Seen: Dawn of The (Architecturally) Dead

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.


Census Sour Grapes, 1855 Edition

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.


Google Reader Public Service Announcement

A big confession: I am not very attached to Google Reader. I have trouble forming attachments  like that. It’s been a real problem emotionally for me and Google Reader over the years of our relationship.

Google Reader was all like, “Liz, you’re never there for me.”

And I was like, “I know, Google Reader, but I just have trust issues. I can’t silence that little inner voice that’s telling me maybe someday, YOU won’t be there for ME.”

And Google Reader was all, “How can you say that? I would NEVER!” So I’d have to be all, “Oh hon, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it. Let’s just call for some takeout and open some wine, OK?”

So guess what! Google Reader is going away by the end of today.

Maybe I was right to have trust issues, hon.

So: If you DO read this blog using Google Reader, you will need to form another relationship, although I trust you have already done so. Some suggestions are here. Also, Thomas McEntee updated the Geneabloggers readership on what the change will mean, here.


Subway Parties — Those Crazy Kids!

Apparently abandoned subway stations are the latest, edgiest place for a good party, and the NYPD is NOT AMUSED. According to ABC News:

Photos from an underground party held in an abandoned subway station surfaced on the New York news website Gothamist showing dozens of individuals watching dancers and listening to live music in an abandoned subway station.

Now, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the New York Police Department are investigating the photos.

“Trespassing in non-public areas … is a serious crime and has the potential to lead to injury,” the MTA said in a statement to ABC News. “This incident has been passed on to the NYPD for investigation.”

Of course, subway stations are not the only offbeat go-to venue for New York party planners. In May, the New York Times wrote about an illicit club in a Chelsea water tower – hit the roof, climb the ladder and in you go. Of course there were all sorts of sub rosa manuevers required to know where to go in the first place, but that was the charm.

Makes the days of the Studio 54 velvet rope seem sweet and quaint, doesn’t it?

(h/t: Actuarial Opinions)


On Reading Footnotes

I am an avid consumer of footnotes. As a wee thing, I distinctly remember devouring my mother’s paperback copy of Lady Antonia Fraser’s Mary, Queen of Scots and tearing the pages in flipping them back and forth to savor the footnotes and endnotes.

(In my defense, those pages were awfully thin. My mom also got mad at me for getting orange juice stains on the pages due to reading photo (7)at the breakfast table, but that’s another story.)

But if I was tiresome about footnotes as a child, I am absolutely insufferable about them now. Genealogy has made me a footnote connoisseur — scratch that,  an obsessive. An addict. It’s almost not healthy, the way I can ditch a well-crafted historical narrative in favor of a juicily detailed footnote. (For instance, Mary Beth Norton’s In The Devil’s Snare has Gorgeous.  Footnotes. It’s a groundbreaking study of the Salem witch trials, too, but whatever.)

My interest in genealogy has set me a certain standard for footnoting, and that’s generally a good thing. If you’re stuck in front of an ancestral brick wall, throw a book at it, is what I say. A well-researched, well-cited history set in your ancestor’s place of residence might well lead you to a key source you hadn’t thought of.

However, one bummer about my footnote fetish is how quickly it can ruin a book for me. For instance, I just bought an ebook-format biography — a recent, well-reviewed book about a personality I’d always found intriguing, and I was pretty excited to read it. But I quickly found myself getting frustrated at the frequency with which the author got hazy on biographical details that I thought would be fairly easy to clarify with decent genealogical research. Or if they couldn’t be clarified, I’d hope to see the attempt to do so.

My irritation bubbled over at a footnote that cited 1880 and 1900 census reports for a family group and went on to say: “Those for 1870 and 1890 either don’t remain or were never taken [for the town in question].”

Two things:

A. If you’re seriously researching a family and using census records, you should know there is no either/or about why there are no 1890 census returns. Even if you’re not a genealogist.

B. Of course there were 1870 census returns for the town in question, and I found the family there in about three minutes on Ancestry. (You knew I was going to do that, right?)

Now, maybe Point A was simply a case of fuzzy phrasing, but this sort of thing really wrecks a book’s street cred for me. I’m not citing the particular work or author because (1) I haven’t finished the book yet and (2) I haven’t the heart to single out one person in particular for something I see all the time.

But I do giggle a bit sometimes in contemplating the supposed gulf between historians and genealogists. Because the best ones on both sides of the aisle know the true value of what each side is doing, and use it to their advantage. And ours.


Resource Spotlight: NY Census Chart

Well, we did New Jersey last week; now it’s New York’s turn. This nice reference page comes courtesy of the New York State Library.

New York State Census Records

Having an anxious moment about whether there is a New York state census schedule for your ancestors’ county in a given year? Put down that brown paper bag you’re breathing into and click the link above. It’s a lovely, clear chart depicting each county and the years for which state censuses are available.

New York took censuses in 1825, 1835, 1845, 1855, 1865, 1875, 1892, 1905, 1915 and 1925. Many originals were destroyed in the devastating fire in 1911 at the State Library in Albany (alternately known as the Great Fire That Makes All Genealogists Cry). Some counties, however, kept their own copies, which is one reason why availability varies so much. This chart will prevent you from spending hours looking at, say, the 1892 census for Rensselaer County and wondering why none of your search terms are working. Not that this has ever happened to me.

Resource Spotlight provides a look at handy toolbox items I’ve bookmarked over the years.

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Underground Ghosts

In looking for background on my recent Subway Song post, I was surprised to discover just how many abandoned subway dreams left their mark upon the landscape — and not just New York City’s landscape, either.

A lot of these cases originated in enthusiastic plans for expanding subways after the end of World War I. Then the transit dreams evaporated for varying reasons — changes in political leadership, economic woes during the Depression, the automobile boom of the post-World War II era.

But many remnants of the dreams linger in unfinished lines or never-opened stations. And they’re catnip to a new generation of urban explorers who love chasing “ghost subways” wherever they may be found. Some examples: Cincinnati, or Rochester, or Toronto, or Berlin.

For those of us in the metro-NYC area, here are some additional ghostly subway links:


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