Newspapers offer a wealth of information for a genealogist. Not only do they provide insights into historic events that touched the lives of our ancestors, they can also contain specific information about our family members. Published announcements can document events such as births, deaths, obituaries, engagements, and weddings; articles about social events, appointments to companies, legal notices, etc. can provide rich contextual details about your ancestors’ lives.
As a valued Community Member, you enjoy free access to more than 2 million newspaper pages at Mocavo. What are you waiting for, discover the headlines that shaped the lives of your ancestors now.
I’ve just returned from several days at the Archives of Michigan in Lansing. I was the featured speaker for the annual Abrams Foundation Family History Seminar. There were a number of other speakers, and a great turnout. While I was there, I got to explore the archives and the Library of Michigan, which are both parts of the Michigan Historical Center in downtown Lansing. If you have Michigan ancestors, a visit here (at least virtually, if not in person) is a must.
The library’s collection focuses on printed sources. They have an extensive collection of local and country histories, and transcriptions of records (cemeteries, etc.) from all over Michigan. Many of these were small print runs or typescripts that might be difficult to find elsewhere. There is also a large collection of city directories.
One of my favorite parts of my day at the library was working with the extensive collection of newspapers. So many older newspapers are available online now, but there is still a giant hole between the start of the twentieth century and the 1990s when newspapers started going online. I found a large number of obituaries in this time period that has helped me identify and located modern-day Franklin descendants. Unfortunately the library is a bit behind the times. The only microfilm scanner produced images that were so bad that I ended up printing out the obituaries because they were so much better.
The Archives of Michigan is on the other side of the building from the library. In contrast to the library, the archives has taken steps to implement technology to improve the customer experience. Starting with registration, where you are assigned a photo identification card with a bar code, which allows you to be processed in and out of the facility very quickly. They have a state-of-the-art scanner for microfilm. Even more interesting is their setup for digital images of manuscript items. They have an iPad on a flexible stand holds it above the items at whatever distance you like. When you are done photographing the manuscripts, a PDF file is created which can be downloaded to a flash drive or emailed to you (your choice).
A few years ago the Abrams Foundation Historical Collection was transferred from the library to the archives. Over the past thirty years, the Talbert and Leota Abrams Foundation has donated more then $2 million for the collection and for creating resources for genealogists, including the annual seminar.
Over the last few years, the archives has been actively working to provide resources to genealogists through a new website, Seeking Michigan. In addition to advice on getting started, there are dozens of guides to help with many different types of records in the collection. They are also working to digitize records and make them available online, such as Michigan death records and the Michigan state census.
If your ancestors spent any time at all in Michigan, spend some time with the library and the archives. You will find a plethora of records to assist you in your search.
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This week’s stories range from George Washington and Henry Knox to Twitter and the Digital Public Library of America. I hope you find them as interesting and informative as I do.
We start with a post from Myra Vanderpool Gormley’s blog, Shaking Family Trees. As part of a project to write about her research subjects at least once each week (known as the 52 Ancestors project among bloggers), she recently wrote about the husband of Mary Vanderpoel, Joseph-Louis, Chevalier d’Anterroches. Documentation of their courtship and marriage comes from a letter written by Henry Knox to his old boss, George Washington. It seems Washington received a letter from the Chevalier’s mother, and asked Knox to find out more about him. Read more of the story in #28-52ancestors: d’Anterroches-Vanderpoel: Surprising French Connection.
WBAY in Green Bay, Wisconsin, reported on an interesting story out of the town of Eureka. The Wagoner family, doing renovations on the kitchen of a farmhouse, found a ledger in the ceiling. This was not just any ledger, however, it dated from 1865 and contained a roster of Civil War soldiers from the 42nd Regiment of the Wisconsin volunteer Infantry. Read more, and watch a video story, in Civil War Ledger Found in Eureka.
Patrick Allan wrote a moving piece yesterday for Lifehacker. A few years ago, Herbert and Zelmyra Fisher participated in a Twitter chat question and answer session. What made this chat so special? Both Herbert and Zelmyra were centenarians. They were the longest-married couple in history. They were married for 87 years before Herbert passed away at the age of 105 in 2011. Allan wrote about some of the answer they gave about married life. Read more in Marriage Advice from the World’s Longest Married Couple.
