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 http://collation.folger.edu/2013/03/filing-seventeenth-century-style/


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) http://blog.genealogybank.com/newspapers-a-brief-history-the-5-ws-why-i-love-them.html 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 http://sc.akronlibrary.org/genealogy/akron-beacon-journal-indexes/ 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 http://index.rbhayes.org/hayes/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 http://www.theindepthgenealogist.com
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 http://www.stevenmorse.org/census/index.html and has an enumeration district conversion chart http://www.stevenmorse.org/census/ed2040.php. 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 http://www.mbkcons.com/wkshp/geneaology/1930censuswith1920examples.htm  . 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 http://archive.org/details/us_census. Stephen Morse's site also has links to the rolls of digitized microfilm by geographical description http://www.stevenmorse.org/census/censusbrowser.html  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) http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2002/spring/soundex-projects.html   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.

Online Historical Newspapers

Online Historical Newspapers
This blog has useful information for local historians and genealogists who want to search and / or access newspapers.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Local History and Google Projects

I'm always fascinated by the local history projects that make the news. Doreen Carvajal's article "And Now, via Google, Time Travel Through the Streets of Segovia" New York Time 15 Jan 2013  http://rendezvous.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/15/and-now-via-google-time-travel-through-the-streets-of-segovia/?smid=pl-share  is a perfect example of the intersection of genealogy, local history, travel, and technology. But more than that, the article provides a glimpse of the many end uses for all that research. The possibilities are endless.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Asking Questions of the Population Census

I just finished reading Megan Smolenyak2’s Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing . In each chapter, Ms Smolenyak talks about what she finds or asks of various census records. These all important records contain many clues about the lives and success of the individuals listed. I want to talk about some of those clues but it is important to recognize that the various indices do not search every field or question the census taker asked. A researcher must look at the actual manuscript records. Manuscript records are those that contain the names of individuals, as opposed to the compiled or statistical records that contain summaries of the answers to questions and are available for all census years 1790-2010. This same terminology is used for United States, Canadian, and British census records.

Before you start looking at census records, you’ll want to look at the actual forms so you can read the headers or the questions at the top. These questions vary decade by decade so print them out. Emily Croom’s Unpuzzling Your Past. The Best-Selling Basic Guide to Genealogy. Fourth Edition. Expanded, Updated and Revised and The Genealogist's Companion and Sourcebook (Genealogist's Companion & Sourcebook) are easy places to find these blanks. They are also available in the Learning Center on Ancestry www.ancestry.com  and at Family Tree Magazine http://www.familytreemagazine.com/freeforms .

Learning Names and Relationships: All the census forms contain the name of the head of household. If you want to know the names of all the members of the household, you won’t find them in the 1790 to 1840 census years. You have to wait a few more decades, until 1880, before you learn the relationship of each family member to the head of household, the same with where individuals were born.

What did they do for a living? Well, the census actually asked that question pretty early on. By 1820, the government wanted to know who worked in agriculture, commerce, and manufacture. In later census decades, the question was open ended, so individuals could actually describe what they did. You’ll find women as keeping house, seamstresses, milliners, teachers, and assisting at home. Children are often farm laborers, scholars, and at school. Men were involved in every imaginable occupation.

Was your ancestor a soldier? The census actually asks about military service. In some decades, the question asked about pensions, in others if individuals were veterans. Sometimes it asked about a specific war. There are two veterans censuses, 1840 "A General Index to a Census of Pensioners For Revolutionary or Military Service" asking about the Revolutionary War and other military service; and "Special Schedules of the Eleventh Census (1890) Enumerating Union Veterans and Widows of Union Veterans of the Civil War" (NARA M123)  although some Confederate soldiers are included. https://www.familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/United_States_Census_Veterans_Schedules. This page at Family Search includes links to online census records.

