Friday, August 30, 2013

Fine points in Wisconsin archives' searchable finding aids

Many local Wisconsin records have migrated into the state's fourteen Area Research Centers -- another reason to call ahead when visiting a courthouse for the first time, as they may have exported the records you need to see!

The ARCs are real archives, with finding aids for the collections. Although they are scattered around the state, there is a central point where you can browse or search all the finding aids: Archival Resources in Wisconsin: Digital Finding Aids. You can search either by title or by every word in the finding aids.

As usual in such cases, it helps to figure out the right search terms. General browsing will find a great many collections of personal papers of all sorts. But it also works to search on genealogy terms. I finally learned that a search for "Wisconsin County Court" in titles only will bring up 86 court records that can be sorted alphabetically in order to scan for target counties. These include probate, guardianship, civil, criminal, insanity, divorce, and other listings.

Internally, most of those finding aids list the cases by number or by years. The case lists sometimes include classic archivist's notes like this one from reel 9 (cases 400-481) of Trempealeau County Probates 1855-1900: "Files 427-428 are filed between 453-456; these may really be files 454-455. They are not the same files 427-428 that are filed between 426-429. No files 424-425, 429, 474." (If you enjoy notes like this as much as I do, you have found your calling.)

But a few counties list probate cases by name. It was in this way that I discovered some very interesting people related to my wife, whose records had somehow escaped me in the past. I can see several trips to the Badger State in my future . . .

Harold Henderson, "Fine points in Wisconsin archives' searchable finding aids," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 30 August 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The tradeoff when we visit a repository has published my short article, "Rip and Run vs. Write as You Go." Making this choice is not as simple as it may seem in the classroom. Online records access tips the balance toward slowing down and writing as you go, but when we're traveling, real-world factors like non-genealogist traveling companions play a role too.

Harold Henderson, "The tradeoff when we visit a repository," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 28 August 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, August 26, 2013

The books I bought at FGS

For moderately regular attendees, a national genealogy conference is an oasis of extreme sociability in a normally quiet, if not quite solitary, life. I love conferences, but they do make it difficult for me to work, blog, think, research, compose presentations, or otherwise do the things that give us food for conversation when we're there.

I did not buy a single book at full price during last week's FGS conference in Fort Wayne, but if I hadn't already bought it at NGS, I would have purchased Tom Jones's Mastering Genealogical Proof. I did have occasion to recommend it to many ambitious people. Here's what I did buy at Maia's Books, the Ohio Genealogical Society booth, the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania booth, and the perpetual used-book sale just inside the east end of the Allen County Public Library:

Scott E. Casper, Constructing American Lives: Biography and Culture in Nineteenth-Century America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999).

Leslie Brenner, American Appetite: The Coming of Age of A National Cuisine (New York: HarperCollins, 1999).

James M. Duffin, comp., Guide to the Mortgages of the General Loan Office of the Province of Pennsylvania, 1724-1756 (Philadelphia?: Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania, 1995).

Dale Roylance, Graphic Americana: The Art and Technique of Printed Ephemera from Abecedaires to Zoetropes (Princeton: Princeton University Library, 1992).

Charles E. Rosenberg and William H. Helfand, "Every Man his own Doctor": Popular Medicine in Early America (Philadelphia: The Library Company of Philadelphia, 1998).

Roberta P. Wakefield, ed., Special Aids to Genealogical Research in Northeastern and Central States (Washington DC: National Genealogical Society, 1962).

Milton Rubincam, ed., Genealogical Research: Methods and Sources (Washington DC: American Society of Genealogists, 1960).

Encyclopedia of World History (New York: Facts on File, 2000).

Were they worth it? You tell me, I've got a deadline!

Harold Henderson, "The books I bought at FGS," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 26 August 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Guest post: What Getting A Credential Meant To Me

Dee Dee King, CG(sm), is a Texas-based forensic genealogist who doesn't have a blog, so I let her borrow mine during a week when FGS in Fort Wayne may monopolize my attention. Her thoughts:

I made a career change in my 50s - genealogy as a profession beckoned.  Having been in social services much of my adult life,  I was keenly aware of missed opportunities because of no degree in the field and some credentials dependent upon that degree.

What would my career path be in the profession of genealogy?  Education, education, education, networking and credentials.  Even my telephoneman’s blue collar field advanced his position and pay with each training and certification.

I piddled with my application.  Until hubby lost his contract work, we moved to Houston for a job that turned out to not exist, and we wound up living on his unemployment.  Go get a “real job” or kick myself in the butt and accomplish what I wanted for a career?  Against the advice of friends and family, we tightened the belt. Hubby fully supported my banishment to the office each day to craft a portfolio pretty much from scratch.

Within two years of tentative investigation into the career, I received that email saying the approved CGSR(sm) board-certification would follow by postal delivery.

