Before My Time is about the ancestry and extended family of my four grandparents: John Samuel Krentz (Indiana/North Dakota), Margreta Tjode Hedwig (Gertie) Buss (North Dakota), Rosmer Pettis Kerr (Pennsylvania/Michigan), and Evelyn Elvina Hauer (Michigan), and other topics in genealogy and family history.

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Something in this book could kill you!

Here's a very handy list for genealogists:

Old Names for Illnesses and Causes of Death

A little over a hundred years ago, it occurred to someone that it would be useful to have a good set of standardized terms for these things. Thus a book was produced containing all the various sorts of deadly maladies. The link below will take you to a Google e-book. In the sidebar to the left of the book, there's a "search in this book" box where you can enter the cause of death from a death certificate. You'll see where that particular cause of death fits within the classification system. Fun with nosology!

Manual of the International List of Causes of Death: Based on the Second Decennial Revision by the International Commission, Paris, July 1 to 3, 1909 (Google eBook)
  • Author:     Cressy Livingston Wilbur; United States. Bureau of the Census.; International Commission for the Decennial Revision of Nosological Nomenclature.
  • Publisher:     Washington, Govt. Print. Off., 1913.
Another old book I happened upon was interesting for its instructions to doctors on how to fill out birth and death certificates. It also has nosology, 1939 style.

Physicians' Handbook on Birth and Death Registration Containing International List of Causes of Death (Google eBook)
  • United States. Bureau of the Census
  • U.S. Government Printing Office, 1939

Monday, February 16, 2015

What if...?

When I bought The Genesis of the Memorial Day Holiday by Daniel Bellware and Richard Gardiner, I expected nothing more than to learn where our Memorial Day holiday came from and maybe impress friends and family with my ability to slip some fresh historical facts into my line of party chatter. Okay, I'm kidding about the party chatter. I'm lousy at party chatter and I avoid parties like the plague.

I did, however, learn more than I would have thought possible about the origins of our Memorial Day holiday. It was only made an official U. S. holiday in 1971, for example, although its history goes back more than a hundred years from that point. In fact, as the 150th anniversary of our Memorial Day custom approaches, it's appropriate that the controversy about its origins be resolved. You didn't know there was a controversy? Neither did I! But I know quite a bit about it now!

To my surprise, though, that's not all I got from this book. For example, I was startled to discover that our elected representatives in Washington can be totally clueless about a subject but still pass legislation about it. Okay, maybe "startled" was too strong a word. Should I have said "reassured in my suspicions"? Either way, I'd barely begun reading the Introduction when I was inspired to take up cartooning:

No, dear reader, I'm sure that's not how our Independence Day holiday came to be... or was it? But as for Memorial Day... well, if I said any more, I'd have to issue a spoiler alert.

Also, in the reading of this book, it occurred to me that I'd never really thought about the emotional climate of this country following the end of the Civil War, and what individual people in the north and the south did with their feelings about the other side. With several Civil War era veterans in my family tree, I've looked at a few pension files and regimental histories, so I have a pretty good idea of where my people served and the cost they paid in physical suffering. But I'm surprised it hadn't occurred to me to wonder more about the social aftermath. I found some interesting insights in this text.

Written in scholarly tone, the detailed explication of extensive research in contemporaneous source materials builds an excellent case for the true story behind our Memorial Day holiday. My most important takeway, as an amateur family historian, is the way this study will inform and inspire my own research in the future.

Besides... some myths debunked, some fibbers called out, a little family rivalry, a nose or two out of joint... what's not to like?

But what if...

This book brought up one more line of thought for me, one which is not related to the subject itself but to the research. Much of the evidence used to prove the true origin of the Memorial Day holiday came from newspapers published all over the country at the time the events unfolded. And as I saw how this gathered evidence was used to show what really happened and when, I began to wonder... what if something happened now, in the present, and a hundred years from now someone needed to find contemporaneous news reports to prove the true course of events. Will a paper trail exist? Is there a future for print newspapers? Pew Research Center's State of the News Media 2013 raises some disturbing questions.

Many of my readers are genealogy bloggers themselves; others are obviously computer-savvy and used to getting information from online sources. It's easy for any of us to say that news via the computer is quicker to obtain, easy to find via search engines, and easily bookmarked or linked-to for future reference. But who among us has not clicked a link only to find it's broken? In my experience, news stories in particular are prone to disappearing in short order, as stories evolve and are replaced or updated, or as other news becomes more click-worthy. I've learned the hard way to copy and paste any online story I may want to return to in the future, rather than simply bookmarking it.

Even so, what about my digital copy? There is then the problem of how to store it so it's obtainable in the future. Like my 8-track tapes, the email I saved from my Mac Classic to some floppy disks is no longer accessible to me. I failed to archive the Mac along with the floppies. I use a PC now, and it doesn't even have a floppy drive. Changing technology will doubtless render other digital files useless to me in the future. "Historians will be facing a black hole when it comes to studying the 20th and 21st centuries because much of our digital history is stored on technology that no longer have devices to read them, experts claim," wrote Claire Connelly of News Corp Australia Network in 2012.

Last week the BBC ran an article entitled Google's Vint Cerf warns of 'digital Dark Age' about this same concern. Besides changes in hardware, there are changes in software as well which can also render data unreadable. The solution to this problem is complex, but at least there are people working on it. Still, as a family historian with a quarter-century of computer experience behind me, I assure you I will not make the mistake of discarding my paper files after scanning them!

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I was not paid to write this review, nor to write any other review appearing at Before My Time.

