Archive for November, 2009

November 16, 2009

An Island Unto Itself

A few months ago, I was searching the Internet for information on a certain family I was researching for a friend. I came across an interesting article on a related family in which the author attempted to prove a lineage based almost solely on federal census records from 1830 through 1850, and on one man’s date of birth, source not given.

It was evident from the author’s presentation that he did not understand how to use the federal census records from that time period. No census from 1790 through 1870 provides direct proof of a relationship; the 1880 U.S. census was the first to provide relationship indicators, and then only to the head of the household. The population schedules from 1850 through 1870 suggest relationships, but they do not prove them. The early federal censuses do not even suggest relationships; they are merely an enumeration of the number and ages of persons living within a household at a certain time.

A better argument could have been made if the author had used several record sets in tandem with one another. There was no mention in this “proof” argument, for instance, of probate records, although they are one of the more obvious and well-known record sets, even amongst beginning genealogists. Nor was any mention made of a search through local land records, which often corroborate or suggest relationships not evident in other contemporary documents. And so forth. For the area and time period in question, there are several record sets other than federal censuses this researcher could have used to provide better support for his argument, but these were all neglected.

This leads me to the point of this post, via a paraphrased truism: No record (or record set) is an island unto itself. Whenever possible, we should always seek further information to corroborate relationships, especially where records might provide indirect evidence but no concrete “proof”. Even where such proof is directly stated, we should examine other records when and where ever possible in order to provide the most well-rounded and solid argument we can based on the most exhaustive search possible.

November 10, 2009

Tombstone Tuesday: Daniel D. and Levina Alexander

Daniel D. Alexander Sr., Born Aug. 29, 1803, Died Nov. 10, 1853
Levina wife of Daniel D. Alexander, Sr., Born Oct. 10, 1805, Died Jan. 2, 1880

Daniel D. Alexander, Sr., and his wife, Levina, were the parents of my ancestress, Elizabeth Alexander (1833 – 1865), who married James Watson, a participant in and casualty of the Watson-Hooper feud of Jackson County, NC. They are buried in the Salem Cemetery, more commonly known as the Alexander Cemetery, in Oconee County, SC (see reference number C003 on the linked web site).

At one time, the stones stood as individual markers. After Daniel’s broke, a thoughtful descendant had the two placed in a larger monument and reset atop the burial sites. A close-up makes the dates easier to read:

Daniel was the son of Micajah and Elizabeth Lewis Alexander. Levina was the daughter of Isaac and Elizabeth Kennemore Rice. Peggy Burton Rich has compiled a great deal of information on this particular Alexander family in a series of books, the first of which is entitled The Alexander Families of Upper South Carolina.

November 9, 2009

Conducting a Literature Survey, Part 2

See Conducting a Literature Survey, Part 1 for the beginning portion of this discussion.

Conducting a literature survey can be an overwhelming task, especially to the beginning genealogist, but it doesn’t have to be. Following are some tips to make the process both manageable and fruitful.

One of the best helps for managing genealogical research is in the creation and maintenance of lists of published works available for the localities in which we research. These lists are a go-by for conducting a literature survey, and provide information at a glance about the histories and transcribed or abstracted records available within the area under focus. Best of all, they’re highly useful: since our ancestors tended to “lump” into clusters, several related families with different surnames might be located within each locality; thus, the lists can be used over and over again without having to duplicate the creation process when moving from one research project to the next within a given locale.

Such lists are easy to create, but somewhat harder to maintain. To start, search WorldCat for the locality. Write down every relevant hit the search returns, being sure to include the full title of the work, the author, publisher, the copyright date, and other identifying data. If the book is available in a nearby library, include that information as well.

As with family histories, many records abstracts may be available in leaflet or folder form or otherwise published in a very limited manner, in which case the researcher has three options: 1) ask other researchers in the target locality about the availability of published works; 2) read articles about families who lived in the target locality, being sure to search source citations for possible helpful publications; or 3) obtain a thorough knowledge of the unpublished “primary” records available for the locality. These are all steps one should take when researching in a new locality.

Many records abstracts are also published in genealogical and historical periodicals, such as those mentioned in Part 1 of this discussion. When conducting searches in PERSI and periodical indices, search not only for the target surname, but also for the locality in which those ancestors lived. Doing so will turn up a broader array of useful articles than a simple name or surname search. Include records abstracts published in periodicals when creating lists of published works for the area under study. Back issues of periodicals can often be purchased from the publisher, or are generally available at libraries in or around the locality they cover.

Online book sellers and auction houses (, Barnes & Noble, and eBay, for instance) are excellent places to search for copies of publications, as are the many genealogy-specific publishing houses. Genealogical Publishing Company and Heritage Books are two popular companies with large selections, but there are also many smaller publishing companies that may deal only with works pertaining to a certain region or county (e.g. Teresita Press).

Many histories and published records abstracts are out of print. Some have been reprinted and may be available through the sellers mentioned previously, but there are still many other useful histories and genealogies that have not been reprinted. The latter may be available through, for instance, Google Books or the Library of Congress, but they may also languish uncatalogued in the Special Collections section of larger repositories, making published, documented genealogies of other area families a necessary addition to one’s reading list.

