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Well, it’s been awhile since I posted and that’s because I had a bouncing baby boy in August who has been keeping me happily busy. I haven’t had much time to do genealogy, to say the least. But I think in the next few months I can start putting a toe back in the genealogy waters every now and then.

This was actually one of my major genealogical finds of 2010, but I didn’t get a chance to post it.  Back in July 2010, I was cleaning out my office (in typical nesting mode) and ran across some print outs I’d made years ago from one of the Southern Claims Commission Indexes. I had never found any relatives when I searched these before, but I’ve posted about the great finds that are possible . The particular indexed name I had was a white man who, oral history said, had fathered a child with my 4th great grandmother, Margaret Barnes in Hardin County, Tennessee. His name was Ben Rush Freeman. I had never found anything in many years of researching, so I didn’t think much of it, but I figured since Footnote had most of the Southern Claims Commission files online, I might as well look before I chuck that piece of paper.

I can’t adequately explain to you the utter astonishment and then rush of excitement as I pulled up Ben’s 45+ page file and found that Margaret was one of his witnesses!!! This was stunning first and foremost because I only have information about Margaret from one court case, oral history, and census records. She was born in the early 1800s, so I had sort of given up the hope that I would find anything significant about her.

The Southern Claims Commission was set up to repay loyal Southerners who had had property taken or destroyed by the Union Army during the Civil War. One had to have witnesses to attest to the damages, and many times, for slaveowners, they had former slaves as witnesses. Margaret testified to the fact that hogs were slaughtered, horses taken, and some other parts of the crop. It gave her age, and stated that she was not owned by Mr. Freeman but worked for Mrs. Barnes.

Margaret Roberts had been a freedwoman in Hardin County, or a “bonded slave” as they referred to her. She was “purchased” by John Barnes in 1838, and appeared on the census in his household in 1840 and 1850. By 1860, she had taken on the surname Barnes, John had died and she was living with his widow Elizabeth. Margaret was listed as a mulatto woman with several mulatto children. She last makes an appearance in the census in 1870.

Another thing that makes this file critical to my research is that her son, Campbell Barnes, also testifies! Campbell was listed on the census record with his mother in 1850, but I only could locate a “Cam Barnes” living in neighboring McNairy County in 1880. I thought this might be her son—and this file confirmed that it was, when it noted that he lived in McNairy County. His testimony also stated that he went away with and joined the Union Army, and returned after the war (I haven’t found him listed formally as a soldier). When asked who he had been owned by, he reiterates that he was never a slave, but that his mother had been a free woman and was purchased by John Barnes as a young girl. Again, this confirmed information I had already discovered. This find also, in my mind, greatly increases the chance that Ben Rush Freeman was indeed the father of at least one of her children. She states in her file that she was sent over frequently to help him by Mrs. Barnes. Having her in such continual close proximity makes sense.

Here is copy of the first page of Margaret’s testimony. You can see “col’d” is listed after her name, identifying her as a colored woman (click on the image to see it enlarged).

I never found Margaret here in the past because the Southern Claims Commission files weren’t online when I first looked at them and I didn’t think to pull Ben Freeman’s file at the time. But what I’ve learned, and hopefully you can benefit from, is to also search these files for neighbors, relatives and associates of your slaveowner. I thought it interesting that many of Ben’s close family members and friends also filed claims. Of course, there were just tidbits here about Margaret, as the primary purpose of the testimony was to ascertain the facts about the lost goods. But every bit counts. I kept wishfully thinking, “Why don’t they ask her parent’s names???!”

 

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I have talked here before about the benefit of researching court records when you get to the intermediate/advanced stage of your research. Divorces are found within court records.

I was amazed when I first started looking at these at how many people got divorced. Sure it’s no where near the rate we have today, but still, there were lots more divorces than I would have thought, even back in the 1800s. As we all know, there’s nothing going on today that hasn’t gone on for all of time and human relationships are no different. Divorces can give you unique insight into people and circumstances. Some of them do indeed strike me as funny today, but I’m sure they weren’t funny for the people going through them at the time.

