Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Online Research’ Category

Lately I have been reading a lot of published slave narratives. These are not to be confused with the WPA slave narratives from the 1930s that many of us are familiar with. I am referring to slave narratives that were written and published from the mid 1800’s through the mid 1900s by slaves and former slaves, many of which who had fled slavery. These are books that were were popular during that timeframe, especially as a part of the burgeoning anti-slavery movement. We probably know about the most popular, like Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery and Frederick Douglass’ autobiography. But I think we forget—I know I did—that this is primary information out of the mouths of slaves, and also that there were hundreds more like this published.

The University of North Carolina has a wonderful online collection entitled “North American Slave Narratives.”   It is apart of the collection entitled “Documenting the American South.” In the Slave Narratives, they have collected and displayed all the known existing slave narratives, including pamphlets and articles through 1920. I had seen this collection many times over the years, but never dove in and explored it further. The other day I started reading them, and got so engrossed in the stories I stayed online for 3 hours! They are very detailed, and I realized that these could be a terrific resource for part of the write-up of my family.

My Prather family was from Montgomery County, MD (they are shown above in the picture on this blog). I have mentioned here before that I am focusing on writing up the various lines of my research, fully and properly sourced, and getting them out to the relevant repositories. So, I went to UNC’s collection and found the story of a man named Josiah Henson who was enslaved in Montgomery County.

 

Josiah Henson, from Wikipedia

His claim to fame is that he is credited as being the prototype for the lead character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s infamous book Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Josiah escaped from slavery and later became an abolitionist and a minister. I was able to utilize the following descriptions from his narrative, published in 1849, “The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself” :

[My master was] coarse and vulgar in his habits, unprincipled and cruel in his general deportment, and especially addicted to the vice of licentiousness. His slaves had little opportunity for relaxation from wearying labor, were supplied with the scantiest means of sustaining their toil by necessary food, and had no security for personal rights… The principal food of those upon my master’s plantation consisted of corn meal, and salt herrings; to which was added in summer a little buttermilk, and the few vegetables which each might raise for himself and his family, on the little piece of ground which was assigned to him for the purpose, called a truck patch. The meals were two, daily…”

He continues with his description. Doesn’t this first-hand account make the experiences of my ancestors come alive just a little bit more?

I cannot believe I have not made better use of this resource in the past 13 years. When you have some time, peruse the UNC website and read through some of the pages of the various narratives. Perhaps you can find someone who grew up in your ancestor’s state, or better yet, their same county.

UNC’s entire collection is extraordinarily valuable, and a separate collection that I found useful was the one entitled “First Person Narratives of the American South”. This collection encompasses all Southerners, white and black, and I found some of the diaries of slaveowners and their wives to be very eye-opening. For example, Elizabeth Pringle, daughter of a prominent South Carolina planter had a book published about her life growing up on a southern rice plantation called A Woman Rice Planter. Here’s a tip for this collection: Browse by subject, and under the heading African-Americans, you’ll find a sorting of the narratives by state.) Other standouts in the online UNC DocSouth collections include:

The Church in the Southern Black Community
Oral Histories of the American South
North Carolina Maps

I am always on the lookout for ways to enrich the story of my ancestor’s lives, as well as educate myself on the topic even further. These narratives are rich reading, even as they relayed horrific realities. Kudos to UNC, and I hope visit and do research one day, as I’ve heard their library/archives is one of the best in the South.

Read Full Post »

I’ve got a few new discoveries to report. First, Familysearch.org has finally blessed us Tennessee researchers with a Tennessee death index (“Tennessee Deaths and Burials, 1874-1955“). I thought I’d lose my mind when I ran across it, and of course I stayed up until 2 in the morning with much success. I had watched for years as states like North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas got lots of love from Ancestry and Familysearch, and I was wondering when someone was going to post a database of deaths from my poor lil’ ol’ state! I found about 20 relevant people (direct and collateral) and have already sent off for the certificates.

