By Daniel Hubbard | August 11, 2013
I’m surprised every time the blogiversary season rolls around and it is time to dig out the party hat. Blogiversary IV has really snuck up on me as I try to finish writing a couple books, start another and prepare to speak at FGS, my first national conference. Every year I joke about how it is my tradition to start with a short “real” post and then throw in a summary “party.” One of these years, I’ll have to admit that it is a real tradition. Now there is a question for genealogists. How many times in a row does it take to make a tradition?
I’ve been working on a lot of immigrant families lately and something has struck me. At first I thought it was odd but then I realized that if it was true at all, there were many reasons. I think it first occurred to me when I was asked to find the places of origin of a few Irish immigrants before a trip to Ireland. All the supposed immigrants were born in America. One of the parents was an immigrant and all the rest of the parents of the supposed immigrants were themselves born in America to immigrants. There is nothing so strange about family stories being in the right direction but not completely accurate but when I thought about it there was something else going on. Men and women who were not immigrants were marrying people whose ancestors had left the same area at about the same time even though they themselves probably had no idea that was the case. I realized that I’d seen this many times before. Once my aunts learned it and told him, my father was fond of saying that his ancestry was pure British Isles. He might also have pointed out that all of them had crossed the Atlantic by 1820 with the exception of a single Potato Famine immigrant. Clearly, my father’s parents weren’t aware of that, nor were their parents or even their parents. My father’s father’s father had almost nothing but ancestors who arrived between 1630 and 1640 and he married a woman whose family had found their way to the Midwest at a different time, by a different route and initially settled in a different state but whose ancestors arrived from England between 1630 and 1640. Neither of them would have had the slightest idea that this was true.
I think I’ve seen this kind of thing too often to be random chance. Assuming it isn’t chance or just me preferentially remembering such things, then there ought to be reasons. I think the items on this list just might be part of those reasons.
- People often marry within what they perceive to be their ethnic group.
- People often stick within their religion, which is often coupled with ethnic group, so the two reenforce each other.
- Ethnic groups often came in waves because of events in their homelands.
- People in those waves often settled in specific areas, reenforcing the tendency to stick together. There might be few other people around to marry and those people may very well have something against the new ethnic group and visa versa.
- Waves of the same ethnicity that arrived at different times often settle in different areas (for example, Germans in Pennsylvania in one era then in Wisconsin generations later) so that people of one ethnicity but of separate immigration waves are kept apart.
- People may no longer be conscious of their ancestral past but still carry a cultural fingerprint that helps determine choice of spouse. That cultural fingerprint is partially determined by factors 1-5 and partially determined by their parents, whose choice of spouse was also affected by the same factors.
- People may no longer be living in an area where their immigration wave dominated directly but still be part of an internal migration that lands people from the same place together in a different place.
What does one need for a party?
A location is good to have and directions to a genealogical party ought to be specified only through lots of obscure land records. Though, perhaps Logs Vegas would be an exciting place to get together! Some people, though, prefer parties held at home.
It is also wise to know the names of the people that you are inviting.
Some people’s idea of a good party is that it should feel like the apocalypse during the party and look like a war zone afterward. Far more people find some dancing that is somewhat short of apocalypse-inducing to make for a good party. A kid’s party might even have some magic.
At many a genealogical party there is some ancestor who sits half-forgotten by themselves, but genealogists are a friendly lot and will try to get them into the swing of things. Another sort of guest is the one that doesn’t show up.
Eventually the bills for the party will come due and someone will need to do some accounting.Twitter It!
By Daniel Hubbard | August 4, 2013
I don’t remember when I first read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy. Whenever it was, I have read it many times since. I won’t go into much of it here, it would be well off topic. Suffice it to say that it deals with a vast sweep of the future and the decline of a great galaxy-wide civilization and its reinvigoration from a point at its fringe.
One of the ways Asimov chose to illustrate the decline was though a debate on human origins. Humans had spread so far and had been scattered for so long that it was no longer known from where the originated. As any genealogist ought to understand, origins are interesting. So in the distant future there were people who sought to locate the hypothetical planet of origin. How did they attempt to find it? They read earlier thinkers on the subject and wrote commentaries. They debated threads of possibilities mentioned by authors that had been dead for hundreds or thousands of years. The thought of sifting through whatever ancient records might exist or of performing an archeological excavation on one of the possible planets never occurred to anyone. That is simply not what one did. One read what had been done earlier and decided.