First, you’ll want to find out what was the name of the court for your state that handled divorces for that time period. Many times (but not all) I find them in Circuit Court Records. If you’re lucky, by the 20th century you may find some sort of separate name index like I did for Montgomery County, MD. Earlier circuit court minutes may have indexes in the front of individual volumes. What you want to try to search for is the case number. The case number should lead you to the actual case files, if they survive. The case files are usually the original bound pieces of paper; these may include the original bill of complaint and answer, testimony and depositions, letters from lawyers and the final divorce decree among others.

I recently found one for a relative, John Prather. It had sorts of jewels inside, including his original date of marriage, which I had been unable to find in the marriage records. Sadly, it appears his wife left him, possibly for another man (or men;)). He didn’t see her for 3 years, and the court finally granted him a divorce. Even his older sister testified. Here are a few of the documents:

Lawyer's letter

Testimony

Sister's Testimony

Final Decree

I do a genealogy lecture on court records where I talk about my ancestor Joseph Harbour. He only appeared on one census record (1880) but when I looked at court records, it looked like he was committing a crime every other week! His divorce was hysterical. If I had just stuck to the typical records, much of his life would have remained a mystery to me.

Here is an example from a divorce in Hardin County, TN. This was between Felix and Matilda Harbour in 1899. It mentions their place and date of marriage, very valuable information because it occurred in another state and county. This case is sadder in that Matilda details physical abuse:

Matilda 1

Matilda 2

Also, the Family History Library does have court records and some actual case files microfilmed; I found this Hardin County one there, so check for your county/state to see what court records they have.

So…check them out when you can. If any of you have found any interesting divorce records, I’d love to hear about them.

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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.

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Emancipation in DC: #DS_069H00HP from the NYPL Digital Library

I have been thinking lately about how many states and locations have unique record sets that can really give a boost to those doing slave research. For example, how slave births in Virginia are recorded from the year 1853, and how Maryland’s slave statistics name the last slaveowner as well as surnames for most slaves. They may not survive for every county within a state, but if they do, you’re in for a treat.

For those who had enslaved ancestors in Washington, D.C., a wonderful set of records exist. The National Archives has the following:

Records of the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia Relating to Slaves, 1851-1863 (M433)

-these rolls include emancipation, manumission papers, freedom affidavits, and fugitive slave case papers

Habeas Corpus Case Records of the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia, 1820-1863 (M434)

Both of these first two have very good information for those of us descended from slaves. Christine’s Genealogy website has indexed parts of several of these records on her website:

D.C. manumissions from M433

Index to habeas corpus cases

And, fugitive slave cases

An even more exciting set of records exist. D.C. enacted an Emancipation Act in 1862 where the federal government agreed to pay slaveowners up to $300 for each slave laboring in D.C. Slaveowners applied in droves. This created the record set:

Records of the Board of Commissioners for the Emancipation of Slaves in the District of Columbia (M520)

These  record sets include the petitions of each slaveowner to qualify under the terms of the Act. In most cases, they provided very detailed physical descriptions of the slaves, what kind of work they did, and amazingly enough, the circumstances of where and how they acquired each slave. Sometimes, that can take us years to discover, if we are ever able to discover it! They even oftentimes reveal those

Very precious relationships among enslaved ancestors that are so hard to come by. Even luckier for us, Dorothy Provine has published all of these record sin a wonderful book I just purchased, “Compensated Emancipation in the District of Columbia”. The book is available for purchase from Heritage books.This book is well worth the purchase price. Mrs. Provine also produced a volume called “District of Columbia Free Negro Registers, 1821-1861”.

A few examples will illustrate the richness of the records (these are abstracted, the originals are more detailed):

  • Petition of Alfred Y. Robinson, of PG County, MD for Edward Humphrey, age 35 or 40, mulatto….Robinson inherited him from his mother Elizabeth Robinson and has held him for over 30 years.
  • Petition of William Gunton, administrator for William A. Gunton, for two slaves, Joshua and Hennie. The late William A. Gunton purchased Joshua from William Tolson, Hennie was a gift from John B. Mullihan of PG County to his daughter upon her marriage to his son, William A. Gunton on June 20, 1848.
  • Petition of Mary A. Smoot, for two persons, Henry and Margaret. Smoot’s grandmother, the late Mrs. Mary B. Smoot, left these persons to her by a will that was recorded in D.C. in June 1857
  • Petition of Matthew McLeod, for Ellen Cole, age 51 or 52. He acquired title from the will of his mother-in-law, Mrs. Mary Manning of St. Mary’s County, and later the will of his deceased wife.
  • Petition of Anna Bradley for William and James (brothers). Bradley acquired title from her mother. William and James’ great-grandmother, Patty (!!!) was a slave of Bradley’s mother, Elizabeth Ann King, long since deceased. Her mother acquired Patty from John Hammond, her father (!!!), late of Annapolis, MD. Bradley states she also became the owner of Jenny, the daughter, and of Mary, the granddaughter of Patty (!!!). Mary was the mother of William and James and thus they have belonged to Bradley since their birth.