Familysearch has a much more robust search engine, and even though it is rife with transcription errors, it will pull up data in those valuable ‘mother” and “father” fields. Because of that, I made an interesting discovery.

I finally found my great-great-grandmother’s death certificate–Ada Seaman. She died in 1918, and I know now that it’s her because her father was Baltimore Merriman, and the father’s field says “Baught Merriman.” I had seen this name indexed before, but never thought it was her. Why? Because she showed up on the 1920 census:

wife Ada Seaman

Wow. Gotta remember those darn censuses contain secondary information.

In other news, I got a wonderful act of genealogical kindness. One of my Holt ancestors, Mattie Holt, had been a mystery for many years. I found her on the TN census as a child and never was able to find her again. A few years, ago, I visited descendants of this family I had found  in Inkster, Michigan. One cousin remembered going to visit his Aunt Mattie in Texas. I wouldn’ t have thought to look there, but that’s where she was. I found her on the census, and I found her death certificate–she was running a funeral home, and the oral history was that she’d made a fortune in 1918 during the flu epidemic.

Her married name was May, and I found her husband George May’s death certificate and headstone, but after that, the trail went cold.

I had contacted the local genealogical society in search of an obituary to no avail. But this week I got an email from that researcher who just decided out of the blue to look for Mattie’s probate records since she was in the courthouse. Don’t you just love that?

Jackpot! She found Mattie’s very detailed will and emailed me all the goodies. Mattie in fact did have a daughter (I never knew that) and the will named her nephew as well. It also outlined her 3 marriages and gives dates and places–her first marriage was in Oklahoma.  Talk about doing the happy dance! Now I’ve got much more to follow up on. Sharon, thank you again for all your help with this.

Genealogists can be some of the best people!

Read Full Post »

I know, I know, I have been gone too long! A short word of explanation. I recently celebrated my 40th birthday with a party and a week-long trip to Barbados (check out my tan!). I’m feeling whole and happy, and fortunate to be surrounded by friends and family who love me. I have a such a good life.  This has been a busy last few months, and I haven’t had as much time to blog as I’d like, but rest assured my genealogy passions still burn bright. My next class in Advanced African Amercian Genealogy starts April 20 at Howard Community College, if anyone is in the local area and interested.

I’ve been perusing Southern Claims Commissions records lately and rediscovering how fabulous they are. Footnote has put up many (not all) of the original images. The Southern Claims Commission was established in 1871 to receive and adjudicate claims by loyal Southerners for reimbursement of property damaged or taken (animals, food, housing, etc) by Union soldiers. The Commission received over 20,000 claims applications. Claims fell into three categories: approved, barred, or disallowed.

The claimant had to present proof of ownership of the it and also prove they had always been loyal to the Union cause. This proof was often in the form of depositions giving eyewitness accounts. These depositions include, many times, depositions from former slaves. Content of the files vary. Some have just a few pages and some run 20 or more pages long. Here are a few examples of what I’ve found interesting lately:

Cupid Hamilton, Beaufort County, SC
My name is Cupid Hamilton. [I am] 45 years old. I live at Wm Heyward’s plantation near Pocotaligo, Beaufort County, SC. I have lived here all my life. My business is farming…I was the slave of Mr. William Heyward. I became free at the end of the war. I carry on farming—plant principally rice. I owned the property charged in this claim before the war. I got the property after Hilton Head was taken by the United States. My master Mr. William Heyward gave me two horses and a wagon to make a living for myself and family as he could not afford us any longer. He said I could keep them my lifetime as he did not intend to carry on planting any longer. He is dead now. He died in Charleston of yellow fever in 1872. His grandson Mr. William Hankel was not present when he gave me the horses and the wagon, but he lives on the plantation now and I believe knows all about it…I was the waiting man of Mr. Wm Heyward on the plantation and when he left the place after Hilton Head was taken he gave me the two horses and the wagon and gave me [and] Moses Washington, the driver, also one horses and gave Alleck Wilson [?] the head carpenter one horse also for faithful services.

