What’s the big deal about 1890?

In an effort to collect my earlier writings in one place, I am planning to republish many pieces here. This article originally appeared in my online column “African American Genealogy Examiner” (no longer available online except through the Wayback Machine), posted 16 November 2011. Some links, as well as some text, have been updated to reflect changes since the original publication.

It usually does not take long before beginning genealogists discover the usefulness of the U. S. federal census. Not long after this discovery, they learn about the destruction of the 1890 census.

Because of this destruction, quite a few books have been published as “1890 census substitutes.” These generally consist of tax lists, state censuses, voter registration lists, city directories, and other lists of people from the years around 1890, as “replacement” censuses.

Certainly the loss of the 1890 federal census was devastating, as would the loss of any record group as universal and informative as the federal census. But why has so much effort been taken to “reconstruct” this census? (It should be noted that no effort to actually reconstruct the census as it existed has actually been made. So-called reconstructions are generally mere transcriptions or extracts of the information contained within the alternative source material.)

The federal census is useful because, after 1850, it (in theory) provides the names and other personal information concerning every resident of the United States. Created every ten years, one is able to follow most of their ancestors through decennial “snapshots” of their lives.

However, the census being taken every ten years is a fact of the record group, but not a benefit. In fact, it is a distinct disadvantage of the federal census. Most of the record groups used as “1890 census substitutes” were not created decennially. Some were created annually. Yet, because of the absence of this decennial record, only those records surrounding 1890 have been published and, in many cases, genealogists only consult these published 1890-era records.

Let us consider one common “substitute” record as an example. City directories were created annually in Baltimore, Maryland, since 1864–65, and biennially or sporadically for many years prior. Various editions are available online in several locations, including AncestryFold3Internet Archive, and the Archives of Maryland Online. The same is true for many other cities across the United States. Genealogist Miriam J. Robbins has created the “Online Historical Directories Website,” providing links to many of these city directories.

City directories, however, do not provide the same information as the 1890 federal census. In general, they provide names, occupations, and residential addresses, and occasionally the names of spouses or racial identity (through the use of separate sections for white and “colored” residents). They do not report ages, places of birth, immigration status, family relationships, or any of the other details common to the federal census.

Furthermore, city directories, tax lists, and other annually created record groups are often best used by looking at a large number of years across time, to accentuate changes in the local population. The correlation of this multi-year evidence can be an important source of indirect evidence concerning an individual’s identity or relationship. Looking only at 1890 is virtually useless.

These annual records are not limited by the decennial nature of the federal census, and we are only doing ourselves a disfavor by limiting our access and use of these records as a substitute for another record. Instead, we should take advantage of the benefits these annual records hold.

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“Sir Edward Coke Collection”

This post was originally published on my former Online State Resources for Genealogy blog. That blog is no longer active, but I am reposting some of the more valuable posts here.

Leon E. Bloch Law Library Sir Edward Coke Collection (University of Missouri Digital Library)

UMDL_SirEdwardCoke

As my friend Judy G. Russell, “The Legal Genealogist,” would surely agree, no study of the past can be complete without studying the laws of the past. The legal systems of most of the British colonies in America were of course based on the English common law system. The most commonly cited source for information on English common law is Sir William Blackstone’s 4-volume Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765–1769) and its many later abridgments. Published just prior to the American Revolution, however, there may be significant differences between the laws in Blackstone’s day and the laws of the earliest American settlements 150 years earlier. The common law was often amended by later colonial statutes in ways quite different in, say, Virginia than in England proper.

According to the introduction to the “Sir Edward Coke Collection,”

Sir Edward Coke, also known as Lord Coke, was a prominent British jurist and politician of the late sixteenth to mid-seventeenth centuries. He is remembered as, among other things, the author of a four-volume legal treatise titled Institutes of the Lawes of England, which set forth the then-evolving common law of England and which has played a significant role in the development of the common law system worldwide. Lord Coke also generated a 13-volume collection of Reports, which included his commentary on cases he had heard as well as information on prior precedents.

