May 28, 2012

Honoring Civil War Veterans at The Ridges

On a pastoral hillside in Athens, Ohio, is one of the most poignant cemeteries I’ve ever seen. Called simply “The Ridges” by locals, it’s the burial grounds for the old Athens State Psychiatric Hospital (originally called the Athens Lunatic Asylum). If their bodies were not claimed by their families, patients who died at the hospital from the 1870’s until 1944 were buried in sloping rows with small, numbered headstones as their only markers.

For decades, the list of names of those buried at The Ridges was considered restricted information. Over the years, a few families breached the red tape necessary to find their loved ones and install traditional markers with names and dates. The cemetery fell into sad disrepair for many years, but has been restored today through the efforts of dedicated volunteers. The Athens council National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI Athens) spearheaded The Ridges Cemeteries Project, and in 2005 the state legislature finally passed a bill making the names of those buried public. Terry Gilkey has created a downloadable directory to the graves.

On my last visit, I was struck by the number of Civil War veterans buried at The Ridges. Some are still identified only by their number.
Grave No. 265
Other families have replaced the anonymous stones with personalized markers. John C. Bocock served in Company B of the 91st Ohio Volunteer Infantry, the same company as my great-great-great-grandfather, Newel King, and his brother Wesley King. They had to have known one another. Were they friends?

Here are some other Civil War veterans who rest at The Ridges:

John Curry
John R. Gillespie
Adam Kern, Co. D, 17th Ohio Infantry
Nathan C. Littler, Sergeant Major, 73rd Ohio Infantry
William M. Riley, Co. A, 3rd Ohio Infantry

On this Memorial Day, it seems fitting to pay tribute to these soldiers whose final months or years, perhaps, were difficult ones. It's good to know they have not been forgotten.

May they rest in peace. 

May 21, 2012

The Joy of Holding History in Your Hands

As genealogists, we’re taught to always seek the original record whenever possible, rather than relying solely on a transcription, abstract, index, or database for information. That’s because the original might reveal additional information, expose errors made in the transcribing or abstracting process, and help put the record into context. But another benefit has to be the sheer thrill of seeing and touching a document that an ancestor created.

I recently was able to view the declaration of intention to naturalize that my great-great-grandfather, John Herrel, filed at the Hamilton County Probate Court in 1881. The county’s surviving citizenship records are held at the University of Cincinnati Archives and Rare Books Library. You can read about the online database in which I discovered the record in my previous post, Planning My Visit to the University of Cincinnati Archives. I also talked briefly about my experiences at the library in A Fine First Day in Cincinnati.

The provenance of the records in this collection, as explained in “Hamilton County Citizenship Records, 1837-1916” on the UC Archives website, is an interesting one: “This collection of immigration records includes original and restored Declarations of Intention to Naturalize and Naturalization papers filed in Hamilton County approximately between 1837 and 1916. During a riot in 1884 the courthouse was burned and many records series were destroyed. A great number of the citizenship documents were lost forever but a significant number survived and others were restored.”

Due to the fragile nature of the documents, photocopying them is not permitted. I was, however, allowed to take a picture with my digital camera, and the GeniusScan app on my iPhone gave me a nice image.

Declaration of Intention


Personally appeared before me, the undersigned, Probate Judge and Ex-Officio Clerk of the PROBATE COURT within and for the County of Hamilton aforesaid
John Herrel
a native of Germany
aged about 21 years, bearing allegiance to the Emperor of Germany
who emigrated from Havre on the 7th day of August
1880 and arrived at New York on the 29th
day of August 1880, and who intends to reside within the jurisdiction and under

And he makes report of himself for NATURALIZATION, and declares on oath
that it is bona fide his intention to become a CITIZEN OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
and to forever renounce and abjure all ALLEGIANCE AND FIDELITY to every Foreign Prince, Potentate, State and Sovereignty whatsoever, and particularly to the
Emperor of Germany
(John Herrel)

