walkitout: (Default)
My father mentioned a friend from school. I looked the friend up, and he's the nephew of my father's aunt-by marriage. So not precisely a relative, but close enough. I have a FB friend from the same family group. I started poking around some more today, to try to figure out if the friend -- LMP -- is still alive. I can, so far, find no evidence of his death. I've found his daughter and her husband (both on FB, and with the FB friend as a mutual friend, so I know I have the right people). Her husband (my father's friend's son-in-law, if you are keeping track) has a relatively public FB feed, and I see no evidence of other P. family members on it, beyond the mutual friend (altho it is possible privacy settings make those invisible to me).

I'm a little stumped. I could message my FB friend who is from that family group. I could reach out to the son-in-law. But I think I'll wait for now, because I recently got a DNA match on ancestry from my new-to-me cousin and I like to navigate these things one at a time. And I'm not sure whether I should attempt to reconnect my father with his childhood friend or not.

I'm never quite sure how to represent this kind of thing in the tree. The relationship is on the one hand distant in every way, but on the other hand has attained a sort of salience, as a named person my father once considered a friend. Given the enforced insularity of the religion my father was raised in and continues to be a member of, that's a really rare thing.
walkitout: (Default)
A post by my cousin on FB prompted me to take another shot at figuring out the ancestry of her mother (her father and my mother are siblings; for a variety of reasons, I don't think I ever met her mother). I am making more progress this time (I love how more and more records show up in the Washington State Digital Archives if you just let a year or so go by). But I am continually amused that my uncle (her father) married a Catholic woman and the whole family is basically Catholic since then. Why would a young man raised (sort of) Mennonite marry a Catholic girl?

Probably because her family and his family were from the same part of Manitoba. Odd things happen in a rural area that is predominantly Mennonite, but the second largest group is Catholic. I suppose the next question is what winding path led those two family groups to move to Bellingham? Every time I have a question like this, I wind up learning a bunch of local history.
walkitout: (Default)
One of my husband's relatives is slowly working through an application process that involves some minor genealogical research. The task that she was stuck on involved my husband's great-grandparents: we knew where they were living when they got married, and we knew when their first child was born (and where that child was baptized), which gave us a rough bracket. But unfortunately, since this all happened in NJ, there was some uncertainty about precisely where to get the record.

But this is not my first genealogy research. I found the probable registrar, called, learned she was out to lunch (literally), and called back a few minutes after her expected return. She was very helpful, and put me on hold while she got out the book. The book starts in 1914, which was partway into our bracket, but it turns out the marriage was in 1915, so yay! I called the relative who was doing the research and we had a nice chat, during which she said she'd called the surviving daughter of this marriage, the son of another product of this marriage, etc. and no one seemed to have any idea of the marriage date. I thought nothing of it, because I'm basically not a very suspicious person.

I sent a summary email out to interested parties with the address for the registrar, and the state vital records people in case a Super Special (Apostille) copy might be required, and then hopped onto the laptop (with interruptions, because both kids are home today, A. because she is sick, T. because he had a half day) to enter the marriage. Then I looked at the timeline and went: Oh.

_That's_ why no one was talking about precisely when that marriage happened. A month and a day before the birth of the first child.

Hmmmm. R. and I are discussing whether or not it might be possible to get that branch of the family to agree to doing the ancestry genetics dance, to figure out whether their relatedness to ours is as expected, or less.
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At the NYT, Nell Irvin Painter asks a great question, and provides her answer to it, along with some historical background and a proposal for a good project for white people to take on (short form: get rid of privilege).


Of course we all love Nell Irvin Painter, because there would have to be something fairly wrong with you as a person not to. That said, there are some alternative answers to this question of "whiteness", one of which can be found in the headings of census forms over the decades.

I'll use Family Search for this, so you don't have to pay money to see them.

Here are the headings for 1790 to 1860:


And here are the headings for 1860-1930:


And finally, the most recent census form which is publicly available:


I'm sure if you look around, you can find blank copies of later census; I'm sticking to these because of the time frame that Nell Irvin Painter looks at in her historical overview. She says, for example: "In the mid- to late-19th century, the existence of several white races was widely assumed: notably, the superior Saxons and the inferior Celts. Each race — and they were called races — had its characteristic racial temperament."

While Nell Irvin Painter is ABSOLUTELY CORRECT, there were other definitions of whiteness in use over the same time frame, and those definitions are on display in the census categories.

Let's take a closer look.

In 1790, there are "free white males" over and under 16, free white females (all), "All other persons" and, as a separate category, "slaves". I'm not 100% sure, but I am reasonably certain that "all other persons" was not intended to include "slaves" or free white persons of any age or gender. I'm betting Native Americans, Chinese, and presumable free colored persons were all lumped into this category. (But if you know otherwise, let me know in a comment and I'll edit this post.)

The same headings were used for the next two censuses, 1800 and 1810. Now free white males are broken into under 10, 10-16, 16-26, 26-45, 45 and older, same with free white women. Again, everyone who isn't a free white or a slave, and finally, slaves. I'm not sure what was going on with that fine breakdown. 45 and older likely constituted "too old to draft"/too old to reproduce. Under 10 is too young to work, and the remainder give a good demographic view into how many people you can expect will be producing babies/available to draft. But someone may have more information about what they were doing with ages.

In 1820, the free white gender divided with age subdivisions continue, but we have other categories thereafter. "Foreigners not naturalized", "agriculture", "commerce", "manufacturers", "free colored" and finally, "slaves". Your guess for a lot of those may be better than mine. Immigration is starting to be an issue, but not enough of one to yet collect birthplace/ethnic group. The industrial revolution is taking off. "Free colored" has become a large enough -- and contentious enough -- group that it is important to count. This was the era of compromises on what happened when black people weren't slaves in the south: could you kidnap them and bring them "back"? Did their slave status persist when transiting through free states with an owner?

In the 1830/1840 censuses, the age breakdowns have been "rationalized" to 5 year intervals. Free white males and females broken up in 5 year categories to age 20, and then decadal intervals to 100, then "over 100". It's important to note that up through the 1840 census ONLY THE HEAD OF HOUSEHOLD was named in the census. Other members of the household are only tick marks in these various columns. After that ludicrously long breakdown are three remaining categories: slaves, free colored and foreigners not naturalized. (If you are asking questions about how the census was counting Native Americans or Chinese immigrants or their biracial/multiracial offspring in these decades, I have nothing for you. Believe me, I'm gonna be treating this post as a source of research questions.)

