Monday, December 30, 2013

It's almost 2014, and the digital age is still a ways off

Harvard historian Robert Darnton in the New York Review of Books, [$] reviewing Arlette Farge's 1989 book The Allure of the Archives, says there may be 129,864,880 different books. ( Google has probably scanned 30 million.) But books aren't the half of it:

The French Archives Nationales contain 252 miles of documents, measured according to shelves loaded with boxes full of manuscripts, and they do not include material related to defense, foreign affairs, and overseas territories. France's one hundred provincial archives contain far more -- about 1,753 miles. Still more can be found in municipal archives, various university archives, and private collections. Most of it has never been read, much less scanned.

Photo credit: Ben Schumin's photostream, shelves at Archives II, per Creative Commons

Harold Henderson, "It's almost 2014, and the digital age is still a ways off," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 30 December 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Good news for pre-1850 US "Dark Age" ancestors

My great-great-great grandfather Eliphas Thrall (1767-1834) did not serve in the American Revolution. But when I searched for his name in quotation marks in the "Revolutionary War Pensions" section of Fold3, I got two hits. His name and signature appear in the handwritten pension files of Daniel Baker and Jesse Thrall as a corroborating witness or neighbor in the place from which they applied for their pensions. Fold3 has the files indexed that deeply. (Exactly how thoroughly overall I don't know, but some of you may.)

For anyone suffering with Dark Age ancestors in the US, this kind of searching can be a godsend. It basically uses the pension files to garner information on people who are present in incidental or supporting roles -- and of course it connects them to friends, family, associates, and neighbors, all of whom may yield additional records. It will be more helpful if you can either (a) arrange to have research targets with unusual names or (b) manage to narrow down the search for a common-name geographically or otherwise.

I have a bunch of names to run through this mill in my "spare" time. I'm looking forward to having Civil War pension files and local probate files indexed on line in this fantastically productive way in the future.

BTW, this kind of all-purpose indexing is not a new idea. Some folks had it back before 1980 and created 23 volumes of books indexing these pension files in this way until 2006 (up into the "H" surnames, and using the abridged set of pension files, NARA M805), under the cumbersome title Revolutionary War period : Bible, family & marriage records gleaned from pension applications

Harold Henderson, "Good news for those pre-1850 US 'Dark Age' ancestors," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 28 December 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Historians' (and our?) habits of thought

The December issue of Perspectives on History, published by the American Historical Association, has a fascinating column by president Kenneth Pomeranz, who teaches at the University of Chicago. He thinks that historians have more to offer than just background knowledge about the past -- that they have ways of thinking that may be distinctive and certainly can be useful elsewhere. I'll just list them here (read the whole thing!) so that we can ask ourselves the question: How much do we think in these ways?

Historians, he says,

* add context as they add sources. (Why here? Why now? What do other sources say?)

* juxtapose a variety of materials and consider them together.

* notice how things change over time, and what difference it makes when some things change faster than others -- in other words, short-term changes and long-term changes may not move in the same direction. (Pomeranz's example is how railroads for decades actually increased the demand for horse travel.)

* consider when and how to simplify and generalize without oversimplifying.

No moral here, just food for thought.

Harold Henderson, "Historians' (and our?) habits of thought," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted  26 December 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, December 23, 2013

Pretty good news for Kane County Illinois land researchers

Quietly, the Kane County, Illinois, Recorder's office has placed all of its deeds (and several other kinds of documents) on line. Basically this is good news but there are a few qualifiers as described in the following quickie tutorial:

(1) Few genealogists will be using the tab that says "Search Land Records" --the straightforward grantee and grantor search only works for deeds since 1980. The interface for older deeds is somewhat klunky, but structurally it's the same that we go through in person: first find promising entries in the grantee and grantor indexes, then find the deeds themselves in the deed books.