Aren’t these records incredible?? As you can see, many slaves were employed in D.C. but were owned by people living in Maryland and Virginia as well as a few other states. I found some important clues regarding several owners of my Montgomery County, MD ancestors, who also applied under the Act. Christine’s Genealogy Website also has an name index to these petitions on her website.

I hope if D.C. is one of your research areas (or someone you know) you will check these records out. And keep hope alive–a record set like this may open up one day for your state and county. We can always hope, right?

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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.

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Recently, I was perusing the Library of Congress’ genealogy reading room website. I clicked on the link to “Bibliographies and Guides” and the first PDF file in the list is the guide to African-American Family Histories and Related Works. I realized I hadn’t looked at this list in years so I printed it out & gave it a looksie.

Don’t you know I found one of my ancestral families on there?

Well, not a direct ancestor, but basically the family that one of my ancestors married into, the Crowders of Decatur County, TN. You know I cannot wait to get back down to the LOC in order to look at it.

So, if you haven’t looked at the list lately (or you haven’t ever looked at the list) take a look & see what you found. Many of the items I noticed were programs from family reunions that people submitted. Even that is a great find.

I’m convinced that those of us who have been researching 10 years or more (or just those of us who have researched enough to have a good collection of material) need to have submitted copies of our work for inclusion on this list. That means me too.

And while you’re at it, check the published family histories at your State Archives, local historical societies and libraries. Just like I was amazed to actually find a match, you never know what might turn up.

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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.

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Newspapers are a wonderful genealogical source, we all know that, but one of the main reasons I suspect they still remain untapped for many of us is how difficult and cumbersome they are to research.  Although commercial enterprises like GenealogyBank and  public efforts like Chronicling America aim to make newspapers more accessible, I  must say I often find trying to sort through the digital morass just as much of a struggle.

I luckily (or crazily?) have a microfilm reader in my home that I purchased from Ebay years ago and newspapers are one of the types of time-killing resources that benefit from this. I purchased several reels of microfilm  of the local paper (the Savannah Courier) from the Tennessee State Archives. This paper covered Hardin County, TN, one of my research areas.

I thought I’d post examples of the variety of genealogical jewels that I’ve found in the pages of the Courier. There are things that you simply won’t find anywhere else.

There are the expected death and marriage notices, well before state mandated vital record-keeping, but there were lots of other things that stood out to me as I perused the pages. This is a small, very rural farming Southern community, and I was surprised to see things like a regular column on high fashion and periodic articles on international news–even serialized fiction stories. The ads are in and of themselves a telling source of social history–you see all the medical potions and crack “cures”, stoves and sewing machines, the local country stores and their wares and the schedules and prices of the steamboats that plowed the mighty Tennessee river. As you travel across time (1870s-1930s in my case) you see the changes in life brought by the advent of the car and other technological advances (especially the car–people crashed all the time!). Farming was a major theme, with articles on animal husbandry and the latest crop techniques.

Local news was big–seemingly every action a person took was “monitored” by the paper. Short trips people took (“Tom Jones went to Paducah today for a week to visit his mother”) illnesses (“John Reed is stricken with small pox and has been quarantined”) and even visits to the city of Savannah (“Mssrs. John Holt and Sol Bradley were in town today.”). I suppose the nature of a small town is just that–you pretty much know everything everybody is doing. If not, the paper will sure tell you;).

The quality of the copies varies, but hopefully, taking a look at some of these article clippings (and yes, this post is LONG) will inspire you to check your local newspaper if you haven’t yet. I suggest giving yourself a timeframe (perhaps an hour at a time) as not to destroy your eyes.  I also recommend my friend Tim Pinnick’s excellent book, “Finding and Using African-American Newspapers“, and be sure to subscribe via his website to his new email newsletter on using Black Newspapers.

