Pssst! You over there!
Yes, you, the one peering at the Ellis Island passenger manifest on the high-resolution monitor. You need this:
This comes courtesy of JewishGen. The chart focuses on U.S. passenger lists, and is an encyclopedic look at all the squiggles, cryptic initialings, stamped words and everything else that makes a manifest such a joy to interpret (cough).
As they always say, finding the document is the fun part. Reading it is another matter. And with passenger lists, the annotations can tell an important part of the story, so you really should know what it is you are looking at. Annotations are an education in themselves, and this guide is a great place to start.
Resource Spotlight provides a look at handy toolbox items I’ve bookmarked over the years.
I’ve joined an upcoming study group focused on Thomas W. Jones’ instant classic Mastering Genealogical Proof, a book that I sincerely urge you to read, and I am not even Dr. Jones’ agent.
I had the good fortune to take in Dr. Jones’ teaching skills as an online student of the Boston University Genealogical Certification course a couple of years ago. I can tell you he was (is) very big on timelines. (In fact, I might have scribbled in my notes: “What is it with this guy and timelines?”)
But truly, if I had to pick a Top Three of things I learned at BU that really charged up my research skills, timelines would be right there. Despite editing many a timeline chart during my newspaper years, I never really used them in my genealogy the way Dr. Jones said they could be used.
And boy, was I missing out.
Here are three vital things timelines can do:
1. They highlight significant details you might have missed the first time you read critical information.
I’ve been tracing the life events of a great-great-uncle, Timothy Connors of West Troy, N.Y. He dropped off the radar screen after the 1880 federal census. A man by that name appeared in the burial index for St. Agnes Cemetery in nearby Menands, date of burial October 1884. The burial card, when it arrived, didn’t conclusively connect this Timothy to the family I was studying. It told me that this Timothy was buried on 8 October 1884 in a plot belonging to a “W. Cuthbert.” It didn’t add anything else.
Except that it did. Once I started putting the timeline together, I looked at the card again, and I noticed that Timothy’s last address was “Albany Street.” And in 1880, my great-great-grandfather Patrick Connors lived with his family, including son Timothy, at 337 Albany Street in the Port Schuyler area of West Troy.
Just like that, the Timothy Connors on the burial card turned from Theoretical Timothy to Really Good Possibility Timothy. Thanks, timeline!
2. They point you quickly to the parts of the chronology needing further investigation.
Armed with a stronger confidence that the man on the burial card was the Timothy I sought, I searched the wonderful Old N.Y. Newspapers database using the keywords “Connors” and “October 1884″. Very quickly I found what I sought in the Albany Evening Journal edition of Tuesday, 7 October 1884:
Timothy Connors, who was thrown from a waggon [sic] on the Troy road Saturday, died at his home in Port Schuyler from concussion of the brain. He was 25 years old and was married last July [emphasis mine]. Liquor caused the accident.
Now I had more details, plus the information that Timothy had been married at the time of his death. Could the “W. Cuthbert” who owned the burial plot be connected to Timothy by marriage? Why, yes, as a matter of fact, he probably was.
A whole new avenue of research opened up, simply because the timeline made me see what was always there in front of me.
3. They put family traditions under a brighter spotlight, pinpointing consistencies and inconsistencies.
In my husband’s Lynch family tree lurks a notorious person named James Madison Lynch (born Grayson County, Kentucky, 1 July 1862-died ?). Tradition has it that he killed a man in a brawl and fled town, rarely to be heard from again. His last reported contact with family came in 1911, when he was said to have visited a brother in Texas. Upon that occasion my husband’s great-grandfather sadly wrote: “Poor Jim, the world will never be better because of his life.”
But arranged on a timeline, Jim Madison’s life looks a little different than the family story. Here is a quick summary of a vital part of the timeline:
1880: Enumerated at age 17 with his parents in Grayson County, Ky.
Dates unknown: He was a schoolteacher and attorney as a young man, according to family tradition.
29 October 1886: Grayson County Gazette includes an advertisement for James M. Lynch, attorney at law, Leitchfield.
Late 1886-early 1887: James M. Lynch reportedly “cowhided” at Christmas by W. B. May, a Leitchfield distiller, and fled town, according to newspaper item published July 1887.
7 July 1887: News item headlined “A Coward’s Shot” details the murder of W.B. May and declares: “Subsequent investigation established that the murderer is James M. Lynch … “ [This item was picked up by newspapers all over the South.]
21 Sept. 1888: News item reports on Grayson County Teacher’s Institute held in Leitchfield from the 17th through the 21st of September. “Jas. M. Lynch” is included in a list of teachers attending, along with one of his brothers, A.T.K. Lynch.
You see what we did there? Simply by arranging the references on a timeline, we notice that a guy sharing the name of a notorious murder suspect turns up at a teacher’s institute a year after the reported crime.
What has happened here? Is this the same James Madison Lynch in 1887 and 1888? If so, why was he teaching school, for heaven’s sake?
