Making of America – A Resource You Shouldn’t Miss

By Carolyn L. Barkley

Sometimes in the course of my research an online source comes to my attention that is just too great not to write about. I know that many of you have already discovered Making of America. For those of you who have not, now is definitely the time. You’ll be glad you did as it will enhance your family history information either with direct information about an ancestor or with background information on an historical event in which your ancestor participated or a place in which he or she may have lived.

Making of America [MoA] is a collaboration between the University of Michigan and Cornell University, funded by an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant. It is a “digital library of primary sources in American social history.” The University of Michigan’s contribution focused on monographs in the areas of education, psychology, American history, sociology, science, technology, and religion and includes 10,281 volumes (as of June 2007) as well as 2,457 periodical issues. Cornell concentrated on the major journals from the period 1850 through 1877 and has contributed over 100,000 journal articles and 267 monographs. PLEASE NOTE that you must access MoA through both the University of Michigan site AND the Cornell University site in order to access the entire collection of images. Future plans call for the integration of the two collections.

For me, the University of Michigan collection was the easiest to search due to a subject browsing feature that facilitates your understanding of the available subjects and the frequency with which they appear. For example, a quick scan of the subject entries revealed ones for Dakota Territory – Description and Travel; Yellow Fever – Virginia, Yorkshire (England) – Genealogy, and Landowners-Maps-Michigan. When I checked the latter subject entry, I was taken to a fully digitized version of the Standard Atlas of Manistee County, Michigan (1903). If your ancestor lived in this county located on the shores of Lake Michigan, this atlas will be a wonderful find. You may also browse author and title lists. Browsing the author list, I found a publication written by James Turner Barclay entitled The City of the Great King: or Jerusalem As It Was, As It Is, And As It Is Said to Be. Since I do widely-defined Barclay research, this title was of interest to me. James Turner Barclay, a pharmacist from Charlottesville and Scottsville, Virginia, owned Monticello between 1831 and 1836 prior to his conversion to the Disciples of Christ and his being named by his church as “Bishop of Jerusalem.” Browsing the title list, I also found The Barclays of Boston by Mrs. Harrison Gray Otis (1854).

One nice feature of the Michigan site is the “book bag” that allows you to collect pages throughout your search session. They can then be emailed or saved to your desk top as text files. You can print a page by right clicking on the image and selecting “print picture,” or by clicking on your browser’s print button. While the latter may use two pieces of paper (only the first of which is the image you wanted), it does include the bibliographic citation at the top of the page, a nice way to stay on top of your documentation. In addition to this subject browse approach, you may also do basic, Boolean, proximity and bibliographic (narrowing your search to specific titles) searches. A history feature displays your search history enabling you to quickly return to a source.

The Cornell University site looks different, but provides basically the same search capabilities, and searches can be in combined books and journals, just books, or just journals. The subject browsing list is not as fully developed as on the Michigan site. There is no “book bag” feature. Pages print best if you go to the upper left hand corner and change the “view as” selection to PDF. This change will allow you to print the selected page on one piece of paper (no unwanted second page).  Journals include such titles as The American Missionary (1878-1901), The American Whig Review (1845-1852), the Atlantic Monthly (1857-1901), and Scientific American (1846-1869), among others. Of particular importance is Harper’s New Monthly Magazine (1850-1899). A broad search for “Massachusetts” in Harper’s located a wonderful, sixteen-page article on the Springfield (Massachusetts) Armory that provided a geographical description of the Springfield/Connecticut River area, a detailed description of the armory grounds and buildings as well as the barrel-making and musket manufacturing process, and several illustrations. As my great-grandfather worked in the armory shops as a “gun mechanic” about thirty years after the publication of the article, this formation will prove extremely useful as background for my research. In the August 1865 issue of Harper’s I found a ten-page article providing an “eye-witness” account of the capture of John Hunt Morgan and indicating that a “large portion of the Southern people [admired him] as “the most daring freebooter and the most lawless adventurer since the days of our childhood’s hero, Robin Hood.”

Of particular importance on the Cornell site is a full-text version of the Official Records of the United States and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion and the 128-volume War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. For anyone doing Civil War research, this access is wonderful and much much easier to search than earlier CD-Rom versions. Libraries that are unable to devote shelf space to so many volumes should make this site easily accessible to their customers. A search for the “12th North Carolina” yielded forty-two matches throughout the volumes among them an order of battle listing for General Daniel H. Hill’s division in the Seven Days Battle that included Brigadier General Samuel Garland’s third brigade containing the 12th North Carolina infantry. Other entries included a report by Garland on his activities during the Seven Days Battle—it mentioned two members of the 12th by name – and lists of casualties and the number of missing in the Peninsula Campaign. A search for “Lanfare” identified my 3rd great grand-uncle, Aaron Lanfare of the 1st Connecticut Cavalry. During the Appomattox campaign, he was mentioned in the report of Colonel Alexander C. M. Pennington of the First Brigade of the 3rd Cavalry Division in which Pennington detailed his activities from 29 March through 15 April. On 1 April, the 1st Connecticut Cavalry captured two pieces of field artillery (3-inch rifles), the first confiscated by Major Goodwin, the osecond by Lt. Lanfare. Also noted in the Official Records is the fact that five days later, on 6 April, Lanfare would earn a Medal of Honor for capturing the flag of the 11th Florida Infantry during the battle at Sailor’s [Saylor’s] Creek, Virginia. (Please note that a high number of hits on a term may occur because the volume index entries are included.)

If you are using material from these sites, please remember the restrictions of the copyright law. The Cornell site specifically states that the material is to be used for personal or professional research only. “Any other use, including but not limited to commercial or scholarly reproductions, redistribution, publication, or transmission, whether by electronic means or otherwise, without prior written permission of the Library is prohibited.” If you are in doubt as to whether your intended use is permitted or not, err on the side of asking permission.

These examples illustrate only a few of the gems that can be found by searching the Making of America sites. Be sure to think of them when you’re fleshing out the story of your ancestors. Bookmark the sites for easy access and share them with your friends or library patrons.


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