Temperatures are getting high early this year!  Do you need a safe place to cool down?  

Photograph of the sun, with power lines in the foreground.When the weather is forecast to be extremely hot, local governments extend service hours at community centers, senior centers, and other facilities to give people a free place to cool down.  211info has a handy list of these cooling centers in Multnomah, Clark, Clackamas, Columbia, Washington, Marion, Yamhill and Polk counties.  Pets are allowed in some Multnomah County cooling centers; call ahead to make sure.

All Multnomah County Libraries are air-conditioned (even when there's not a heat wave!) and they're great places to visit when you need a respite from the heat.  All Multnomah County Libraries are open seven days a week -- and there's a handy map you can use to find the library nearest to you.

Would you like tips on staying safe and healthy during a heat wave?  Multnomah County has tips on staying cool and staying healthy in the heat.  Or, take a look at the Red Cross's info on heat wave safety (click on the "Prepare" and "Respond During" tabs to see more details) or the Frequently Asked Questions About Extreme Heat from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

If you have a pet, you may want to look at the Oregon Human Society's information about hot weather safety for pets, DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital's advice about avoiding heatstroke and keeping your pet safe in hot weather, or the Humane Society of the United States's tips for keeping pets safe in the heat

heading from an early page of the Ledger Index to City of Portland Deaths

Have you ever had trouble finding an obituary for a Portland ancestor who died around the turn of the last century?  You’re not alone!

In the 19th century and even in the early 20th, newspapers often put obituaries in with the regular news, making them hard to find.  This was also before it was common for Portland newspapers to include a "Daily city statistics" section listing the names of people who had died in the city recently.  So it’s no wonder that it can be a big challenge to find Portland obituaries from before about 1910.  

But I have good news for you: if your ancestor was a Portlander, and if they died within city limits 1881-1917, their death was probably recorded in the Ledger Index to City of Portland Deaths.

A page from the Ledger Index, showing December 1913 deaths.  Click for a bigger version.

What is the Ledger Index?

The Ledger Index to City of Portland Deaths is a long list of people who died in the city of Portland 1881-1917.  It’s quite a bit more robust than most modern death indexes -- in addition to the name and death date of each person included, it includes details like the address or name of the place where the person died, their cause of death, and (in some years) the name of the cemetery where they were buried.  This additional information makes the Ledger Index a pretty decent substitute for obituaries.  

Here’s what the Ledger Index actually looks like.  The library has a microfilmed copy, which is why it’s white text on a black background.

Finding your ancestor

The Ledger Index is arranged by date of death -- because of this, it’s sometimes referred to as the “Chronologic Index.”  If you know the date your ancestor died, simply go to that date and hopefully you’ll find them!

If you don’t know your ancestor’s date of death, try looking for their name in the Oregon State Archives’ Oregon Historical Records Index.  This index includes most records from the Ledger Index to City of Portland Deaths.  If your ancestor is listed, their date of death should lead you to the correct page of the Ledger Index.

Detail of a January 1882 Ledger Index page showing racial classification.  Click for a bigger version.

Racial classification in the Ledger Index

There are some challenges to using the Ledger Index.  The information in the Index is a primary source, created a full century ago, and it is a government record reflecting the mainstream standards and ideas of its time.  There is no context or commentary to interpret the index for you -- you will have to provide your own analysis.  

One thing these records show us is the unexamined racism of the past.  The Ledger Index states the race of each person listed, often using terms that are decidedly not used in polite speech today: “Chinese,” “Colored,” “Half-Breed,” “Mulatto,” “White,” and possibly others.  Some of these terms appear on detail from January 1882 at left.  In later years, single-letter abbreviations are used.  There is no key showing what the abbreviations meant, but I’ve guessed that “C” stands for “colored” (meaning Black or African-American); “W” for “white;” and “Y” for “yellow” (meaning Asian or Asian-American).   

Detail of a January 1882 Ledger Index page showing causes of death.  Click for a bigger version.

Causes of death in the Ledger Index

This detail from a January 1882 Ledger Index page shows some familiar-sounding causes of death: “still born,” "consumption," “scarlet fever.”  But read if you read through a few pages worth of deaths, you'll also find unexpected causes like “softening of spinal marrow.”  If you find your ancestor’s death has officially been recorded due to something that doesn’t sound like it would kill a person, be prepared to draw gentle, careful conclusions.  And remember, you may need to do some research to discover what a cause-of-death term meant in the past. 

Portland deaths only

Another thing to beware of when using the Ledger Index to City of Portland Deaths is that it only includes people who died within the city limits of Portland.  And the city was quite a bit smaller 100 years ago than it is now! 

Map of historical annexations to the City of Portland (pdf, from Portland Bureau of Planning & Sustainability)Fortunately, the Portland Bureau of Planning & Sustainability has a very helpful map showing historical annexations to the city of Portland (pdf), which you can look at to get a sense for where city limits were during your ancestor’s lifetime.  

