Adventures in photo sleuthing

Have you ever stumbled upon a stack of old family photographs and found yourself fascinated by informal snapshots and formal portraits taken decades before you were born? Your eyes take in their outmoded dress and staged poses and scan their faces looking for a flicker of recognition and find none. You wonder who they were, flip over the images and learn, much to your dismay, that the back is blank. After a moment’s disappointment, you decide you’re going to rectify your ancestors’ oversight and find out who these nameless people were, even if you’re a little fuzzy on the how.

As an archivist, I work with a lot of family photograph collections. If I’m very fortunate, some enterprising relation took the time to label a good portion of the photographs with names, dates and even locations. Most of the time, I’m not that lucky.

So, where do you start when you can’t identify most of the people in your photographs? Just keep reading. I’ll walk you through my process for researching and caring for enigmatic family photographs with examples from the recently processed Lucile Johnson photograph collection.

1. Rage at the skies

"Thor," Disney/Marvel; Imgur

Quickly move through the stages of grief.

  • Denial: No way an entire box of photographs only has seven identified photos!
  • Anger: I can’t believe no one thought to get more information from the owner when they were alive!
  • Bargaining: “Hey, Bob. You like unnecessarily complicated puzzles and hate cleaning the breakroom. I’ll trade you! No?”
  • Depression: Stare at photos hopelessly for 10 minutes. Maybe shed one lonely tear.
  • Acceptance: After you’ve sufficiently lamented, accept your fate. You’re doing this thing.

"Thor: Ragnorak," Disney/Marvel; Tenor2. Get to know the family

“The King and I” (1956); 20th Century Fox; Tenor

I was fortunate when it came to the Lucile Johnson photo collection because a previous staff member had already assembled a brief bio for Lucile – also spelled Lucille – so I knew she was born in Vincennes, Indiana in 1908 and her mother’s name was Bertha Johnson. She also worked at Wasson’s department store in Indianapolis. While I generally give my predecessors the benefit of the doubt, I always try to verify such facts, especially when they don’t include sources, because people make mistakes. It’s a fact of life. Regardless, surveying the photographs before taking a deep dive into a family history is good practice.

Lucile Johnson working Coty counter at H.P. Wasson’s, 1946; Indiana State Library

Flip through the photos
Keep in mind who, what, when and where as you do this. Are you noticing the same faces or places over and over again? Do certain people appear together in multiple photographs and do they look like family (e.g., multiple generations, similar facial features, etc.)?

Make an effort to keep the photos in original order – it could be important
Someone may have had a very good reason for organizing them the way you found them. Or someone could have just tossed them in a box. Either way, you should pay attention to it and decide whether you should retain that order or reorganize the photographs later.

Gather low-hanging fruit first
Handwritten notes or printed information may be even more important if they’re scarce. Many older photographs such as cartes de visite and cabinet cards have information about the photographer printed on the fronts or backs, often including the location of the studio. A handwritten caption noting an event or a person’s name on one photograph could be the key to identify several images in a series.

In the Johnson photo collection, the only consistent notations I found were estimated dates in square brackets a previous librarian must have assigned in pencil. Square brackets are often used to denote information added by archivists to differentiate them from notes written by creators or owners.

3. Form connections

“Sherlock,” BBC; Hartswood Films; Kansas City Public Library

When I’m trying to connect the dots, I look for obvious relationships and repeating clothing and backgrounds. If you’ve elected to reorganize your photographs, you can begin by physically grouping the photographs based on event, place, time period, format or another factor that makes sense to you.

Find familiar faces
Identify commonalities. If you have recognized the subjects in one or two photographs, search for them throughout the images. Make note of dates, locations, their companions and events.

Right away, while looking through Lucile’s photographs, I could see that many of the snapshots were part of a series taken together based on the people, clothing, places and/or time period. A photograph identifying a man named J. H. Moyer, allowed me to pick him out in several other photographs and later, make educated guesses as to his companions.

Left: J.H. Moyer (green) walking street, 1941; right: J.H. Moyer with group, including Lucile, (yellow); Indiana State Library

Pay attention to notable places
Based on several snapshots, Lucile and a group of friends seemingly went on holiday together when they were young ladies. For many Hoosiers, the round building in the background is instantly recognizable as the iconic West Baden Springs Hotel in Orange County. Your own familiarity with common landmarks, legible signage or even a Google reverse image search can all lead you to successfully identifying places in your photographs.

Lucile (yellow) with five friends at West Baden Springs Hotel, ca. 1922; Indiana State Library

Date the images
You can narrow down or even pinpoint when a photo was taken by observing details such as fashion, architecture, insignia, signs, photo formats and more. This blog post from the National Archives walks you through the process step-by-step.

Draw a family tree
If you’re faced with a convoluted family or you’re a visual person, creating a family tree is a must. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but I do recommend using a pencil with an eraser if you’re doing it by hand because you’re going to make mistakes. You can also find family tree templates to print out or take advantage of online tools or software. Unless you have an eidetic memory like Barbara Gordon, notes and family trees may be crucial for the next step.

4. Investigate

"Sherlock," BBC, Hartswood Films; ImgurSearch genealogy databases
Once you have a person’s name and a few other details – an approximate birth or death date, a place they may have lived, a close family member – you can start online sleuthing. Genealogy databases, newspapers, digital collections and cemetery projects are the bread and butter of this research. If you don’t want to spring for subscription databases, which is legit, start by searching free databases like FamilySearch and Find A Grave to find your person and identify their social bubble.

While researching Lucile Johnson and her mother, Bertha, I easily located birth and early census records and discovered a mystery. At first glance, the birth certificate was just like any other, informing me Lucile Marie Fox Johnson was born in Vincennes, in Knox County, Indiana on Aug. 12, 1908. Her mother’s name was listed as Bertha L. Johnson and her father’s name was listed as O.W. Wait, what?