In the 1850 census, we finally get names beyond the head of household. This particular resource for census headings is unfortunate, because I'm reasonably certain that the Slave Schedules had other information on them. Now that we have names, the lines are much simpler: age, sex, color, occupation, finally! birthplace, marital status, school status, literacy

The 1860 census is similar -- the only difference is that in 1850 there was a box for value of real estate and in this one there is that plus a box for value of personal property.

From basically the first national census until the dawn of the Civil War, the census was counting you as white or slave, and, almost as a footnote, they were counting other people. They were counting white or slave, including some age information, basically to determine representation at the federal legislature (yeah, want to be offended by something, that 3/5s thing is worth being offended at). As immigration grew and the Industrial Revolution slowly got started, more data was collected, with birthplace becoming of interest at the middle of the century.

What happened after the Civil War? In 1870, there are familiar boxes (name, age, sex, color, occupation, value real estate, value personal property), birthplace, but now there are also: father foreign born, mother foreign born, month born in census year, school in census year, literacy, "eligible to vote". (Bunch of questions right there, amirite?).

In 1880, name, age, sex, color, and some new categories! Where before, there was a question of married or not, now they want a breakdown. Western divorces are easy to come by and the guv'mint wants some data! Single, married, widowed, divorced. Relationship to head of household (I love this field). Occupation, literacy, now they want the place of birth for both parents. I would consider 1880 to be the beginning of ethnic tracking and identification in the census. Before 1880, it was all about whether you were foreign born or either of your parents were foreign born. But in this one, they want to know _where each parent came from_. You can argue that as soon as they were collecting birthplace, ethnicity was A Thing, which moves the beginning of ethnic identification and tracking to 1850. But in 1850, you were only "ethnic" if _you_ were born in another country. In 1880, you are "ethnic" if either of your parents was born in another country.

1890 makes us cry. We shall draw a veil over 1890.

Beginning in 1900, they start to collect information relating to birth rate: number of children born to a mother, number of them still living. Marital status is back to a code in a single box, rather than several tick boxes, but they want to know how long a couple has been married. Information is being collected about Veterans of the Civil War -- there was legislation being debated about how who should be eligible and for what. For the first time, there is a question about whether the person can speak English, and literacy has become more complex: instead of "cannot read or write", it is now multiple boxes, one each for read, write. There are also boxes for unemployment and students. Citizenship status is broken down: immigration year, number of years in the US and whether naturalized.

It was possible to collect a lot more information in the census, first with the drop in the price of paper in the first half of the 19th century, and then with automation of counting using Hollerith cards in 1890 (*cries*). So some of the additional data collected can be attributed to, "hey, we _can_ collect this, and we sure want to". But I would argue that even that supports a thesis that how people are treated, identified and grouped evolves in a larger context. First, the census existed to determine representation in the legislature. Functionally, if you were in the United States in the late 18th century, you _were_ considered a citizen and you _could_ vote, if you weren't a slave and you were a man. "Whiteness" was a broad category to which all manner of people could belong. In the leadup to the Civil War, as abolition took hold in some states but not others, and as generations of interracial children produced more generations of interracial children, the difficulty of drawing a bright line produced first new categories (many of which we have abandoned and were never reified in the census), then a war, and then finally a return to colored/not colored, with ethnic data collected on _everybody_ (all that birthplace, father's birthplace, mother's birthplace stuff got filled in for everybody after the Civil War).

Starting in 1910, immigrant communities in cities of sufficient size and complexity increasingly allowed children to grow up not learning English. Information was now collected on the language of each person. This is also the first census to explicitly collect information on disability (blind - deaf - mute).

In 1920, the ethnic information on parents is no longer just birthplace, but also on parents language -- this would be even for parents who never came anywhere near the US. This, then, is finally the full-flowering of ethnicity in the census.

The 1930 census gives an indication of the farm-to-city trend (a column newly devoted to "live on a farm") and new technology (radio?) But ethnicity information is declining, replaced instead with more detailed information about veterans ("which war"). And, disturbingly, an entire schedule for unemployed persons', and an entry to put the number in to connect them with the full census.

A brief overview of the headings of the US national census tells us many things about our history. The data we collected at the beginning was vestigial -- but it was ambitious for its day, intending to be a decadal event. It was driven by a need to calculate representation in a rapidly growing, new country. As paper got cheaper, and we automated more of the enumeration, we could ask more questions, and we did. First, we collected everyone's names, even the children. And we started to pay attention to birth rate, and to pay attention to the growing category of people who were neither "Free whites" nor "blacks", because this category of people was the locus of so much political contention that no political compromise lasted for long, and more than one national political party met its end attempting to avoid abolition.

Once we were through those bloody years, ethnicity became the next focus of attention, eventually crystallizing in a realization that the crux of the matter was shared language, and the solution was public education.

You really can _see_ how right Nell Irvin Painter (and just about anyone else with any sense at all) is, when she calls "white" the default category. And she's not wrong to point out that privilege for some people at the expense of others has Got to End.

Might be time for another name change, this time away from the word "white". The assimilationist project which is the melting pot can fix the privilege problem, but we may be getting hung up on a term that needs to go away.
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I love City Directories. Sort of. For my non-genealogist friends, I'll give a little background to what I'm talking about.

Let's say you want to track someone through the 19th century or early 20th century in the United States. The Federal Census will give you, once a decade, a snapshot. They are available for free (we're not going to talk about the 1890 census because I don't want to cry) online through familysearch.org or for pay at ancestry.com, which many public libraries subscribe to. Both services include a transcription and an index built on top of that transcription. Ideally, the person you are tracking has a somewhat unusual but easy to spell last name. If the name is too unusual or difficult to spell, the census taker may have gotten it wrong or the transcriber or whatever, thus causing it to fail to appear on a search and forcing you to read through the census line by line. Which can be awful or impossible unless _you already know where they live_.

