Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hallowe'en Candy History


Okay, it being Hallowe'en and all that, I just couldn't resist one more post.

If the history and tradition of this holiday intrigues you - especially the candy part - , follow this link to one of Samira Kawash's guest articles over on the Atlantic website.   This one is all about candy corn; there are links to three others, all Hallowe'en candy related.

And who would know more?  Samira Kawash is a professor emerita from Rutgers, specializes in all things candy and blogs on candy history and opinion on her own site at


Back in Time For Hallowe'en! Boooo!

Mnemosyne’s Magic Mirror has been clouded over for the past several weeks, since my attention has been directed to:

(a.) revising and updating my presentation called “Squeezing More Facts from Census Records”.  The presentation was part of the joint NY Genealogical and Biographical Society – New York Public Library’s Family History lecture series and took place at the New York Public Library last Tuesday night (October 26th).

It appears that a good time was had by all who attended, and the folks went away with some useful suggestions about the often-overlooked information that can be found in the federal censuses from 1790 to 1930. There are more events scheduled (including a day-long event with John Colletta next Saturday), so it’ll worth your while to check the schedule at the New York Family History School’s website.

(b.) revising and updating the PowerPoint slides for my presentation on “Deconstructing City Directories” next Saturday (November 6th) at the Massachusetts Society of Genealogists annual conference in Marlborough, MA at the Marriott Courtyard. This is the organization’s 35th anniversary and promises to be an extra-special event.  You can learn more here.

In addition to presenting the “city directory” talk, I’ll also be at the three “Jonathan Sheppard Books” tables, each laden with the “goodies” that genealogists need for their research.  (If you’re in the greater Worcester area, plan on attending!)

(c.) and last … but certainly not least, I’ve been making final revisions to a major genealogical article that will appear “shortly”  in a major peer-reviewed genealogical publication.  More info when it’s actually published.

So, in the spirit of Hallowe’en – the day when adults get to dress up and act like 8 year olds again – I thought I’d share a family picture (above right).

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, so I trust it will make up for the words I haven’t written recently.

This is a picture my father in costume, and was taken not on Hallowe’en, but rather sometime close to Charter Day in Albany NY in July, 1936.  Albany's Charter Day (July 22) commemorates the city of Albany’s first charter, granted by colonial governor Thomas Dongan, Earl of Limerick, in 1686.  On this particular July day in 1936 (the 250th anniversary of the Charter), the city held a celebratory parade.  My father – dressed as a Dutch burgher – rode on the Beverwyck Beer company float, since he was a supervisor there. 

The identity of the young lady with the beer stein by his side (also likely an employee of Beverwyck) is unknown (but was not my mother, who is much prettier).

The picture of the entire Beverwyck Beer float is below.  My father and his female drinking companion are on the far left.  And, considering that it was actually a brewery that sponsored the float, those kegs on the right might well have been more than props:

Monday, October 18, 2010

If You Think Genealogy and Politics Don't Belong In The Same Sentence - Move Along; Nothing To See Here...!

Warning!  This is a political post!   Proceed with caution!

For those who consider genealogy their sacrosanct apolitical “hobby”, completely divorced from those heated issues that are generally considered “politics”, I offer a simple one-word observation.

Nonsense!  (The word that first came to mind is considerably less politically correct, beginning in “B” and ending in “T”)

Sure, genealogy concerns the past and the past is, well, “over and done with” history.  Nothing we can do or say today will change that. However, it still makes sense for genealogists to understand (a.) the political decisions of the past that caused things to be the way they were had a profound effect on record-keeping and (b.) that the act of voting actually can have a profound effect on history and how we record it, and, by extension, on what we think of as genealogy. 

In other words, when it comes to genealogy, politics –and how you vote – actually matters, whether you like to admit it or not.  There’s no sense pussy-footing around the issue:  the choices you will make in a few weeks will determine how your grandchildren and great-grandchildren view history and do genealogy.

How can this be?  Well, in case you missed it, there are a number of folks running for office this year who think government is way too big and much too intrusive.  Specifically, they thought that the 2010 census was an intrusion into Americans’ personal privacy, and several sitting members of Congress advocated not filling it out. 

Others espouse the view that the government has no business funding things like libraries and archives. Or public schools. Or universities.  Or research.

No big deal, you may counter.  What’s the harm?  They’re only trying to preserve our precious tax dollars and our “individual liberty”, right?  What could go wrong?

