September 27, 2011

Social History Resources for Genealogists

Of all the myriad aspects of genealogy, I think I find social history the most fascinating. I love learning more about the times and places my ancestors lived, and the issues and events that shaped their lives. Whether they faced a flood or drought, endured war, traveled by canal boat, or raised a family on the frontier, studying social history can bring their times to life.

I turn to social and topical history websites frequently, particularly when I’m trying to write a biographical sketch for an ancestor or put an event in perspective. So I thought a list of some of my favorite go-to social history sites would make a good addition to my Research Tools (see tab above). Here they are:

American Heritage (by American Heritage Magazine, with articles on time periods, topics, and historic travel):

American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers Project, 1936-1940 (oral histories and narratives compiled by WPA):

American Memory, The Library of Congress (a huge assortment of collections on all aspects of American history):

American Women’s Letters and Diaries (a bibliography of resources on women’s experiences):

GenDisasters (articles and photos on “events that touched our ancestor’s lives”):

Genwriters (a great site with information and links on social history and writing resources for genealogists):

HEARTH Home Economics Archive (Cornell University’s fantastic collection of materials on home life, cooking, child rearing, and more):

19th Century American Cultural History (short overviews with links by Lone Star College Kingswood Library; 20th Century also):

Ohio Memory (a growing collection of Ohio images and artifacts):

To be honest, this list just scratches the surface of the vast amount of social history material out there. There are countless specialized resources on topics such as the Civil War, railroads, immigration, and more. I often start by looking at the links that Cyndi has compiled on Cyndi’s List—a terrific resource for any aspect of genealogy. For information on a specific locality, I’ve had good luck finding old county histories on Google Books.

If you can find it, I highly recommend Bringing Your Family History to Life through Social History, by Katherine Scott Sturdevant. It’s inspiring, motivating, and educational, and I absolutely love it. It’s been out of print for some time, but you might be able to find a copy in your local library, or through Amazon.

I’m sure there are many more resources I could add here. If you have a favorite you’d like to share, let me know with a comment below. Just one word of caution: it’s awfully easy to lose track of time when browsing through social history sites (or maybe that’s just me)!

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Photo of log cabin, Portage County, Ohio, c. Shelley Bishop, 2011.

September 26, 2011

Newel King's testimony for Civil War pension: Amanuensis Monday

An amanuensis is a person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another. Amanuensis Monday is a genealogy blogging theme used for the transcription of family letters and documents.

Back in April, I wrote about my ggg-grandfather’s Civil War experience in Newel King, 91st Ohio Volunteer Infantry. That post, based on Newel’s compiled service record, pension file, published regimental histories, and family records, has consistently been my most popular post ever since. I’d like to share one of the original documents that I used in writing Newel’s story.

Newel King’s pension file (which includes his wife’s application for a widow’s pension) is over 180 pages long. I’m in the process of transcribing some of the key pieces. This is Newel’s own testimony regarding his disability. It provides primary information not only of his war experience, but also his whereabouts following the war.

The State of Ohio Gallia County ss:
On this 12th day of July AD 1876. Before me Henry A. Kent Judge of the Probate Court a court of record in and for the county and state aforesaid personally came Newel King who on being duly sworn according to law declared that he is aged 38 years and that he is the identical Newel King who enlisted under the name of Newel King in the military service of the United States at Cheshire Gallia County Ohio on the 6th day of August in the year 1862 as a private of Company “B” 91st Regt. Of Ohio Infantry Volunteers in the war of 1861 and was honorably discharged on the 24th day of June AD 1865 that his personal description is as follows: Age 38 yrs[,] height 5 feet 8 inches[,] complexion light [,] hair light[,] eyes blue. 

That while in the service aforesaid and in the line of his duty he received the following disability to wit, in the month of March A.D. 1864 he was attacked with measles and was sent to a hospital at Fayetteville in the state of West Virginia where he remained about one month when he was sent to a hospital at Charleston West Virginia where he remained about two weeks when he was sent to a general hospital at Gallipolis Ohio where he remained about five months[;] that while he was in said hospital at Gallipolis his back and limbs were swollen and much afflicted, and while in said Hospital at Gallipolis he obtained a furlough to go home for 15 days about the last of October 1864 and while at home on said furlough he was attacked by epileptic fits, and that ever since leaving the service aforesaid he has been afflicted with disease of his back or spine and epileptic fits following said disease of measles. 

