Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Archives Reading Rooms and the Treasures Within

What's hiding in our archives and record centers? Why do researchers come seeking manuscripts, records, and that oh so difficult to find fact? Over the decades, our cultural institutions, particularly archives, special collections, and records centers have become repositories for historically significant materials. They hold records of government actions and reports, documents that confirm dates of birth, marriage, divorce, death, crimes, and more. There are records from organizations that document how the group grew, expanded, and dissolved. Along the way, these repositories collected maps, manuscripts (published and unpublished), drawings and blueprints, photographs, movies, and oral histories. Take together these records tell a story of our society from a variety of perspectives.

As we embark on a research project this semester, you will have your own research experiences, find pieces of forgotten puzzles and little known facts. You'll be sharing those adventures with your fellow classmates and with me. In the meantime, if you want to read about someone else's adventures in the archives check out Arlette Farge's The Allure of the Archives (The Lewis Walpole Series in Eighteenth-C) . Translated by Thomas Scott-Railton. Forward by Natalie Zemon Davis. (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2013.)

Happy hunting.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Persistence and Genealogy go together

When you embark on a research project, you need to be persistent. Well, you need to decide on a goal, in academia that's an hypothesis or thesis. Then you need to look around and determine the types of tools, databases, books, and resources will help you reach that goal. Next you need to actually look for and find information that sends you along that path. You'll find some paths are dead ends, some take you to an unknown place which may or may not be relevant, and others will take you to some nugget of information, some clue that sends you looking and searching some more. Eventually, you'll have enough clues, enough information to work with your hypothesis and come to a conclusion. 

In genealogy, the path is long, circuitous, and, well, addictive. Eventually, maybe, you'll find all the family members you seek. Persistence is the key. 

In our course, we'll be compiling short biographical sketches of people and places. You'll learn about research tools that will help you find nuggets of information, those savory clues that whet your appetite for more. Since the course is finite, you'll need to find what information you can. In your quest for family information, the quest may be decades long with one more clue to find, one more stone to uncover.

Here's the latest post (8/10/2014) from Mocavo entitled "Five Things Star Trek Taught Me About Genealogy." You'll have to let me know if it applies to your journey.

Enjoy the quest and take heart. Half the fun is in the journey.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Sharing News about the Weather

What types of news do we share when gathering together? Acquaintances and strangers talk about whatever drew them together, a lecture, a movie, or an event. Friends talk about family, births, and celebrations, while families talk about family members, catching up on births, marriages, and deaths. A common thread may be our families, but weather still remains the most popular topic of conversation.

Here's a bit of news from 1635 that will delight the genealogist and historian in us all. I came across this blog post in "Eastman's Online Genealogy" (8 Aug 2014)


How do we document weather events? Newspapers, television, and now blog posts and social media are full of the news. What about events before newspapers? We need to look to diaries, letters, and official government reports. How would you dig up the news on an event in the 1600s in North America? 
Here are some links to modern stories about this storm.
NBC reconstruction of the storm:
This article from islandnet includes an image of the storm path 

wunderground's historian put together a nice history of hurricanes on the east coast from the 1600s to the present: 

Of course, you can read Reverend Richard Mather's diary from 1635 where he writes about the events of the day.

We'll be explore this topic and more in the genealogy course this fall.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Methods for organizing records

As you explore records in government repositories, government offices, courthouses, and even businesses, you will encounter a wide variety of organizational methods. Some systems are straightforward and organize records alphabetically or chronologically, or by classification numbers as in libraries. These simple methods are great for single subject materials such as obituaries, or correspondence.

When looking at court records or land records, those items are arranged differently by their very natures, and the indices are a little more complex. Let's start with court records. They are usually arranged physically by case number. That's the unique identifying number that pulls all the documents together. Sometimes the case numbers begin with at one each year. In other cases, they are just sequential from the first hearing to today. No matter what, the records and dockets (which provide a summary of all events in a case and are arrange in case number) pull the documents together. That's the records. What about accessing the records? You need to index the cases and that's complex.