Chrisopher Mims writes for the Digits blog for the Wall Street Journal. This week he wrote about cybersecurity. He had a conversation with cybersecurity consultant Michael B. Williams so he could become part of the 1% — “that one in 100 people whose online life is secure enough that hackers just can’t be bothered to try to break into their accounts.” Read more, and get his tips in Commentary: What I learned, and What You Should Know, After I Published my Twitter Password.
The Digital Public Library of America is a non-profit project to take materials from libraries, archive, and museums around the country and make them available to the public around the world. Larry Kaukam is retired from the Central Library Rochester and Monroe County, New York, where one of his responsibilities was family history. He recently wrote a piece for their news section to discuss how DPLA can be useful to genealogists, including a discussion of a curated exhibition, Leaving Europe, about those who came to America in the 19th century. Read more in Finding Family Information Through DPLA.
This weekend, as part of my birthday celebration, I got to do one of my favorite things. I went to the Brimfield Fair with friends. The fair is a long-standing New England tradition. It started back in the 1950s. My mother used to do with her father when she was a girl. It is now the largest outdoor antiques show in the country. Located in the quaint town of Brimfield in western Massachusetts, the show runs along a half-mile section of Route 20. Dealers extend back hundreds of feet from either side of the road.
The stands are filled with everything from small collectibles to large pieces of furniture. Dealers come from all over the country to sell here. Tens of thousands of people walk through the fields during the course of the week. As a genealogist, I was in seventh heaven combing through the stalls. While much of it can be junk, many valuable things can be found.
One of the first things I saw when moving through the stands was a chest of drawers, about four feet high and the same wide, with three large drawers. It was panted with high gloss black paint, two cannon were painted across the front. On the top was the name of a captain in the Royal Navy, and the name of a ship. The date 1861 was written across the front. It was a beautiful piece, but the dealer want almost $1,000 for it, which was way out of my budget.
You my find small antiques, however, that speak to your ancestors. Kitchen furnishings, farming implements, occupational tools, and more, can show you how your ancestor lived.
Two stalls away, however, I found a beautiful, large family Bible. While it is common to find such large Bibles with family information recorded, this was practiced more by Protestants than it was by Catholics. What made this Bible special is that it was an 1844 Catholic Bible, with a two-generation family record in the section between the Old and New Testaments. I purchased it for $40, and have already traced several living descendants whom I will soon contact so as to repatriate the Bible to family members.
The best part of the show for me, however, were the dealers who had ephemera. These are loose papers and other items that were intended to be discarded once they fulfilled their original use. Among these items one might find:
- letters and notes
- greeting cards
- appointments books
Of course, the best finds you might make are papers dealing with your own family. But you may find papers that can help you put your own family in context. For example, tax bills can show you what the rates were like in the town where they lived or school bills might show you how much they paid to educate their children.
I found a book presented by the church to a couple on their marriage day. It detailed the church’s beliefs about marriage and the rights and responsibilities of the married couple. Even if it weren’t your ancestors’ marriage record, it would help you understand more about them if they attended the same church that presented the book.
Antique shops and fairs can be wonderful resources for genealogists. When you visit places where your ancestors lived, check out the local shops for materials that might be useful to you. But don’t forget, antique stores anywhere can be very helpful. Items, especially paper, can travel very far afield. One of the items I picked up was a receipt dated November 1931 for the rent of an apartment — in Shanghai, China. So keep your eyes open where you go!
I sat on a panel once with another novelist and a distinguished African-American critic, to discuss Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” The critic said, “Of course, as a white woman, Stowe had no right to write the black experience.” The other novelist said lightly, “No, of course not. And I had no right to write about 14th-century Scandinavians. Which I did.”
The exchange made me wonder: who has the right to our stories?
The rest of the opinion piece is an interesting discussion of that question. Reading it, I could not help but think of a similar discussion that perpetually erupts in the genealogy world: who has the right to write our ancestors’ stories?
The first part of the conflict settles around factual research: the dates and places of events that took place during a person’s life, especially birth, marriage, and death. Often a great deal of research needs to take place for an individual to find this information. But conducting a large amount of research does not give one proprietary rights to the information. Facts cannot be copyrighted. The way in which you present the facts (eg., the language you use, etc.)can be protected by copyright. But the fact that someone was born on a certain date, or joined a particular society or organization, etc, cannot be copyrighted. That information can be used by anyone.
But beyond the facts are the stories we uncover. The service of a third-great-grandfather in the Civil War. The volunteerism of a great-grandmother in her church group. The conviction of an ancestral uncle as a horse thief.