Lucile Johnson birth certificate, 1908; ancestry.com

Now, I’m a manuscripts librarian, which is just another term for archivist, so only a small fraction of my job is doing genealogical research, unlike our dedicated and talented genealogy librarians. I must confess I had to Google the acronym to figure it out. If you, like me, have never encountered this before, O.W. on an old birth record means “out of wedlock.” And that’s when I knew this research was going to get a lot more interesting. A baby born to an unmarried young woman in a small town in the Heartland in the early 20th century? There’s a story there. I just had to hope I could find the records to tell it.

"Detective Pikachu," Warner Bros. Pictures; TenorThe question became, how do I discover the identity of Lucile’s father when his name doesn’t appear in most typical records? One possible clue came from Lucile’s own name – Lucile Marie Fox Johnson. A middle name of Fox in the early 1900s was less likely to be a parent’s attempt at whimsy or an indication of their love of vulpine creatures and far more likely to be a surname, usually familial. It seems important to note that a surname as a middle name was often the maiden name of the mother, when a child’s parents were married. In Lucile’s case, it could indicate a pointed statement from her mother to ensure the world knew, as the people in Knox County surely did, who her father was. Keep this in mind, as we’ll come back to it.

While continuing to gather more information on Lucile M. Johnson, I also came across Lucile Moyer Pasmas’ death certificate and gravestone. In the photo collection, there are a few photographs of people identified as Moyers, so I looked closer. The birthdate, birthplace, mother’s name, profession, and place of residence – Indianapolis – on the certificate match Lucile M. Johnson. What caught my attention was the father line, which listed Unknown Moyer. It lines up with the O.W. on her birth certificate, which made me certain I had found the right Lucile. However, her father was a Moyer? I supposed it could be true. I did have those photographs, but then what was the origin of Fox on her birth certificate? And if her father wasn’t a Moyer, Lucile may have married one instead.

Lucille (Johnson) Moyer Pasmas death certificate, 1993; ancestry.com

Crowdsource and consult the experts
About this time, I enlisted the aid of the library’s incomparable genealogy supervisor, Jamie Dunn, to help me locate marriage records for Lucile’s presumed first marriage to Ford D. Moyer. I’m not going to get into that saga here, but you can view the results in the collection finding aid’s biographical note. Jamie didn’t locate the elusive marriage record I hoped to find, but she did discover the identity of Lucile’s father, which brings us to the next resource to utilize – other people. Take advantage of living memory and ask your older relatives what they remember. Message your cousin group chat. And don’t be afraid to contact local genealogy pros at the cultural institutions in your area.

Check local newspapers
Newspapers contain much more than news articles. They also publish birth and marriage announcements, obituaries and legal proceedings. In my case, small town newspapers proved they are, in fact, excellent sources for tidbits about local families. Jamie discovered several notices in the Vincennes Commercial and other papers, which tell us that Bertha Johnson was in fact not pleased with the behavior of her baby’s father and sued him for bastardy in Knox County the same year Lucile was born. He was, it turns out, named Fox — Frank P. Fox, to be precise.

The case was moved to Daviess County at Fox’s request, possibly hoping for a more impartial jury since he and Bertha were both from Vincennes. If that was his intent, it backfired. The jury ruled in Bertha’s favor and awarded her $500 in child support. The Daviess County Weekly Democrat, reporting on the story, also noted that Fox was the same man who hit a child with his car near Wheatland, Indiana, killing him. The newspaper ended by saying, “He is quite well known here.” Absolutely savage.

Left: Vincennes Commercial, Nov. 25, 1908, p. 3; Center and right: Washington Weekly Democrat, May 22, 1909, p. 4;  June 5, 1909, p. 3.

If you’re researching someone from Indiana, Hoosier State Chronicles allows anyone to search dozens of Indiana newspapers at no charge. To use subscription databases like Newspapers.com and Ancestry, avoid paying for individual memberships and contact your public library or historical society. They often maintain database subscriptions you can use in-house or from a state IP address for free, as well as collections of newspapers in print or on microfilm, in addition to other resources.

Don’t trust everything you read online
Treat everything you read on the internet with at least as much suspicion as the expired yogurt in your fridge. No database is perfect or will have every record. The records they do have are often rife with errors, which is often why you’ll see so many different spellings for the same person’s name. Database volunteers are human. Census takers are human. So are journalists and coroners and amateur genealogists. And as we all know, humans aren’t perfect.

Don’t just assume that the Bertha Johnson you found listed in a marriage record is your Bertha Johnson. Johnson is almost as common a surname as Smith and Bertha was a very popular first name among the Gilded Age set. Like a bank verifying your identity, recognize key distinguishing information for your person like birth date, mother’s name and birthplace and check them against the sources you find as much is possible. And if you can’t confirm something, even when you’re 99% certain about it, allow for uncertainty. ::hops off soapbox::

5. Get organized

"Mary Poppins," Disney; GiphyWhen you’ve reached a stopping point in your research, don’t quit there. Organizing and taking care of your old photographs means that they’ll still be there for your son or granddaughter.

If you’re not maintaining the original order, try grouping them in a logical way. I often organized photo collections by subjects arranged from specific to general, then chronologically within each subject, as I did with Lucile’s collection. Subjects included Lucile’s childhood photographs, portraits of her and her mother, Johnson extended family photos, vacation snapshots, pictures of pets and miscellaneous photographs as a catch-all for the random or unidentifiable images. At other times, I might organize by format or date, separating the more fragile tintypes, ambrotypes and daguerreotypes from paper photographs.

