Tuesday, February 14, 2012
It might come as a surprise to most of you that my favorite National Archives Record Group is RG 217, Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of the Treasury. Why would a military guy like me care about Treasury records?
Well first, I'm not really a military-only kind of guy anymore and one of the reasons is this record group. It seems that all the hidden away, hard to find things, in genealogy that touch on the federal government in some way also touch this record group.
I first came across this record group as a young genealogist, when I was the consummate collector of finding aids. I have probably the largest collection of NARA finding aids outside of the National Archives (unfortunately hidden away in boxes, so many boxes, except for the ones I use all the time) and I was always on the lookout for one that I did not have in my collection. I was such a pest about it that one day an archivist introduced me to The Archivist (John W. Carlin) and she stated that I had the largest collection of finding aids outside the Archives. He was not impressed and neither was I. If you are a lover of records you have to be a lover of finding aids. You know the kind of item you would want to fall asleep with at night. Actually most of them make great sleeping pills.
Well this finding aid had a problem. For some unknown reason his finding aid was published on microfiche. Obviously a government conspiracy to keep genealogists away from the records (just kidding). It made it very difficult to read the finding aid in bed, and although I own (somewhere) a microfiche reader I was not about to carry it on the MARC train into the Archives. It was problematic and their appeared to be only one solution. I had to transcribe the microfiche.
That is not as outlandish a concept for me as you might imagine. In 1994 I had transcribed and annotated and even indexed the Preliminary Inventory of the War Department Collection of Confederate Records, RG 109 because I found it difficult to use. One of those books that is always in reach that I will talk about at some other time.
So I began the task of transcribing the microfiche. In the process I met and talked on several occasions with archivist, William F. Sherman, the author of the microfiche finding aid which was also know as Inventory 14. An inventory is what the archives staff compiles when they are fairly confident that they have accounted for all the records in a record group and that it is unlikely that more is going to show up. Finding aids extant before that moment in time are "preliminary.". Inventory 14 was originally published in 1987 in microfiche with a hard-copy introduction and it is still available today. In 1997 I published my revised version with annotations and what I considered to be a better index. It is never far from my desk. Not sure which box the microfiche version is in.
It became clear to me, in 1995 or 1996, that lots of stuff was missing from this inventory and for me the hunt was afoot. It turns out that there are two kinds of things in the Archives, described and undescribed. Described usually means it has been looked at, we know what it is, and this is what it is and there is this much of it. Undescribed usually means it has been looked at, we think we know what it is but we are not going to tell you yet but we will tell you how much of it there is. When it was all said and not quite done (when is it ever done) there were over 500 items that were undescribed and not in the inventory. My timing was excellent. The move from the Records Center at Suitland to Archives II in College Park, Maryland had uncovered Accounting Officer records not in the inventory and this resulted in a rather long list of undescribed materials. John Vandereedt, a since retired archivist, was very helpful in making me understand it all. He has had that pleasure more than once over the years.
I once researched around a person in the Archives and all he cared about was Civil War raincoat contracts. I told him one day about Undescribed Entry 313. Raincoat Contracts. 1 box. I saw him once more after that. He said thanks and I never saw him again. There is an interesting entry (remember the undescribed only have titles, they don't have descriptions) in Entry 299. Lighthouse Letters, 1790-1835. 2 boxes. One day. And then one, Entry 303. Account Report of William Blount, Governor of Tennessee, ca. 1812 - 1856 (was he governor that long???). 1 box. Actually I had not noticed that one before, something else to look at.
Enough for today. Now that you know the history of it, we will talk of the great of it the next time.
Thursday, February 9, 2012
It does not take long to examine the genealogical literature for genealogical theories. There just really aren't any. So I have been putting some universals together.
The first one that comes up is the Law of Inbreeding.
Everyone alive descends from an person who married their cousin, which thankfully (or not, if you have ever printed all of your pedigree charts and found that 63 of them were the same set of ancestors) explains why the population of the world is not much larger than it is. If we were not the descendants of inbreeders our population would not be 6 billion, but more than likely in excess of 6 trillion (if one couple in 725 had two who had four who had eight, etc.). But that is not how it works. For years inbreeding has gotten a bad rap, but truly without it the world would be rather cramped, even in places where it takes 60 acres to support a mother cow and her calf (I sat next to a cattle vet from Idaho on the trip back from SLC).
So the deal is to find out to what degree you are inbreed. I haven't figured that out yet, but there has to be math somewhere that can define it.
I mentioned John Woodson before, in five generations I descend from him five different ways, once through John "Tub" Woodson and four times through Robert "Potato-Bin" Woodson. Two first cousin marriages in a row on Robert's side into the Parsons increased the numbers.
How many of us have calculated how many times removed we are from our spouses. My parents are twenty-fifth cousins (not a provable connection) twice removed. I gave up trying to explain it to them. That probably means that there is also the Limited Law of Removed which might be that no one except a genealogist understands the concept of cousin relationships, but I have to work on that one someday.
It is hard for me to be serious today. A root canal yesterday and I threw my back out moving a bookcase right after that. Fortunately, tomorrow is another day.
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
To all my genealogy and non-genealogy friends and family. Please sign the petition at http://wh.gov/khE This is White House petition which requires 25,000 signatures before the administration will respond. It deals with the pressing problem of identity theft and the IRS doing its job, instead of blaming others for their failure to identify fraud.
Please get your friends and families to do the same.
There are just some books that outshine all the others. North Carolina Research, Genealogy and Local History, Second Edition edited by Helen F. M. Leary, CG, FASG is like that. Books come in four classes of location for me. Close means I don't have to get out of my chair to get to it. Near means I have to stand up, but not leave the room. Far means I have to get up and leave the room. Shed means I have to drive five miles to the storage shed. I keep Helen Leary close. The book and the person in my heart. She has taught me so much over the years. She is someone that every genealogist can learn from. My understanding is that she is working on a book of lectures. I do not know when it will be available, but I promise to let you know. I know that it is a book that I will be buying.
Focus, Craig, focus. Because I live in North Carolina I use this book often, so often that I have two copies one close and one near (in my wife's office where it is her close copy) if that gives you some idea. But this reference is mistitled. It really should be Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Genealogy: Using North Carolina Examples.
Part I deals with Research Techniques delving into the issues of evaluating research data, designing research strategies, and among others reading handwriting and abstracting.
Part II deals with county records meaning marriage, divorce, vital, wills, estates, land, tax and fiscal, and the various courts, military and pension, school, business and others.
Part III deals with state records meaning census, marriage, divorce, wills and estates, land grants, higher courts, and military.
Part IV deals with federal records such as those in the National Archives relating to census and the military.
Part V deals with private records, be they family, cemetery, church, newspapers, and business.
Part VI deals with nonwritten records such as oral histories, photographs and artifacts.
There is an appendices on Long Distance Research, terms and abbreviations and genealogical organization and compilation.
To say the least this is one of the most comprehensive genealogical books in the market from the perspective of what you can learn from it.
I am sure that many of you already have this book, but then there might be one or two of you who don't and it is worth the post to bring it to your attention. It is an absolute must have (and over time you will learn that my concept of "absolute must have" is only a couple of handfuls of books). If you have this book you might post your joy (or lack of joy for that matter) with it. Or you might mention your favorite near titles. It would be interesting to see. Mentioning Evidence, Evidence Explained and the Chicago Manual of Style will not give us insight into your thoughts, since it is my hope that we all have those near.
0936370106 601-5616 $55.00 plus tax and shipping
Heritage Books, North Carolina Genealogical Society, Maia's Books, and Amazon.