Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tombstone Tuesday: Magdalena Keller

This is another in my collection of "I-love-it-but-it's-not-family" tombstone photos. This stone marks the grave of Magdalena Keller, possibly the wife of John Philip Keller, in the Christ Reformed Cemetery in Middletown, Maryland. There are not a lot of tombstones in this cemetery made of this material and pierced around the edge. All of those I found mark the graves of German-speaking families buried in the late 1700s or very early 1800s. This stone reads, "Hier ruhet// Magdalena Kell// erin ist gestor// ben den 24 Iulius// 1805 Sie wahr alt// etwa 40 Iahr." Loosely translated, the inscription is "Here rests Magdalena Keller, died 24 July 1805. She was about 40 years old."

I took this photograph shortly before leaving Maryland in 2004. I grabbed my camera and drove to Middletown to photograph tombstones of the Shafer families and its allies, but couldn't resist a few extra photos. I took about ninety photos in this cemetery and uploaded the bunch to my Flickr site in a set called "Christ Reformed Cemetery, Middletown, Maryland." If you don't include Flickr in your tombstone searches, you may be missing a treasure. Flickr is tagged by its users, so you may need to be creative in searching the site for cemeteries and tombstones, but you should also be aware of some Flickr groups dedicated to tombstone photographs, especially "Graves of Veterans of the American Civil War" and the "Find A Grave" group.

My ninety photos from the Christ Reformed Cemetery pale when compared to the 775 residing on Find A Grave. Magdalena Keller's tombstone photo is here, but the person who created the memorial was apparently unfamiliar with the German language. She appears as "Ruthet Magdalena Kellerin." The transcriber misread the word Ruhet [rests] as a given name, and he was unfamiliar with the old naming convention in which the suffix -in was added to create the feminine surname form.

What other sites do you routinely include in your search for tombstone photographs, cemetery transcriptions, and burial records? Make sure you add Flickr to the list.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Where Is Your Research Plan?

I love research trips. I enjoy the thrill of a new courthouse, the weeds at an old cemetery - and the food at the new restaurant everyone in the town is talking about. I never go an a research trip without my research plan, a short statement of the problem and its current status and a more detailed listing of the records I planned to search. A research plan accompanied me on my recent trip to Washington, D.C., and I returned with the annotated plan and a huge stack of photocopied records, complete source citations for every document I viewed, all negative results fully described, and descriptions of a few record series new to me - the beginnings of my research report. Life was good.

I decided to begin my data entry and analysis with the Civil War pension of Abner J. Malone, who served in Company I in the 132nd Indiana Infantry. He may be the grandson of a 3xgreat-grandfather, a line I worked on very early in my research days, but very quickly hit a dead end. I was working on his death certificate, one of the pages in the pension. He died in Indianapolis in 1899 and was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis; he was born in Madison, Indiana, and was the son of Abner J. Malone, born in Williamsport, Maryland, and Sarah J. Taylor, born in Maryland. What a wonderful amount of new information!

Several hours after I began work on the pension, I found myself looking at the Queen Anne's County, Maryland, land records of a completely unrelated family! How did I get here? I had wandered off in cyberspace and there were no bread crumbs around to help me find my way home. What had I done? I won't believe you if you say this has never happened to you.

I didn't panic - much, but I was really irritated with myself. Not only had I not planned my searches, I hadn't even recorded what I was doing, and I suspected some of it had been very valuable. I really needed a record of my thoughts and discoveries, so I opened up a blank Word doc and returned to the beginning, the Abner J. Malone death certificate and his person page in TMG, my genealogy program.

Okay. It looked like my first stop had been Ancestry.com, where I had found Abner and his family in the 1880 census, and Abner with his parents in Indianapolis in the 1870 and 1860 censuses and in Madison in 1850. I had cited and transcribed each census, added the new individuals to the database and extracted all the information. So far, so good, but I didn't have anything recorded beyond these censuses.

I stewed for a minute, looking at the death certificate. Yes! He was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery, and they have a burial locator on line. That's where I had gone next. Abner wasn't on the list of Malone burials, but his parents, siblings, and second wife were, all buried in two adjoining lots. I entered the link and information in my text file, along with the note to order the burial information for both lots.

The cemetery site had reminded me that the Indiana State Library has an on line index to Indianapolis newspapers. Nothing there on Abner, but there are obituary entries for his father and a sister. I entered all the information, with a note to order the obits. I also now remembered that I'd spent some extra time here researching a few other - unrelated - families. I added those names to my "search later" list, but decided that I really should stick to my plan of recovering my lost work.