Hopefully, to any modern person, especially to any modern researcher, that seems absurd. It is fine to take guidance from giants as we stand on their proverbial shoulders but to leave it at that, not check or test is not the way the modern world works. In genealogy we always want to take as many sources as possible into account and it is the ones that were created as close as possible to the event of interest that usually take precedence. We want to get back in time to the event itself. Getting back to someone who once had something to say about events that were in their own distant past can provide clues or act as a signpost to guide us on the path, but if we can at all help it, we don’t rely solely on material created long after the fact.
Your index finger is literally the finger with which you indicate things. From that we get “to finger” meaning to be indicated as a wrongdoer. You don’t want to be fingered by an index.
One of the common statements made about conducting genealogical research, easily fits into the form of a commandment—”thou shalt not rely on the index.” Indices are supposed to guide us to records, not replace them (unless of course the index is all that survives). I can think of two reasons for that commandment and I ran into both of them in the last few days.
The first reason not to rely on the index is that it almost certainly doesn’t contain all the information found in the original record. A marriage index told me the name of the bride, the name of the groom and the date and place of the marriage. All good information, if correct, but hardly everything that the record contained. I ordered the microfilm but before it arrived, I traced the groom back to Sweden and found the name of the place where he was born down to the actual house. Imagine scrolling through the nearly randomly ordered New York City marriage records on a roll of microfilm and discovering that the groom’s place of birth was not just recorded as “Sweden,” as I’d expect, but also with the name of the house. There was no village or parish or even county named, just the name of the house followed by “Sweden.” The clerk who wrote it down certainly didn’t understand what he was writing but I did. In a genealogical sense, I can only say that it was beautiful. You don’t get that kind of confirmation from an index.
The other reason not to rely on the index is that it was probably created long after the event and will contain mistakes. Even the best indexers will make errors. Usually the indexer won’t have the in-depth knowledge that someone researching a family will have. The indexer might not even have good knowledge of the time or place that produced the records that they are indexing. Ideally, they will but you can’t base your research on it. I ran into this while researching a family in mid 17th century Massachusetts. The index told me of the death of “Ann.” Looking at the original record should something a bit different. The first problem is that after the name appeared a quite distinct pair of words, “son of.” The name didn’t even look much like “Ann.” It looked like “John.” The other problem was that Ann/John had a sister, whose death was recorded immediately below. That death was attributed to “Riley.” Now, Riley may be a fine name but in Puritan New England, it is probably only marginally more likely that Vladimir, and that is partially because we are talking about a girl. Admittedly, it was hard to read the name but it would take a lot to convince me of a little Puritan girl named Riley. The descender of the supposed “y” actually belonged to a letter in the line below and the girl’s name was Ruth, not Riley.Twitter It!
By Daniel Hubbard | July 28, 2013
A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.
—Henry David Thoreau
Reading old genealogical works can be an almost mystical experience. Not mystical with a capital “M” as in a profound experience that transcends the mundane. Rather, mystical lower case “m” in the sense of something whose connection to reality, if any, is far from clear.
I’ve been doing a lot of literature searches lately as I start on new branches of families. The results have been interesting. One article presented the story of a famous uncle in hiding with his widowed sister and the lovelorn niece who ran off to America. I also found several old articles in historical literature refuting the story and a biography of the uncle that left no room for the uncle’s very much alive brother-in-law and business partner to also be dead. Nor was there room for the uncle to be in hiding from the law while he was on official government business. It was a nice story, one I ran into repeated many times and though the girl in the story did come to America, she wasn’t who she was claimed to be.
Another search brought up so many interesting points that I just have to write about it. I’ve found two histories of the same family so far. Both were written circa 1900. One of them is fascinating. Not because the information is spellbinding or because it is terribly wrong. It is fascinating for what one can tell about the sources used. The first thing to notice is that sources are never cited. That isn’t uncommon for the period it was written. Sometimes, sources are mentioned in passing but only when two sources disagree. The sources mentioned are always secondary.
