Friday, December 30, 2011

The Year in Review : Is Your Family History Moving Forward?

With the close of 2011 and a new year on the horizon, ask yourself the question "Is my family history moving forward?"  Your answer might lean toward the affirmative because more blanks are filled on your tree, but is that the true litmus test for progress?

Dimensional Portal
Tracing our ancestral history is what we make it, but if you stop to think a moment it is truly multidimensional.  Potentially, genealogy has made us more adept computer users and online surfers.  It forces focus on detail and makes us detectives.  There is an upgraded appreciation for the antiquities and peoples of the past.  Preservation has taken on a whole new meaning, and as I've told countless of my peers over the years, my knowledge of history now is paramount to anything ever learned in school. 

One of the primary goals of this blog is to introduce and reinforce as many of those dimensions as are applicable to family history in Southwest Michigan.  A quick review of the postings in 2011 enables us to ask the questions that will help us determine if we are making progress:
  1. Have I acquainted myself with basic genealogical research practices, with emphasis on citing sources and the review process?
  2. Have I attended classes, lectures or seminars to interact with other historians and further my knowledge?
  3. Have I kept up to date with the latest publications and research tools?
  4. Have I created personal online & offline research checklists?
  5. Have I taken the time to try out new internet resources, learned how to use them to their fullest, and be aware of their limitations?
  6. Have I tried to use the "think outside of the box" philosophy for brick wall research, learning more about obscure resources?
  7. Have I taken the time to read books and articles to further my knowledge of tools applicable to my research?
  8. Have I sought out historical & special collections in libraries, archives and government facilities in the areas of my research focus?
  9. Have I done my duty as the historian in my family by labeling pictures, organizing documents, and seeing to their survival through various preservation methods including publishing?
  10. Have I helped further the preservation and perpetuation of family history on a larger scale by donating my time to projects sponsored by a library or archives? [Look for a post on this one in January]
  11. Have I familiarized myself with the Southwest Michigan bounty available in the Local  History Collection of the Van Buren District Library?
It would suffice to implement only a few of these points and I applaud you if you have done so in 2011.  But, I would propose that you integrate some more of them into your 2012 resolutions.  You may say, "I just want to trace my ancestors back as far as I can, not become a genealogy expert."  Just like this sentence is a conjunction [the act of joining], successfully tracing ancestry and becoming a more proficient researcher are inevitably conjoined.  The whole process is just plain fun...Happy New Year.

Nameless Picture of the Day
 Mrs. Laura Hickman home, Sturgis
real photo postcard

Can you identify the location of the house in this real photo postcard?  Do you have knowledge of the Hickman family? Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the photo's catalog number with your e-mail.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The SSDI : Sorry to Say I Told You So...

In the November 5 blog we talked about modifications that were to be made to the release of information to the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) starting November 1, 2011.  Unbeknown to us then, the situation is turning out to be even worse than anticipated. 

The SSDI has already been completely removed from the Rootsweb environment and other sites that had previously made this database available for free. hasn't removed it, but has moved it under the umbrella of the subscription databases, no longer to be available to search for free as it had been.  At present, the only other place known to this blogger where the SSDI remains searchable and intact is Family Search.  Who knows how long it will be before pressure is brought to bear to force them to remove it or to make reductions in content. 

Not only is the online Master Index being removed or restricted, but the Michigan Genealogical Council (MGC) informs us that Freedom of Information requests for copies of Social Security applications of deceased persons are being rejected in some cases, and in others key information is being removed such as parents' names.

There is a lot of online discussion about this issue.  A search at Google using terms "Social Security Death Index" will provide links to some.    For a more detailed account of the situation, the MGC recommends reading the post by noted genealogical author & lecturer, Megan Smolenyak.

Changes in online resources continues to be a hard lesson for genealogists, as we lose some that we have come to count on in our research.  I'm reminded of the times that I have defended the practice of making hard copies of information pertaining to Southwest Michigan local & family history in response to variations of "Why print out copies and take up shelf space when the information is on the internet?"  The internet is not forever, far less so than books and papers.  How will history judge us when we have little in print for the 21st century and we can produce documents from centuries past.  We may find that a "paperless" world is a "historyless" world. 

