For the Beginning Family Historian....
One of the classes that I am taking this semester is teaching me more in depth ways for doing family history. This post will cover several topics that I researched for class and I thought were interesting and really useful for someone just starting out.. This post will also have a lot of my 'blather' for a good grade :). Skip the blather and enjoy the information! This post contains information on the different U.S. Census forms and what they contain- including non population schedules, the difference between archival non published documents and 'unpublished documents' in general as well as the valuable nature of Collateral Kin. It contains information on places to go to start your research and the easiest ways to find some sources. So here you go!
According to the authors of the texts, there are almost unlimited types of unpublished records that can be used to research local history. The major difficulty for utilizing these forms of documents is that you actually have to know they exist... otherwise you might not even know to search for them. For example, a non-profit organization keeps certain records that they are required to by law. Knowing that pertinent piece of info will help you to know what documents that the organization may have. However, when you start to look in personal archives, it is a very different story. I am one of those really weird people that has saved all of my incoming correspondence for years and I have six or seven albums full of all that correspondence in time order. So someone who wanted to could filter though those books and find pertinent political information, information about others in my family and friends, local activities, religious functions and gossip as well as getting a really good idea of what I found important, interesting etc.....
So some of the forms of unpublished documents that you could truly find to be your 'gold' mine for knowledge are: business ledgers, correspondence files, wills, journals (my favorite), church newsletters and other documentation, customer and employee files, nursing home records, personal tax records and receipts, etc... The authors do take the time to carefully explain the difference between the two basic categories of unpublished documents- and why that matters. Archival documents may not have been published, but they are considered archival because of the reason that they are kept. Archival documents tend to be maintained and kept for legal, administrative or historical value. So when you keep your first five years of personal tax returns, they are considered archival because you probably kept them for legal reasons in case you were audited... (I suppose if you kept them because you were too lazy to throw them away they might be classified under another name, but I am not sure that I know the official name for that. :) The authors make it clear that the word 'archives' or 'archival' is used for almost all unpublished documents, but it is important to know the different because it changes your focus on what documents might be available (instead of just obvious due to legal requirements, etc...) and what the true value of the document may be. For instance court records would be considered archival and they would hold a wealth of information. Court records are generally recorded and or transcribed at the time making the most accurate document possible. It would have pertinent information such as who was the plaintiff and defendant, why the court is intervening (is someone being charged with breaking the law, being sued for personal reasons, etc...). It would have evidence and many might contain testimony from pertinent parties including disagreements with presented evidence. Being able to use these records along side of published documents such as newspaper articles, editorials, and other forms would really not only help to 'flesh out' the information that you seek but also have an additional source of potential verification. Newspapers, for example rarely list their sources and so finding out how they got the information that they reported on can be fairly tough. But using other documents along side that do have listed sources (or are from a more official source like a court) can confirm information that you have from sources that you are not sure of... or can not confirm for that matter. Another thing to remember about true archival material is that much information will be missing in the sense that only the 'important' documents will have been kept.... while the 'trivial' or 'mundane' documentation will be thrown out. So the important distinction is that archival information can truly seem to have more legitimacy than other unpublished documents, have a higher standard or what needs to be kept so they can be 'more complete' in some ways.... but only the 'important information will survive- and what is the important information will vary depending on who the archivist is, what their motivations are, etc... Some archival documents such as military registrations are really useful in that they can almost provide a 'picture' of an individual. They- in a lot of cases- recorded height, body shape, weight, and eye and hair color.
