of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, white Americans worked over the course of a century and more to write Wyandots, Potawatomis, and others out of the landscape while crafting a narrative that 'portrayed the erasure of indigenous communities as a passive and inevitable consequence of settlement.'"

Kenneth E. Marshall, Manhood Enslaved: Bondmen in Eighteenth- and Early Nineteenth-Century New Jersey (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2011). The author focuses on three individuals and "finds complex men who struggled to assert their manhood in a world determined to render them as boys."

Mazie Hough, Rural Unwed Mothers: An American Experience, 1870-1950 (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2010). Focus on Maine and Tennessee.

Hendrik Hartog, Someday This Will Be Yours: A History of Inheritance and Old Age (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2012). Focus on New Jersey court cases: "When an individual died and did not leave the caregiver the inheritance seemingly promised . . .the courts became the stage for the most personal of family dramas."

Joanna L. Grossman and Lawrence M. Friedman, Inside the Castle: Law and the Family in Twentieth Century America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011). "A highly readable and informative overview [with] . . . endnotes that can be mined for additional information."

Harold Henderson, "New History Books," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 25 February 2013 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Some Dimwit Is Going To Read My Notes!

How to keep track of your research findings so that even you can find them and figure them out in a month or a year -- that's the subject of my new article over at, "Keeping Track on the Road to Proof." The shortest possible version: we have to take detailed notes on everything we do because "even if real life never interrupts, genealogy is still a recursive process because it is a learning process: it always involves retracing our steps."

Harold Henderson, "Some Dimwit Is Going To Read My Notes!," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 23 February 2013 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Friday, February 22, 2013

That Was Constructive Criticism, You Fool!

Folks largely deplored the amount of backbiting and destructive criticism and cyber-bullying among genealogists in a brief but agonized discussion on Facebook last week. This was far from the first such discussion and I doubt it will be the last.

I am no fan of cyber-bullying, but usually my thoughts run in other directions:

(1) Anyone who thinks genealogy is bad this way should try reading nothing but political blogs and the comments thereon. We are paragons of decorum by comparison.

(2) Natural caution and some sort of Facebook etiquette dictates that no one ever name any particular individual or controversy in these discussions. (This also applies to non-genealogist friends I have on FB, who frequently post mood statements with no referents. It also applies to this post . . . but maybe not to later ones.) Since one person's cyber-bullying is another person's constructive criticism, I never quite know what we're talking about. Should I re-evaluate my own behavior? Or just enjoy re-evaluating others'?

(3) In my own genealogical life, I don't get enough criticism, constructive or otherwise. And I have a sneaking suspicion that few of us do.

Harold Henderson, "That Was Constructive Criticism, You Fool!," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 22 February 2013 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

It's Gone! Now What?

Someone asked a good question following my citations webinar last week (still listenable here if you're an Illinois State Genealogical Society member): how do you deal with a situation where the image you have cited is no longer on line?

For me, and I'm sure many others, it's not an academic question. Thanks to a typically non-transparent Chicago contract negotiation, FamilySearch no longer provides images for many Cook County, Illinois, records, including this one which figures in my talk coming up in May at the National Genealogical Society conference in Las Vegas:

City of Chicago, Department of Health, Record of Death no. 2510, George Edw. Chilcote 1914; digital image, “Illinois, Cook County Deaths, 1878-1922,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 28 September 2011), citing Family History Library microfilm 1,239,982.
Technically the citation is still accurate, as the image was there on the date of access. But it's no longer available. The index remains, but relying exclusively on indexes is no fun and bad genealogy.

I still have almost three months to make up my mind, but three -- make that four -- courses of action seem appropriate:

(1) At a minimum, add a note saying that the image is no longer available on the site, and possibly not on the internet at all.

(2) Refer to an alternative. In this case, the obvious alternative is the Cook County Clerk's site. This site does have an index and a reasonable open-records policy, but charges $15 per copy and has a notoriously incomplete index. Mr. Chilcote's 1914 death is not indexed there, so at best ordering it will be an adventure.

(3) In my case, since I downloaded the image when the opportunity was there, I can cite it as an item in my own possession, much as I would a family quilt.

(4) If you didn't download the image when the opportunity was there, you could order the microfilm and view and cite that, or view it somewhere that has the microfilm on indefinite loan, or hire someone to do so for you.