In Canada, the conservative Harper government decided that the long-form census for 2011 was an “intrusion” into Canadians’ personal privacy and decided – against the professional advice of Statistics Canada – to make it “voluntary”.  A century from now, do you think that Canadian genealogists will thank the Harper government from protecting them from knowing their ancestors’ religion and ethnicity, thus making their family quest more challenging?  After all, no genealogist likes things to be TOO easy…

Then, there were things like the state sponsored eugenics activities in Vermont in the early 20th century  and the development of the “Plecker lists” in the state of Virginia,  to ensure that some folks couldn’t “pass” as white and thus contribute to what Walter Plecker, M.D., the state’s Registrar of Vital Statistics,  considered the “mongrelization” of the white race.

At the time, these overtly political acts had far-reaching genealogical consequences in their respective states.

But, of course, that was all a long time ago.  Now, times are different and our politics and our genealogy should always be kept completely separate, right?. After all, we’re a “live and let live” kind of people, and surely, there are two sides to every story.

Which brings me to the sorry state of journalism and education these days.

In our attempt to appear “fair”, we’ve thrown elementary logic and the basic principles of science to the winds and adopted the view that all opinions have equal validity.  In other words, we’ve been suckered into the vortex of belief that there are two equal, but opposing views, to practically every issue.

Here’s View A, supported by Groups 1, 2 & 3.  Here’s opposing View B, supported by Groups 3, 4, & 5.  You decide, since both arguments are equally valid.

Problem is – while this may seem, well, - fair and balanced - this isn’t always true.  You might espouse the belief that water boils at 300 degrees and that gravity is an optional but unproven “theory”, but those views defy both logic and scientific knowledge and are not views that deserve equal time in the classroom or in the press.

You might truly believe that ancient peoples kept dinosaurs as pets because you always thought the Flintstones story was historical fact, but that doesn’t make it so, and doesn’t mean that it deserves equal time in the classroom.

Just because you are poorly educated does not mean that things you believe about history or science are correct, no matter how fervently you may believe them. Abiding faith in the correctness of your belief is rarely a substitute for facts.

However, politicians who hold similar views often get to decide what gets taught in public schools, how history is presented and what tools the next generation of children will have to help them learn.  If you think that electing politicians who think that scientific ignorance is a good thing, and that parents without any education, skills or training will always make the best educational choices for their children, you will have - in some states - lots of political choices this November.

Similarly, electing politicians who believe in closing public records, shutting down libraries and archives as “unnecessary” luxuries, or categorizing some groups of people less “worthy” than others will ensure that future generations of genealogists – if there are any – will have lots of things to keep them busy.

Of course, if you view genealogy mostly as a kind of warm and fuzzy nostalgic activity, devoid of any kind of political or historical context, where YOUR ancestors were always the “good guys”, you will not likely share this political view.

You may even think that the government that keeps the records you need for your “non-political” hobby of genealogy is the “enemy of the people”.

So, when you vote in November, ask yourself if you’re acting in your own best interest - and in the interests of genealogists in general. 

Is the guy or gal you’ve chosen really on your side?

Friday, October 15, 2010

October is Archives Month - By the Sea, By The Sea, By the Beautiful Sea

The Phillips Library - Salem, Massachusetts
Yesterday I noted that October is “Archives Month” as well as a number of other commemorative things.  So, recognizing that October is also Family History Month, it seems fitting to discuss some other recent developments in the archives world that will also be of interest to family historians. After all, family historians are now recognized as a very important subset of archives users. 

This is a significant development from several generations ago, when the term most often applied to family historians in archives was “pests”.

Archivists and special collections librarians often plan on October as “target” month for significant announcements about new developments affecting their collections.  October is often the month we learn about new finding aids, new acquisitions, new digitization projects and other similar advances.

For example, yesterday Tamara Gaydos, the manuscript archivist at the Phillips Library, announced that about 2500 manuscript records in the Library had been added to the online library catalog known as Philcat. This is Big News, and will make researchers' lives a whole lot more productive.

Why? Because the manuscripts at the Phillips Library are among the most important in New England.

For researchers interested in Essex County, Massachusetts and in New England’s early maritime history, the Phillips Library in Salem has long been the “go-to” place.  The library is part of what is now known as the Peabody Essex Museum (Granddaughter – not yet three – calls it the “PeeBee Six Museum”).