The next thing to notice comes when comparing to the original records. I’ve found most of them. The dates are full of interesting errors. The people being written about were all born in the mid 1600s. Their birth dates were originally recorded using only numbers for the months. That is fine if you understand the calendar in use then. March, not January was month number 1 in the Anglo-Saxon world before the calendar was reformed in the 1750s. This actually makes sense out of the month names at the end of the year. From September to December, the names of the months simply mean “7th month” to “10th month.” Sometimes the author of this book got it right, or at least took it from another source that got it right and sometimes he didn’t. Sometimes he found sources that disagreed by two months and didn’t realize that there was an explanation. One of his sources successfully converted month 10 to December and the other wrote October.
Reading these sources and comparing them to the records also shows how easy it can be to misread. The originals are clear. There is no doubt about the numbers used for months but the secondary sources that were used must not have been so clear. If the author wrote July, the month in the records might be July but it was just as likely to be June or January. It seems like Jan, Jun and Jul become interchangeable if you are only clear about the “J” and don’t worry too much about the other two letters. As I realized what had happened I wanted to go back in time and stand over the authors shoulder, clear my throat and let him know that J-months are not, in fact, interchangeable.
For me, the highlight was a note at the end of one section which reads-
The trouble of genealogists in dates are exemplified in the “Vinton Memorial,” making Susanna b. Aug 30, 1650, and d. in September, the second Susanna b. in July and Phebe Sept. 6.*
What I find amazing is that those dates, which the author did not accept, are all correct according to the original town records—every last one of them. Most are off by two months from the dates he accepted, at least one is off by one year and 28 days, though the month is correct. Why he was sure these dates were wrong, he doesn’t say. Nor does he tell us where he got the dates he used.
One final oddity is a boy in a later generation with the middle name May. He is the only one of his siblings with a middle name. It is also a name that seems like a girl’s name, though it could be a surname, it is slightly suspicious. So far I have found nearly all his siblings in town records but not John or the next child. This isn’t a problem yet. John was the oldest, the family migrated to a place that wasn’t really organized and so the proof of his birth my be harder to find. What is odd is that another secondary source reads not “John May, b. 1697″ but “John… b. May 1697.” The placement of the “b.” makes a difference, doesn’t it? Assuming there is any truth to this, it looks like someone misread something.
- Secondary sources are, for the most part, only hints. A good deal might be correct but often a good deal is wrong. Without checking more reliable documents it isn’t possible to tell what is right and what is wrong.
- Nevertheless, a secondary source, even a less than perfect one can be a great help in finding better information. The author of this book apparently never saw the original town records but he did know which town and his dates were in the right ball park even if wrong, making it better than starting from scratch. An unreliable source may still be a useful source, if you realize how you need to use it.
- A secondary source built on secondary sources will accumulate errors. Any author can and will make errors. They will also propagate the errors of the secondary sources they rely upon. It becomes something like an archeological site where as the years progress, the objects that would be useful finds become more and more buried under new layers of soil and modern junk.
- There is more to understanding documents that simply reading them. Without knowing the context, mistakes will be made interpreting them. Somewhere along the line, someone who did not understand the way months were numbered in the 17th century read the town records and converted the numbers to names that were two months off. Someone else did not realize why there was often a two month difference between the dates he was reading and picked one or the other without stating why.
- Think about the overall nature of what you are reading. Are original records being cited? Secondary sources? Nothing at all? If sources are not indicated, how big a piece of work is it? A small book or one that focuses on a particular area whose records were all in one place and could be accessed more conveniently is not necessarily accurate but it is more likely to be accurate than a massive work that, if it had relied on original records, would require research over an enormous area. Think about what one author could reasonably accomplish.
It all gets back to the end of the Thoreau quote that started this post—What I began by reading, I must finish by acting. In this case the act that needs to follow the reading is, I hope, clear.
*Charles Candee Baldwin, The Baldwin genealogy from 1500 to 1881, (Cleveland: 1881), p 615Twitter It!
By Daniel Hubbard | July 21, 2013
A person’s memories are not created instantaneously. There is a process of assimilation. We think of our memories as if they are created by a recording device—formed instantly, perfectly and unalterably. That isn’t the way it actually works. Forming a memory starts in an instant but it can take a lifetime.