Added note - Those of you that still have the old CD disks from such genealogical programs as Ultimate Family Tree and Family Tree Maker might want to hang on to them as many of them came bundled with SSDI disks.   I'll be hanging on to mine...

Nameless Picture of the Day
 unknown young woman
Photographer - J. M. Brigham, Plainwell

Can you identify the young woman in this cabinet card?  Do you have knowledge of the photographer? Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the photo's catalog number with your e-mail.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

New on the Shelf : Historical Atlas of the North American Railroad

Through a recent gift, we have added to the reference shelf the Historical Atlas of the North American Railroad, by Derek Hayes, published in 2010 by the University of California Press. 

Railroads were a large part of American 19th century life, similar perhaps to how automobiles are for us today. Traveling distances beyond a quick horse or buggy ride usually meant hopping a train.  The vast number of railroad lines required the employment of a legion of workers.  Train wrecks were common, often horrific tragedies, and there were those individuals who were maimed or killed while in the railroad's employ.  In addition, not to be overlooked is the fact that the formation of railroad lines meant the demise or boom of many communities.

For all of these reasons and more, it's helpful when studying our ancestors' lives to place them in historical context using books such as the Historical Atlas.  This oversize book is an absolute beauty, including nearly 400 detailed railroad maps, historical photos, posters & brochures, all in full color.  The chronology takes us from the years before the railroad, construction of the first lines in the east, extensions out and to the west like spider webs, and finally to the present day with a discussion of the computerization of the system.

Many of the individual railroad lines are discussed including the Pere Marquette and the Michigan Central which ran through the State of Michigan.  Sources for the maps are provided as well as a nice bibliography and index.  From the forward, "Historical Atlas of the North American Railroad also explains how the railroad transformed the economic and social life of a continent, fundamentally changing the two North American nations it linked from the Atlantic to the Pacific."

For those of you who are truly last minute Christmas shoppers and who have a railroad historian in your family, consider giving a copy.  It would also be a great addition to your Personal Reference Library.  To view the book in person, visit the Local History Collection any time during regular business hours.  

Nameless Picture of the Day
unknown group of girls, Paw Paw Lake


Can you identify any of the swimmers in this fun real photo postcard taken at Paw Paw Lake, Berrien County?   Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the photo's catalog number with your e-mail.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Create Your Own Reference Library - Part 2

In part 1 of this topic we discussed key book titles for those family historians who want to start their own reference library.  These items are not of the type that you will look up family names, but will serve as a quick reference to research such as a dictionary might. 

Another part of my personal reference library is what could be called genealogy "shorts."  Since my love affair with family history began nearly 30 years ago, I have managed to collect dozens (probably more like hundreds) of articles from magazines & periodicals, pages or chapters from "how-to" books, conference & class syllabus pieces, handouts, and some online items.  It didn't take long for these to become a massive pile of loose sheets of paper.

There were several ways these could be organized.  Most of us don't have the space or extensive cataloging skills to maintain a library of all of the magazines in their entirety, so we must manage those portions that are to be kept. 

First, it occurred that one could create a spreadsheet of all of the titles/topics, number each corresponding article, and put them in notebooks.  This would do the trick, but would be too time consuming for a larger collection.  The "paperless" genealogist might opt to scan each item, catalog it as a digital file, and make it full text searchable.

I decided on a simpler hands-on categorizing system.  On one of those days that there was so much snow the road could hardly be located, I sat down with these piles and began to organize them into categories.  Certain topics that pertain to my family tree came to the forefront, as unique areas of research will emerge for you. 

The end result was three three-ring binders with tabs for noting categories.  To give you an idea, following are some of the categories from binder number three:
  • Naming patterns
  • Naturalization
  • Newspapers (includes bibliographies of bibliographies)
  • New Jersey
  • Occupations & work-related records
  • Organizations & Societies
  • Pensions
  • Photographs (history)
  • Palatines
  • Passports
  • Patents (inventors)
  • Quakers
  • Rhode Island
  • State records
  • Switzerland
  • Tax records
  • Ships
  • Wars (chronology of all wars worldwide)
  • Witches
  • World War Draft Registration
  • Works Progress Administration (WPA)
  • War of 1812
One example - under Organizations & Societies, there was an item from the Fort Wayne, Indiana, Millennium Conference syllabus (2000) giving a nice list of large societies, their goals, eligibility & documentation requirements, publications, and activities.  Here we learn that the Society of the Descendants of the Colonial Clergy is open to those who can prove lineal descent of clergymen of any Christian church in the original thirteen colonies, and that they have an archives.  This and several other societies noted were entirely new to me.