That on account of said disease of his spine and said fits he has been and now is greatly disabled from performing manual labor. That from the time of leaving the service aforesaid until 1868 he resided in Cheshire Township Gallia County Ohio. That from 1868 until 1871 he lived in Cass County in the state of Missouri. That from 1871 to the present time he has resided in Cheshire Township Gallia County Ohio and his present Post office address is Cheshire Gallia County in the state of Ohio, and his occupation has been and now is that of a farmer. That he has not been in the military or naval service of the United States since his discharge therefrom on the 24th day of June A.D. 1865. That he hereby appoints Eben N. Harper of Gallipolis Ohio his attorney to prosecute his claim. That he has never received or applied for a pension. That his Post office address and residence is Cheshire Gallia County in the state of Ohio. 
                                                                        [signature]   Newel King
Also personally appeared Gideon Roush and John S. Guy both residing in Gallia County and State of Ohio persons whom I certify to be respectable and entitled to credit, and who being by me duly sworn, say: they were present and saw Newel King the claimant sign his name to the foregoing declaration and that they have every reason to believe from the appearance of said claimant and their acquaintance with him that he is the identical person he represents himself to be and that they have no interest in the prosecution of this claim.
                                                                        [signature]   Gideon Roush
                                                                        [signature]   John S. Guy

Some thoughts: Gideon Roush, one of the witnesses, was Newel’s father-in-law. I’ve located Newel with his wife, Electa, and infant son in Cass County, Missouri in the 1870 U.S. census. But this testimony tells me more specifically when they arrived and when they returned to Ohio. I still wonder why Newel left Missouri, especially since his brother Wesley, who served with him in the 91st Ohio, remained there until his death in 1924. Perhaps Newel’s epilepsy was so disabling that he was unable to carve out a life for himself on the Missouri frontier.

Citation: Testimony of Newel King, 12 July 1876, invalid pension application no. 223,493, certificate no. 186,803 (Pvt. Co B, 91st Ohio Infantry, Civil War); Case Files of Approved Pension Applications, 1961-1934; Civil War and Later Pension Files, Department of Veteran’s Affairs, Record Group 15, National Archives, Washington, D.C. Transcribed February 2011 by Shelley Bishop.

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September 22, 2011

You Never Know Unless You Ask - Treasure Chest Thursday

One afternoon last year, my aunts and I were sorting through some old pictures and cards that my grandmother, Nora Eberhard Ballenger, had kept. There were some older pictures, which I gratefully scanned and copied, but a lot of newer ones too, including many of my own children which I had actually given Grandma. The day was not yielding as much “good stuff” as I had hoped.

I happened to mention to my aunt that I was looking for something that might tell me whether Nora’s father’s name was John Llewellyn or Llewellyn John Eberhard. He usually went by the latter, but it appeared in various records both ways. Someone with a better understanding of German heritage had told me that if I could find his baptismal record, it should settle the matter.

“I wonder if that’s what that is?” she mused. “What?” I asked. “Oh, it’s down the basement. It’s all rolled up. I don’t know what it is.” Well, I was curious by then. I asked if she’d look. She said she’d see if she could find it. Whatever it was.

She came up awhile later with two thin, brittle, rolled-up parchments. We gingerly unrolled one. Now, I’d never seen anything like it before, and neither of us can read a word of German, but it didn’t take long to figure out what it was. It was paydirt: his original baptismal certificate, or fraktur, in all its decorated glory. And she not only had the one for John Llewellyn (as it turns out he was named), but she had the one for his wife, Mary Madina Comfort, as well.

Nora was the eleventh out of sixteen Eberhard children. How the frakturs happened to go to her is a mystery to me. She never mentioned them, to my knowledge. And if I hadn’t wondered aloud about John’s name that day, I imagine they’d still be hiding out in my aunt’s basement. Just goes to show you. You never know unless you ask.

My aunt generously made full-size copies of the certificates for me. What you see here is the section with the baptismal information. I haven’t had it fully translated yet, but in my best attempt to read it (pardon my German), I believe it says:

Mr. David Eberhart
and his wife Catharina
who was born Eisenhart
had born to them a son on the 29th day
of January in the year 1868
This son was born in Upper Milford
Township Lehigh County, in
the state of Pennsylvania in North America and
on the 16th day of May in the year
1868 has been baptized
and given the name John Llewellen
The sponsors are:
Joel Schafer and his wife Polly

Needless to say, I went home happy that day!