Aside from their great collections of art and artifacts, P-E-M and the Phillips Library in particular are caretakers of some tremendously important manuscript & microform material, such as the records of the Essex County Quarterly Court, General Sessions of the Pleas, and Court of Common Pleas.  Interested in the Salem Witch trials?  The Library holds the records of the special 1692 Court of Oyer and Terminer which conducted the trials. In addition, researchers will find ship’s logbooks, shipbuilder’s records as well as the complete records of the Newburyport Federal customhouse from 1789 to 1910. And much, much more.

This of course, just scratches the surface.  The Phillips Library collections are both wide and deep, covering areas of interest to genealogists on many levels.

You can explore the Library’s holdings via Philcat here.

Hint: If you enter a search term in the Philcat search box, you'll get returns that include both printed and manuscript material. If you want to limit your search to the manuscript holdings only, be sure to select that choice on the search page. 

Note also that the search engine can find only the terms/names actually used in the finding aid; it is not a complete index to all the names in any specific manuscript collection.

So, while the finding aid describing a particular set of maritime records will most often record the name of a ship’s owner and the ship’s captain in a specific ship’s logbook, the ship’s crew, passengers and people encountered along the voyage are rarely mentioned.  You’ll have to go the Library and investigate the actual contents of the manuscript logbook for yourself.

Of course, that’s why we call it “research”, not “data retrieval”. Happy hunting!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

October is National __________ Month

Okay, you’re jumping to conclusions…

In the event you might have missed it, I’m honor bound to draw your attention to the fact that the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council has once again declared October to be “National Sausage Month.” 

It only makes sense to have the celebration of sausages fall in October, since it’s National Pork Month as well.

October is a pretty busy month.  It’s German-American AND Polish-American Heritage Month, both of which fit nicely with the aforementioned National Sausage Month. And it’s also National Cookie Month, and National Dessert Month.  And National Pizza Month and National Popcorn Poppin’ Month.

Hungry yet?

Researchers, however, should take time out from all those eating binges to remember that October is also Archives Month.

Archives and special collections repositories around the nation, from the largest to the smallest, go all out in the month of October to showcase their collections and instruct and inform the general public about the value of archival collections.  Chances are, there’s an archives near you that’s holding some kind of special event this month.

Consider New York State, for example.  Every year, the NY State Archives spearheads a month-long campaign to raise archival awareness in New Yorkers of all ages and descriptions.  This year, the theme is “Safeguarding Your History”.  The poster features a circa 1912 photo showing a fireman trainee learning to jump at the Rochester NY Fire Department Training Academy.  (“Safeguarding” – get it?)

The State Archives website has a calendar of archives-related events around the state, with appropriate hyperlinks to the variety of exhibits, lectures and workshops taking place all over New York.

If you’d like your very own copy of NYS Archives 2010 poster with the jumping fireman, the link to the pdf. file is here.

The big news this past week was that the New York State Archives and New York State Library in Albany instituted Saturday hours.  This is a REALLY BIG DEALThere's more info here.

Neither the NYS Library nor NYS Archives has been open on Saturday in most researchers’ living memory.  The fact that I actually remember those Saturday hours long ago only underscores how truly antiquated I am.

So, if you use the NYS Archives/Library in Albany and are excited by the prospect of Saturday hours, click on the “contact us” part of the NYS Archives webpage and then send ‘em a note to say thanks.

And while you’re at it, send a note to your favorite archives/archivist and say simply, “Thanks for being there for us.  Have a happy Archives Month!”

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Reconstructed "War Department" Papers - 1784 - 1800 - Online and Searchable

Back on September 19th, in honour of “International Talk Like A Pirate Day”, I briefly recounted the story of Granddaughter and Grandson’s 5th great grandfather William Sturgis (1782 – 1863) and his encounter with the Ladrone pirates in the China Sea near Macao in 1809. 

At the time, I directed readers to the many gems in the archival holdings of the Sturgis Library in Barnstable, Massachusetts.

Today, I’m directing your attention to yet another gem – the reconstructed “Papers of the War Department 1784 - 1800

As you may already know, the War Department in Washington suffered a disastrous fire on the night of 8 November 1800, destroying the office and all of its files.  However, more than a dozen years ago, historian Theodore J. Crackel, premier military expert and editor in chief of the Papers of George Washington,  took on the formidable task of trying to reconstruct the Office’s official papers, based on the holdings of more than 200 archival repositories around the world.  More than 3,000 collections were surveyed in the hope of assembling at least part of what had been lost in the fire.

