Thursday at IGHR, we learned to get smart about finding clues in newspapers. We examined the acquisition of lands and the federal, state, and local records that emerged. We explored wills, the intestate, and the path through probate — a path to some of genealogy’s most valuable gems. (This diary began at Sunday’s Orientation.)
Thursday, June 16, 2016
Waiting for everyone to arrive this morning, I had an illuminating conversation with a classmate. Her mother had pursued genealogy passionately, saving absolutely everything. And copies of everything.
When her mother died, this classmate found herself the heir apparent, inheriting the forty boxes and four file cabinets filled with genealogical research. Sorting it has been a challenge. For me, storing it would be impossible.
A few weeks ago, I had a colleague email me after having a similar situation surface in her husband’s family. This is one of the many reasons that I believe strongly in a paperless ideal in genealogical research — now that we have digital options.
How many genealogists will leave behind paper mountains with no heir apparent? Digitizing and organizing the records efficiently, however, offers the hope that someone will preserve the data, even if they do not care about it personally. And it makes us more effective in our own research.
Stay tuned for blog posts categorized as “Go-anywhere, paper-free solutions” for ideas about how to make this possible.
But I digress. Let’s talk about another wonderful day at IGHR.
Locating historic newspapers
I confess I did not expect to get much from this lecture that I had not already encountered in graduate school. Newspapers made up a heavy portion of my dissertation research. Almost immediately, though, Angela McGhie showed us a WOW resource. It would have been useful in graduate school, but is made for genealogy. Stanford’s digital project is called, “The Growth of Newspapers Across the U.S.: 1690-2011.” The beauty of this for genealogy lies in its power to zoom in on a time and place and discover what newspapers were in operation.
In the image above, I chose the year 1821 and clicked in central Alabama. It brought up the Alabama Watchman, which was being published in the capitol town of Cahawba at that time. If you want to find other area newspapers that might enrich your story or fill in gaps, you have this visual representation showing you which newspapers were in the same vicinity at that time.
Angela introduced us to many sites that link us to newspapers, loan the microfilm, or even do the searches for you. She identified her own favorite site, and one I am eager to experiment with, the “Newspapers!” page of The Ancestor Hunt website. The site owner Kenneth R. Marks of Peoria, AZ, offers instruction in the many nuances of newspaper research.
Perhaps most useful of all to me today, I recognized how valuable it will be to read my ancestor’s local area newspapers. The keyword searches are a godsend, particularly in large towns, but nothing can substitute for the immersion in the time and place that comes from reading the newspaper the way they did. Page by page.
Federal land records
Angela has taught us very ably on several subjects this week, but mid-morning she took up her own particular area of expertise, federal land records. It opened up a whole new understanding for me. I simply haven’t pursued federal land sources in my family quest before today. And what I’ve missed. She pointed out the essential Bureau of Land Management database, and I brought it up on my iPad while she lectured. In minutes, I’d found four pieces of property my 2x great-grandfather James C. Burson owned. While I’d been aware he owned land, I had no idea it was bounty land. I opened the patent document and there was the reference to his service in the Creek War.
It had never occurred to me that I had an ancestor in that fight. Once again, it was one of those snippets of knowledge that make me SO glad I chose to get formal training. Sure, I would have found this eventually, but how much time and money might I have wasted on less-direct paths to the knowledge?
Angela also provided the run-down of how a person went about acquiring federal land. I found this particularly helpful in understanding what records might be found where. It will help me to make sense of the notations on records, as my ancestors paid their land debts off.
With or without a will: the probate process
The discovery of a will is the mother lode for us. The rich detail can solve tricky problems and fill in the pesky gaps in the family story. Making sense of the will, though, and knowing all the other documents that were likely drawn up with it — that requires some special knowledge.
We had two sessions today by The Legal Genealogist, lawyer Judy Russell, whose blog is legendary in genealogical circles. She has put her law experience to work in making sense of our ancestral courts and laws — to the degree that they can be made sensible.
Judy had us laughing as we learned, because our forefather’s legal wranglings are often anything but sensible to our modern minds. As she unraveled layer upon layer of infrastructure and terminology, I became conscious for the first time just how complex this one aspect of genealogy can be. This is why genealogists are specializing — and why the rest of us need to lean on them every chance we have.
In this lecture, Judy made sense of how our ancestors handled wills and the absence of them. I was particularly interested in all she taught us about the guardianship of children. I have a number of situations in my own family tree in which children were raised by someone other than their birth parents. I hope to be able to make my way through that labyrinth with more skill for having spent this time.
Order in the court: using court records in genealogical research
Judy Russell’s lecture on courts and court records opened my eyes. Her diagrams of the flow of legal work through the court systems demonstrated just how complex this can be. Worse, she tells us, any given locality in any given time could tailor its own system to the circumstances of the moment.
So, as we pursue court records in a new place, the first question has to be, “How did it work here?” With this, as with Blaine Bettinger’s lectures on genetic genealogy, I recognize that we GEGs will need all the help we can get to make sense of the complexities. I will be keeping up with Judy’s discussions on “The Legal Genealogist.” I’m glad to know we have this place to pose questions. There will be questions.
Researching state and local land records
My apologies to Gerald Smith, but a migraine took me out before I could take advantage of this lecture. I know I would have learned much, and I am grateful to have the course handouts. I encourage my Course 2 classmates to use the Comments section below to share what they learned.
Each day, I think the docket can’t possibly improve on the day before, but today was absolutely Golden Egg top-notch. I don’t think five minutes passed that I didn’t learn something new and valuable, if not outright surprising. What can tomorrow possibly bring?