Our collective memory works the same way. Everything from broad historical research to our quite specific genealogical endeavors goes into slowly forming society’s memory of itself. It begins with documents and artifacts and ends, if it ever ends, with complexity and ambiguity and hopefully some knowledge.
When we lose those documents and artifacts, it is impossible to carryout that process of memory formation. I read the other day that in May in Albemarle County, Virginia a collection WPA records was thrown away and apparently lost forever. It is not the biggest blow to record preservation but all such loses contribute to a sort of societal senility.
Some of the Bigger Losses
The 1890 U.S. census is commonly believed to have been almost totally destroyed by fire in 1921. It was only partially destroyed, perhaps a quarter was lost outright. Perhaps another quarter was damaged. In 1932 the Census Bureau put the 1890 census on a list of papers to be destroyed. The Librarian of Congress did not identify the census as having historical value. It wasn’t until the mid 1930s that most of the 1890 census was intentionally destroyed.
Hundreds of years of Irish records are famous for being destroyed in 1922 during the civil war. Rebels had seized a building known as Four Courts and as they were surrendering, an enormous explosion destroyed the Public Record Office that was housed within the building and much of Ireland’s memory disappeared. No one knows whether the destruction was accidental or the result of a booby-trap. Some of Ireland’s memory was already gone even before 1922. The 1861 and 1871 censuses were destroyed not long after they were taken. During WWI the 1881 and 1891 censuses were recycled because paper was in short supply.
Compared to such intentional destruction, or the space saving measures that caused the loss of the Bremen ship’s manifests, one county throwing away one set of valuable records might seem a small thing but it all represents memories we will never be able to form.
Many organizations preserve our records; government offices, archives, libraries, museums, and historical and genealogical societies. Those last two are places where anyone can make a difference. They often gladly become custodians of records that no one else can or will care for. Speaking as the president of a genealogical society that preserves records and gives people access to them, I think I can say that most societies need help. They need members whose dues are used to pay for preservation and storage. They need donations and they need volunteers who can keep the reading rooms open and organized. Without that help, our collective amnesia will only grow.Twitter It!
By Daniel Hubbard | July 14, 2013
I state the utmost force of the wild Yankees, as they are called, at 200 men
They “came to her house and threatened to set fire to it. Being afraid for her life” she fled. When she returned “she found the roof tore off and the house plundered.”
They “told me that my half hour was expired & I must march. I begged for time to move my things off.” They “told me I should have none & immediately threw my things out of the house and marched me off with a guard to the river. I begged of them to let me have my cows, which they utterly refus’d…
…asked me if there were any men in the house or about it. I told him there were not. He then ask’d me to open the door. I told him I would not, he then told me he would soon find a way to open it, and broke it open.” He “then asked me to open all the Chests. I told him I would open none for him nor no other person, he then Broke open the Chests and Plunder’d them of all the most valuable effects…
…shot at her ; the Ball missed her but went thro’ the thigh of her Dog that was walking close by her side…
Those are brutal and frightening stories of encounters with troops during the American Civil War. Except that isn’t what they are at all. They did take place in America, in Pennsylvania to be precise, but they have nothing to do with Confederates plundering during the Gettysburg Campaign. It was a civil war of sorts that was being described but the man who spoke of “wild Yankees” wasn’t a Georgian or Virginian, he was a Pennsylvanian. It wasn’t 1864; it was 1784. It was the Second Pennamite-Yankee War.
When we think of researching military records, we think of the big wars that we learned about in school. If you are American that means the Revolution, the War of 1812, The Mexican-American War, the American Civil War… There were other, smaller wars, footnotes of violence, that lie hidden in our history and they too produced records. These small conflicts didn’t shake whole societies like the bigger ones often did. If your ancestors were caught in the middle of them, not knowing what would happen next or how far it would spread, their lives were changed nonetheless. For them, the fact that we leave them out of the history books would have been irrelevant.
There were Indian wars and slave insurrections that are still remembered because they form parts of great currents of American history. The other little wars are largely forgotten.
One of my own ancestors was involved in Shays Rebellion (Western Massachusetts, 1786-7). The records of his involvement are sketchy and he probably did not fight himself but he expressed his sympathy for the rebels and after their defeat needed to confess the error of his ways. It is actually one of the more famous little wars in American history having been one of the triggers for replacing the Articles of Confederation with a new constitution.