Other documents can be used that are not archival and can be very, very useful. And knowing why records are or are not kept can also give you ideas on how to find documents that you seek. One of the first things you need to do when you are considering using an unpublished document as a source is to try and figure out why it was kept... what information was considered important. For instance, if I look back at my correspondence letters that I mentioned above, I have purposely thrown away four letters that I have received in the last decade. All four of the letters were purposely rude, hurtful, angry and I didn't consider the viewpoint in them to be the most accurate (they were fairly damning and hysterical actually). I eventually threw them away because I was concerned that whoever went through my papers in the future and read those particular letters would think poorly about the individuals that wrote them... and I must admit that keeping them for that purpose had crossed my mind :) I wonder sometimes if I should have kept them even though they were so 'bad' simply because it is pertinent information (to my family's genealogy at least in the sense of how terribly we treat different parts/people in the family) but I have over time really felt it was the right thing to do. Someone who was reading my bound letters would consider them wonderfully complete, but would need to ask themselves what my motivation was in keeping them. My motivation is for the future historians in my family... but until they are sure of that my letters are suspect. Have I kept them to skew the way one side of the family looks... or have a presented truly the most accurate (ie all the letters) picture? Have I kept only the correspondence that paints me in a particular light that is positive or that I like? These questions need to be truly understood before relying on unpublished documents. So journals can be very useful as long as you understand that the journal was written for (?) and that the writer will have his/her biases. 'Manuscripts' or 'personal papers' tend to be slightly more suspect than 'archival' documents, but are also so likely to provide the 'real' bits of information that are needed to confirm very small or trivial things. It must be noted that because this category of 'unpublished documents' are not 'required' to be kept, they too are likely to be missing big pieces of information.
I have to start by saying that I love census records. You can get some really basic and useful stuff off of a census record that it may be hard to find anywhere else such as home, neighbors, total number of pregnancies and living children, etc... However, I have discovered that while using census forms, you must keep an open mind about it just as you would for other sources. Some people are listed under the census as nicknames instead of their 'official' name. Women who marry can literally disappear from the census records if you do know what their married name is (and if it is a common name such as Mary Smith... knowing her husband's name as well. And the census-especially older census forms can not explain family relationships or circumstances- so you cannot be sure who is 'who' and sometimes can be confused by individuals listed (which can get quite confusing with poor handwriting to boot!) Another reason to not stick with only the direct line- You can get stuck for ages on the women. But now I am clearly whining from experience and not from the actually text readings :)
Information that can be gleaned from most census records are: name of adult male, household members (or at least number of them) and as the census forms begin to contain more information - you can gain names of all household members, heads of households and relationships to household members, ages and sometimes birth month/year, race, some disability status such as blindness, marriage information, birthplace info for person and parents, education and ability to read or write, occupation, immigration status, military service, language, number of births vs current living children, and more. (By the way I had no idea that there was a way to gain information from the 1940-2000 census'... I thought I just had to wait... and wait... and wait! Thank you! :)
There are different forms of census schedules; they changed as a census was officially begun, as the wish for more information made them more intimate and in depth, and as collecting the information because easier due to better knowledge, better technology, and more emphasis on accurate collecting. Some census schedules only provide information about industry/manufacturing while others provide information on the population of an area. So early census schedules provide 'less' information that census schedules as they continued to develop throughout the decades (and in one case where almost all the records were destroyed by fire. Here is a basic breakdown of what you can expect to find on the different census schedules. (New information will be in bold. What I believe the term 'schedule' means is actually a dual definition- 'Schedule' means the different full census groups.... and in each census itself ... 'schedule' means the differing sections within the census forms such as individual/family sections which could include age, sex, etc.... or agriculture sections which included acreage, profitability, livestock and produce produced, etc.... or 'products of industry' which could include business name, products produced, etc... or even mortality schedules. It could also mean separate census schedules that were taken up by the states themselves and not the federal government- these census tend to be labeled differently by year. (This is pretty approximate and I could have confused some things).
1. 1790- This is the very first ever US census and took 18 months to complete. The schedules for six of the states have been lost (Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, New Jersey and Virginia.)
2. 1800 – This is the second census and it took about nine months. The information collected was : household name, number of males under and over 16 years of age, number of females of all ages, number of 'free individuals' and number of slaves.
3. 1810 - This census took about ten months to complete. The information collected was: household name, number of males under and over 16 years of age, number of females of all ages, number of 'free individuals' and number of slaves.
