Monday, January 3, 2011

What’s Up for 2011

JANUS am I; oldest of potentates;
Forward I look, and backward, and below
I count, as god of avenues and gates,
The years that through my portals come and go.
                - From Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Poet’s Calendar

The ancient Roman god Janus invoked by Longfellow in the poem fragment above was in charge of doors, gates and portals in ancient times. He is often portrayed on Roman coins with two faces – one face looks forward, while the other looks backward. For that reason, he’s called the god of new beginnings.

Since today is the first weekday of January at the beginning of a brand new year, it seems like the perfect time to look forward, especially since most of the time I write about doing history and genealogy – which is most certainly the “looking backward” part. 

After all, for a genealogist, looking backward is where it’s at.  And that’s what Mnemosyne’s magic mirror lets us do.

What lies ahead for the blog during 2011?  Current plans look like this:

First of all, I’ll be doing some looking backward and discussing the idea of memory and its role in the preservation of family history.  Specifically, I’ll be writing from time to time about how memories are formed, preserved and transmitted in families, how memory can be fickle and untrue (but still altogether pleasing) and about the things that can act as memory “triggers”, especially for those of us who do any kind of oral history. 

Next, I’ll be looking at books – specifically, some of the titles that I think contain some special relevance to the kind of research that we do. Some will be new-ish, but most will be things that you probably never heard discussed in genealogy circles.  I’ll try and demonstrate why I think that the book's important and deserving of your attention.  Occasionally, there will be a link to the Jonathan Sheppard Books website if we’ve catalogued something especially interesting.

I’ll also be writing about some of the things I’ve experienced that have made me a better researcher.  Sometimes, I’ll be talking about a technique that I’ve used in some other non-genealogy field that turned out to have some particular utility in genealogical research. Other times, I’ll be directing your attention elsewhere, to unusual sources of information – often archival - that you may not have heard about yet.

Finally, I’ll be writing about those periodic flashes that appear on Mnemosyne’s magic mirror.  I can’t tell you exactly what they are going to be, since I can’t see too far into the future.  Sometimes they’ll be autobiographical, occasionally they’ll be stories about folks I’ve been researching and sometimes they’ll be pieces written in the spirit of advocacy – since if we’re not passionate about the things we do, why bother doing them at all?

I'll also try to keep you posted on conferences, lectures and the like.

All I can say is that if I write about it here, it’s  likely to be something that I just had to talk about and something that I hope you’ll be interested enough to read about.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Winter Issue of “New York Archives” Is Out!

My author’s copies of the Winter 2011 issue of New York Archives arrived in the mail last Friday.  Once again, the folks who put it all together at the New York State Archives Partnership Trust have done a great job.  It’s another good-looking issue, with Mark Twain (who spent lots of time at his wife’s family’s place in Elmira) on the cover. 

Yes, there’s a Twain-Elmira story inside called “Huck Finn Born In New York”, as well as a fascinating story about the political witch-hunt to identify and fire Communist teachers in NY schools and the records that were generated thereby. Then, there’s the story about the mansion George Westinghouse built in Schenectady, NY.  Plus, there’s a superb fact-filled article about Civil War drummer boys by Michael Aikey.  Mike is the director of the New York State Military Museum in Saratoga Springs, NY.  When he writes about things military that concern New York, he writes from the perspective of a highly informed insider.

My regular “genealogy department” article, spread across pages 38 and 39 is called “A Small War in Churubusco” and deals with some records of payments to New York veterans of the Mexican War that were authorized by the New York Legislature in the 1870s - many years before the US Congress agreed to provide the veterans of that war with pensions.  Naturally, it focuses on the genealogical info that can be gleaned from them and highlights a particular veteran who left New York for Wisconsin sometime in the late 1840s.  He later corresponded with an old friend’s widow in Buffalo and ultimately, the New York State Comptroller’s Office in an attempt to get his payment.  Along the way, he enlisted the aid of Alexander Kanaday, a firebrand activist/publisher/gold prospector who later founded the group that successfully lobbied Congress for the Mexican War veterans’ pensions.

An interesting aside – one of the reasons Congress was reluctant to pension Mexican War veterans was because so many of the Mexican War officers later served as Confederate officers during the Civil War.  The idea of voting “yea” on legislation to grant any former Confederate officer a  pension of any sort was a political “hot potato” for Northern Congressmen.

If you do any NYS research, you should consider becoming a member of the NYS Archives Partnership Trust; it’s not greatly expensive and you’ll likely recoup the expense in book discounts.

I sent off the draft of the next issue’s genealogy column last Thursday. While I won’t reveal the specific topic until it appears in April (i.e., Spring 2011), the “teaser” is as follows:  it mentions the Rockefellers, a piece of old wedding cake, download-able leaflets, a number 6b pencil and the National Archives. And much, much more.

P.S. This issue contains several Letters to the Editor.  The first one states (referencing the magazine) that "...yours is one of the BEST to cross my desk.  Visually attractive, well-researched and -written articles and I always learn something. Congrats!"  It's signed  

"David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, Washington, DC"

So, maybe you should check it out?  If AOTUS finds it worth reading, you will, too!