(2) The grantee and grantor indexes are reached by going to the tab "View Miscellaneous Documents," then "All Miscellaneous Documents," and then choosing "Grantee Index" (actually a whole bunch of volumes of grantee indexes) or "Grantor Index" from the resulting menu. Under "Grantee Index" there's a list of books identified by volume number and year. Pick your book and then pay attention to the, um, unique patented method that a previous recorder chose to use for indexing. (It's called "Dennick's Universal Chart System of Indexing, patented in 1893, and explained below ** as it will take a while.)

(3) Once you've found a book and page number to consult in the deed books themselves, go back to the beginning and hit the tab "Books," under that "Document Books," under that "Folders" (actually original deed books), pick the desired volume number, and then within that volume the page.

(4) Once you're there, the images are variable in quality, with many portions of pages overexposed. (In some cases you may want to transcribe from the image rather than print it out.) Many pages are missing at least one line at the bottom. I have usually found FamilySearch's deed images from other states to be of better quality.

All this said, this degree of online access is better to have than not to have. Kane County is a suburban county west of Chicago, and I'm in a suburban county southeast of Chicago. Even living that close it's cheaper to work the deeds this way than in person. And the more people who can use this option, the better the old deeds are saved from extra handling.

** The grantee and grantor indexes are each arranged under one of many supposed 19th-century improvements on the alphabetical-by-first-letter-of-surname-and-then-chronological default system. First, surnames are organized in the following 47 initial-letter-equivalent groups, each beginning with a certain number, as follows:

A 1, Ba 14, Be 27, Br 40, B 53, Ca 66, Co 79, C 92, D 105, E 118, F 131, Gr 144, G 157, Ha 170, Ho 183, H 196, I 209, J 210, K 223, L 236, Ma 249, Mo 262, M 275, Mc 288, N 301, O 314, P 327, Q 340, Ro 341, R 354, Sc 367, Sh 380, Sm 393, St 406, S 419, T 432, U 445, Va 446, Ve 447, V 448, Wa 449, Wh 462, Wi 475, W 488, Young 501, Y 502, Z 503.

Within each surname initial-letter-equivalent, given names are organized according to 13 different initial letter equivalent groups: AB, C, DE, FG, HI, Ja, Jo, J, KL, MN, OPQR, STUV, and WXYZ.

Note that in this system surnames are not in alphabetical order: Grommet will appear ahead of Garofalo because their initial-letter-equivalent groups are in that order. And within each surname letter-equivalent-group, the names are organized by given names.

I looked for Levi Goodrich in the earliest grantee index, beginning in 1837.  Since his surname starts with G (page 157), given names beginning with "L" will be found at the ninth given-name initial letter equivalent group, so 165. (One big advantage of Kane County's system is that its image numbers correspond to the original page numbers, at least where I looked.) On 165 I found an L. D. Goodrich buying property, referring to a deed at volume 35, page 511. Before going to the deed, I carefully scrolled to the bottom of the page and found that this listing was continued on page 130, where I checked for any more.

OK, he turned out to be Lewis D. Goodrich, not Levi, but those are the breaks. Good luck and good hunting!

Note: As I have learned from Michael Hait's on-line state resources book, DeKalb County has what appears to be a similar setup (in beta test and requiring login) which I have not examined in detail.

Harold Henderson, "Pretty good news for Kane County, Illinois, land researchers," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 23 December 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Friday, December 20, 2013

BCG revises and updates Genealogical Standards

Thirteen years ago, the best minds in genealogy, under the aegis of the Board for the Certification of Genealogists, published a manual of genealogy standards, in which they began to wean the field away from terminology like "preponderance of the evidence" borrowed from law and not specific enough for our needs.

Now some of the same best minds have revised, reorganized, updated, and published it as Genealogy Standards. The basics -- the five-part Genealogical Proof Standard -- remain the same. And the need for standards remains the same. As editor Thomas W. Jones writes, they provide "a guide to sound genealogical research and a way to assess the research outcomes that genealogists produce. They are standards for anyone who seeks to research and portray accurately people’s lives, relationships, and histories." (More from him on the changes over at Angela McGhie's blog Adventures in Genealogy Education.)

