Almanacs, Chronologies, and Statistical Sources
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|This article originally appeared in Printed Sources: A Guide to Published Genealogical Records, edited by Kory L. Meyerink.|
Almanacs are among the oldest types of reference sources used in the United States. Our ancestors used them to predict the weather, find home remedies, learn their multiplication tables, and even to consult stagecoach schedules (Horowitz 1988, 115). Today, almanacs provide quick, easy access to facts and statistics relating to countries, personalities, events, and subjects. Almanacs are composed of lists and tables of information gleaned from other sources and packaged compactly and inexpensively as books. Researchers and librarians use almanacs to quickly find facts, such as population figures, weights and measures, sports records, and similar types of information.
The United States’ best-selling almanac, an authority since 1868, is the World Almanac and Book of Facts (New York: World Almanac, 1868). Its many features include a perpetual calendar (a chart showing the day of the week corresponding to any given date over a period of many years). Addresses of genealogical societies are listed in the Associations and Societies section; the National Genealogical Society’s address is in this almanac. A year-by-year history of the United States from 1492 to the present is also a feature of this useful reference source. Other reliable almanacs include Information Please Almanac (publisher varies, 1947) and Reader’s Digest Almanac and Yearbook (Pleasantville, N.Y.: Reader’s Digest Association, 1966). All three almanacs cover subjects of interest to American readers and are considered reliable sources of information.
Whitaker’s Almanac (London: J. Whitaker & Sons, 1869), a standard reference source in large libraries, focuses on Great Britain and the European continent. Its topics include royalty, the Irish question, current exhibitions, and activities of the Commonwealth nations. Of special interest to those with British ancestry, Whitaker’s provides a list of baronets and knights and an excellent list of common British abbreviations.
A chronology lists historical events in the order in which they occurred. Chronologies are useful to genealogists because they outline the important events of a given year. Genealogists preparing family histories can add life to their ancestors’ stories by mentioning events that occurred in the political, cultural, and historical framework of their ancestors’ times. For example, in 1845 the following events occurred: Texas joined the Union as the twenty-eighth state; the Methodist Episcopal Church in America split into northern and southern conferences; The Raven and Other Poems, by Edgar Allan Poe, was published; and potato crops failed throughout Europe, Britain, and Ireland, resulting in famines that killed 2.5 million people and led to a large migration to the United States from those areas (Trager 1992, 43940).
The People’s Chronology: A Year-by-Year Record of Human Events from Prehistory to the Present, by James Trager, 1st rev. ed. (New York: Henry Holt, 1992), groups yearly events by category rather than by nation or geographical area. Symbols to the left of each entry refer to a specific category of human endeavor and are explained in the Key to Symbols. The recording of world events and human accomplishments is definitive and comprehensive in this chronology.
In contrast, Timetables of History: A Horizontal Linkage of People and Events, by Bernard Grun, 3rd rev. ed. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991), presents yearly events in a tabular format. The tabular format is easy to read and aids in locating topics of interest quickly. Timetables of History is based on Werner Stein’s Kulturfahrplan (The Cultural Timetables), which was produced in Germany in 1946. The third edition links events from 4500 B.C. to the year 1990. Both chronologies focus on Western civilization and contain few references to events in Asia or Africa.
Two additional reference books stand out as excellent sources of background material for authors compiling family histories: Time Lines on File (New York: Facts on File, 1988) and Timetables of American History, edited by Laurence Urdang (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996). Time Lines on File is designed for use in history courses and offers genealogists more than three hundred illustrated charts that record history in a linear format. It is bound in a three-ring binder so that the pages can be removed and copied. At right are two example of a chart from Time Lines; it shows the dates when each state joined the union.
Timetables of American History relates the history of America within the context of world events. Each year from 1000 to 1994 is divided into four broad topics: History and Politics, The Arts, Science and Technology, and Miscellaneous. Thus, one learns that in 1804 Thomas Jefferson was reelected president, Napoleon crowned himself emperor before the pope, bananas were imported for the first time from Cuba to the United States, and Coonskin libraries came into being when settlers along the Ohio River bartered coonskins for books from Boston merchants. Placing an ancestor’s life in relation to such events in a family history lends life to the ancestor’s story and makes a narrative more interesting to read.
Statistical Sources. Historical Statistics of the United States: Colonial Times to 1970 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Commerce, 1975) is not a chronology or timetable. It is a collection of American statistics from colonial times to 1970. Researchers will find this reference book useful for adding statistical information to reports, papers, and family histories. For example, the image at right shows the number of U.S. immigrants by country of origin from 1820 to 1870. If an ancestor was an Irish immigrant who journeyed to the United States in 1847, she could be categorized as one of 105,536 other immigrants. Also, an ancestor could be further described as one of a mass of immigrants whose migration between 1846 and 1847 doubled the number of Irish coming to U.S. shores. These statistics show the effect the Irish Potato Famine had on immigration to the United States. Additional statistics from this standard reference source include Foreign-Born Population by Country of Birth: 1850 to 1870 and Immigrants by Major Occupation Group: 1820 to 1970. These examples are from the International Migration and Naturalization section. Other sections of interest to family historians include a government section that offers a table of Military Personnel on Active Duty: 1789 to 1970 and a section on colonial and pre-Federal statistics.