Other thoughts welcome . . .

Harold Henderson, "It's Gone! Now What?," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 20 February 2013 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, February 18, 2013

December 2012 NGS Quarterly

Well, 2012 isn't quite done yet. I just received my physical copy of the December 2012 National Genealogical Society Quarterly in the physical mail a couple of weeks ago.

Midwesterners play bit parts in this issue: a Bible record certified by the county clerk of Pope County, Illinois, and a slavecatcher getting his comeuppance in Hillsdale County, Michigan in 1839 (at least that's how the Liberator retold it; apparently that issue of the local newspaper no longer exists).

Michael Hait, co-winner of the 2011 NGS Family History Writing Contest, chronicles four generations and a century of the Maryland Ridgely family from slavery to freedom and success as professionals. In a recent post on his blog, Planting the Seeds, Michael tells the backstory of how this article came to be.

George Findlen examines duplicate records in French Canada for a baptism, a marriage, and a birth to teach a double lesson: don't rely on published abstracts, and know the customs and canon law.

Allen R. Peterson follows the border-crossing Hyde family in Cheshire and Derbyshire, England, from the 1650s to the 1820s.

James W.  Petty discusses a variety of legally required records that document enslaved and emancipated black people in Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere in the north.

Genealogy doesn't get better than this. The quarterly can be found in good genealogical libraries everywhere, and in your mailbox if you're a member of the National Genealogical Society.

Michael Hait, "In the Shadow of Rebellions: Maryland Ridgelys in Slavery and Freedom," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 100 (December 2012):245-66.

George L. Findlen, "Resolving Duplicate Roman Catholic Parish Register Entries: French Canadian Examples," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 100 (December 2012):267-78.

Allen R. Peterson, "Living on the Edge: A Hyde Family of Cheshire and Derbyshire, England," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 100 (December 2012):279-92.

James W. Petty, "Black Slavery Emancipation Research in the Northern States," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 100 (December 2012):293-304.

Harold Henderson, "December 2012 NGS Quarterly," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 18 February 2013 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Sunday, February 17, 2013

On Wisconsin and On to FGS Fort Wayne

Cross-posted from the FGS 2013 conference news blog:

Is Wisconsin on your way to or from the 2013 FGS conference in Fort Wayne? You'll love the Badger State's hospitable research stopovers – and leave your down coat at home: August is a good time to visit.

Wisconsin Historical Society
816 State Street, Madison
That's library AND archives, including pre-1907 vital records (index on line), US census agriculture schedules, and a famous newspaper collection. If have time for only one stop en route to Fort Wayne, this is it.

13 Area Research Centers
La Crosse, Platteville, Whitewater, Parkside, Milwaukee, Oshkosh, Green Bay, Stevens Point, Eau Claire, Stout, River Falls, Superior, and Ashland
Check out the map and links to localized holdings in 13 places besides Madison. (La Crosse has steamboat photographs.)

Milwaukee Public Library
814 West Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Sailors in your pedigree? Check out the Great Lakes Marine Collection, including data on more than 10,000 ships:

Harold Henderson, "On Wisconsin and On to FGS Fort Wayne," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 17 February 2013 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Mark the Calendar: Amy Johnson Crow in South Bend April 13

Two talks by a highly qualified speaker will be handy to genealogists in northern Indiana and southern Michigan in April.

Saturday, April 13, at the Colfax Auditorium in the main St. Joseph County Public Library at 304 South Main Street in South Bend, Amy Johnson Crow will speak on researching our Civil War ancestors:

10 am: “Answering the Call: Researching Civil War Ancestors Before and During the
War,” and

11:30 am: “Discharged: Researching Civil War Ancestors After the War.”

The talks are co-sponsored by the library and the South Bend Area Genealogical Society.

Amy Johnson Crow, MLIS, CG, is a Genealogical Content Manager with She is a researcher, author, editor, and database developer. She is a former editor of the Ohio Civil War Genealogy Journal.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Free Digitized Newspapers -- Four Meta-Sites

There's no such thing as a free lunch, but if you're in the right place there may be such a thing as a free digital old newspaper. I know of four places to look -- "metasites" if you will. They overlap one another a lot, but as of today no one of them has everything.

"All Digitized Newspapers, 1836-1922," in the Library of Congress's  Chronicling America: Historic Newspapers -- something here for three of the five Midwestern states (nothing for Michigan or Wisconsin).