In 2006, the collection – by then numbering more than 45,000 documents - was transferred to the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.  Earlier this year, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) provided funding to continue the addition of more detailed data to the records collection, thus making it more useful and accessible to researchers.  Much of the collection has been digitized and is freely available and searchable.

You can see what great stuff is available by following the link here.

So, what does all this have to do with William Sturgis and the Ladrone pirates?

Simply this – when Sturgis returned to Boston after the pirate attack, his first stop was likely at the home of the woman who was about to become his wife later that year -  Elizabeth  (Betsy) Marston Davis.  Betsy’s father – John Davis, Esquire (1761 – 1847) -  was at the time a prominent federal judge in Boston, appointed by John Adams in 1801 and an expert in admiralty law.

However, before he was appointed the Federal judge, Davis had previously served as US Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, appointed by George Washington. And before that, he had served for several years as Comptroller of the Currency, appointed by Secretary of the Treasury Oliver Wolcott.

Much of Davis’s job as Comptroller involved balancing the new nation’s books and collecting money that belonged to the treasury. As such, he often found himself with the job of tracking down money that had been allocated for war and defense. He contacted former officials and asked them about the status of their outstanding accounts.

There are a number of interesting pieces of correspondence from and to John Davis in the reconstructed Papers of the War Department referenced above.  The item below, a letter from Davis to former US Quartermaster General Samuel Hodgden requests the return of $280.42 to the US Treasury.  The actual document is in the National Archives and Records Administration: [2nd Cong, Senate, Sec Treas Reports, RG46.]

When they grow up, I hope that Granddaughter and Grandson appreciate all the efforts their 6th great-grandfather John Davis took on their behalf to ensure that their infant federal government collected its outstanding debts.

A penny saved, and all that…

Anyway, here’s the letter and the transcription:

[Stamped: Received/ from/ State Dep’t./Nov. 24 1894./R.P.O. 401310]

Treasurer’s Office
Comptroller’s Office
March 7: 1796.


You stand charged on the Books of the Treasury,  as late Quarter Master General, with a balance of  Two hundred and eighty Dol[lars an]d forty two cents, as communicated to you by the late Comptroller of the Treasury in his letter of the 12: of August 1794.  It being desirable that this account should be closed, I have to request that you will make payment of said balance, as soon as shall be convenient, to the Treasurer of the United States [?] which measures will be taken to close the Account in the public Books.
                                                                                                I am very respectfully
                                                                                                Your Obedt Serv’t
                                                                                                            Jno. Davis

Samuel Hodgden, Esq.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Today’s Holiday: Which One Are You Celebrating?

For some folks, today is the Monday holiday that is known as Columbus Day (observed).  The Post Office and the banks are closed. Sales abound throughout the United States, from mall to shining mall.

For some of us, however, this is the Monday that is the conclusion of the weekend better known as “Canadian Thanksgiving”. Or, for those living mostly north of the 49th parallel**, it is simply known as “Thanksgiving”.

Folks who live mostly south of that 49th parallel** might think that the Canadian version of Thanksgiving is simply some kind of Johnny-come-lately, copy-cat holiday, but they would be dead wrong.  Granted, the act of Parliament that fixed the “second Monday in October” date of “Thanksgiving” in Canada dates only from 1957, but the holiday itself is much earlier than that. 

For years, the Thanksgiving holiday in Canada occurred in early November (November 6th): in fact, the Thanksgiving holiday and the Remembrance Day observation (that’s the commemoration of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month - when that War To End All Wars ended - , in some places known as “Armistice Day”) often occurred in the same week.  Parliamentary action in Ottawa changed all that.

Folks in the United States celebrate their Thanksgiving holiday in late November. Their festivities are all wrapped up in the Pilgrims, Plymouth Rock, Indians, succotash, cranberry sauce, turkey and the harvest of 1621. “American” Thanksgiving has a decided New England feel to it, even though there are parts of what is now the United States that were settled by Europeans long before the Pilgrims. These folks also had celebratory “Thanksgivings.”

They were not English-speaking Anglo-Saxon Protestants, however.
Sir Martin Frobisher

For example, the good Spanish Catholic folks who settled in St. Augustine, Florida celebrated a similar day of thanks on September 8, 1565, several generations before the Pilgrims left Leiden. Then there was the celebration of Thanksgiving on April 30, 1598 held by Don Juan de Oñate and 400 colonists about 25 miles south of what is now El Paso, Texas.