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Cartoon art from ClipArt ETC

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Beginning with a Bang! My 2015 Genealogy Reading List

I'm the kind of person who can spend whole days sitting at the computer doing research (more or less!) of a genealogical or family history nature. And although my interest began more than a quarter of a century ago, I've never run out of things to look up. I'm pretty sure I never will. But sometimes I just feel the need to step away from the computer and stretch out on the couch for awhile, so I'm always on the lookout for some good reading material with a genealogical theme. The recently-released Seeking John Campbell: Finding pioneers and patriots in the pampas by John Daffurn was a great choice in that vein.

John Daffurn began researching his family history many years ago and discovered, as many of us do, that the really interesting stuff is somewhere beyond the names and dates that fill the blanks on your ancestor chart. And when you get to that point, you may find the research process so enjoyable and so stimulating that it ceases to be all about you and your chart. You realize that you've learned some skills that are fun to use, and one day--reader, has this happened to you?--you begin to research someone who's not even related to you.

Daffurn did this when he found Britain's Bona Vacantia list, a list of deceased persons whose estates had gone unclaimed. Knowing he'd acquired some useful research skills, he decided to try his hand at heir-hunting. He rather randomly selected a name from the list--that of a woman who had died more than a decade before--and set out to discover her family connections and perhaps locate someone who was entitled to inherit her estate.

An illegitimate child, Maria Isabel Pemberton Greig was, Daffurn learned, the daughter of one John Campbell. One, if you think about it, among many! But eventually, Daffurn was able to narrow the field down to three John Campbells. From that point, he researched all three of them in great detail and, reader, from there springs Seeking John Campbell, a fascinating nonfiction page-turner.

I did not expect to learn so much about world history, I did not expect to bump into names I would recognize, and I did not expect to find a John Campbell injured in battle on the west coast of Italy in World War II, where he might have ended up in a hospital bed next to my dad. The world, I learned from this book, is much smaller than I had ever imagined.

I'm sure John Daffurn could not have foreseen the rich and colorful story that would come to him in this project. Maria Isabel Pemberton Greig was just a name on a list--a name with a date of death. There was so much more to be found! Seeking John Campbell is a spectacular example of what might lie beyond the names and dates, and Daffurn's story is an inspiration for researchers.

I really enjoyed this book! Can you tell?


And in case you are wondering, no, I am not being paid to write this review, nor to write any other review appearing at Before My Time.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Hey, don't blame me! They're not my cousins!

At least I haven't proven yet that they're my cousins... although it looks like they might be...

I'm talking about George, Nicholas, and Wilhelm, skeletons that were rattling in The Guardian's closet awhile back. Apparently the speed of sound is a little slow, bouncing across the briny sea and all, but I heard the rattling yesterday.

Honestly, is there anything more intriguing than a multifaceted international family scandal? As a family historian, I was lured in, but what really hooked me was Miranda Carter's apparent enjoyment in telling tales on those royal badboys. For someone who hates to read as much as I do, you'd think The Guardian's eighteen paragraphs would have been more than enough, but as it happens, all that did was whet my appetite. Off I went to Amazon, where I nailed a used copy of George, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I by Miranda Carter for a penny plus postage. Looks like I'll be booking some couch time in a week or so.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Handy Tools for German Research

German script alphabet chart ~ printable ~ This one is my favorite, showing Fractur (that cryptic-looking German typeface) and three different handwriting styles. 

Larry O. Jensen's A Genealogical Handbook of German Research ~ All kinds of useful foundation information. For example, help with names and naming practices ~ see pages 19-21 and 39-43.

German genealogical word list from FamilySearch

German illness word list

Rudy's List of Archaic Medical Terms ~ useful not only for German but also English terms ~ To access the German lists, just type "german" into the search box. Besides definitions, there are examples of the handwritten words so you can see what they look like.

Blog Archive


Our Family in Books: A Bibliography

  • My Ancestors in Books (a library of resources and notes pertaining to Reverend Samuel Stone, Major General Robert Sedgwick, Elder John Crandall, and other early Americans in the forest where my family tree was grown)
  • The Zahnisers: A History of the Family in America by Kate M. Zahniser and Charles Reed Zahniser (Mercer, Pa. 1906)
  • History of St. James Lutheran Church [full title: A little of this and a little of that in the 141 year (1861-2002) History of St. James Lutheran Church, Reynolds Indiana] by Harold B. Dodge, published at Reynolds, Indiana, 2002; 170 pages.
  • Lisbon, North Dakota 1880-2005 Quasuicentennial, published at Lisbon, North Dakota in 2005; 391 pages.
  • The Paschen and Redd Families of Cass County, Indiana by Alfred Paschen, c. 2005 (Gateway Press, Inc., Baltimore, MD); 322 pages.
  • Sheldon Community History: Sheldon Centennial 1881-1981, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 1981; 376 pages.
  • Sheldon, North Dakota 1881-2006 - 125th Anniversary: The Queen of the Prairie, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 2006; 498 pages.
  • A Standard History of White County, Indiana, written under the supervision of W.H. Hamelle, c. 1915 (The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York).
  • The Roots of Coventry, Connecticut by Betty Brook Messier and Janet Sutherland Aronson, c. 1987 (Coventry 275th Anniversary Committee, Coventry, CT); 206 pages.
  • "Elder John Crandall of Rhode Island and His Descendants" by John Cortland Crandall; New Woodstock, New York, 1949; 797 pages.
  • "The Descendants of Robert Burdick of Rhode Island." Nellie (Willard) Johnson, Pd.B.: H & L Creations, LLC.

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