Archive for January, 2013

Resources for studying historic laws

When we examine historic records, it is vital that we evaluate them in the context of the world that created them. One of the most important aspects of doing this is to understand the laws under which these records were created.

The Law Librarians’ Society of Washington, D. C., provides a list of resources for researching laws. Many of the links in “State Legislatures, State Laws, and State Regulations: Website Links and Telephone Numbers,” of course, refer to modern legislation. Yet there are a number of sites that have digitized either images or transcriptions of historic laws as well.

For example, the Online State Resources for Genealogists ebook contains links to the following sources for historic law books, among numerous others:

You can also discover many historic state statute books that have been digitized by Google Books. The easiest way to find these is to search for “laws [state name]” or “statutes [state name]” directly in Google Books, not from the Google main page. The results will vary depending on what has been digitized for the specific state. Occasionally, once you have discovered the naming pattern for historic statute books in the state–or even the identity of the state printer–during the time period you are seeking, you can find better results by searching specifically by name.

A search for “statutes of Virginia,” for example, produces results for Hening’s Statutes at Large for 1819, 1820, and 1836, and a 1971 supplement, all on the first page of results. Clicking on the name of William Waller Hening in these results produces several books of legal commentary that he wrote, a few volumes of court decisions, and an additional volume of the Statutes at Large from 1823.

Another site to search for digitized books is Internet Archive. Through partnerships with numerous libraries and universities, the collection of books on this site almost rivals Google’s. Recommendations for searching are the same as listed above, with similar results.

For example, a search for “laws of Minnesota” on this site produces 98 results, including volumes of session laws from 1891 and 1915, and general laws from 1866, 1878, and 1889.

To search for federal laws, the Library of Congress has digitized the published U. S. Statutes at Large, as well as various published Congressional debates and proceedings, from 1775 through 1875. These include full-text search capability, on “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U. S. Congressional Documents and Debates,” part of its American Memory digital collection.

Understanding the laws that regulated our ancestors’ worlds is an integral part of researching our ancestors within these worlds. Once we have located the relevant laws, we might discover that the intestate succession laws describing how property was to be distributed bring new meaning to the probate records we have located. We might discover that the tax laws defined the values in the tax lists, when specific property was not described. We might discover that the language at the end of a deed that we dismissed as boilerplate actually had a very well-defined legal meaning, that is necessary to fully understand the record.

There are really no limits to what we might discover once we understand the laws of the past.

For more evidence of this, I recommend reading Judy G. Russell’s blog, The Legal Genealogist. She frequently discusses this very phenomenon.

If you would like to cite this post:

Michael Hait, CG, “Resources for studying historic laws,”Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 28 January 2013 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]). [Please also feel free to include a hyperlink to the specific article if you are citing this post in an online forum.]

When you find a document that may be about one of your ancestors …

On 13 January 2013 Nancy of the My Ancestors and Me blog, posted a question:

When you find a document that may be about one of your ancestors (or may just as well not be about one of them), what do you do with it?

She continues:

I have several documents (a will, a census record, etc.) about people who are probably my ancestors but I don’t have enough information (yet) to make a good case for a relationship. I haven’t been adding the names or documents to my genealogy program or to the notes section of my genealogy program, either. But then when I find some other information that might support this person, I have to go searching for the previous information/document I found.[1]

I will respond to this question from the perspective of a professional researcher.

It is important not to actively seek records that do not relate to the problem you are trying to solve. This will cut down on these “other” documents.

There is a very big difference between focused research, that is, searching with a purpose, and “random” searching.

Focused research begins by defining a specific research goal, like a question that you want to answer, and seeking records relevant to that goal, records that will answer your question. These records may provide information relevant to other goals or questions, but you should follow up on these clues by identifying them and pursuing them individually.

If you are researching in an organized, focused manner, you will never have records that “may or may not” be related to your research problem.

Sometimes, when appropriate, you may have to conduct a broad survey of specific records. For example, you may wish to find any person with a certain surname in a certain location at a certain time. This broad survey still fits within the process of focused research, as long as you:

  • Have identified a specific question that you are hoping to answer by conducting the survey;
  • Keep good records of what indexes or record groups you have searched and what specifically you have searched for;
  • Keep good records of all results;
  • Analyze each of the results, identifying what information may be relevant to your goal and defining any follow-up research that you may need to conduct in order to meet your goal;
  • Conduct all follow-up research in order to bring meaning to the results of the survey.