Granted, today I might go online "fishing" and find some of the things that are in my genealogy "shorts" files, but for the most part this information represents the most useful information in my personal reference library.  It is topic specific, often written by the best and most experienced genealogists in the field, and now organized to suit my particular research needs.  Does it get any better? 

Nameless Picture of the Day
 unknown child
Photographer - M. V. Chapman, Benton Harbor

Can you identify the child in this cabinet card?  Do you have knowledge of the photographer? Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the photo's catalog number with your e-mail.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

One Way to Publish a Family History...

With the publication of The Drake Families of Van Buren County, Michigan, Volume 1 : Descendants of Joshua Cope Drake, I was able to put to bed a project that had been 20 years in the making.  Work had begun immediately following the release of the first edition in 1991. The goal of the original edition was to track the descendants of all of the Drake family lines that settled in Van Buren County.  As it turns out, there were eleven distinct lines. 

Joshua Cope Drake
Let me count the ways that I wasn't satisfied with the first edition...It was done on a typewriter with typographical errors, no information was documented, not enough photographs, not enough effort made to locate descendants, and a tremendous amount of information, online and off, has since made itself available. 

Steps were taken to be as thorough as possible for the second edition using the following sources:
  1. U.S. Federal Census Returns 1840-1930 (all for the county were read through manually)
  2. Van Buren County Vital Records (page-by-page read through of all available birth, death & marriage records, looking for the Drake name anywhere on the document)
  3. Cemetery Records (all cemeteries in the county)
  4. Newspapers Items (using all key dates such as births, deaths, marriages & anniversaries)
  5. All available indexes for any Van Buren County book, microfilm or manuscript
  6. Contact made with as many living relatives as possible
  7. Index searches of other court documents such as probate, circuit and land
  8. Implemented an online internet checklist for every person in the book
  9. Vital records index search of all adjacent counties
  10. High school & college annuals
 It's important to emphasize that numbers 1 & 2 of this list were done not by searching indexes, but by reading through every record.  This was a very effective method for locating those "incidentals" that I've referenced in the past, things I would not have found using the index or search box only.

All data was entered into genealogical software program The Master Genealogist (TMG).  Care was taken to be uniform with data entry, and to cite sources thoroughly on an ongoing basis.  In addition to citing sources, a transcription of each record, obituary, online notation, etc., was included, allowing the reader to witness the reasons for conclusions drawn in the book.

When the time came for the final draft, TMG was used to export a Journal Report into the format of my choosing, Microsoft Word, where I could then proofread, make format changes, and re-size things to satisfaction.  Once revisions were made, the document was then converted to a Pdf file.

This book is self-published, meaning that I researched and located the best printer (which in this case turned out to be the UPS Store), provided them with a Pdf file of the book, and had the first 20 books printed.  I opted away from having them bound and went with a three-ring binder for several reasons.  Time was a factor, expense an even bigger factor, and it's a nice concept that those who have the book can add pages to it later. 

Self-publishing also means self-promoting, using all of the tools at our disposal:  mail, e-mail, website, blog announcement, newspaper press release.  The biggest beauty of doing it yourself is the "print on demand" concept...more can be printed at any time, in any quantity desired. get to keep more of the profits for yourself.

Also, because the meat of the book ended up being about 570 pages, the index was not included.  Now, before you gasp "Oh, No!," the index will be available as an internet download that be printed, punched and added, thus keeping the price of the book down as much as possible. 

The controversial decision here was not to publish online.  Publishers have a duty to protect the privacy of living individuals, and the internet is a long way from being a "mature" environment to discourage the unscrupulous use of other peoples' work.  Perhaps someday after the web has evolved...

