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The Longfellow Birthday Book

The Longfellow Birthday Book in possession of the author.
The Longfellow Birthday Book in possession of the author.

This week, I’ve been endeavoring to work with my husband to go through book boxes in a storage unit, figuring out which volumes to bring home to put on our shelves, which ones to donate to the local library’s book sale, and which ones to neatly organize and store.

In the process, I became reacquainted with The Longfellow Birthday Book. A quick Google image search suggests the work was printed in various formats for a number of years either side of 1900, but the book that I own is a 4″ x 5.5″ volume copyright by Houghton, Mifflin & Co. in 1881 and apparently “electrotyped and printed” by H. O. Houghton & Company by The Riverside Press in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

On the left-hand pages there’s a reading for each day of the year. On the right-hand pages there are sequential dates with the names and birth years of famous individuals printed on a small, single line underneath. Generous blank space for recording family birthdays is provided below that.

Penciled on the front endpaper is a note that reads “Flora W. Bassett 1892,” most likely the Flora Wilcox Bassett whose name is written in under the August 26 date along with “1851.” If Flora was born in 1851, she would have turned 41 in 1892, the year the book might have been  acquired. It appears the pages were used as a place to record family names with birth and/or death years however the entries are in multiple hands, suggesting that more than one person contributed to it.

The Bassett surname appears numerous times throughout the book, suggesting the individuals are likely related both to Flora and to each other. As such, my goal is to see if I can figure out how each person is connected.

This is what aspiring genealogists do for fun,

– – – – – – – – – –

Here are the names that appear in the volume:

January 3:
1834 Leah H. Gates 1915

January 7:
Mrs. P. L. Andrews –
1803 —– 1893 —–

January 15
Reba Bassett – 1884.-/94

January 19
Martha E. B. Backley
Aug 2.1894.1827

January 26
H D Bassett 1844-93

January 31
Maria Crumb Lake

February 1
Walter [two names, legible but difficult to read] 1882 – 1904

February 18
Carrie Strietelmeier 18|44

February 27
Louise R. Wheeler-1888-’04.

February 28
Honora Hannon

March 11
Pauline Bassett O’Ferrall

March 13
Sabrina Potter
Died Feb. 2 1904–

March 17
Agnes Wheeler 1892/”04.”

March 27
Myra Wilcox Bassett

May 3
1894 Alice G Vaughn 1856

June 2
Harry Gaylord Lake

June 3
[Jallen?] Babcock

June 6
Katherine Merritt

June 24
Sarah A. Brown

July 4
Herbert H. Bassett

July 25
Agnes Bassett 1880-/94

July 31
Wm Forrest Bassett

August 9
William [C?] Byer

August 22
Constance E Lake

August 26
Flora Wilcox Bassett.
1851 ——-

September 1
Mollie D Potter 1850

September 8
Dwight Bassett Hutchinson.
Sep 8 – 11.45 am – 1919
(weight 7 lbs. 5 oz.)

September 18
Henry Lee Bassett.

September 23
Stuart N Lake

October 1
Laura Babcock Rider 1873

October 7
George Edward Drury

October 21
Harvey Edwin Hutchinson 1875

December 8
[O? or D?] [A?] Watson. 1816-/94

December 12
Inez S. Byer 1858

December 15
Winifred Merritt.

December 16
Robert M O’Ferrall

Directory Studies at Ancestry: Efficient Approach to Finding and Saving Information

City DirectoryIn recent weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time online doing what I call “directory studies”–systematically tracing individuals across multiple  city directory years to learn more about residence, occupation, and/or household configuration.

As I worked, I thought about the quickest ways to zero in on relevant pages and the best ways to save the information found.

I’ve settled on a system that feels like it’s working well for me and I thought I’d share. I’m sure it could be tweaked, but at the moment it feels comfortably efficient and effective.

Quick Access

I added the U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 database to “My Quick Links” on my Ancestry home page so that I can find it easily. If you’re not sure how to do that, check out their 5-minute video tutorial.

Efficient Browsing

When a search doesn’t take me to the page I want, I have to browse.

    • I type image numbers in order to quickly find the correct letter of the alphabet. Using 111, 333, 555 is quicker than typing 100, 300, 500. It’s a small thing, but the time and effort saved adds up.
    • Once I’m close, I use the filmstrip feature to zero in on the correct page.
    • If I’m browsing multiple years, I use the linked year at the top of the page to change directories rather than drilling down from the database’s main page.
Changing Years.png
Use the links at the top of the page to change location or year.

Saving Information

My quick approach to saving information is this:

  1. Open a new word processing document in landscape orientation and save it to my research folder.
  2. Add a 3-column table.
  3. For each directory checked, type the directory year in the first column. This allows the table to be sorted chronologically   if the entries are made out of order. I will often search five- or ten-year marks and then go back and fill in, based on what I see (or don’t see).
  4. When information is located, center the relevant entries under the directory title at the top of the page and use the shift-control-command-4 option on my Mac to capture them. (Not sure what to use on Windows, but it will probably Google.)
  5. Paste the screenshot into the middle column.
  6. Copy and paste the URL.

The resulting document looks like this:

Directory Study
This is what my word processing document looks like after I’ve colleted a few directory years.

I don’t save the directory pages to my computer or add bibliographic information to the table at this point. I realize that many might argue that this is unwise, but for my purposes–to gain a quick overview of how an individual or family moved through residences and/or occupations and/or family configuration over a period of years to look for information or patterns that might be relevant to a project–it works. If I discover that I want to use the directory information that I’ve skimmed as a formal part of a project, I can quick go back to the relevant directories to save images and create citations.

Two things I’ve learned from spending time in city directories:

  1. For browsing, Fold3 is GREAT! In fact, I often prefer it over Ancestry for Chicago  directories because it’s quicker to browse and is more ocmplete. (Ancestry, last time I checked, was missing the second half of a number of Chicago directories starting c. 1900. I contacted them about the problem. Not sure if it’s been fixed.)
  2. Be careful! It can sometimes be confusing, especially at Fold3, trying to decide which hard-copy directory the pages are from.


One Question at a Time: Focused Reports are the Key

For weeks, which actually add up to months, I’ve been working on two complex musician-related research projects for my own personal enjoyment. And, endeavoring genealogist that I am, one of my goals has been to write professional-level narratives that summarize my findings–something I’ve never done before.

Right. Who-knows-how-many hours later, I have a lot of drafts with a few strong paragraphs here and there and a very keen awareness that I am absolutely no good at organizing evidence into proof. I’ve gathered the pieces to many puzzles but I have no idea how to fit them together into a large cohesive whole.

I have learned something important, though, as I’ve been trying to write. I need to take it one focused step if I’m going to successfully wrap my mind around the information I’m gathering and feel like I’m making steady productive progress.

For me this seems to mean

  1. Opening up a new document and typing one very specific question. “Was Frances born in New York?” “Which city directories include Henry between 1890 and 1900?” “Does Sarah appear in the 1900 census?”
  2. Identifying sources, creating citations, and pulling out relevant information.
  3. Writing up my findings in a carefully-crafted report to myself.
  4. Repeating repeatedly.

It’s certainly not a new idea but sometimes you have to be there in the moment to come to an understanding of just how important something is.

So, for now, I’m going to step back, use the framework above to organize the informaton I’ve gathered, and then pick up the writing projects again. I’ll let you know how it goes. 🙂