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Archive for the ‘Online Research’ Category

Boy, that Familysearch.org is going to eventually crush the major paid genealogy websites. They have been uploading Freedmens Bureau records and this weekend I lost my mind when I found out that they had uploaded the Field Office records for Maryland. My entire week is shot. Look at what they have thus far:

On FamilySearch

I did a post on researching in Freedmens Bureau records sometime ago. NARA also has a page dedicated to links and resources about the Bureau records and they have a finding aid that an intern wrote from the Atlanta branch of NARA that is tremendously helpful for genealogists using these records. You will definitely want to download the descriptive pamphlet from the NARA website for your research state before diving into these records. Making these records accessible online is a major step forward: the records are notoriously complicated and mostly unindexed and unpaginated.

But the rewards are many, even if you find nothing for a specific ancestor. These records illuminate the post-war lives of former slaves and the struggles they faced like no other record set. I stayed up way too late last night paging through the records for Montgomery County, Maryland. Indeed, I did find a record on one of my ancestors, Nicholas Moccabee:

Nicholas Moccabee

Nicholas Moccabee

Nicholas faced one of the most common problems freedpeople had: trying to get paid for the work they did, many times for a former slaveowner. The records are also replete with the violence meted out on freedpeople during the period, a topic I discussed in my post about reconstruction.

The monthly and annual reports of conditions that the officers had to submit are invaluable. The ones I downloaded last night gave the most complete picture of what my ancestors dealt with in the community in 1866-188, and on the efforts of the freedpeople to create schools, and the Bureau in helping them secure their children back from whites who refused to “release” them, which was a particularly bad problem in Maryland. Maryland illegally “apprenticed” thousands of children, in a blatant effort to extend the reach of slavery.

Familysearch ROCKS! Stay tuned as I’m sure they will continue uploaded records from the other states.

 

 

 

Freedmens Bureau

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I want to first thank Bernice Bennett for having me as a guest on her Blog Talk Radio show last night, Research at the National Archives and Beyond. I spoke about one of my most popular posts, Do You Have an Artificial Brick Wall? The post can be heard in its entirety at the show’s link, along with all of her other archived shows.

During the interview, as I was reviewing the points I made in that post, I discussed the idea of thoroughness in our research–the need to be diligent in searching out original records related to our ancestors. This week I have just the example to highlight that point.

We’ve all seen those shaky leaves on Ancestry. For a long time, I never clicked on them, but last year I found some treasures hidden within the 100 or so hints I had, so now I make a point to periodically investigate those leaves. Earlier this week, I found a leaf for an ancestor named Syvoid Holt. The leaf linked to an outside website–in this case the Monroe County [Michigan] Historical Museum. Several of my ancestors, including Syvoid,  migrated from Tennessee to Michigan to work for the Ford Motor Co., and settled in Detroit and its suburbs.

The Museum website has, among other items, an obituary database. Upon request, they will email an obituary found in their database  for $1. What’s notable here is that I already knew who Syvoid’s parent’s were, his siblings, when and where he died, who he married and the names of his children. But my philosophy is to order any and all original records related to my ancestors. So off my request went. Here’s the obituary:

Syvoid Holt Obituary

Syvoid Holt Obituary

What I did not realize until I saw this is that I had never been able to locate the death certificate for his mother Vannie. I had expected to find it in Tennessee or Michigan but had no luck. This obituary revealed she had married a man surnamed Thurman and was alive as recently as 1969. When I looked at the records again, I found that Vannie actually had married another man before Thurman in 1938, a man named Dan Cathey. Dan died the very next year and sometime after that, she married a Thurman. That revelation led to finding this on Find-A-Grave:

Vannie Holt Thurman

Vannie Holt Thurman (photo by Lena Knauss)

Vannie is buried in the same cemetery as her two sons, a daughter-in-law, and a grandson. Syvoid’s obituary contained the key to unlocking the mystery of where and when his mother Vannie had died. If I had dismissed this document because I already knew a lot of information about Syvoid, I wouldn’t have found this. Aim to be thorough in your research, and you will be rewarded time and time again. You never know what you’ll find in a document until you look at it. Shakey leaves rock!

