October 13, 2013

Ballenger Ancestors: Saturday Night Genealogy Fun

Randy Seaver, author of Genea-Musings, always comes up with a fun challenge each weekend. This time he prompted me to explore a genealogical numbering system I’ve never used before. Here’s his “mission”:

Your mission, should you decide to accept it (cue the Mission Impossible! music) is to:

1)  Do you know what a "Henry Number" is?  It is a descendant numbering system from a specific person. The Wikipedia article for Genealogical Numbering Systems describes it as:

"The Henry System is a descending system created by Reginald Buchanan Henry for a genealogy of the families of the presidents of the United States that he wrote in 1935.[3] It can be organized either by generation or not. The system begins with 1. The oldest child becomes 11, the next child is 12, and so on. The oldest child of 11 is 111, the next 112, and so on. The system allows one to derive an ancestor's relationship based on their number. For example, 621 is the first child of 62, who is the second child of 6, who is the sixth child of his parents.  In the Henry System, when there are more than nine children, X is used for the 10th child, A is used for the 11th child, B is used for the 12th child, and so on. In the Modified Henry System, when there are more than nine children, numbers greater than nine are placed in parentheses."

2)  Go to your first known ancestor with your birth surname and calculate your Henry Number from that person.  Show each generation of your line of ancestors with your birth surname with their Henry numbers.

3)  How did you calculate the Henry numbers?  What do these numbers tell you?

4)  Tell us in your own blog post, in a comment on this blog post, or in a Facebook or Google+ post.

My first known ancestor with my birth surname, Ballenger, is Charles Ballenger, born 29 March 1815, possibly in Fairfax County, Virginia. He lived most of his adult life in Athens County, Ohio, then moved to Delaware County, where he died 19 October 1891. According to the Henry system that Randy explained, Charles is ancestor number 1.

Here is my Ballenger line with their Henry numbers:
1             Charles Ballenger (1815-1891)
18           James Madison Ballenger (1855-1913)
181          Charles Cleveland Ballenger (1882-1953)
1813        Lloyd Russell Ballenger (1911-2002)
18132      Edward Ballenger (living)
181321    Shelley Ballenger Bishop (living)

Figuring out the Henry numbers was relatively easy, because I already have a complete list of the children in each generation. I simply went to my family database in Reunion for Mac, my software of choice, and found the birth order for each of my direct ancestors (all males, since this is my birth surname). I also consulted a previous blog post, Surname Saturday: Ballenger Family, which gives the names of everyone in the families. I had to make one decision: whether or not to count an unnamed infant who lived only four hours (she was an older sister of Lloyd Ballenger, my grandfather). I did count her, because she was a very real baby to her parents, which made Lloyd their third-born child.

The most widely accepted genealogical numbering systems today are the Register System, developed in 1870 and used by the New England Historic and Genealogical Register, and the NGSQ System, developed in 1912 by the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. The NGSQ System is sometimes called the Modified Register System. A short book published by the National Genealogical Society called Numbering Your Genealogy provides a good overview of both of these systems, and it also briefly describes the Henry System.

While I don’t think I’ll ever use the Henry System in my own research or writing, it was fun to experiment with it. I’ve read about it before, but there’s nothing like a good hands-on exercise to help me understand it. Isn’t that true of a lot of things?


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  1. Happy Blogiversary Shelley! Congrats on 3 years of blogging.

    1. Thanks so much, Karen! It had slipped past me, so a special thanks for the reminder!


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