Are you a hiker, tracker, or hunter?  If so, you've probably used United States Geological Survey (USGS) maps in your outdoor activities.

They are nice, big maps showing lots of topographical detail, physical characteristics of the land, and the names of roads and communities and bodies of water. Sometimes they're called "topo maps," "7.5 minute maps" or "7.5 minute quadrangles" (because they show 7.5 minutes of lattitude/longitude). You can visit Central Library's map room (on the third floor) and consult the library's collection of historical USGS maps of Oregon, Washington and California. 

The newest USGS topographical maps (published 2009 or later) are created to be used in a digital environment, though it is also possible to print them out.  If you want your own paper copy of a new map and you don't want to print it yourself, you can usually buy them in outdoor-oriented sporting goods stores.

But did you know that the entire collection of USGS maps, for the whole country, are now available free online? Here's how to get to the USGS topo maps online:

Start at the Map Locator & Downloader.

This tool allows you to find maps with a simple search for a place name. For example, if you are looking for maps of the area near Waldport on the Oregon Coast, just type waldport into the search box and then either hit the "enter" key, or click on the name "Waldport, Oregon" when it pops up.

Now you'll see a map of the Waldport area.  There is a marker in the part of the grid marked "Waldport," with a little popup box next to it.  Click on the "View Products" button to see the maps that are available for that spot. 

You'll see a variety of maps in the popup list -- new maps, older maps, and maps that cover at different scales.  To download a nice, high-definition pdf of the map you want, just click on the "View pdf" button for that map.  

Have fun browsing and downloading maps from the USGS!

 

  Questions? Ask the Librarian.

 

 

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 2, 2016.

Great Backyard Bird Count.  If you miss this year's Christmas Bird Count, don't worry, citizen ortnithologists are needed for the Great Backyard Bird Count every February.  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 12-15, 2016.

Be a Martian.  NASA is looking for Earthling volunteers to help improve Martian maps, take part in research tasks, and assist Mars science teams studying data about the Red Planet.

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.

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?  Here are some great places to look for projects that need volunteers:

 


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.


 

Portland City Archives: A2001-004.94 : 219 N Cherry St
Nearly every house history researcher wants to see old photographs or drawings of their house.  Who wouldn't, right?  Unfortunately for Portland-area house history buffs, this can be one of the hardest bits of house history ephemera to track down!  But don't despair; there are surviving photographs of some houses and it is possible (sometimes) to find them. 

The challenge is that there has never been a comprehensive house-portrait project in Portland -- or any other city or town in our area -- so there is no treasure trove of photos of local homes that you can dig through.  You might wonder, if there's no big archive of house pictures, where should you start?  There are a few possibilities:

First, ask your neighbors or the people in your neighborhood association.  People who live on your street may have their own old photographs of family events, parties, or other occasions which include your house in the background.  And a bonus -- when you find that long-time resident and photo-saver, they may share stories about past residents of your house or other interesting neighborhood lore!

Houses sometimes appear in the background of photographs taken to record activity on the street.  The city of Portland has a lot of photographs of infrastructure and maintenance work they've done over the years. 

Many of these images are carefully preserved in the Portland City Archives collection. These images usually show city workers doing something in the neighborhood (such as repairing the sewer like in the photo at left) or were taken in connection with city planning work, like a street scene before the installation of a new traffic light.  You can search for records (including photographs) using the Archives' catalog, Efiles, and some have been published on the archives's Vintage Portland blog -- see below for more about that! But, most photographs in the collection aren't available online.  To look at photographs in person, you'll need to visit the Archives reading room downtown (1800 SW 6th Ave., Suite 550; 503.865.4100).  Be sure to read the Archives' policies and tips for researchers before you visit!

The Oregon Historical Society library is another treasure trove for house history researchers.  Their collection includes more than 2.5 million photographs and negatives of people, communities, commerce, and life in the Pacific Northwest -- the photograph collection doesn't have a section devoted to house portraits, but you may find photographs of your street, or photographs indexed under the name of a former owner of the house.  Some of the library's photographs have been digitized and can be viewed in the library's catalog, but most are available only by visiting in person (1200 SW Park Ave.; 503.222.1741).   Again, be sure to read the library's policies, hours and tips for researchers before you visit!  (And a note: Multnomah County residents can use the Oregon Historical Society library for free if they show picture i.d.; most others must pay an admission fee.)

Another potential source for house portraits and street scenes is the Vintage Portland blog, run by the Portland City Archives.  Every weekday the site features a different historical photograph (or sometimes a map or drawing) of Portland.  The posts are sorted into categories for neighborhoods, street names, time periods, and topics.  For example, if you are curious about the development of your neighborhood as well as the history of your house, you might want to look at the blog's many aerial photographs; or you might try looking at a neighborhood street like Foster Rd., Powell Blvd., or 82nd Ave.

If the house you're researching happens to be in the Albina district, you may find a photograph of it in The History of Albina, by Roy E. Roos.  The book begins with a brief a history of the district (and former city), but it also includes brief architectural history for a selection of houses and other buildings that are representative of different eras in Albina's development.  Many of the brief house histories are illustrated with contemporary photographs or have no pictures, but some have historic photographs or drawings.

Have fun hunting for a historic photo of your house!

 

  Questions? Ask the Librarian.

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.

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.

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).   

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! 

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!

 

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?

The 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.

Sometimes 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).  

In 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 password.)

If this resource is new to you, 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!


 

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