Saturday, November 29, 2014

The (Family) Business Trip

William Conner house, built 1823.  Fishers, Hamilton County, Indiana
     After returning from ten days pursuing my 1820’s ancestors in Indiana, I reviewed the many pieces of information I collected. All of the various elements needed to be analyzed, and organized into the appropriate digital folders on my computer. New research objectives were set.
During this process, I realized how much more successful any kind of research can be, especially when leaving the house, if techniques from the world of business are applied. This is true whether the goal is a trip to the local courthouse or cemetery, or when traveling across the country to a major repository.
     Thinking of myself as working for my own small company, I first do as much groundwork as possible, to thoroughly prepare myself for success before I leave home. In the world of genealogy, the first step is looking at what I already have, and what information I need in order to make progress. Next, I study the jurisdictions for the kinds of records I hope to access, where the records are currently held, and the days and hours the repositories are open. I make contact with individuals via email or phone call, introduce myself and explain my needs. Often this leads to suggestions for other stops to make on my itinerary, or they offer to pull specific materials prior to my arrival.
     I spend as much time learning about finding aids, and studying the online catalog, as possible. I prioritize and collect the information most likely to be helpful to me. This is similar to being up to date on my products, checking out the competition, and learning about potential customers, before a business trip. I follow up with phone calls right before leaving home, to learn about unexpected closures, or whether any key personnel will be unavailable. Hopefully I can make adjustments to my itinerary as necessary.
     By now, I've probably started to make the actual travel arrangements. Not having a huge “expense account,” I work to maximize my time, while getting good value for my money. This may mean spending a little bit more on a hotel room close to an archive, and not having to drive and pay for parking every morning. Or, it may mean staying in a room with a refrigerator and a microwave, and consuming meals from groceries I can buy nearby.
     Successful time management can contribute greatly to achieving goals in business. For me, that means planning out the day, so that I arrive first at the place with the earliest opening time, and move on to the place that closes the latest in the day. I also allow time before it gets dark to drive around taking photographs at various locations where my ancestors lived, or at cemeteries. I spend part of the evening going over new data, and planning a list of priorities for the next day, or at the next stop. Stepping away from the topic of genealogy can also be beneficial. Carving out time to go swimming, or taking a walk outside, makes me feel relaxed and refreshed, and better able to get a good night’s sleep. This helps my ability to focus when the day starts all over again.
     To keep my itinerary running as smoothly as possible, I try to make allowances for the everyday tasks, that when ignored, can lead to problems. Before driving off in a rental car, I check how things like the windshield wipers, headlights, and access to the gas cap operate. This will make for much safer driving. Figuring out mileage distances before leaving home is a must, for arriving at businesses while they're still open! And, keeping an eye on the fuel gauge in an unfamiliar car is critical, especially while visiting an out-of-the-way cemetery, or the location of a rural property.
     While I may not be selling an actual product, or arriving for a job interview, I still need to make a good first impression. Walking into a county courthouse, archive, or library, I want to look well-groomed and presentable.  Being comfortable and practical shouldn't slide over into looking sloppy.
     The person on the other side of the desk should be treated as a colleague, who has the expertise to help me. Or, perhaps that person could direct me to someone who can. I need to be aware that my attitude and timing could make the difference in engaging “my colleagues” in helping me achieve my research goals. Arriving at 4:45 on a Friday afternoon, or Monday morning at 8:15, and demanding everything in their records about the Smith family sometime during the 1800s, “Because they're public property and I have a right to know,” probably won't get me very far.
     When I return from the trip, I take time to thank the people who have been of help to me along my travels. I might make a donation to a local society or museum, whose personnel were generous with their time and knowledge, or write a complimentary email to an employee's supervisor. This is similar to maintaining a useful business contact list. It isn't uncommon to realize that I might need help in the future, and I want to have a good connection with these individuals.
     Applying as many of the elements as I need to from this list, I am in a better position to make a success of “the family business,” or in this case, the business of family.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Three Little Channell Girls

