Genealogy Book of the Day

Bibliophile in the making: Reading Wuthering Heights on the back of my Grandpa’s pick-up = goofing off for an AP English assignment back in High School.

As you can probably tell, I’m addicted to books, and have been all of my life. Yes, I do take advantage of e-book offerings from my public library, as well as request e-journal articles via Interlibrary Loan – but I still enjoy the feel of picking up a book. And yet, with the shift to online databases and digitization, I sometimes have to remind my staff and patrons that the books on our shelves contain many things not found online. Here are just a few features that a genealogist may find useful:

  • Family and local histories that were only published in very small runs – sometimes, only a few of these titles exist worldwide – but still firmly under copyright protection.
  • Land record/plat studies – again, usually only published in short runs, but amazing work that can help you map out your ancestor’s land.
  • Personal memoirs – either for one person, or a collection of local memories – again, usually published in a small run, and still under copyright.
  • Record transcription collections – so, why not go look at the original? The original may no longer exist due to disaster, or illegible writing/ink.
  • Subject bibliographies – these collections can help with identifying extant records and repositories.
  • Atlases – getting a birds-eye view of migration routes or the local community of your focus.

Stalking Genealogists:

Print resources in the Kentucky Historical Society Library

I have a confession to make – I recognize the seasoned genealogists who come into my library on a regular basis – and I stalk the resources they use. These are not the genealogists that run to Ancestry the moment they settle in for research – nope – they usually grab a cart and load up on books. Regardless of the fact that I have been researching genealogy for decades, I believe it is vital to maintain a learning spirit. Understanding that as we follow different research paths with each new project, we continue to develop our skills with each new resource we use. We could all research for millennia and not fully know about all of the resources out there. But by examining the pile of books these genealogists are using, I have been introduced to wonderful resources that I may have never discovered without a bit of genealogist stalking. And this is a lesson I often give my staff – When you are back in the stacks reshelving, pay attention to what you are putting away. Is this something that could be useful to your research in the future? Is this something that may be useful to another patron who asks for this type of information? We are fortunate to be surrounded by so many wonderful resources, and even shelving should be an act of learning.

Information Seeking Behavior:

Book Scanning Station at RootsTech 2019 – hosted by Family Search

How we seek information is vitally important to our rate of research success. After all, even the GPS requires a “reasonably exhaustive search” when formulating a genealogical conclusion. And just to be clear, a reasonably exhaustive search cannot be completed online only. Some of you may argue that there are enough primary sources in digital format that removes the need to seek anything further. Well, someday, that may be true, but statistically, in 2019, that’s just not feasible. While digitization has multiplied electronic resources at an enormous rate, there are still billions of records that have not been digitized, nor will they be in the near future. And I’m not even including archival collections in that number. The staff numbers alone will not support digitizing complete archival collections – at least not in our lifetime, unless resource and technology catch up to the weight of the task. Also, don’t forget that copyright will always be an obstacle to digitization unless strict access standards are applied. And by ignoring these digitization limitation facts, your information seeking behavior will fall flat in the success department.

Genealogy Book of the Day:

Share those books that make your genealogy glitter sparkle!

Calling all bibliophile genealogists! As we post our favorite family photos, recipes, ephemera – we rarely post about our favorite genealogy books. Of course, “favorite” is a misleading word. It would be better to say “favorite at the moment”. Because the project we are currently focused on guides our research path – often introducing us to new or forgotten research gems. So…be watching my social media feeds (Twitter/Instagram) for those moments when I discover a great genealogy or history book worthy of sharing. I will use the hashtag #genealogybookoftheday or #historybookoftheday to alert followers to a new discovery, or rediscovered favorite. Feel free to join along as this is not a daily prompt, so you don’t need to feel any pressure about scrambling to find a book each day. But think about your favorites and share them periodically to remind us all about the wonderful print resources available. As you post, just explain why this is your current favorite, and what you learned by using this resource. What is it about this book that makes your genealogy glitter sparkle?

Drumroll, Please!

Just kidding – my first selection will appear in about 24 hours.
Until then, start showing your #genealogybookoftheday love!