Court records for civil and criminal, probate and domestic cases are usually index by plaintiff and defendant. But what about multiple plaintiffs and defendants? Each needs its own entry. And what about paper indices or ledgers, how do you keep the entries alphabetical? The short answer is, you don't. The records are arranged somewhat alphabetically in chronological order. The keys to the indices tell you what page to put the names on. Some of the alphabetizing systems use the first letter of last and first names, others use the first few letters of the last name, and still others use first letter last name and the first vowel. No matter the system, the names are then entered chronologically. Believe it or not, the system works well. Each entry then references the case number which is then easily retrieved.  For an online system, the same should hold true. The names of all parties are entered into the index and each entry contains the case number. The most problematic issue is if the clerks decide to list only the first plaintiff and defendant. Be careful, sometimes clerks use "Heirs of" and "Estate of" as names, in which case it is almost impossible to find the person and case you seek.

When looking for deeds and other records dealing with land, there are two basic systems for organizing indices, alphabetical as described above and geographical. Geographical or abstracted land records are indexed by legal description. You'll find the legal description by checking the Auditor's records which coordinate street and legal address and also provide parcel or land identification numbers. Geographical indices are great because they co-locate all documents or transactions for a particular legal description on one or two pages, or maybe a few more depending upon how the legal descriptions are differentiated. If you live in a county or state with Torrens, then all transactions for a specific piece of land is entered on a single page or two along with all court actions. Most land in Ohio, with the exception of Hamilton County (where Cincinnati is located) is no longer under Torrens, but the system exists and existed in other counties in Ohio and in other states in the US. I believe there are other countries that also use the Torrens system.

Of course, this is just a sampling of the types of organizational methods for records. The farther back in time you go, the less familiar these systems become. There's a nice article on Collation that describes 17th century filing systems


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Newspapers are great for research

While scrolling through the various genealogy blogs that hit my e-mail, I came across this wonderful article about newspapers and the information they contain. Scott Phillips in“Newspapers: A Brief History, The 5 Ws & Why I LOVE Them” (March 11, 2013) reminds his readers that good newspaper articles incorporate the five W's in their articles, particularly in the opening paragraph. By reading the articles you glean all those little facts you can then track down in the public record. Or you can flesh out your family group sheets and trees.

While newspapers contain many articles they are also notoriously difficult to search. By their very nature, they are ephemeral and the articles are arranged by level of importance or maybe in categories such as local, national, international news; classifieds; and advertisements. The older the newspaper, the more random the placement of articles and stories.

Over the years, many newspapers indexed their own content, or most of it. For example the New York Times indexed their articles and paid obituaries published in large volumes that once graced the reference shelves in most libraries. Today their newspaper is indexed or accessible online through their search engine. If you are looking for articles about events and prominent people, look both online and in print.

Newspaper morgue staff and librarians aren't the only ones to index newspapers. Librarians in large and small libraries, business divisions, and special collections have indexed their local papers. Some of these indices are available online, others on microfilm, and still others in precious volumes and vertical files found in the libraries. One example of librarians indexing the local paper, The Akron Beacon Journal (and its predecessors)  is found at the Akron Summit County Public Library in their Special Collections Division The physical indices are bound by year as are the PDF versions available online. That means the researcher needs to know the date of the event or else must look up the event or name year by year. Once the entry or entries are identified, the researcher then has to find the appropriate roll of microfilm and locate the article. The trick, of course, is to determine the terms indexers used for each article.

Akron librarians are just one group of industrious indexers. Genealogical and historical societies have also indexed newspapers, particularly the obituaries. A number of libraries and genealogical societies got together to create and host the RB Hayes Obituary index which provides access to obituaries from newspapers across Ohio. While not every county or newspaper is represented, it's a great way to locate a death notice.

Newspapers are a great way to learn about battles and campaigns. Todd Andrlik's Reporting the Revolutionary War: Before It Was History, It Was News (Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2012) mines colonial newspapers to trace and track causes and events during the Revolutionary War. For news articles about the Civil War, you could look at the collection put together by editors Harold Holzer and Craig Symonds The New York Times The Complete Civil War 1861-1865 (NY: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers; Har/Dvdr edition, 2010). 

Now it's your turn. Explore the local newspaper on the date of your birth or marriage. What else was happening on that day? 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Genealogy Blogs

I'm always looking for other peoples' views of genealogy and research methods.
Here's a new blog and resource called In Depth Genealogy
They also have a longer publication which provides much food for thought.