What did that credential mean to me?  “Damn! I did it!”  Hubby beaming with pride.  Son-in-law congratulating me - I’d become board-certified in my field before he was board-certified in his. New business cards and updated website. Renewed confidence that I had been tested and /could/ make it.

New hourly rate higher than the hard-working ladies who cleaned area houses. Customers with a better expectation of professional services and more money to spend on research. Fewer customers who thought a fifth genealogist might overturn four who proved the customer was not 1/4 Indian Princess. Real depth of work to break brick walls or build the life story of a grandfather who abandoned his family.

The credential was the key on the resume to approach attorneys about legal work.  It convinced the judge to appoint me to the first probate case, over three genealogists who did not have credentials.  The legal field understands the term “board-certification.”  Another bump in hourly rate.

The credential helped lay the foundation to qualify as an expert in the field. It got the jobs that built experience on the resume. It demonstrated work had been peer-reviewed according to the accepted standards of my profession.  It demonstrated training and education beyond that of the “lay person in the field.” [Their words, not mine.]  The credential helped establish that working to those standards meant the research and conclusions were reproducible by following the same path and methodology.  That helped qualify as an expert witness.  My services were more valuable, another bump in the hourly rate.

I could not do the work that supports my family now without that credential. There would be no big legal cases, maybe a few small-estate probates where only an independent witness was needed.  I certainly would not be speaking everyday with family members of unaccounted-for Navy personnel. This is a humanitarian effort unique to this country - a congressionally mandated effort to locate, identify and bring home those who gave their lives for this country. A credential was required to even be considered for the competitive contract. My husband could not have quit his job and retired two years early.  We could not have bought a dream home in the country with grandkids romping amongst our cows, goats, chickens, piggies and garden.

No, it wasn’t all about the money.  It was about carving a career path that provided a decent, professional-level wage, a great deal of satisfaction, and a service necessary to those who hire me.  Pretty much what most of us want from a job?

The path to forensic genealogy is not for everyone. But this is an example of how a credential can, and did, make a difference in a career.

Dee Dee King, "Guest post: What Getting A Credential Meant to Me," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 21 August 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Good news from the fast-moving world of dead people

Joe Beine has posted latest updates on death records. From the Midwest we have:

ILLINOIS: obituary indexes from Alexander, Cook, Pulaski, Rock Island, Tazewell, and Union counties

INDIANA: obituary indexes from Henry, Lake, and Rush counties

MICHIGAN: indexes from Clinton, Grand Traverse, Kalamazoo, Livingston, and Shiawasee counties

OHIO: indexes from Cuyahoga (cemeteries) and Scioto (general) counties

WISCONSIN: cemetery database for Marinette, Oconto, and Shawano counties

For the full strength, visit his main site.

Harold Henderson, "Good news from the fast-moving world of dead people," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 20 August 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, August 19, 2013

US Genealogy Writer's Market -- a quick questionnaire for editors

19 August 2013

Dear Genealogy Periodical Editors:

How do genealogical authors find your publication?

Genealogy periodicals—from popular magazines to state and national journals to the newsletters of local genealogical societies—are vital to the genealogy community.

Among other vital roles, periodicals
  • educate genealogists about records and research methodology;
  • enable genealogists with similar research interests to communicate with each other;
  • share local, national, and international news of concern to genealogists; and
  • allow researchers to publish the fruits of their research efforts.

Despite this central position in the genealogy community, there exists no central resource bringing together all of the genealogy periodicals published in the United States.

To do this we plan to publish the first U. S. Genealogy Writer's Market in early 2014. This book will list basic details about genealogy periodicals, so that genealogical researchers and prospective writers can quickly and easily locate their ideal publishing markets.

In order to do this we need your help—just fill out the short online questionnaire at this address:

Please feel free to alert other editors to this project. If you have any questions or comments, please contact either of us at our respective emails.

Harold Henderson, CG

Michael Hait, CG 

Harold Henderson and Michael Hait, "US Genealogy Writer's Market -- a quick questionnaire for editors," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 19 August 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Friday, August 16, 2013

Is genealogy ready for argument?

Most of us come to genealogy thinking that we know more about it than we do. I certainly did. One tests we undergo is just how fast we can figure that out and adjust to how much there is to learn. In the process we get into arguments with our new-found colleagues.

I think argument is a good thing, both because it's a way of learning and because genealogy as a field of study has a long way to go.

So in my book it's fine to disagree, but it's also important to do it right. We don't have do be right, but we do have to play fair.

I can think of four simple rules for disagreeing without being disagreeable. Actually they're really just one rule plus commentaries. Please feel free to make additions or suggestions in the comments.