Sometimes researchers get very proprietary about the stories that they uncover. Once again, one can only copyright the way in which the stories were told. If they are factual stories (and one presumes that if you are writing stories about your family, it is not fiction), the facts cannot be copyrighted. Anyone is free to tell these stories as well.
One of the major issues we run into with telling stories is not only who has the rights to them, but whether or not they should be published or shared with the world. Many people may disagree with an ancestor’s actions or words, or they may be embarrassed by them and not wish to be associated with them.
My rule of thumb is not to publish stories about living people without their permission (one does not wish to open one’s self up to a libel suit). I also do not share things about people one generation away from living people, unless there is a very compelling reason to do so. And this can be a tricky decision.
During the course of my research, I knew that as a teenager my paternal grandmother lost her mother. And her father (who died when I was only a year old) was not a very pleasant man (to put it charitably).
Research uncovered the fact that her father, Joseph Dubé, was involved in a barroom brawl that ended with a young man being so severely injured he died. Joseph was sentenced in Lewiston, Maine, to a year in prison. After his release, the family moved to Central Falls, R.I. Because this occurred before my grandmother was born, I never knew if she knew the facts about her father. But because she was in her late 80s when I discovered the information, I decided not to share it with her.
It did shed new light on Joseph’s story, however. He was only 21 years old when the fight occurred. At that age, we all did dumb things we are not necessarily proud of, and make poor choices. So now, instead of being a mean old man, I wonder: was he involved in the brawl because he was a mean person deep inside, or did he make a mistake as a young man when he got drunk; a mistake that he spent the rest of his life regretting because it cost a life, and it turned him very bitter. And who is the one to decide which of those stories is true?
For the most part, the reality is that any of us can publish any stories about our ancestors that we find. The important thing is to do your own research, and don’t violate anyone else’s copyright. And, for me at least, it is important to not publish things that would intentionally hurt a living person. My grandmother was the last of her siblings to survive. Once she passed, I had no problem discussing her father’s story. But I would not do so while she herself might be hurt by it.
We asked and you answered!
Last week we asked ”Have you ever used nonpopulation census schedules in your research.”
Nonpopulation census schedules sure are popular with the Mocavo Community! More than 90% of the community has used at least one of the different types of nonpopulation census schedules. The most used nonpopulation census schedules are mortality and agriculture.
Did you know that you can search the United States Federal Census for free at Mocavo? Start making discoveries now in the US Federal Census.
This week’s news roundup takes us on a quite a journey. We start with a discussion about DNA and genealogy, then Judy Russell explains to us what a prothonotary is, and then learn about good news for those looking at the family history of adoptees in Illinois. We finish up with two stories about people finding interesting stories in their family history.
The Scientist is a magazine for life science professionals. This week an article was published that discusses the boom of DNA testing in the field of family history. One of the interviewed experts states “We have a generally low genetic literacy in the U.S. and elsewhere. . . If someone misunderstands what a test means, or is unhappy with the service, oftentimes it is the result of not understanding what they’re buying.” You can read more in DNA Ancestry for All.
Judy Russell is one of the most helpful genealogy bloggers out there. This week she helps us understand another term: the prothonotary. She starts with an apocryphal story about Harry Truman. “The story is told of President Harry Truman being introduced to a prothonotary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and, in typical Trumanesque fashion, asking the question. ‘What the hell is a prothonotary?’” Find out exactly what a prothonotary is in Of Clerks and Fences.
Adoptees and their descendants just got great news from the state of Illinois. Recognizing the importance to those who were adopted of understanding their family history, especially in terms of medical issues, the governor of Illinois this week signed a new law that will allow them access to the original birth certificates, which have heretofore been closed. Find out more on the story from WLS in Chicago in New Law Helps Illinois Adoptees Seeking Family History.
Mission Local is a project of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California/Berkeley. Elizabeth Creely relocated to San Francisco twenty-three years ago, settling in the Mission district. Little did she know that her new home was within a block of where her great-great-grandparents lived. She has since learned of the great contributions these Irish immigrants and their descendants have made. Read more about their story in The Irish Mission: A Family History.
Like most American schoolchildren, thirty-seven-year-old Trent Megill learned the story of the most well-known feud in American history: the Hatfields and the McCoys. A few months ago, during the course of researching his family history, he discovered that his ancestors were involved in their own feud in Florida; one between the Whitehurst and Stevenson families that cost more than a dozen lives. Read more in Genealogy Research Reveals Blood Feud Between Local Families.