A few housekeeping notes

  • Photographs are light sensitive and will fade if left out so they should be stored flat or upright to prevent bending in opaque, acid-free enclosures, envelopes and sleeves.
  • Always handle photographs by their backs or edges as the oils on our skin can damage the image.
  • Don’t store photographs in musty basements or hot attics. Keep them in spaces with mid-level humidity, 15% at the lowest and 65% at the highest, and below 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • If you can, avoid doing anything permanent to the photos like writing in pen or using adhesives to stick it in a scrapbook. For more information, check out this blog post from the National Archives on the care and storage of photographs.
  • And lastly, consider donating your photo collection to an archive. If you’re downsizing, lack storage space or don’t have anyone to leave your collection to, an archive could be a viable option depending on the content. Archives keep the materials safe, ensuring their survival for future generations, while allowing the public, including your family and researchers, to access them as needed.

"Parks and Recreation," NBC Universal; TenorThis blog post was written by Rare Books and Manuscripts librarian Brittany Kropf. For more information, contact the Rare Books and Manuscripts Division at 317-232-3671 or by using “Ask-A-Librarian.” 

Introduction to using Fraktur records in genealogy

The term Fraktur refers to a style of handwriting or typeface. The name for the lettering comes from the Latin word fractūra, meaning broken; as in the “broken” way in which the letters are formed as compared to other hand writing and type styles which contain more curves.

An example of Fraktur lettering

However, the Fraktur that will be examined in this blog post refers to folk-art certificates, these certificates use the Fraktur style of writing along with decoration. These Fraktur certificates were produced by the Pennsylvania Dutch. The Pennsylvania Dutch were the German speaking immigrants that settled in Pennsylvania in the 17th and 18th centuries. Many of these Pennsylvania Dutch later made their way into the Midwest.

An example of a Fraktur certificate

The certificates of the Pennsylvania Dutch include baptismal certificates, birth records, marriage certificates and family registers. The most common of these certificates are the baptismal certificates, known as Taufschein/e, and birth records, known as Geburts Schein.

These Fraktur certificates of the Pennsylvania Dutch are part of the long history of illuminated texts that reaches back to the Middle Ages. The Fraktur records are personal ceremonial documents kept by the family, not an official vital record made by church or state. As a folk art, the first Frakturs were hand made by schoolmasters and clergymen. In later periods, the Frakturs included decorative printed certificates that the families could fill out with names and dates.

As the use of the German language or the Pennsylvania Dutch language decreased in later generations of Pennsylvania Dutch; the use of the Fraktur certificates also decreased.

Books and magazines about Fraktur in the Indiana State Library’s collection to explore:
“The Genealogist’s Guide to Fraktur : for genealogists researching German-American families,” call number: ISLG 929.13 E123GFR

Der Reggeboge. The Rainbow (magazine) Volume 54, 2020. Number 1 & 2 – Fraktur Fest, call number: ISLG 974.8 R154 v.54 #1/2

“Virginia Fraktur; Penmanship as Folk Art,” call number: ISLG 975.5 W973V

The Pennsylvania Dutchman (magazine), call number: ISLG 974.8 P415D

Pennsylvania Folklife (magazine), call number: ISLG 974.8 P415d

“Pennsylvania German Folk Art, by John Joseph Stoudt,” call number: G 974.8 P415pp v. 28 (currently in cataloging)

“Pennsylvania German Illuminated Manuscripts” by Henry Stauffer Borneman, call number: G 974.8 P415g v. 46 (currently in cataloging)

“The Heart of the Taufschein: Fraktur and the Pivotal Role of Berks County, Pennsylvania,” call number: ISLM GR110.P4 A372 v.46

Online sources about Fraktur to explore:
The Pennsylvania German style of illumination
This is the best online source of the history of Frakturs.

Revolutionary War Frakturs, the U.S. National Archives
Many widows sought to claim pensions from the government. These frakturs are those that were sent to the government to prove their relation to the deceased soldier and support the widows’ Revolutionary War pension applications.

Pennsylvania Folklife Vol. 28, No. 1
Article: “Taufscheine – A New Index for People Hunters,” page 29

Pennsylvania Folklife Vol. 28, No. 2
Article: “Taufscheine – A New Index for People Hunters – Part II,” page 36

The Pennsylvania Dutchman, Vol. 3 No. 10
Article: “Johann Valentin Schuller  – Fractur Artist and Author.” An example of the types of articles you can find about Fraktur in the Pennsylvania Dutchman magazine.

Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts
Collection: Fraktur

Pennsylvania German Broadsides and Fraktur
Penn State University, Rare Books and Manuscripts in the Special Collections Library

Pennsylvania German Fraktur and Manuscripts
Free Library of Philadelphia

Pennsylvania German Fraktur Collection
Franklin and Marshall College

Pennsylvania German fraktur, broadsides, and related drawings
Library of Congress

Ursinus College Fraktur Collection

This blog post is by Angi Porter, Genealogy Division librarian.

Indiana Legacy: An important tool for finding people of the past

Indiana Legacy allows everyone to search, from the comfort of their own home, for information on individuals going back to the early 1800s. One can research all kinds of pertinent information: birth, marriage, divorce and death.

Indiana Legacy combines existing Indiana State Library databases with VINE, the Vital INformation Exchange. VINE allows libraries to contribute and share records that they possess. Each record displayed shows the record type with an ID number, the name of the person, date, place and source of the record. Finding information this way saves a great deal of time and effort because you are looking at a transcript of the original document with the added benefit of knowing where an exact copy can be obtained.

And if you have difficulties or see a mistake that you can correct, please do so by using the Chat with a Librarian option located on the main Indiana Legacy page. All contributions are suggestions are welcome.

This post was written by Joan Gray, Indiana State Library.

Discovering census history at the Indiana State Library

The 2020 census data for congressional apportionment – released every 10 years – is due to be released one month from now, on April 30. The Census Bureau will deliver official 2020 census counts to the president on this date so these numbers can be used to determine the number of representatives each state receives in the U.S. House of Representatives. For the method used in determining these figures, see the Census Bureau’s Computing Apportionment. This year, the delivery date was extended due to COVID-19. You can find details about changes to the timeline on the Census Bureau’s website. Typically, congressional apportionment numbers are due to the president on Dec. 31, following the decennial census, in accordance with the U.S. Constitution. A history of this process is available on the Proportional Representation webpage from the U.S. House of Representatives.

