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Archive for the ‘Records and Resources’ Category

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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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.


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I posted marriages from the Freedmen’s Bureau records of Wayne County, TN on Giving Back to Kin.

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j0439262I enjoy sharing resources I love with other genealogists. Today I want to share the possibilities for genealogical research that are buried in theses and dissertations.

When I am reading a historical book or article, I tend to notice the footnotes first. I’m looking to see if there are any resources for that subject or location that I have missed, and in general I’m just curious as to what sources the author is using. Think about it: Ph. D students are master researchers. Their resulting theses and dissertations can be a boon for genealogical research. Other than pointing the way to missed or hidden resources, I like the fact that many of them give social context to understanding the lives and times my ancestors lived in. After all, one of my biggest passions is trying to encourage us all to step away from digging awhile in order to actually write up a narrative on your family lineages (fully sourced of course). Once we’ve gotten the names/dates/places, many of us are stuck about how to craft an interesting story. Theses and dissertations are just one more way to find that kind of information.

The great news is that the Internet now provides instant access to many of these documents, particularly for the last 5 years or so. In fact, many universities now mandate that these works be submitted electronically. Here are just a few examples of some of these websites:

Even better, is the Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations which compiles a listing from many schools.

As an example of using this type of resource, let me walk through the University of Maryland (UM) link shown first above. The homepage tells you that there is a link containing theses and dissertations from 1997, but that link is restricted to only University of Maryland staff, students & faculty. However, their “DRUM” database is publicly accessible and contains full text downloadable documents dating from 2003. So we click on that link.

Then, I like to find the link that allows me to browse by department or category—for the UM site, that’s available from the link on the left that says “Browse by Communities and Collections.” I do this because remember, a college has all kinds of theses and dissertations (engineering school, divinity school, etc.), but I’m primarily interested in ones done by the History Department or perhaps those in Sociology, or even Political Science. Those are typically in the College of Arts and Humanities. Once the list pulls up, I click on “History Theses and Dissertations” and it allows me to do a search.

I search for keywords like slave, slavery, African-American, blacks, etc. but I also search for the county or city I’m interested in, and anything else I can think of. Be creative. Part of my family research is in Maryland so I’m generally interested in the experience of blacks throughout the state, and in a few counties specifically. Look at some of the documents I found at the UM site using some of these search terms:

  • “‘There Slavery Cannot Dwell': Agriculture and Labor in Northern Maryland, 1790-1860″, by Max L. Grivno (this one actually has very detailed information about slavery in Frederick and Washington counties)
  • “A Tradition of Struggle: Preserving Sites of Significance to African American History in Prince George’s County, Maryland, 1969-2007“, by Courtney Elizabeth Michael (this was especially interesting to me since I grew up in PG County)
  • “Capital Constructions: Race and the Reimagining of Washington, D.C.’s Local History in the Twentieth Century”, by Megan Elizabeth Harris

Look at these titles from Pennsylvania State University:

  • “Black East St. Louis: Politics and Economy in a Border City, 1860-1945”, by Charles L. Lumpkins
  • “On the Edge of Freedom: The Fugitive Slave Issue in South Central Pennsylvania, 1820-1870″, by David Grant Smith

Isn’t this wonderful? And get this: most are available immediately as downloadable PDF documents!

If you haven’t tried this research avenue yet, give it a shot. A couple of things to remember:

  • Check elite ivy-league schools, large state schools and smaller local colleges, but don’t forget Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) which may have a higher proportion of theses and dissertations with emphasis on African-American history
  • Many sites won’t allow full access to all theses & dissertations; portions may be restricted, but ALL should be available in hardcopy at that institution if you live nearby and really want to take a look. Also, I found that some universities seem to have third-party relationships with Proquest/UMI Databases to handle this function, and some of those I couldn’t access.
  • Think in broad terms. We want to understand our ancestors lives from the 1700s (and before, if possible) right up until today, so a dissertation about the lives of blacks in your city in the 1960s is going to be just as meaningful from a story-telling perspective as an article about freed blacks in the 1850s in your city.
  • Although I recommend starting in the History department, don’t think good information can’t be found in other departments. At the University of TN, I found one called :“The Health Status of Early 20th Century Blacks from Providence Baptist Church Cemetery in Shelby County, Tennessee”by Rebecca J. Wilson. She was getting her Masters in Anthropology!
  • I’m sure I don’t need to state the obvious, but of course, be mindful of plagiarism and copyright issues as you utilize information found in theses and dissertations.
  • I always like to send the authors a brief email if possible letting them know how useful their theses or dissertation was for me.
  • Remember, many of the dissertations are easily 500 pages, so don’t plan on printing them out unless you have plenty of paper! I typically will zero in on the Abstract and any sections that are especially relevant, including of course the footnotes.