Now, if you have good enough family history to know where they lived in, say, 1920 or whatever, well, good for you! But if you don't, you _might_ do a little better with the City Directory for their town. It will be alphabetical AND there is often a street listing. Best of all, these have few to no errors in the spelling of names. Downside: they won't list the whole family. Further, during the early 20th century, names weren't necessarily all that stable, as relatively recent immigrants experimented with how best to present their name as they assimilated. Thus: my great uncle Hein became Harry and my grandfather Simon became Sam.

At least Dutch and English are pretty closely related, with only a few phonemes unrepresented in each other's language. Not so with, say, central European names. On top of unstable first names (Orlam, Harlam, Harlan -- oh, and I left out "Karp", which seems to be the short form of the man's middle name which was a patronymic, Karpov), there can also be phonemes in the original language that transcribe as multiple letters in English. And that transcription didn't stabilize for a while. So there are individual letters in the original name that wind up transcribed as dje or dze or she or z, you get the idea.

Between the WW1 draft (I love the WW1 draft, because damn near every adult male in the country was tracked down and had a card filled out for him during that draft; WW2 was almost as comprehensive) and the city directory, I am quite certain that Orlam (Harlam, Harlan) is somehow related to Vasia (Wasilia, Wasilisa, Wasilena -- hey, I know about Russian names; you can't surprise me with the variety there), because he says he is (WW1 draft card) and lists her as a closest relative (ditto) and the address he gives on the card is the same as her husband's on the 1918 city directory.

But beats the hell out of me _how_ they are related. I've got a findagrave entry in the same town (with a picture of the headstone) that says he died in 1960, and I'm so far not finding him in any city directory or any census. I'm sure he's there. I just gotta keep looking and hope at some point, I find him under whatever name variation he is listed.

ETA: He shows up as Harlam in two Ansonia city directories (1931 and 1932). But weirdly, NOT in the street part of the directory, only in the name listing. I sure hope there's a story here. Maybe he moved out of town and then was buried back in Ansonia after a long life elsewhere.
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A friend of mine was kind enough to give me his grandparents' names, birthdates and birth places so I could poke around in his ancestry. And they included unusual last names, which I always love. Alas, they were _really_ unusual last names, the most unusual I have encountered so far.

I've posted before about the path my Mennonite ancestors took from the Netherlands, to the Vistula Delta and Vistula River, and then to what is now the Ukraine. From there, my particular group went to Manitoba, where my mother was born, but about 2/3rds of the larger community went to places in our Prairie states, like Kansas. When I was researching my then step-father-in-law (divorced, so no relation now), I was a little surprised to learn more about Galicia and the Jewish part of the migrations in that part of the world.

Once again, I'm back looking at Volhynia/Wolyn and the general area (one person came from Slutsk, which is part of why I'm so convinced they were Jewish). As with my step-father-in-law, I suspect that at least some of these people are Jewish, but their descendants were not, which makes it all the more confusing. I eventually found my Mennonite ancestors on maps in books about Mennonite history, but it dawned on me I own a relevant atlas: Paul Robert Magocsi's _Historical Atlas of East Central Europe_, which I bought back in the 1990s not too long after it came out. It's got amazing stuff (including maps of the canals and railroads during 1914, the year the two people I am tracing left the area to come to Connecticut -- I know! Weird, right? But that's where at least one of them went directly; it's listed as the destination on the ship's manifest).
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I received a message from a distant cousin on ancestry. There was a question about a shared ancestor who is believed to have been born in 1764. Many trees show this man, a Mennonite, as being born in Russia. When I saw that, I went, yeah, that's not right. Because the first Mennonites arrived in Russia in 1787, and 1787 is after 1764. So I just put in "Prussia" and didn't think of it again.


So my distant cousin would like to know my rationale for saying "Prussia" rather than the "generally held" South Russia.

So I politely pointed the cousin at the above link, and suggested reading Dyck's history, and maybe Klassen's book (_Mennonites in Early Modern Poland and Prussia_).

I love history, so it is a joy to have an excuse to read more, and a frisson of wonderment to feel like I am reading about my relatives. But I understand that even many genealogists find history incredibly boring. Still, genealogists need to know the timeline of migrations of Their People, or they will get sucked into really embarrassingly obvious errors.

I'm betting I'll be getting another message shortly about why I think the man's son (who was born after the first settlement was established in Russia) was also born in Prussia. I'll need to dig around to remember why I thought that.
walkitout: (Default)
Different jurisdictions have different rules for accessing Birth, Marriage, Divorce and Death records. I was born in Washington State, as was my father and his siblings, and their mother. My mother moved to Washington State when she was a few years old and lived in the state thereafter (AFAIK, anyway!); her mother and siblings (mostly) did so also.

Because I have many relatives who lived and died in Washington State, and because Washington State has quite liberal rules for copies of BMD records, it has been in the back of my head for a while that I should just fill out the forms, write a check and get the records. When my sister and I were discussing our medical history as part of a doctor's visit she had made, Someday became, Okay, Let's Just Do This Now. I finally had a reason to get death certificates: we wanted to know what our relatives had died of, officially, because we had variant recollections.

While I was getting grandparents and great grand parents and so forth records, I also requested records for aunts, uncles, great uncle, great aunt, cousins, etc. Even with deaths that occurred in my lifetime, my family had been very reticent about the cause of death. As long as I was doing thing, I thought, might as well do this. Well, when people warn you as you embark on family history that you really don't know what you are going to find and so you should be prepared for anything, I usually scoffed, because I was like, you cannot surprise me. Well, I got a few surprises when 14 death certificates arrived at once. The cumulative weight of so many lives ending -- some due to old age, many due to illnesses that are readily cured now with antibiotics, and a few due to violence -- was also surprisingly heavy.

I found myself putting down the stack and walking away from it, to think about what I had just read, and then coming back and gleaning more details. One cousin is listed as "divorced"; I did not know he had been married. I'll have to look through the Washington Marriage records again in the Digital Archive. It is probably there, just mistranscribed because the last name is unusual. It took over a week before I was able to calmly photograph the 15 pages (one certificate had two pages) and upload them to ancestry.

It is not cheap to order certificates and other records, at least not in my experience (a couple of states and a couple provinces). This batch cost almost $300. It can also be very slow. If you think ancestry is expensive, well, the amount I spent on these 14 records would pay for about a year, depending on which options you selected.