4. 1820 - This census took about 13 months to complete. The information collected was: household name, age of all members of household- male or female, number of 'free individuals' and number of slaves. Also counted 'not naturalized' citizens. (Children of ages 16-17 years of age may have been counted twice)
5. 1830- This census took about twelve months to complete. The information collected was: household name, age of all members of household- male or female, number of 'free individuals' and number of slaves. Also counted foreign nationals. First census with printed forms for names and also an age category of over '100 years old'. Before the oldest category was 'over 45 years of age'.
6. 1840 - This census took about 18 months to complete. The information collected was: household name, age of all members of household- male or female, number of individuals over 100 years of age, number of 'free individuals' and number of slaves. Also counted foreign nationals. First census to document 'war pensioners and their widows'.
7. 1850 - This census took about five months to complete. The information collected was: household name, age of all members of household- male or female, number of individuals over 100 years of age, number of 'free individuals' and number of slaves. Also counted foreign nationals and 'war pensioners and their widows' and marital status if married within the last year. First census to collect the names of all household members and not just 'heads of household' as well as the place of birth of all individuals recorded. Also, separate slave schedules were begun this year which would contain only the name of the slave holder, the 'race'/age/sex and number of individual slaves. Might also contain some skills of some of the slaves as well as disability.
8. 1860 – This census took five months to complete. The information collected was: 'Head of Household' name as well as the names, ages, and places of birth of family members, number of individuals over 100 years of age, number of 'free individuals', number of slaves, foreign nationals and 'war pensioners and their widows' and marital status if married within the last year. This year also had a separate slave census which would include the slave owners name as well as some pertinent individual information – number of slaves, perceived 'race', age and sex of slaves including if any were over 100 years old, disability such as blindness, and some occupations such as carpenter, etc...
9. 1885 – This census was only completed by five states/territories – Colorado, Florida, Nebraska...and the territories of New Mexico and Dakota.
10. 1870 - This census took five months to complete. The information collected was: 'Head of Household' name as well as the names and places of birth of family members, age of all members of household- male or female, marital status if married in the last year, number of 'free individuals', number of slaves, foreign nationals and 'war pensioners/widows'- listed anyone who wasn't taxed as an individual. Month of birth was collected on all individuals that we born 'within the year' – or the last twelve months.
11. 1880 - The information collected was: 'Head of Household' name as well as the names and places of birth of family members, age of all members of household- male or female, marital status, number of 'free individuals', number of slaves, foreign nationals and 'war pensioners/widows'- listed anyone who wasn't taxed as an individual. This census also started listing the street and address of the people whose information was collected- while that info can be found on other census forms in later years, it is not consistent throughout the years. Month of birth was collected on all individuals that we born 'within the year' – or the last twelve months. This census also started listing an individuals parent's birth places and were as specific as possible.
12. 1890 - This census took about one month to complete. The information collected was: 'Head of Household' name as well as the names and places of birth of family members, age of all members of the household- male or female, each individual's parent's place of birth, marital status, foreign nationals and asked about naturalization papers, and 'war pensioners/widows' It could also have street addresses. This census started a column for all individuals of all ages so that it could also keep track of child labor. Also started to track how many children a female gave birth to and how many were still living. People were also asked if they had an acute disease or chronic disease, what it was, etc... A fire in the Commerce building in Washington DC destroyed all but approx. 1% of this census (I will admit that I have never found anyone in this census for my personal use. :) Some groups such as Ancestry.com are trying to piece together documents to help 'recreate the information' that was burned and also using others forms such as the Union and Veteran’s Widows schedule.....
13. 1900 - This census took approx one month to complete. The information collected was: 'Head of Household' name as well as the names, month and year of birth, and place of birth of family members, each individual's parent's place of birth, marital status as well as number of marriages and years married, foreign nationals and/ or person's naturalization status, and 'war pensioners/widows'. Also tracked how many children a female gave birth to and how many were still living. This census also required that immigrants give year of immigration. This census also started listing place of birth by current region name- rather than what it was called at time of person's birth.