What had I done next? My eyes found the "Father born in Williamsport, Maryland," notation. That was it. If Abner pere was really the brother of my Eleazer Malone, then he was the son of a William Malone. Back to Ancestry.com's direct link to the U.S. census database. Who were the Malones in 1820 Washington County, Maryland? Oh, my! There's a William Malone in Williamsport! I entered this information in my text file, but on this trip, I also noted a James Malone and a Muncy Malone. Their information went into my notes, too, along with a couple of other relevant names I didn't remember seeing before. More notes went into the text file.

How had I gotten to Queen Anne's County land records? I remember now. I've never had any Washington County ancestors, so I had Googled "washington county" mdgenweb to find its USGenWeb site. From there, I had selected the link to the Western Maryland Historical Library. What a great site! Here was the citation for the "Washington County Taxes, 1803-1804" record I had downloaded in my earlier visit. And here was the link that reminded me of the Maryland Land Records at MDLandRec.Net. Hurrah! I love the internet! Here was William Malone's 1811 lease, but this time I copied the full citation and took the time to really read the document. From here, I had left Washington County and the Malone family and segued into Queen Anne's County, a visit I didn't make this time around. Instead, I reviewed my research notes, filled out and mailed my requests to the cemetery and the Indiana State Library, and returned to Abner Malone's Civil War pension. I kept my research text file open, just in case.

Good research practices don't change just because the research is being done at a computer instead of the state archives or county courthouse. Every time we sign in to Ancestry or Footnote, Google a surname, or visit one of RootsWeb's county sites, we're going on a research trip. We should always bring a plan along - or at least make sure we leave some bread crumbs along the trail so we don't get lost.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Search Engine Woes and Wishes

Does anyone really like Ancestry's "New Search"? When I was in D.C. a few weeks ago, I was off the internet grid for about eight days. I was happily playing bridge, researching at the Archives, and visiting with friends. Near the end of the trip, I checked into a hotel with free internet access and decided to check on a few censuses for background on one of my new discoveries. Alas! When I signed on to Ancestry, my home page no longer came up with Ancestry's "Old Search". I couldn't find the records I needed with the "New Search," and I completely panicked. Eventually, I did get to a screen that showed those wonderful tiny letters, Old Search, clicked on the link, and found my people in about five minutes. As many problems as the Old Search might have, the New Search has been dumbed down to such a degree that I find it almost impossible to use. What will I do if Ancestry ever does away with the Old Search?

This experience got me thinking about what I'd like to see when it comes to searching Ancestry or any other web site.

1. Soundex surname searches are nice. Let's keep them.
2. Wildcards are a necessity in a good search engine, but why does Ancestry require three letters preceding the first wildcard? Why can't we start a field with a wildcard?
3. I had trouble finding a death record when I was at the Minnesota Historical Society Library. One of the reference specialists asked, "What year are we talking about? Oh. That was one of the poorly indexed years. You'll get better results if you search using the "Ends with . . ." option. I'd forgotten that the MHS birth and death certificate indexes offer the options, "Contains", "Starts with . . .", and "Ends with . . .". If I can't put my wildcard any where I choose, I'd like all of these added to the search possibilities.
4. The 1880 census search form allows us to search by occupation. Why don't all the 1850 and later templates allow the same option? It would be so useful!
5. Wouldn't it be great if the 1850 and later census search forms allowed us to search for households containing a combination of names? The 1880 plus censuses do allow the possibility of searching for households with father's, mother's, and/or spouse's given names, so why not a series of "Household contains given name ____" possibilities? And why don't all the 1880 plus censuses allow a search by parents' birthplaces?

The search options at the FamilySearch Record Pilot are interesting. The "Exact and Close Match" works reasonably well, but Footnote goes one step better, now that it allows wildcards in its initial search. With both sites, like Ancestry's New Search, you can narrow your results. The fact that Footnote's narrowing options are actually listed makes it more productive than the other two. You don't have to guess at what the indexer might have seen. FamilySearch, however, has the ability to narrow your results by Role. I think that option is fairly unique - and frequently very useful.

Although the Heritage Quest search options are rather primitive, they have one feature I love: the ability to sort the search results. Wouldn't it be great to be able to sort Ancestry's search results in any way you wished? By county, surname or given name, or birthplace? It would make search results so much easier to analyze. I must admit that I find Footnote's almost random listing of results frustrating.