One of my favorites is Standard 39, "Information Preference":

Whenever possible, genealogists prefer to reason from information provided by consistently reliable participants, eyewitnesses, and reporters with no bias, potential for gain, or other motivation to distort, invent, omit, or otherwise report incorrect information. At the same time, genealogists understand that some preferred information items could be proved inaccurate, less desirable items might be proved accurate, or they may be the only extant relevant information items.
This is why those who seek numerically precise degrees of certainty in genealogy will always be frustrated. That kind of certainty is not available. While some sources are on average more reliable than others, there is never a guarantee. And in genealogy it's the veracity of the particular source that we're concerned about, and the best way to determine that is not to compute averages but to compare its information with that from other, independent sources. (Think of it as an elimination tournament in sports. What matters is not your or your team's past record, what matters is its performance on that occasion.)

One other important change is that we now refer to three kinds of sources (original records, derivative records, and authored works), three kinds of information (primary, secondary, and undeterminable), and three kinds of evidence (direct, indirect, and negative). These are not academic distinctions -- they make a difference in how we evaluate and use materials. But that's a story for another day.

Harold Henderson, "BCG revises and updates Genealogical Standards," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 20 December 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

On Line State Resources for Genealogy 3.0

There's an old saying, "When you're tired of London, you're tired of life." Well, when you get tired of browsing this book, you're tired of genealogy.

Earlier this month my friend and colleague Michael Hait released the third edition of his On Line State Resources for Genealogy. It's up to 1140 pages and more than 9000 resources -- hosted at a bewildering variety of web sites, with a much deeper and different reach than the popular free and subscription mega-sites.

Contrary to the title, the book includes on-line resources at the national level including the National Archives. Some sites require sign-in. "Resources" include images of original records; derivative records (such as transcriptions and abstracts); authored works; and finding aids and indexes. As stated in the introductory material, use the finding aids and indexes and derivative sources to lead to the original records when possible.

The table of contents is arranged by state and then by repository in apparently random order within each state. A click on any entry in the table of contents takes you directly to the repository's listings, and a click on the specific repository's link takes you there.

Midwestern researchers will be interested to know that Indiana listings occupy 92 pages, Illinois 61, Ohio 46, and Michigan and Wisconsin each 14.

This undertaking is nothing less than gargantuan. And it includes resources I did not know about but should have. Still it doesn't have everything: absent are La Crosse, Wisconsin, city directories; the Monroe County, Wisconsin, Local History Room; and several name indexes available at the Chicago branch of NARA.

But as the numbers mount up this enterprise faces a deeper problem -- how to organize the resources. Not only are they proliferating daily (the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center just announced eleven new ones). Often the originating agency may be different, or in a different place, than the record itself (such as county records created and listed under the name of a state agency). Equally bothersome, it is also often difficult to discern where one repository ends and another begins, since the same collection may be reached through more than one portal. It certainly helps that this book is searchable and not in print form, but part of its value is that the resources also be rationally browseable.

This compilation is itself an essential part of a "reasonably exhaustive search" as prescribed by BCG's Genealogy Standards, but other searches need to be made both within and outside of it.

Another form of browsing is to follow the compiler's new blog featuring a resource every few days.

Michael Hait, comp., On Line State Resources for Genealogy, third edition (PDF/ebook, privately printed, 2013).

Harold Henderson, "On Line State Resources for Genealogy 3.0," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 18 December 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Harold Henderson, "On Line State Records for Genealogy 3.0," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 18 December 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, December 16, 2013

Good news for Illinois AND Indiana researchers

The indefatigable Michael John Neill points us to a treasure trove of Illinois statutes at Western Illinois University, both compiled statutes and session laws.

In another part of this site I discovered a link to a publication I'd never seen, hosted at Internet Archive, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Official Publications of the Territory and State of Indiana from 1809 to 1890, originally published as Indiana Historical Society Pamphlet No. 1. The publications are listed roughly by subject matter or agency, from the Adjutant General to the War Office.

