Links, 11.15.10

Hey, you young whippersnappers — you don’t know how good you’ve got it! Once upon a time there were no genealogy TV shows! And no blogs! And there was no DNA, either. Well, there was but it hadn’t been discovered yet.  And nobody even wrote about genealogy in the newspapers unless there was a Bicentennial or something! That’s right.

But now there are a lot of newspapers that deal with genealogy on a regular basis in their print and Web editions, as evidenced by this interesting bunch of genealogy-related columns this week. We’re all getting soft, I tell you.

Record hunting: I like advice that isn’t afraid to explain the basics about the basics. Julie Miller has a lovely summary on how to figure out which genealogy records are important to have, and how to narrow them down by location and time frame so you get just what you want.

Splitsville: Divorces are not the most pleasant events to live through, but as Sharon Tate Moody points out in an article about colonial and English divorces,  they can leave awfully interesting records behind.

Church matters: Wilkes-Barre (Pa.) columnist Tom Mooney considers ways to narrow the search for an ancestor’s church records. (Yes, there are things to be done other than posting a query that says “Anyone know if the Church of XXX still exists?”)

Pack that trunk: Michigan columnist Carol Goodenough shares the high points — and unexpected finds — from a recent genealogy trip, in an article brimming with tips and great examples of why there’s no substitute for going on the road.

Kid stuff: OK, it breaks the columnist theme, but … it is always nice to hear of ways to get kids interested in genealogy. (I must say that Who Do You Think You Are had a kid-friendly aspect — was it something about those shiny family tree graphics?) Anyway, here’s an update on books and websites for kids interested in tracing family trees.

And speaking of kids today — kids don’t know how good they’ve got it! Books and websites teaching them how to do genealogy! Why, I had to learn it from my big brother’s Webelos book! That’s right. Excuse me while I go walk ten miles to school in the snow. And have a nice week, you slackers.


The Sinews of War: A Day at the Arsenal

I wouldn’t have visited the museum at the Watervliet Arsenal if my great-great-grandfather Martin Haigney hadn’t served there.

My interest in armaments and military history is mild, to put it mildly. And I wasn’t sure how useful the visit would be in giving me specific insights about my ancestor’s life there. Also, it was pouring chilly rain as I set out.

Fortunately, I didn’t talk myself into a detour to a nice warm Starbucks.

Housed in the historic Iron Building, the Watervliet Arsenal museum includes a wealth of artifacts, displayed in the context of the lives of Arsenal workers and residents. (Fun fact: The poet Stephen Vincent Benet was a third-generation resident. His grandfather and father were both commanders there, and the arsenal’s Benet Laboratory is named in their honor.)

Civil War-era workers on shop floor at the Watervliet Arsenal. Display at the Watervliet Arsenal Museum, Watervliet, NY.

Watervliet has operated since 1813, but since Martin’s Army service occurred between 1854 and 1867, I concentrated on the Civil War-era displays. Interestingly, Watervliet did not manufacture the actual cannon guns in that conflict. It made everything else, such as the carriages they sat upon, the shells they fired, and the ammunition cases that held the cannonballs.

Behind a metal door at one end of the exhibit hall is a huge, echoing room that feels off-limits to visitors, but is actually a particularly cool exhibit area. On one side is a wealth of rare antique cannons and weaponry. On the other is an array of metalworking machinery, arranged to give a sense of what an arsenal shop floor might have looked like back in Martin’s day.

At peak capacity during the Civil War, the arsenal had 2,000 employees, one-quarter of whom were children. At first only boys were hired, but when the arsenal began manufacturing cartridges for the Sharps carbine in 1864, it was discovered that the smaller hands of little girls were better suited to rolling the linen cylinders.

“I was nine years old,” recalled a child worker many years later. “All of us little girls sat on a long bench, our feet not quite touching the floor, and we filled cartridges all day long … I worked from seven in the morning until six at night.”