Sworn to and subscribed before me this 25th day of March 1881
                                             Isaac B. Matson
                                             Probate Judge and Ex-Officio Clerk
         By Henry Rechtin
         Deputy Clerk

I HEREBY CERTIFY the foregoing to be a true copy of the original record.
In Testimony Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and affixed
The Seal of said Court, at Cincinnati, the day and year last above written.
                                             Isaac B. Matson
                                             Probate Judge and Ex-Officio Clerk
         By Henry Rechtin
         Deputy Clerk

In this case, the online database had accurately extracted all the pertinent information from the record. I didn’t discover anything new by viewing it in person. But that didn’t diminish the joy of holding a 131-year-old document, especially one that had somehow managed to survive a courthouse fire, in my own hands.

Hamilton County, Ohio, Citizenship Records, 1837-1916: loose items arranged alphabetically; see folder 24 (Heri-Hez), for 25 March 1881 declaration of intention by John Herrel; University of Cincinnati Archives and Rare Books Library, Cincinnati.

May 17, 2012

Wrapping Up a Great Time at NGS 2012

The whirlwind that swept through Cincinnati last week—otherwise known as the 2012 NGS Family History Conference—is officially a wrap. I spent a wonderful week going to classes, exploring exhibits, and just hanging out with people who are as passionate about genealogy as I am. Even with strategic planning, it was impossible to hear all the great speakers whose lectures I wanted to attend or get to every booth in the exhibit hall. And I didn’t even get a chance to talk to all of the other bloggers in attendance. I came home exhausted from the non-stop action, and am still processing everything.

The Belle of Cincinnati, seen during the ProGen dinner gathering
But no matter. I had a fabulous time and learned a lot. In my previous post, Genealogy on the Banks of the O-HI-O, I talked about what I took away from the first two days of the conference. Here are some of the gems I picked up from the sessions I attended on the last two days:

Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG, FUGA, FNGS, started off bright and early Friday morning with the enticingly titled, Okay, I ‘Got the Neighbors’: Now What Do I Do With Them? (F301)
Take away: By studying your family in the all-important context of their community, you can find friends, neighbors, and associates (FAN club members) that will lead you to previously unknown localities and families of origin.

Marianne S. Wokeck, PhD., spoke at the Palatines to America luncheon on Framing Genealogy: How Family Research Enriches the Ways in Which We See the World
Take away: Understanding your immigrant German ancestors, who uprooted their lives and transplanted themselves successfully in America, means considering the places, siblings, spouses, religion, and status that defined who they were and how they lived.

Patricia Moseley Van Skaik discussed When Do I Link in, Tweet, Facebook, or Flick? Social Media for the Professional Genealogist (F360)
Take away: Each type of social media has its strengths, weaknesses, and decision points, and using them wisely to convey who you are can build your credibility and help you engage successfully with other professionals, friends, and clients.

Paula Stuart-Warren, CG, FMGS, FUGA, got the ball rolling Saturday morning with Research Reports for Ourselves: More Than a Research Log (S411)
Take away: Treat your personal research with the respect it deserves by writing research reports containing elements that will help you reach solid conclusions and resume the research later, and that will allow future family members to understand and continue your work.

It seems like we were all seeking help with Information Overload
Elizabeth Shown Mills (credentials above) drew a packed house to her session, Information Overload? Effective Project Planning, Research, Data Management, and Analysis (S422)
Take away: Building on her previous lecture, this one addressed what to do with all of the FAN club people you’re researching, who don’t fit neatly into traditional genealogy software programs. Two tools—research plans and individual research notes—provide the framework to gather and analyze that important data.

David Ouimette, CG, talked about Using Excel to Compare Name Lists of Family Associates and Neighbors (S449)
Take away: By creating Excel spreadsheets, you can compile, sort, correlate, and find patterns in information from a wide variety of sources, including passenger lists, census records, church parish registers, city directories, store account books, and more.