But there is more here than appears in the indexes that you can access online, and sometimes more even than in the online transcriptions. Especially if your genealogy is driven by questions of "how", more than "when", collecting these records, as with divorce records, is really worth the money and time.
walkitout: (Default)
Don't read this. Really. Just don't. It's helpful to write it, but I don't think this will improve your life at all. I think once I get the information into the tree (pictures of the death certificates, etc.), it will have mostly denatured the shock of leafing through all these pages at once. And I have to say that for all people like to collect Birth, Marriage and Death records, the most enjoyable records I've ever collected were divorce records. Everyone lives, at least for a time, and there's often a story. You may go into a project of collecting death records with high ideals of better understanding your medical risks. I'm not sure how well those ideals will survive an encounter with the reality, especially if you get a dozen or so of them all in one package.

A couple months ago, my sister went to go see a doctor about a pain in the rear. She was under the impression that several of our relatives (grandparents, an uncle) had died of colon cancer. I had no such impression. I said I'd collect a whole bunch of death certificates all at once from the State of Washington and tell her what I found.

Well, uncle, yes, definitely colon cancer. Paternal grandmother died of heart failure with presumed but never diagnosed colon cancer listed as other significant condition; there was no referral to a medical examiner so we're never going to know there. Paternal grandfather says: "acute myocardial infarction" with 20 years of atherosclerosis listed under "Due to or as a consequence of". And that, friends, is why so many people take so many drugs and have so many bypass operations and live some years longer as a result.

Those were not distressing shocks. Those were expected. The first bit of distress was also no surprise: my cousin who was murdered in 2000 (yet another of a long list of reasons why I hated August, until I got married in August, and then had my son in August, which went a long way to compensating for the many awful things that I blamed in part on August). Blunt head injury. Assaulted by another person(s). Homicide. Children killing an adult.

The second bit of distress I knew about: suicide. But I never knew how. "Comminution of skull and pulpefaction of brain" due to "Blunt impact to head". I hadn't expected that. At all. It was such a shock, I put the packet away for a few minutes, but I was unable to stop wondering about how that happens. "Jumped from window to cement courtyard." So, I guess if you're ever wondering about why facilities for those who suffer from mental illness have bars on the windows, there's your answer. I hate to think about how many times I looked out the window and thought about doing that. I'm glad I never did. No one will ever have to look at a death certificate and think that that's how I died.

The next: an accident. I knew about this death, also, but no one ever talked about the details. Genealogy is an incredibly rude hobby. "Acute combined cocaine and opiate intoxication." In 1987, we all knew those as speedballs. Under Describe How Injury Occurred: Parenteral use of cocaine and opiate. I think that means injected, but I suppose it could mean the nose.

Many more: leiomyosarcoma, gastric (stomach cancer -- no surprise and no health risks because it was surely related to alcohol consumption) with COPD as another significant condition. Smoker.

"Hypovolemic shock" due to "Bilateral multiple lower extremity fractures with surgical amputations. Due to Blunt impact to trunk and extremities." No surprises here, not even the "Prob. suicide" and certainly no blame attaches to the "Struck by motor vehicle". You walk onto an interstate, it's not the driver's fault. She was deinstitutionalized; that's who I blame. That and genetics, after hearing stories about her aunt.

"Cardiac arrest" due to "Severe atherosclerosis". He had the death we all dream of, a month shy of 104. More than one of his sons reached the century mark as well. He was around to provide information on his brother's death. "Bronchiopneumonia due to pulmonary edema due to atherosclerotic hearth disease". At 93, after multiple spouses, some divorced, some predeceased.

The uncle who died of "carcinoma of sigmoid colon", no mention of Type 1 diabetes.

The worst surprise of all, the biggest tragedy, and the one I had no expectation of finding: my 19 year old great aunt who had one daughter with my then much older great uncle apparently really did not want a second child, and in 1926, her options were limited. "Self induced abortion" listed as primary, with "Septicemia" as secondary, which would make me want to go hurt someone for getting it entirely backwards, but they are all dead already.

That would be why abortion needs to be legal, and entirely up to the woman with input only from people _she_ chooses. She should have lived long enough to see her daughter marry, and have boys and a girl. She might have made it long enough to see their children as well. Instead -- a dead teenager.

Her husband eventually remarried; he died at 51 of general septicemia (wow aren't we happy we have antibiotics -- we didn't have them in 1943), due to Endo pulmonary abscesses and pneumonia. And acute endocarditis on the right side. There's a second page with more notes: brachiopneumonia and the absceses were pyogenic not tuberculous. Splenic tumor was not malignant.

The difficult to track "Jenny", who I stumbled across as an obit: Apoplexy, with senility of several years listed under contributory causes of importance not related to principal cause. We are all thankful for blood pressure medication which is effective and has few side effects. She was 84.

Bringing me at the end of the stack to my orphaned at a tender age great-grandmother, likely the one who threw the teacup at the little girl whose teenaged mother was so tragically taken from her, cutting open her cheek and leading to a permanent rift. The divorce papers do not paint a pretty picture of this grandmother, who died at 83 of brachiopneumonia, old age and myocardial failure.

I have to say, there are two clear themes in my family of what kills us. We kill ourselves, directly or indirectly, or we die of complications of our pervasive tendency to get a cough and not get rid of it.

We don't die of cancer very often.
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On our drive down to Hershey, we stopped for gas near Phillipsburg, NJ. And while there, I realized we were in Pohatcong! Home (when the town and county had different names) of one of my Revolutionary War ancestors and a brick wall.

I was so excited! Way more excited than is justified by looking at a White Castle and a Walmart. Pohatcong!
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I received Weil as a surprise (that is, not on my Amazon wish list -- I didn't even know this book existed!) gift from my long time, very dear friend I. She is a historian and knows of my interest in genealogy -- it was truly the perfect birthday present. She even made sure I understood that it wasn't a personal recommendation, thus insulating herself in part from any irritation I might have felt at this book (like virtually every other book I read. Hey, I have Issues. We all know that.).

In any event, it was a quick and enjoyable read. There were no obvious problems with it. There were slow paragraphs, that felt like, okay, now we're going to list a bunch of evidence in support of what I just said -- which is exactly what one wants in an academic work. Weil's periods of genealogy match reasonably well what I have noticed in the course of doing genealogical work and I even recognized a few of the genealogies he described (notably, the Rikers genealogy). I particularly enjoyed how well Weil wove together other social trends with genealogy as an activity -- it's entirely too easy to treat a subject in absence of the larger context and particularly important not to do that with genealogy!