The Whiskey Rebellion (Western Pennsylvania, 1791-1794) resulted in the raising of an army larger than the Continental Army had been during the Revolution. There were not enough volunteers, so a draft was instituted, which resulted in armed draft resistance in some areas of Virginia and rioting in Maryland that required 800 men to suppress.
Shays Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion are probably the best known of America’s little wars because they did leave their mark in the early days after the Revolution. There have been many other “small” rebellions. Here are three that don’t get much press-
- Leisler’s Rebellion- from 1689-1691 southern New York was governed by rebels without the authority of the British monarchy. Leisler, the rebel governor, was put to death.
- Cary’s Rebellion- in 1711 the Lords Proprietors of Carolina decided to replace Thomas Cary as Deputy Governor of northern Carolina. Because of already inflamed religious divisions between Dissenters and Anglicans and because of an irregularity in the appointment of the new deputy governor, a rebellion broke out. It at one point even involved a small rebel warship. When Virginia militia and Royal Marines intervened the rebellion disintegrated.
- Dorr Rebellion- 1841-1842 property requirements on voting had disenfranchised so many that voting was restricted to 40% of white men in Rhode Island by 1840. A rival constitution for the state was written, twin elections produced two state governments and rebels tried to storm the arsenal in Providence.
There have been a few minor wars between states and colonies as well. Some of them killed fewer people that what lies behind the average endnote in a book about 1864 but they were real to people at the time. Here are a few of those-
- Cresap’s War- 1730-1738 was fought over the Pennsylvania-Maryland boundary. When Cresap himself was brought to Philadelphia as a prisoner, he proclaimed that he found it to be the most beautiful city in all of Maryland. This went far enough that it was only ended by a peace agreement in London in 1738.
- The Toledo War- 1835-1836 fought over Toledo and a strip of land running from Lake Erie to Indiana along the Ohio-Michigan line. The western three fourths of the Upper Peninsula were given to Michigan in exchange for giving up its claim to Toledo.
- The Honey War- 1837-1839 a border dispute between first Wisconsin Territory then later Iowa Territory on the one hand and Missouri on the other. Both sides sent militias to the disputed area and managed to briefly mobilize over a thousand men each but there was no fighting. One Iowa sheriff arrested a Missouri sheriff who was trying to collect taxes along the border and some Missourians cut down three prized trees full of honey that were owned by Iowa settlers. The border was not finally settled until the Supreme Court weighed in during 1849.
The Pennamite-Yankee Wars that started this post were fought in the Wyoming Valley of Northeastern Pennsylvania from 1769 to 1799. There were battles between settlers granted land under the claim of Connecticut to the area (upheld by the British before the Revolution) and the settlers granted the same land by Pennsylvania (upheld by the Continental Congress after the Revolution). The Pennsylvanians quoted above (from the published Pennsylvania Archives) were complaining about the same tactics that they had used to clear the Connecticut settlers from the land only recently. There were skirmishes and even small sieges. It wasn’t unknown for prisoners to be held in appalling conditions, shut up without ventilation and wallowing in their own filth for days. Timothy Pickering, future Postmaster General, Secretary of War and Secretary of State was briefly kidnapped. Some of the Green Mountain Boys arrived to help the Connecticut settlers. By some reckoning they were at that time the national army of the Republic of Vermont (1777-1791) after they successfully broke away from New York in their own, earlier, border war. Ethan Allen even vowed that given that he had created Vermont, he could break the Wyoming Valley away from Pennsylvania.
Our ancestors didn’t always live the comprehensible history that we remember from school. We may forget such things as we “clean up” history to make it easier to learn but the records that we family historians use haven’t forgotten. They still exist, waiting to be explored.
What ancestors of yours might have experience one of these little wars and lie waiting to be discovered in militia musters, depositions and court records?Twitter It!
By Daniel Hubbard | July 7, 2013
From a recent exchange started by an intentionally amusing comment from a client- “In genealogy we’re supposed to go backward to move things forward, so is backward actually forward or is backward still backward even though it takes things forward?” Somehow that reminded me of “Who’s on first?” at least in the level of potential confusion and it is baseball season after all. So, as a reminder that communicating family history is not always straight-forward and with apologies to Abbott and Costello—
Costello: “Do you know your family history?”