The 2020 Census is not the first census to be disrupted by national concerns. The Earth spins and the nation moves forward through time as the American people are counted every 10 years. Let’s take a trip back in time to the fourth U.S. census, in 1820, when census enumeration was planned to take place during the six-month period from August 1820 to February 1821. Back then, the nation was going through its first major economic depression following the Panic of 1819.

What was the Panic of 1819, you ask? Good question! Last week was the first time I’d heard of it, and it’s not until recently that current scholarship has caught up with history. I decided to start my research using our free online newspaper databases and by searching for journal articles using INSPIRE, the Indiana State Library’s free database resource.

Here is what I discovered:

Late last year, Scott Reynolds Nelson wrote in his Journal of the Early Republic article, “The Many Panics of 1819,” that the causes were several:

Fundamentally, a trade war between the United States and Great Britain triggered the crisis, and that trade war over the Caribbean produced many panics – in the New England shipbuilding industry, in the southern provisioning trade, in the plantations of the British Caribbean where enslavers increasingly faced a hungry workforce.

…Though the land office failures were important. The Land Office was effectively a mortgage bank, the biggest in the world. On the significance of the land office in the American South, see Daniel S. Dupre, Transforming the Cotton Frontier: Madison County, Alabama, 1800–1840 (Baton Rouge, LA, 1997). Farmers borrowed on a four-year mortgage from the land office, a competitor to the Bank of the United States created by Jefferson’s Democratic Party. The rapid drop in provision prices led farmers to fail and abandon their mortgages and lands.

Additionally, Jessica M. Lepler explained the nationwide effect last year in her article, “The Panic of 1819 by Any Other Name:”

…North and South, East and West, urban and rural, young and old, male and female, bound and free, the hard times were national. This was no single-year crisis; the Panic of 1819 lasted about a decade.

These two authors were part of a 2019 panel discussing the subject.

Historical evidence can be collected here at the State Library through primary and secondary sources. Newspaper articles, history books and other ephemera explain how the 1820 census was affected by the economic state of the nation at the time. The 1820 census itself was extended by an extra seven months, until September of 1821. At the time, the United States would have been in recovery from fallout due to its first major economic crisis.

James Monroe was president on Census Day, Aug. 7, 1820. Courtesy of the United States Census Bureau.

Two centuries apart, the 1820 Census and the 2020 Census, and in both cases the process of the census was affected by major events impacting U.S. society.

As the pandemic draws closer to a solution and more people become vaccinated, we’ll see more books and articles written that compare our recent experiences to past events. The State Library has many resources that can help us delve into census history, both published and unpublished.

Visit our library to do research in the State Data Center Collection by calling us at 317-232-3732 to make an appointment. You can also use online resources like INSPIRE and the Census Bureau’s elaborate history website. Call or email the State Data Center for assistance. We are here to help you discover census history!

This blog post by Katie Springer, reference librarian. For more information, contact the Reference and Government Services Division at 317-232-3678 or submit an Ask-A-Librarian request.

Evaluating online resources for COVID-19 data

Resources online for COVID-19 data are already plentiful. You can do a search today and find data on the internet from all over the world, from many sources and for a variety of audiences. So, this is a good time to review the ways we evaluate sources for data and information.

There is no one perfect method for validating a data source. The usefulness of the data does not necessarily determine its reliability, nor does its timeliness or currency. When you choose a good book to read, you generally look for a good author, right? When you’re looking for good data, you need to choose a data source that has been verified by other sources.

This will ensure that the next time you search for data, you know where it’s from, what makes it a credible source, and how reliable it is.

If you do a Google search on “evaluating sources,” you can find several helpful mnemonics and acronyms that can help you remember how to search safely:

SIFT = Stop. Investigate. Find. Trace.

CRAP Test/CARP/CRAPPO/TRAAP = Currency. Relevance. Authority. Accuracy. Purpose.

CRITIC = Claim? Role of claimant? Information backing the claim? Testing? Independent verification? Conclusion?

PROVEN = Purpose. Relevance. Objectivity. Verifiability. Expertise. Newness.

Any one of these methods is useful for evaluating information sources. When it comes to data specifically, these are important questions to ask:

Where is the data from?
What was the source for this number or set of numbers? Did this come from a database that was available to you online? What organization created or collected the data? For what purpose? Was it a government information resource, a well-known national nonprofit organization or a college or university-owned research center? Was the data private or public information?

Who owns or maintains the data?
What is the name of the individual researcher or organization which conducted the survey or held the focus groups or interviews? What agency or organization published its findings with a publicized database or report? Who maintains the website you downloaded the data from?

When was the data made available compared to when it was collected?
What was the time frame for data collection? When was the database or report based on this data published? What date was the data released? When did you access the data?

How reliable is the data?
For how many years has the study been done? Can the data be verified? Can the study be reproduced? What methods were used to collect the data? Is the study peer reviewed? How are the data collection methods evaluated? How reputable are the organizations producing the data? Who else repeatedly uses this data?

Here are some examples of current, reliable sources for COVID-19 data:
The most recent COVID-19 data available for our state comes directly from the Indiana Department of Health. This is a government information source. The ISDH has been transparent in releasing current information daily throughout the pandemic. Since we get the numbers directly from the ISDH, it is our primary data source. We’re not relying on a secondary source for information.

For federal statistics on COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a COVID Data Tracker with cases and deaths by state and county.

For global statistics on COVID-19, the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering maintains a COVID-19 dashboard that shows cases by country and world region. It includes information about data sources and technical production of the database.

This blog post by Katie Springer, reference librarian. For more information, contact the Reference and Government Services Division at 317-232-3678 or submit an Ask-A-Librarian request.