The “Leon E. Bloch Law Library Sir Edward Coke Collection,” presented by the University of Missouri Digital Library, includes digital copies of all four volumes of the Institutes and all thirteen volumes of the Reports. The first volume deals with land tenure, a subject that certainly affects the early colonial settlement of America in profound ways. It begins, “Tenant in fee simple is hee which hath Lands or Tenements to hold to him and his heires for ever.” This concept itself is easily familiar to any with experience in colonial (and later) land records. Volumes two through four focus on “Ancient and Other Statutes” (Vol. 2), “High Treason, and Other Pleas of the Crown and Criminal Causes” (Vol. 3), and “the Jurisdiction of Courts” (Vol. 4).

UMDL_SirEdwardCoke2

Finding references of interest is through a “Table” (index) at the end of each volume. Though dealing ostensibly with land tenure, one might be surprised by some of the subjects addressed in Volume 1. Some of the topics appearing in this first volume include “Names,” “Marriage,” and “Inheritance.” Reading Coke’s commentaries on these various subjects may provide great insight into the origins of colonial laws. These discussions should be studied together with the colonial laws of interest for the most benefit to genealogists.

Explore the “Leon E. Bloch Law Library Sir Edward Coke Collection” at http://digital.library.umsystem.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?page=home;c=klc.

Top 10 genealogy resources

I have been away a while—I know, I know—but I just couldn’t resist the latest blogging theme bouncing around. Top 10 lists always seem to bring me out of my little hole.

Judy G. Russell, CG, CGL, posted her legal-centric list at “Top 10 genealogy websites” on her award-winning blog The Legal Genealogist. The theme was started by James Tanner’s post “My Top Ten Genealogy Programs for Now” at his blog Genealogy’s Star. Several other bloggers have also followed suit (and Judy names a few, so I will not repeat the list here).

My list will be a little different. I will not focus exclusively on resources or websites, but instead on foundational works.