One of the best parts is Weil's description of Haley's _Roots_ and his interpretation of various reactions to it and criticisms of it. It is extremely easy for me to be annoyed when people describe the controversies -- I don't want to see anyone be racist or even just insensitive, and I also don't like people to completely dismiss the value of evidence in doing genealogy. You can sort of imagine how easy it is to go off one way or the other, but Weil threads this particularly difficult needle with grace and aplomb.

I have two observations. First, I think Weil may underestimate some of the practical aspects of the earliest colonial descendant records. Also, nearly everyone fails to understand that people wrote this stuff in family Bibles because the family Bible was the only source of paper in the house for many. Weil's description of account books being used for the same purpose is quite wonderful (and I actually knew about this from the English side because of that awful Palgrave book about women's cookbooks). Second, I also feel that Weil may underestimate the ongoing importance of religion in current genealogical/family history efforts (and I don't mean LDS!). Weil is probably right and I'm overly aware of religion in genealogy/family history -- I think I'm probably wrong here.

But it's a wonderful book, subtly important and should have great staying power. If you've ever watched generations of people around you go mad for birth, marriage and death records, Weil is maybe your first real opportunity to make sense of the lunacy, and its cultural inflections over time.

Maud Newton has an excellent article about genealogy in the June edition of Harpers. Part commentary on her racist father, part idiosyncratic observations of unusual traits like women preachers cropping up on her mother's side, over and over again, part summary of the state of genetic genealogy, she's a sympathetic and well-read commentator. Weil and Newton have both given thought to the interaction between available evidence and individuals doing research, altho it shows up in different ways. Newton apparently has a book coming in the next year or so; I look forward to reading it when it arrives. She mentions Weil's book favorably.

I attempted to read the article online, but it is paywalled, and the only way I could find to read it involved paying $34.99 for a year's subscription, which I balked at (I would have paid up to $5 for just the one article, and perhaps $10 for the issue). I looked for Harper's at four stores, and failed each time (a couple drug stores, a bookstore and a grocery store -- the bookstore didn't have any magazines, and there were no copies of Harper's at the rest, even though at least one of them is listed on Harper's website as carrying the magazine). I ultimately read it in the library at Acton Memorial (in library use only, yay! Meant no one else had it at home and inaccessible to me) and I availed myself of modern technology (my phone) to bring a copy of the article home with me. Hint, er, hint.

In unrelated genealogical news, I've really been on a roll lately. I found out my great-uncle remarried and figured out to whom, found records on some of her family, etc. I also finally found one of my grandmother's (both on my dad's side, but the former was on his dad's side and this was on his mom's side) brother-in-law's birth records and other family in wiewaswie! The difficulty I had in finding him earlier involved a spelling reform that changed the last name from *dyk to *dijk. These days, that sort of thing is utterly obvious to me, but just a couple years ago, it was not at all.
walkitout: (Default)
By way of context, I'm reading _Family Trees_ by François Weil, which as a history of genealogy in (mostly) the US, got me thinking about genealogical matters and related issues (I'm about half way through and it's pretty good). I'm not sure what precisely set me off, but I distracted myself for a while looking into how citizenship rules currently work in Canada, and found this lovely tool for answering the question, "Am I Canadian?", which sounds like a joke but is not (and apparently, the answer for me is yes, which led to further discussion with my sister about whether to do anything about that).


As we were plodding through the details of what paperwork we would each need, I went over to ancestry.com to track down some key dates in my sister's life which she had sort of misplaced, and then I went through some paperwork she stores with me to find some more (and then enter it into ancestry.com).

While I was there, I poked around at some links and picked up some of the immigration records that were linking to some family on my dad's side, notably, Great Uncle Hein. Hein americanized his name fully in daily life (becoming Harry Smith); his brother didn't take such a large step, retaining his Dutch last name, but converting Simon to Sam (I still don't get this -- Simon is a perfectly good American name, but apparently Sam was even better). Neither bothered to change it legally, so their birth name is present in the immigration paperwork, altho the Americanized version is in the census.

And then I noticed that Hein's entry had picked up a hint for a death record. And wow, it was the right death record. There was a transcription error of his dad's first name (Aobe should have been Æbe which doesn't render real well, so I'll add: Aebe for clarity), but everything else was perfect. And there was an entry for the spouse.

Now, I went to some trouble to track down Hein's first wife and daughter and descendants, at the request of my first cousin once removed who I named my daughter after. I somehow missed the existence of a second wife. Is this real?

Today, I went over to Washington Digital Archives, where there is indeed a Harry Smith marrying a Mabel Berge. ("Mabel A." on the death record) The witnesses are Thelma E. Berge (her sister -- and I've found them in a North Dakota census record 20 years earlier, complete with middle initials for both girls and the marriage license indicates North Dakota) and Florence Pflueger. The officiant is E.R. Pflueger, and I can find a 1940 census entry at the address on the license for a minister named Edward Pflueger -- Florence was his daughter. And the address is within 2 miles of where Harry was living with his daughter from his first marriage, also on the 1940 census.

So looks like Hein married a second time, and the marriage was again sadly brief, cut short by the death of one of the parties. Mabel A. Berge Smith would have been 32 at the time of the marriage and 35 when Harry died, so it is possible there is a child or children. I know how I missed this, but it still seems sort of weird.
walkitout: (Default)
Subtitled: An Investigative Genealogist Unlocks Some of Life's Greatest Family Mysteries

She apparently has/had a series over on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Even more exciting, apparently the guy she sort-of identified as maybe being her bio-dad (it is a little vague in the book and he isn't identified with a last name, at least not in the version I read) sued her for doing so on a documentary.


I have not been able to figure out how that all turned out; maybe it is still winding its way through court.

I ran across this when I was looking for genealogy memoirs. I think a lot about writing about my genealogical research (because unusual religions! For the win! Also, maternal grandmother child of first cousin marriage. And tons of divorces. Husband of cousin I didn't know I even had getting in touch with me through a mediator. Visiting overseas relatives. Mental illness. There's some great stuff to work with here. Also, a whole lot of people who could hate me forever, if they don't already. So, some risk.) and read other genealogy memoirs to get a better sense of how people approach touchy subjects and what kinds of stories work well even if you aren't personally connected and similar.

