Saturday, June 17, 2017

Ephemeral migrants and Wisconsin vital record duplicates

Three lessons from long day trip for research in central Wisconsin:

(1) DEEDS ARE GOOD. I often see family members who move west, stay briefly, and then go back home or strike out in a whole different direction. These folks are hard to track. They constitute another reason to look at all the deeds created by other family members who we already know stayed longer. I have an original four-page 1847 letter from Thomas Mozley to his younger brother Edward, extolling Wisconsin's climate (he'd been there a whole year) and a particularly promising site for Edward's smithy. Since Edward does not seem to appear there in 1850 or 1855, I assumed he never showed up at all. But he was there long enough to witness at least one deed created by another family member.

(2) VITAL RECORDS CAN BE WEIRD, but pre-1907 Wisconsin vital records are still wonderful. In this same family there appear to be at least three separate records of a single 1873 marriage: one apparently contemporary with the wedding (of course that's the one I didn't get to see before time ran out), one submitted in the 1890s, and one submitted in the early 1900s. I viewed the last two. They are largely in agreement, but the later one contains a bit more information than the other. Huh. How reliable is that? (Informants are not named; the evidence suggests that nobody paid attention to the earlier entries. All weddings should get such coverage!)

(3) I LOVE CHICAGO, BUT NOT DRIVING AROUND IT. There is no rational way for me to get to Wisconsin without navigating either Chicago or some suburbs. Getting up at 5 a.m. is not early enough. One alternative would work only if the marvelous State Historical Society at Madison is the goal -- take the Indiana airport shuttle to O'Hare, and then take the Wisconsin airport shuttle to the University of Wisconsin campus. Has anybody actually done this?

(4) I ALREADY HAVE A FOLLOWUP LIST FOR WHEN I GET TO GO BACK. First item: Learn how to count. Second item: Avoid weather. I saw large trees that had been pulled out of the ground, roots and all, by storms the day before.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Texas Newspaper Treasures

I don't live (or specialize) in Texas, but a surprising number of my relatives did. This week I almost missed a very useful free resource in The Portal To Texas History -- the Texas Digital Newspaper Program, with 1153 titles from Abilene to Yorktown and from the 1820s to the present (although the holdings don't get going much until after the Civil War).

This time the town I needed was Palacios, on the Gulf Coast, and TDNP had over 4000 items. Few records compare to a searchable newspaper for getting up close and personal . . . sometimes a little more than we're ready for. We inherited a reasonable amount of family papers from this branch of the Mozleys, but nothing there prepared me for a detailed description of how a first cousin of my wife's grandfather lost his right arm in a hay baler in the fall of 1935.


* The interface is unique but manageable.

* If you're looking for a particular title, either on their site or on The Ancestor Hunt's meta-site for digitized newspapers, don't forget that a great many newspaper names begin with "The."

* Unlike some newspaper sites, many post-1922 issues are readily available. Those interested in the post-WW2 "mini dark age" of sources, take note.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Never ignore childless siblings, part 2

My wife's grandfather had two older sisters, Bonnie and Nellie, who never married and had no descendants. Both had professional careers in the first half of the 20th century, but we never learned much about them, partly because they had decamped to California by the mid-1920s. I've been working on their mother's family for publication(s) and found that I pretty much had to reconstruct their professional lives by wide searching and judicious use of on-line newspapers and directories. It made me feel that perhaps they had not been taken seriously enough by other family members.

In the course of this searching I came upon a contribution Bonnie made in 1927 to a folk music collection, and that ended up on a folk-music site, Bluegrass Messengers. It was the lyrics to a folk song that their grandfather William was said to have brought with him from England to Wisconsin in the late 1840s, and that his son Sam, their father, now a Wisconsin blacksmith, sang for them. (If you know any ballad tunes at all, you will see how the rhythm fits; I haven't got hold of an audio version yet.)

My hair, what there is of it, stood right up on end. Of all the things I might have expected, a chance to eavesdrop on Sam and Harriet and their three children by the fireside, most likely in the 1880s when the children were growing up, was the last thing on my mind. What a gift, one their grand-nephew-in-law only opened by accident 90 years later.

It's a cliche because it's true. You really never know what you will find. By the same token, we never know how some small act of preservation now may reverberate in future generations.