  1. The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010). If you write, which I assume that you do, this guide is absolutely necessary. CMOS covers grammar, punctuation, style, and citations, among numerous other topics related to writing and publishing. This also happens to be the style guide adopted by most humanities publishers, including all of the major genealogical journals. There is also an accompanying website available by subscription that allows full-text searching and offers additional assistance.
  2. Wayne C. Booth, et al., The Craft of Research, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008). This guide is intended for university students researching for classes. Genealogy is a type of research, first and foremost. Many genealogical errors would be avoided if the researcher had a solid foundation in how to conduct research in general. This guide is one of the industry-standard introductions to basic research methodology.
  3. Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards, 50th anniversary ed. (Nashville, Tenn.: Ancestry.com, 2014). Nearly everyone that reads this blog should know that I am a dedicated evangelist for standards-based genealogical research. This book offers the only comprehensive compilation of the standards that have evolved in the field over the past century.
  4. Thomas W. Jones, PhD, CG, CGL, FASG, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, Va.: National Genealogical Society, 2013). This workbook offers most thorough exploration of genealogical standards of proof, written by one of the undisputed leaders in the field. The lessons are comprehensive and each chapter offers hands-on exercises utilizing two complex-evidence case studies also written by the author.
  5. ArchiveGrid (https://beta.worldcat.org/archivegrid/). As the URL reveals, this website is an offshoot of WorldCat. It includes, however, primarily manuscript collections held by over 1000 archival repositories, making the search much more focused. The site is easy to search for a surname, location, or topic, and returns descriptions and links to the finding aids for the relevant collections. In a recent project, for example, I was able to locate more than a half-dozen relevant collections in the same number of separate universities, historical societies, and libraries. Never neglect the oft-ignored possibility that your ancestor’s personal papers have been collected somewhere!
  6. Google. James Tanner included Google, but I am going to offer a slightly more specific view of its tools:
    • Web Search (http://www.google.com). No description likely necessary here, the most important function of Google is its search engine, so prevalent that “googling” something has become a verb unto itself. You can also limit the format of results using Image Search or Video Search, among other options.
    • Alerts (https://www.google.com/alerts). Google Alerts will email you anytime a new link is located for your keywords. This is a great way to monitor surnames of interest.
    • Books (https://books.google.com/). Google Books has digitized millions of books in whole or in part, most of which allow full-text search and many of which can be downloaded as a PDF and other digital formats.
    • Scholar (https://scholar.google.com/). Google Scholar searches scholarly and academic resources such as journals and dissertations, and provides links to content available online. This is a great way to learn about recent research related to the history and culture of your ancestral places, religion, ethnicity, etc.
    • Maps (https://www.google.com/maps) and Earth (https://www.google.com/intl/en/earth/). Because who doesn’t want to know where events happened, how close one location is to another, etc.? Google Earth is especially fun once you learn to overlay historic maps, plats, etc.
    • Translate (https://translate.google.com/). Though there are some real problems with automated direct translation between many languages, this tool will still be helpful in many cases in getting a general sense of the meaning of a document written in a language that you can’t read.
    • And there are many others that I won’t get into, like Gmail and Drive. Great for general productivity alone or with a group of researchers.
  7. Internet Archive (https://archive.org/) and Hathi Trust (https://www.hathitrust.org/). See above under Google Books, these two sites offer millions of digitized historic books. Internet Archive includes hundreds of reels of NARA microfilm publications, digitized in partnership with the Allen County Public Library! Though they are not indexed, they also have not been edited in any way. This provides the opportunity to view census records, etc., in the context of the original microfilm that has been digitized by other sites. Internet Archive also hosts the “Wayback Machine,” the most comprehensive archive of past websites (which is great for finding online information that somehow disappeared).
  8. Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, 3rd ed. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2015). I’m sure that you didn’t think I would forget the book of which I spent two posts discussing the merits a few years ago. Read them here and here. Also take the time to visit the companion website, which offers some very useful forums on documentation and evidence analysis.
  9. Anthony Weston, A Rulebook for Arguments, 4th ed. (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 2009). Reaching a defensible conclusion using conflicting direct, indirect, and/or negative evidence, is often a matter of logic. This short, general guide to the art of formulating a logical argument could almost serve as a guide to genealogical proof arguments. It looks at form, substance, and common fallacies, among other subjects.
  10. The Internet. This tenth spot is tough. So many websites offer online digitized record images that it is impossible to list them all. Obviously, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com) and FamilySearch (http://www.familysearch.org) lead the pack, but other sites include national and international archives, state archives, local public libraries and historical societies, university libraries, etc. Basically, the Internet has completely revolutionized the way that genealogical research is conducted in the twenty-first century. I’m certain that I am not the only researcher who misses the disproportionate “microfilm muscle” (*sarcasm*), but the ability to research with a simple point-and-click deserves a place on every list. Of course, not all material has been digitized, but the Internet also offers access to repository catalogs for access to additional microfilmed and original paper records. Frankly, it’s a bit difficult to imagine how we managed to survive back in the early 1990s, before the Internet was so prevalent. We did it, but I don’t even want to think about those crazy Dark Ages.

What do you think? Do these resources make your list? What shows up on your Top 10?

Upcoming online course: “Working with Sources and Information”

I would like to announce that I will be teaching the following online workshop next month:

Working with Sources and Information

4 June–11 June 2016

Sources are the foundation of every genealogical conclusion. The reliability of any conclusion depends entirely on the ability to evaluate the quality of each source and the information it asserts. Genealogists assess the actual meaning of a source and its information in its historical, cultural, and legal contexts. This process leads to greater success in solving complex genealogical problems.

This hands-on workshop will focus on the disciplined reading and evaluation of sources. Prior to each day of the course, students will be provided with a selection of records from around the world on which to exercise their analytical skills. These source selections will then be discussed in detail during the second session of each day.

Students who register for the Plus option will receive additional documents with which to practice the lessons. Those who submit their written source analyses will receive individual feedback from the instructor based on Genealogy Standards (Nashville, Tenn.: Ancestry.com, 2014). The separate Plus session will focus on source citations.

Course Schedule (all times U. S. Eastern)

4 June 2016

  • 11:00am: Principles of Source and Information Analysis
  • 1:00pm: Hands-on Review of Document Selection

11 June 2016

  • 11:00am: Principles of Evidence Correlation
  • 1:00pm: Hands-on Review of Document Selection: Focus on Correlation

Plus Session, 8 June 2016: “A Simple Model for Citing Any Source”

Visit http://vigrgenealogy.com/courses/hait-sources/ for more information and to register. I hope to see some of you there!