I hate to let you all down, but I can’t yet say for sure. The original news item on the distiller’s murder does not actually mention an arrest, and I have not found an account of a trial (yet). But the important takeaway here is that the timeline instantly raised a red flag over the family tradition. There are many good questions to investigate, such as what was the ultimate resolution of the May case, and how/when/where James trained and worked as a teacher and an attorney.
Bottom line: If you haven’t been using timelines and you have an ancestor who puts the brick in the term “brick wall,” do yourself a favor and try it. It can be a marvelous way to take a fresh stroll down well-worn paths.
City directories and telephone books are indispensable for the urban researcher whose forebears are inconveniently changing apartment leases every year or two. Obviously the major paid directory databases at Ancestry and Fold3.com are extremely helpful. I am especially in love with Fold3′s filmstrip view for quick navigation through those closely printed pages.
But for New York City, there are also a couple of open-access sources of note:
Brooklyn City Directories: Brooklyn Public Library [Current coverage: 1856-1908]
Direct Me NYC: 1940 Telephone Directories [New York Public Library]
DirectMe began as a 1940 census ED finder, but I continue to find it useful even now that 1940 is indexed. It can help you with contextual details like employment locations and businesses. And it’s always good to have another source for locating relatives who appear to have eluded the census enumerators.
Resource Spotlight provides a look at handy toolbox items I’ve bookmarked over the years.
That is, a very happy Fourth of July, if you are in the U.S.
If not, Happy Fourth of whatever you please! I myself would easily consider a happy fourth of one of these, which were the result of a ten-pound haul of organic blueberries courtesy of our local co-op:
The blog will be watching fireworks, chilling at the beach and trying to use up more of the blueberries for a couple of days. In case you hadn’t noticed, ten pounds is a lot of blueberries.
(P.S. The Blueberry Crumb Bars do taste very good. The recipe came from Smitten Kitchen.)
At Histpres.com, preservationist Nancy Semin Lingo weighs in with an engaging yet alarming reflection about the state of the nation’s architectural heritage.
Her contention: The characterless structures that take over all too many neighborhoods are a zombie threat to the modern spirit. And they’re crowding out the varied, vigorous architecture that binds us to our past — buildings like the ones in Senoia, Ga., the real-life location of the fictional “Woodbury” in AMC’s popular zombiefest The Walking Dead.
“Like zombies, these buildings just keep coming and coming, one after another is built, until there are too many of them, and all of a sudden, we no longer feel a unique sense of place,” she writes.
A clever and disturbing take on the zombie theme.
Via Don Rittner, whose Albany Times-Union blog is here.
I just noticed something irritating in the 1855 New York State census entry for my Connor great-great-grandparents of Watervliet.
New York State’s 1855 census form is really detailed in contrast to the federal returns of this era. For instance, it specified the relationships of each person to the head of household – something the federal census would not do until 1880. It also directed enumerators to list the number of years each person had lived in that particular city or town, an obvious advantage to those of us trying to establish when a person might have emigrated to the U.S.
I returned to the 1855 census form in double-checking events on a timeline for my great-great-grandfather Patrick Connor (Conners/Conner/Connors). I had already noted that the enumerator had simply drawn a dash across the space asking how many years the family had lived in the town of Watervliet. It didn’t jump out that much, as I recall. Erratic compliance with the forms is pretty common.
But this time I looked harder at how the enumerator handled this question for the other families on the page. And, wow. In every other case he meticulously listed the number of years resident in the town, for every person. Not just every adult, every person. So a child of two was listed as having resided in the town for two years.
Some examples: Bridget Corbett, age 35, and her three children, all born in Ireland, had all lived in Watervliet four years. Lawrence Hart and his wife, Phoebe, born in Germany, had settled in Watervliet 14 years previously with their oldest child, Catharina. The couple’s four younger children were all born in Albany County, and had lived in the town for 14, 11, 9 and 5 years respectively, meaning that the Harts had a baby promptly after arriving in town.
Scottish immigrants Donald and Elizabeth Kay and their seven children had arrived in Watervliet en masse ten months before the enumeration date. And the enumerator wrote down “10/12” for every single one in the space asking for length of residency.
Not for the Connors family. For the question of how long they were residents of Watervliet, they got dashes. Zip. For every one of them.
So, Mr. Enumerator Edward Lawrence Jr., Census Marshal: What gives, buddy?
I want to be noble and assume he encountered an unavoidable enumeration difficulty. They weren’t home. Or maybe no one in the household could remember how long they had lived in Watervliet, despite Mr. Edward Lawrence Jr.’s valiant attempts to jog their memories, and he sadly drew a line across the space, pained at abandoning his usual detailed standards with this poor, benighted family.
No, forget it.
I do not feel charitable toward Mr. Enumerator Edward Lawrence, Jr. I think he had it in for my ancestors.
I think maybe Patrick told a joke Mr. Edward Lawrence, Jr. didn’t like, or one of the kids accidentally spilled something on his best enumeration suit. And I think Mr. Enumerator Edward Lawrence Jr. spitefully decided to leave out how long this Connors family lived in the town of Watervliet. Just to show them.
Mr. Enumerator: You, sir, are a scoundrel.