I'm not sure letting a computer algorithm dictate our search results is the best way to go. People are so much more creative and imaginative - and sometimes our subconscious has streaks of brilliance that a computer may never achieve. What features would you like to see in a site's search engine?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tombstone Tuesday: Elisabeth (Wilcox) Stone

Sometimes, I photograph tombstones simply because I find them interesting or beautiful, poignant or fragile. The crude carving on Elisabeth Stone's marker in East Canton (Pennsylvania) Cemetery stood out. The fact that part of the stone appeared to be missing also attracted me, since I like to photograph stones before they disappear entirely. The missing segment, however, was an integral part of the stone. The letters were carved around it.

According to Heverly's Pioneer and Patriot Families of Bradford County, Pennsylvania (1913), 1: 327, Elisabeth was the daughter of Daniel Wilcox, a Massachusetts native and the first settler in Franklin township. Her husband, Benjamin, was also an early settler in the area, following Daniel from Massachusetts. Benjamin moved on to settle in LeRoy, where he and Elisabeth raised six children, several of them also buried in this cemetery.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Black Sheep Sunday: Caleb Williams

Where do you find the Black Sheep in your family? Do you look in court records? Do you find them in newspapers? Are their stories told in local histories? Yes, many black sheep can be found in these sources, but most of my black sheep stories come from church records. The excerpt above comes from the Church Book of the Baptist Church of Christ at Burlington (Pennsylvania) and is dated 9 March 1816.

"Br Case Hebard & Wills states that Br C Williams still walks disorderly in Swearing & Clubing his Children. Voted to send Brs Mattson Saml Rockwell to admonish him to his duty and come to next meeting Satisfy the Chh."

Admonishments for swearing, drinking, and failing to come to meeting abound in these early church minutes, but this is the earliest instance I found of child abuse. What was happening in the home of Caleb Williams that was labeled by his church, "Clubing his Children?" Four days later, Caleb Williams would be excluded from the church, and I've found no record of his return. Without this note in the Baptist Church minutes, Caleb Williams would not qualify for a black sheep.

Caleb was a Revolutionary War soldier who enlisted in the Continental Army in 1781 when only fourteen years of age. Although he enlisted as a private, Caleb served as a teamster in Captain Bissel Phelps's company and was assigned to drive a team carrying baggage for the French. He was discharged upon reaching Annapolis, but reenlisted in April 1782 and served eight months, again as a teamster under Capt. Chapman. His own declaration tells the story of this service: "Both teams were ox teams, the first had one horse before the oxen. The last team he drove (during the whole of the last term of service) was the property of the government, what was termed a continental team. He was employed in first drawing the magazines, from Fishkill Barracks to Fishkill landing. Afterwards in drawing timber at West Point to repair the fortifications, afterwards in drawing forage, for Sheldon's light horse until discharged at Horse Neck." He married Abigail Andrus in Glastonbury, Connecticut, in 1788, and the young couple followed the migration route from Connecticut to western Massachusetts to Bennnington, Vermont, and finally to the area that would become Troy, Pennsylvania.

In 1816, when this church incident occurred, Caleb's three older children were married. He had given both sons and his son-in-law generous grants of land about the time each marriage occurred. Still at home were three sons, Johnson, age 20, Warren, age 18, and Andrus, age 9, and a daughter, Laura, probably about 12 years old. All lived to adulthood, with the exception of Andrus, who died in 1821. Wife Abigail died in 1823, and Caleb married a second time in 1835.

Caleb died in 1854, by which time most of his property had already been gifted to each child. He left a bay mare, a buggy wagon and harness, and two notes. He must have been very careful with his accounting, because the inventory of his estate closely matches the property he distributes in his 1853 will. He's buried next to Abigail in Glenwood Cemetery, a Revolutionary War marker next to his tombstone.

Without this record in the church minutes, Caleb would not qualify for black sheep status. I still wonder what the full story was. Historical records provide us with only small glimpses of the past - like looking into the peephole of an old Easter egg. What was happening in those places we can't see?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

My First Day at the National Archives

I remember my first day at the National Archives. I went armed with my rudimentary research plan and a lot of trepidation. The DC metro didn't exist, so I took the train from Baltimore to Washington's Union Station and walked to the Archives. There was no metal detector, you didn't need an ID card, and the beautiful new reading room wasn't even a dream. I found my way to the fourth floor microfilm reading room, got a researcher's card, and signed in to a microfilm reader with my first roll of census microfilm. After a few hours of census scanning, I took a break and switched to the microfilm pension indexes. I ordered the Civil War pensions of two of my 2xgreat-grandfathers, the Civil War pension of one 3xgreat-grandfather, and the War of 1812 pension of a 4xgreat-grandfather. I was then told that these pensions would be available in about one hour in the second-floor research room - so I took a real break and went to lunch.