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September 19, 2011

A New Look for OGS

The Ohio Genealogical Society is debuting a completely revamped website at The new web interface, created by webmaster Margaret Arnold, sports a clean, classy look, with an eye-catching “Upcoming Events” feature scrolling across the top. Navigating the site is easy, thanks to numerous tabs with pull-down menus across the top. A sidebar offers a member log-in box, as well as links to the Ohio Civil War Center, 2012 OGS Conference information, and OGS Publications. I like how easy it is to access OGS Library resources and various online databases from the home page.

One of the scrolling events is the upcoming Fall Seminar, featuring Dick Eastman, author of Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter. The seminar is slated for Saturday, October 1, from 9 am to 4 pm. To accommodate a larger number of people, it's being held at a nearby church, but I hope to squeeze in a bit of research time at the OGS Library afterwards. Registration for the event is still open. I’m looking forward to it!

If you get the chance, do check out the new OGS website (the URL hasn’t changed, so if you had it bookmarked, the link will still work). The site proudly displays the tagline “Ohio Genealogical Society: The Premier Ohio Family Heritage Resource.” With a beautiful new library, dozens of active chapters, a high caliber annual conference, and now a welcoming, user-friendly website, I think OGS lives up to that claim.

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September 16, 2011

Follow Friday: The Accidental Genealogist

Is it really possible to write a family history book in only 15 minutes a day? According to Lisa Alzo of The Accidental Genealogist, the answer is absolutely—as long as you do something on your project every single day.

I attended Lisa’s lecture, “Write Your Family History Step-by-Step,” on the last day of the FGS Conference in Springfield, and came away inspired and invigorated. Lisa advocated blocking time for writing on your calendar, setting a timer for as little as 15 minutes, and doing something—taking notes, organizing, or writing even a few sentences—every day, like clockwork. She also suggested breaking the book into two sections—a readable narrative and a reference section containing genealogical summaries and sources.

Here are some of the other points I took away from the session:
  • Make a timeline or outline to serve as a framework for the story
  • Reel the reader in with an exciting event or conflict
  • Leave something hanging at the end of every chapter
  • Study the history of your time and place
  • Milk all the details out of your documents and photographs
  • Capture emotion and feelings in your oral interviews
  • Use writing techniques like flashback, character detail, suspense, etc.
  • Don’t wait until you feel like you’re “done” with your research to start

Lisa provided several websites and resources that she’s found helpful in the writing process. She also referred us to her blog, The Accidental Genealogist, for samples. If you click on “Publications,” then “Other Writings,” you can see a transcript of one of her interviews and a writing sample from her book, Three Slovak Women. Her tips and techniques are applicable whether your goal is a personal memoir, a family-only publication, or a more universal story for a larger audience. Lisa’s lecture should be available as a CD-Rom or MP3 file (your choice) from Fleetwood Onsite soon.

Lisa’s session gave me a boost to get started on a writing project I’ve been putting off because it just seemed too overwhelming. By breaking it down into smaller parts and chipping away at it a little at a time, using some of her strategies, I hope to make it seem more manageable. Now I don’t have any excuse not to get started!

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September 14, 2011

99 Genealogy Things

Different variations of this list seem to be making the rounds right now, and I thought it might be fun to give it a try. I understand it originated with Becky on her Kinexxions blog. I got this version from Tonia on Tonia’s Roots, who got it from Valerie on Family Cherished. See how it gets around?

The list can be annotated as follows:
Things you have already done or found: bold face type
Things you would like to do or find: italicize (color optional)
Things you haven’t done/found, don’t care to, or don’t apply: plain type