Costello: “Ok, great! Who’s your father’s father?”
Abbott: “That’s right!”
Costello: “What’s right?”
Abbott: “Who’s my grandfather.”
Costello: “That’s what I’m asking you.”
Abbott: “That’s why I’m telling you who is my grandfather.”
Costello: “Ok, when your dad was a little kid and his mother was sick…”
Abbott: “That’s true! His mother was born sick!”
Costello: “What are you talking about?”
Abbott: “His mother.”
Costello: “Who’s mother was sick?”
Abbott: “No, who’s wife was sick. Who’s mother was dying.”
Costello: “Who’s dying?”
Abbott: “No she was his mother.”
Costello: “Let’s try this again. When your dad was little and his mother was sick…”
Abbott: “Yes, that’s right.”
Costello: “Stop interrupting me. So, his mother was sick. Who was left to take care of him?”
Abbott: “Now I think you’ve understood it!”
Costello: “Understood what?”
Abbott: “No, he was my mother’s father.”
Costello: “Who was your mom’s father?”
Abbott: “No, who was my dad’s father.”
Costello: Let’s try this again. You check a census that lists your dad when he was a kid. Who was listed as the father?”
Abbott: “Yes, in every census.”
Costello: “And you say his wife was sick?”
Abbott: “Yes, but you can’t tell that from the census. You have to look at their marriage license.”
Costello: “Who’s license?”
Abbott: “Well, I’d say it was their license not just his, but she was sick on it.”
Costello: “Oh no, she must have been a very nervous bride.”
Abbott: “Why do you say that.”
Costello: “Well, she was sick on it.”
Abbott: “Yes, she was but I don’t see what that has to do with anything.”
Costello: “One more try. You check your dad’s birth certificate. Somebody was the father.”
Abbott: “Now you’ve switched to my mother’s side of the family again.”
Abbott: “I’ve told you, he was my mom’s father. Somebody was his wife.”
Costello: “Well, I should hope somebody was his wife.”
Abbott: Now you’re making sense.
Costello: “Look, let’s try to get something straight. Did your father have brothers and sisters?”
Abbott: “Yes and no.”
Costello: “Did he or not?”
Abbott: “Yes and no!”
Costello: “If I asked your father’s father about his children, he would talk about your dad. Would he talk about another son?
Costello: “Good, would he talk about a daughter?”
Costello: “Wonderful! And these were whose children?”
Abbott: “Now you’ve figured it out!”
Costello: “So I go back in time to when your dad was a kid. It’s the Fourth of July. The whole family has gathered. I knock on the door. Who answers?”
Costello: “I walk into the kitchen to check on the meal. In the kitchen would be?”
Abbott: “Somebody, sick and dying.”
Costello: “That’s terrible!”
Abbott: “No they were great cooks.”
Costello: “Ok… I walk onto the screen porch. I see what? Who is at the watermelon? A child is on the floor playing. Yes or No? The meal is brought out of the kitchen by somebody, sick and dying.”
Abbott: “Now I think you see it!”
Costello: “I don’t see. I’m totally lost!”
Costello: “I said, I don’t see I’m totally lost!”
Abbott: “Oh, wouldn’t have been there. He could never get anywhere on time.”Twitter It!
By Daniel Hubbard | June 30, 2013
I never thought that I would ever use the heraldic visitations. Heraldry has that sort of “gravitational” attraction that always makes me somewhat uneasy. People have been known to make up heraldic arms for profit. Some think that there are “family coats of arms” and that everyone has one. People claim or are misled to believe connections on the flimsiest of grounds all because of that powerful gravity of those medieval designs.
Some English research I am still working on led to a will that named an uncle and a nephew. They were tempting clues that might allow going one step further back than I could otherwise. They turned out to appear as father and son in a visitation. If the pedigree reported to the herald can be trusted, it gave me two more generations. That, I think is the most exciting part. It isn’t the arms that did not descend down the branch that I was working on anyway. It was finding those two men in the visitation in a way that, once I verify some information, may get me back farther than I had the right to expect. That is what was important and exciting about using that visitation, it may well expand my understanding of the family.