14. 1910 – This census took approx one month to complete. The information collected was: 'Head of Household' name as well as the names, place of birth of family members, each individual's parent's place of birth, marital status as well as number of marriages and years married, foreign nationals and/or person's naturalization status, and 'war pensioners/widows', immigration year if immigrated. Also tracked how many children a female gave birth to and how many were still living. Census also listed place of birth by current region name and not necessarily what it as called when person was born.
15. 1920 - This census took approx one month to complete. The information collected was: This census took approx one month to complete. The information collected was: 'Head of Household' name as well as the names, place of birth of family members, each individual's parent's place of birth, marital status as well as number of marriages and years married, foreign nationals and/ or person's naturalization status, and 'war pensioners/widows', immigration year if immigrated. Census also listed place of birth by current region name and not necessarily what it as called when person was born.
16. 1930 - This census took approx one month to complete. The information collected was: This census took approx one month to complete. The information collected was: 'Head of Household' name as well as the names, place of birth of family members, each individual's parent's place of birth, marital status as well as number of marriages and years married, foreign nationals and/ or person's naturalization status, and 'war pensioners/widows', immigration year if immigrated. Census also listed place of birth by current region name and not necessarily what it as called when person was born. Also asked married people for the first time how old they were at first marriage. Also asked individuals what languages they spoke prior to coming to this country.
Whew! Other census schedules can be obtained that are not population driven and they will have lots of information that you cannot glean from the above discussed census forms. Agricultural schedules can help flesh out a community- what social role farming had or didn't have in the community, financial stability in the area, or what might have been grown. Also, farm is a very generic term and could have been used for fruit orchards, and garden nurseries. Around the 1880's, records began to be kept of what was grown as long at the farm was over a certain amount of acreage or the sold more than $500 dollars worth of farm 'goods' (the amount of goods, cash or produce could be estimated and might not be the most accurate). Records also expanded to cover the value of farm equipment, the amount of livestock (and their potential value), value and number of loss animals killed by nature, etc...., owners of farm vs tenant farmers, costs of business which might include upkeep of equipment,etc... In 1810, the US government started a Manufacturer Schedule to help record what businesses were out there, what they sold, quality, and value to the goods and business. They might have recorded number of employees, annual production rates, number of machinery or technology, products made and the location and owner of the business. The 1830 and 1840 Manufacturer Schedule wasn't taken due to the confusion and inaccuracies of the years before. It was started again in 1850, but it was limited to businesses that were able to exceed $500 in production. It also started to collect the genders of employees- how many women vs men were working in an industry and average monthly wages. In 1880, the data collected centered mostly around twelve specific industries. However, it must be noted that some forms or non population schedules have been destroyed or are otherwise hard to find because as time went on... they were not considered as important or legally protected as other 'archival' forms.
Another schedule is called the 'Defective, Dependent, Delinquent classes' and is officially filled out on supplemental schedules 1-7. This schedules help the government to compile statistics on those individuals that are more likely to need institutions, hospitals, prisons, shelters, etc... I didn't know this but these forms are also used to collect statistics to aid in the study of genetic disease. However, all individuals that are listed on this form are also listed in the regular population census. The Schedules 'officially' are:
1. Insane Inhabitants – individuals who were alcoholics, had mania, depression, paralysis, dementia or epileptics
2. Idiots – extreme mental deficiency from childhood
3. Deaf- Mutes – you had to be both extremely hard of hearing and be unable to speak because of it... or a semi-mute who lost hearing after gaining some language.
4. Blind – included blind, or semi-blind
5. Homeless children – special attention given to see if children came from 'respectable homes' or 'vicious backgrounds'.
6. Inhabitants in Prison – information on inmates was gotten from the warden. (sounds like a recipe for perfection and disaster all at once :)
7. Pauper and Indigent – this form was designed to count all individuals that were living in public houses, hospitals, etc... at public expense.... so some individuals might be counted twice if they had any of the above mentioned 'conditions'.