The descriptions include explanations of the often obscure bureaucracy and how it functioned at the time to produce the records we seek now. For instance, it turns out that the first two reports of the Indiana State Health Commission, in 1879 and 1880, were published in the report of the chief of the State Bureau of Statistics and Geology. These might be of interest as this was when the idea of the state of Indiana collecting birth and death information was being considered and developed and discussed. But who would have looked there?

Harold Henderson, "Good news for Illinois AND Indiana researchers ," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 16 December 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Digging for Ancestors: new book on using land records

Michelle Roos Goodrum. Digging for Ancestors: An In-Depth Guide to Land Records. Utica, OH: The In-Depth Genealogist, 2013. 123 pages. $9.95 Nook, Kindle, or PDF; $29.95 paperback.

Most genealogists don't use land records enough. Most genealogy bloggers don't talk about them enough. And few practical books for beginners focus on them exclusively.

The folks at The In-Depth Genealogist have been doing something about all of these problems, first by publishing regular posts on these records, and now by helping contributor Michelle Roos Goodrum compile and augment the posts into book form for wider distribution. The hope is that this "will motivate the reader to take the necessary steps to utilize their ancestors land records." (page 1, image 8)

Land-record newbies can learn plenty from this book, not just from what it says about the records, but also from the author's visible enthusiasm and positive attitude toward indirect evidence, cluster research, and the Genealogical Proof Standard. Readers will also appreciate its direct and informal style (which carries over from blogging). Best of all are its step-by-step illustrated explanations of how to extract information from particular land records, which occupy about half of the book.

Unfortunately, the book may miss the mark with some readers because the material is poorly organized. It also lacks enticement, overview, information for state-land states, and any mention of what remains the best place to start learning about US land records: the late Sandra Hargreaves Luebking's 65-page chapter in The Source, third edition, available in print and on line at's wiki.

Newcomers to land records often find them intimidating; I know I did. (They're so -- detailed!) Therefore a book about them needs to give the reader

(a) an incentive to dive in, such as a few quick examples of why land records are worth the trouble, and

(b) a brief clear overview, so that the reader gets some sense of control and won't be constantly surprised.

Instead, Digging for Ancestors begins with ten research tips -- good advice, but only three of the ten have to do with land records. The first chapter follows up by telling how important and complicated land records are, with a list of eleven rather bewildering ways in which land might be transferred. Technical terms (such as "grantor," "grantee," or "aliquot") are used before they are defined. No larger context is provided, either historical (the importance of property ownership from the beginnings of settlement) or logistical (the two main kinds of land descriptions).

The book covers only 30 states. It offers little to those researching in New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Maine, Vermont, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, Alaska, or Hawaii. These 20 states or their colonial powers provided original grants of land, and land parcels there are usually described using the metes-and-bounds system, as opposed to the other 30 "federal land" states that usually describe land using the rectangular survey system.

Readers will benefit from the author's decision to explain the practice of transcribing deeds, and to show the use of methods old and new -- transcription and GoogleEarth -- in analyzing them. The book's strongest parts are the step-by-step examinations of a land case, a homestead file, and a bounty-land file. Choice of other subtopics seems a little random -- why a chapter on cemetery deeds rather than, say, mortgages? -- but the subject is endless and one has to stop somewhere.

The list of resources would be improved by annotations. (Newcomers are likely to learn more from Val Greenwood than from E. Wade Hone.) It could also be supplemented by mention of

* Elizabeth Shown Mills's short and straightforward 1995 article, "Analyzing Deeds for Useful Clues," on the BCG web site;

* the blog In Deeds, which has been all-land-records-all-the-time for more than five years; and

* a few outstanding journal articles that show successful use of land records, such as Karen Green and Birdie Monk Holsclaw's contribution to the June 2012 NGS Quarterly.