Sharing your family story

When my oldest brother was a toddler, my grandfather would prop him up on his lap and spoon feed him a concoction he liked to call “coffee soup.” It was made from soaking soda crackers in sugary coffee. My grandfather lived through the depression and dishes like this were popular because they made the most out of a few kitchen staples when times were tough. Grandpa Harold passed away before I was born but the coffee soup story just happens to be one of my brother’s favorite memories to share.

I heard so many stories of my grandfather’s exploits growing up that he became sort of a folk hero in the family. I’m grateful to be a part of a family of fantastic storytellers. In fact, every time my family is together we tell stories. We dig up our most precious, most hilarious and special memories and recount them together. The facts may change as we age and our memories fade, but we all work together to put the important moments of our lives into context and bond over our shared history.

I never realized the true value of these stories until recently. Research has shown some surprising psychological benefits to family story telling, particularly with the younger generation, but the advantages last through all stages of life. Stories that focus on overcoming or facing challenges build resilience and fortitude when we are faced with difficulties of our own. Strong family narratives have been shown to help mitigate both stress and anxiety during tough situations.1  They help us to form our identities and find a sense of belonging.

Right now, as we manage the challenges presented by COVID-19, many of us are searching for ways to connect and make meaningful use of the time spent with family members. One way to do this is to plan some multi-generational bonding through sharing your family story. Stories can be told almost any time and in any place. Even mundane activities, like car rides, can be opportunities to share a story. If you are looking for some inspiration here are a few storytelling project ideas you may want to try with your family.

Interview a family member

David and Margaret Worton wedding, Genealogy Division, Indiana State Library

Interview a family member and record their story to pass along for generations. With just a little preparation and time you can uncover the challenges, triumphs and adventures that make up your family member’s life story. If you need help, the UCLA library has a Conducting Oral Histories with Family Members guide. This is a fantastic resource for each step of the project from preparing for the interview, organizing questions and making a recording.

Family Tree Magazine has a list of 20 open-ended questions to ask your relative during a family history interview. For an even more extensive interview, the My Heritage Blog has a list of 117 questions. You could use these lists for inspiration by creating some questions of your own based on what you want to know most about your family member’s life. You may get more out of the experience if you send the interviewee the questions in advance so that they can think about their answers ahead of time. Always respect their decision if they choose not to share certain information. This builds trust and will make them more comfortable sharing the rest of their story with you.

For those who would like to interview a family member that doesn’t live in the same household, there are a number of technological solutions like smartphone apps that record telephone calls to recording a video interview. Just be sure that the person you are interviewing approves of being recorded first. You don’t have to have a recording device, though. A piece of paper and a pencil to write down responses is all you really need to capture their story.

Work together on a family tree craft project
If you have some paper and old magazines on hand, Kinderart offers a tutorial on how to make a family tree collage. Since trips to the craft store may be a challenge right now, it’s convenient that most of the supplies required are items that many people already have handy. As you craft the tree you can tell stories about each person represented. Discuss their lives, pass on stories you’ve been told, or talk about any memories you have of them. This is a fantastic project for all ages and the end result is a work of art that could be displayed and cherished for generations.

Explore family photos

Nancy H. Diener collection, Genealogy Division, Indiana State Library

Open up your photo albums, digital photo gallery or those boxes of photos hanging out in the closet and go through them together. Talk about the people in the photos and tell stories about their lives. Some families have many of photos going back generations that they can share while others have more recent family photos on digital devices, like phones or computers. Recent memories are just as important for story building as those passed down over time. So don’t worry if you don’t have access to older family photos. Either way, this is a great opportunity to pass on and make memories.

Through email, text or social networking sites you could share the photos electronically with those you live apart from to create a connection and conversation across distances. For example, my grandmother has been adding her family photos to her Facebook newsfeed. She recently shared photos of her grandparents and later told me stories about the pictures. I would have never heard those stories if she hadn’t added these photos on social media. An added bonus is that now multiple family members have digital copies of these pictures, too.

Share your own story
Begin journaling or sharing your own life experiences. You have many irreplaceable family memories that only you can share with your loved ones. If you need help getting started the FamilySearch has a blog post with nine writing tips on how to tell your personal story.

As author Robin Moore says, “Inside each of us is a natural-born storyteller, waiting to be released.” Our memories are some of the most valuable gifts that we can share with one another. They are free, easy to pass on and they have the power to connect generations of family members together. Now is a great time to think about how our family stories have shaped and guided us throughout our lives and to create new stories for the future.

1 Feiler, B. (2013, Mar 17). “The stories that bind us: Children who know their family’s history are better at facing challenges.” New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.ilibrary.org/docview/1815060551?accountid=46127

This blog post is by Dagny Villegas, Genealogy Division librarian.

Nelson and Gilly Ann Perry in antebellum Indiana

When Indiana was established as a state in 1816, its very first constitution explicitly banned slavery. Decades later, attitudes had soured. While many white Hoosiers disavowed the institution of slavery, they did not necessarily want populations of free blacks living in the state. Thus, when citizens convened for a constitutional convention in 1850, this issue was hotly debated. Many delegates, all of whom were white, expressed concern at the influx of blacks migrating to the state, particularly from southern slave states. The result was Article 13 in the 1851 Indiana Constitution which declared “No negro or mulatto shall come into or settle in the State, after the adoption of this Constitution.” A further stipulation of this exclusionary act “instructed the county clerks to notify all Negroes who were residents before November 1, 1851 to register, ordered the creation of the register of negroes and mulattoes, and empowered the clerks to subpoena witnesses and to issue certificates attesting to the registration of legal residents.”1 In addition to name, age and place of birth, these registers also listed physical descriptions of each settler. The registration certificates served as proof that the bearer was a citizen of Indiana and therefore allowed to be in the state legally, but it’s impossible to ignore that the creation of these registers served as further persecution against an already marginalized group, making them even more vulnerable in a country that was bitterly divided over the issue of slavery.