Other schedules that were collected were:
1. Social Statistics Schedules: collected through 1850-1885.
2. Mortality Schedules: This records deaths within year of census.
3. Veteran's Schedules – started in 1890.
Polking has lots of suggestions for where you can get help with your family history. The first place the author mentions is the library- which is a wonderful place to start. Some libraries have purchased access to the Ancestry website and also have collections of 'genealogical resources' that you may go through. Each library that I have gone to that does have a genealogy collection also has a librarian that is absolutely delighted to teach you how to start as long as he/she in not swamped with other work- that is how I have learned a few of the things that I use when doing my research. Polking mentions several volumes by name that a lot of libraries have but doesn't mention that libraries can also have resources on microfiche, CD-Rom, or other programs for public usage. (Maybe the author's libraries are just not as good as mine or the author doesn't have a Mormon background where people will almost kill to help you... although he does mention family history centers later in the book. :)
Mr. Polking also mentions using Courthouse records as well as vital records by state to discover information. States can issue certificates of birth, death, marriage, and divorce depending on their archives and your pocketbook (some states are way more money and hassle than others... CT is a snap and cheap.... NJ is a six month or more waiting period and then your request can be denied due to a technicality and it costs much more than a lot of other states.). Some Federal land records are available as well in printed records. He mentions a few different immigration resources (I have also found others by 'Google-ing'), and genealogical researchers. Genealogical researchers are a great resource but I will admit... they are my source of last resort! Some cost between $75-150 an hour which doesn't include expenses and may find nothing of value for you. Now, they may also find exactly what you need and if you do not live near where the information is, it certainly can still be a bargain for you to hire someone to look for you. I guess that I am cheap and a fairly hands on girl... so I starts lists from all the different genealogies that I am working on and areas and when I get enough... I justify a trip! I tend to find even more than I went looking for in some cases and get stumped in others, but it always feels costs savings and worthwhile... so I guess you know that I have a long list when I go :) Oral histories can be helpful as well and when you are able to find them they are worth it in so many ways. You can get ideas about family that you were not around and the life they led from their own lips. Military Records can be good and can actually give you a great visual picture of your relative because they can also describe physical characteristics as well as behavior, rank, etc... The author also mentions ways to use religion and ethnicity to help find records- you can search the churches of your ancestors as well as resources concentrating specifically on their religion, church and local area. You can use immigration and ethnicity to help you with research if your relatives are Jewish, European, etc...
Another research place that the author recommends are LDS family history centers. I highly recommend them for many reasons... and I have a few disclaimers First, people who volunteer there are excited to help you -I used to be one of them) and you can be the highlight of their day! There will not sleep until they help you get what you need if they can. However, as a member of this church I must warn you that some people use their volunteer work for two purposes that may not square with your goals. Some volunteers believe that while helping you they must also be a 'missionary' and convince you to join the LDS church. Some individuals can be easily put off, but others cannot and I can see that as very frustrating for some people. Others want to help with your genealogy because their genealogy is so far back it is 'hard'... and thy have already done the 'temple work' for their relatives. If you are a non-member you bring the promise of genealogy that is easier and needs 'temple work completed. It is up to you to decide what information you are willing to leave with representatives and to make clear what they are allowed to use that information for. Last disclaimer is that the smaller centers have a lot less information and you do need to pay and wait for some information to come from the larger library. So those are my disclaimers. When you find a person who volunteers... and you feel like you both understand and trust each other, you can find that a Mormon genealogist is a great friend to have. If you are willing to wait for microfiche and other documents and use it at your little local center- it is great and you can get a lot of stuff! I got a form from there that I was able to use to write a document in German and send it in German to a church to try and get some help with a German ancestor. That was pretty cool.