Rev. David McDonald, CG, provided a fitting end to the conference with his Ten Top Tips to Concluding Effective Research (S451)
Take away: A last-minute substitute for another speaker, and totally unfazed by a non-working projector, Rev. McDonald was a delight to listen to. His tips for recognizing when it’s time to wrap up a project and move on were insightful, witty, and helpful.

I highly recommend all of the above lectures, as well as the ones I wrote about earlier. If you’re interested in ordering CDs from the NGS Conference, keep an eye on the JAMB recordings website. They should be available soon.

Maia's Books was a popular stop in the Exhibit Hall
Kudos to the National Genealogical Society, the Ohio Genealogical Society, and Hamilton County Genealogical Society for hosting such a great conference. I heard there were over 2100 people in attendance. The free WiFi in the convention hall and hotel, the mobile conference app, and the plentiful volunteers were much appreciated.

On a personal note, I want to say how much I enjoyed seeing "old" friends and making new ones. My days and nights were so much richer and more fun because they were spent in the company of fellow bloggers and researchers Susan Clark, Linda McCauley, Becky Wiseman, Laura Cosgrove Lorenzana, Kathy Reed, Kim von Aspern-Parker, Margel SoderbergTina Lyons, Harold Henderson, Kelly Holderbaum, Michael Hait, Jennifer Alford, Stephanie Fishman, Jennifer Holik, Karen Bennett, Judy Russell, Lisa AlzoKimberly PowellDeb Cyprych, and many others. To Susan in particular, my roommate extraordinaire, go my thanks as well as the hope she will never have to scrounge around for coffee (with cream) first thing in the morning again.

It was also a pleasure rubbing elbows with some of the country’s leading genealogical speakers and instructors, whose work I regard so highly. The field of genealogy has to have some of the nicest, most generous, and least pretentious professionals around. Even so, I'm still in awe of them. If you haven't already, you might want to check out Paula Stuart Warren’s blog and J. Mark Lowe’s blog. And if you have a challenging research question, you can try to Stump Craig Scott.

I left Cincinnati on Saturday afternoon, my head spinning from trying to absorb all I had done and heard. It was an unforgettable experience, and my only regret is that I couldn't stay one more night. 

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May 13, 2012

Special Mother's Day Edition

Happy Mother’s Day to two of the most important and loving women in my life:

My Mom

And my other Mom (aka mother-in-law)

Thank you both!

May 12, 2012

Genealogy on the Banks of the O-HI-O

We’ve just finished day three of the NGS 2012 Family History Conference, and genealogists are everywhere you turn in downtown Cincinnati. I’ve enjoyed a number of great lectures and a lot of good company. While my memory is fresh, I thought I’d share some take-away points from the sessions I attended the first two days.

J. Mark Lowe, CG, FUGA, presented Focusing on Pathways ‘Cross the Ohio River (W127)
Take-away: Use historical maps from the time period your ancestors migrated, such as those you can find on David Rumsey Map Collection, to find the rivers and trails they followed and the towns they may have stopped at along the way.

Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG, FUGA, FNGS, presented Genealogical Research and Writing: Are You a Saint, Sinner, or Bumfuzzled Soul? (W141)
Take-away: Changing a few words and citing your sources isn’t enough to avoid the dangers of plagiarism—you also need quotation marks when copying three or more words, and you need to ask permission if you want to use a substantial amount of material.

Barbara Vines Little, CG, FNGS, FVGS, presented Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury: The Evidence Presented Clearly Shows…  (W151)
Take-away: In a narrative proof summary, it’s important to discuss all the sources you looked at—including those where you didn’t find any evidence—and explain how they work together to support the claim you’re trying to prove.

The Exhibit Hall

Jana Sloan Broglin, CG, OGSF, presented Ohio: The Great Land Experiment (T215)
Take-away: Those looking for a challenge in land record research need look no further than Ohio, the first place land was measured in rectangular townships (oh, right, except for the part measured in metes and bounds) in multiple surveys handled through numerous land offices.