Notice alerting Gibson County citizens of the registration requirement. From the Princeton Clarion-Leader (Princeton, Indiana), May 14, 1853

On Aug. 23, 1853, two settlers named Nelson and Gilly Ann Perry registered with Andrew Lewis, the county clerk of Gibson County, and received their official registration certificates. These documents are now in the Indiana State Library’s Rare Books and Manuscripts collection. According to the papers, Nelson was 33 years old, slightly over 6 feet tall, of stout build and dark complexion and was born in Pennsylvania. Gilly Ann was 28 years old, 5 feet 6 inches tall, of light build and light complexion. She was born in North Carolina.

Nelson and Gilly Ann Perry registration certificates, Rare Books and Manuscripts, Indiana State Library (Collection S1906)

Not much is known about Nelson and Gilly Ann, but some of their life together can be reconstructed from public records.

Years before they were required to register as free blacks, they were entered in another official Indiana registry, albeit for a more innocuous and mundane reason: On July 26, 1848 they were married in Posey County. According to the official registry, Gilly Ann’s maiden name was Eddy.

Marriage record from Familysearch.com

A couple of years later, they appear in the 1850 Census living in Mount Vernon in Posey County, Indiana. Nelson’s occupation is listed as a “cooper” which is a person who made wooden barrels and tubs. They also are living with a 50-year-old black female named C. McCalister,  but no further information could be found on her. Unfortunately, it is very probable that if she registered as a free black in Indiana, it was in Posey County and that registry is known to be missing.

Census entry from Ancestry.com

On Jan. 4, 1864, Nelson Perry enrolled in the United States 28th Colored Infantry Regiment, Company D. By this stage of his life, Perry was in his 40s but still willing to serve for the Union cause. A note on his military record indicated he had been “absent sick in hospital at New Orleans, LA since 7/15/65.” He was officially discharged on Nov. 8, 1865.

Later, Nelson’s name shows up in miscellaneous military paperwork including a list of Union Civil War veterans who were given official government-provided headstones.

Headstone application from Ancestry.com. Photograph of Nelson Perry’s tombstone from findagrave.com

 

No date can be found for his death. Presumably, he died prior to 1894 since that is the date on the headstone application. He is buried in Princeton, Indiana in Gibson County.

Gilly Ann is largely unaccounted for during the Civil War years and there is no evidence that she and Nelson had children. She shows up again in public records in the 1875 Wisconsin State Census, living in Beloit, Rock County near the Illinois border. She also appears in the 1890 United States Census of soldiers and widows, again in Beloit.

Image from ancestry.com

Interestingly, the Indiana State Library was given both Nelson and Gilly Ann’s Indiana registration papers from Beloit College where, presumably, Gilly Ann had donated them for posterity.

Official documents provide merely a rough outline of the lives of Nelson and Gilly Ann. What we know about Indiana history during the antebellum era can help flesh out their story even if, ultimately, any conclusions we draw are pure conjecture. For example, we know from her registration papers that Gilly Ann was born in North Carolina. Many free blacks and former slaves migrated to Indiana from North Carolina with assistance of North Carolina’s Quaker community. Quaker led caravans – sometimes made up of hundreds of people – made the long trek west. Migrating in such a manner was a safer alternative to escaping through other means, such as the Underground Railroad, because travelers were under the protection of their Quaker traveling companions. When the caravans reached Indiana, the free blacks would either continue to head further north to Michigan or Canada or they settled in Indiana, often within or near Quaker communities. It is quite possible that Gilly Ann was brought to Indiana from North Carolina in such a caravan.

In 1848 and 1850 we know that both Nelson and Gilly Ann were in Posey County. Based on the 1850 census, we know they were living in Mount Vernon, Indiana, a town situated directly on the Ohio River with Kentucky – a slave state – nearby on the other side of the river. In September of that year, the United States Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 which further compromised the rights of free blacks in northern states and made them more susceptible to kidnapping and being sold off to southern slave owners, even if they had never been enslaved before in their life. Being situated on the Ohio River, Nelson and Gilly Ann’s home was located in an especially perilous place as bounty hunters constantly roamed the area surrounding the river looking for escaped slaves or others who they could bring in for a financial reward. Bounty hunters could abduct people suspected of being runaway slaves with little or no evidence.

Clipping from Indiana State Sentinel (Indianapolis, Ind.), Jan. 25, 1848

Living so close to the Ohio River, it is entirely possible that the Perrys were involved in the Underground Railroad to some degree and like many other free blacks were instrumental in assisting others on their journey north. However, in 1853 the couple had moved a bit north to Gibson County. Perhaps they wanted to get farther away from the Kentucky border. Or perhaps they made the move because Gibson County was home to a larger number of free blacks and had several established black rural settlements. According to the 1850 census, Posey County’s black population was 98 while Gibson County’s was 217, almost double the size. Whatever the reason, it seems to have been a permanent relocation since we do know that Nelson Perry eventually ended up being buried near Princeton, a town located in Gibson County.

While all this is merely speculation, contextualizing what little is known about Nelson and Gilly Ann from public records within the broader narrative of general U.S. history allows for a richer and more complete story to emerge. That these registration papers were saved for decades, journeyed from Indiana to Wisconsin and were left in the care of a local college only to make their way back to Indiana is remarkable and a testament that Nelson and Gilly Ann must have wished their story to be remembered.

The Indiana State Library has numerous resources documenting this period of Indiana history. Some used for this blog post are:

Brown, Maxine F. “The role of free blacks in Indiana’s Underground Railroad” (2001). ISLI 973.7115 B879r
Hudson, J. Blaine. “Fugitive slaves and the Underground Railroad in the Kentucky borderland” (2002). ISLI 973.7115 H885f
LaRoche, Cheryl Janifer. “Free black communities and the Underground Railroad” (2014). ISLI 973.7115 L326f
1. Robbins, Coy D. Indiana negro registers, 1852-1865 (1994). ISLR 977.2 I385nr
Thornbrough, Emma Lou. “The negro in Indiana : a study of a minority” (1957). ISLI 325.26 T497n
“Underground Railroad : the invisible road to freedom through Indiana” (2001). ISLI 973.7115 U55

Online resources
Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources. Underground Railroad
Indiana Historical Society: Early black settlements

This blog post was written by Jocelyn Lewis, Catalog Division supervisor, Indiana State Library. For more information, contact the Indiana State Library at 317-232-3678 or “Ask-A-Librarian.”