After lunch, I signed in to the second-floor research room, after depositing everything I carried in a locker, and asked to see my first pension. "Name?" the man behind the desk asked. "Benjamin Rollins," I replied. He actually looked at me then, and said, "Your name, not the pensioner's name." "Oh," an embarrassed me replied. After getting my name, he went to a box, pulled out a pile of manila envelopes, and handed me an envelope and a pink sheet. "What's this?" I asked. "Your pension," he replied. "Name and date here," he pointed to the pink sheet. I signed the sheet, then stood there, holding this big manila envelope. I had been expecting microfilm, and my mind had simply frozen. He looked at me for a moment, sighed, then said, "Take the pension, find a seat at one of the tables, and open it." I did, and I've been hooked ever since. He had given me the War of 1812 pension, and among the real, live, original papers was the last letter ever written by Benjamin Rollins, my 4xgreat-grandfather.

The three Civil War pensions were equally wonderful. I couldn't believe the stories I found in those pages. Each pension was similar, and each pension was unique. I finished the last pension, looked at my watch, and realized that I might not be able to make my train back to Baltimore! I grabbed my photocopies, signed out of the research room, grabbed my things from my locker, signed out of the Archives, and ran all the way to Union Station. As I ran through the station, I caught a glimpse of the Baltimore train's track number and ran to the track. A train was pulling out, and, just like in the movies, the conductor leaned out of the last car's door, grabbed my hand, and pulled me on. Out of breath, I grabbed an empty seat, and said to the woman across from me, "This train is going to Baltimore, isn't it?" "Not as far as I know," she replied. "Oh, no! Where am I going?" I cried. "I get off at the airport," she said, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I was on the right train, on my way home, with wonderful treasures.

"What have you been doing?" this poor woman now asked me. "Oh, you don't really want to know," I warned her. "No. Tell me," the unsuspecting thing said, and I didn't need any more persuading. I started telling her the story of my 2xgreat-grandmother, her four children, and her Civil War soldier husband. I talked about how her husband was wounded in the war, and recovered from his wound, but never quite recovered from the lung infection he suffered. I told her about his work as a traveling tinker and his death in 1879, leaving his widow with no money and four children, the youngest, my great-grandfather, only one year old. I talked about her sorrow as she apprenticed out her two oldest children and took in boarders and laundry to make ends meet. I told her about the scandal when a neighbor accused her of sleeping with a boarder. This neighbor wrote the War Department, saying that a widow who slept with a man should lose her pension. My 2xgreat-grandmother was poorly educated and didn't know what to do, but her second son had been apprenticed to an influential man in the neighborhood who helped her retain her pension. I then continued the story, and told the woman that my 2xgreat-grandmother eventually married this boarder, so the scandalous accusation might have had some truth to it. I grabbed papers and read her excerpts, showing her the difficult-to-read handwriting. I simply couldn't stop talking, even as I watched her eyes glaze over and her face begin to take on a shocked look. She was only released when her stop came and she could stumble off the train. I know she didn't take a seat on that train for at least a week before making sure I was nowhere near her.

Ironically, when I decided to make my own test of Ancestry's pension indexes, I discovered that, if limited to Ancestry's indexes only, I might not have found three of these four pensions.

First, you should all realize that Ancestry's War of 1812 pension index database contains the index images, but these images have not been indexed. When Ancestry announced their big military collection a few years ago, I plugged in Benjamin Rollins' name, but no 1812 pension results appeared. If you're searching for a War of 1812 pensioner on Ancestry, you must browse these images to find him.

I could find no pension entry for Guy Beckley Staples, the Civil War pensioner featured in the above story, in Ancestry's database, regardless of the many possible search configurations I used. I did find an entry for him in Footnote's database.

I could find no pension entry for William Henry Peck, my 3xgreat-grandfather, whose pension I also devoured on this memorable first day. I couldn't find him in Footnote's database, either. Only one of the four pensioners, Benjamin S. Gifford, was readily available on both Ancestry and Footnote. If I had access only to Ancestry, my first day at the Archives might not have been so memorable. Of course, that poor woman on the train back to Baltimore would have had a much more peaceful ride.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Apples and Fraktur

One of my college classmates loved to pontificate on any subject. He fascinated me, because I hadn't met too many people like him before those days. Of course, he irritated me a great deal, too. Over the years, though, one of his rambling commentaries has returned to mind many times - his "Apple Argument." He contended that most Americans had no idea what a wonderful thing an apple could be. The only apple we'd ever eaten was a Red Delicious, with an occasional adventure with a Jonathan or a Granny Smith. (This was in the days before most grocery stores added Gala and Fuji to their limited collection.) There were hundreds, if not thousands, of tastier apples in the country, but we never saw them because they didn't ship or store as well. Big business was destroying quality and variety in apples simply to make money. On the other hand, I replied, big business was providing people with inexpensive apples year round. That couldn't be all bad, could it? I'm not sure I agree with my early self now. How many of these apple varieties have you tasted? How many have you even heard of? Isn't there some way to have both quality and availability? And what does this have to do with genealogy?