Slaton's angle is adoption: she is an adoptee with a complicated family: dead adoptive parents, dead adoptive brother, living full sibling, two living half siblings, living highly-problematic mother, living maybe-dad (description of inconclusive DNA results in the book), etc. After the harrowing adventure of her own family, she adopted (har de har har) adoption reunion/searches as a hobby and then career. It's great stuff and she's clearly developed mad skills, especially when it involves births in New York.

She's a good story teller. She is upbeat, altho she is quite religious and that pervades the book. She has chosen her stories carefully to illustrate more general points/problems associated with the adoption triad (birth family, adoptive family, the adoptee): finding mother, finding father, finding siblings and other family, trying to understand the decisions that were made, managing one's own feelings, the feelings of others in the triad, respecting the wishes of those who don't want to have an ongoing relationship. She also talks about activists pushing for open adoptions and open records, mostly sympathetically altho it is clear that she takes a great deal of pride and finds a lot of satisfaction in working around the barriers associated with closed records.

I'm not directly associated with any adoptions, altho they are certainly present in my extended family (and then there was that mystery cousin thing). But some of what she has to say is generically useful to genealogists, and there's a lot of value in better understanding the world we live in. I do believe what she has to say about the gaps experienced by people who were adopted and who are missing all that information about their biological heritage, even when those same people are adamant about not wanting to pursue that information, often out of love of their real parents.

It is not technical; I wouldn't advocate reading this in search of How Tos, but if you are contemplating researching your own adoption or trying to provide support to someone who is, there is a lot of thoughtful advice about the emotional ramifications.
walkitout: (Default)
"Appl. #43776-32091

Mary J. Burch being first duly swon, deposes
and says:
My name is Mary J. Burch. I live at Laurel,
ArK. I was born in Bradley Co., Tenn. I was born in 1834
or 1833. I lived in Eastern Tenn. 27 years and then moved
to Ark. I moved out to Ark. just because my husband wanted to
come. I was born with the Cherokee tribe of Indians and was
living right with them in Tenn. I don't know whether I was
a recognized member of the tribe or not. I claim through my
mother, Polly Ann Carson. She was born in Eastern Tenn.
She was about 27 years old I reckon when I was born. I reckon
she was a recognized member of the tribe. They were living
with the Indians the first I can remember. She lived and died
in Tenn. She did not move out west with the Indians because
my grandfather was an American man and they could not make
him come out west with the Indians. My grandmother's name
was Martha Glass. I never made an application for citizen-
ship in the Dawes Commission. If any of my relatives did,
I did not know it. None of my ancestors received any money
or land from the Govt. on account of an Indian blood as I
know of.
See Mary J. Burch's original Appl May J. Lay Burch.
Subscribed and swon to before me at Russellville, Ark. this
12th day of September, 1908.
Ass't to Special Commissioner
U.S. Court of Claims"

Martha Glass and the unnamed grandfather are direct ancestors of mine. This is all very unexpected.
walkitout: (Default)
Albert L. Battenfield applied to Guion Miller and was rejected. He says his father was Joseph Monroe Battenfield, died in September 1904.

I have a Find a Grave entry, with a picture of the headstone, for Joseph M Battenfield, who served in the confederate forces. He died in 1905 according to the headstone (but I've got other lying headstones in my family records).

There appears to be a confederate pension record application for him, giving his death date (in an index, so we know how accurate those are) as 18 Oct 1903. A user of ancestry has helpfully supplied his middle name as Matlock.

A helpful user of ancestry has supplied his middle name as Metcalf, for an index entry for a Confederate Soldiers Compiled Service Record for him.

This is clearly one of _those_ families.

ETA: Also, Albert Lafayette gave his birth year as 1878 for the old man's draft for WWI. Seriously. This is one of those families.
walkitout: (Default)
My maternal grandmother is the source of all kinds of genealogical excitement. Her parents were first cousins. As a teenager, for reasons lost to history, she departed for Manitoba to marry a Mennonite man. While I knew about the Mennonite thing when I was young, I had _no clue_ until fairly recently that she not only married a Mennonite, she married a Holdeman (technically, a Church of God in Christ Mennonite), which as Mennonites go is more than a little unusual. I am distantly related to my husband (10th ish cousins) through some of her ancestry (not the Mennonites. *whew* That would have been weird. Through her Veeder/Plantz ancestors who were part of the Dutch Colony of New Netherland.)

As children, we were told a variety of stories about her ancestry, most of which I have, as an adult, assumed are, um, whoppers. We are supposedly related to Ethan Allen, of the Green Mountain Boys. And we supposedly have Native American ancestry. I long ago quit repeating the Ethan Allen claim. The Native American claim I also quit repeating, long before Elizabeth Warren got into trouble for a similar claim.

I hadn't been working on genealogy for a long time, and thought it might be a good time to restart. My 3rd great grandfather pops up out of absolutely nowhere in Bradley County, Tennessee in the 1860 census, surrounded by his wife's kin (I mean, seriously: the entire freaking page and part of the next one in that census is _all_ his wife's relatives). Researchers on the wife's side think that they both died shortly thereafter, because their kids go into the care of someone else. However, 3rd g grandfather actually goes to fight on the Union side of the Civil War and winds up remarrying after and getting the kids back and moving west. I had hoped to eventually figure out more about his ancestry by working on his wife's kin; alas, his mother-in-law, Martha or Patsey, Glass, similarly appears more or less out of nowhere a generation earlier. His father-in-law's ancestry can be tracked a ways back, and wow was he sort of a hot mess.

In fact, there's a whole lot of "appears out of nowhere" going on in that family, and I may have stumbled upon why. Alternatively, there was even more hot mess going on, and part of the family attempted (unsuccessfully) to con the government out of some money. Several of Martha's descendants applied -- and were rejected -- in the 1907-9 Guion Miller process, claiming that Martha's dad was Cherokee. The basis for the application is their failure to appear in any earlier rolls, to be a party to the treaty (which this process was a settlement for violations of) or generally to show a current connection to the Eastern Cherokee.