1.    Belong to a genealogical society.
2.     Joined a group on Genealogy Wise.
3.     Transcribed records.
4.     Uploaded headstone pictures to Find-A-Grave or a similar site.
5.     Documented ancestors for four generations (self through great-grandparents).
6.      Joined Facebook.
7.      Cleaned up a run-down cemetery.
8.      Joined the Genea-Bloggers Group.
9.      Attended a genealogy conference.
10.   Lectured at a genealogy conference.
11.   Spoke on a genealogy topic at a local genealogy society.
12.   Joined the National Genealogical Society.
13.   Contributed to a genealogy society publication.
14.   Served on the board or as an officer of a genealogy society.
15.   Got lost on the way to a cemetery.
16.   Talked to dead ancestors. But it may come to that!
17.   Researched outside the state in which I live.
18.   Knocked on the door of an ancestral home and visited with the current occupants.
19.   Cold called a distant relative. 
20.   Posted messages on a surname message board.
21.   Uploaded a gedcom file to the internet.
22.   Googled my name (and those of ancestors)
23.   Performed a random act of genealogical kindness.
24.   Researched a non-related family, just for the fun of it.
25.   Have been paid to do genealogical research. Just starting.
26.   Earn a living (majority of income) from genealogical research.
27.   Wrote a letter (or email) to a previously unknown relative.
28.   Contributed to one of the genealogy carnivals.
29.   Responded to messages on a message board.
30.   Was injured while on a genealogy excursion.
31.   Participated in a genealogy meme. Like this one!
32.   Created family history gift items. 
33.   Performed a record lookup for someone else.
34.   Took a genealogy seminar cruise.
35.   Am convinced that a relative must have arrived here from outer space.
36.   Found a disturbing family secret. Not disturbing to me, but it must have been for them—otherwise, why the secret?
37.   Told others about a disturbing family secret.
38.   Combined genealogy with crafts (family picture quilt, scrapbooking).
39.   Think genealogy is a passion and/or obsession, not a hobby.
40.   Assisted finding next of kin for a deceased person.
41.   Taught someone else how to find their roots.
42.   Lost valuable genealogy data due to a computer crash or hard drive failure. Fortunately, I was backed up.
43.   Been overwhelmed by available genealogy technology.
44.   Know a cousin of the 4th degree or higher
45.   Disproved a family myth through research.
46.   Got a family member to let you copy photos.
47.   Used a digital camera to “copy” photos or records.
48.   Translated a record from a foreign language.
49.   Found an immigrant ancestor’s passenger arrival record.
50.   Looked at census records on microfilm, not on the computer.
51.   Used microfiche.
52.   Visited the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. 
53.   Used Google+ for genealogy. Ok, I know I should get on there
54.   Visited a church or place of worship of one of your ancestors.
55.   Taught a class in genealogy.
56.   Traced ancestors back to the 18th Century.
57.   Traced ancestors back to the 17th Century.
58.   Traced ancestors back to the 16th Century. 
59.   Can name all of your great-great-grandparents.
60.   Know how to determine a soundex code without the help of a computer. 
61.   Have found many relevant and unexpected articles on internet to “put flesh on the bones”. 
62.   Own a copy of Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown I get a bonus for having both the 2007 and 2009 editions?
63.   Helped someone find an ancestor using records you had never used for your own research
64.   Visited the main National Archives building in Washington, DC.
65.   Have an ancestor who came to America as an indentured servant.
66.   Have an ancestor who fought in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812 or Civil War.
67.   Taken a photograph of an ancestor’s tombstone.
68.    Can “read” a church record in Latin. No, but I raised a son who can…does that count?
69.   Have an ancestor who changed his/her name, just enough to be confusing.  At least not that I know of.
70.   Joined a Rootsweb mailing list.
71.   Created a family website.
72.   Have a genealogy blog.
73.   Was overwhelmed by the amount of family information received from someone. Sounds like a nice problem to have.
74.   Have broken through at least one brick wall.
75.   Done genealogy research at a court house.
76.   Borrowed microfilm from the Family History Library through a local Family History Center.
77.    Found an ancestor in an online newspaper archive
78.    Have visited a NARA branch.
79.    Have an ancestor who served in WWI or WWII.
80.    Use maps in my genealogy research.
81.    Have a blacksheep ancestor. But I wouldn’t mind one.
82.    Found a bigamist amongst my ancestors.
83.    Attended a genealogical institute.
84.    Taken online genealogy (and local history) courses.
85.    Consistently document and cite my sources. 
86.    Visited a foreign country in search of ancestors.
87.    Can locate any document in my research files within a few minutes. Pretty much, I think. 
88.    Have an ancestor who was married four times.
89.    Made a rubbing of an ancestor’s gravestone. 
90.    Followed genealogists on Twitter. (find me @senseoffamily)
91.   Published a family history book.
92.   Learned of a death of a fairly close family relative through research.
93.   Offended a family member with my research.  Hope not!
94.   Reunited someone with precious family photos or artifacts.
95.   Have a paid subscription to a genealogy database.
96.   Submitted articles for FamilySearch Wiki.
97.   Organized a family reunion.
98.   Used Archives in countries where my ancestors originated. 
99.   Converted someone new to the love of all things genealogy.

Ok, that was fun! Guess I’ve got plenty to keep me busy on my “want to do” list. How about you? Care to play along?

Graphic by Tonia Kendrick
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