For Canadians, the commemoration of Thanksgiving dates back to 1578, the year in which explorer Martin Frobisher held the first thanksgiving ceremony in Newfoundland to commemorate his survival of a perilous sea voyage. This, too, is a touch earlier than the “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner: The Winthrops Meet the Wampanoags” event in Plymouth in 1621, but nearly completely unknown south of Canada.

If you’re celebrating Columbus Day, don’t forget that Christopher Columbus never actually set foot on any of the territory that is now known as the United States.  Moreover,  there is evidence that Columbus and his crew introduced syphilis to the indigenous residents of North America, all the while observing in his logbook that they (the natives) could be subjugated with a small number of  Spanish soldiers and would likely make fine servants (i.e., slaves).

Oh, brave new world!

No matter what today means for you personally in 2010, please have a happy and healthy one.  Personally, I never met a food holiday I didn’t like, so it’s hard to pass up on the idea of two (count ‘em, 2) Thanksgivings in the same year.

Besides, everybody knows that St. Brendan of Clonfert discovered the New World when he ventured forth in his leather boat from the west of Ireland during the 6th century. Then there was Leif...

** Yes, I know that three of the Maritime Provinces are actually south of the 49th parallel, but the term “49th parallel”  has served for years as the shorthand for the US-Canadian border, so, why mess with success?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

You Never Know What You Might Find In an Attic, Basement or Closet!

Everybody knows that we can find our documentary history carefully preserved in our nation’s archives and libraries.

Except when those documents are stored in a suitcase in somebody’s house, hidden away for decades.

Even if you have no Gwinnett County, Georgia research interests whatsoever, here’s a link to a story in the online edition Macon (Georgia) Telegraph that will make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. It describes a stash of letters and documents dating back to the period 1800 – 1877 that will certainly change the way some people around Macon will view their family and community history.

The cache of about 3,000 documents references about 1,300 people, including 242 Confederate soldiers, spread out across 51 Georgia counties.

Quick! Everybody check your basements and attics!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Evacuation Day's Comin' Soon! Will There Be Cake?

Today’s mail brought my author’s copies of New York Archives magazine, the quarterly publication of the New York State Archives Partnership Trust (NYSAPT).  This issue (Fall 2010 – Volume 10, Number) has a particularly striking cover, portraying General George Washington returning to the City of New York on 23 November 1783 after the departure of the British.

The cover illustrates Jennifer Steenshorne’s article on the New York City holiday known as “Evacuation Day” that commemorated this event. Since it’s the feature article, you can read it online here (and also examine the cover close-up).

There are also articles on an early trip along the Erie Canal by two famous scientist/educators (Amos Eaton and Asa Fitch), historic criminal case files in Westchester County, Governor’s Island, Soujourner Truth, the scientist Charles P. Steinmetz, and for the aging flower-children readers – Woodstock 1969. Each one is a great read, contains valuable information and draws heavily on archival sources.  After all, what else would you expect from a magazine with “archives” in its name?

My genealogy article, titled “Brave New World” is on pages 34-35. In it, I discuss how archival repositories and the genealogical communities worldwide are embracing what’s known as “Web 2.0” technologies to make things better and easier for all researchers.  I point out some interesting “crowd-sourcing” projects being done in Brooklyn and in Europe, focus on the building of “researcher wikis” and comment on the variety of blogs, Facebook pages, and Twitter accounts that are popping up in the archival world.

No, you can’t read all of it online.  It’s a real, honest-to-goodness, print-and-ink magazine, sent to every member of the NYS Archives Partnership Trust. You only get to read the lead article for free.

Of course, to get your very own copy of New York Archives, you should consider becoming a member of the NYS Archives Partnership Trust. For $35.00, you’ll get all four issues of the magazine every year and a whole lot more.  There are discounts to events, discounts in the online gift shop, discounts from some major NYS university presses, and more.  Here’s the info about membership.

Perhaps you live too far from New York to take frequent advantage of the event discounts, et cetera.  Don’t despair! When you get your membership card from the NYS Archives Partnership Trust, you’ll discover that you’ve also become a Time Traveler, and that your membership card will get you all kinds of discounts, freebies and other goodies much closer to home.