"Rejected. It does not appear that any ancestor was ever enroll-ed or that any ancestor was party to the treaties of 1835-6 [or] 46. Shows no real connection with the Eastern Cherokees."

I'm at a loss to know how to determine whether these early 20th century relations of mine were telling the truth on their applications or not (that is, was Martha's father Cherokee); the rejection is not based on whether their claims are true (and some rejections seem to be based on a rejection of the validity of the claims made in the application, vs. whether or not they qualify for the settlement).

But I figure I might as well keep poking around at this to see what else turns up.
walkitout: (Default)
These observations have, as far as I know, almost nothing to do with each other.

The Chromebook (Samsung, 11.6 inch) arrived from Amazon. It was disturbingly easy to set up. T. immediately started demanding either it, or one just like it for himself. I steadfastly insisted that this was going to be a family computer "for travel". It's heavier than I think it should be for its size, because we have a lot of Apple products. The hinge feels like crap (ditto) and I'm seriously underwhelmed by screen refresh and by the trackpad's "feel". R. says this is completely understandable. All that said, it was $258.42 (including tax, but not shipping and handling, because I have Prime). For that price, this thing is Awesome and a Screaming Deal. I am going to try to get Skype set up (I've never used Skype, only Facetime) and see how that works on it.

I've been continuing to make buckwheat pancakes, but haven't made anything more complicated. I remember eating this really incredible buckwheat and sunflower seed toast at the Gravity Bar on Broadway in Seattle, starting some time in the very early 1990s, IIRC. I'd love to recreate it. I remember ordering it because it was the most normal seeming thing to eat on the menu (loved the juices, but I cannot live by juice alone) back when I was even pickier than I am now. Buckwheat seemed normal because I remember having buckwheat toast at my grandmother's when I was quite small, and really liking it then.

So today, I got to thinking about why my grandmother might have been eating buckwheat toast, and there's at least a small chance that it was a habit picked up during her married years, some of which were spent in Steinbach, Manitoba, in a community which had a couple generations earlier come over from what is not the Ukraine. They grow a lot of buckwheat in the Ukraine, and have for a long while.

One of my cousins (who shares the same grandmother) has long been convinced that we are actually of German heritage (this turns out to be fractionally true, but he means that the Mennonites were German, not that grandmother's other mutt ancestry included some Palatine Germans). As I was thinking about grandma, and buckwheat and buckwheat toast (in the opposite order), it dawned on me that I had corrected another cousin (one of my great-uncle/step-grandfather's kids, so a first cousin once removed, unless I've screwed up again) in email a month or so ago, who had a misunderstanding of where our Mennonite ancestors came from.

And I realized, I now know _why_ all those people are so confused. My branch of the Mennonites followed Holdeman in that early schism, and _Holdeman_ himself was Swiss-German in ancestry (just like all the Mennonites and Amish who came to the United States a hundred or more years before my ancestors came over). And apparently the heritage of the church leader became understood as the heritage of all the membership, once a few generations had gone by.

That's just nine kinds of freaky.
walkitout: (Default)
Subtitled: A Search for Ancestors

Littrell decides to track down his maternal McDonald ancestors after some additional family papers turn up. He starts out in the most amateurish way imaginable: googling names. He proceeds through sending away for his own DNA test, visits to Scotland, looking at close matches online, asking other people to provide DNA test information, visits to cemeteries (including one on private land still owned by distant cousins), hiring other genealogists to do local research for him and paging through books of marriages, probate records and similar.

So half the book is the Making of a Genealogist, in a very modern sense: one who combines what we can get from paper with what we can get from blood to piece together a scattered history.

The other half of the book is the history of his branch of his clan, in particular, the events leading up to the massacre at Glencoe. The structure of the book alternates chapters of history with chapters of genealogical research and his own life progression (he gets married and honeymoons in Scotland, meets new found relations, etc.).

I did not read this because of any overlap in trees with Littrell; I bought it because I will eventually write my own genealogical memoir, and would like to understand how other people structure material to maintain reader interest (hey, it's _all_ interesting to me, but I know better than to think anyone else will feel that way), and I'm also curious about what kinds of family stories people believe can carry a memoir.

I'm not sure I would have finished the book, except for the fact that it was sitting on my kindle when I restarted an indoor exercise program (i.e. I read it on the treadmill). I also skipped a fair amount of the Scottish (Scots?) historical material. I think it might be more interesting to someone with a stronger interest in Clan Donald/MacDonald/Mcdonald/etc. I really liked the other half of the book, as Littrell did a really non-preachy depiction of how he got really good at being a careful genealogist, largely by doing genealogy.
walkitout: (Default)
I have a really big, really developed tree over on ancestry.com which exists partly as an easy place for me to work and do research, but mostly because it's a way to attract the attention of people who are related to me but don't have any other way to get in touch. Some of the genealogy community has a term for this: cousin bait.

I got a blunt message on ancestry.com: How closely are you related to [one of my deceased uncle's]. The person who sent it had a massive tree -- with no detectable overlap. The profile looks like it belongs to a lawyer in Burley, Idaho, who might be Mormon. Hmmmm.

So I sent back something true, but which didn't compromise anyone's privacy and which was intended to make sure we were in fact talking about the same man, and got an explanation: this is the genealogist friend of someone who would like to establish some limited contact with the extended family.

Turns out I have a cousin -- a _first cousin_ -- that I didn't know existed. This is the classic Mystery Relative: the kid born in a marriage you didn't know ever happened.

So I called the uncle's son, to find out if this is even true (I believed it -- it just made too much sense, even with no supporting documentation). He told me that when he was a kid, he and his siblings snooped around and figured this out, so when my uncle was dying and he divulged the Big Secret, well, it wasn't really a Big Secret. My cousin is unsure who outside his immediate family might know about this. I was calling to find out whether he wanted to establish contact; there's a distinct lack of current enthusiasm, which I would expect. Seriously: reconnecting with long-lost/missing/mystery relations is the definition of Fraught. It never goes well, at least not at first.

I also called my sister -- who knew none of this. I checked the Family Register for that side of the family. My uncle lied (by omission) to his uncle, when Aron was compiling the little book. Not a surprise. I feel like I saw an index entry about this marriage a year or so back on ancestry, and wondered if that was my uncle or someone else with the same name, but can find no indication of that index entry now.

