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Library of Congress, LC-USZC4-4574

Library of Congress, LC-USZC4-4574

One of the many reasons slaveowners conjured up to justify the buying and selling of people, especially when breaking up families, was that enslaved people did not form the same attachments to their children and spouses as whites did. Elizabeth Keckley was a former slave who later became famous as Mary Lincoln’s seamstress. In her autobiography, she recalled the

Keckley

Keckley

pain of her mother’s cries when her father was sold away. “Stop your nonsense,” her slaveowner’s wife said. “there is no necessity for you putting on airs. Your husband is not the only slave that has been sold from his family, and you are not the only one that has had to part. There are plenty more men about here, and if you want a husband so badly, stop your crying and go and find another.”

That same story of bitter parting can be found in most of the hundreds of narratives written by former slaves. Even slaveowner’s own runaway ads betray their rationale: frequent reference is made in those ads about the slave probably running away to where parents, children or siblings were. Slaveowners knew better.

Yet another sad part of the story is told in the ads placed in newspapers after emancipation by former slaves searching for spouses and children who were sold away. As the mother of a young child, I can’t imagine the horror of being torn away and literally never seeing that child again.

These ads can be found in African-American newspapers such as The Colored Tennessean, The Christian Recorder, The Appeal and others, though finding surviving copies can be a challenge. Many ads were placed in the earlier years after the war during reconstruction, but many people were still searching at the turn of the century. Almost 40 years later, they had still not given up hope of reuniting with their family. A 2012 book by historian Heather Williams called Help Me to Find My People: The African-American Search for Family Lost in Slavery discusses the topic.

The ads speak for themselves and for me, elicit a deep, deep sorrow, and a sense of the lingering pain and suffering that occurred long after the war was over.

Richmond Planet, August 1897

Richmond Planet, August 1897

The Appeal, August 1892

The Appeal, August 1892

The Atlanta Constitution, October 1892

The Atlanta Constitution, October 1892

The Appeal, August 1892

The Appeal, August 1892

The Times Picayune Sun,  January 1868

The Times Picayune Sun, January 1868

The Daily Standard, March 1867

The Daily Standard, March 1867

The Daily NewBernian, December 1880

The Daily NewBernian, December 1880

The Appeal, February 1891

The Appeal, February 1891

(As with anything on this blog, if you believe an image I post may relate to your family, please request via the comments and I will send you a source citation for the image.)

Pauline Waters

Pauline Waters

Yesterday would have been the 100th birthday of my grandmother Pauline Celeste Waters. She was born April 13th, 1915 in the sleepy town of Stillpond, Maryland. Her death in 1997 is actually what started my journey into my family history research. Like many beloved grandmothers, she had a tremendous impact on her family and friends. She attended Bennett College in North Carolina and later earned a master’s degree from New York University. She taught high school for over 40 years in Jacksonville, Florida.

What I remember most about her was how smart she was and how witty she was. She was tall and regal in her bearing, dignified and sure of herself. She was a strict disciplinarian who did not suffer fools lightly, both with her sons and with her students. She loved God and the Methodist Church, which is no surprise since she was the daughter of a Methodist minister. Her religious beliefs shaped her entire life. I don’t think you ever left a conversation with her without her talking about God or praying for somebody. She would just reach out and touch your forehead and start praying.

Everybody has memories of relatives like this. So I thought I’d provide here some examples of how I researched her life’s story in the hopes that it will give others ideas for doing the same. Happy 100th birthday, granma! We love, remember and cherish you.

Genealogical Research I Have Collected on Pauline’s Life:

1) Every census taken during her life, her two marriage certificates, and her death certificate.

2) Her college application from Bennett College. I also had her entered into a book written by Juanita Moss, a former “Bennett Belle”, and reading that book provided more insight into her experience there in the years 1931-1935. My grandmother was the first alumni student to serve on the Bennett Board of Trustees, and she was so proud of that.
Pf_Science3) Her bible which included the family tree, copies of some of her diplomas, and a cache of priceless letters she wrote to her son and to her husband before their marriage.

NYU_degree

3) The deed to the home in Jacksonville that she lived in when she married William Smith and had two sons. It was the house where William had himself been raised in.

4) William and Pauline eventually purchased a summer home on American Beach, the African-American beach. I have plenty of stories about their time there from my father, but I learned a lot about the history of not just Amerian Beach, but “black” beaches all over the country.

