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Archive for the ‘Records and Resources’ Category

I’ve always known that maps are an underused but vital part of genealogy research. I think the difficulty in finding them and correlating them contributes to this for most people. Recently, I had an example where maps helped me to better understand connections between enslaved ancestors.

My Prather family is from Montgomery County, Maryland and I have been studying them alot recently, trying to make sense of the mountains of data I have acquired so I can finally write this line up properly. One thing I’ve learned (the hard way)and believe is that even though most of us spend years gathering data, the real rewards come when you spend MORE time analyzing and assessing what you have. That is a skill that improves the more you read case studies, especially the ones in peer-reviewed journals like NGS Quarterly which I’m a big fan of. I can’t tell you how many things I realized I already had the answers to, once I sit my tail down
and actually look at things. It also helps to have new and fresh eyes look at your research which is why it helps to have good genealogy buddies.

I went off on another tangent which I am prone to do, but back to maps & my Prather family. Montgomery County has a few unique records that help to uncover enslaved ancestors. Maryland ended slavery in 1864, and in 1867, slaveowners were hoping to be reimbursed for those slaves the way that D.C. paid slaveowners. That didn’t happen, but the counties compiled
a record of slaves that each slaveowner owned back in 1864. These are great records because they list surnames and ages of slaves, and also note which ones had “run off” to the military.

Two other records that were priceless were a series of tax records in Montgomery County that named slaves along with their ages from 1853-1864 (not every year), and the D.C. Emancipation records I mentioned above included many Montgomery County families who were hiring out their slaves in D.C. In the D.C. records, the slaveowner had to note how he got title to the slave and you can see all the many ways that happened. (Those records are now on Ancestry).

I said all that to say, I finally found slaveowners of several family members & related families, but I really couldn’t get a feel for why they were spread out amongst so many different people until I looked at an 1865 and an 1866 map of the area. My ancestor Levi and his probable brother Wesley were owned by Dorothy Williams. Dorothy was the former Dorothy Belt who married Walter Williams. When she became elderly, her son James Williams is shown as owner of her slaves.

I’ve spoken of Levi’s father Rezin Prather in another post, but he turned out to be owned by Nathan Cook. Nathan had inherited Rezin from his wife who was a member of the Magruder family. I’m still not exactly sure who owned Levi’s wife
Martha Simpson, but I am leaning towards the Griffith family. The Blunt family owned the wife and children of another Prather (probable) brother, Tobias. When I looked at the 1865/1866 maps shortly, you can see “James Williams” and “N Cook” (Cooke) live in close proximity. Also nearby are the Belt,Griffith and Magruder families, and the Blunts are to the far left of the map. Now it all made more sense.

1865 Map

This speaks to the prevalance of slaves living in “abroad” families, i.e., forming kinship relationships amongst slaves living on nearby farms. A great book about this is “Joining Places: Slave Neighborhoods in the Old South” by Anthony Kay.

After slavery, a deed showed the sale of land from former slave Vachel Duffy to a group of trustees to build Brooke Grove Methodist Church, where my ancestors worshipped and were buried for decades. Those trustees included Levi and Wesley Prather, Wesley Randolph, John Ross,and  later Rezin Prather & others. The 1880 census shows these men living in close proximity, and the 1879 map also shows Duffy, Resin Prather (“R. Prater”)and Wesley Randolph (“W. Randolph), along with the church (“Brooke Ch”). Vachel Duffy’s name is mistakenly rendered as “Rachel Duffy”.

1879 Map

 Two of the maps I purchased from the Montgomery County Historical Society and another I bought for $35 online at a historic map company because I wanted a large full size one. I see the Maryland State Archives map collection has several in the 20th century I’d like to look at to see if I can better locate the old family house, which is no longer standing.

Have you had any luck with maps in your research yet?

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I’ve been given some gifts lately by the genealogy spirits. I think they are designed to gently ease me back into the fray after my maternity break of several months. This is another really good one.

I have made many connections over the years with relatives, as we discover we are both researching the same family or community. Last year, I spoke with a new cousin named Jahrod and we found we traced back to the same roots in Somerset County, Maryland. Recently, he shared with me an apparently new link that has recently been made available online. It’s a part of the Maryland Historical Trust, and it is an Inventory of Historic Properties in the state. It’s a beautifully designed website but the data is the true goldmine: all the original applications from historic places in Maryland have all been uploaded and are available to the public! Why did he send me this? I was up until 2:00AM. Trust me, when you have a new baby, that is NOT what you need to be doing..LOL. This is the homepage:

You can search by county, address, property or do a simple text search. Since I have two major ancestral counties in Maryland (Somerset and Montgomery) I was just in hog heaven.This is the search screen:

The beauty of these files is that many of them have pictures of the properties, which may not be standing today. There is good genealogical information as many have a chain of title for the deeds to the properties listed, maps showing specific locations, as well as a brief historical background. The quality of each application varies according to who filled it out. Some were sparse, and some ran more than 50 pages.

The jewel for Jahrod and I was that the entire community in Somerset County where our ancestors lived, which is called “Upper Hill”, was designated a historic site! Using these files, it is possible to recreate the entire neighborhood from right around the turn of the century. These forms were completed in the 1970s. One application mentioned one of my brickwall ancestors, the Rev. Daniel James Waters. He apparently owned land in Somerset County when he died intestate in Delaware in 1899. The land was awarded by circuit court decree to another man named John Waters. I have just ordered a copy of the court case, hoping that it will illuminate some relationship between the two men. I haven’t had a new breakthrough on this line in years.

The community of Upper Hill used to be referred to in the early 19th century as “Freetown”. This is likely a nod to the fact that the area was populated mostly by freed blacks, many of whom carried the surname Waters. The white Waters family was a large, multi-generational slaveowning family. A few members were Quakers and freed slaves in the early 1800s, including my ancestor Joshua Waters, who was the father of Daniel James Waters.

This database also had a large file on one of the houses of the slaveowning Waters family that is still standing. Lots of terrific history in that file. My friend Aaron over at In Honor of Our Ancestors told me last year that he found a file on the slaveowning family in a historical trust database. So I did a short walk around the web trying to see if a resource like this exists for other states. Pennsylvania, Texas, Ohio and Arkansas are just a few of the states that seem to have similar databases online. Here are some links you can explore at your leisure (especially the 2nd link):

The National Register for Historic Places (NRHP) has started to digitize their over 80,000 files
Their site also had a terrific link to other states’ inventories that may be online (GREAT list)

Virginia has a 72 page PDF file of its list of properties and the files themselves are available to view at the Library of Virginia. For Virginia, also check here.

North Carolina simply had a list of historical preservation links, may be something hidden here.
Same for South Carolina.
Every resource counts. In my case, this one gave me a significant lead on a brickwall ancestors as well as provided lots of good historical information for my various write-ups. Please email me if you search and are able to find something significant in these records!

 

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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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