Late last year, a controversial post by Peggy Reeves on the APG mailing list started a discussion that carried over to several other lists and blogs. Like Peggy, I have found missing records in many Ancestry databases, and we all have stories of horrendous indexing errors in all the major subscription databases. Many of the responses to Peggy's posts boiled down to this: "Okay, there may be problems, but we should be grateful for what we have. Look at how much better access is now to these records." True, but will we have access to these records if they're not digitized in the first place? Do we have access if there's no index or finding aid? How do you look at a record, if you can't find proof it exists?

I took comfort from the fact that the Archives would be there for us, but in gossiping with some of the reference people on my recent trip, I discovered that the Archives really is planning to retire digitized records from "active reference," and there are rumors of plans to replace the microfilm reading room at Archives I with a museum store. Microfilm, like text records, could be requested, but self-service rolls would be limited. Records no longer considered active reference could be requested, but usually only when your need to see the original is demonstrated. Consider also Peggy's comment that the companies digitizing NARA's records weren't even taking advantage of modern technology. That brings me to the fraktur in my title. If you can't look at the original, which image would you rather see? This fraktur image found on Footnote, or this image found on NARA's Flickr site?

Isn't there some way to have both quality and availability? Whose responsibility is it to see that we do?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tombstone Tuesday: A Blank Spot

In 2003, when I took my almost-new digital camera to Glenwood Cemetery in Troy, Pennsylvania, this was the picture of the Aaron Case tombstone. Yes, that's it in the center of the photo - the big empty space. In 1988 on my first visit to the cemetery, Aaron's stone was broken and partially buried. It read, "Aaron Case// died// June 3, 1877// aged// 54 yrs. 4 mos.// & 20 ds." The stone was still there in 1996, but it was gone in 2003. Many other tombstones that I had transcribed in previous years were gone by the time my digital camera and I returned.

So, the next time you see an empty spot in a cemetery where a tombstone used to be, say, "Thank you," to the D.A.R. chapter that transcribed it, or the Find A Grave volunteer that posted a photograph for you. Speaking of Find A Grave, I have several hundred tombstone photos still waiting for me to upload them. I'd better get back to work!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Black Sheep Sunday: The Story of a Little Black Lamb

Thousand-Dollar Bill Makes Staid Mill Valley Sit Up And See Things. That was the front page headline on the March 8, 1922, issue of the San Francisco Chronicle. Clerk Shot By Bandit, $2,250 Taken proclaimed the San Francisco Examiner on the same day. Both articles told the story of the robbery of Harold L. Craig, a 22-year-old clerk in the San Francisco office of Standard Oil. Craig was returning to his Mill Valley home in Marin County when he was accosted by an armed robber and shot when he confronted that robber. After shooting Craig in the chest, the robber searched him, stealing a $750 diamond ring he had just purchased for his bride of four months and the $1500 in cash Craig was carrying to purchase a car. Craig's cries for help alerted his neighbors. He was taken to San Rafael hospital, while the sheriff organized a posse to search for the bandit. Adding to the hullabaloo, a fire broke out in Mill Valley, so half the posse members returned to fight the fire, while the remainder continued their search in the direction of Sausalito. The posse did not find the bandit, and William Salley, Mill Valley town clerk and a member of the posse, lost his home in the fire.

Harold Craig was reported to have inherited $20,000 from an uncle. His wife, the former Louise Gilliam Nye, was hinting strongly that some of that inheritance should be used for her benefit. Craig had promised her a diamond ring and an automobile before they were married, and she thought she had waited long enough. Craig, therefore, withdrew some of his inheritance and went to a San Francisco jewelry store where he purchased the ring with a thousand-dollar bill. He assumed that the robber had seen him at the bank or the jewelry store and followed him home. Craig's story was questioned, however, when two boys told Sheriff J. J. Keating they had seen Craig go home from the train depot without being accosted by anyone.

The next day's papers proclaimed the hoax: Victim of 'Robbery' Confesses He Shot Himself to Deceive Bride. Craig admitted to the sheriff that both his bride and his creditors were pressing him, and so he framed the story to account for his lack of money. Further investigation showed that he had not bought a diamond ring in the jewelry store, but had left one of his wife's rings there to be reset. He had not withdrawn any money, and he was not employed by Standard Oil, but he "declined to say where he works."