Coleman Sherrod, Lawrence County, AL
At the beginning of the war, I was a slave and belonged to Mrs. Tabitha Sherrod. I became free when Lincoln set us free by his Proclamation. I worked on the farm after I became free. I rented land from Mr. Shackelford. I bought the mule when I was slave. My owner allowed me to own a horse. Mr. Sam Shackelford allowed me the privilege to own a mule. I was with him under his control. I bought the mule from Mr. Gallahan a year or two before the war commenced. I gave him $164 or $165. Mr. Jack Harris and Oakley Bynum went with me to see me righted in the trade…they saw me pay the money. It passed through their hands to him, Mr. Gallahan. I got the money by trading. I was [a] carriage driver and [had] the privilege of trading.I paid $60 in gold which I got from Mr. John Houston for a horse I sold him….

Primus Everett, Halifax County, VA
During the war, I was the slave of Wm Everett, but lived with Mr. Alex Thompson to whom my wife belonged about seven miles east of the courthouse. For more than six months in the last year of the war I went off to North Carolina for fear of being put to work on the breastworks–I went of my own accord. I said nothing about it to my master…I was always a Union man. My simple reason was that I wanted to be free all the time & I belived the Yankees would set us free, and they did….I was hired to Mr. Thompson–he allowed me to keep all I could make over a certain fixed sum. I bought the horse with the proceeds of my own labor and raised the bacon.

Look all all the wonderful details about slave life that can be gathered from just these few examples. I think one of the biggest myths that need to be dispelled is this image of slavery as a monolithic enterprise. As evidenced here, some slaves worked on the task system and were allowed to keep their own money. There are also details given about the slaveowner’s family. I hope these examples will inspire you to look at these records if you haven’t already. Be sure to all categories–allowed, disallowed, and barred. Also, Ancestry. com has an index to these records on their website, while Footnote, as I mentioned before, has many of the original files. This website is a terrrific resource for more details about these records and how to research them.

You may not find your ancestor, but you may find other slaves owned by the same person. If not, research claims by others in the county. All this can give you more detail for a hard-to-research time period.

Read Full Post »

Image from Jeffjacoby.com

I’m a big fan of expanding our knowledge about the various kinds of records we utilize, and I found a terrific PDF file on the history of the Social Security Program. I discovered lots of interesting tidbits I didn’t know. The History page of the Social Security website has lots of other details as well, including tallies of the votes cast for this momentous new law, the text of the original 1935 act, and photo galleries.

I hope you’ll enjoy this information as much as I did.

Read Full Post »

From NARA's website, Summer 1997

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my Christmas/New Year holiday as you can see by my lengthy absence. I missed you all & have sufficiently awoken from my month-long slumber to try to stick my big toe back into the genealogy waters. I was reading the latest issue of Prologue magazine trying to figure out what to blog about, when I realized I was holding it in my hands.

Prologue is NARA’s official magazine, and it highlights how to utilize the rich and vast resources of the Archives. It’s been around for 30 years, but I’m often surprised how few genealogists I meet actually subscribe to the magazine. It’s $24/year (4 issues).  I have been a subscriber for many years now & I can assure you, it is one publication that I anxiously await and read from cover to cover. The magazine will expand your mind, showing you little known record groups, explaining various finding aids, and helping you navigate through the more expansive collections. The articles provide terrific historical detail on NARA’s records and agencies and America’s people. It also highlights the extraordinarily talented and brilliant professionals that work at NARA and are the “experts” in their areas. Sometimes, I even write the authors name down & track them down if I have a specific question! I have obtained numerous genealogical leads over the years from being a faithful Prologue subscriber.

I want to point out some Prologue links on NARA’s website that deserve mention.

