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Julius Rosenwald

Julius Rosenwald

The Rosenwald Rural School Building Program was one of the most amazing things I discovered while on this genealogical journey. It perfectly illustrates how the efforts of a few visionary people can have results that positively affect hundreds of thousands. This should have been, and should be, in high school history textbooks everywhere.

Julius Rosenwald made a fortune as a former owner of Sears, Roebuck, and Company, and in the early 1910’s began a collaboration with Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee that eventually gave millions to building schools for black children across the South. By 1932, the “Rosenwald Fund” (as the program was called) had contributed to building almost 5,000 schools, teacher’s homes and shop buildings. It’s a remarkable accomplishment.

The program in most cases required the local black community to raise an amount equal to what the Fund would give, in addition to requiring local public funding. It is no small feat and deserves amplification that largely impoverished black people of the early 20th century were committed enough to education to raise the amounts of money they did. Our ancestors knew education was the key to future success.

Dunbar School

Dunbar School: My Grandmother attended this school

I have yet to meet an African-American genealogist who didn’t have a parent or grandparent who attended one of these schools. That means that we as their descendants are still reaping the benefits of schools that were built when local governments didn’t have the will or desire to do it themselves. I can remember early in my research wanting so badly to see these schools, most of which are no longer standing. I was fortunate enough to find photos of many of these schools at the Tennessee State Archives for ancestors in that state. However, resources online today have made researching this important part of our collective history just a little bit easier.

MD ancestors attended this school in Laytonsville

Some of my Maryland ancestors attended this school in Laytonsville

Fisk has a wonderful database of Rosenwald schools, searchable by county and state among other variables. Many (though not all) will pull up with pictures of the school, information about the funding, what year it was built, etc. The photos above are from that database, as you can see the Fisk watermark.

 The National Trust for Historic Preservation awarded Rosenwald schools its National Treasure status in 2011, which means these buildings have been identified as a critical part of the story of who we are and the Trust resources have coalesced around trying to save 100 of these schools. There is good historical information at their website including background on its origins at Tuskegee, building architectural plans, case studies and links to resources on how to get involved to save a school. The beautifully restored Highland School was preserved in Prince George’s County, MD, which is where I grew up.

The National Trust is offering $20,000 matching grants (deadline: April 15, 2013) to save and restore Rosenwald Schools. 2012 even saw the first National Rosenwald School Conference held at Tuskegee.

The Trust also offers  a very nice downloadable PDF pamphlet on their Rosenwald program. I also see that South Carolina has a Rosenwald school database.

The Jackson-Davis Collection contains over 6000 photographs of African-American schools, many of which are surely Rosenwald Schools. I particularly like this website because it shows teachers and students in addition to the buildings.

Someone just sent me this link to Rosenwald schools in North Carolina.

This is the kind of information we should include when writing up our family histories. These accomplishments are still relevant, as we continue to struggle today with educating our poorest and most disenfranchised. If you’re interested in reading more about this wonderful piece of history (which I hope you are) I recommend two books:

Julius Rosenwald: the Man who Built Sears, Roebuck and Advanced the Cause of Black Education in the South,” by Peter Ascoli.

You Need a Schoolhouse: Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald and the Building of Schools for the Segregated South,” by Stephanie Deutsch.

thecivilwarparlor.tumblr.com

thecivilwarparlor.tumblr.com

Everyone knows court records are my very favorite genealogical record, but a very close second are civil war pensions. The depositions from former slaves are one of the few places you’ll find first person accounts of their lives as enslaved people. So, anytime I go to the National Archives in DC, I spend most of my time pulling pension records. As we all know, applicants had to prove their marriages, children, birthdates, service, etc. and for many former slaves, this was a difficult task. Donald Shaffer’s excellent book Voices of Emancipation points out that black applicants had a higher rate of Special Investigations than did their white counterparts, which makes sense since they would not have had the types of “proof” that white and freed people had for many of these life events.

After surviving the process to get the much-needed pension money, some people had their good thing thwarted by those who “dropped dime” on them.