Lesser issues: Some of the transcriptions shown don't distinguish between the preprinted and the handwritten portions of the forms being transcribed. Neither of the two separate discussions of searching for names on the BLM web site mentions that it allows use of wild-card search terms. For comparing monetary values between years Measuring Worth would be a better choice than The Inflation Calculator. Ideally PDF image numbers would coincide with page numbers, and apostrophes would be used properly. The original land records now appearing on FamilySearch might have been mentioned, as they offer unprecedented access and pose unique issues for researchers.

Harold Henderson, "Digging for Ancestors: New book on using land records," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 12 December 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Are you ready to go for a credential?

The hardest question about seeking certification (through BCG) or accreditation (through ICAPGen) is the very first one: Am I ready?

Self-evaluation is tough at the best of times, and no measure of readiness is foolproof. So I will suggest several independent measures, from various sources. Each of them has pitfalls, but if they all point the same way, then it's probably time to postpone your procrastination and get into the process. (My examples are BCG-based because that's my experience.)

Measure #1 (from Elissa Scalise Powell): If you've done serious genealogy two or three times a week for seven to ten years, you may be ready. This turns out to be close to the idea of 10,000 hours of practice needed to gain mastery in cognitively demanding fields, popularized in Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers.

Pitfall of this measure: have you really had ten years of experience or only one year's experience ten times over? One way to overcome the pitfall: if you spent your ten years of experience without dealing with any land or probate records, subtract at least five years.

Measure #2: If you can pass the weighted quiz questions on the BCG web site, you may be ready.  

Pitfall: Sometimes we kid ourselves when taking quizzes of this sort.

Measure #3: The easier you find it to read and understand NGSQ articles, the more likely you are to be ready -- especially if you started out not understanding them at all.  

Pitfall: Reading is not always the same as doing.

Measure #4: If you have published in a peer-reviewed journal, you may well be ready.

Pitfall: Sometimes you're not -- especially if you make the plausible but false assumption that an article is the same exact kind of job as the required portfolio materials.

Measure #5: If you cannot stay awake during a lecture by Elizabeth Shown Mills or Thomas W. Jones, then you're definitely not ready. [No pitfall here.]

Measure #6: If everybody you know says you're really good at genealogy, then you might be ready.

Pitfall: The people you know may be extremely polite. Or they may be telling the truth, but have no idea what serious genealogy involves. As in chess, there are more levels of expertise than we can easily imagine.

If you find most of these measures are favorable, then I say go ahead. There is additional generic help available once you are "on the clock."

Don't forget -- some of us learn by doing (which is a polite way of saying that we learned to swim by jumping into the deep end of the pool). As a result, some of us had to go through the process twice in order to succeed. There are worse fates, such as never trying . . . and hence never knowing whether you really had what it takes.

Harold Henderson, "Are you ready to go for a credential?," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 11 December 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, December 9, 2013

Know when you're shelving that project

Ideally of course we would all have each of our many projects and potential projects fully annotated and up to date before we turned to another. But often I find that I start on something but have to drop it for various reasons, usually because there's something more urgent on my agenda. More than a decade ago, my brother and I were researching one of our Swedish great-great-great grandfathers, interestingly named Nils Gall. News of an impending grandchild caused us to drop the investigation in haste, and only a year or so later did we realize that certain researches seemed familiar, and we rediscovered where we had left off.

Sometimes I put a project away with a lick and a promise, and the promise is greatly deferred. The trick is to have a good sense of limits, and of priorities, so that we can realize

(a) that we are in fact about to put off an interesting rabbit hole in favor of already promised work or play, and

(b) that before we do so we need to sketch out where we were when we had to set it aside.

This applies whether we've just poked into a couple of manuscript collections and realized that this investigation has to be for another day, or whether we have a half-finished manuscript of our own full of incomplete citations and rows of question marks at certain key junctures. Know Thyself.

Harold Henderson, "Know when you're shelving that project," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 9 December  2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Friday, December 6, 2013

Good news for Chicago-area manuscript researchers

The Chicago Collections Consortium is not news and I'm not up to date on its current status, but its every-word-searchable listing of 4660 brief descriptions of publicly available archival collections held by eleven Chicago institutions may be just what your research project needs. The other day I delved into one collection at the Newberry Library, and when I later happened onto the CCC web site I discovered a related collection at the Chicago History Museum. The CCC aspires to a full-fledged portal but this interface is simple, straightforward, and not duplicated elsewhere.

