Monday, March 19, 2012

George Ainslie, Wikipedia, Google, and Internet Research

No, the title is not an attempt at “Search Engine Optimization.” (I have no idea if those are even good keyword choices.) Rather, the words encompass my thoughts on a project I tackled while I’m waiting for information related to the book I just completed: Boise River Gold Country. (Soon to be the subject of an item here.) The project took me on an interesting and informative journey through the World Wide Web – the subject of this article.
Lawyer Ainslie.
Idaho City Historical Foundation.

While I was researching and writing the Gold Country book, I accumulated a backlog of what I refer to as my “wikifixes.” These are articles in Wikipedia that I have additional information about. One such item was a short bio of Missouri-born attorney George Ainslie.

Ainslie practiced law in Idaho City, Idaho, the “Queen of the Gold Camps,” from 1863 until early 1890. A small part of his story appears in my book. While seeking more information about him, I hit a very brief Wikipedia article, based solely on his tenure as the Delegate to Congress from Idaho Territory.

That material is reproduced at the end of this article (without the standard sidebar). The item itself says he edited the Idaho World newspaper for four years. The sidebar gave his residence as Lewiston … but the World was an Idaho City newspaper.

Even before I began to dig, I had far more information than Wikipedia had. That included a long (nearly 1,500 words) biography in: An Illustrated History of the State of Idaho, The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago (1899).

Another short biography appeared in: James H. Hawley, History of Idaho: The Gem of the Mountains, The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, Chicago (1920). A monograph on Ainslie produced by the Idaho State Historical Society largely repeated the information contained in Hawley, but did include a useful newspaper quote about him. I had also done a historic newspaper search (we have an account with and found some clippings about Ainslie’s legal and business dealings in Idaho.

From all that, I knew I had enough to significantly improve the Wikipedia item. However, a few minor points remained. And that’s really where this little adventure began.

The Illustrated History biography noted that Ainslie’s family was from Scotland, with several ancestors who fought in the highland regiments of the British Army. It also said that the family went back to Scotland for awhile after George was born. The bio said his father drowned shortly after they returned to Missouri in 1844. Oddly enough, none of the biographies gave his father’s name. It did name his mother, Mary (Borron) Ainslie; she lived until 1886. I thought it would be good to know his father’s name, and where they were from in Scotland.

So off I went to After all, I knew plenty about George. Sure enough, I discovered that the father’s name was John, and that he was born in 1807. But it did not say where. Not a crucial gap, but annoying. A quick search on Google proved only that there were too many men named “John Ainslie” to make that approach practical, even when you narrow it down to “Missouri.” Still, I tried some other combinations before abandoning that approach.

I then decided to attack the puzzle through the wife. After all, “Borron” is a reasonably unusual name. The combination “Borron Ainslie” returned 186,000 hits on Google. The eighth item down the very first page linked to a block of excerpts from the Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Northwest Louisiana, The Southern Publishing Company, Chicago & Nashville (1890). Hallelujah! There was my man:

“Of the Ainslie branch of the family, John Ainslie (brother of Col. William Ainslie, of the Ninety-third Regiment Highlanders), married our subject's sister, Mary.  He was a barrister or W. S., Edinburgh, Scotland.  He was also an author of some note, principally scenes in India, "Auren Zeebe, or Tales of Alraschid," "Ernest Campbell" and "Antipathy," being among his works.  He emigrated to Boonville, Mo., about 1836, and was drowned in the Missouri River.  His sons, George Ainslie, ex-member of Congress for Idaho, and Mark … ”

I was soon able to cross-reference this hit for some verification. Anyway, I now could infer that they had returned to Edinburgh when George was an infant, although that needed some verification. (Actually, I got diverted to the more interesting material below and never bothered.)

Mention of the “Ninety-third Regiment Highlanders” tickled a memory. (I have studied quite a lot of military history.) The 93rd Regiment of Foot was dubbed “The Sutherlands” and was very famous. There is even a Wikipedia article about them. They were the original “Thin Red Line” that stood off a major Russian cavalry charge at Balaklava during the Crimea War. As it turns out, my wife and I toured the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum, at Stirling Castle, when we visited Scotland a few years back.