     My great grandmother is one of the three little girls pictured here.  From left to right they are:  Estella Rachel Channell Eckerson, 1878-1965, Emma Alice Channell Eshom, 1881-1958, and Mary Margaret Channell, 1875-1884.  They were the daughters of Edward Channell and Jane Foglesong, who had married in Van Buren County, Iowa.  The whole family came to Washington Territory in September of 1881, settling in Centralia, Lewis County.  As Mary Margaret only lived one day past her ninth birthday, she must not have lived very long after the visit to the photographer.  Note that the photography studio was "over Skidmore's Drug Store," in Portland, Oregon.  I love the prop fence, and the roll of hay-like material the toddler is sitting on.
     "Stella" Eckerson lived the longest of the three girls, which meant our lives actually overlapped for a time.  I, of course, remember her as an old, old, woman.  If you'd told me she was 150 years old, I probably would have believed you, but in reality she was in her eighties.  Her only son and her granddaughter, my mother, inherited her long, bony wrists.  All three of them looked very much alike in old age.  I remember our family going in the summer to visit her at her house, two states away, where she was always kind and welcoming, although I believe she had a rather wry wit.  She also came to California on a visit, very late in her life.  We have a few photos of her during that time.  She had on a dress, nylon stockings, and dress pumps; I don't think she owned any pants.  I remember her always in a dress of some sort, and a cover-all type of apron.
     Living alone, her one weakness seemed to be a collection of "Radio-TV Mirror" magazines.  Looking at copies online brings a smile:  they're filled with ads for products like Listerine and girdles, and have a lot of gossipy tidbits about the celebrities of the time.  The one I saw featured Art Linkletter on the cover.
     My great-grandmother lived a life that observed many changes, moving across the country from small-town Iowa to a different Territory, a country at war more than once, a long widowhood, the dawn of the space age, and being kept company by broadcast entertainment.
     A very long time, indeed, since she was the solemn little girl in the photograph.

Estella, Emma, & Mary Channell, l. to. r.
Photo in possession of the author

Monday, August 25, 2014

Preserve the Pensions: War of 1812

Today I made a contribution in the amount of $250 to the War of 1812 Preserve the Pensions fund, a collaborative project of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the National Archives, Fold3, and  I understand this makes me a Preservation Patriot, but that's hardly the point.  As the first paragraph on the website explains:

"The Pension Records from the War of 1812 are among the most requested documents at the National Archives.  Unfortunately, these fragile documents are in urgent need of digitization.  In support of this monumental task of digitizing 7.2 million pages, has provided a dollar for dollar matching grant, so every dollar you contribute will make four more pages accessible and free for everyone."

It goes on to comment that the high demand for the records, available in no other format, makes them especially vulnerable to deterioration.  Records are being uploaded as they are digitized, and are free to view here at .  Images will be offered for free at Fold3 indefinitely.

My receipt tells me that my contribution will make over 1100 more pages available, which is a great feeling.  Now, if only any of them had clues to my brick walls!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Hiding in Plain Sight: Records in Hamilton County, Indiana

     A recent page-by-page reading of a county-level probate estate index was a powerful reminder:  there may be much more than what the title describes.  The film notes for the item I was looking at says:  “General index to probate of estates v. 1, 1829-1894” (Hamilton County, Indiana).  This is FHC film #1320375.  While the majority of the film did indeed list the various motions involved in the settling of estates, there were several hidden gems.
     There were a number of guardianships listed, naming not only the guardian, but the bondsmen, and the wards with their ages, a few with actual birthdates.  Sometimes the guardians and bondsmen changed throughout the years, providing more names as possible clues to family connections.   One individual, Bertha Applegate “sometimes called Parker,” had a total of six guardians and eleven bondsmen during the same court date, which might suggest an estate of some substance was involved.  There would certainly seem to be much to be learned, from actually reading the case!
    Another example of genealogical gold, was a land partition action relating to the death of Robert Barnhill in 1824.  In addition to his widow, Sarah, one sees the names of 12 other individuals, male and female, who are probably children and sons-in-law to Robert.  This is a powerful tool in the decades prior to 1850.     
     The most unexpected list was that of a number of naturalizations from the 1840’s.  These men pop up at the top of one page.  Where the names weren’t easy to read, I’ve made a guess.  They are:  Conrad Beard, Martin Beard, John Beck, Henry Bardiner(?), Bardmer(?),  and Augustine Buscher.  Conrad and Martin Beard are found in Hamilton County, Indiana, in 1850, as is Augustine Buscher.  A foreign-born John Beck or Bick isn't indexed in Indiana in 1850.  The Henry Bardiner perhaps connects to the Henry Barder living in Greene County, Indiana, in 1850, listed as a native of Switzerland.
     I'm picturing my future:  moving very slowly through stacks of microfilm and enjoying the view!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

New Beginning: Isaac L. & Hester Burgard Myers

Isaac L. & Hester Burgard Myers in front of their new residence, about 1906.
The house was newly completed, and stood at the SE corner
of Gold & Locust Streets in Centralia, WA.

     Among my grandmother's collection, was this photo of her maternal grandparents, Isaac L. and Hester (Hetty) Burgard Myers.  They are standing in front of their house in Centralia, Lewis County, Washington.  The house was very neat and trim, and the background shows a rural flavor.  He would have been about 65 at this point, she 62.  They were life-long members of the Church of the Brethren.  
     One story I know of their time here is that Grandma Myers had a white cat named Pearl, with whom Isaac had a strained relationship.  My grandmother said she remembered as a little girl, when  the cat and grandpa would be in one room of the house glowering at each other.  Hetty would call out from the kitchen, "You're not bothering that cat, are you?"  Isaac would make my grandmother laugh, by adopting a sugary sweet voice and replying, "Oh, NO, dear!"  This was said with a wink at my grandmother.
     The house was very close to the north-south railroad tracks running through town.  Hetty was known as a "soft touch" to the men who rode the rails.  It's thought that they might have carved symbols into the fence, indicating to other nomads that this was a woman who could be counted on to provide something to eat.