George Holt, later known as George Marsh served in Co. F, 14th Reg, USCT, and provided a deposition that would be solid gold for any of his descendants. Part of it says this:

“ When I was born, I was owned by Solomon Marsh of Dickson County, Tennessee. He also owned my father and mother and my seven brothers and seven sisters [wow!]. All my brothers and sisters are dead, except two: Abraham Marsh now living in Evansville, IN, and my sister Angeline Porter now living in Turnbull, Dickson County, Tenn. When I was a baby, I was given to Elias Holt of Dickson Cty, Tenn.…I was a slave of Elias Holt until the time I enlisted in the army…I served under the name George Holt because I was last owned by Elias Holt…most people now call me Marsh because my father’s name was Marsh.”

However, the local Postmaster Andrew Black attempted to “drop dime” as evidenced by two letters he wrote to the Pension Agent:

“..yesterday  I read to George Marsh alias George Holt his Pension Certificate..I was informed by several persons…that he never received the Gun shot wound in his left hip while in service to the U.S. …it could be proved that he received said gun shot wound at the hands of the husband of the wife with whom the said George Marsh was in criminal intimacy with. There is a fine respectable old colored lady in this vicinity who can tell of the circumstances. I considered it my duty as a Pensioner to give this information, and let the matter be investigated…As a favor, I wish my name not to be known in the matter, on account of personal and safety [sic] to property, at hands of either him or his colored friends.”

George Holt was receiving a pension as late as 1912, so it appears the Postmaster’s suspicions were uninformed, or at least, unproven. I think it’s funny how he stressed not to have his name used.

Reason Snowden served in Co. D, 30th Reg. of the USCT from Maryland. His wife Ann applied for a widow’s pension in 1878 and it was approved. Her application states that although she still had children at home under the age of 16 at the end of the war, that she never heard from her husband after 1864. The military determined that he had died.

But in 1894, Charles Sellman, of Poolesville, MD, “dropped dime” on Ann in his deposition:

“I am the person that informed a pension official about 3 or 4 weeks ago that there was a woman named Ann Snowden who was living in open adultery with a man by the name of Ewell, and still drawing a pension as Ann Snowden….she has been living with this man…for over 25 years. She has grown up children by this man. She has at least 8 children by this man Ewell. They have been living together as man and wife.”

C.V.  Morrison’s deposition supported these facts:

“I have known Mrs. Ann Snowden for about 7 years now. She lives with a person by the name of J. Wesley Ewell and has quite  number of children by said Ewell.”

Unfortunately, Ann Snowden’s pension status was revoked and the letter to her stated:

..you have violated the Act of Congress of August 7, 1882, having lived in open and notorious adulterous cohabitation with one Ewell since the passage of said law and since the death of your late husband…the penalty for which is the termination of your pension.”

It’s true that fraud was rampant in the pension system, and people had ample reason to manipulate the system for their benefit. Once again, more evidence that human nature essentially hasn’t changed, which is one of the reasons I love genealogy. There were always people ready and willing to snitch!

P.S. Check out Claire’s 2010 article on Civil War Pensions, and also see an article done by the author of Voices of Emancipation .
Dr. Bronson also has one of the best websites for understanding the various pension laws and their requirements–I especially like that he links to the actual statutes.

Mind of the Slaveowner

I gave a lecture last Saturday on researching the enslaved at the Montgomery County Historical Society. I had a great time. My relatives
seen in the picture that heads this blog are Prathers and they are from Montgomery County, Maryland. During the research for that lecture, I
reviewed some of my research and found new information as well.