Of course, people are mobile.  The Ledger Index lists people who died in Portland, not people who lived there.  Your ancestor who lived in Linnton or East Portland or St. Johns could well have died within Portland city limits, particularly if they died in an accident or in a hospital.

Using the Ledger Index, and getting help with it

You can consult the Ledger Index to City of Portland Deaths at Central Library.  Ask at any reference desk, and the librarian on duty will help you get the volumes you need.  To read it, you’ll need to use one of Central Library’s microfilm machines -- read more about that in my colleague Ross B.’s post Microfilm at the library.

But you don’t have to visit the library to tap the riches of this great resource --  librarians are always happy to help.  Just get in touch with us by phone or email via Ask the Librarian, and we’ll do our best to answer your questions or help you plan your research. 

In the meantime, happy researching!

 


Do you want to know more about finding other local obituaries?  Take a look at my post Where is that Oregon obituary? 

Or if you'd like to step it back a bit and learn more about family history research with obituaries, my colleague Kate S. walks you through some of the basics in her post on Obituaries 101.


 

Genealogists will often go pretty far out of their way to track down obituaries and funeral notices.  And with good reason!  An average, non-fancy funeral notice often reveals the names of family members, the place of burial or interment, the deceased’s home address, and other details crucial to family history research.  But they can be a challenge to find.

Despite its name, the Oregonian is a local paper and it focuses on readers in the Portland area.  So for the most part, it does not include obituaries for Oregonians from other parts of our very large state.

Whose obituaries can you expect to find in the Oregonian?

Funeral notice for Sam Nudelman, from the Aug. 17, 1944 OregonianThe vast majority of the funeral notices, death notices, and obituaries in the Oregonian are for people who lived in the Portland area or had some deep Portland connections.  They are usually very, very short!  Sam Nudelman’s funeral notice (at right), from the August 17, 1944 Oregonian, is a good example.  It is brief and to-the-point, listing only Mr. Nudelman's date of death, his address, a short list of his surviving relatives, and information about his funeral services and place of burial.

Front page of the July 23, 1974 Oregonian, with an article about the death of Sen. Wayne MorseSometimes the deaths of prominent figures in Oregon politics, business, or social life were written up in the Oregonian, even if they were from Burns or Salem or Joseph.  A person’s statewide fame might make their obituary of local interest despite the fact that they lived and died far away from the Rose City.  

However, these notices often have the feel of straight news, rather than obituary.  For example, the day after former Oregon senator and long-time Eugenian Wayne Morse died in 1974,  the Oregonian ran a full-page-width headline at the very tippy-top of page one (at left).  

obituary for Mrs. Mary Goodman, of Eugene, from the Jan. 2, 1909 OregonianIn the early years of the 20th century and before, obituaries for Oregon “pioneers” (that is, European-American settlers who travelled west to the Oregon country in the mid-19th century or thereabouts) were a regular feature in the Oregonian.  And the editors regularly featured obituaries for pioneers who lived and died in other parts of Oregon.  An example (at right) is the brief obituary for Mrs. Mary Goodman, of Eugene, from the January 2, 1909 Oregonian.

Are you ready to start searching for an obituary or death notice in the Oregonian?

If you think your ancestor's obituary or death/funeral notice is likely to be in the Oregonian, you can get started by searching for their name in the library's Historical Oregonian (1861-1987).  (To use this resource from outside the library, you'll need to log in with your library card number and PIN/password.)

If this resource is new to you, take a look at my tips for searching, or ask the librarian on duty the next time you're in the library in person.  Remember, if you don't find an obituary, death notice, or funeral notice that you think really ought to have been in the Oregonian, librarians can always help you think of other ways to search.  Get in touch with a librarian for personalized help with your research!

When should you look somewhere other than the Oregonian?

Are you looking for an obituary for a Portland resident, but can’t find it in the Oregonian?  Portland has had many other daily and weekly newspapers that ran obituaries over the years.  Central Library has long archives of many of these papers for your researching pleasure! If you want to begin your research on your own, take a look at Research with historical Portland newspapers, beyond the Oregonian.  If you’d like a hand getting started, ask the librarian on duty in Central Library’s Periodicals room (on the second floor), or contact us to get personalized help from a librarian by phone or email.

If you've done all that great newspaper research but you're not finding an obituary for a Portland ancestor, you might want to try another tack.  Take a look at my post Can't find that Portland obituary? Try the Ledger Index instead -- it talks about using an early and surprisingly detailed death index to learn details about a deceased person when there isn't an obituary available.