I’d love to hear back from you if you found something useful using this process. Good luck!

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I am in Raleigh, North Carolina at the NGS Annual Conference and I am having a ball. Great classes so far, and I’ve got a huge “to do” list of research for when I get back home. Carole and I have such a good time at these conferences.

I thought I’d still post a lesson I learned many years ago, because I think it’s something a lot of people don’t think of. My grandmother, Pauline, attended Bennett College. She loved Bennett and talked about it all the time. Her father was a Methodist minister and Methodism shaped much of her life, so a Methodist College was completely in order. At some point years ago, I decided to write to Bennett to see if they had any of her records. They had everything! They wouldn’t release her grades (I wasn’t interested in those anyway) but they sent me her original application from 1931!

How cool is that? Another page listed her hobbies and extracurricular Bennett Applicationactivities…I would have never guessed my grandmother played soccer. So if your ancestor went to college, write to the school to see if they still have any records left. This worked even better for my grandfather who attended a year at Howard…they sent me everything on him, and it was alot.

Want to know what my favorite part of the application was? A picture from her senior year, that of course no one in my family had ever seen:

Pauline at Bennett

WOW. I can almost see her walking across that campus, taking her classes, making friends.

Pauline was a teacher, and her first job out of Bennett was at the Boylan School in Jacksonville, Florida. Boylan was a Methodist (of course) private school for negro girls. I found a website called the Florida Memory Project and downloaded a brochure from the Boylan School just a few years before Pauline would have taught there. It had all sorts of details like what classes the girls would take, how much it cost, and what kinds of clothes they had to bring. That was a nice find.  Of course the best thing for Pauline about it was that she met her husband at Boylan and spent much of the next 50+ plus years in Jacksonville. I hope you’ve enjoyed this example of just one more way to bring your family history to life!

Boylan School

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j0426054I’m always on the lookout for great websites I can utilize in my genealogy research. I found this one several months ago and I’ve started sharing it with all my genealogy friends. It is truly INCREDIBLE. It’s Cornell University’s Guide to African American Documentary Sources. Go diggin’ around in these and you’re bound to find something. It hasn’t been updated in awhile, but there are lots of jewels here. Send me an email if you found something useful.

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Sometimes I have two or three days where I am on a research high..there is no other phrase to really describe it. One day last week I went to the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis. I talked and laughed with my cousin Chris who works there, then I made copies of the agricultural and social statistics census records for several counties in Maryland. If you haven’t utilized the non-population census records, you’ll want to. These will really help to put flesh on the bones of your ancestors when you write your family history, as they say. I found one that showed my ancestor’s farm raised honeybees and sold honey. I wouldn’t ever have thought that. The social statistics don’t have individual names but give a snapshot of the entire community. In one community, I saw where they had few schools or newspapers, but over 20 churches. That gives you some insight into what was important in people’s lives at  a certain point in time.

But the centerpiece of my trip that day was looking at Slave Tax Assessments for Montgomery County, MD. I am lucky (at least in this case) that this county has these records for 1851-1864. And the beauty of them is that they list slave names and ages, by slaveowner. I live and breathe for records that actually name slaves..the revealing of those upon whose backs so much pain was inflicted still gives me chills. They are so often voiceless, and I think of this pursuit as trying to give them back that voice.

I correlated these tax assessments with:

I used all of these together and got a pretty good picture of the slaveowner’s family on this line: Nathan Cook. He enslaved my great-great-great grandfather  Rezin Prather of Montgomery County, MD. In fact, this exercise gives me a good picture of many of the slaveowners in that county. I’m going to try to get it written up in some fashion to share it with others who may researching slave ancestry in the county.

The very next day I went to the Montgomery County Historical Society, which is hands-down the best I’ve ever been to. The staff is knowledgeable and friendly (sadly, everyone I encounter while researching is not friendly) and their resources are endless. I finally joined the Society..I wanted to support them since they have helped me so much. I copied family files and obituaries and maps and tons of books unavailable anywhere else. I found a book on the community of Goshen that had an entire chapter on “Prathertown”, an area of Montgomery County founded by members of the Prather Family. A historical marker was placed at the site in a public ceremony in 2003. The photo in the header on this blog are many of Rezin Prather’s descendants.

prathertown

All this good information in two days. Nothing but a “genealogy high”.

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