P.S.–it goes without saying that I then ordered the death certificate for Vannie Thurman from Michigan Vital Records. At $34 a pop (ouch!) Michigan has the highest fee for records I’ve seen yet. I need more of my people to have died in Tennessee;)

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MC900433938I have posted before about the value of black newspapers and the goldmine of information they have. I think newspapers, like Freedmen’s Bureau records, are an important resource that haven’t yet been made widely accessible and easy to research. However, great strides have been made by various providers, including the Library of Congress, digitizing newspapers. They are still time-consuming to search, but I suppose anything worthwhile in genealogy is that way. I was even surprised to recently discover that the local newspaper of Montgomery County, MD where my ancestors lived was digitized bythe Maryland State Archives. That paper has been on my “to do” list for years. It was not a black newspaper, but I still want to search it for relevant news of the times.

The Chicago Defender was founded in 1905 by Robert Abbott and eventually became the largest and most popular black-owned newspaper in the nation. The paper was famous for detailing lynchings and racial oppression, to referring to blacks as “The Race” and for putting “(white)” after white people’s names in the paper the same way white papers did to black people. The Defender was  a driving force in convincing Southern blacks to migrate to the North. More than 100, 000 black people came to Chicago alone between 1916-1918.

What I didn’t realize until I read my friend Tim Pinnick’s book was that the small, rural towns many of our ancestors migrated from were often covered in these large urban papers. It made sense I suppose: people wanted news from their towns. But I would have never searched in a Northern paper looking for news of my family, especially if they didn’t live there. Tim’s book explains that the papers hired correspondents from those small towns who submitted news. There would be a page called “Tennessee News” and then perhaps 20 or 30 paragraphs, one for each community. The same for North Carolina and other states.

I have recently been searching the Chicago Defender through Proquest Historical Newspapers which is available from my local library (and able to be searched from home!). I was surprised to find that one of my Holt relatives, Annabelle Holt Crowder, who had lived in Chicago for a time, was actually one of the correspondents for her small town of Decaturville, TN! That meant she wrote a lot about her family. Her husband Dave was the principal of the black high school, a revered man for whom the school was later named for.

The tidbits of local history gleaned from these columns is simply priceless. In addition to marriages, births and deaths, they talked about who was sick, who was moving, the black schools and politics, the benevolent and lodge organizations, the teachers and farmers and of course, the ever-prominent black churches and ministers. The articles are filled with visits from out of town relatives and I thought to myself as I read that it looked tome like they spent all their free time socializing! But, because I pulled articles form mostly the late 20s and early 30s, I had to remember there was no television, and radios and cars were fairly new.

There is of course lots of juicy family history, especially because the articles often mentioned the town where people were visiting from, as well as specifically naming parents, siblings, grandkids, etc. Here are a couple of snippets I found from my local TN towns:

September 1928

September 1928

Richard Kendall was indeed a Civil War veteran, and this article gives the names and locations of his relatives from all over the place. Imagine if you were one of his descendants.

This next one names several of my Holt relatives (Lawson was my ggrandfather). I was most fascinated to discover that they enjoyed fox hunting! I would have never guessed that. Notice also how they say “motored to” instead of “drove to.”

November 1930

November 1930

Here’s one more:

April 1930

April 1930

I’ve had luck before with the Indianapolis Freeman newspaper, and I’ve got to believe similar articles may be found in the Pittsburgh Courier and other large black newspapers of the times.

Take a look and let me know if you have any luck finding any of your small towns. It’s important to mention that MOST newspapers are not online and are not digitized, but there were in fact hundreds of black newspapers.

P.S.-Tim has a truly wonderful lecture on researching black newspapers on YouTube. It’ll teach you almost everything you need to know to get started!

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Census Manual

Census Manual

Censuses provide the framework for much of the family history research that we do. Every once in a while, it is useful to consult the actual instructions that were given to enumerators for that particular census year. The University of Minnesota has posted them online to the eternal gratification of all genealogists. Of course, we all know that not every enumerator followed the instructions to the letter, but I’ve also found that what we think was meant by a census question is not always that simple. As a good example, let’s look at how the instructions for defining “black” (colored, negro, etc.) evolved over time:

In 1860 and 1870, a blank space under Color implied “White”:

Color.– Under heading 6, entitled “Color,” in all cases where the person is white leave the space blank; in all cases where the person is black without admixture insert the letter “B”; if a mulatto, or of mixed blood, write “M”;if an Indian, write “Ind.” It is very desirable to have these directions carefully observed.

By 1880 that was no longer the case:

Color–It must not be assumed that, where nothing is written in this column, “white” is to be understood. The column is always to be filled. Be particularly careful in reporting the class mulatto. The word is here generic, and includes quadroons, octoroons, and all persons having any perceptible trace of African blood. Important scientific results depend upon the correct determination of this class in schedules 1 and 5.

