Resource Spotlight: NYC Newspapers

Although I studied this stuff in my journalism classes, I admit that every so often I look up and say to myself, “Geez, New York City had a lot of newspapers.”

I mean lots. Some had short runs, some went on for decades. Besides the usual general-interest, all-the-news-that’s-fit-to-print publications, there are dozens targeted to specific populations, whether by ethnicity or simply interests. Ergo:

New York City Newspapers (New York Public Library)

This is a .pdf format list of what the NYPL has available on microfilm. It is a nice thing to consult before a trip to the NYPL’s microform research room. The NYPL is a lot like the FHL in Salt Lake City that way. You don’t want to waste precious time there figuring out where to look — you really, really should do that beforehand and hit the ground running.

Anyway — for newspapers, check out this list. And note the large numbers of publications in languages other than English. These can contain hidden gems, as this story of research into victims of the Triangle Fire indicates. So if you have even a little reading ability in the language of interest, they are worth checking out. Happy hunting, etc.

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


Resource Spotlight: Money Matters

This sort of thing is always fun:

Inflation Calculator: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Inflation Calculator: 1774-present

Great stuff for writing about U.S. pocket change!

The first one only goes back to 1913, which is the first year the bureau began keeping this sort of statistic. But it is the BLS, so I like to use it whenever I’ve got more recent frames of reference.

The second tool, a feature of business news/economics website DaveManuel.com, uses data from Oregon State University. I’m sure there are lots of these if you need earlier dates, although the earlier you go, the harder it can be to arrive at true equivalencies.

Still, both of these calculators are nice to have around if you’re writing about money and your ancestors. For example, in 1877 a Patrick Connors (who I think was my great-great-grandfather Patrick) took the New York State canal commissioners to task over damages to his property from Erie Canal flooding. The initial claim was for $900, or about $19,000 today. The case dragged on for several years. In 1884, Patrick’s widow Bridget Connors accepted an award of $75, or about $1,785 in current cash.

If you’re going to write about what your ancestors were paid/were fined/inherited, your first priority is to be as accurate as possible about the actual, historical amount. But giving a present-day equivalent can certainly heighten your readers’ understanding of the lives your ancestors lived.

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


My Show: How Do You Think You Spell That?

I married into one of the easy names. Once in a blue moon, someone tries to spell it  “Linch,” the way my husband’s ancestors did in 18th-century Virginia, but basically, it’s easy. (To spell, not to research, which I realize is a whole other story.)

In contrast, my birth name is made for alternate spellings. I use what my great-great-grandfather settled upon in the 1870s. More likely, someone settled upon it for him, since the evidence is abundant that my immigrant ancestor was illiterate, signing his mark for important papers well into his old age. Starting in the 1872 West Troy directory, my branch spelled their surname “Haigney” and Haigneys they remained, thank God.

But research still must account for the alternate spellings random officials bestowed upon us. And with the spellings other Haigney families liked better.

Searching for possible extended family of my immigrant ancestor, I recently concluded an in-depth Troy city-directory search for the Haigney surname. I limited myself to reasonable variations, based on what I’ve encountered in 15+ years of research: Hagney, Heagney, Heaganey, Heagany, Hageny, Hagany, Haigney/Heigney/Haigeney/Heigeney and Hegney/Higney. Again, reasonable:  For sanity’s sake, I did not attempt to mind-meld with the sort of thinking that led a 1900 census enumerator to call my great-great-grandfather “Haggemy.” (Although if I saw one of these in the directory, of course I’d look hard at it.)

Two funny things about this name: On the one hand, it’s really very rare, however you spell it. For instance, when I searched for my great-great-grandfather in the Irish Family History Foundation’s baptisms database, I found only 10 Martin Haigneys (this includes variants) for all of Ireland in 1793-1911. It’s easy to get spoiled with searches like that.

On the other hand, the abundant spelling variations, and the freedom with which 19th-century Haigneys employed them, are a challenge to the confident pronouncement of my elders: “If they’re a Haigney, we must be related.”

Who is everyone, anyway? And what is our name? Sometimes after an intensive search, seeing all the variations play out, a surname starts looking like a funhouse mirror. How much of it belongs to me, and how much of it belongs to some 19th-century courthouse clerk’s imagination of how those Gaelic noises were supposed to look?

When I was a child, it seemed that my father and his siblings were the only Haigneys in the whole world. Then the Internet showed us that there were others, not as abundant as Smiths, certainly, but we no longer existed in a vacuum.

And then the genealogical databases expanded to give panoramic views of how fluid spelling was of this surname, how it varied not just from family to family, but changed within individual lifetimes. It was also apparent that not all Haigney families were created equal. Some U.S. groups, like mine, were poor immigrants who found opportunities through army service and industrial jobs. Others gravitated quickly toward white-collar employment like clerking and teaching.

What do these educational and economic differences mean? How do they play out with Haigneys in other parts of the world – the ones who stayed in Ireland, the ones who migrated to England and Australia? Why did my immigrant ancestor grow up in County Tipperary, when many accounts state with confidence that the Haigney surname is welded to County Tyrone? Are those Hagneys and Heaganys in the Troy directories closely connected to my West Troy Haigneys?

What, in short, is really in a name? It’s one of the background questions that keep my fascination with genealogy humming along.


Resource Spotlight: Manifest Markings

Pssst! You over there!

Yes, you, the one peering at the Ellis Island passenger manifest on the high-resolution monitor. You need this:

A Guide To Interpreting Passenger List Annotations.

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.


Timeline Traveling

Cleaning the face of Big Ben, 2007. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Cleaning the face of Big Ben, 2007. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

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.


Resource Spotlight: NYC Directories

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.


Happy Fourth!

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:

blueberrybars

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.)


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