Upcoming educational opportunities you can’t miss!

It has been a while since I have posted—too long—but other duties have been occupying much of my time. I would like to take a moment to tell you about three educational opportunities with which I am involved.

Virtual Institute of Genealogical Research

First, the Virtual Institute of Genealogical Research, which was announced last fall, has met with great success! We have recordings available for seven (7) past courses, and registration is currently open for five courses coming up this summer and fall.

This Saturday, 20 June 2015, Billie Stone Fogarty and Rick Fogarty will be teaching a course entitled “Verifying the Family Legend of Native American Ancestry.” Registration is still open, so don’t miss it! This is a great opportunity to learn from a nationally recognized speaker and her son, a citizen of the Muscogee Creek Nation. Click here to register.

Courses on various topics from other nationally recognized experts Blaine Bettinger, F. Warren Bittner, Donna Moughty, J. Mark Lowe, and Maureen Taylor are currently available for purchase in the Virtual Institute store. Future courses will be presented by Bettinger, Craig Roberts Scott, Angela McGhie, and D. Joshua Taylor, among others.

Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy

Registration for the 2016 Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy also opens this Saturday, 20 June, at 9:00 am MDT (11:00 am EDT). Click here for more details.

I will be teaching in several courses this year, including Course 2: Researching New York: Resources and Strategies, coordinated by Karen Mauer Jones, CG, FGBS; Course 3: Research In The South, coordinated by J. Mark Lowe, CG, FUGA; Course 11: Writing A Quality Family Narrative, coordinated by John Philip Colletta, Ph.D, FUGA; and Course 13: Advanced Evidence Practicum, coordinated by Angela Packer McGhie.

Perhaps most exciting for me, however, is my opportunity to coordinate my own course this year: Course 9: Solving Problems Like a Professional. This course focuses on practical problem solving skills used by professional genealogists, designed to meet standards of genealogical proof as defined by the Board for Certification of Genealogists. Myself and all three of the other instructors are full-time genealogists, each with our own experience and professional focuses. The course will also have short homework assignments for the first three nights, allowing students to take advantage of the Family History Library and apply the lessons learned during the day.

Students for this course do not have to be professional genealogists or have any desire to be so. The lessons learned will be applicable to all research problems, during any time or place.

BCG Webinar Series

Last but certainly not least, the Board for Certification of Genealogists has finally made the leap into the webinar world, presenting webinars on a monthly basis—usually the third Tuesday of each month.

So far, I have presented one lecture, and we have had a top-notch lineup of other instructors, including Thomas W. Jones, PhD, CG, CGL, FASG, FNGS, FUGA; “The Legal Genealogist” Judy G. Russell, JD, CG, CGL; F. Warren Bittner, CG; James Baker, PhD, CG; Jean Wilcox Hibben, PhD, MA, CG; Jeanne Larzalere Bloom, CG; and Teresa Steinkamp McMillin, CG.

Most of the recordings are available for viewing or download on a dedicated page on the BCG blog, on a pay-per-view basis. Click here for more information.

National Genealogical Society seeks nominations for 2015 Genealogy Hall of Fame

The following announcement was received from the National Genealogical Society:

NATIONAL GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY SEEKS NOMINATIONS FOR THE 2015 GENEALOGY HALL OF FAME

Would your society like to honor a genealogist whose exemplary work lives on today? Perhaps there was a notable genealogist in your state or county whose name should be memorialized in the National Genealogy Hall of Fame.

If so, the National Genealogical Society would like to hear from you. NGS is seeking nominations from the entire genealogical community for persons whose achievements or contributions have made an impact on the field. This educational program increases appreciation of the high standards advocated and achieved by committed genealogists whose work paved the way for researchers today.

Since 1986 when Donald Lines Jacobus became the first genealogist elected to the National Genealogy Hall of Fame, twenty‐five outstanding genealogists have been recognized for their contributions. The 2015 honoree will join this select group of distinguished members. This year’s selection, and the society that honored the nominee, will be feted at the 2015 NGS Family History Conference to be held in St. Charles, Missouri. Nominations for election to the Hall of Fame are made by genealogical societies and historical societies throughout the United States.