The Beachhouse

The Beachhouse

5) Pauline’s first job out of college was at the Boylan School, a private school for negro (as they were then called) girls run by the Methodist Church. It is that job that bought her to Jacksonville, where she would meet her husband and stay for 50 years. At an online database hosted by the State University of Florida, I found a program book for the Boylan School, dated 1932. Although it is from a few years before my grandmother taught there, I found it fascinating to get insight into what the school was like and what life was like for its teachers.

boylan

5) I found newspaper articles about the horrific lynching of Matthew Williams in Salisbury, MD in 1931. My grandmother’s family was still living there. Even though she had just left for college, I can only imagine the terror it struck in the whole community. The racial climate was so bad, the Eastern Shore earned the nickname “The Lynching Shore.” Sadly, I also discovered through newspaper articles that her half sister (by a previous wife of her father) was murdered and found in a white neighborhood.

lynching

6) I read  several terrific books that flesh out African-American life in Jacksonville during the 1940s through the 1970s, covering specifically the civil battles of the 1960s as well as Jim Crow in general. Several pictures of Pauline and her family were in the book of photographs below.

aalj

7) I collected interviews with her former students, her younger brother and her sons. The personal stories are simply the best. Of course, I have many photographs and I also have artifacts, like jewelry that she gave to me.

mama_teaching2

Lastly ( I could go on and on), I was fortunate that she wrote a book about her life. Many years later I got it published as a birthday present for my father. Needless to say, that has been priceless. In the book, she tells me her life story, even though I didn’t start my research until her death.

PAULINE_Cover

There have been a few times in the 18 years of my research that have truly taken my breath away. I just had another one. Recently, I was researching the possible owners of some former slaves from Dorchester County, Maryland. John Campbell Henry died in 1857, and as a former governor of Maryland, was a prominent person and an important planter. I’ve reviewed hundreds of inventories, but boy was there a big surprise in store for me.

I have never seen–and would bet that I never will again–an estate inventory that lists surnames for all the slaves. Slave surnames are always a topic of debate, and I’ve discussed them here before, but this is a powerful reminder that slaves had surnames, if only that by custom and practice they were not usually recorded by slaveowners. Although I’ve seen surnames attached to a few names in an estate inventory, never have I seen all the surnames recorded. Emotionally it hit me very powerfully; it was like a small admission of their humanity, which so much of slavery tried to destroy. These were people with families; not animals, not farm equipment, not silverware.

The inventory even provides some relationships, noting the mothers of some of the children, and noting some married couples. It is really quite an amazing document. Notice the number of different surnames; that speaks to the hodge-podge nature of enslaved people’s lives. They were bought and sold and inherited such that over time (with marriages) it was not uncommon to find groups enslaved together with many different surnames.

This is a one in a million document. Had more individuals charged with recording estate inventories taken this approach,  genealogical research would be so much easier for those of us researching enslaved ancestors.

(Note: I show only two of the three pages).

Inventory A

Inventory A

Inventory Page B

Inventory Page B

Although the web has certainly enabled me to find things I’m not sure I would have found otherwise, I’m clear that the bulk of records I need are not online and likely never will be. This blog’s title comes as I am in the process of a breakthrough on my Waters family, from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, a line I’ve had little new information on for many years. After 1880, my direct ancestors moved away from Somerset County, MD where they had lived since almost the turn of the century. Somerset County had many African-American Waters families comprising at least three, maybe more, different family lines. They frequently named their children Mary, Sarah, John, George, Samuel, etc. so I simply did not have enough information to track them. I pick back up when the line moved forward in time to my great-grandfather, Daniel George Waters, but that left a gaping hole in the generation of his father Samuel.