New year; new genealogical you

The start of a new year generally means new goals, usually dealing with health goals or organizing one’s life in one way or another. If you’ve been thinking about how you could apply that to your genealogical research or want to try new things here are some suggestions for genealogy resolutions for 2020.

Photograph of Olive, Iris, Zula, Bernard and Eunice Chambers, children of Fred H. and Gladys (Sinnett) Chambers from the Indiana State Library’s digital collections.

Back up your data
If you’ve been putting off backing up your genealogy research for “later,” 2020 is a good year to tackle backing up your research. Losing genealogy data due to a hard drive crash or from an unexpected event like a house fire can be devastating. Whether you decide to back up your information in the cloud or with a hard drive keeping copies of your research in different places will help eliminate the chance of massive loss of one’s research.

Visit an institution that you have not been to before
As most researchers realize after doing genealogy research for any amount of time, not everything is available on the internet. Many materials can only be accessed in a library, archives or other local organizations since they are often under copyright and cannot be digitized. Often, regional or local institutions may have materials relating to local families in the area that larger institutions don’t have in their collections. Taking the time to visit area libraries or historical societies where your ancestors lived may yield new information or new clues if you’ve hit a brick wall.

Attend a genealogy conference
Attending a conference is a great way to pick up tips and new research techniques. Many regional and national conferences offer a wide variety of topics and presenters for a fairly reasonable price. Or perhaps attend a conference with a more narrow focus, generally on one specific topic or field of genealogy.

Some larger conferences offer a virtual pass, where, for a reduced rate, you can watch a selection of talks from the comfort of your home. The National Archives has a yearly Virtual Genealogy Fair that is free, the videos are available on YouTube and you can download the handouts to your computer.

Take a DNA test
Genetic genealogy has become a popular area of research. DNA kits from Ancestry and 23andMe are popular gifts for people wanting to learn more about their ethnicity or to connect with family members. The three big companies are the aforementioned Ancestry DNA and 23andMe, along with MyHeritage. For more information about the field of genetic genealogy check out the International Society of Genetic Genealogy.

Prioritize your resolutions
After you’ve created a list of things you would like to accomplish go through and identify the ones you want to tackle first. Perhaps you weren’t able to get through everything you wanted to last year, or you have one goal you really want finish, like scanning and organizing your family photos and other genealogical materials. Create realistic goals and timelines for completing each task, and have a plan in place on how you are going to accomplish everything you want to finish in the coming year.

Blog written by Sarah Pfundstein, genealogy librarian, Indiana State Library. For more information, contact the Indiana State Library at 317-232-3689 or “Ask-A-Librarian.”

A year in the life of a librarian in the Genealogy Division of the Indiana State Library

Have you ever wondered what the librarians in the Genealogy Division at the Indiana State Library do all day and all year long? I sometimes get a glazed over response from people when I tell them what I do for a living. Most times, though, people react with great interest and they have many questions. I feel like I could talk about genealogy and what I do for hours! There are always new and interesting questions we receive from patrons who are inquiring about one or more of their ancestors.

We recently researched individuals who were performers in the travelling circuses and vaudeville acts of the late 1800s. Talk about a challenge in trying to research people who were constantly on the move and went by several different stage names! We are definitely always up for a challenge and happy to guide and help any patron with their research. Due to time constraints, we are sometimes unable to conduct in-depth research, but we are most definitely available and happy to help with less comprehensive research on ancestors.

In this case, we were able to find information about a particular travelling circus they were performing in throughout the states of Indiana, Illinois and Ohio around the year 1900. With the ancestors using stage names sometimes as their real names, it has been difficult trying to track down their places of death and burial.

Sometimes we uncover unfortunate incidents, like when we learned of the demise of two-thirds of a 12-generation family tree chart that included an ancestor who arrived in America on the Mayflower in 1620. A rodent that may or may not have been the family pet escaped his caged home and was thought to have gone on to rodent heaven. However, several weeks later said rodent was found living the life in a cozy little nest of shredded family tree material! He was most assuredly on a mission to erase 12 generations of a family tree. Thankfully, though, those brave people aboard the Mayflower have been well documented along with five to six generations that followed after them. Piecing together the names on the one-third of the salvaged family tree chart and researching in our numerous books about the people on the Mayflower has made this research not as daunting as one might think.

Speaking of books in our Genealogy Collection, we have some very intriguing books to complement our death record index books. Several of the Indiana counties have published coroner record books. Most of the entries I’ve read in the coroner’s reports are descriptive and they don’t mince words. For example, one ancestor I researched this year has an entry in the Decatur County Indiana Coroner’s Inquest Record Book 1, 1873-1900. Herman Demer, born June 9, 1852 in Germany, came to America and made his way to Indiana where he married and eventually became the father of six children. He died on April 1, 1896 in Greensburg in Decatur County, Indiana. The coroner’s entry reads:

“Report and verdict of the Coroner of Decatur County as to the cause of the death of Herman Demer at crossing of Vine Street and the track of CCC & S & L Railroad in the city of Greensburg, Indiana on May the 1st 1896 after hearing the evidence of 10 witnesses in this case…

 

“I do find that as the mail train No 11 from Cincinnati came into this city on said date running at the rate of 20-25 miles an hour and at the crossing above named the engine of said train struck the deceased Herman Demer together with his horse and wagon, killed the horse instantly and demolished the wagon, and so injured and mangled the deceased Herman Demer that he died in a few minutes after being hurt and I do find that the accident was due to the fast rate the train was being run by engineer William Nagle at the time of the accident.