For more information about the Time Travelers reciprocal benefit program, check out the details here – the Time Travelers site maintained on the Missouri History Museum’s website.   There are 270 institutions and locations in 41 states that participate in the Time Travelers program.  Poke around and see how much you might save simply by signing up for membership with the NYS Archives Partnership Trust.

And lest you’re thinking –oh sure, Mel gets a cut or commission… not true.  I’m under contract, and produce “works for hire”.  I get paid exactly the same whether the magazine has 10 readers or 10,000 readers. And my per-article contract amount has been exactly the same since (ahem) 2005.

In fact, through your membership, you help make the research world just a little bit better for everyone.  To see what the Partnership Trust does with your dough, check out the details here.

Oh yeah, if you’re really into instant gratification, you can call and get a membership over the phone.  (You can call the NYSAPT office at (518)-473-7091, Mondays – Fridays, 9 – 5)

By the way, mention my name when you call to become a member.

It won’t get you anything special, but it will get the person on the other end of the phone thinking, “Who the hell is he??”

(Sometimes, I just like messing with people’s heads…)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Did Your Folks Come From "Sow's Wallow" in "Germania"?

For my map-loving friends (and especially for those with German/Central European roots): 

The German publication Der Spiegel reveals the secrets hidden in Ptolemy the Cartographer's second century map of "Germania" here. A team of Berlin researchers broke the map's code and discovered some amazing things.  It appears that some Germanic settlements are very much older than they were thought to be. 

Perhaps your ancestors lived in Fürstenwalde back when it was called "Susudata", a word that roughly translates as "Sow's Wallow" - which was no doubt the early central European equivalent of "Dogpatch". It's a fascinating article.  And in English, too!

Is Google Your New Best Research Friend? A Cautionary Tale About Results

For folks who’ve discovered Google as their new best friend for research, here’s something to keep in mind.

It seems that Google searches sometimes return “interesting” results, to put it mildly. Here’s an example of what can happen if you rely too much on simply what appears on your computer screen as the Google search return.

This afternoon, I received an email from a librarian/archivist in a major institution inquiring about a book he thought he had found on our online book catalogue. Seems he had done a Google search and turned up what appeared to be a real rarity.

Before I share the full details, there’s something important to remember about search engines and what they choose to show you. 

You must remember that Google does a great job of returning a “hit” on your primary searched-for item, but often adds some “strings” of additional data found on the same page if your search has been broadened by the use of some secondary and/or tertiary terms. (And all along you thought you were adding these terms to LIMIT the results!) This is not, in itself, a “bad” thing, but if you don’t know that it’s happening, you can wander down a search engine’s primrose path to researcher’s perdition.

Now…back to my story….

Here’s what happened to the librarian in question and how it could also happen to you if you’re not paying close attention. 

Let’s say you do a Google search for the book title “Hippocrates In A Red Vest” because you want to see if there’s an author-signed copy out there.  Suppose you mistakenly mis-remember the publisher as Sage Books, a major publisher of Western titles.  You search for the book title  - plus the words “author-signedAND plus the name of the Colorado publisher “Sage” and get a search return that looks like this:

Books About the Rocky Mountains States
612129 Hippocrates in a Red Vest: The Biography of a Frontier Doctor, ... Published by Sage Books, Denver, 1961. 1st edition. Author signed. ...

What you see above is the actual Google search result.  It looks very much like a book in a book dealer catalogue (ours, in this case), with what appears to be the book’s bibliographic description.  It has exactly the “right” look: there is a catalogue number,  a title, some bibliographic description, etc. 

To the casual searcher – say, perhaps, someone compiling a “quickie” bibliography for a term paper or for talk handout, it looks for all the world like the book was published in 1961 AND that we have the author signed 1961 edition for sale.

Would that it were so, since the book was actually published in 1973 by another publisher altogether.   Were we to have a book published a decade before the author actually wrote and published it, we’d have a really valuable collector’s item. 

Not quite as valuable as next week’s newspaper, which might permit us to do some fancy stock picking, but a valuable rarity nonetheless.

So, what really happened?

Google found the searched-for book and then dropped down the page to a book six places below (Marshall Sprague’s Newport in the Rockies) which actually WAS published by Sage books in 1961 and which actually IS an author-signed copy. 

The Google search return simply concatenated the two data strings and separated them by three dots. Of course, you’ll only learn that by reviewing all the books on the page.