1) In Summer 1997, a special edition of Prologue was dedicated to African-American research.  Although the original is out of print (I would love to own this one), you can read all the articles online.  Some titles include:

  • “Freedmen’s Bureau Records: An Overview”
  • “Preserving the Legacy of the US Colored Troops”
  • “The Panama Canal: The African-American Experience”
  • “Documenting the Struggle for Racial Equality in the Decade of the Sixties”

2) NARA has actually pulled all the genealogy articles, in all subject areas, out of Prologue and made them available online. Of course, all of the ones under the African-American section (different from those in the special issue) are worth solid gold. Some of my favorites in the other categories include:

  • “Native-Americans in the Census, 1860-1890″
  • “The 1930 Census in Perspective”
  • “First in the Path of the Firemen: The Fate of the 1890 Population Census”
  • “Enhancing your Family Tree with Civil War Maps”
  • “Income Tax Records of the Civil War Years”
  • “Those Elusive Early Americans: Public Lands and Claims in the American State Papers”

3) The Fall 2009 issue of Prologue featured an article called “Face to Face with History”. It discussed the rare finding of a photograph of an  African American doctor in pension files. The article described his life story.

4) One other thing I’d like to mention that is available on NARA’s website: their “Researchers News” newsletter is a downloadable PDF file that is created quarterly and includes all the data about what books, microfilms, databases and other records have been recently purchased or accessioned. It also details all the classes and seminars available at NARA. Make sure to bookmark this location & start downloading the issues as they become available. I read them all.

If there’s room in your genealogy budget, I highly suggest a subscription to Prologue as all of the articles from every issue of course do not make it online. But, there is a good sampling available and I hope if you haven’t explored these articles yet, you will.

Read Full Post »

I haven’t been posting because I’ve been enjoying and entertaining family and friends over the Thanksgiving holiday. That’s at the heart of why we are all genealogists, right? I had a wonderful time and hope all of you did too. But, I missed my blog! And my good genea-buddy has been reminding me for days I need to post so I am back with just a short snippet. But a good one.

I have a website that I’ve had bookmarked forever but only tonight did I start digging around in it and now, an hour later, I am changing my original blog topic to post this. I can always use the other one another night.

The website is called, “The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record.”

As the website describes, the project contains approximately 1,235 images of mostly enslaved laborers in the Americas and the New World. This is a joint project of the Virginia Foundation and the Digital Media Lab at the University of Virginia Library.  There are 18 categories of pictures, some of which are:

  • Capture of Slaves and Coffles in Africa
  • European Forts and Trading Posts in Africa
  • Plantation Scenes, Slave Settlements and Houses
  • Physical Punishment, Rebellion and Running Away
  • Music, Dance and Recreational Activities
  • Emancipation and Post Slavery Life

I had some interesting thoughts while perusing this collection.  Because many of us are focused on uncovering our specific ancestors in Virginia in 1870 or South Carolina in 1849, we forget the scope and scale and reach of slavery—the path through the West Indies, the tearing apart of custom and tradition. How it formed the economic backbone of entire countries and forced redefinitions of family & manhood, womanhood and faith.  I think also because of modern photography, we all are drawn to the more common images from the 20th century, and late 19th.  I think I even was guilty of “poo-pooing” illustrations–but if you want to try to envision a plantation in Jamaica or Cuba in 1759 or 1810, you’re going to have to look at illustrations. I found that as I looked at these  (many of which were from books published in England), it made me recall the length and depth of the tragedy of slavery. The extraordinary expanse of the crime. My my. And remember that most slaves in the Caribbean from this era did not live to significantly reproduce other generations as in mainland North America–most died and planters simply purchased more.

Here are a few pictures from the database, but please do go and spend a little time looking around when you can.

In the category “Slave Sales and Auctions: African Coast and the Americas”:

Metal Branding Irons With Owner's Initials, Image Ref: H019

Slaves Awaiting Sale, New Orleans, 1861, Image Ref: NW0028

I have never seen nor thought of slaves being sold in top hats.

In the category, “Religion and Mortuary Practices“:

Baptism in a Catholic Church, Brazil, 1816, Image Ref: JCB-07385-18

I was struck by how ornately the enslaved were dressed.