The story is not over. On day three, both papers reported another reversal. Craig Denies His Confession is the Examiner headline, while the Chronicle reports Craig Returns to Claim That Thug Shot Him. Harold told his family and his doctor that he confessed to the shooting under duress. "[T]hat was what the police seemed to want and I was tired of being questioned." The police never found the pistol, and Craig's doctor said, "If he deliberately shot himself in the shoulder without suicidal intent, it was a phenomenal demonstration of nerve."

What is the truth of my little black lamb's story? The only follow-up I've found was a small blurb a few days later about Craig's "true blue" wife, but I haven't searched Marin County court records for any trial resulting from this event. Harold and Louise (Nye) Craig had two children and continued to live in Mill Valley for at least twenty more years. It appears that the couple had separated by 1944, however, when Louise is still living in Mill Valley, but Craig, a telephone installer, had moved to San Francisco. He probably met Lorna (Goss) Lambert, a Pacific Telephone & Telegraph operator, on his job. Harold and Lorna married, probably before 1949, and moved to San Rafael in 1951. Harold Craig died in 1975 and Louise (Nye) Craig died in 1984. My interest in this story, however, derives from my research on Lorna (Goss) (Lambert) Craig. She was my father's oldest sibling, a half-sister he didn't know existed. His older siblings did, and they had tried to locate her, without success. My daughter found her in 1997 - in Olivet Memorial Park in Colma, California. She had died in 1993.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Research Trip: How Do You Prepare?

Why do you use a genealogy software program? One of my main requirements for my program is the ability to help me track my research. Does it help me store and retrieve all those "What if . . ." and "I wonder . . ." ideas we all get as we analyze our data? Does it allow me to quickly prepare a to-do list tailored to a particular repository, family, or record type? If you're using The Master Genealogist (TMG), the answer to these questions is, "Yes." I've been using TMG since it's beta days, so I'm not sure my methods are as up-to-date as those allowed by the program now, but those methods did allow me to prepare a manageable list of tasks, complete with all the information I needed to request records, in a very efficient manner.

Here is a screen shot showing one of my research tasks. I create one every time I have one of those "I wonder . . ." moments. My task name always begins with the main surname of interest. My keywords always include the repository, the record type, relevant surname(s), and relevant residence(s). The comments field always includes my thoughts or the information necessary to order the record. With only three research days available on this trip, I limited my repositories to the National Archives (keyword: NARA). This gave me a list of about 600 tasks. I wasn't completing that in three days! I then excluded most of the microfilmed record types. I wanted to concentrate on NARA's text records. The list was now reduced to about 300 tasks. Still not manageable, so I limited it to tasks designed since 1 January 2008. Those would cover my most current projects. The final list comprised about sixty tasks. I might not finish this list, but it was now manageable. The list was printed in Task Name order, so all my major families of interest were grouped together, and the information in the Comments field allowed me to fill out NARA request forms the minute I walked into the research room.

As you're all aware, as each task is completed and the record is analyzed, you're likely to come up with new research ideas. I did add several possibilities to my list in the first two days, and I didn't complete nine of those on the original list, but I made significant progress. Given the fact that some of the records I investigated would have required hiring a researcher, I estimate that all my photocopies would have cost about $3000 if I'd been doing long-distance research. There was one problem. An eight-inch stack of photocopies weighs quite a bit and takes up a lot of space. I had to buy a new carry-on to bring my records home!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Fix-It Friday: Who was the Wife of David Bean?

When my daughter was about four years old, she got very upset about a grocery store tabloid story about an alien's baby with two heads - or some such thing. I tried to explain that it wasn't true, and she said, "Mommy, if it's not true, then they shouldn't be allowed to print it!" Although we're consciously aware that not everything we read is true, our subconscious seems to echo my daughter. "It must be true. I read it in a book, or on line, or saw it on TV." And we all know that once something appears in print, it develops a life of its own. Correcting it is almost impossible. Genealogists have an even bigger problem. We publish the results of our research, and even though we may feel we have done a reasonably thorough job of searching the best sources, we know that new evidence may appear that invalidates our conclusions.

Unless we've published the material ourselves, we have limited means to posit a correction. In fact, our "correction" is only another conclusion based on what we consider best evidence. Here is a fix-it for the identity of Abigail, wife of David Bean, of Wheelock, Vermont.

