Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Genealogy Department at the Chattanooga Library

As my assignment for Lesson 4 of the NGS Home Study Course, I was required to do a survey of genealogy offerings at my local library.  Because I live in one of the only places in the U.S. where I have no research, I've never really checked out my local library.  I was pleasantly surprised.

The full name of the library is actually the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Bicentennial Library.  I shortened it, for obvious reasons.  In any case, it's located in downtown Chattanooga, only a few blocks from my office.

Fortunately, my library is open on Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m.  I was there for about 3 hours, actively identifying the genealogical holdings, and still didn't see everything.

The department is divided into three main sections.  The first section, with approximately 4000 linear feet of shelves at one end of the floor, contains the Federal Documents Depository Collection.  The second section at the opposite end of the floor, with another 4000 linear feet of shelves, holds family histories, individual histories, bound genealogy periodicals, 3 rows of Civil War materials, and 8 rows of locality histories from all over the United States and the world.  There are 9 rows dedicated to Tennessee/Chattanooga historical works.  Roughly 300 linear feet are devoted to family histories.  You can find the microfilm cabinets and readers, study tables, computer stations, and the reference desk in the middle section.

The library receives roughly 31 genealogy periodicals, including the National Genealogical Society Quarterly and The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record.  If you are a member of the library, you can access Ancestry, HeritageQuest, Fold3, Sanborn Maps, WorldVitalRecords, and GenealogyBank through the library's computers.  You can also access all of these (except Ancestry) remotely.

The library has an extensive collection of local newspapers on microfilm. The smaller newspapers that would eventually merge to create the Chattanooga Times Free Press go all the way back to February 1873. They also have the New York Times on microfilm (which is handy if you don't want to pay for your article - you can get the citation from the website and go to the library and look it up).

They also have TONS of microfilm that aren't newspapers.  I think I stopped counting when I got to around the 30th filing cabinet.  They have 11 microfilm readers, 2 are equipped to print to paper.  There are also 2 digital microfilm scanners.

They also have an extensive manuscript collection with materials that date back to the 17th century.  The most impressive thing (to me, anyway) is that the library maintains an obituary index for the Chattanooga Times Free Press.  The index is updated each day by the staff directly from the newspaper.  They do this specifically for the genealogical value, according to one of the reference librarians.

During my adventures in the stacks, I realized that my library has more available to research than just local materials.  I found family histories from everywhere - including some in South Dakota and Indiana (where the majority of my U.S. research is centered).  So just because you don't live where you have research, don't think you can't still find something at your local library!

(and, in case you're wondering, the staff are incredibly patient and helpful.  Trust me.  I put them to the test.  They don't have a "no-fly" list for the library do they?)

Do we share any ancestors?
Please email me at lostancestors [at] gmail [dot] com

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Anatomy of a Census Record (or Confessions of an Intermediate Genealogy Noob)

I've been doing some beta testing for a new software product that (for now) shall remain nameless (until I get permission to blab).  In any case, this certain software requires that I enter my sources (with citations) and then enter all of the individual fact claims for each person on each source.  Ultimately, this is going to help me with my proof arguments for ... well, everything.

I had barely gotten started when I had to stop and ask myself, "have I really thought about the individual claims made in every source I have?"  Nope.  Do those sources really make the claims I think they make, or do I see them because that's I want the source to tell me?  Hmm ... good question.  Let's take a look.

I'll start with a census record, since that's pretty much the first thing I look for when trying to flesh out a family.

This is the 1870 U.S. Census record for Saunders County, Nebraska.
You can see that it lists the Bourke household about halfway down the page.  My great great grandmother, Eliza Bourke, is highlighted.

The first thing to note is that (unlike the 1940 census) the person providing the information to the enumerator is not indicated.  Therefore, right off the bat, we can't say whether the information is reliable.  We'll put that aside for now.

It clearly shows that Eliza is 9 years old at the time of the census.  Nice!  A clue to her birth date.  But ... when was the census taken?  There is no date at the top of the page.  Fortunately, I referred to my source citation and went back to the source, kept going backwards page by page until I found a date.  Unfortunately, it was on the very first page.
So Eliza was 9 years old on the 6th or 7th of August, 1870.  This places her birth date between August 7-8, 1860 and August 5-6, 1861.  Here's the big question: Does the census record tell me that? Or is it merely inferred?  Technically it is inferred.  It's still evidence for "When was Eliza Bourke born?" (because you can't have evidence without first having a question), but in this case the evidence is indirect.

The next major fact is that Eliza was born in Illinois.  This is direct evidence for the question "Where was Eliza Bourke born?"  Pretty straightforward.  Not very precise, but it will do for now.