"Historical Newspapers Online," in Penn Libraries Guide -- good coverage of all five Midwestern states, including the lovely site from Quincy Public Library in western Illinois, but they missed the maverick site Old Fulton NY Postcards!

Free Newspaper Archives in the US -- nothing here for Michigan, and they missed one of my Indiana favorites, the Digital Archives of the Allen County Public Library, a go-to place for old news of northeast Indiana and a slice of northwest Ohio.

For international as well as US resources, Wikipedia may be the best of all. Frankly, it's easier for me to check all four than it is to try to figure out which is most complete on any given day.


Google News may be becoming an orphan site, not what it used to be, but it's still there.

Of course, patching together all these sites still leaves a lot unsearched and a lot of time consumed. Pay sites Ancestry Historical Newspaper Collection USA, GenealogyBank and Newspaper Archive allow global searching which is sometimes what we need. At least they are affordable to some individuals, unlike ProQuest, for which I have recommended visiting a nearby college or university library.

Harold Henderson, "Free Digitized Newspapers -- Four Meta-Sites," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 13 February 2013 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, February 11, 2013

You Don't Always Have To Be There: Is That a Problem?

Can you work on line with someone you've never met in person? Sure. Can you be good friends as well without ever having met? I don't think so.

So I agree with Michael LeClerc's post at Mocavo rejecting the idea that national genealogy conferences should become all-virtual. As he says, "Interpersonal communication is vitally important in the growth of any field of endeavor. This is accomplished in far better ways in person than online."

So why is national conference attendance these days stuck (at best) in the low four figures when family history is so popular? Because, while still important, national conferences are less essential. Attendance used to be higher because there were no webinars, no mailing lists, no web sites, no bloggers. For many genealogical purposes you had to be there. Now you don't. People have more options if they want to buy a book or bumper sticker, or join an organization, or hear a particular speaker. (Same thing applies to chess clubs, which have diminished but not died.) I know I'm more free than I would have been in the past to skip national events held in places inconvenient to me.

We all have more choices. In principle that's good. In practice it's darn confusing.

Take podcasts. And webinars. I rarely do, because I can always put them off. Back when I had to be tuned in at a particular time, I did so -- or did without. Now I can wait, and often I wait until I've forgotten I wanted to listen.

That particular response may be a generational thing. But it's true across the board that cyberspace's ever-growing menu of options and timeshifting opportunities means that every option has to sell itself more vigorously than ever before. National conferences are no exception, and they may need actual restructuring -- more variants on the regulation hour-long lecture, for sure -- as well as better pennypinching and better marketing. (That said, I'm not sure if even a restructured conference would tempt me onto yet another long airline flight.)

My guess is that we're still in the early stages of reconciling our human nature as hard-wired gregarious creatures with our increasing involvement in cyberspace. There's unprecedented room to try new things, but not everything will work.

I will venture one prediction: Our grandchildren will be long dead and forgotten before the pleasure of being in the same physical place as like-minded people has palled. It's always a good time there.

Michael LeClerc, "What Will the Future Bring for National Conferences?," Mocavo Geneaology Blog, posted 8 February 2013 ( : accessed 10 February 2013).

Harold Henderson, "You Don't Always Have To Be There: Is That a Problem?," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 11 February 2013 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Which States Have the Most Genealogy Articles?

I searched the Periodical Source Index (available if you're at the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center or at home via HeritageQuest through your local library) for each state. In thousands, here are the numbers of genealogy articles returned for each state in order (rounded to the nearest thousand):

1. Ohio 74
2. Illinois 70
3. Texas 59
4. Pennsylvania 57
5. New York 52

6. California 49
7. Kentucky 46
8. Arkansas and Missouri 43
10. Indiana 41

11. North Carolina 37
12. Tennessee 36
13. Virginia 35
14. Michigan 31
15. Georgia 28

16. Kansas 27
17. Massachusetts, Iowa, and Alabama 26
20. Louisiana and Wisconsin 21

22. Maryland and South Carolina 19
24. Washington and Oklahoma 18
26. Minnesota, Oregon, and West Virginia 17

29. New Jersey and Mississippi 15
31. Florida 13
32. Nebraska 11

33. Colorado 9
34. Connecticut and Maine 8
36. Arizona, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Vermont 5

40. Idaho, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Rhode Island 4
44. Montana, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming 3
48. Delaware and District of Columbia 2
50. Hawaii and Alaska 1

The Midwest (as defined here) comes in 1, 2, 10, 14, and 20.