The memorial for Abigail Bean, who is buried in South Wheelock Cemetery, can be found on Find A Grave. The information provided calls her Abigail (Stephens) Bean, born 1808 and died Dec. 30, 1861. The inscription is noted as including "w/o David," and there is a note, "Married in Kirby Dec. 3, 1848." There is no tombstone photograph. When I saw this, I immediately said, "Oh, no! I must have made a mistake! I thought David Bean's wife was Abigail Ward. What is my source?" I still think Abigail, wife of David Bean of Wheelock, Vermont, is Abigail Ward, daughter of Samuel and Tamson (Hall) Ward. Here are some highlights from my evidence.

1. Abigail's tombstone in South Wheelock Cemetery reads, "Abigail// wife of// David Bean// died// Dec. 30, 1861// ae 52 yrs". No help there for either the Stephens school or the Ward school.

2. There is a death record for Abigail Bean in Wheelock, Vermont, Vital Statistics 1: 89. It states that Abigail Bean died 30 December 1861, age age 52 years 4 months 15 days; cause of death, heart disease. She was married and her parents are recorded as "Abigail and Tamson Ward." Sometimes, things just aren't easy. This is the only entry in the entire volume that lists a female name first in the parents column, and it's definitely the only entry that records two female names in this column! I think the recorder simply repeated Abigail's name without thinking about it. Tamson Ward, widow of Samuel Ward, was still living in the area, either in Danville with son Samuel H., or in Wheelock with daughter Mary (Ward) Sherburn. Her husband, though, had died 26 years earlier, so a slip on his name is more likely than a slip on Tamson's. No informant appears in these records.

3. I have found no marriage record for David Bean and Abigail Ward, and their only son's marriage and death records don't give his mother's maiden name. However, that son, William W., was a Civil War soldier. His pension file contains several affidavits from members of Abigail Ward's family, none from any Stephens family.

4. Janice Boyko's wonderful site, Northeast Kingdom Genealogy, contains birth, death, and marriage announcements found in area newspapers. Two of them, the St. Johnsbury Caledonian and the Danville North Star, contain the announcement of the marriage of Reuben Bean Jr. of Kirby to Abigail Stephens of Kirby, 3 December 1848, in Kirby. I haven't seen the original newspapers.

5. David, Abigail, and William W. Bean are enumerated in Wheelock, Vermont, in both the 1850 and 1860 censuses. The household of Reuben and Abigail Bean is enumerated in Kirby, Vermont in the same census years. In 1850, Reuben is called Reuben Jr. and his household follows that of his probable father, also called Reuben. In 1860, the Reuben and Abigail Bean family is enumerated in the household of William Stevens, a man of an age to be Abigail's father.

Thus, my fix-it for the day: Abigail, wife of David Bean of Wheelock, Vermont, is Abigail Ward, daughter of Samuel and Tamson (Hall) Ward. Abigail Stephens, on the other hand, married Reuben Bean Jr., of Kirby, Vermont. If you're interested in any of these families, you can now judge the evidence.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Research Trip Report: The DAR Library

I really wish I could get back to D.C. more often! Once every two or three years is simply not often enough. My "to-do" list is so long that it's not always easy to come up with a manageable plan. This trip was also combined with the ACBL Summer National Bridge Tournament, so I lost a few days of research time to the bridge tables. I had tentatively reserved one morning at the DAR Library investigating supporting documents for a half dozen subjects. If you've ever done this, you know that it's a little time-consuming. Supporting documents are filed in folders named for the relevant patriot. Each contains a hodge-podge of information of varying value, everything from, "My father told me all about his grandfather's family," to pages from family Bibles, photographs of no longer extant tombstones, and eighteenth-century letters. You request a folder, mark the items of interest to be photocopied, then wait for your copies. At least, that's the way it used to be done.

I arrived at the library moments after it opened. The guard at the door told me that the only thing that had changed since I was there five years ago was the entrance to the library. He was wrong. When I told the librarian that I wanted to see some supporting documents, he said, "We've recently finished digitizing all the supporting docs. They're part of an in-house database, and you can see them on a computer in the Seimes Center." Hurray! He then informed me that the center was no longer in the basement of the building, gave me directions, and sent me off.

Instead of being greeted by microfilm readers, when you enter the center you're now greeted by several computer terminals. Select the Ancestor Database, find your subject of interest, and start viewing the available supporting documents. Printing a page is a snap. Hit a few buttons and the page is sent to a central printer. When you're finished, pick up your photocopies at the reference desk. Copies are $0.20 per page for supporting documents and $10 for a copy of a member application. I finished my tasks in half the time I planned, but fortunately, I always carry a mental "to-do" list. Here's one of my lovely finds.