So what were heraldic visitations? By the time of Henry VIII the use of arms had become widespread. Too widespread. Heraldic arms were not something that just anyone could use and certainly not by creating the arms themselves but people seemed to be elevating themselves into the gentry in that way. The solution was something of a blending of an inquisition and a census. Those who carried out the visitation were empowered to demand to see the heraldic arms of anyone claiming them and to demand proof of their right to the arms. If the proof was lacking, the herald was instructed
to put down or otherwise deface at his discretion… in plate, jewels, paper, parchment, windows, gravestones and monuments or elsewhere whereseoever they may be set or placed.
If that inquisitorial phase was passed, the census-like phase began. If the proof was felt to be sufficient, the arms and the proof were recorded as well as the pedigree of those whose right had been confirmed.
Visitations of different areas of England continued until the reign of William & Mary began in 1688.
The 1664 visitation of Lancaster was carried out by Sir William Dugdale and the edition printed in the nineteenth century contains a long biography of him in the introduction. On the first page it said he
was not descended from one of our great families of whom it may be said with truth that they lose themselves in the ages which are past, but who are still remembered in deeds that will not die.
I have mixed feelings about that quote but I find parts of it quite beautiful. As we research back through the generations we do find that families “lose themselves in the ages which are past.” They eventually fade back into that fog of records not kept or not preserved, documents not known or not understood. We try to blow away that fog but there will always be a point when those “ages that are past” don’t let us see farther. We also try to remember or uncover and then preserve those “deeds that will not die.”
On the other hand, I find the entire quotation to be a bit disturbing. Sir William “was not descended from one of our great families of whom” the rest of the quote applies. That certainly goes for my ancestors as well and probably also for yours but I find it to be wrong. Every family stretches back to to ages which are past and as for those “deeds that will not die” that is for us, the descendants to decide. They aren’t restricted to the cream of the noble crop of which even our Sir William was not a member. Perhaps we do genealogical research in part to elevate at least some of our ancestors into our own personal nobility.
Maybe that is why I never imagined I would use the visitations. They claim to record the nobility and yet they record so little of it.Twitter It!
By Daniel Hubbard | June 23, 2013
The famous biologist Edward O. Wilson has written that,
“The ideal scientist thinks like a poet and works like a bookkeeper.”
That is research in a nutshell.
A poet asks the big questions and looks for the big patterns.
- What if this isn’t him in these records?
- What if they married in America not Ireland?
- What if a birth record doesn’t match the death record made not long after? (one I’ve run across)
- What if he died while traveling? (my great-great-grandfather’s death notice was found in a Brooklyn newspaper—Brooklyn is about 1000 miles from where he lived but he died there.)
- What might it mean that a five-year-old is listed as head of household? (another one I’ve run across)
The poet sees the subject from different angles. When starting out with a problem that is not straightforward the imagination needs to run free over the possibilities and weave together creative hypotheses. Thoughts can push at the envelope that confines them. Questions can arise. These thoughts and hypotheses don’t all need to be correct. If one is correct you reach your goal. They don’t need to prove to be sensible. Twenty crazy thoughts, might include two worth pursuing and one that proves to be miraculous rather than fatuous.
You might use your imagination to weed out the impossible ideas, and deemphasize the unlikely but hard problems are often hard because the answers were not likely or the paths to them are faint and winding.
It is time to ask the what-ifs and wonder if a clue might be found in some unexpected place or if many tiny constraints might be combined to point the way.
Once the research starts, the researcher needs to become an accountant.
- What is the data? I’ll record that.
- Where did the data originate? I’ll record that.
- What does the new data mean in combination with the old? I’ll record that.
- Where does this data imply I should look next? I’ll record that.
- Where did I look and not find anything? I’ll record that.
Once the accountant has enough written down, it might be time for the poet to return or the accountant in you might solve the problem on the first try.
By Daniel Hubbard | June 16, 2013
After a long day of triangulating families in Griffith’s Valuation, I needed a break and managed to take my first somewhat long bike ride of the year. I took a route that I have taken many times before. The deep forest and the slow-flowing river give a sense of timeless permanence. They were there like they have been for centuries and like they will be until long after I am gone. When you stop to ponder for a moment in such a place, I think the only possible feeling is awe.