It's not clear exactly what portion of the members' collections are listed on this site, and the listings are less detailed than the institution's own finding aids. But sites like this make reasonably exhaustive searches less exhausting. Besides TNL and CHM, the web site lists current members Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago Public Library, and seven schools: Columbia College Chicago, DePaul University, Illinois Institute of Technology, Loyola University Chicago, Northwestern University, University of Illinois at Chicago, and the University of Chicago. (A 2011 Sun-Times article included the Chicago Park District, Northeastern Illinois University, and Roosevelt University as members, but they are not present on the web site roster.)

And this is all about Chicago. The collection's scope is "Chicago-related collections held by CCC member institutions containing subject matter related to the Chicago metropolitan area. This area includes Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry, and Will counties in Illinois and Lake and Porter counties in Indiana." If you're curious about what these institutions might have on Alaska or Greenwich Village -- or even La Porte County, Indiana; Kenosha County, Wisconsin; or Berrien County, Michigan -- you're on your own.

Map credit: Adapted from United States Census Bureau, "Counties and Statistically Equivalent Areas of the United States, Puerto Rico and the Island Areas," 2003 PDF download ( : viewed 29 November 2013).

Harold Henderson, "Good news for Chicago-area manuscript researchers," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 6 December 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Questions to ask land records

If you just don't know what to say or do when confronted with a land record, my friend and colleague Kimberly Powell has ten sure-fire research-conversation starters over at

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Curb Your Enthusiasm!

Genealogy is bigger than we think. Over at's "Expert Series," some thoughts on when to enthuse and when to calm down. After enthusiasm, it's all about focus, persistence, and analysis.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Jill Morelli analyzes ten NGSQ articles

I'm delighted to see another blogger, Jill Morelli over at Genealogy Certification: My Personal Journal, publicly reading and analyzing the best work in the field, here and here, under the heading of "Analyzing Ten NGSQ Articles."

She has a different approach to them than I had thought of. Any time the National Genealogical Society Quarterly and other top journals can get a fraction of the social-media exposure that software updates and misleading television shows routinely receive, I'm all for it. Additional publicity here.

Now that I think of it, this blog has gotten away from posting about these journals in recent weeks...

Harold Henderson, "Jill Morelli analyzes ten NGSQ articles," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 3 December 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

Monday, December 2, 2013

Genealogy problems can grow, shrink, or metastasize

Often genealogy problems grow. What I once described as a "small genealogy article" has now metamorphosed into a draft in three parts, each of which is (at the moment) well above the normal size.

Sometimes genealogy problems shrink. At one point I was trying to answer an identity question: whether same-name men in eastern New York, western New York, and central Illinois were the same or different. The problem seemed fiendishly difficult, but it turned out to be quite simple to solve (land and probate records were the keys, of course). "Problem shrinkage" can be a real problem for someone trying to locate suitable cases for a BCG portfolio: what looks difficult going in may turn out to be easy after all.

To some extent, problem-spotting is a skill in itself that develops over time, as we read more advanced articles, encounter more situations, and get to know the relevant record sets and ways to use them. But sometimes it's just a matter of luck.

There are also problems that grow laterally, also known as "rabbit holes." Usually they involve collaterals rather than ancestors. An upstate New York cousin of my wife's great-grandfather married into a wealthy Chicago clan (wealthy in the sense of paying lawyers tens of thousands of dollars in order to avoid spending too much money on lawsuits, a full century ago). Some of the ensuing probates and lawsuits name and locate many relatives and associates -- much as the will of a bachelor uncle or spinster aunt can do. So much data -- now I need to identify a question that it answers!

Harold Henderson, "Genealogy problems can grow, shrink, or metastasize," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 2 December 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]