Mr. John Stephenson,
Warren County Ohio.

Greene County Pa. May 31st, 1816.

Dear Son:-

In the providence of God I am bereaved of your dear mother and likely my mind is too much swallowed up in grief, though I believe I should not mourn as those that have no hope. Though I enjoy common health for one of my age yet I am fast following my dear partner, and a few days or years at most, I must make trial of the invisible and eternal world, O" to be well prepared to go. For the time and circumstances of your Mothers death, I refer you to your brother James letter and also of your relatives here. I remain your affectionate father,

Hugh Stephenson

The Genealogical Records Committee reports are also being digitized. I asked about the possibility of these databases going online and was told that rumors about a possible subscription database were floating around. I hope those rumors are true. I love going on research trips, but I also love researching in my bathrobe at 1 a.m.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Tombstone Tuesday: Palmer Burial Ground

This small family burial ground is in Sullivan township in Tioga County, Pennsylvania. I would never have been able to find it without my guide, Joyce Tice. It was literally "over the river and through the woods." Isn't it wonderful? I wonder what this plot looked like a hundred years ago.

Joyce is one of those wonderful people who maintain county web sites. She began with RootsWeb back in 1996, and her site is one of the best on the web. If you're interested in families in Bradford County or Tioga County, Pennsylvania, or Chemung County, New York, you must visit her site, Tri-Counties Genealogy & History.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Madness Monday: The Library of Michigan

I'm just back from a wonderful trip to Washington, D.C. Not only do I have lots of new information for my own research projects, I also have lots of new material for this blog. After talking with several of the reference specialists at NARA and reading all the material on the status of the Library of Michigan, I've decided that my Madness Monday blogs are going to cover some of the problems that make me angry, not those ancestors who drive me mad. If you have not read about the potential decimation of the wonderful Library of Michigan, Shirley Gage Hodges' article, Crisis Facing the Library of Michigan, is an excellent starting point.

I've always loved researching at the Library of Michigan. The building is beautiful, there is ample parking, and the collection is amazing. I love their microfilm newspaper collection. None of the online newspaper sources come close to the coverage provided at the Library of Michigan. When I visit, I frequently spend two days working through the newspapers alone! Their website, Michigan History, Arts & Libraries, could serve as a model for many states. What will happen if this Michigan treasure is decimated? Michigan's governor expects to save about two million dollars per year. I don't know how many out-of-state researchers go to Lansing each year, but if one assumes approximately ten each week spending five days in the library and archives, all spending what this fiscally conservative blogger does on a research trip, the state of Michigan will lose about one million tourist dollars per year. Where is the savings here? The state will also lose a lot of prestige in research circles that include librarians and historians, as well as genealogists.

What does it mean for genealogists? Even assuming all the material is preserved - and that is still in question - it's likely to be scattered among several repositories, the bulk perhaps going to the MSU library. Although my experience is limited, I can't say I've been completely happy with some of my research trips to areas that have done this. Here are two examples.

Original records in Wisconsin can be found in various Area Research Centers. I planned a research trip to Grant County, Wisconsin, several years ago. Of course, I did a lot of homework before I went. Given the fact that the Area Research Center for this region is housed in the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, I expected - and got - less than perfect parking. I wrote ahead for more details about the hours of access and asked questions about some collection specifics. The response gave me the incorrect hours and incomplete information on the collection specifics. The actual hours were much fewer than my informant stated, and I discovered that some of the resources I requested were actually located at two other Area Research Centers. Reference services varied depending on the person present, and some of these people were less than knowledgeable about the holdings. After two days, I decided my time might be better spent on another project at the Minnesota State Archives, so I headed to Minneapolis for the rest of my vacation.

Not too long ago, I was able to spend a brief time on my Madison County, Kentucky, problems. Rather than heading to Frankfort for the day, I decided to visit the collection at the Eastern Kentucky University library archives in Richmond. Given the limited time I had, this was not a bad decision. I might have found it frustrating, though, if I were spending a week at that repository. Parking was abominable, I knew more about the collection than the first reference provider I spoke to, and the hours were very limited. There was only one microfilm reader providing access to the valuable county records, but fortunately, I was the only visitor interested in those records. Of course, my perception was also colored by the fact that it was absolutely pouring the entire day and my planned cemetery visit was washed out.

Historical records are extraordinarily diverse, and those responsible for preserving these records and providing access are respected scholars in their own right. The citizens of Michigan and the professionals at the Library of Michigan deserve better from their elected officials. I can't be in Lansing on Wednesday to participate in "Hands Around the Library," but like thousands of researchers, I'll be thinking of everyone there.