     Fast forward to the late 1990s, when the house had fallen into a sad state of collapse.  In 1998, I took these photos of the exterior and interior.  My sister Mary is standing before the front door.  It had been moved forward, flush with the rest of the house, when the porch had been enclosed.  Ignoring the no entry signs, I climbed in through a side window.  Not smart, as part of the roof had collapsed, but when did that ever discourage a genealogist?  I had worn steel-toed shoes for the occasion.  I dug down through the layers of wallpaper to the first one.  While it may not have been chosen by the Myers, it was certainly old.

     By 2003, the house had been torn down, but a couple of nice trees remained.  On my last trip, in 2012, I saw that they'd been taken down.  For every new beginning, there's sometimes a sad ending.  However, I feel quite fortunate to be able to call on these memories, and to have seen the site of my ancestors' daily experience.

Thursday, June 19, 2014


It's easy to become discouraged when  research turns up nothing on our own ancestors.  But we get another shot of interest, when finding something unusual about someone else.  Take, for example, this story of a woman scorned, from Ontario County, New York, told in pithy newspaper inserts:

"The following are notices of MARITAL DESERTIONS in newspaper publications

From Geneva Gazette 4 January 1815
My Wife Elizabeth Witter, having for some time past refused to live with me, I hereby caution all persons having any dealings with her, or trusting her on my account.
Seneca Jan. 3, 1815

From Geneva Gazette 25 January 1815
As EZRA WITTER saw fit to post his Wife, I think it my duty to let the public know what for. He took other women home, who talked very unbecoming, besides using very hard threats towards me. He likewise denied he had any wife, said he had women enough without me, and would not part with them but by reason of the disease which afterwards appeared to his shame. I thought it best to stay at my own place.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Holland Land Office Museum

Holland Land Office Museum, May, 2014.  Taken by the author


     The Holland Land Office Museum in Batavia, New York, houses a rich and varied collection of materials, housed in an 1815 stone building, the third in use this site.  It actually functioned as a land sales office until the late 1830’s, and was the first National Historic Landmark in Western New York.
     On a recent visit, my husband and I learned the story of how the 3 ½ million acre Holland Purchase began with a 1797 treaty, between representatives of Declaration of Independence signer Robert Morris and the Seneca tribe.  The Holland Land Company purchased the land from Morris, and began the ambitious project of having the huge tract surveyed, which covered a large portion of what is now western New York.
The survey, through thickly-forested terrain, was overseen by Joseph Ellicott, using links, chains, and the basic tools of the time.  Examples of these instruments, as well as an Ellicott family desk and a portrait of Joseph Ellicott, occupy a gallery recently renovated to recreate his actual land office of 1815.  There is also a pioneer kitchen, displaying household artifacts, and an outdoor space devoted to the original 1859 gibbet used in the area.
     Another gallery of the museum contains several unexpected displays.  One is devoted to Charles F. Rand, a Batavia native destined to go down in history as the first in the nation to answer President Lincoln’s call for volunteers at the outbreak of the Civil War.  He was also a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient.  Another display is devoted to Ely S. Parker, born into the Seneca tribe, who was educated as a lawyer and civil engineer.  During the Civil War, he rose to the rank of Lt. Colonel, serving as Ulysses Grant’s adjutant.  The terms of surrender at Appomattox were written in his hand.
     The museum has acquired a number of items of interest which can be viewed at close range, including rare uniform pieces and equipment used in the War of 1812, firearms, and examples of drums used in both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.  Many local residents have donated items passed down through generations of their families.

Left, drum from the Revolutionary War, right, drum from Civil War.
Taken by the author, May, 2014
      Our tour of the museum was conducted by museum assistant Jeffrey Fischer, who generously shared his knowledge of the survey, the museum, and its contents.  Museum director Jeffrey Donahue was also on hand to answer our questions.  We were shown a map of the area which made up the Holland Land Purchase, which covered a number of present-day counties stretching east and south of Buffalo, NY.
     The museum does a fine job of introducing a number of intriguing historical figures and events.  An example is Joseph Ellicott, whose accomplishments make for a rousing story.  The AAA tour book for the area recommends 30 minutes be allowed for a stop here.  I believe that 30 minutes should be considered a nice start!

Holland Land Office Museum,
131 West Main Street
Batavia, NY 14020