(What scientific results depended on this?)

 By 1900, there was no “Mulatto” category anymore:

Color- Write “W” for white; “B” for black (negro or of negro descent); “Ch” for Chinese; “JP” for Japanese, and “In” for Indian, as the case may be.

 By 1910, “Mulatto” was back, with a new definition for “black”:

Color or race.-Write “W” for white; “B” for black; “Mu” for mulatto; “Ch” for Chinese; “Jp” for Japanese; “In” for Indian. For all persons not falling within one of these classes, write “Ot” (for other), and write on the left-hand margin of the schedule the race of the person so indicated. For census purposes, the term “black” (B) includes all persons who are evidently full-blooded negroes, while the term “mulatto” (Mu) includes all other persons having some proportion or perceptible trace of negro blood.

By 1920, there was a slew of other color/race choices:

Color or race.-Write “W” for white, “B” for black; “Mu” for mulatto; “In” for Indian; “Ch” for Chinese; “Jp” for Japanese; “Fil” for Filipino; “Hin” for Hindu; “Kor” for Korean. for all persons not falling within one of these classes, write “Ot” (for other), and write on the left-hand margin of the schedule the race of the person so indicated. For census purposes the term “black” (B) includes all Negroes of full blood, while the term “mulatto” (Mu) includes all Negroes having some proportion of white blood.

 For both 1930 and 1940, the new word “Negro” got detailed (although with conflicting guidelines), and notice the ‘Other Mixed Races’:

Color or race.-Write “W” for white, “B” for black; “Mus” for mulatto; “In” for Indian; “Ch” for Chinese; “Jp” for Japanese; “Fil” for Filipino; “Hin” for Hindu; “Kor” for Korean. For a person of any other race, write the race in full. Negroes.-A person of mixed white and Negro blood should be returned as a Negro, no matter how small the percentage of Negro blood. Both black and mulatto persons are to be returned as Negroes, without distinction. A person of mixed Indian and Negro blood should be returned a Negro, unless the Indian blood predominates and the status as an Indian is generally accepted in the community.

Other mixed races.-Any mixture of white and nonwhite should be reported according to the nonwhite parent. Mixtures of colored races should be reported according to the race of the father, except Negro-Indian (see par. 151).

 This nation’s preoccupation with color, especially when that color was black, is evident. It is also apparent that centuries of miscegenation had forever changed what the definition of that would include.

 Take a look at some of the enumerator instructions and tell me what surprises you. I got a real kick out of how detailed the instructions were for Occupation, as well as this note about getting information on certain classes of people in 1880:

The law requires a return in the case of each blind, deaf and dumb, insane or idiotic, or crippled person. It not infrequently happens that fathers and mothers, especially the latter, are disposed to conceal, or even deny, the existence of such infirmities on the part of children. In such cases, if the fact is personally known to the enumerator, or shall be ascertained by inquiry from neighbors, it should be entered on the schedules equally as if obtained from the head of the family.

Elizabeth Shown-Mills, on her Evidence Explained website, has an excellent QuickLesson about the importance of knowing census instructions.

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I am in a state of genealogic shock.

My ancestor Martha Simpson was the wife of Levi Prather. I’ve been working hard in past years trying to unravel the complicated slave relationships in the Prather family of Montgomery County, Maryland. Finding Levi’s slaveowner was hard work, so I hadn’t focused much on Martha yet. Just recently, I’d started thinking perhaps Martha was freed before 1864 (Maryland’s state constitution in that year freed its slaves).

I’d been able to locate a sister of Martha’s (Leanna) and a brother (James) as freedpeople in 1860, so it was logical to think that Martha perhaps had been freed as well. But there was a better reason for my suspicion: we are fortunate to have a few pages of the Prather family bible, noting exact dates births and deaths of some of the Simpson family:

Bible Page

Bible Page

When I started to really analyze these pages, it occurred to me that it would be unlikely that enslaved people would have known exact birthdates dating from the 1840s. So, I did a search for Martha Simpson in 1860, and voila, that name pulled up living in a white Warfield family—but in neighboring Howard County instead of Montgomery County:

1860 Martha

1860 Martha

The Howard County location surprised me, although it shouldn’t have. We are always supposed to examine neighboring counties. I still wasn’t sure this was MY Martha, even though the age matched. But here is yet another example of how use of the clustering technique can be helpful (i.e., looking for groups of people associated with your ancestors). I knew from studying Martha and Levi’s 1870 census neighborhood in Montgomery Cty that they lived right smack dab in the middle of a bunch of black people with the surname–can you guess?– Warfield. So Martha living with a family of that surname made me feel like I was onto something. I decided to see if Martha was there in 1850, and Oh My Goodness. There they were, Martha and several of the siblings listed in my bible page—nice and neat and living as freedpeople in Howard County in 1850! Even better—they are with (presumably) their mother Louisa. The actual image is bad, so I will transcribe the entry:

Louisa Simpson, 33
Harriet L [Leanna], 11
Mary E, 9
James W, 7
Joseph W, 5
Martha J, 4
Minta L, 3 [?]

I have just found another ancestor and extended my tree with the name of ‘Louisa.’ This was an odd case in that I knew the name of the father–Perry Simpson–and it was in fact the mother’s name who had been lost to history. He may have been still enslaved in 1850, and perhaps that is why his name is not shown in the household.

Chills ran up my spine when I saw this census record for another reason: I live in Howard County! To think that my ancestors lived near where I live now over 150 years ago is just earth-shattering for me. But wait—it gets better. Howard County was formally organized relatively late—1851—from Anne Arundel County. Both Anne Arundel and Howard County have some combination of freedom certificates, manumission and chattel records available on the Archives of Maryland website. Just, WOW. It almost gets no better than that.

Doing an online search of these records, I discovered a manumission from one Ann Dorsey dated August 1816, of the following enslaved people:

Lyd, age 30
Harriot, age 11
William, 10
Mary, 7
Belinda, 5
Eliza, age 3
**Louisa, 18 months

Witnesses to this transaction were Gustavus Warfield and Humphrey Dorsey. It is possible the “Louisa” in this list, who is a baby, could be the same Louisa found in the 1850 census who is the mother of my Martha Simpson. Of course, I’ve got alot of work to do onsite in repositories before I can conclude that because we all know nothing thorough can be done online. My first task is to figure out which Ann Dorsey this was, since this was a large, prominent Maryland family and there were Anns all over the place. For right now, I suspect it was the Ann whose maiden name was —Warfield.

I have also gathered that this enslaved community likely had roots in many of the “first families” of Anne Arundel and Howard County: Dorsey, Worthington, Simpson, Warfield, Chase, Hall, etc. Many former slaves with those surnames are living in the community near my Prathers in Montgomery County in the 1870s. I was also fortunate to find at GoogleBooks a downloadable copy of The Founders of Anne Arundel and Howard Counties” written by Joshua Dorsey Warfield in 1905. There is a phenomenal amount of information in this book, and I’m just beginning to sift through it.

This is such a rewarding and absolutely thrilling discovery. I haven’t been speechless in a long time. Martha was here–right under my nose the whole time.

Martha Simpson Prather

Martha Simpson Prather

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My maternal ancestors lived in Tennessee. How the state was formed was illustrative of the westward movement of white conquerors, as they removed the indigenous populations (notice I do not say white settlers). The Shomburg website is one of the most detailed, fact filled and visually beautifully black migration websites online today and I encourage you to take some time examining it. You could spend hours pouring over the histories, pictures and maps. I’m going to highlight just a few of my favorites.

This one shows the African-American enslaved population in the original 13 colonies and its rapid change in the late 17th and early 18th century. Not surprisingly, Virginia and Maryland had the highest numbers:

Slavery in the Colonies

Slavery in the Colonies

The next map reminds us that as this conquest was occurring, whites were bringing slaves they already owned and buying slaves via the domestic slave trade. With the official close of the African Slave Trade in 1808, enslaved families were torn apart as they were sold south and west, many of these people who were by now 2nd or 3rd generation American born. One shows relative numbers while the next shows the transportation routes used–notice that states in green had net gains while states in red had net losses in numbers of slaves:

Domestic Slave Trade

Domestic Slave Trade

Domestic Trade Routes

Domestic Trade Routes

We often focus on the southern states with regard to slavery and forget that it was in the Chesapeake that slavery was born in North America. It was old and tired there by the time of the rise of cotton and the newfound wealth that would later happen in the deeper South in the mid-1800s. It’s a point worth remembering: southern and western slave states and territories were filled primarily with slaves bought or sold from the Chesapeake.