I found a lot of Montgomery County Runaway Ads online through the Maryland State Archives’ Legacy of Slavery webpage. This database is jam packed. One night I stayed up until 1 am just looking at Runaway Ads, which I’ve discussed here before and have a particular fascination with. Here are some of my observations from perusing the various ads:

1) Slaveowners knew a surprising amount of information about their slaves’ families. These also speak to the extended kinship communities that slaves formed:

William Belt

William Belt

Robert Clagett

Robert Clagett

This one even names the slave’s father:

Roberts

Roberts

Some of the ads demonstrate that slaves had surnames they were known by, although certainly many didn’t print them in the ads. I think it’s interesting that they say “he calls himself”:

Basil Burgess

Basil Burgess

Richard Wms

Richard Wms

There are also common themes of the slaveowner’s belief that the escaped slaves were headed to Philadelphia and also that they were aided or had free papers from a free negro. Maryland had over 83, 000 freed blacks by 1860 and these show the slaveowners high level of distrust of them:

Nathan Magruder

Nathan Magruder

This one must have been the most popular slave in Maryland!:

Thomas

Thomas Rawlins

Evidence abounds of the violence slaveowners exerted to hold slavery in place. This man received a burn on his face “for his villainy”:

William

William

This one’s back is “very much cut for his rogueness”:

Sam Magruder

Sam Magruder

In this one (like the others), I felt myself rooting for the “gang of six.” They made it all the Pennsylvania, and the slaveholder derisively mentions the “abolition magistrate” that let them go:

Gang of Six

Gang of Six

Runaway Ads all by themselves explode several myths of the slaveowner’s mind, such as:

1) the slaves did not form the emotional attachments to their family in the same way that whites did. This was the one they often used to defend the buying and selling of human beings. If that were so, why is it that so many slaves escape and are headed back to their wives, parents, etc.?

2) that the natural state for negroes was slavery; they needed white caretakers; that they were happiest this way. If so, why do so many run away again and again, even when the odds were overwhelmingly against them? Why do they run away even when they already wore the marks of painful physical punishment?

I’ll end with one that took my breath away. It’s a little harder to read than the others, but it describes Susan, a runaway who was”far advanced in pregnancy”:

Thomas

Thomas

What must have happened to Susan to take off on a journey that would almost certainly fail, especially in her state? I imagine it must have been something horrific.

This was what slavery was everyday, and I never forget that.

My friend Aaron has made an incredible find that I wanted to share here because it is such a rarity. Many enslaved African-American women had children with white men, men whose names are sometimes passed down through oral history in the black family. But many times, only the knowledge of an “unknown white man” survives in the history.

Henry Dorsey

Henry Dorsey

Aaron’s ancestor in Texas was a man named Henry Dorsey, and Henry had 2 brothers named Texas and Richard Dorsey. The oral history gave their white father’s name as John  Dorsey, and John was living with the three brothers and their wives  in the 1880 census for Smith County, Texas:

1880Dorsey.jpg

1880 Smith Cty Texas

The amazing thing is that in John Dorsey’s will, probated in 1888, he named his three black sons and used strong language showing that he clearly had a close relationship with them:

 “It is my will …that whatever may remain [of my estate]…be equally and fairly divided between my beloved sons Henry Dorsey, Richard Dorsey, better known as Dick Dorsey, and Texas Dorsey, better known as Tex, these are three (colored) but bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh and my rightful heirs.” 

It is rare indeed to find direct evidence of a white man naming and claiming black children, and in Texas no less, in the 1880s! John apparently never married or had any white children, and he named his “best friend” as executor to carry out his wishes. His estate was valued at around $1000, and the fact that the brothers later pay the taxes on his land imply that the land was  indeed passed to the three sons. Here is one of the son’s death certificate where he names his father:

Texas Dorsey

Texas Dorsey

A later examination of the will of John Dorsey’s father, Benjamin Dorsey, reveals that the name of the enslaved mother of Henry (and his brothers) was the enslaved woman “Ann.” Aaron just added a 4th great grandparent to his tree, and is now tracing back through John’s roots in Georgia.

There are always surprises in store for us in this genealogical journey!

I recently updated my list of favorite posts, and it is located on the tab above entitled “Hot Posts.” I have broken the topics up by the areas of Methodology, Slave Research, and Records & Resources. I hope you’ll check out the list and let me know what were some of your favorite “Reclaiming Kin” posts. I invite you to explore the numerous other excellent African-American themed genealogy blogs I provide links to on the bottom right of the home page.