I recently uncovered a death certificate for one of Samuel’s brothers, George Leslie Waters, who had migrated to Coatesville, Chester County Pennsylvania where he died in 1938. I found this by putting in a birthplace of “Maryland” and a “Father’s” name as Daniel Waters, and leaving the first name and surname fields blank. That’s a great technique to use when you are trying to find where children of an ancestor might have gone:

George Waters DC

George Waters DC

I quickly found he and wife Sadie in the census. What I needed next was his obituary, which would hopefully name surviving family members. For that, I almost always first turn to local genealogical and historical societies (and local libraries). A little research online led me to the Chester County Historical Society:

Chester County HS Webpage

Chester County HS Webpage

A quick email request was all it took before they responded that they had found George’s obituary. I sent in a $25 research gratuity, and within a few weeks, I had what I needed and more. They had done a quick look into their other records and found a subsequent remarriage of George’s spouse, as well as an entry from the local city directory noting George’s occupation as a barber:

George's Obituary

George’s Obituary

That obituary revealed one surviving sibling: Annie Henry, living in Dorchester County, Maryland. I quickly found her and her husband Nehemiah on the 1900-1940 census records in the county as well as multiple deed records for property they owned. Not only would I have not known to look in Dorchester County, I didn’t even know he had a sister named Annie, because she is not in the family’s 1880 census household. She was probably born in the first few years of the 1880s, and fell into what I called the Donut Hole — the 20 year 1880-1900 census gap.

Unfortunately, neither of these couples appear to have had any children, but the reference to nieces and nephews in George’s obituary implies that he had other siblings who had children. After I find Annie Henry’s date of death, I will try to find her obituary.

Another recent example of this is the lovely folks over at the Lawrence County Genealogical Society in Lawrence County, Tennessee. After realizing that three headstones at Find-A-Grave of some collateral ancestors had the same date of death, I realized that some accident must have occurred. Kathy and Lashawn quickly uncovered an article in the paper about the sad accident, scanned it in and sent it to me:

House Fire

House Fire

Many of these societies frequently have vital record and/or obituary indexes, in particularly for deaths in the 20th century. For small donations, many can answer brief questions and provide just the little bit of evidence needed to take your research to the next level. I have often paid local researchers if I needed more extensive research done in locations I can’t get to myself.

While researching your families, don’t neglect to take advantage of the wonderful collections, indexes and resources of the local genealogical and historical societies and local libraries. This is what they do. I hope you will look back over your research and look for opportunities to contact some of these groups and advance your research.

Unk13The World War I draft registration is one of the earliest records I remember writing to the Atlanta National Archives to order. Their easy access on Ancestry.com today, along with part of the draft registration for World War II, remain some of the best resources for our research. They are especially helpful for the men born in the late 1870s or 1880s, as the lack of a 1890 census record makes that 20-year-gap hard to cross.

It’s important to read all of the data that Ancestry.com offers on each of its databases. That gives us the necessary information we will need to evaluate the evidence and we miss clues when we don’t know as much as we can about Ancestry’s source for each record. The records they have may be incomplete, or missing certain states or years. Both draft databases have important information we need to understand. For example, the World War I draft cards are pulled from three separate sets of registration, and each card was slightly different. There are blank examples of each card on Ancestry. This was the first registration card which asked 12 questions:

Blank First Draft

Blank First Draft

Be aware of the cards you have for your family and which registration it came from. Two big differences in the 3 sets of registration cards is that the 1st set does not request names of dependents, while the other two ask the names of the nearest relative, and the 3rd set does not ask for the place of birth while the others do. Also notice that for all African-American applicants, the left corner of the 1st draft card above was to be torn. Oh, the ugly vestiges of segregation.

I have also noticed as I have been analyzing many of these draft cards that there are quite a few men with discrepancies in their birthdates. Now, these cards are original records with primary information–the person filling out the card is getting the information from the applicant sitting in front of him. While most of the discrepancies are a year or two, some are  four or five years, and I’ve seen an 8-year difference. Two examples are shown below (both WWI and II cards are combined in the pictures):

Clagett

Mathews, 4 year difference

Mathews, 4 year difference

And while we might expect the birthdates to make the person too young or too old to be drafted, the cards don’t always show that to be the case. Some of the discrepancies are probably just memory and others may be just that having to know one’s exact birthdate was really a new phenomena predicated by the new Social Security program.

Now, you need to know that for the World War II draft, only one set of the four draft cards are publicly available. And, unfortunately cards for the states below were destroyed before being microfilmed:

  • Alabama
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Kentucky
  • Mississippi
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee

But, if you are lucky enough to have ancestors in the other states, they are a rich source. They specifically ask for middle names, which is helpful when people use both their first and middle names on various documents. Hamilton Riggs, shown on the 1900 census below, was revealed to be “William Hamilton Riggs” on his draft card:

1900 Hamilton Riggs

1900 Hamilton Riggs

Hamilton

Finally, I’m always interested in social history and since these cards capture migrations, I like to plug my research county in the “born” search box, and find out where people migrated and what kind of jobs they got. Here is an image from an article I wrote mapping migrations from Hardin County, Tennessee in the World War II draft cards:

Migrations

Migrations

I hope this post has given you new ways to use this resource, and as always, remember to correlate these with all of the other evidence you’ve gathered to verify accuracy.