Did the person you’re researching reside in St. Johns or Gresham? Try looking for a funeral notice or obituary in their local paper.  The St. Johns Review had really lovely, robust obituaries in its early years, and most issues of the Review from 1904-1922 are fully searchable in the University of Oregon Libraries’ wonderful Historic Oregon Newspapers database.  Multnomah County's own Gresham Library has an archive of the Gresham Outlook going back to 1911; librarians there can help you search, or you can get help from a librarian by phone or email.

If the deceased person you’re looking for lived outside the Portland area (even if they died in Portland or in Multnomah County), look for an obituary or death notice in their hometown paper

If you’re not sure what the name of that newspaper was, or even if there was a newspaper in print at the time, the next step is to ask the public library in the town where the deceased person resided.  Oregon public libraries of all sizes are listed in the Oregon Library Directory.  If you need to find a public library in a town outside Oregon, ask us for help the next time you’re at the library, or ask a librarian by phone or email!

 


Do you want to learn more about family history research with obituaries?  My colleague Kate S. walks you through some of the basics in her post on Obituaries 101.

Or, call or email a librarian to get personalized help with your obituaries-related questions. If you’d rather have face-to-face help, ask the librarian on duty the next time you visit the library.  We're always happy to help!


 

Citizen scientists at work [Photo courtesy of Dennis Ward, Project BudBurst]Have you ever wished you could spend a little bit of time working as a scientist?  I have good news: you can do it, without having to quit anything you already do in your daily life, and without having to get an advanced degree. Scientists all over the world are enlisting regular folks to help them with big projects -- this kind of scientist-support volunteering is called citizen science.

There are so many different citizen science projects, there’s sure to be one that suits you!  No matter your age, your occupation or vocation, or your level of education, there is a citizen science project you can help with.  Here are a few of my favorites:

The annual Christmas Bird Count.  Join a group of Portlanders to participate in the local arm of a nationwide bird census.  This year, local bird-counters will be attempting to count every single bird within a 15-mile radius around Portland, on January 3, 2015.

Great Backyard Bird Count.  Did you miss the Christmas Bird Count?  Spend a little time in your backyard (or anywhere), and count the number and type of birds you see.  This year’s count takes place February 13-16, 2015.

Portland Urban Coyote Project.  When you see a coyote, report it to help scientists at the Portland Audubon Society and the Geography Department at Portland State University who are studying how coyotes have adapted to urban environments.

Project Budburst.  Observe and record when plants produce leaves, buds, flowers, and fruit, to help the National Ecological Observatory Network understand more about how plants respond to climate changes.

WHALEfm. Look at spectrograms of whale songs, and match them with similar songs.

National Map Corps.  Edit information about buildings and other data features for the United States Geological Survey’s National Map -- all in the form of “challenges” in which editors are asked to map, edit, and peer-review new additions to the map.

Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network.  Measure and map rain, snow and other precipitation, together with volunteers across the U.S. and Canada.

 

Do you want to see even more citizen science projects you might help out with?  Take a peek at Smithsonian magazine’s huge directory of citizen science projects, NASA’s list of space-related citizen science projects, or the list of citizen science opportunities that center on the Oregon Coast and beyond from OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center.

 


Remember, you can talk to a librarian about your science questions (or any questions!) whenever you’re at the library in person -- just ask the librarian on duty.  Or, call or email a librarian to get personalized help with via email, text, phone or chat.


 

Ursula K. Le Guin [photo by Eileen Gunn]Portlander Ursula K. Le Guin was honored yesterday with The National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, at the National Book Award ceremony in New York.

Many of the news stories about Le Guin’s speech focus on her criticism of publishing companies’ increasing corporatism and the profit-driven model of the industry -- particularly Amazon and its conflict with the publisher Hachette earlier this year.  

 

Le Guin also called out a critical issue for public libraries. In her remarks, she highlighted the challenges libraries face in getting access to e-books, citing her own publisher’s practice of charging libraries six times the amount it charges individuals for many e-book titles.

Multnomah County Library Director Vailey Oehlke shares this concern and has been assertive about advocating for greater public access to e-books.  "The ecosystem of reading is changing before our eyes," she said today, in response to Le Guin’s speech.  "The sands are shifting rapidly beneath authors and artists, and not in their favor, as Ms. Le Guin so astutely noted. Public libraries are also challenged to serve patrons as they have come to expect under some of the current models imposed by publishers and content distributors. So long as pricing and access to e-books for public libraries remain unbalanced, readers everywhere are the ones who will suffer."

 

From my own viewpoint as a librarian, I’d say the most stirring aspect of Le Guin’s acceptance speech was the great faith she placed in writers as artists, as creative communicators with a unique ability to imagine solutions and make space for humanity:  

"I think hard times are coming, when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope.   We will need writers who can remember freedom.  Poets, visionaries, the realists of a larger reality."


Would you like to see more?  Watch Ursula K. Le Guin’s entire acceptance speech, or, take a peek at this year’s National Book Award winners, below.

 

Pages