However, accounts of that engagement, including the Wikipedia item, only mentioned Sir Colin Campbell, who commanded the Highland Brigade. The 93rd was indeed part of that Brigade, but a Colonel Ainslie was not identified in those accounts. So the question arose: Was Col. William Ainslie with the regiment at the famous Balaklava engagement? Back to the web.

I found a few brief, obscure hits before striking the mother lode: Thomas Carter, Medals of the British Army and How They were Won: The Crimean Campaign, Groombridge & Sons, London (1861). Lieutenant-Colonel William Bernard Ainslie had indeed commanded the 93rd Regiment during its “Thin Red Line” action. He was made a “Companion of Bath” (C. B.) for his leadership there, and in other Crimean engagements. At that point, I decided to add that tidbit (with citation) to the Wikipedia article about the Regiment.

During that research, I also discovered I had not scanned far enough down the page on the Memoirs of Northwest Louisiana. Further along, I found the obituary of Col. Ainslie, taken from the Glasgow Herald. Unfortunately, the transcriber neglected to give a date for the obituary. (Why you would not do that is a mystery to me.) Back to Born on Army station in India, William died October 31, 1887. Unfortunately, data at is not always linked to specific citations. However, in this case, English probate records verify his death date.

I did not actually have all this in hand when I began preparing a revised article about George Ainslie. Some of it turned up when I wanted to learn more about William. But earlier today, I posted the revised material, which includes a mention of the uncle that led the famous “Thin Red Line.”

Clearly, the Web contains an enormous amount of data … which we all knew. I put together this account partly to prove that point, but mostly to encourage those who might be intimidated or overwhelmed by all that information. Relatively simple, and fairly quick searches can cut through those thickets of words. Of course, you should have a specific goal in mind. (If you’re just browsing for interesting bits, then all bets are off.)

First of all, don’t give up just because your first few word combinations don’t recover any “live” hits. Except in extreme cases, I seldom go any deeper than four or five pages into the search results. If nothing relevant shows up, I’d rather revise my search terms and try again. Also, I do not often go to the “Advanced Search” screen. Still, that can be handy in specific cases.

A word of warning. Once your searches begin to pan out, you will almost certainly have a lot of information that is peripheral to your main topic. To accomplish your goal, you need be ruthless about setting that material aside. I finally had to stop tracking the Col. Ainslie threads, which were fascinating, but peripheral to my George Ainslie article. (I may do a future article about the colonel, however.)

After you have some good-looking hits, you must apply some judgement and common sense. We also know there is a good deal of mis-information on the web. Check the credibility of the sources. If none are cited, then I consider that data virtually useless for anything important. I can certainly use it to guide a further search for comparable, but solidly-backed sources. I’ll close with one final plea: Describe your sources, as I have done in the paragraphs above. It will make things easier for us all.
[Old Wikiepedia Article]

George Ainslie (October 30, 1838 in Cooper County, Missouri – May 19, 1913 in Oakland, California) was a Congressional Delegate from Idaho Territory.

Ainslie attended Saint Louis University in 1856 and 1857. He graduated from the Jesuit College at St. Louis with a law degree and was admitted to the bar in 1860.

Ainslie practiced law briefly in Boonville, Missouri, but moved to Colorado Territory later in 1860. In 1862 Ainslie moved to Lewiston in what was then Washington Territory where he practiced law as well as engaged in mining. In 1865 Ainslie was elected to the Idaho Territorial Legislature and edited the Idaho World newspaper from 1869 to 1873. From 1874 to 1876 he served as a district attorney in Lewiston.

In 1878 Ainslie was elected as a Democrat to the United States House of Representatives as the delegate from Idaho Territory. He was reeelected in 1880 but defeated for a third term in 1882 by Republican Theodore F. Singiser.

After his defeat, Ainslie moved to Boise where he built the city's first electric street railway. Ainslie retired to Oakland, California, and died there in 1913.

George Ainslie (delegate) at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.

1 comment:

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