Harold Henderson, "Which States Have the Most Genealogy Articles?," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 9 February 2013 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, February 7, 2013

False Memories

The highly readable neurologist Oliver (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat) Sacks takes his own memories for a subject in a recent New York Review of Books article. He published a vivid personal memory of the London Blitz, and had to take it back when his older brother told him he wasn't there, and showed that his knowledge of it came from a vivid letter written by another brother who was. Yet Sacks's memory of the bomb he never saw felt just as vivid and personal and saturated with detail as his memory of an earlier one that he had witnessed.

Personal knowledge is not necessarily knowledge. Evolution just hasn't equipped us to be cameras who capture an image and retain it intact. That's why family historians are advised to write things down soon after they happen -- put that potentially mutable memory into a fixed form. Your great-grandmother's memory of a 1920 wedding is more valuable in the form of a letter written the day after than in the form of  a beautiful memory recalled 80 years later. Of course the beautiful memory is better than nothing, but it's not necessarily accurate even if she's sure it is. Sacks had absolutely no doubt of his. (I wrote about my own example of a collective family false memory here.)

Oliver Sacks, "Speak, Memory," New York Review of Books, vol. 60, no. 3 (21 February 2013):19-21.

Harold Henderson, "False Memories," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 8 February 2013 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Citations as a New Language

Think of learning to cite sources properly as learning a new language. Even a few words and a notion of syntax will be much better than nothing. The natives will smile when you show some fluency and ask for help.

More along these lines at my Illinois State Genealogical Society webinar Tuesday evening, "The Best Present You Can Give Yourself: Citing Your Sources."

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Original Records Rule

The indefatigable Paula Stuart-Warren has an excellent lesson in why we ALWAYS should seek out original records rather than abstracts. The abstract she had was accurate, but oh so incomplete . . . Read the whole thing.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Most Viewed MWM Posts December 2012

Once again it's time for the monthly popularity contest, listing the most-viewed blog posts made here during December.

And once again the top finisher ran well ahead of the pack: "We still need to understand that no single record is automatically correct or even trustworthy; they all need corroboration from other independently created records if we can possibly find them. We still need to understand how to analyze a single record and correlate it with other types. From this point of view 2013 looks very much like 1993 -- or, for that matter, 1893."

1. What Does It Mean to Be "Out of Date"? (December 13)

2. Perfectionism: Is The Best the Enemy? (December 31)

3. Overcommitted and Underperforming (December 7)

4.  Don't Ask Your 1820s Ancestor What His "Job" Was (December 27)

5.  Was That a Deadline I Just Missed? (December 28)

Least viewed:

Gems from New England (December 18)

Harold Henderson, "Most Viewed MWM Posts December 2012," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 4 February 2013 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Friday, February 1, 2013

1855 New York State Census on Family Search!

FamilySearch has just posted the wonderful 1855 New York State Census with 84,000+ images from 46 of 62 counties, and it's searchable!

On the Herding of Cats

Many of us have angst about the future and fate of genealogy societies, large and local, professional and otherwise. Are they dissolving in the face of digital change? Or because they and most of their members are too tradition-bound to try anything new (even something as simple as half-hour talks at conferences)?

Certainly times were different when attending a society was almost the only way to connect with fellow aficionados of dead people. But sometimes I am tempted to ask the question the other way around: how is it that any genealogical societies ever came into existence at all?

Genealogists don't usually start out being intensely sociable, and research tends to be solitary. If you don't agree with someone else's research or publication style or demeanor at meetings, it's easy to strike out on your own, 'cause that's where we all started. And it fits into other fissiparous American traditions: Protestant sectarianism, frontiersmen moving on when they could see smoke from another chimney.

It's easier than ever to self-publish and follow no standards other than one's own. I'm not saying that's a good idea. But maybe we should think about what specific endeavors might bring us together, rather than fret and fight about how and why things sometimes seem to be coming apart.

Harold Henderson, "On the Herding of Cats," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 1 February 2013 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Photo credit: urbanlegend's photostream per Creative Commons.