Savannah Courier Clippings (the year of each post is stated in the caption)

I found postings from local courts that I used to locate court documents. This also illustrates that if your locale had fires that destroyed records, newspapers can still provide some of that information:

1888

1935

Look at all the black organizations I found evidence of. I couldn’t find data on these anyplace else:

1885

There were short periods of time where very small articles covered the black community. I would expect this to be different for different locales. In Savannah, one of the black areas was called Newtown–thus the Newtown “Dots”:

1887

While deaths of white locals were almost always covered, only periodically were deaths of blacks noted:

1890

1889

Fairs were always a big deal in rural areas, and the “colored” fair was no different and was noted every year:

1888

Hints at emigration can be found in the paper. This one I believe included some of my collateral ancestors–I wish it would have stated names!:

1909

As can be sadly expected, lynchings were often noted and the period of the late 19th century was particularly brutal. The first one is my gggrandfather’s brother. Notice how they said it was a “suicide”:

1887

1886

1890

And this ominous editorial snippet in the paper reads to me like a threat:

1889

By 1908, at least some on the community were obviously not in agreement with the methods of the “Night Riders”, but the very fact that it shows up so much as a topic tells me it was a problem:

1908

1909

1911

The crash of the titanic was a huge story in 1912. It was interesting to read this story after having seen the movie:

1912

This snippet hinted at the possibility of a semi- interracial celebration in 1919 for World War I soldiers. Everytime I read this I wonder if my great-grandfather Lawson Holt was there. It also notes the ‘Holtsville’ glee club, Holtsville being a school started by my ancestor John W. Holt.

I found lots of information on black teachers and black schools every year:

1911

By the 1930s, they were printing lists of people who had lost their land to tax sales. How useful is that for us!:

1930s

Indicative of the times, minstrel shows were a big part of entertainment:

1929

A few were pretty humorous to me, with my 21st century sensibilities. This one talked about the nuisance of people letting their hogs run loose in the city:

1919

And my personal favorite–this poor man, a minister, has to announce that his wife has left him:

1888

There is lots of other information I found on the black community (on churches and ministers, for example) but I hope what I have posted has encouraged you to take that dive into these valuable records.

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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.

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One of the things that has contributed greatly to my growth as a genealogist has been reading professional genealogical journals. The tendency when you begin genealogy is to think that if the article isn’t specifically on your family or your location, that it isn’t relevant. Oh contraire! What dawned on me after many years was that you read the journals to learn about new resources and new methodology–it doesn’t matter really what the subject matter itself is. You read to get a better sense of the professional genealogist’s though process. When I finally got that through my thick skull, I was off and running and learning in leaps and bounds.

For those of us researching enslaved ancestors, we know this is some of the most difficult research the field will ever see, for a multitude of reasons. I have a collection of slavery-related journal articles I’ve gathered through the years that have helped me over some pretty big stumbling blocks.  I’d like to share the list with you and encourage you to order copies and add them to your own collection of research “tools”. I walk through several of these articles as case studies in my genealogy class.

I tend to favor National Genealogical Society (NGS) Quarterly, but it’s not the only game in town. There are also publications like The American Genealogist, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register and state journals like The Virginia Genealogist. Find one (or a few that you like) and preferably can subscribe to. I also subscribe to historical journals, like the Maryland Historical Magazine, since that is one of my research states. Let me point out that these are scholarly journals, not for the faint of heart but for those who are looking to take their skills to the next level.

There are a couple of different ways you can get copies of these articles. If you are a member of NGS, you can download PDF files of NGS Quarterly from their website from 2002-present. Your regional National Archives or State Archives are likely to own a collection and you could copy them if so. You could also download the PERSI form from the Allen County Library and order the copies from them to be delivered to your home for a copying fee.

I consider these articles to be a part of my arsenal, and the brilliance of the authors continually amaze me. I hope you read a few–if you do, let me know which one(s) were your favorite and why.

