Irish American, Dublin Chronicle

Early Newspaper Genealogy

Newspapers of present and past can be a great genealogy resource, especially for marriage and obituary notices. In fact, early newspapers are sometimes the ONLY available resource of genealogical information for a particular city, county or point in time.

Not long ago, the process of searching through newspaper archives was incredibly laborious, since 18th- and 19th-century newspapers are not indexed, which means searching through stacks and reels of microfilm. Fortunately for us, a number of dedicated genealogists have taken on the assignment of sifting through early newspapers to find buried genealogical information. These efforts have yielded book-length collections of marriage, death, or other vital records; they have also compiled lists of passengers, public officials, college graduates, members of committees of correspondence, addressees of unclaimed letters, and other items of genealogical value.

Early New Haven, Connecticut newspapers, in particular, are rich in data on individuals who might not otherwise appear in the public records. “Genealogical Data from Colonial New Haven Newspapers,” written jointly by Kenneth Scott and Rosanne Conway, contains abstracts of all items concerned with persons in New England mentioned in New Haven newspapers between 1755 and the outbreak of the Revolution.

Another example, The Irish-American, a weekly newspaper published in New York City for the edification of the Irish immigrant population, began publication in August 1849, at the height of the great exodus from Ireland. Besides community news, this newspaper also ran a popular classified section for people seeking information on relatives and friends who had recently taken up residence in the U.S. This resource, by Laura Murphy DeGrazia and Diane Fitzpatrick Haberstroh, contains over 8,500 names of Irish friends and relatives, some of which cannot be located elsewhere.

Additional resources related to old newspaper genealogy can be found here.

Image Credit: By Osioni at en.wikipedia [Public domain or Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

federal census record photo

State Census Records

What first comes to mind when genealogists think of census records are the federal censuses that are constitutionally mandated and occur every ten years. The purpose of the federal census is to count the number of people living in the United States in order to apportion Congressional districts. For the first censuses, which began in 1790, getting a head count of people is really all it did. In the early years, from 1790-1840, only the head of household is listed and the number of household members in selected age groups. Beginning in 1850 and continuing through the 1940 census, details are provided for all individuals in each household, such as names of family members; their ages at that certain point in time; their state or country of birth; their parent’s birthplaces; year of immigration; marriage status; occupation(s); etc. Not all of this information is available for every person in every census, however. As years passed, the census became a way to gather even more data about the nation, such as health, housing, employment, growth, and other statistics.

State censuses, because they were taken randomly, remain a much under-utilized resource in American genealogy. State census records not only serve as a substitute for some of the missing 1790, 1800, 1810 and 1890 federal censuses, but they are also valuable population enumerations. State censuses are also important resources because some states asked different questions than the federal census and they were opened to the public faster; some state censuses taken as recently as 1945 are already available.

1905 kansas state census record

From the Census.gov website: “The Kansas State Board of Agriculture conducted a census
of the state in 1905 (questionnaire above). The census collected the names of all members of household and their age, sex, race or color, and state or country of birth. The census also collected information about members’ state or
country of origin and military service.”

 

To find out what state censuses exist, what kinds of information they contain, and importantly, where they can be found, reference Ann Lainhart’s first comprehensive list of state census records ever published. State by state, year by year, country by county and district by district, this reference publication is the definitive guide to state census records, even used as source information on the government’s census website.

 

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons, 1920 Census Kennedy Carr; Census.gov, State Censuses.

 

West Virginia

West Virginia – Spotlight on the Mountain State

“West Virginia, mountain momma, take me home, country roads.” John Denver’s anthem speaks to the state’s humble beginnings and the hearts of generations living there.

Following an earlier unsuccessful attempt in 1769, on June 20, 1863, West Virginia, or as the locals call it, the “Mountain State,” broke away from the eastern counties of Virginia over the issue of secession and became the 35th state to be admitted into the Union. Land of rugged mountains, West Virginia has the highest altitude east of the Mississippi River and also has the largest single natural scenic and outdoor recreational area in the eastern United States. The state’s motto, Montani Semper Liberi – Mountaineers Always Free – tells the tale of West Virginia’s first settlers.

By the time the Constitution had been ratified, Virginia’s western counties encompassed over 50,000 inhabitants, many of whom came from nearby Pennsylvania and Maryland. The majority of colonial West Virginia settlers were English, but a third of the population was reported to be German. In addition, those of Scotch-Irish decent inhabited West Virginia’s least accessible and mountainous terrain. Since the local economy was dominated by subsistence agriculture, and, in any case, would not support a plantation economy, there were scarcely any persons of African-American birth living along the Blue Ridge until after the Civil War.

