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  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  and at Family Tree Magazine .

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. 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) , 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 , Family Search , Heritage Quest (through your local public library), and Internet Archive 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, . 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 and Ancestry  . 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.