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Archive for the ‘Records and Resources’ Category

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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