 

Would call the attention of the authorities to the fact that all trains are being run at to great speed through this corporation. May 7, 1896. Signed, George W. Randall, Coroner Decatur County Indiana.”

Old newspaper articles also could be very blunt in their accounts of events. There was another ancestor research I helped with that became quite a gripping tale as I searched in our online newspaper databases. The female ancestor had been a well-beloved fixture in the community for years. One morning on the farm, sometime in the 1880’s, she went out to feed the pigs and had her apron pockets full of pig feed. The newspaper article stated they believed she suddenly had a heart attack and collapsed in the pig pen. In the process of collapsing, the feed was scattered all over her upper torso and hands. I’ll leave it at that and let you figure out the rest. The newspaper article went into very gruesome detail, as was the custom of the times.

Another book we have with an entirely fascinating title is “The Georgia Black Book: Morbid, Macabre & Sometimes Disgusting Records of Genealogical Value” by Robert Scott Davis. The title either grabs your senses and pulls you in or it repulses you as you firmly say, “No thank you!” The contents include names of horse thieves, liars, convicts, murderers, murder victims, insane asylum inmates and more. It covers the period of 1754 through 1900 mostly. A few chapters on murders cover the 1823-1969 time frame. It contains the names of over 13,500 people. I haven’t actually researched inside this book for any patrons, but earlier in the year I got pulled in by the title alone. This is just one of many intriguing books we have of genealogical value.

As librarians in this division, we are always searching different types of indexes looking for particular ancestor names for our patrons. Reading through these lists of names can sometimes be quite amusing and charming at the same time, along with coming across some tongue-twisters, too. Here is just a small sampling of the names we’ve come across: Mr. Orange Lemon, Methusala Stickie, Mrs. Pearl Wilkymackey, Thomas Batman, Mary Popsichal, Cincinnati Meek, Pierre A. Poinsette, Balthazar Zumwald, Reason Shook, Adonijah Rambo, Rosebud Alcorn, Sophronia Boeckelman, Waty Winkler, Hannah Hairclipe, Fergus Snoddy, Permelia J. Threldheld, Dorman E. Stufflebeam, Thomas Cottongin, Lucy Meltaberger, Landrum Leak, Woods Cotney, Orval Fifield Upthegrove, Knotley Tansel, Peyton/Paten Tansel and Stark Tansel.

I think it’s safe to say that librarians who work with genealogy love history. Having the opportunity to research during different time periods of our country’s history and also learn about the history of countries where people emigrated from makes history come alive. Learning about history from our school books is one thing but then delving into the lives of real people that lived through particular times, makes history more authentic and palpable. For instance, in researching an American Civil War Soldier from Putnam County, Indiana who died of dysentery in a makeshift hospital far from home, brought a human realness to history for me. In this research I also learned that during the American Civil War, 95,000 soldiers died from dysentery.

We all learned long ago in school that the pilgrims came to America in search of a place to live peacefully without religious, and other forms, of persecution. Later, people came to America fleeing cultural persecution, political upheaval, land and job shortages, famines and continued religious persecution. When I research actual people that left their families and homes in the only country they probably ever knew, it most definitely makes history come alive. It has brought a new sense of awe and utmost respect to all of the immigrants that came here in search of a better life. I can’t even begin to imagine the bravery it must have taken to leave everything they ever knew for the dream of a better life.

We have the following book, and many more like it, that are great history and genealogy resources: “History for Genealogists: Using Chronological Time-Lines to Find and Understand Your Ancestors” by Judy Jacobson.

In the preface of this book, I fully agree with what the author states about the importance of seeing ancestors in the historical context in which they lived:

“…In my research I try to understand why people made the choices they made, what type of people they were, and how they came to be that was. I like to see their world through the eyes of those ancestors. … This book is designed as a handy reference to provide researchers with what I consider to be a critical but often overlooked dimension to their genealogical research: an historical context.”

For example, hundreds of years ago, and even more recently, there were many occupations that no longer exist today. If you would like to read through an entertaining list of occupations from yesteryear, you can access that link here. I am including a small list of some of the more curious names of occupations below.

I hope you have enjoyed reading about a few of the interesting research topics and related items that we conduct year round in the Genealogy Division of the Indiana State Library. There’s always some new topic or ancestor that is fascinating and intriguing.  Come in and visit us sometime or send us a question through the Ask-A-Librarian interface on our library website. We are happy to help.

This post was written by Alice Winslow, librarian in the Genealogy Division of the Indiana State Library.

Using genetic genealogy to advance your research at the Indiana State Library

The secrets to untold stories, answers of the past and tales of exciting and dangerous journeys unfortunately live in the past; or do they? There are many ways to perform research to discover the past, and in the process, better understand one’s genealogy. One of the most exciting ways to further your research is to have a DNA test done. This aspect of genealogy can provide you with the key that unlocks the secret door to the past and the lives of your ancestors.

DNA testing provides you with all sorts of new and interesting information. You now possess the unrefined gold mine of adenine, thymine, guanine and cytosine which form this wonderful thing called a chromosome! But, what does all this mean? How do you know what these types of chromosomes mean and how do they play into your genealogy? The most important thing when gaining new information is to understand what it means and how to appropriately use it.

To help make sense of it all, the Genealogy Division of the Indiana State Library collects books pertaining to DNA research. These books are on display in the Genealogy Reading Room and cover a wide variety of topics, from making sense of your test results to researching specific ethnic and national groups through DNA. The library also partners with the Central Indiana DNA Interest Group to offer DNA consultations on the second Saturday of each month. These consultations, which are made by appointment only, allow patrons to receive practical research advice from genetic genealogy experts. Visit the library’s events page for more information!

This blog post was written by Sara-Elisa Driml, University of Indianapolis student.