Monday, February 18, 2013

Ever check scholarly journals in your family history research?

Ever think of looking in scholarly history journals for your ancestors?

Although I have a degree in history, I never thought I’d find an ancestor’s name in a scholarly journal.

After all, there was no reason for any of my ancestors to be there. They weren’t famous, didn’t lead an army and hadn’t invented anything. Heck, they hadn’t so much as run for the office of dog catcher.

Yet while reading “Horticulture in Early Arkansas” by C. Allan Brown in The Arkansas Historical
Quarterly (Vol. 43, No. 2, Summer, 1984), my great, great grandfather’s name jumped out at me. There was Francis T. Poore (1811-1871?) listed among people who made a living in horticulture.

I had been reading the article because I already knew the 1870 census listed my great grandfather as a “gardner.” This meant Francis could have been operating a garden, orchard or nursery and growing flowers, fruits, vegetables or ornamental plants for the commercial market. I wanted to know more about that business in Arkansas, so I researched scholarly articles.

In fact, that is the main reason to search scholarly journals—to learn something about your ancestor's work, religion, location or times. It is highly unlikely that you will find an article about an ancestor, but you can find articles on almost any topic that your ancestor might have been involved in.

How can you find such articles? One way is to perform a search on Google Scholar. From Google Scholar, you can search for articles, dissertations, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions.

Through Google Scholar I have found scholarly articles about a Civil War regiment one ancestor served in and a history of the area where other ancestors lived. These gave me great background to write about my ancestors and in understanding their lives and times.

Your search may turn up articles that you can view only with a subscription to the journal. In that case, just write down the title of the article, author, publication title, volume, number and pages where the article appears. Then ask your local librarian to request the article by interlibrary loan. Many libraries also have subscriptions to databases that allow you to see such articles online.

Have you found scholarly articles that have helped in your family history research?


  1. Yes, I've also found facts about my ancestors in journal articles that I got through Interlibrary Loan! It's an indispensable service.

    It's wonderful to find your ancestor's name in a scholarly journal! Horticulture . . . gardener . . . right! A good feeling.

    Local histories have also been useful to me. My ancestors seem to have been "planters," so they are often named in the histories. Those who owned many slaves are either famous or infamous, or perhaps both.

    Have you been able to trace the descendants of any of the slaves your family owned, yet? I realize records are scarce, especially bridging the Civil War. It's a hard search.

    1. Mariann, I was looking just last night through some resources to try to find an index of black marriages for about 1865-1870 thinking that the former slaves in the Poore family probably married in that time period.

      My problem, as you know, is that I don't have any names, I just have ages and genders to judge by from the slave census. I need to find a document that has at least some first names on it.