(1) Focus on the subject at hand, not the personalities. Don't say "You're crude and ignorant." Say, "I don't agree with [quote the offending matter]," and explain why. (Note that rhetorical tricks do not disguise personal attacks. It's little if any better to say, "Your statements are crude and ignorant," or "I think your statements are crude and ignorant." The point is not to draw filmy veil over our personal animus -- the point is to leave it aside and focus on the subject at hand.)

(2) Don't break rule #1 just because the other guy did.

(3) If you're not sure whether you're following rule #1 -- and even if you are -- ask yourself how you would feel if the other person said to you what you're about to say to them. Then don't do it. (Sometimes it helps to try turning your brilliant riposte into a series of inoffensive questions. Sometimes it helps to recall the last time you went ahead and said it, and how you felt the morning after. Ergo, sometimes it helps to just sleep on it.)

(4) When you do screw up anyway, back down and apologize. We all get to do this too.

I don't think there's anything snobbish or elitist or dishonest about these rules. (Do you? Why?). Nor do I think they're biased in favor of the status quo and doing things the way we've always done them. (Heck, I'm often not in favor of doing things the way we've always done them!) They're just a way for us to stick to the subject instead of getting into an actual fight -- because actual fights settle nothing.

No doubt one reason genealogists tend to be allergic to public argument is that these days most public arguments are abusive and don't follow these ground rules. Check out the comments section on almost any public (nonprofessional, nongenealogical) web site and see how long it takes the participants to start calling names.

Genealogists are already doing better than that. In a good argument everybody benefits.

Harper's Weekly, v. 3, no. 156 (1859 Dec. 24), p. 832; digital image, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog (

Harold Henderson, "Is genealogy ready for argument?," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 16 August 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Historical context: timelines are only the beginning

There's nothing wrong with a timeline as long as we don't confuse it with real life or real history. A list of historical events that happened to happen at the same time as our ancestors were going about their business may not be helpful or relevant. Here are some resources I came across recently that go beyond timelines:
  • The J. Paul Getty Trust has made some 4689 high-resolution images available as part of its new Open Content Program -- "free to use, modify, and adapt for any purpose," including the above portrait of three unknown women circa 1849. There is a short questionnaire accompanying each download. Some downloads are quite large. Click on "View Record" for a given image to see if it can be used under this program. The images can be browsed in many different ways; 2929 are from Europe, 92 from the United States.
high-resolution images of the Museum’s collection free to use, modify, and publish for any purpose. - See more at:
roughly 4,600 high-resolution images of the Museum’s collection free to use, modify, and publish for any purpose. - See more at:

Photo caption information: Unknown maker, American, daguerreotypist, Portrait of Three Women, about 1849, daguerreotype (1/4 plate Image: 6.7 x 8.4 cm [2 5/8 x 3 5/16 in.] Plate: 7.9 x 9.9 cm [3 1/16 x 3 15/16 in.] Mat: 8.3 x 10 cm [3 1/4 x 3 15/16 in.]); The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

Michael Gagnon, Transition to an Industrial South: Athens, Georgia, 1830-1870 (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2012), reviewed at by John Majewski.

Sara Jo Peterson, Planning the Home Front: Building Bombers and Communities at Willow Run (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013).

University of Chicago Library, "Planning Maps of Midwestern Cities in the 1920s and 1930s" ( : viewed 13 August 2013).

Harold Henderson, "Historical context: timelines are only the beginning," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 14 August 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, August 12, 2013

Shedding light on the Dark Age of American genealogy

One of the commonest problems that people bring to consultants or to professionals is how to identify people, especially parents, once they get back before 1850.

The period from the late 1700s (upheavals preceding and including the American Revolution) to 1850 (first US census that aimed to name every person) could be called the "Dark Ages" in US genealogy. Many of the records we rely on for research after 1850 didn't exist then, or existed only in bare-bones form.

To put it another way, before 1850 is where we see the final breakdown of the dubious idea that genealogy is just a matter of "looking up" your ancestors in the records. Those accustomed to doing that kind of genealogy may find the pre-1850 research environment bewildering.

Of course it's not barren, just different. But we do need to know where to look, and what to look for. The first step is to change our attitude:
  • look for clues (indirect evidence), not only direct statements;
  • search as much by area or associates as by name;
  • pay more attention to the historical context (emphasized in the course I took at the Genealogical Research Insitute of Pittsburgh on the Northern part of this topic), especially since the past gets weirder the further back we go; and
  • don't yield quickly to the temptation of trying to "connect" with a likely-looking individual in 1760.
The second step is to consider some of the solid sources that are available:
  •  land records (federal, state, local), including tax records;
  •  probate records;
  •  military records;
  •  any post-1850 records that cast light backwards into the Dark Age (such as a late-life marriage application, or an obituary that tells more than the death certificate, or a grandchild's mug book entry);
  •  unsourced books and online trees (with appropriate caution);
  •  newspapers (advertisements much more than obituaries) and early ephemera (called "imprints");
  •  court records; and
  •  manuscript collections, including business records. (In western New York, as Josh Taylor will explain if you give him an opening, the early land records often are business records.)
Good luck!