Now comes the hard part.  Does this record tell me that Louis Bourke and Mary Bourke are Eliza's parents?  It does not.  What it does tell me is that Eliza was living in the same household as Louis and Mary Bourke and supposedly shared the same last name as Louis and Mary Bourke.  It also tells me that both Eliza's father and mother are of foreign birth (as are Louis and Mary).  We could infer that Louis and Mary are Eliza's parents, but that would be risky, as there simply isn't enough evidence to make that connection.  We can't even say for sure that Louis and Mary are married.  They might be brother and sister or cousins or any other relation - or no relation at all.

The bottom line is that this 1870 census record is helpful for clues, but not much more.  The only "facts" I can really take away are that Eliza was born in Illinois, that she did not attend school within the year, and she can read and write - and that's without taking the reliability of the information into account.  The one thing I can count on from this record is that Eliza Bourke was in Township 14, Range 9 of Saunders County, Nebraska between August 6 and 7, 1870.

In the grand scheme of things, it's not much, and at first it seemed like my "reasonably exhaustive" search would quickly become an unreasonably exhausting search.  Fortunately, subsequent census records contain a little more information that I can (and will) use to help make these connections.

Between my NGS Home Study Course and the beta testing for this yet-unidentified software, I am looking at my research in a whole new way ... and that's turning out to be a very good thing!

Do we share any ancestors?
Please email me at lostancestors [at] gmail [dot] com

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Ancestor Roulette

Well, Randy Seaver has posted another Saturday challenge.

Let me start by saying I couldn't use any of my great-grandmother's birth years because when I divided by 90, I got 21.  It was the same with all of my great-grandfathers.  (Until now, I never realized that all of my great grandparents were born within a 10-year period).  In any case, I've already done a complete blog post on my #21 ancestor, Theresa Burns.  So there's that.

Instead, I decided to divide by 60.  

My great grandmother was born in 1892.  The result was 31 (rounded down).

Number 31 on my ahnentafel is Jeannette (Heerdink) Stiker, my 2nd great grandmother.

Jeannette Heerdink was born in June 1871* in Evansville, Vanderburgh, Indiana.  She is the daughter of Anthony Heerdink (b. Germany) and Mary Diefenbach (b. Indiana).  She married Eugene F. Stiker on 20 June 1894 in Evansville.  They had 7 children: Justin, Frank, Vera, Lucile, Lillian, Eugene L., and Raymond.  She died on 30 March 1953.

Three facts:

1. Her nickname was Jennie (which is quite awesome, I think).

2. She only completed the 7th grade in school (according to the 1940 census).

3. She is buried at St. Anthony Catholic Cemetery in Mt. Vernon, Indiana.

*Her birth date is listed on the 1900 census as June 1871, but on her grave marker it is listed as January 31, 1869.  The truth is out there.  Somewhere.

Do we share any ancestors?
Please email me at lostancestors [at] gmail [dot] com

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Ancestor Spotlight: Thomas Patrick Slowey (1896-1963)

Thomas Patrick Slowey is my great grandfather.  He was the 7th of 12 children born to John Charles and Theresa (Burns) Slowey.  He was born on 29 December 1896 in Yankton, South Dakota, and baptized at St. Kyran Catholic Church in Mayfield, South Dakota, on 10 January 1897.  

Wedding Day
Tom lived with his parents in rural Yankton County, South Dakota until 1917, when he married Christina Ann Huber.  The couple were married on 17 April 1917 in Irene, South Dakota.  They had six children between 1918 and 1939, the third being my grandmother.

Tom worked a grain farm in the Irene/Utica area.  While he was still quite young, he got his hand caught in a corn harvesting machine - similar to the one shown below - which did quite a bit of damage.  He had to have surgery to repair his injuries and his bones were wired together.  He was unable to use his hand properly afterward.  Tom was never in the military, and I wonder if his hand injury prevented his enlistment.  His WWI Draft Registration makes no mention of an injury, so it's likely the injury occurred after 1919 (the date on the registration).  

812 Douglas Avenue
He continued farming until sometime between 1940 and 1945, when the family moved to 812 Douglas Avenue.  He worked for a time at an alcohol plant in Yankton, and then worked as a stockyard foreman for Anderson Livestock Sales until he died.

Tom survived a heart attack in October 1960.  Unfortunately, three years later he suffered another heart attack and passed away at Sacred Heart Hospital at 3:50 p.m. on 14 March 1963.  He was 66 years old.  He is buried at Sacred Heart Cemetery in Yankton.

Corn Harvester c. 1920

Do we share any ancestors?
Please email me at lostancestors [at] gmail [dot] com