The curator, a helpful and erudite fellow called Scott, clarified the term “artificer,” an enigmatic job description in my ancestor’s Civil War pension file. It’s an elegant way of saying “machinist”; however, Martin’s particular machines and skills are lost in the mists of time.

Display at the Iron Building at the Watervliet Arsenal of 19th-century metalworking equipment.

Since my visit coincided with the last of the day’s visiting hours, Scott was able to show me the barracks where Martin would have lived as a soldier. (In the 1860 census, Martin has two addresses – one at the arsenal, and one at a house in the town of West Troy with his wife Mary and their oldest child Joseph, my great-grandfather.)

It was not a day (or a setting) for poring over records. But thanks to the museum and the kindness of its curator, I had a grand time walking in Martin’s footsteps for an afternoon.

Links, 11.08.10

I missed quite a bit last week, like Election Day. Never fear, I voted. I turned off my Internets, walked my younger daughter to her school, detoured into the gymnasium and exercised what’s been my citizen’s right for 90 years, thanks awfully. Then I went home and fed my sourdough starter, being fairly sure that the flavor would mirror my mood by the next morning. Still, it was a luxurious pleasure to go to bed that night, Internet-, TV- and radio-free.

It was not ever thus. In another life, I used to stay up until 3:30 AM updating vote-totals charts while the senior editors stood around pontificating about swing voters and soccer moms Being Crucial, and eating all the pizza intended for us lowly chart updaters. I used to HATE that. You’d be stark raving ready to eat your chair stuffing, the pizzeria was long closed and the bosses had just left you a couple of crusts. Or one cheese slice to be divided among six copy editors.

Worse, in certain states (*cough, cough, IhateyouConnecticut, wheeze*), all the bars were closed too, and you had to cross the state line to Port Chester with your hungry, grumpy copy editor buddies for beer and whines. The next day, you’d be slightly hungover during the irritated phone call from the town clerk, demanding to know what idiocy compelled you to print the assistant dogcatcher vote total as 11,282 instead of 11,285. But there was no time for lengthy apologies! You were plunging ahead with the post-Election-Day wrap-up about how the Crucial Voters didn’t show up in the expected numbers, even after all that ink they got, the ungrateful buggers.

Well, it’s another week, and the democracy I still believe in wheezes on. I try to stay amused, and hope this amuses. If not, perhaps it’s as dear Dorothy Parker says: “If you can read this, you’ve come too close.”

Or perhaps you’re just here for the links! Here ya go:

Technicalities: Dick Eastman shared a lot of interesting techie posts this week, two of my favorites being the schedule for February’s RootsTech conference in Salt Lake City, which looks amazing, and a detailed review of the new release of Family Tree Maker for Macintosh. I love my Reunion but have to give serious thought to FTM, with its ability to link up to plus major search engines.

Irish R.C. records: If this pans out, in a year the National Library of Ireland may be putting 520 microfilm rolls of Roman Catholic parish registers online. An exciting prospect for anyone interested in tracing Irish vitals before civil registration began in 1864, even if relatively few Catholic records predate the 1820s.

Getting your bearings: Kimberly Powell has some excellent pointers for getting on track when your searching takes you into a geographic area you haven’t studied before.

Mad for magazines: John Reid at Anglo-Celtic Connections discusses ways to use online periodical indexes to uncover potentially useful articles in genealogy and historical journals.

Acting and re-enacting: In a fistful of sad headlines about cemeteries running out of funds or being vandalized, a graveyard story from Terre Haute,  Indiana stood out for its quirky good cheer. The lives and stories of the early parishioners of St. Mary’s Village Parish (established 1837) were recalled by costumed volunteers who gathered at the old church cemetery, some of them descendants of the people they portrayed. (Including a 19th-century Emma Bird portrayed by a 21st-century Emma Bird!) Lots of good backstory on this one.

Gotta go now. My kids are up and somewhat bewildered at what the clock says — what, they’re on time this morning? I love that first week of Falling Back, when you constantly feel like there’s an extra hour in your pocket.

Hope you make good use of your hours, and enjoy the week.