Searching broadly is not the same thing as searching randomly. Searching randomly produces far more “false positives” than relevant information.

Another aspect of focused research is that genealogy database software is most effectively used differently than many people currently use it. Many users use their software as a “shoebox” to store records that they come across that “might” be related to their ancestors.

I have found it far more effective to use a word processor to gather information and analyze evidence in a file related to a specific research goal. Once I have enough evidence to prove a fact or relationship, I can add that information into my database, either linking it to the separate file or copying the proof narrative into the Notes field. In other words, I use the database to record conclusions, not research-in-progress.

I hope that this explanation helps to answer your question. Please let me know if anyone else has any additional suggestions.

SOURCES:

[1] Nancy, “You Genealogists with More Experience than Me, …,” My Ancestors and Me blog, posted 13 January 2013 (http://nancysfamilyhistoryblog.blogspot.com : accessed 25 January 2013).

If you would like to cite this post:

Michael Hait, CG, “When you find a document that may be about one of your ancestors …,”Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 25 January 2013 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]). [Please also feel free to include a hyperlink to the specific article if you are citing this post in an online forum.]

Notable Genealogy Blog Posts, 20 January 2013

The following recent blog posts are those that I consider important or notable. Unlike other similar blog lists, I cannot guarantee that they will all be from the past week. (Some weeks I simply do not have time to read any blogs.) But I will try to write this on a fairly regular basis.

Ron Coddington, “2012 Images of the Year,” Faces of War blog, posted 24 December 2012 (http://facesofthecivilwar.blogspot.com/ : accessed 20 January 2013). The Civil War was one of the first major events–and the first American war–documented with photographs. These images are striking.

Judy G. Russell, CG, “The returns of the season,” The Legal Genealogist blog, posted 26 December 2012 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 20 January 2013). Judy writes about supporting local genealogical societies, a subject I have also addressed on numerous occasions.

Maria Popova, “Richard Dawkins on Evidence in Science, Life and Love: A Letter to His 10-Year-Old Daughter,” Brain Pickings blog, posted 28 December 2012 (http://www.brainpickings.org/ : accessed 20 January 2013). This post quotes from a letter discussing evidence–a very important topic in science as well as genealogy.

Harold Henderson, CG, “Perfectionism: Is the Best the Enemy?,” Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 31 December 2012 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed 20 January 2013). Harold questions whether every article published in genealogy journals has to be a perfectly-proven case.

Eric Schultz, “When Do We Forget?,” The Historical Society blog, posted 10 January 2013 (http://histsociety.blogspot.com/ : accessed 20 January 2013). Mr. Schultz takes a look at what percentage of today’s U. S. population might remember some of the most important–and memorable–events that occurred in the 20th and early 21st centuries.

Harold Henderson, CG, “So You Want to Re-Invent Genealogy? Here’s How,” Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 11 January 2013 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed 20 January 2013). The standards in genealogy have been developed through decades of experience. Do you think your research experience has inspired better standards?

Continuing education for genealogists

Continuing education is a very important aspect of being a professional genealogist, or becoming one. When this post appears a few days after my writing it, I will be knee-deep in the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, where I will be presenting nine lectures in two courses and a tenth evening lecture.

On January 22, registration will begin for the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research at Samford University.

In May the National Genealogical Society conference will be held in Las Vegas. June will see IGHR and the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree, July brings the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh and the National Institute of Genealogical Research, and August has the Federation of Genealogical Societies annual conference in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.

In the meantime, dozens of webinars will be offered where genealogists can learn from the comfort of their living room. Other opportunities for distance learning include the certificate programs offered by the National Institute of Genealogical Studies, and the National Genealogical Society’s Home Study Course and other free and online courses.

For many genealogists, these opportunities and others are well-known.

Did you know that a number of prestigious universities around the United States now offer free non-credit online history courses taught by esteemed professors and historians?

