Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Historical Demography Data

I am pleased to see that, for those interested in historical demography, there appears to be no small number of organizations and websites with various levels of population statistics throughout the world.  For those interested in general trends the world over, there is the Populations Statistics website of Jan Lahmeyer.  This site breaks down the population levels of various nations throughout the world by administrative division and municipalities, along with some general data about individuals countries and, in the case of the US, individual states.  I'll be reviewing and linking to a number of other historical demography sites in the days to come.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Irish Isonymy Project

For an example of how to conduct a multidimensional project in isonymy, have a look at the Irish Isonymy Project of Don MacRaild and Malcolm Smith.  The main focus of the project is the use of random isonymy to track 19th century Irish migration into Britain.  One particularly interesting sub project is their exploration of the use of first names as a research tool.  Naturally, first names don't track genetic trends, but they can be used to measure cultural trends (such as the spread of non-Irish first names among the population of Ireland).

It is this last aspect of the Irish Isonymy Project which leads into a particular line of questions I've had for isonymy research in general.  Ever since its inception, surnames have been vetted as a neutral marker for population studies.  But are there situations in which selective pressure should be taken into account?  I will be exploring this topic in posts to come.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Community Archaeology Program

One of the intereting things about working at PAF is the relative prominance an archaeological organization can have within the community.  Much of this stems from our various community outreach programs.  One of our strongest by far is the Community Archaeology Program, which allows children and adults to participate in laboratory and field excavations during the summer season.  The website has a wealth of information for anyone interested, and a facebook page has just been added.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

What is an archive?

The essence of biohistorical research is the archive.  Despite the fact that the word archive tends to conjure up images of dusty, basement shelves filled with books and ledgers, the term can mean a great number of things for our research purposes.  Below, I have written a by no means exhaustive list of potential sources of archival data;
Government documents (censuses, marriage records, vital statistics, military anthropometric records)
Privately published documents (19th century directories, phonebooks)
Personal records (family genealogies)
Unpublished data from previous anthropological fieldwork (including photographs, ethnographic data)
Compendiums of comparative ethnographic data (HRAF)
Online records of gene frequency data (ALFRED and HapMap)
Blood serum samples
Tissue samples
Archived cell lines

Friday, March 11, 2011

Flood and Earthquake

Taking a break from the usual posts today.  It is always a bit disconcerting when your hometown makes the national headlines due to a disaster, or even the potential for one.  This was the case in 2006, when the Susquehanna River crept to within about 6 blocks of my house.  Fortunately, for now the danger for flooding appears to receding.  Unfortunately, this has all been dwarfed by the horror of what is happening in Japan.  The 8.9 earthquake, the worst in recorded history for the nation, combined with 6.0 aftershocks.  CNN and the BBC have been running real-time coverage all day. 

For my part, I recommend supporting two organizations that have a proven track record in these situations, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and Doctors without Borders.  Just spend five minutes looking at some of the devestation online and you will see what will be required in the comming weeks and months.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

1000 year old canoe excavated in Florida

The Saint-Petersburg Times has a video of the excavation of a 1000 year old canoe on Weedon Island, Florida.  The fact that the canoe survived to the extent that it did in the salt-water environment of the island is quite remarkable.  The clip gives a respectable amount of screen time to the archaeologists, as well as the cultural context of the find.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Binghamton Neighborhood Project

Today I wanted to quickly highlight a major project undertaken by my former advison, David Sloan Wilson.  The Binghamton Neighborhood Project is a multidisciplinary academic and community effort to understand the culture and ecology of urban living in the city of Binghamton, New York.  The goal is not just to study but to improve the quality of life within the city.  In many ways, my own research into the historical demography of the Southern Tier grew out of a desire to add a historical dimension to the project. 

Saturday, March 5, 2011

More on diseases and surnames

As a follow-up on the previous post, here is another journal article using surnames as potential indicators of disease inheritance (in this case, chronic hypothyroidism).  What is interesting about this study is that Rocci employs two fairly novel methods for isonymy research.  One is the rarefaction method developed by Howard Sanders to measure species richness, and the other is a statistical randomization method. 


Rocchi, M.B. 2006. Surnames as markers of pathologies-two statistical techniques and their applications.  Coll. Antropol. 30: 383-385.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Surnames and cancer

After my first few postings introducing surname genetics (isonymy), I wanted to bring up a very important practical application of this research; the application of surname studies to cancer research.  In a 1992 study on the potential genetic influence on certain cancers, Holloway and Sofear compared the rates of various cancers identified in Scottish males with the coefficent of relatedness (Random Isonymy / 2) derived from surname data.  They were able to conclude that a strong genetic component underscores colon and prostate cancer, with a lesser genetic influence on stomach and rectal cancers.  This study underscores just how useful surnames can be as simple, readily available markers of kinship.


Holloway, S.M. and Sofaer, J.A. 1992. Coefficents of relationship by isonymy among registrations for five common cancers is Scottish Males.  Journal of Epidemiology and Comunity Health 46: 368-372.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Sources for Surname Data

Continuing from the previous post on surname studies, today I'll talk a bit about where to find surname data.  Historically, there have been three main sources of data:  marriage records, census data and directories (later phonebooks).  Marriage records are used for measuring non-random isonymy, which I will discus in a later post.

Census data is useful since state and federal censuses often contain additional demographic data, such as vital statistics (births, deaths, marriages), as well as state or country of origin, which can aid in immigration studies.  When using census data it is generally accepted practice to utilize a single generational component, usually the heads of households only.  

Another source of data are town directories.  Throughout the 19th century, directories of town residents were often produced, though somewhat irregularly.  These directories essentially functioned like phonebooks without the phone number, giving the name of the head of household and address.  Directories have the advantage of being typed records, rather than handwritten census records.  With the advent of the telephone, naturally the phonebook took the place of directories.  Phonebooks have been used extensively in isonymy studies, particularly when the information is available via CD-ROM.

Beyond the three major sources listed above, data sources are only limited to the creativity of the researcher.  Indeed, any specific record of individuals may represent a biological sample of some population.  For example, Gabriel Lasker utilized militia roles from the Revolutionary War as random samples of males from bounded populations.  Another possible source of data are cemeteries.  Many cemeteries include grave markers listing married couples, which would constitute a source of marital isonymy data.

One of the most significant developments for surname research is the fact that many of these data sources are now becoming available online.  Historical societies and genealogical websites are beginning to transcribe census and historical directory data on to the internet.  Of course, you are taking a risk of sorts when utilizing transcribed data alone since you are relying on the accuracy of the transcriber.  This may be especially problematic when the information was originally hand-written.  Then again, much of this work is being done by dedicated volunteers, who can be quite adept at both translating hand-writing and identifying alternate spellings of words.  When in doubt, check out the hard copies yourself at the county offices or local historical society.