The Descendants of Joshua Cope Drake is available for purchase, please contact me for more information.  A Master working copy will eventually placed in the Local History Collection of the Van Buren District Library.

Nameless Picture of the Day
 unknown family group
Photographer - Reidsema, Kalamazoo

Can you identify the individuals in this apparent family group?  Do you have knowledge of the photographer? Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the photo's catalog number with your e-mail.

    Monday, December 12, 2011

    New Memorial on the Shelf : Early Settlers of New York State

    A large percentage of us have New York State ancestry, and perhaps have also been frustrated by the apparent lack of "records" available.  That is to say, New York did not require the keeping of vital records until 1880 (although multiple earlier attempts were made).  This was much later than its New England neighbors and even most of the Midwest & South.

    For these and other similar reasons, we have come to refer to New York State as the "black hole" of genealogy.  Some of the nation's most heavily trodden migration routes ran through this state, and yet there can be little to show for it in terms of documentation.   So, when another New York resource rears its head we all sit up and take notice. 

    Early Settlers of New York State : their ancestors and descendants, edited by Janet Wethy Foley, is the latest addition to the New York section of the Local History Collection through a memorial created for longtime genealogist, Nancy Corwin of Dowagiac.  In addition to her own genealogy, Nancy became a member of the Van Buren Regional Genealogical Society in its infancy, and she was also known for publishing dozens of indexes to area cemetery, vital, and plat book records.

    Originally published under the name Early Settlers of Western New York in July 1934, this periodical continued until October 1942 (Volume 9).  All are reprinted in this set with an every-name index and detailed table of contents, a total of just shy of 2,000 pages in two volumes. 

    A sampling from the table of contents in Volume 1:
    • Bible Records
    • Deaths from the Gospel Advocate
    • Early Church Records from Washington, Wyoming, Orange, Yates, Albany, Jefferson, Schenectady, Delaware counties
    • The Mail Box - queries
    • Marriage Records & Obituaries from Buffalo newspapers
    • Revolutionary Soldiers
    • Tombstone Inscriptions & Cemetery Records
    • Pioneers' Letters
    • and much more
    For a preview of some of the pages and the table of contents, visit Google Books.  Visit the Local History Collection to view the entire set, or encourage your local genealogical library to purchase this set for their collection.  In any event, New York family historians will definitely want to add this title to their research checklist. 

    Nameless Picture of the Day
     unidentified residences, Dorr, Michigan
    (Allegan County)

    Can you identify the location of the houses in this real photo postcard taken in Dorr, Michigan?  A street?  Prior or present-day owners?  Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the photo's catalog number with your e-mail.

    Tuesday, December 6, 2011

    Create Your Own Reference Library - Part 1

    Whether or not we realize it, we all create our own little "reference libraries."  For instance, most cooks have a drawer or shelf of recipe books/cards; a mechanic might have repair manuals and measurement guides; we all have telephone books, a dictionary/thesaurus, and perhaps directories of local & regional government.

    Family Historians over time also develop a Reference Library.  This can be in the form of books, microfiche or microfilm, articles, and online resources.  Despite the advantages of online information, it's very useful to have a core group of reference books near your computer or your designated genealogy den.  I have the internet at my fingertips almost 24/7, but still find it necessary to maintain some "ready to grab" items.  If you have it in your budget (and these make great suggestions for Christmas gifts) to acquire a few items, I would suggest the following general family history references:
    1.  The Source : a guidebook of American Genealogy, edited by Loretto Szucs and Sandra Luebking
    Three editions of this one are available, but try to get the 3rd edition.  If you acquire no other book for your personal library, make sure you get this one.  It is the best, under one cover, genealogical reference on the market.  

         2.  Evidence Explained : citing history sources from artifacts to cyberspace, by Elizabeth Shown Mills

    At some point, you will need to either present or interpret source citations, and this book addresses every conceivable type of genealogical source.   And, because it does that, it doubles as a great checklist of record types...