Making a City Directory: Through the Eyes of the Canvasser

Question: One of our academic researchers was following the life of a single African American woman in the late 19th century. As she turned to City Directories to track residences over the years, she posed a question to us regarding the creation of these directories. She wanted to know who was included in these yearly guides. Obviously, not an entire household, but not always the head of household either. Was everyone included in a City Directory or did you have to pay to be listed? After all, these were valuable resources for advertising your business during that time.

What a great question! As many as I had used over the years, I really hadn’t closely examined the creation of these resources. The impression I had of City Directories came from the gaudy fonts and large advertisements speckled throughout each volume. I suspected that inclusion was fee based, but I didn’t know that for sure. I was just happy that they listed some of my ancestors (sometimes with spouse), their occupations, and addresses over the years. Little did I know about the process of gathering these names.

As I started digging for more information, I noted that most of our directories, regardless of year were produced by outside companies – not city, state, or federal government entities – nothing official – very much like today’s phone books.

Throughout the many decades of their publication, advertisements can be found each year in the local newspapers, announcing the availability of a new City Directory – obviously offering said directory for sale, or better yet, offering subscriptions to the yearly updates. The popularity of these directories also drove sales for large advertisements within them – a pretty lucrative endeavor for the publishers!

But then I stumbled upon an amazing article published in the Louisville Courier Journal in 1888: Looking for Names – The Experience of a Canvasser for the City Directory.

This long article detailed the yearly process: from hiring the canvassers, to the questions they ask, to the people they seek for information…despite the horrible prejudices exhibited in this article (many racially disturbing descriptions) we can learn a lot from the description of the canvassing process.

From this article we learn:

  • Canvassers were hired to begin work in the fall of each year.
  • Each large city required a canvassing force that was 25-30 men strong – a hard choice as the applicant numbers ran into the 250-300 range!
  • Obviously, the ideal candidates possessed advanced reading and writing skills (according to the article).
  • Instead of a large book of sheets like the census enumerator might have carried, the City Directory canvassers carried around strips of paper to gather the information on each person employed in any type of occupation. One strip of paper for each person.
  • Everyone working an occupation was included in the City Directory – as long as they could be found and counted by a Canvasser. All occupations were sought, both legal and illegal, according to the article (“opium joints” and “gambling rooms”) – how they labeled illegal occupations is beyond me – but it makes me want to take a closer look at the types of occupations listed.
  • Money was NOT a part of the inclusion process, unless a business owner decided to purchase a prominent advertisement (or large/bold font) in the Directory.
  • Canvassing took place from around 7am to 6pm.
  • Much like the census taking process, the city was divided into districts and assigned to individual Canvassers.
  • If a Canvasser was good at his job, he might be employed throughout the year to assist with the production of the Directory, through the publishing process – but for the most part, canvassing work was grueling with low pay, resulting in heavy turnover each year.
  • Sometimes, our ancestors did not want to be recorded – as it is noted in this article, those who were running from creditors, or the law, or involved in illegal activities might give an alias – just our research luck!
  • Confusion was rampant throughout the canvassing process – heavy accents and ethnically diverse names meant misspelled or phonetically butchered entries. As large cities were immigration hubs, many of our immigrant ancestors might have been overlooked by the Canvasser – or they may be there – just be sure to look for any possible pronunciation.
  • The African American community was represented in an anecdotal story that demonstrates the precarious relationship between anyone of authority and this population group. The Canvasser complained that they were perceived as government officials and, therefore,  false or reverse names were given with each subsequent year. The example given was “Andrew Jackson” given one year and “Jackson Andrew” given the next year. It was even noted that they suspected it was a list being compiled for police use.
  • The Canvassers also complained that many women were not included in the Directory because many believed women performing any occupation was a sign of low class status – resulting in a refusal to admit any occupation at all – regardless of the report of neighbors.