Craig Roberts Scott, CG, presented Pension Research: You Stopped Too Soon (T244)
Take-away: Understanding how the various pension acts affected which Revolutionary War veterans could receive payments, and knowing how to find records such as payment receipts, can lead you to valuable genealogical information.

Claire Bettag, CG, CGL, presented Assumptions: A Genealogical Slippery Slope (T251)
Take-away: Be careful about the assumptions you bring to your research, even unintentionally, in order to avoid making mistakes in your conclusions, and keep in mind that errors may exist even in sources of excellent quality.

I’ll leave you with some pictures from the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which I toured Thursday evening with fellow geneabloggers and friends Susan Clark (Nolichucky Roots) and Linda McCauley (Documenting the Details). NGS generously arranged for conference attendees to have the facility for the evening. It features powerful exhibits about the struggle for freedom that is such a big part of our country’s heritage, and frequently played out up and down the banks of the Ohio River.

One of two stunning tapestries expressing the struggle for freedom
Original slave holding pen, moved and reconstructed on site
Myself, Susan, and Linda

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May 8, 2012

A Fine First Day in Cincinnati

Well, the time for the 2012 National Genealogical Society Conference, “The Ohio River: Gateway to the Western Frontier,” has finally arrived. For me, it’s wonderful to have this conference so close to home. To those of you who are traveling from other states, welcome to Ohio!

I drove to Cincinnati this morning with my friend and colleague Stephanie Fishman of Corn and Cotton Genealogy and The In-Depth Genealogist. Our first stop was the Duke Energy Convention Hall to get our registration materials. NGS had everything well organized, and the process was quick and easy.

Then I was off to do a little pre-conference research. My first stop was the University of Cincinnati Archives and Rare Books Library. I was on a quest to get a digital picture of my great-great-grandfather’s 1881 Declaration of Intention. Parking and getting to the library on the UC campus was a challenge, but once I was there, everything went smoothly. I had called ahead as they suggest, and the librarian had the document ready and waiting for me. I'll share it here soon.

After I left UC, I drove to Vine Street Hill Cemetery, previously known as Carthage Road Cemetery. My great-great-grandparents, John and Mina Herrel, lived in Cincinnati from 1880 to about 1905. Sadly, that means that they buried three children in the city during those years. However, after viewing the cemetery records, it appears that the Herrel children buried there were not theirs. I’ll need to do more research to determine if they represent a previously unknown collateral line.

The office at Vine Street Hill Cemetery in Cincinnati

Back downtown, FamilySearch hosted an informative dinner program for bloggers at the Hyatt. Among the news they shared was:

  • Updated and new collections include Ohio Births, Ohio Marriages, Pennsylvania Marriages, Philadelphia and New York Passenger Lists, and various types of Civil War records
  • The 1940 Community Census Project has 650 societies participating and 460 blog ambassadors; for state status updates, see 
  • To date, FamilySearch has logged 170,000 new indexers in 2012
  • Six states have been published, eight states are at 100%, and eight more states are at 40%
  • Arbitration is pretty much keeping pace with indexing efforts, lagging only a day or two behind
  • If we keep going at the current rate, we could have the 1940 census fully indexed well ahead of schedule--perhaps as early as July
David Rencher of FamilySearch

Part of the attentive audience of bloggers
I’m looking forward to the start of the conference tomorrow morning. If you're at NGS, please keep an eye out for me and say hi!

May 6, 2012

But How Can I Choose? Tips for Picking Conference Lectures

I’m delighted to have been named one of the Official Bloggers for the NGS 2012 Family History Conference (thanks, NGS!). I’m busy getting things ready to go to Cincinnati, and a big part of that is trying to pick which lecture sessions I want to attend. But that’s no easy task—the NGS Conference has 10 lectures scheduled for each time period! Ten. And they all look great.

Obviously, you can’t be in all those places at once, much as you’d like to be. So how do you choose which sessions to go to?