        3.  Red Book : American state, county, and town sources, edited by Alice Eichholz

    There have also been three editions of this one, again try to get the 3rd edition.  Each of the 50 states has a chapter and in the introduction for each is state-wide information regarding vital & census records, maps, land & probate, other court & tax records, cemeteries, church records, and military.  This is followed by a listings of periodicals & manuscript collections, libraries & archives, societies, and special focus groups. 

    A map of each state is included showing & naming each county/county seat.  The meat of each chapter is a county-by-county listing indicating when each was formed, and the beginning dates for birth, marriage, death, land, probate & court records...a great resource for determining the existence of resources.

        4.  Concise Genealogical Dictionary, compiled     
              by Maurine and Glen Harris

        5.  What Did They Mean By That and More What Did They Mean By That
              by Paul Drake

    All three of these are necessary to decipher those antiquated terms and phrases that we encounter in our ancestral documents.

    Enough on the books for now.  In Part 2, we will discuss how to collect and organize those little sniplets of information we pick up from smaller resources into a personal filing system. 

    Nameless Picture of the Day

     unidentified residence, Sturgis
    "Mrs. Laura Hickman" written on the reverse
    Can you identify the house or people in this photo reportedly taken in Sturgis, Michigan?  Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the photo's catalog number with your e-mail.

    Saturday, December 3, 2011

    Collection Highlight : Michigan Soldiers Home Registers

    In our May 16, 2011 post, announcement was made of the addition to the Local History collection of  Soldiers Obituaries, 1899-1938, compiled by Francis Hall, a three-volume set of obituary transcriptions for soldiers from around the state.  The source of that typed transcript has yet to be determined, but one possibility is that it is a result of records generated from the Michigan Soldiers' Home in Grand Rapids.

    Since that acquisition, we have acquired Historical Register of Inhabitants, 1885-1927, microfilm of the original register of inmates from the Soldiers' Home.  The ten-reel set of microfilm includes a separate index giving the name of each soldier, a page reference, and sometimes a date of death is penciled into the remarks column.

    In the records ledger, there is a full page for each soldier with their name at the top, and places to fill in the following information:
    •  MILITARY HISTORY - enlistment, rank, company & regiment, the when-where-why of discharge, disability
    • DOMESTIC HISTORY - place of birth, age, height, complexion, color of hair & eyes, religion, literacy, occupation, residence prior to admission, marital status, name & address of nearest relative(s)
    • HOME HISTORY - pension rate, admission & discharge dates, date & cause of death
    • GENERAL REMARKS - papers & effects including pension certificate number, other comments such as burial date, location and clergy
    Granted, not all of these items are filled in for every soldier, but the potential is there for a great deal of useful information.  It can be difficult for many researchers to locate a place of death and burial for their veteran ancestors, so these records offer a new resource for that information.

    For example, of Frederick Stuart formerly of Hamilton Township, Van Buren County?, Michigan, page 1054, we learn the following:
    1. Enlisted November 30, 1861, Kent, Connecticut, as a private into Company C 13th Connecticut Infantry
    2. Discharged April 16, 1864, New Orleans, Louisiana
    3. Nervous disability
    4. He was born in the United States and is 48 years old
    5. Can read & write, is a laborer by occupation and is single
    6. His nearest relative is a nephew, J. G. Eddy, 744 Broadway, Grand Rapids
    7. Admission dates July 16, 1889, October 7, 1890 & October 10, 1895
    8. During that time, his pension increased from $12 to $50 per month (Certificate #646663)
    9. Discharge dates, July 21, 1889 & May 24, 1894, per his own request
    10. Died October 31, 1921 of chronic bronchitis
    11. Buried November 2, 1921, Home Cemetery (may mean at the Soldiers' Home), Rev. Berry - Chaplain
    The usefulness of this information quickly becomes apparent, so plan to add Soldiers' Home records to your genealogical research checklist.   There was more than one such home in Michigan and other states likely had similar facilities. 

    These microfilm are part of the indefinite loan Microfilm Collection at the Van Buren District Library.  For more information about this or other collections, contact the library.

    Nameless Picture of the Day
     unknown boys (probably twins)
    Photographer - M. V. Chapman, Benton Harbor

    Can you identify the boys in this photo?  Are you familiar with the photographer's name?  Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the photo's catalog number with your e-mail.