Photo credit: J. C. Loudon, (1826) An encyclopædia of agriculture (London: 1826, 2nd edition 1831), figure 512, "Trenching"; digital image, Flickr ( : viewed 11 August 2013), Maarcel Douwe Dekker's photostream, per Creative Commons.

Harold Henderson, "Shedding light on the Dark Age of American genealogy," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 12 August 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Friday, August 9, 2013

Sleuthing for Smiths in Alabama and Mississippi

This blog doesn't normally reach so far south of the Mason-Dixon Line, but blog rules were made to be broken. And what better time than to take note of Laurel Baty's methodological tour de force that leads off the current (June) National Genealogical Society Quarterly (online issues free to NGS members)?

Given a Smith family, she deals smoothly with an array of erroneous records, not to mention the ones that aren't there at all: "Three generations of Martha's family left no estate records. Her parents' marriage record is missing, her father owned no land, and he appears in a single census, which supplies no ages and birthplaces."

She maps and lists land, court, and church records to help identify a father who appears in none of them. The footnotes are revealing: the four words "He witnessed no deeds" are backed up by an every-page search of 23 years of Wilcox County, Alabama, deed books. This article will benefit any researcher, in the South or elsewhere, who's troubled by common-name ancestor issues.

Laurel T. Baty, "Parentage of Martha Smith of Alabama and Mississippi: Overcoming Inconsistent, Incorrect, and Missing Records," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 101 (June 2013): 85-102.

Harold Henderson, "Sleuthing for Smiths in Alabama and Mississippi," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 9 August 2013 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

FamilySearch Books reality check

On Monday the FamilySearch blog announced that "more than 100,000 books have now been scanned and published online" at their book search site. As the result of a partnership among eight libraries, "Family History Books are available to search and use on the website and can be viewed by clicking Search and then clicking Books."

I thought, I've neglected this resource too long, and promptly searched for the exact phrase "Joseph Wilkinson." There were 39 hits, sorted by relevance.

The first and presumably most relevant hit was not available: "You do not have sufficient rights to view requested object. This book is restricted; it can only be used in the Family History Library, a family history center, or one of the listed partner libraries."

The second most relevant book was so poorly digitized as to be barely readable. Evidently the search function felt the same, as it was not possible to search within the book at all.

Fortunately I live near one of the partner libraries and will be able to consult both books in the old-fashioned way.

Make that 99,998.

Harold Henderson, "FamilySearch Books reality check," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 7 August 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, August 5, 2013

Researching in a strange place? Here's help

Well, all places are strange once you get to know them ;-)  Last week I was interested to find that two friends and colleagues have just published articles on this exact topic: what to do when you're starting off in a locale where you haven't researched before. (Cruising the public library for your surname doesn't count.)

Writing in the NGS Magazine (yet another of the many benefits of being a National Genealogical Society member), Jay Fonkert says: know the geography, learn the history, determine what government kept the records, discover the records, and find other researchers.

Writing at, Kimberly Powell says: get to know the area, learn the jurisdictions, consult local histories, scope out FamilySearch, read the newspaper, and connect with the locals.

Both make the same good basic points, and each has some unique pointers as well. And unless I slept through it, neither one mentioned one of my favorite entry points, Linkpendium.

It looks like I have an obscure Missouri county in my future. I think I'll reread both of these articles.

J. H. Fonkert, "Five tips for starting research in a new locale," NGS Magazine vol. 39 no. 3 (July-September 2013): 29-33.

Kimberly Powell, "Genealogy Research in a New Locality," Genealogy, 30 July 2013 ( : viewed 4 August 2013).

Harold Henderson, "Researching in a strange place? Here's help," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 2 August 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Friday, August 2, 2013

Land research help and more Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center

Did your research target buy or homestead federal land between 1820 and 1908? Did (s)he try to? Then you need to check out friend and colleague Kimberly Powell's correlation of at least three different on-line resources over at Tract books may be your new BFF.

A friend has pointed out an important omission from my Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center research book, Finding Ancestors in Fort Wayne. When planning a research trip, you can produce a private list of materials to consult, and include ratings and comments or reviews. When you locate a title in the main catalog, click on "Save or Tag," set up your account (it's quick and does not require holding a card at the library), and proceed to listmaking. (NOTE: This feature applies materials listed in the main catalog. There are several others to be consulted as well, including microtext, which does not have this capacity.) I will include this feature when the booklet is revised, but in the meantime there's this big conference coming up in three weeks...

Kimberly Powell, "Searching BLM Tract Books on FamilySearch," Genealogy, 30 July 2013 ( : viewed 30 July 2013).

Harold Henderson, "Land research help and more Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 2 August 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]