Take a look at a few that have piqued my interest:

Open Yale Courses (Yale University)

  • “African American History: From Emancipation to the Present,” Jonathan Holloway
  • “The American Revolution,” Joanne Freeman
  • “The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877,” David W. Blight
  • “European Civilization, 1648-1945,” John Merriman
  • “Early Modern England: Politics, Religion, and Society under the Tudors and Stuarts,” Keith E. Wrightson
  • “France Since 1871,” John Merriman

BYU Independent Study (Brigham Young University)

  • “Introduction to Family History Research”
  • “Writing Family History”
  • “Helping Children Love Your Family History”
  • “Family Records”
  • “Vital Records”
  • “Military Records”
  • “French Research”
  • “Germany Research”
  • “Huguenot Research”
  • “Scandinavia Research”

OpenCourseWare, Utah State University

Open Courses @ Illinois Springfield (University of Illinois-Springfield)

New York University

University of California-Berkeley (via Internet Archive)

 

There are a lot of other courses available online in addition to these. If you know of some that I have missed, please feel free to include a link in the comments below.

Genealogy organizations: what have you done for me lately?

On 9 January 2013, Amy Coffin posted “Mind the Gap: Comparing Genealogy Associations to Other Info-Based Groups” in her We Tree Genealogy Blog. The post referred back to a blog post written by the CEO of the Special Libraries Association (SLA), “SLA in 2012: Laying the Groundwork for an Essential Association.” I would invite all of my readers to read both posts, as well as the comments on “Mind the Gap.”

Amy wrote that genealogy organizations should look to the organizations of other fields, such as SLA, for inspiration in meeting their members’ needs.

Though I am a member of no less than six state genealogical societies, a few more historical societies, and a handful of county societies, I am only on the Board of Directors of one organization—which is also a professional organization in the same vein as the SLA. Of course I mean the Association of Professional Genealogists.

Quite honestly, while the CEO of SLA used a lot of inspiring catchphrases, I cannot see what actions the organization has taken that could be implemented by APG or any other organization as an improvement. A “vision” without action to back it up is mere fantasy.

Amy made a comment that resonated with me: “Why is APG membership essential to my development?”

For me, the answer is simple: The APG membership itself is essential. By this, I mean the members, individually and collectively. The knowledge of local history, repositories, records, etc., of  members of APG is the greatest genealogical resource in the world, in my opinion. Learning from these members–not just in a classroom or lecture hall, but through one-on-one discussion–has been the single most important factor in my genealogical education.

To bring this perspective back to the discussion at hand: Amy and several other commentors mentioned several things that APG should be doing better.

APG (and other genealogy organizations) are volunteer-run membership organizations. They rely on the hard work of volunteers. So, in essence, “they” are us.

When a genealogist says, “XYZ County Genealogical Society doesn’t provide any essential services or products to me, so I didn’t renew,” there is a distinct, discernible belief that “the Society” must be a provider to its members.

The reverse is closer to the truth.

There is no “Society” without the work of its members. If you, as a member, are just sitting around waiting for “them” to give you something, then you will probably be disappointed. As a member, you should be contributing–whether it be as an officer or on a committee or even just something as simple as writing an article for the newsletter.

What societies do provide to their members rests solely on the backs of other members who are willing to volunteer their time, energy, and hard work to making the society better. The members who contribute nothing but complain that nothing is being done are the biggest problem with societies. There can be no “take” without someone “giving.”

I recognize that time is limited, and not everyone has free hours to contribute. But the dues that members pay themselves help to keep the electricity in the library on, or purchase new books, or pay for a speaker to present. Just by maintaining your membership, you are contributing. And if you suddenly find yourself with a free weekend, maybe you can spend some time organizing or indexing the vertical files, or writing an article for the newsletter, or baking cookies for the next meeting, or filling some other need.

Genealogy organizations, including APG, exist through the efforts of volunteers. Members can either complain about the problems, or work to change them.

My choice to do the latter is why I sit on the Board of Directors of APG and several committees, as well as paying dues to all of the societies of which I am a member.