The history of the state and its people, from the Upper Monongalia Valley to the Lower Shenandoah Valley can be vast, therefore, genealogical references materials can help locate and research 18th and 19th-centrury relatives. “Early West Virginia Settlers,” for example, is a CD that contains the records of 200,000 early West Virginia settlers. The CD’s contents consist of wills, land grants, marriage records, military records, family histories, and local histories. To browse a wider selection West Virginia publications available from Genealogical.com, click on the following link here.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons, the Proposed State of Kanawha

Ship passenger lists

The Pitfalls of Passenger Lists

Michael Tepper is a leading authority on passenger and immigration lists in the U.S. He is the author of “American Passenger Arrival Records,” which is a road map through the tens of millions of records and resources documenting immigrant arrivals from the time of the earliest settlements to the passage of the Quota Acts of the 1920s.

The following is an excerpt of an interview from Genealogy Pointers about some of the problems researchers run into when they are on the trail of an immigrant ancestor.

GP: “What would you say is the most common misconception about passenger lists?”

MT: “Almost certainly it is the belief that people had their names changed when they got to Ellis Island. In fact, immigrants did not change their names unless they applied for a change of name by deed poll at a courthouse or when they were naturalized. During processing at Ellis Island, officials had the actual ships’ manifests in front of them. They called each immigrant by name, according to the manifests, and often put a check next to the name after it had been called. So the passenger records are an exact reflection of the immigrants’ identities before they crossed the Atlantic, not after.”

GP: “Are there other false assumptions about passenger lists?”

MT: “Among Americans of relatively recent ancestry, say researchers whose immigrant forebears arrived after 1850, there is the belief that official passenger lists must also exist for the Colonial and Early National periods of our history. The fact is they don’t. No colony-wide or U.S. law requiring the compiling of immigration records was enacted before 1820. The only immigration records prior to 1820 to have survived are really kind of quirky. For instance, we have lists of German immigrants who immigrated to colonies like Pennsylvania because the authorities, intent on keeping tabs on these newcomers, required them to take a loyalty oath. Also, some of the most important published immigration records are not immigration records at all, but land records, such as Nugent’s “Cavaliers And Pioneers” and Skordas’s “Early Settlers Of Maryland,” which identify early immigrants taking up land grants.”

GP: “Let’s turn that situation around. Can you think of an instance when surviving records are frequently overlooked?”

MT: “Yes. Here’s a common mistake that’s made by researchers hoping to find an ancestor during the 1840s. Let’s say the genealogist is looking for a Sean O’Shaunessey, who is supposed to have come from Dublin to New York in June of 1849. The researcher finds a Sean in the official Customs Passenger Lists; however, because the record indicates that his country of origin is Great Britain, not Ireland, the genealogist concludes, mistakenly, that this Sean is not his relative. This is an error that could have been avoided had the researcher known that shipping agents, or bursars, or others who were responsible for compiling the ships’ manifests were far more likely to write ‘Great Britain’ and not Ireland as Sean’s country of origin during the 1840s because Ireland was, in fact, officially part of Great Britain.”

Image credit: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

 

Evernote for the Genealogist

Evernote for the Genealogist

As a working professional, I was forced to look for an organizational solution to my compulsive note-taking problem. I used to carry around a small notepad and a package of sticky notes. My two companions lived in my backpack as a student, on my desk at work, even in my purse as an adult. My scribbles followed me: from my colorful tabs of commentary peeking from between the pages of my books to important thoughts in meetings to my grocery list, my tiny paper trail kept me organized.

After losing one too many notepads, I started to jot my notes-to-self on my iPhone. This was a vast improvement, but not quite there. When I found my solution in the free app Evernote, I didn’t realize I was using an awesome tool for a genealogist to solve my personal organizational struggle.

Evernote is an app that has thankfully replaced my paper system. I can take notes, keep track of online articles I want to read later, open spreadsheets and other documents on my mobile device, use it as a calendar and planner, and even record passages from my e-reader.

While I use Evernote on my iPad or iPhone, I can sync what I’m working on to my computer as well. I can seamlessly move back and forth between my linked devices – two computers and three digital devices – keeping all of my notes and research in one central location. It’s password protected, giving me peace of mind that my important information is safe.

The best part? I’ll say it again, Evernote is free!

In her blog post Evernote and Genealogy: They’re Made for Each Other, Alona Tester gives a great introduction of how and why to use Evernote for genealogical research.

Think of Evernote as a shelf of blank notebooks that you can jot down all your little notes and add in those newspaper and any other clippings you find that are relevant too (you know, old-school scrapbook-style), while still keeping them in a relevant notebook … that’s what Evernote allows you to to do digitally. Yes, seriously!

Evernote Tips: The 11 Amazing Features That Make Using Evernote So Freaking Awesome

Just think if you had digital notebooks for each family group? Or for your local history study? Or a particular topic that you are researching? Or a to-do notebook? It gives you a place to enter notes that you currently have on scraps of paper everywhere (I know we all have them), as well as filing them into a relevant folder.

Additional information: To learn more about Evernote this video is a great place to start. Ready to try it? Download it for your computer or device. Evernote thinks it’s a great fit for genealogists too! Cyndi’s List has an entire category devoted to Evernote, and an entire Evernote blog to accompany it.

We’d like to thank Alona Tester for allowing us to reprint her work.

Image Credit: Evernote.com