By examining census pages you can learn about immigration patterns in communities, disabilities and diseases, illiteracy, and even unemployment. Because the census bureau considered questions from a variety of sources, there are variations in the ways questions were asked each decade. Ever interested in information about the expansion of this country and its resources, the bureau of the census compiled the information into statistics to the state and county level. By combining and recombining answers to questions, Statistical Abstract of the United States (since 1878)  http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/ , contains even more answers to questions collected by the census bureau and other government agencies. 

It’s all well and good to know what questions the census answers. It is important to understand what questions the census does not answer. Census records won’t tell you what religion people are although you might be able to guess from the location of the church. Maiden names are omitted, but if an in-law lives within the household you are lucky. While a few census decades ask for number of years married or number of children born and living, you usually don’t find the answers to that question. You will not learn where couples marry but you might guess from the birth place of the first child, nor will you know where someone got his or her education, if they have a degree or hidden talent. However, if you find all the census records for each person you seek, you’ll have a wonderful skeleton to build upon, to flesh out with other types of records.

My next post will talk about the methods for accessing the census, name, soundex, and geography.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Starting with the Census

Whether you embark on a Genealogy, Family History, or Local History project, you need to consider the types of information you have and what you seek or want to uncover. As a librarian, my focus is identifying the question, considering the types of records that hold or reveal bits of information, and then locating different resources or records. It is all about learning about the records and documents, understanding the resources. Once you have an idea of the types of resources and records available, the trick is to find the data you desire.

Where do you start? Some will say at the beginning with what you know about the topic, the family, or the event. If you have a lot of information already, then you start with your questions. Let’s start with what we already know, having started ancestor / pedigree charts and family group sheets. The next step is census records to build a skeleton.

Why the census? These records are completed and compiled every ten years by the federal government and provide a snapshot of individuals and communities. You can use census records to compile demographics, learn how a community, township, county, or state changed, study immigration and migration patterns, and collect data about individuals. In each decade, the census bureau collected different types of information by asking different questions. Some questions are the same decade by decade; others are different making it complicated to draw conclusions. This is true of census records in the United States, Mexico, Canada, and the UK.[1] There are other census records compiled by states and territories but here we will look primarily at US records unless otherwise indicated.

In 2013, the easiest way to access census records is through one of the various online databases. Ancestry www.ancestry.com , Family Search www.familysearch.org , Heritage Quest www.heritagequest.com (through your local public library), and Internet Archive http://archive.org/index.php all have digital images of census records. Each provides access through their own indices that aren’t necessarily the same. There is also microfilm for each census year (1790-1880, 1900-1940), and in rare cases, paper copies. Paper indices provide access to census records, again varying depending upon the year and the person or organization that indexed the records. Soundex and Miracode provide access through their coded names and associated abstract cards. Depending upon the complexity of your search, you may need to search the census using all the resources mentioned above. Check out your local library’s genealogy and local history collection to learn what types of census records and indices they have.

My next entry will describe the types of questions answered by census records.

Want to read more about the census? The American Census Handbook by Thomas Jay Kemp (2001) and The 1930 Census by Thomas Kemp (2003) are two excellent books published before the 1940 census was released in April of 2012. There are many articles about the census in Prologue, the official publication of the US National Archives, http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/ . There is an article about genealogy in every issue.

[1] I am not familiar with other countries’ census records.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Genealogy - An obsession

Welcome to the world of Genealogy and Local History Research. 

This field is exploding with new resources every day. Companies and individuals constantly add newly digitized resources to the web, some are freely available, others require a subscription. 
We are going to explore print, microfilmed, and digitized resources that document family, company, and local histories.

If you want a sneak peak of the wealth of resources available, check out Family Search https://www.familysearch.org/ and Ancestry http://www.ancestry.com/  . Both websites contain databases of public records, public documents, and much more. As we explore the ins and outs of both databases and many more, you'll become expert searchers and interpreters.

Librarians, Archivists, and Historians are just a few of the professionals who use these genealogical resources. Genealogists and family historians, both professionals and hobbyists, are just two groups of resource users. Whether you have a passion for history or geography, buildings or individuals, this discipline will challenge and delight.

Stay tuned for discussions of resources and materials.