Even amidst all changelessness, some of the most wonderful sights were the ones that were transient—a meadow dancing with purple flowers mixed with the golden heads of prairie grass that the setting sun hit just right, a snapping turtle that had left the river to catch a patch of evening sun upon the path, a young buck and a doe keeping each other company at the edge of the forest.
Perhaps it is that transience in permanence that makes the magic. That meadow wasn’t quite the same a few moments later, the snapper lost the sun and headed back to the deep of the river, the buck and the doe investigated me but then headed off together back among the trees. Lasting and fleeting together.
Back home, I waded back into the unchanging permanence of tithe applotments and parish registers, name after name, place after place, recorded, captured and timeless. Then a discovery, a transient realization, a sudden glimpse of a new connection hidden among the unchanging permanence of names and places. Magic.Twitter It!
By Daniel Hubbard | June 10, 2013
The other night my daughter borrowed the movie Angels & Demons and wanted to watch it with me. Part of the plot hinges on the theft of a container of antimatter from CERN, the particle physics laboratory outside Geneva, Switzerland. I think she wanted to get my reaction to the physics.
Antimatter is in some ways just like ordinary matter and in some ways it is matter’s complete opposite. A positron (antielectron) has the same mass as an electron. They have the same amount of electric charge but whereas an electron’s charge is negative a positron’s charge is positive. Matter and antimatter have many of the same properties yet many properties are completely contrary. When a particle and its antiparticle meet, they annihilate leaving nothing but energy behind. The original particle and antiparticle are gone.
Physicists do actually work with antimatter. It really is something that is sought out, made and used. What your genealogy may need is for you to seek out and use some antidocuments.
Antimatter annihilates matter. Antidocuments annihilate your documents. Just like physicists who work with antimatter. Genealogists need to seek out and work with antidocuments. Let them annihilate what you thought you knew.
I have a death record for a man that tells me who his father is. I have his marriage record that lists his father as a witness. I have his children’s baptismal records that show his siblings and his wife’s siblings as godparents. I have his baptismal record from half a world away that identifies his parents. He came to America and I found him living in his father’s household in 1870. I found him married and living with his wife and children in 1880. I also looked for the father in 1880 and found him living next door to his son with a different wife. I’d found an antidocument. There were two men of that name, born in the same month in the same country to fathers of the same name. They came to the same city.
The second antidocument that I encountered was a second death record that showed that the two men died a few blocks from each other and within a few months of each other. It almost seemed that they had literally annihilated each other. I had found a man that fit the description of the man that I was after. Like some sort of antimatter, he has many properties that are the same as the man I am seeking but he annihilated the idea that I had found the correct father.
There must have been some connection between these two men, just like there are theoretical connections between particles and antiparticles. The siblings of one did not end up as godparents to the children of the other by accident but the family connections are not what they at first had seemed and I have the a few antidocuments to thank for that realization.
Sources of Antidocuments
Physicists need a source of antiparticles. At CERN we used a machine called the antiproton accumulator. You will also need sources of antidocuments.
One way to find antidocuments is to investigate people who seem to be associated with your person. Learning those relationships can annihilate your hypothesis and get you closer to the truth. You can think of those people as “auntymatter.” Then there are all the people with similar names and biographies that can be pondered. Of course, there is always the tried-and-true method of examining every document you can concerning the person you’re investigating. If for example you discover that an obscure record implies that he or she died younger than your hypothesis allows, you’ve found an antidocument.
So how was the physics?
As a physicist who spent almost a decade at CERN, I can say that the physics in Angels & Demons was fine for moving a plot along but not for anything else. When I was a grad student the local newspaper, La Tribune de Geneve, ran a paranoid sounding letter to the editor claiming that CERN was producing antimatter for military purposes, i.e. blowing things up. (I’ve often wondered if that was somehow the seed for the book and the movie.) We thought that this was hilarious and one night on shift at the experiment (which used a beam of antimatter) we calculated how long it would take the CERN antiproton accumulator to accumulate 1 gram of antimatter (for comparison, a U.S. nickel weighs 5 grams). I don’t remember if the answer was three or four times the current age of the universe but the difference between 40 and 54 billion years of continuous, flawless operation are not that big when it comes to thinking about the practicality of the whole thing. Then of course, the antimatter produced needs to be held impossibly well because even the smallest mistake means losing it all.Twitter It!
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