Picking which sessions to attend is a subjective and highly individualized process. A lot of your choices will depend on your research interests and needs. I recommend going through the conference brochure and circling all the sessions that interest you in pencil. If you see some that you know right off the bat are “must sees” for you, circle them in pen. I use a red pen so I can see them clearly. Some people also mark an “x” through sessions they’re not interested in going to. Your brochure may begin to resemble a tic-tac-toe board, but that’s part of the fun.

NGS has made the full syllabus available online to those who pre-registered. This gives you the chance to study the sessions more closely. Even so, you may still be undecided for some time slots (I know I still am). With that in mind, here are a few questions I ask myself when selecting between lectures scheduled at the same time:
  • Is this a rare chance for me to hear a particular genealogist speak? 
  • Is one of the sessions likely to rely heavily on a visual demonstration? 
  • Will one of the sessions help me develop a skill or learn to use a type of record I’m likely to need frequently? 
  • Could I learn about one of the topics another way, perhaps at a local seminar?
  • Are both of the lectures I’m torn between being recorded? If not, I can go to the one that isn’t being recorded, and order a CD of the other one. Although I’ll miss the visual presentation, the bonus is that I’ll be able to listen to the one on CD multiple times. I usually end up ordering quite a few.
And one last tip: 
  • Be flexible. Sometimes I can’t choose ahead of time between two or three sessions. So I make a note of each of them, and then go to the one I feel like when the time comes. Or sometimes I end going to a completely different session I hadn’t really thought about in advance. There’s something to be said for following your mood and going with the flow. Remember that genealogical serendipity can happen anywhere, any time.

And you know what? You really can’t go wrong. There’s no such thing as the wrong decision, because all the speakers are top-notch. So don’t sweat the choices too much. Just come and have fun!

May 3, 2012

Planning My Visit to the University of Cincinnati Archives

I’ll be heading to Cincinnati a day before the NGS 2012 Family History Conference next week in order to do a little research. Cincinnati has a number of great libraries and archives, and the conference offers a good chance to explore them. Because my time will be limited, I’m trying to do a little prep work before I leave home to make the most of it. I’ve decided my first stop will be the University of Cincinnati Archives and Rare Books Library.

Did you know that City of Cincinnati birth and death records from 1865-1912 are available online? The UC Archives has digitized them and created a searchable database with images, aptly named Cincinnati Birth and Death Records, 1865-1912. I’ve already checked this collection for known family members, but want to go back through and look for others who might be collateral family.

UC has also created an online index to Hamilton County Wills, 1791-1901. I didn’t find a will that I need, but if you do, you can view it at the Archives & Rare Books Library or request a copy of it from them. Instructions are given on their Important Information for Genealogists webpage.

Another online resource is UC Library’s database of Hamilton County, Ohio Citizenship Records, 1837-1916. I found an abstract of a Declaration of Intention for my great-great-grandfather, John George Herrel, there. Because these records are so fragile, they cannot be photocopied. But you are permitted to take digital photographs of them, which is what I hope to do.

UC is one of seven repositories in the Ohio Network of American History Research Centers. You can find a list of the resources in UC's Ohio Network Collection here. These are primarily Cincinnati and Hamilton County local government records. If you have German ancestors, like I do, you might also want to check out their German-Americana Collection. I had fun looking through their "German American Caricature in Vintage Postcards" collection.

I’m glad I decided to write this post, because in doing so I discovered that the UC Archives requests that genealogical researchers call ahead for an appointment. You can find out how to do this on their Information for Genealogists page. I called and have an appointment set up for next Tuesday to see John Herrel's original Declaration of Intention, which he submitted in 1881. The librarian gave me some tips for parking, too.

If anyone reading this has been to the UC Archives and Rare Books Library, I’d be interested to hear about your experiences and suggestions. And for those of you with Cincinnati ancestors, I hope you find their online databases helpful!


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