One of my favorite stories from this article came from a household of just women: a single mother/widow – who happened to be a business owner. The household was wealthy enough to employ servants – thereby creating a brief period of confusion. The woman’s young adult daughters were of no occupation, and spent their days at home attended by the servants. The Canvasser arrived and asked about the head of the household and her occupation/business, and then asked about other residents in the home – inquiring about their profession. After first denying their mother’s occupation, the young women thought the City Directory was something of importance at first, and pressed the man to include their names. When they realized that he kept focusing on occupations they became even more offended, declaring that they were NOT of any occupation! The Canvasser then focused on their servants to add to the Directory – which offended the girls even more – apparently, their mother was a large purchaser in the southern region, but the fact had been hidden from their neighbors and social circle as this was considered to be a low class activity. Due to his experience that day, the Canvasser changed his entry for the mother to list “purchasing agent” as a matter of revenge.

After reading this article and its portrayal of the difficulties of canvassing, I can safely say, count yourself fortunate if your ancestor was listed in a City Directory. But also, much like the tax lists, it’s important to look through many consistent years of Directories – simply because our ancestors were mobile, and maybe away visiting with family to miss the Canvasser – present five years, missing for two, and then back again. Plus, note if your ancestor was a day laborer, or first generation immigrant, or one of the many disenfranchised classes of the time. For all of these groups, they may have been excluded from the City Directories, or merely listed with altered names – just because the Directories are typed, doesn’t mean the errors are any less extreme than the errors we are used to seeing in the census records. Understanding the context of your family’s place in history, and their social/racial/cultural challenges can help with your research and analysis strategies!

Happy researching!                                                                                                                                                Cheri Daniels, MSLS                                                                                                                                            Your Genealogy Librarian

Sharing is Caring: The Insider’s Guide to Interlibrary Loan

It’s quite a mouthful: Interlibrary Loan. But it would be wise to remember this phrase as it could be your new best friend!

Depending on your local public library, Interlibrary Loan (ILL – sometimes known as Resource Sharing) may be a service that is promoted, simply extant, hidden, or not available – you may need to read the services fine print to learn about your library’s ILL offerings.

Most public libraries are eager to borrow the items you need for research, when feasible. However, the research needs of the genealogist can be challenging for Interlibrary Loan services. Let’s explore the obstacles, tips and tricks of this underused, and often misunderstood service.

What IS Interlibrary Loan?

In a nutshell, this is a networked loan program between libraries, allowing patrons to borrow from outside collections. Most of these libraries are connected electronically through their membership in OCLC: Online Computer Library Center – which also happens to run WorldCat, the world’s largest library catalog.

Tip #1: Remember these terms: Borrower and Lender. They are exactly as they sound, but the Borrower is not you – you are the patron or customer and the library borrowing on your behalf is the Borrower. The lending library is the Lender. Contrary to perceptions, the ILL transaction is a contract between the two libraries – NOT between the patron and the lending library. This way, both parties agree to certain standards during the transaction, even if things get damaged or lost in the mail, there is already a protocol in place to resolve the situation.

Through OCLC, each library will request materials on your behalf via the ILL software of their choice that will talk to OCLC, asking if the lending library is willing to lend an item. Each loan is considered based on a few questions:

  • Is the item available for loan? (Many items do not circulate due to various factors: Is it currently checked out to someone else? – Is it rare or archival, and does not circulate?)
  • Can they supply the item within a few days? (4 days is the standard turn around time)
  • Does the library charge a fee to loan?
  • Are there special use restrictions?
  • Is the item an article? – Articles are also available through this type of service.

Tip #2: You can be proactive in determining the likelihood of your ILL success. When using WorldCat to look for your needed title or article, you can make note of a couple of things for your librarian: The OCLC number, which can be found in the details section of the book record in OCLC – this will ensure that they borrow the exact edition you have found. Also, read the fine print: Is this an e-book edition, or an archival item? (Look for a print edition of your needed title as these are best for ILL – except in cases of e-resource agreements between certain libraries) Neither may be able to be borrowed, but if you are desperate, you can discuss photocopy options with your librarian.

What does ILL cost?

This program may be free for you, but depending on the location of the needed item, you may incur some fees. Many libraries belong to nearby or specialty networks that agree to free loans under reciprocal agreements. Sometimes, articles are included, but sometimes they are only supplied for a fee. So, be prepared for a fee structure running from free to about $20.00 per transaction.