Be creative when searching for published works. Mailing lists and message boards are excellent ways to learn of useful material, new or old, as is networking with other local genealogists. Keep in mind that new histories and records abstracts are being published all the time. One way to keep up with this is to order catalogues from publishing companies, but another way is to stay in touch with authors who continually publish about a locality of interest. In this way, one may more easily maintain lists of published works.

The key to keeping the literature survey in hand is to be methodical and remain organized. Do not hapharzardly slosh through the literature. Rather, systematically search each work, recording the results in a research log, making copies when necessary, and checking each item off of the compiled list as it is searched. Promptly file any information found, being certain to note any clues or inconsistencies which need follow-up work. Include negative search results as well so that there is no question whether a work was searched for information on that project. In this way, the survey becomes a useful tool in the research process, rather than generating an overload of information.

This discussion will be continued in part 3, Conducting a Literature Survey: The Internet.

November 8, 2009

Conducting a Literature Survey, Part 1

One of the first steps every genealogist should take when researching a new ancestor or surname is to conduct a literature survey. The purposes of a literature survey are simple: 1) to avoid the unnecessary duplication of another’s work; 2) to find transcribed works leading to extant records; 3) to get a “feel” for the time period and locale in which the target ancestor(s) lived.

Conducting a literature survey is relatively easy and painless, depending on the resources at one’s disposal, and should cover the following, at a minimum:

  • Biographies, compiled or individual
  • Family histories
  • Local histories
  • Transcribed and abstracted records
  • Periodicals, except for newspapers (which are searched during the research phase)
  • The Internet

Most biographies, histories, and published transcriptions can be located through WorldCat (see WorldCat for more information on the contents of its online catalogue). Once a copy of a needed item is found, the researcher may request the item through their own library or directly from the lending library, depending on the lending policies of each institution. If copies are not available for circulation, the researcher may wish to travel to the lending library to search the item. If such travel is not possible, the researcher may opt to find a volunteer (see RAOGK) or hire a researcher who can visit the library and search the work in question.

Unfortunately, many compiled genealogies are only available as leaflets or folders in the local public library or historical society, but such entities are usually willing to answer questions about their uncatalogued material when queried respectfully via mail or telephone. They may also be willing to conduct a search within these items, if the search is brief and concisely stated.

The periodical search should include:

  • newsletters produced by local historical and genealogical societies, and by family associations or surname study groups
  • local and regional magazines, especially those with a focus on history
  • field-specific magazines, such as Everton’s Genealogical Helper
  • quarterlies and journals produced by lineage societies (e.g. the DAR), and state, regional, and national genealogical and historical societies

Many of the these periodicals have been indexed by the Allen County Public Library and compiled into a database known as the Periodical Source Index, PERSI for short. Some important journals are not indexed in PERSI (the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, for example), but they are well worth the added effort and money needed to track down indexes or to join the societies in question so that one has access to the members-only indices.

The Internet is one entity which is treated with both respect and disdain by seasoned researchers: respect because of the sheer capabilities of the Web, and disdain because much of the genealogical information disseminated online is virtually worthless, either because it’s poorly documented, poorly reasoned, or out-and-out untrue. Nevertheless, the Internet should still be searched for information on the target ancestor or surname, not only for the reasons mentioned at the outlay of this post, but also to find others interested in the sought-after ancestor.

See Conducting a Literature Survey, Part 2 for a continuation of this discussion, including tips on managing a literature survey without becoming overwhelmed.

November 4, 2009

Wordful Wednesday: Thad and Junior, 1944

Thad and Junior (18 months)

This picture is of my father’s father, Thad J. Watson, Sr., with my father’s eldest brother, Thad J. Watson, Jr. For those of you who are wondering, the “J” is only an initial; it’s not a shortened version of any name.

My grandmother, Nanny, and I moved this picture from one photo album to another when I was a teenager. We left the caption, written by my grandmother, which stated that Thad Jr. was 18 months old at the time the picture was taken. That would make the approximate date of the photo June 1944, just two months before my grandfather died in a bombing run over Czechoslovakia, and about five months before the birth of my father.

November 2, 2009

Sitting Up With the Dead, Friday, November 13, 2009

The Northeast Georgia Genealogical Society is partnering with the Hall County Library in Gainesville, GA, to host “Sitting Up with the Dead” on Friday, November 13, 2009, from noon until midnight. Cost is $12 per person; entry fee and registration must be received by Monday, November 9, 2009.

This is a wonderful opportunity for area researchers to explore the Sybil Wood McRay Genealogy and Local History Collection. For those who have never used it, most of the resources located therein are catalogued in the Hall County Library System‘s catalogue.

More information is available through the Northeast Georgia Genealogical Society’s web site, above.

November 1, 2009

A Sunday Walk Around the Blogs

Free People of Color Population in the US: 1790 – 1860, a demographics chart created by Erin Bradford of Free Blacks in Antebellum North Carolina. An interesting comparison of Free POC populations in the Northern states versus in the Southern (later Confederate) states.

…And then the fire alarm went off from Arlene H. Eakle’s Genealogy Blog.

The Census – then and now from Valerie at Begin with Craft. Links to a video about the 1940 US Census.

Look out world – here comes the iceberg! from Tami Glatz at Relatively Curious About Genealogy (I just love that name). This post gives a brief look at digitization projects and the availability of online records. Poke around, as Tami has written a couple of other good posts.