Guidelines for nominations:

  • A nominee must have been actively engaged in genealogy in the United States for at least ten years, must have been deceased for at least five years at the time of nomination, and must have made contributions to the field of genealogy judged to be of lasting significance in ways that were unique, pioneering, or exemplary.
  •  The National Genealogy Hall of Fame is an educational project in which the entire genealogical community is invited to participate. Affiliation with the National Genealogical Society is not required.
  •  The National Genealogy Hall of Fame Committee elects one person to the Hall of Fame annually. Those elected are permanently commemorated in the Hall of Fame at Society headquarters, Arlington, Virginia.
  •  Nominations for election to the Hall of Fame are due by 31 January each year. Official nomination forms are available from our website, http://www.ngsgenealogy.org, Awards & Competitions, or by contacting the National Genealogical Society, 3108 Columbia Pike, Suite 300, Arlington, VA 22204‐4304; phone 1‐800‐473‐0060.

The National Genealogical Society’s Genealogy Hall of Fame includes such notable genealogists as Donald Lines Jacobus, John Insley Coddington, Jean Stephenson, James Dent Walker, Richard S. Lackey, Milton Rubincam, Kenn Stryker-Rodda, Walter Lee Sheppard, Jr., and Rosalie Fellows Bailey. To see a full list of current members of the Hall of Fame, with short biographical notes, visit http://www.ngsgenealogy.org/cs/halloffame_winners.

News from the Board for Certification of Genealogists

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

17 October 2014

BOARD FOR CERTIFICATION OF GENEALOGISTS DISCUSSES CERTIFICATION, WELCOMES JEANNE LARZALERE BLOOM, CG, AS NEW PRESIDENT

Genealogists seeking board certification will have a clearer idea of portfolio requirements following the October 12 meeting of the trustees of the Board for Certification of Genealogists in Salt Lake City. The Board also welcomed a new executive committee and two new members. Several trustees volunteered for a newly enlarged marketing committee. Trustee Judy G. Russell, J.D., CG, CGL, made a generous donation to fund a full year of BCG’s new free public instructional webinars.

To emphasize the fact that not all who apply for certification take clients, the fifth required item in an application portfolio will now be called “Research Report Prepared for Another” rather than “Research Report Prepared for a Client.” The item’s requirements remain the same: research and report on a genealogical problem authorized by someone else that does not involve the applicant’s family, showing “analysis of the problem, in-depth and skillful use of a range of sources, and recommendations for further work based on your findings.”

At the end of Sunday’s trustee meeting the presidential gavel passed from Elissa Scalise Powell, CG, CGL, to Jeanne Larzalere Bloom, CG. In her final report as president, Powell commented on many changes, including the publication of revised standards and rubrics, BCG’s increased social-media presence, the new webinar series, as well as the 50th anniversary celebrations. Bloom responded, “On behalf of the associates and the trustees of BCG, I would like to thank Elissa for her capable leadership as BCG’s president these past two years.”

Other members of the new executive committee are Stefani Evans, CG, (vice-president), Michael S. Ramage, J.D., CG (treasurer), Dawne Slater-Putt, CG (secretary), and Russell (member at large). As past president, Powell will also serve on the executive committee in an advisory capacity. Newly re-elected trustees are David McDonald, CG, Evans, and Bloom, joined by newcomers Nancy A. Peters, CG, and Harold Henderson, CG. Retiring trustees Laura A. DeGrazia, CG, and Thomas W. Jones Ph.D, CG, CGL, were thanked for their long terms of service and for the significant advancements of BCG that occurred under their leadership. DeGrazia served 2005–2014, and as president 2008–2010. Jones served 1997–2007, 2011–2014, and as president 1999–2002.

Sunday’s meeting was preceded by a day of BCG-sponsored lectures offering problem-solving tools from associates Powell, Russell, Evans, and Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, hosted by the Family History Library. The lectures were streamed into two additional rooms when the main meeting room filled.

For questions or more information contact: Nicki Birch, CG, office@BCGcertification.org.