Also, one last call for the Advanced African-American Genealogy class I will be teaching that starts next week, Nov. 13 and runs every Tuesday night from 7-9 through Dec. 4 at Howard Community College, Gateway Campus in Columbia. In this class (aimed at the Intermediate or Advanced level researcher) I explain evidence evaluation and analysis, land, estate, and court records, slave research, cluster genealogy methods and more. If interested, you can sign up on the HCC website and register for the class. The class is a part of the Non-Credit courses, and has become something I really enjoy teaching. I’ve you’re in the local area and think you’re “stuck” in your research, do come out.

Lie To Me

Records lie to us. The very records we depend upon to reconstruct our families, lie all the time.

This 1900 census for my gggrandmother Hannah Harbor stated that she was widowed:

Hannah Harbor, 1900

But her former husband was alive and well; he had just left her for another woman. I guess I wouldn’t want to say that either.

This 1920 census  shows my ancestor Ada Seaman happily ensconced with her family:

Ada Seaman Family

But she had died in 1918. She could not have been in the household in the year 1920, unless they were living with her ghost:

Ada Seaman Death Cert

This Maryland ancestor remembered my gggrandmother’s name was Margaret (Simpson), wife of Levi:

Maria Howard Death Cert

Close. But it was Martha. Margaret was Martha’s stepmother.

Ferdinand Holt migrated to the great city of Indianapolis in the early 20th century. He filled out a World War II Draft card that proclaimed his birthdate:

Ferdinand Holt, WWII

But he wasn’t born in 1895. He was born in 1887. It was correct on his World War I Draft Card:

Ferdinand Holt, WWI Draft

Oddly, the actual day (Dec 6) stayed the same, even though the year changed by 8!

Records lie. Records manipulate and deceive. The only way to be sure that what we are recording is accurate is to correlate each piece of evidence and closely examine every document and rationally explain any conflicts. Every document has the potential to contain inaccurate information. Viewing records in isolation and accepting what they purport as true can’t be our practice.

I only show a few examples above, but those examples kept me going in the wrong direction for years.  It is only by researching many different document types (census, vital records, deed records, court records, military records, bible records, etc. etc.) that we can we begin to form an accurate picture of our ancestor’s lives and flesh out the data that is incorrect.

So, what documents have been lying to you?

In my class, I try to emphasize the importance of seeking original documents during our research. In this era of Ancestry.com and Familysearch.org, online transcriptions, indexes and databases are becoming accessible at a dizzying rate. While more access is always a good thing, sometimes what can be lost is the need to always view the original when we find evidence that appears promising.

Original documents can be hard to read. Transcribers do their best to interpret words, but we’re only human, and mistakes are plenty. My “Holt” ancestors are transcribed as “Halt”. Another thing is context. Someone wanting to create an alphabetized index to a set of records can inadvertently destroy our ability to get new evidence. For example, in alphabetized census records, we can’t see who the neighbors are anymore. Sometimes notes made in the margins of the original records aren’t included in the index. I’ve seen original Freedmen’s Bureau records that draw a semi-circle around names and indicate “wife and children”. I’ve seen original birth registers that note the child is “illegitimate”. We need all the clues we can get.

We must to be able to verify that the information we are receiving is accurate, and that can’t be done without seeing the original document.

To illustrate, I have a book of abstracts of Montgomery County, Maryland wills. While researching enslaved families, I found this entry for Rachel Magruder:

Will Abstract

A cursory look at this, with regard to slaves, could prompt one to conclude that Rachel did not own any slaves, since none are mentioned. But look at phrases from Rachel’s original will:

  • “…my negro man Hercules to be the property of my sister…”
  • “…my servant girl Helen to be the property of my mother-in-law…”
  • “…negroes Aria and Anna to go to Mira Magruder…”

Rachel Magruder did in fact own slaves. However, the book of abstracts does not abstract any of the slave data for any of the people in the book. A decision was made by the authors, for whatever reasons, to not include that data. Reviewing the original revealed important information.

That’s a simple example meant to demonstrate the point.

Always. Always. Always check the original.

P.S.–Elizabeth Shown Mills has a new website online, and her Quick Lessons should be required reading. Check them out when you have time if you haven’t already.

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