Monday, February 18, 2013

Accessing the Census

 As you are aware, the census is a large series of volumes containing information about individuals, business, and farms. Depending upon the census decade, there can be thousands of volumes and subsequently thousands of rolls of film. In addition to the manuscript censuses, those containing the  names of individuals, the census bureau compiled, printed, and distributed statistical reports. These statistical, compiled censuses are available even today, and contain demographics and statistics that are used by marketing firms, governments, and organizations seeking to serve a community, provide a product or service, or sell merchandise. Accessing the statistical census is extremely complex and  beyond the scope of what I want to cover.

My main interest in this post is how to access the manuscript census. There are three methods for accessing census records, geographically, alphabetically, and Soundex.

First of all, the records are organized geographically. By looking at indices or the online versions, the arrangement may not be evident, but if you look at the header or the masthead of each census sheet, you find some indication of the location the sheet describes. State, County, Township or Ward are all identified along with the enumeration district and supervisor district. Along the left hand margin you often find the name of the street. You'll find street and family numbers also. If you know where an individual lived, you can access the census geographically using first city directories to narrow down street locations, then enumeration district descriptions to know which enumeration district to look for. Stephen Morse's site provides links to enumeration district descriptions and has an enumeration district conversion chart If you are using microfilm, identifying information on the rolls list enumeration districts.  I have simple instructions on how to do this type of search manually (using paper records) on my website  . Heritage Quest and Ancestry provide Browsing options by geographical location. (If you know the enumeration district, you can search for the digitized census on Internet Archive Stephen Morse's site also has links to the rolls of digitized microfilm by geographical description  Once you identify the geographical location and the roll of microfilm or the digital file, you'll have to look through the census sheets. Enumeration districts contain about 5000 names or for rural areas, one township.

The easiest access method is alphabetical which requires the use of indices both print and online. Not all indices are created equal. Some indices list the head of the household only and other individuals if they fit various criteria, age, different names or different races. If you are using a print index, the front matter or introduction should tell you how that census decade is indexed, the criteria for listing names, and all abbreviations. For example, the 1880 print index for Ohio is an "every name" index, but the 1870 index lists heads of household only, except for those with different surnames, men over 50, and women over 70, changes in race or color, individuals living  in an institution such as an orphanage, hospital, or poor house. (Ohio 1870 Census Index. Vol. 1 A-Comric. Edited by Raeone Christensen Steuart. Bountiful, Utah: Heritage Quest, 1999, p. xi)

Alphabetical access to online censuses are a given. FamilySearch, Ancestry, and Heritage Quest all provide easy access to census records by indexing surname and given name. They do index other fields but you cannot search on those fields. For example, you cannot search for the names of all people born in Germany in a certain decade. For that information, you need to look at the statistical reports of the census, which do not provide individual names.  However, none of the databases tell you what criteria are used for indexing the census and indeed if they only index head of household.  There have been some recent articles indicating that Ancestry particularly is going back and re-indexing earlier census decades to include all names.  It is important to go beyond the abstract or index screen, and read the entire entry on the manuscript census.

The third method for accessing the census is Soundex (or Miracode in 1910). This is an alphanumeric system for coding names, particularly European names based  upon the way they sound and then organizing the codes by state, numerically and then by first name.Claire Prechtel-Kluskens writes about the Soundex projects in “The WPA Census Soundexing Projects” Prologue Vol. 34, No. 1 (Spring 2002)   Once you find the Soundex record or abstract, you need to go to the actual census record to examine all the information collected the census takers. 

You could spend a lifetime studying the census and all the clues hidden within. Take time to think about what individuals said about themselves and their households. Explore their neighbors and communities by scrolling (either in microfilm or online) and examining the entire enumeration district.  Most importantly, if you don't find the person(s) you are looking for through the alphabetical index, whether in print or online, look at the actual census records. There are many spelling errors and typos in the indices and databases, your ancestors pronounced and spelled their names differently than you might today. Question the indices, the Soundex, and the actual census entries. You never know what's hidden within. Good luck.

My next entries will talk about searching for and analyzing vital records.