Going to Church(es), While I Can

St. Brigid's Roman Catholic Church, Watervliet, NY.

I’m slowly working my way through a number of posts about a trip I took recently to Albany and Rensselaer counties in New York. With Sunday just around the corner, how about a picture of a church?

I always feel vaguely subversive, hanging around other people’s parishes in the middle of the week in broad daylight. Without a choir rehearsal to attend or a child to pick up from CCD, I’m a bit of a miscreant. I’m just snapping pictures and wandering around curiously, all because some people related to me worshipped here once, a long time ago.

But curiosity pays off in the form of a picture of St. Brigid’s Church in Watervliet, N.Y., the parish where my great-great grandparents Martin and Mary (Mahon) Haigney raised their family. They would have called it “St. Bridget’s” in their day. All of their eight children were baptized there, the first in 1859 and the last in 1874.

St. Bridget’s was pretty new in Martin’s and Mary’s time. Both of them Irish immigrants, they joined an early parish community that also included many refugees from the 1848 revolutions in Germany and France. According to a parish history, the church itself was only completed in 1851. Its first full-time pastor arrived in 1854, after a couple of years during which Masses were said by visiting Jesuit priests from South Troy, a boat ride away across the Hudson River. I regretted I wasn’t able to enter the building to see the stained glass windows, which looked impressive even from the outside. Especially because, for all its history, St. Brigid’s faces an uncertain future.

St. Brigid's in about 1906, with its original steeple that was destroyed by lightning in 1948. From "St. Brigid's Parish: A History of Its People And Their Accomplishments."

With the Diocese of Albany in consolidation mode, the parish has merged with neighboring Immaculate Heart of Mary. Masses are still being said at St. Brigid’s, for now, while a parish planning committee ponders what’s next. The most recent church bulletin says there is no final decision yet on the fate of either St. Brigid’s or St. Patrick’s, another parish also consolidated with IHM.

It’s sad to see these difficult choices playing out. Long ago, every neighborhood had its own parish in towns like Watervliet; it was just the way things were. Today, the diocese says the population isn’t there to support all the church buildings, and some must close. For a genealogist, it means wondering where the records are going to be. For the community, it means a part of history is going away, and it seems it can’t be helped.

Links, 11.01.10

The past week overflowed with news stories about cemeteries and ghosts, many of them cheesy, to be honest. Halloween will do that to a topic. But there were some keepers, so before the candy runs out, steal a piece and enjoy these items:

DNA research turns up a startling heritage for a woman who is descended both from a judge and a victim in the infamous Salem witch trials of 1692.

• A Connecticut blogger shares the tale of a relative tried as a witch in Fairfield, Conn., in 1692. I find these stories sad but fascinating glimpses into the lives and beliefs of colonial Americans.

• An old local ghost story turns out to be tinged with truth.  A curious genealogist poked into a Massachusetts story about a young girl’s ghost haunting the railroad tracks where she was killed — and discovered a real person with a real death certificate.

Now, in normal genealogy news:

Following a trail: Research about a slave’s legal struggle to gain her freedom provides new insights for descendants of both the slave and her owner.  I like this one because it leads to the town where I was born: Chillicothe, Ohio. (My parents lived there briefly, and we left when I was six months old, so I don’t really qualify as a Buckeye — but still!)

Aussie ancestor hunting: Out of Melbourne, an update on the genealogy boom Down Under. In many ways the story is familiar, but it contains interesting examples of how life has become easier for Australian family researchers. “[Database access] has put us on an equal footing with the rest of the world,” says one expert. “We can sit in front of our computers and have the same access to the 1911 England and Wales census as a person in the UK. The tyranny of distance no longer applies.”

One big happy network: Marian at Roots and Rambles shares a great rundown on Twitter vs. Facebook, and what’s to be gained for genealogy enthusiasts in the new global conversation.

Weaving a history: Gena at Gena’s Genealogy asks, Was Your Ancestor A Weaver? If the answer is yes, there are some interesting sources you might check out.

Here’s to the start of a new month — I wish you lots of progress and discovery in November!