So I'm now ready for the next step: start calling my cousin contacts around the rest of the family to try to piece together who knew what when. If this is anything like grandma's Too Early Babies, or her parents being first cousins, there will be a lot of, what? What?!? Fun! In an extremely rude sort of way.

I hope my newfound cousin is willing to connect with me in more detail. I love getting to know my extended family, whether that's via e-mail, phone, FB or other. And I love that technology makes that _possible_, when for so many generations technology mostly just made it easier and easier to run away from each other.
walkitout: (Default)
Two different (and unrelated to each other) cousins once removed on my mother's side (one on her father's, one on her mother's) got in touch with me on the same day. So that got me started on genealogy again, which otherwise would have waited probably another couple weeks, possibly longer depending on how weird November is.

One of the cousins wanted access to my tree as a contributor in exchange with access to hers as same. Once I understood that's what she had in mind (and who she was), I added her, and then sent her e-mail with a bit more general information about my branch and what (little) contact I had had with hers, and a feeler about whether it was okay to ask questions about the ancestral religion or not. It's a Real Touchy Subject.

The other cousin has a long-standing interest in a middle name that appears several times in our family tree: "Millard". The first time I see the name in the family tree is as my great-great grandfather's middle name. His mother's maiden name was Susan or Susana Carson, and I've got decent (altho not comprehensive) lines for her, with no indication "Millard" as a last name on that side.

Because that great-great grandfather was born in 1853, and because Millard Fillmore was President from 1850-1853, I sort of just assumed that the fam were fans, and named their kids for him; it wasn't uncommon. It sort of _looks_ like my great-great grandfather may well have been _named_ Millard Fillmore [last name], but then ditched the Fillmore part, made Millard his middle name and adopted the universal male first name of "John". At least, that's one way to interpret his entries in the census. There are plenty of others.

My 3rd great grandfather, Millard's father, who I will call William, fought in the Civil War on the Union Side. He joined up in Illinois, but said he was from Tennessee by birth, and his census entries back to shortly after his first son was born are at least consistent. I've been unable to find any of his family (parents, siblings, etc.) AT ALL. He shows up surrounded by Susan Carson's kin -- like, the entire page of the census are her kin. She died young, the kids were parceled out to others and the Carson descendants seem to think that William died. But he did not. He reappears married to another woman and they had a second family, and everyone moved to Iowa. One of William's son's in that second family was named "Elmer M", which a variety of people seem to think stood for Millard as well, altho I don't know why (they tend to have family records; I don't, so I work exclusively off of public sources).

Elmer M [last name] is thus the half-uncle of my cousin's father, with the exact same name. Feels very Dutch, altho it probably is not.

I think it is safe to say that William, who fought in the Civil War on the Union Side, may have Really Liked Fillmore's politics.

What _were_ Fillmore's politics?

Well, he's sort of despised _now_ because the story gets written by the winners, in the end, and Fillmore was anti-Catholic and nativist. He didn't like Lincoln. He supported the Compromise of 1850. And therein, I think, may lie the answer to my question. If you think the Compromise of 1850 was a terrible idea AND you oppose slavery, in pragmatic terms you were effectively supporting starting the Civil War earlier rather than later, altho you probably would vehemently dispute that assertion. Federal enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act(s) really, really, really rankled. If you think the Compromise of 1850 was a terrible idea AND you think the Civil War was the War of Northern Aggression, you are so crazy it's hard to know what to say about you, other than that you are probably kind of an awful person.

I don't like the politics of this crop of my ancestors. Some of them were Democrats who lived in Iowa and supported the Fugitive Slave Act(s) but don't seem to have actually ever owned slaves themselves, altho that might have been a function of when they were poor and when they became wealthy, rather than reflective of a moral position. Some of them gave their sons the middle name "Fillmore" and while from Southern states, moved West and during the Civil War fought on the Union Side. I think of these two groups as being unlikely bedfellows (literally!), but maybe that wasn't unlikely at all. Maybe these people fundamentally all thought basically the same (War = Bad, Slavery = Shouldn't Spread Further but maybe not worth more of a fuss than that).

My next step was to take a look around on Amazon, where I was more than a little shocked to discover that one of the most recent biographies of Millard Fillmore argues that what he did _caused_ the war! That's approximately the least reality based idea ever. Only approximately -- I'm sure you can find something worse. The nativist/Know Nothing strand of Fillmore's politics is surely worth mocking, and of course as the beneficiaries of the efforts of those who came before us, we can comfortably say that everyone should have been more true to the ideal of freedom much earlier on in the process. But blaming Fillmore for the Civil War? Seriously?

The guy who wrote the thing appears to be at Albany Law and lives in Slingerlands. Maybe this T-weekend I'll do a little asking around to find out if he's this nutty in general, or if it is limited to this particular topic.

As I looked at what I had in my tree for William's second family, I realized that once they left Iowa, I sort of lost track of everyone. Well, there's really no excuse for that, especially since the best online source for these people thinks that the daughter named Estelle would ultimately die in Seattle in 1950! Alas, I haven't found her marriage yet, so I have no idea. But Agnes and a couple of her brothers ended up in Omaha, where the brothers died, but Agnes would ultimately pick up and move to California somewhat later. Ancestry.com really let me down, but Forest Lawn's interment records are (mostly) online, so I could find the brother's burial information. Ancestry obviously had the census records where, at intervals, the brothers could be found living with Agnes' family. They also all turn up in Ancestry's copies of Omaha city directories, which was convenient in helping me figure out which Elmer in the book was my Elmer, by comparing addresses for Agnes' husband's listing and the various Elmers.

The next step is probably to get in touch with the person who has been working this line, show them the city directories and interment records and ask them what their evidence is for a 1909 death for Elmer vs. the 1915 death date that I prefer -- and to ask them to pretty please tell me who Estelle married. I could also continue to try to understand Omaha's Wards and Districts in the 1910 census and find Elmer that way; I have his address in the city directory so in theory that should work; the index is utterly failing me.

None of this does anything for me, in terms of going backwards in time above William.

Also, hadn't realized Fillmore was involved in New York banking reform that provided the basis for the Fed. I feel bad for Fillmore. I doubt I would have liked him, but given how many people died in the Civil War, it's hard to blame someone for wanting to avoid going to war.

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