African-American/Slave/Slavery-Related NGS Articles

  • Curtis Brasfield, “To My Daughter and the Heirs of her Body: Slave Passages as Illustrated by the Latham-Smithwick Family,” NGS Quarterly 81 (December 1993): 270-282.
  • Rudena Kramer Mallory, “An African-American Odyssey through Multiple Surnames: Mortons, Tapps, and Englishes of Kansas and Missouri,” NGS Quarterly 85 (March 1997)25-38.
  • Curtis Brasfield, “Tracing Slave Ancestors: Batchelor, Bradley, Branch and Wright of Desha County, Arkansas,” NGS Quarterly 92 (March 2004): 6-30.
  • Ruth Randall, “An Interracial Suit for Inheritance: Clues to Probable Paternity for a Georgia Freedmen, Henry Clay Heard Sherman,” NGS Quarterly 89 (June 2001): 85-97.
  • Ruth Randall, “Family Lore and Effects of Slavery on the Black Psyche: Rosa Grammar’s Choice,” NGS Quarterly 97 (June 2009): 85-96
  • Gary B. Mills, “Can Researchers ‘Prove’ the ‘Unproveable’? A Selective Bibliography of Efforts to Genealogically Document Children of Master-Slave Relationships,” NGS Quarterly 89 (September 2001): 234-237.
  • Douglas Shipley, “Teaming Oral History with Documentary Research: The Enslaved Austins of Missouri’s Little Dixie,” NGS Quarterly 90 (June 2002): 111-135.
  • Del E. Jupiter, “Matilda Madrid: One Woman’s Tale of Bondage and Freedom,” NGS Quarterly 91 (March 2003): 41-59
  • Christopher A. Nordmann, “Jumping Over the Broomstick: Resources for Documenting Slave Marriages,” NGS Quarterly 91 (September 2003): 196-216.
  • Gary B. Mills, “Tracing Free People of Color in the Antebellum South: Methods, Sources and Perspectives,” NGS Quarterly 78 (December 1990): 262-278
  • Del E. Jupiter, “From Augustina to Ester: Analyzing a Slave Household for Child-Parent Relationships,” NGS Quarterly 85 (December 1997): 245-275.
  • Elizabeth Shown Mills, “Which Marie Louise is ‘Mariotte’? Sorting Slaves with Common Names,” NGS Quarterly 94 (September 2006): 183-204.
  • C. Bernard Ruffin III, “In Search of the Unappreciated Past: The Ruffin-Cornick Family of Virginia,” NGS Quarterly 81 (June 1993): 126-138.
  • Katherine E. Flynn, “Jane Johnson, Found! But Is She ‘Hannah Crafts’? The Search for the Author of The Bondwoman’s Narrative,” NGS Quarterly 90 (September 2002): 165-190.
  • Donna R. Mills, “Racheal ‘Fanny’ Devereaux/Martin of Alabama and Florida, A Free Woman of Color,” The American Genealogist 70 (January 1995): 37-41.
  • Ruth Randall, “A Family for Suzanne,” NGS Quarterly 95 (December 2007): 281-302
  • Cameron Allen, “Lucinda Depp and Her Descendants: A Freed Black Family of Virginia and Ohio,” The Genealogist 17 (Spring 2003): 3-36.
  • Johni Cerny, “From Maria to Bill Cosby: A Case Study in Tracing Black Slave Ancestry,” NGS Quarterly 75 (March 1987): 5-14.
  • Rachel Mills Lennon, “Mother, Thy Name is Mystery! Finding the Slave Who Bore Philomene Daurat,” NGS Quarterly 88 (September 2000): 201-224.
  • Elizabeth Shown Mills, “Documenting a Slave’s Birth, Parentage and Origins: Marie Therese Coincoin, 1742-1816: A Test of Oral History”, NGS Quarterly 96 (December 2008); 245-266.
  • Daniela Moneta, “Virginia Pughs and North Carolina Wests: A Genetic Link from Slavery in Kentucky,” NGS Quarterly 97 (September 2009): 179-194.

My favorites are the articles by Ruth Randall, Curtis Brasfield and any of the Mills clan. This list is by no means all-inclusive, and if you know about some I haven’t included but should, please do submit them via comments.

We should all be working towards the goal of possibly publishing our own research in one of these esteemed journals. That’s one of my personal goals.

Until then, happy reading, family!

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