Funeral, Paramaribo, Surinam 1839, Image Ref: BEN15a

The caption says that the people with their faces covered were the mourners.

In the category “Marketing and Urban Scenes“:

Clothing Styles, Paramaribo, Surinam, 1839, Image Ref: BEN7b

The caption says that they are not wearing shoes because only freed blacks could wear shoes!

In the category “Domestic Slaves and Free People of Color“:

House Servant, Baltimore, 1861, Image Ref: iln307

House Servant, Baltimore, 1861, Image Ref: iln307

Clothing Style, Female Servant, Lima, Peru, 1865, Image Ref: JCB-05677-13

Coachman with Horse and Carriage, Havana, Cuba, ca 1850 Image Ref: Album-12

They make it all look just so delightful, don’t they? Hmfph.

And last, but not least:

Extracting a Chigger, Brazil, 1820, Image Ref: IMG01

I can’t fathom that someone felt this image was worthy of remembrance !

I hope that last picture doesn’t dissuade you from viewing this fascinating and eye-opening collection.

This database reminded me of a plantation visit. I was in St.Croix last year & visited an 18th-century sugar plantation called “The Whim Plantation”. It was fascinating….the docent was extremely knowledgeable. Here are a few pictures:

Plantation "Greathouse"

Plantation Equipment

For Pressing Sugar Cane

List of Slaves Working Plantation

I also found some pictures from sugar plantation ruins on the Virgin Island that are much larger.

Read Full Post »

tslaI am so fortunate to be researching in Tennessee. I have always felt their Archives website is one of the better ones and for 12 years the service they have provided me has been outstanding. Living in Maryland, I email them questions all the time & I always get a timely, detailed, courteous response.

Well, lo and behold, they have outdone themselves by recently posting a PDF file entitled, “A Guide to African-American Genealogy-Related Documents Prior to 1865 in the Collections of the Tennessee State Library and Archives”. I read this document in utter amazement last night.

In short, it’s sort of a manuscript finding aid, but includes more than just their manuscripts (You are searching archives, historical societies and universities for their manuscript collections, right?).It also includes their diaries, the Acts of Tennessee, Supreme Court cases, legislative petitions, etc. Sixty-eight (68) pages of great stuff.

What makes this guide outstanding, is the amount of detail provided. It tells you what county (when ascertainable) each entry is from! I cannot tell you how many guides I read from other repositories and wish that information alone was included. I’ll see “Jones Family Papers. Slave Inventory.” and I think…”The Jones Family in what county? When?” Arrgghhhhh. (Addendum: The Library of Virginia’s Afro-American manuscript guide is also pretty darn good.)

Tennessee’s new guide gives precious details about each entry. For example:

Claiborne Family Papers, 1846-1938. County, Davidson. Box 2, Folder 5:  Slavery–list of negroes owned by Mrs. Annie Armstrong (Maxwell) Overton, 1865″.

In some cases actual slaves’ names are listed. The document covers the Acts of Tennessee, which has information on many slaves and freedmen/women. For example:

“Benjamin (slave), Gibson County, Jacob Bradley is authorized to emancipate him, 1832.”

This represents a phenomenal effort and a huge leap forward in my eyes. This is what (in my dreams) I’d love to see other state archives & historical repositories do. Yes, I realize many are short-staffed and underfunded, but I can still dream right?

Today I had to send the Tennessee State Library an email of Kudos. Here’s a bit of what I wrote:

As a genealogist and instructor whose specialty is African-American research, I can tell you that what you’ve released is heads and tails above anything I’ve seen from other repositories…I can’t express to you how necessary this is, and how welcome and how wonderful…The process of African-American research is incredibly difficult because of slavery, but you have shown a respect and an understanding of the hurdles we face. You have provided a tool that we can really make use of. As the descendant of enslaved Tennessee ancestors, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

If you are from Tennessee, you’ll want to check this out as soon as possible. They also posted a Bibliography you won’t want to miss.


Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 90 other followers