Looking Back on ’12, Forward to ’13

The New Year always brings reflection. Since I started this blog, I have used it as a way to gauge my professional progress. You can read about my goals from previous years in these earlier posts:

In last year’s post, I set a few goals for myself. Let’s see how I managed to meet them (or not):

1. Continue to design new presentations. . . .

This was a great year for presenting. I did two all-day workshops in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in March, and in Germantown, Tennessee, in May. I also spoke at the National Genealogical Society Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio, in May. And in June I delivered five lectures at the Institute of Genealogy & Historical Research in Birmingham, Alabama. I also delivered several individual lectures in Philadelphia and at several societies in Maryland and Delaware.

As for 2013, first up is the Maryland Genealogy Crash Course for Family Tree University on January 10. From January 14 through January 18, I will be on the faculty at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, co-teaching Course 8: Producing a Quality Family Narrative, with John Philip Colletta, Ph.D., FUGA, presenting two lectures in Thomas MacEntee’s Course 6: A Genealogist’s Guide to the Internet Galaxy, and delivering an evening lecture, “What is a ‘Reasonably Exhaustive Search’?.”

Then in June, I will again be on the faculty of the Institute of Genealogy & Historical Research, with three lectures in Course 3: Research in the South, Part II: Cessions & Territories, and one lecture in Course 6: Professional Genealogy. On July 17 I will be conducting another webinar for Legacy Family Tree, “Research in the Old Line State: An Overview of Maryland Genealogy.” From July 21 through July 26 John Philip Colletta and I will be teaching “Your Immigrant Ancestors’ Stories: Writing a Quality Narrative” at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh.

I hope to see some of you in the coming year!

2. Complete some books that have been sitting on my shelf. . . .

Nope, still didn’t get them finished. Maybe I’ll have time in 2013.

3. Finish my updated edition of Online State Resources for Genealogy. . . .

I finished the updated edition in August, with both a PDF and an EPUB edition (which still has some bugs). With the book growing each year, it will take longer and longer to check the links and add new resources. I believe that an annual update will be a more realistic goal, especially considering my other projects. Expect a new edition sometime this summer.

4. Get started on some new books. . . .

I have started the series, and expect that I will be able to get at least the first volume (maybe more) finished this year.

5. Have an article accepted for publication in an academic journal. . . .

I had two articles published in the Maryland Genealogical Society Journal in 2012 and my first article will be published in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly in the upcoming December 2012 issue. I have a little more research to do for the article I intend for The Genealogist, but I have already started writing the Maryland Historical Magazine article.

6. Get better at time management. . . .

My time management has improved slightly. Still want to be more productive in 2013.

7. Write some magazine articles. . . .

I had a much slower year in magazines in 2012. I did have an article published in Family Chronicle, an article in the National Genealogical Society Magazine, and two articles in the Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly.

8. Submit to genealogy writing competitions. . . .

In April I learned that I had won first prize in the National Genealogical Society Family History Writing Contest! It was such a tough competition that they actually chose two winners, myself and F. Warren Bitner, CG. I would like to take this time to congratulate Warren as well, whom I have finally gotten to know a little bit at the 2012 national conferences.

I didn’t enter any other competitions in 2012, so on that end I failed, but here’s looking forward to the future. :)

9. Attend the new Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh. . . .

Sadly, after being away from home, out of state, for eight weekends in a row̶–̶̶from the 2012 NGS Conference through the Institute of Genealogy & Historical Research at Samford University–I simply had to rest. But, while I did not attend the Institute in 2012, I will be attending in 2013. I am actually going to be on the faculty, teaching the course “Your Immigrant Ancestors’ Stories: Writing a Quality Narrative” with coordinator John Philip Colletta, Ph.D., FUGA.

10. Find some time to research my family for a change!

Not as much as I may have liked. But I have been getting some of my research written into at least one article that I hope to submit to the New York Genealogical & Biographical Record later this year. Maybe I’ll be able to write more than one. If I start writing articles on my previous research on my own and my wife’s families, I could potentially have articles in journals of New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Virginia, North Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and South Dakota! This is a long-term project, though, so don’t expect too many in 2013.

I already have quite a bit planned for 2013, so I am not going to set any goals other than to renew the goals from 2012. Let’s see if I have any better luck this year.

Happy New Year!

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