Tip #3: Ask about ILL fees prior to submitting a request. For some libraries, they have decided to offer ILL services at no cost to the patron. Others provide this service for free IF they can borrow from a free lender. If they can only find your item through a fee-based lender, they may pass the charge on to you – it is safer to ask about their fee policies prior to submitting an order.

Let’s Talk Genealogy Materials

This is the bad news about ILL. We genealogists are usually on the hunt for obscure material. What exactly falls under the term “obscure”? Microfilm, family histories, local histories, archival/manuscripts or rare books. These items have a high chance of falling under “restricted” material.

“So, what is the point of this post, if I can’t borrow genealogical material?”

You can – but not always. This is just a word of caution to be realistic in your expectations.

Access versus Preservation:

While libraries are in the information providing business, many of them are also in the preservation business. Your natural inclination may be to argue that since you can’t get this information elsewhere, they should be willing to provide it. (Trust me, I’ve heard this argument more times than I care to count.) But think about it, if there is only one or two copies in existence, why endanger the item by placing it in a mail service where it could get lost? – As in, FOREVER, so that no one sees it ever again! Depending on the number of copies available worldwide, preservation can sometimes outweigh access – just be prepared for that scenario.

Tip #4: What to do if your material falls under this category? 1. Look for a copy to purchase online, through Amazon, Ebay, or the librarian’s friend: Bookfinder.com. 2. Look at the description of the book, is it small or really large? Does it have an index so that you can request look-ups or copies of certain pages? If archival, does it have a Finding Aid to help you identify the portions you would like photocopied? Many libraries are willing to copy portions of restricted material, because, after all, they still enjoy providing access to information. 3. Look at the publication year, is it old enough to be in the public domain and may have been digitized in its entirety through Google Books or the Internet Archive? Many of the older family and local histories are available for free download through these sites. Also, don’t forget to try the books section of FamilySearch

The above section was only meant as a caution – not to discourage. Regardless of what you find, ILL is a program in place to help patrons get the information they need – so use it! One of the really great uses for ILL is genealogy education and historical context study. Did you see a great new genealogy or history title out there that you’d like to use, but it’s just too expensive? Try ILL – the more recent titles (even recent local histories), owned by multiple libraries, have a high chance of being loaned out.

Tip #5: If you borrow a book through ILL, READ IT – and do not dawdle! ILL books will usually arrive with a generous loan period of around a month, but many do not allow renewals. So, get cracking on that title once it comes in!

The Gems in Those Smaller Libraries

OK, I’m talking very small libraries. The ones so small that they do not pay for membership in OCLC. Since your method of requesting material began with a WorldCat search, just remember that not every library can afford membership in this service. If you find out that a smaller non-OCLC library owns the title you need, you can still ask your librarian about ILL. There is a paper form that can be used between the libraries for these types of transactions.

Tip #6: So, you can’t find the title you need in WorldCat. Look at the title from a regional eye. Where was it published, and where is the subject material from? Then canvas the local area for smaller libraries and archives – they may have their own catalog – or, give them a call. You might be surprised at the number of small libraries “off the grid” that house those obscure titles and archives.

What About Historical Societies?

As a state historical society library, our catalog is connected to OCLC. However, it was only recently that we began loaning our books. As a new option for access, we decided to loan out duplicate material, or material small enough that we could create a circulating copy. Much of our library still does not circulate, but we have a lot of duplicate local/county/family histories that just might be the key to your research. As for other state historical societies, it depends. I’ve seen some connected to their local universities for the service, or some that just do not loan at all. In those cases, you are encouraged to call and discuss photocopy options.

Last Word About Microfilm:

As the Family Search microfilm lending program ended, we are resigned to waiting for digital copies of records. However, for many local newspapers, only a portion has been digitized through online databases. Multitudes await your use through the microfilm reader. Some libraries are great at lending these, but many are not. Different types of libraries, such as university libraries are much more eager to loan microfilm than public libraries – but don’t forget, all of these OCLC connected libraries loan to each other, regardless of library type – so, again, it’s well worth a try!

Happy researching!                                                                                                                                                    Cheri Daniels, MSLS                                                                                                                                            Your Genealogy Librarian