Other maps of interest include this one illustrating concentrations of freed blacks:

Freed Blacks

Freed Blacks

And I really enjoyed seeing these maps of African Kingdoms:

African Kingdoms

African Kingdoms

And Africa before European domination:

Islamic Africa

Islamic Africa

Notice how almost the entire northern hemisphere is Islamic, which is what was shown in the TV series Roots with Kunte Kinta.

Lately, I’ve been reading books by Frank Snowden, Cheikh Anta Diop, John Henrik Clarke and others to gain a better understanding of Mother Africa herself. None of this information is taught in US schools.

I think it’s important for us as we research our ancestors, to place them into the broader context of these migratory experiences. As I mentioned above, many of our ancestors who in 1865 were living in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, etc. had their roots in Virginia or Maryland–we can see that by the 1870 census birthdates in many cases. We should also understand that the Domestic Slave Trade, which transported over 1 million people deeper South and west wrought devastating seperation of families as much as the African Slave Trade had a century earlier.

Check out the website and (if you can pull yourself away) let me know what you think.

PS: I also want to give you all a heads up that NARA has released a new Freedmens Bureau finding aid that is probably the most detailed I’ve seen, and also mention the roll-out some months ago of the online genealogy magazine, The In-Depth Genealogist. It’s got good articles and a sleek appearance. Take a look at them both.

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Julius Rosenwald

Julius Rosenwald

The Rosenwald Rural School Building Program was one of the most amazing things I discovered while on this genealogical journey. It perfectly illustrates how the efforts of a few visionary people can have results that positively affect hundreds of thousands. This should have been, and should be, in high school history textbooks everywhere.

Julius Rosenwald made a fortune as a former owner of Sears, Roebuck, and Company, and in the early 1910’s began a collaboration with Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee that eventually gave millions to building schools for black children across the South. By 1932, the “Rosenwald Fund” (as the program was called) had contributed to building almost 5,000 schools, teacher’s homes and shop buildings. It’s a remarkable accomplishment.

The program in most cases required the local black community to raise an amount equal to what the Fund would give, in addition to requiring local public funding. It is no small feat and deserves amplification that largely impoverished black people of the early 20th century were committed enough to education to raise the amounts of money they did. Our ancestors knew education was the key to future success.

Dunbar School

Dunbar School: My Grandmother attended this school

I have yet to meet an African-American genealogist who didn’t have a parent or grandparent who attended one of these schools. That means that we as their descendants are still reaping the benefits of schools that were built when local governments didn’t have the will or desire to do it themselves. I can remember early in my research wanting so badly to see these schools, most of which are no longer standing. I was fortunate enough to find photos of many of these schools at the Tennessee State Archives for ancestors in that state. However, resources online today have made researching this important part of our collective history just a little bit easier.

MD ancestors attended this school in Laytonsville

Some of my Maryland ancestors attended this school in Laytonsville

Fisk has a wonderful database of Rosenwald schools, searchable by county and state among other variables. Many (though not all) will pull up with pictures of the school, information about the funding, what year it was built, etc. The photos above are from that database, as you can see the Fisk watermark.

 The National Trust for Historic Preservation awarded Rosenwald schools its National Treasure status in 2011, which means these buildings have been identified as a critical part of the story of who we are and the Trust resources have coalesced around trying to save 100 of these schools. There is good historical information at their website including background on its origins at Tuskegee, building architectural plans, case studies and links to resources on how to get involved to save a school. The beautifully restored Highland School was preserved in Prince George’s County, MD, which is where I grew up.

The National Trust is offering $20,000 matching grants (deadline: April 15, 2013) to save and restore Rosenwald Schools. 2012 even saw the first National Rosenwald School Conference held at Tuskegee.

The Trust also offers  a very nice downloadable PDF pamphlet on their Rosenwald program. I also see that South Carolina has a Rosenwald school database.

The Jackson-Davis Collection contains over 6000 photographs of African-American schools, many of which are surely Rosenwald Schools. I particularly like this website because it shows teachers and students in addition to the buildings.

Someone just sent me this link to Rosenwald schools in North Carolina.

This is the kind of information we should include when writing up our family histories. These accomplishments are still relevant, as we continue to struggle today with educating our poorest and most disenfranchised. If you’re interested in reading more about this wonderful piece of history (which I hope you are) I recommend two books:

Julius Rosenwald: the Man who Built Sears, Roebuck and Advanced the Cause of Black Education in the South,” by Peter Ascoli.

You Need a Schoolhouse: Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald and the Building of Schools for the Segregated South,” by Stephanie Deutsch.

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