And the information on adopted children is great. I am stuck on one individual who I do know her name before adoption and I can't find much else. I think that using the information in this reading will be my next step on the family history that I am doing for class. And the information on illegitimate children seems like some great information to keep track of as well. I know that tracking the ancestry of African American's in this country is supposed to be hard (I have never tried so I have no idea but slavery tried really hard to separate families so I wouldn't doubt the challenges. It appears that you can find information almost anywhere for almost anything. I have found sources for items from historical biographies 'source pages' that have had great information for other purposes. Magazines can have sources, libraries, the internet, people's personal family collections... I have even found someone's genealogy in a Bible at a yard sale which I managed to find a family member for... It seems you just need to keep your eyes pealed!
And I must admit that I thought a lot about the section 'unexpected markets for your research'. I have tended to do the genealogy of anyone who asks- its really that simple. I have never thought of publishing it or even doing anything with it except give it to the person that I was compiling it for. The idea of sharing some of it with other enthusiasts sounds very intriguing and a little scary. Definitely something that I might think about for a bit. :) And I have certainly learned this week that there are more things constantly to learn. So much was familiar, but other things certainly were not- for instance I thought the date on the top of the census forms was the 'date', not an official date.
Last, but not least is the concept of collateral kin. First I have to say that I am already a convert of making families whole and not just the 'direct line'. I have found that you can't get a whole image of the family without the whole family nor are women and young children as easily traced without them. Grandmothers move in with Aunts, orphans move in with Uncles or Grandparents and you can not have any idea of how they 'fit' without taking in to account the whole family around them. I do have a strong belief in the direct line and being able to see your exact ancestry, but to also see your ancestors in their 'context' is a real way to see them... and not just a few lines on a chart or a spare picture or story. A friend of mine who past away last April was really a product of many things but her childhood really made her into the strong woman she was. Her father died within two months of her birth and she grew up as a step child with three half siblings. In many ways she raised her siblings when her mother died several years later. To only see her as who she is now would be to ignore what made her who she is today. This is what the author appears to mean by collateral kin. Collecting information on other family members always tends to give you information on your direct relative even if it is just incidental. You can find out hereditary disease that run through the whole family, the community, economy and social structure around the family as well as occupations, dangers, traditions, etc... (You can also find out things you didn't want to know like murder, abuse, etc.... but the risk for good information is almost always worth the risk of bad- and frankly there will always be some bad... otherwise we would definitely be lying or whitewashing our family's history. Sticking with just a surname also tends to make you so focused that you can miss the info that you need which is just a page away; ex... a neighbor talks about his good neighbor Joe (who is who you are researching,.... but doesn't always mention the last name.) Those sorts of information are harder to get if you put 'on blinders' and stick only with the surnames or direct line. I have found some research that talks about someone's children and short lived marriage that was not in census forms or the 'typical suspects' but in journal, letters and documentation from a sister. One thing that the author also mentioned was the relationships. You are more likely to find the people you need when using relationships than last names – unless of course you have an extremely rare last name. Otherwise you will have huge lists of people that do not have anything to do with that you are doing.... or even your family! ;) So using the information that you can get from siblings, cousins and distant relations as well as neighbors, family friends, work relationships, etc... can give you the closest image you can really get of what it was like to 'be' your relative and to live in that place and that moment. Also when you study an entire family, you can study larger patterns in society of education, migration, economic times, etc... Those larger and broader subjects are so much harder to study one person at a time... especially if the one person as a time can be a decade or two apart. :) One of the best reasons to study collateral kin that the author mentioned is that by studying distant cousins, sometimes they have information on a common ancestor that you do not... and if you ask nicely, they tend to be willing to share.... one of the great things about family history enthusiasts.!!! They also may have records simply because they lived in a different area and their records were not destroyed or lost. I was also fascinated by the idea that wills and documents left by individuals without descendants were more useful that those who did- never heard of that idea before. I also was surprised that some of the kinship meanings didn't mean what I thought that they meant! I also appreciated finishing up with the thought that familiar terms (cousin,etc...) were much more fluid in older times. When I go back and look at some of the genealogy that I have done, maybe I will have some more tools at my disposal to figure out things in my 'gaps'.! :)