You can see for yourself here.  The specific books chosen by Google for the search result are the 7th and 13th entries on the page.  There is no 1961 edition because the book had not been written yet.

Now, in the off-chance you actually want to know more about the Western physician who was called “Hippocrates in a red vest” (Martin Beshoar, a Pennsylvania-born physician who served in both the Confederate and Union armies), you may want to consult the Beshoar Family Papers in the Denver Public Library.  The papers were donated by Martin Beshoar’s grandson Barron B. Beshoar, who wrote and published Hippocrates In A Red Vest in 1973.  The papers include Dr. Beshoar’s 1864-1866 medical records from Benton Barracks and Fort Kearny and a number of other genealogically significant goodies. Beshoar practiced medicine in Trinidad, Colorado after the Civil War.

Google searches are great, especially if you actually click through to see what being presented as a search return…Beware of concatenated results!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A New Collection of Civil War Photos and the File of the One-Armed Man

The Liljenquist family collection of nearly 700 Civil War soldier photographs now has a new home.

Collector Tom Liljenquist, 58, of McLean, Virginia recently donated the collection he and his sons had assembled over 15 years to the Library of Congress, where it will be on display next April, in time for the Civil War Sesquicentennial.

Meanwhile, since the images from the collection are being digitized and are gradually appearing online, you can check out some of the highlights here.

This is an important collection – one of the largest the Library has received in a half century – because it shows “ordinary” soldiers, both Union and Confederate. (More details about the collection in the Washington Post story here)

Of course, for many of us, finding photos of our Civil War ancestor would be a dream come true. So, even if your guy doesn’t show up in the Liljenquist collection, here’s a suggestion.

For those who have Union Civil War ancestors, it’s always worthwhile to check the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) for an ancestor’s pension papers.  The index to these records can be found in Record Group T288, General Index to Pension Files, 1861 – 1934,  which is found on 544 rolls of microfilm at all NARA locations, the Family History Library and on

If you find your guy in the index, it’s worth ordering the FULL pension file (using NATF Form 85)  from NARA and actually springing for the $75 for the first 100 pages and the .65 cents for each additional page.  More info here)   You can do this online.


Civil War pension laws changed frequently, and many veterans qualified for a pension early on because of war-related injuries.  In cases like this, almost always, the pension file contains graphic detail about the soldier’s specific war wounds that qualified him for a pension.  In addition, soldiers were required to submit to periodic physical examinations, and the record of each will be found in Civil War pension files. These can be extensive. Plus, they may also include photos.

For example, one of my great-great grandmothers, an immigrant from Germany in the late 1840s,  was left a widow with six young children sometime between 1860 and 1865.  At the conclusion of the Civil War, she married a second time – this time to a severely disabled vet  ... with a government pension. Her second husband, a sailor who had served on the Union Blockading Squadron vessel “Granite City”, lost an arm at the Battle of Calcasieu Pass in April of 1864 and had actually been described as “dead” in some accounts of the battle.

His pension file, however, shows that he was very much alive, surviving until 1919.

In addition, the pension file contains the only known photograph of him.  He is sitting, bearded, frowning and naked from the waist up, with the stump of his arm graphically visible, circa 1880. The pension file described his sojourn from the Brooklyn Navy Yard Hospital, to Albany, NY to the National Soldiers’ Home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for a prosthesis for his lost arm, and then back to Albany and finally  to Bath, NY – where the NY Soldiers’ and Sailors Home was located.

After spending some time at the Bath Home in what we’d call today “physical rehabilitation and therapy”, he checked himself out, moved with his wife and two younger step-children to the edge of the nearby village and opened a tavern within walking distance of the Home.

He was popular with Home residents out on day passes, but with the Home’s administration – who preferred sober "inmates" - not so much!

His two younger step-children used his surname throughout their adult lives, even though there are no records of anything resembling a legal adoption.  In fact, my grandfather (who thought that the man with one arm was actually his paternal grandfather) was mightily surprised when I presented him with the evidence of just who his grandmother’s second husband actually was.  At the time (circa 1965), my grandfather was 75 and not ready to give up his surname (his step-grandfather) and replace it with that of his actual male ancestor.

The point of all this?

Even if you don’t find your Civil War ancestor’s photograph in the collection of recently donated Liljenquist photos described above, don’t fail to check for his pension papers.  They may contain a treasure beyond belief.