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

 

CU Heritage image

Evidence Explained: An Interview with Elizabeth Shown Mills

Dipping into the Genealogy Pointers archives, we unearthed a fascinating interview with Elizabeth Shown Mills, author of “EVIDENCE EXPLAINED: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace.”

As one of the most respected and influential persons in American genealogy, Published widely in academic and popular presses, she was editor of the “National Genealogical Society Quarterly” (NGSQ) for 16 years.

Mrs. Mills has also taught for 13 years at a National Archives-based institute on archival records and, for 20 years, headed the program in advanced research methodology at Samford University in Alabama.

Mrs. Mills knows records, loves records, and regularly shares her expertise in them with audiences across three continents.

“EVIDENCE EXPLAINED” is Elizabeth Mills’ third major publication pertaining to source citation. Her earlier works include: “EVIDENCE! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian” (1997) and “QUICKSHEET: Citing Online Historical Resources “Evidence!” Style” (2005). The groundbreaking “EVIDENCE EXPLAINED” analyses citation principals and includes more than 1,000 citation models for virtually every source type. In the process, it covers all contemporary and electronic history sources–including digital, audio, and video sources–most of which are still not discussed in traditional style manuals.

“Genealogy Pointers” spoke with Mrs. Mills about the making “EVIDENCE EXPLAINED” and how researchers can benefit from it. Here are the exchanges from that conversation:

GENEALOGY POINTERS (GP): Why did you write this book?

ELIZABETH SHOWN MILLS (ESM): Researchers need help and want help, but what they need today is not available elsewhere. Those who study history now probe far beyond the materials covered by standard citation guides–combing long-ignored original, grassroots-level records for fresh insight into our world. Thanks to modern technology, billions of these original records are now easily accessible through many different media. However, today’s researchers also know two things: First, all these records are not created equal. Second, the real reason to carefully identify sources for each piece of information is to ensure that we use the best sources possible. Otherwise, we just can’t reach reliable conclusions. Analyzing evidence is no easy task, considering the volume of information available, the diversity of the records, all the quirks within each type of document, and all the media formats.

Since the 1997 publication of the original “briefcase edition” of “EVIDENCE!” (which compactly covers 100 of the most common types of history sources), researchers have deluged me with questions about thousands of other materials. I definitely understand their angst, after three decades of my own research in the archives of most western nations, as well as writing for journals and presses in several academic fields and 16 years of editing a major scholarly journal. The new “EVIDENCE EXPLAINED” draws on that experience–but it’s also rooted in four file drawers of inquiries and debates generated by the users of that first edition.

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