Emancipation Celebration

Emancipation Celebration

Familysearch quietly released three more sets of Freedmens Bureau Field Office records: Kentucky, Georgia, and this month Louisiana. Now, all southern state’s FB records are online, free for viewing! That is : Alabama, Arkansas, Washington, D.C., Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Delaware, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Sign in at Familysearch.org, click on “Browse the records,” and then type in the word “Freedmen” in the search box and the links for each state will appear. I cannot state enough how valuable these records are for African-American research during the period of Reconstruction. Alot could and did happen in the chaos of those 5 years between the end of the war and 1870.

Because they are mostly unpaged and unindexed, these records are one of the few large collections that remain mostly untapped by genealogists. The fact that you can now sit home, in the comfort of your pajamas, at midnight, and walk page by page through these records is astounding. I urge everyone to read some of the material about how to use these records and to get started. I did a post in 2012 on getting started, Angela Walton-Raji has set up a new website with resources here, and one of my favorite National Archives finding aids on the records can be viewed here.

They are still what I call “needle in the haystack” records, but when you do find something on your family, it tends to be a very big needle. Just as important as information on individuals, are the many letters and reports that detail what is going on in the community. The building of churches and schools, crimes, and descriptions of the economic and racial climate provide the important social history that can add meat to the bones of our family research. For example, the Superintendent of the Rockville Freedmens Bureau, where my relatives lived,  had this to say about the community in 1867:

The difficulties encountered in obtaining justice for the Freedmen are those incident to the opposition of a large majority of the community as well as to that of all the civil officers of the county (with the exception of two magistrates) who will do no more for the Freedmen than they are forced to, and that with a very bad grace, they also use their influence to dissuade Freedmen from prosecuting cases against white men and endeavor to counteract my influence with them—intimidation and misrepresentation are resorted to by the people to prevent Freedmen from bringing their complaints to this office, and where complaints have already been entered, to prevent them from testifying.

Here are a few more samples of the riches waiting for use in these records:

In the Washington, D.C. marriage records, which is Roll 12, you find beautifully written registers of marriage, many from Virginia and Maryland couples. D.C. was inundated with escaped slaves during the war. The registers contain lots of information on each couple.

Register Clipping

Register Clipping

In addition to noting where the couple had come from, what year they were married and by whom, and number of children, this registrar wrote interesting little notes such as,

“Grantlin is very intelligent and industrious, and his children can read well.”
“Smith is a Baptist minister, Is intelligent and industrious. Owns house and lot.”
“Roswell is a Plasterer. Has steady employment and good wages.”

Some of the comments weren’t very flattering, such as:

“This man is sad to be very abusive to his wife.”

One couple was described as “A rather worthless couple.” That really makes you wonder about what behavior elicited that comment!

Another amazing notation was this one: “Scott was separated from his first wife 22 years ago, and having heard from her lately, wishes to leave the present one and live with the first, by whom he has several grown children, but none by the last.”

First wife

First wife

This cold weather gives us the perfect excuse to start digging through these records! Please write back here in the comments and tell me if you’re found any interesting information on your ancestors in the Freedmen’s Bureau records.

On another note, my “Advanced African-American Genealogy” class at Howard Community College in Columbia, MD starts on February 17 and runs for 4 weeks, one night a week, from 7-9pm. The class is $89. I hope those in the local metro area who are at least “intermediate” level researchers will come and join us. I discuss primarily how to evaluate the evidence you’ve collected, how to ease into source citations, and I discuss research techniques such as Cluster Research. I also talk about slave research. You can find out more information about how to register at their website. The class is listed on page 45 and is class number: XE 131 6554, #3651. Please register immediately if you can, as they tend to cancel these classes quickly if they don’t have their minimum numbers! I look forward to meeting you and hope I can help you get further along in your research.

Remembering Jim Crow

Before I start my post, I have a challenge I’d like to make to my readers. Plan to write a 2-3 page article of one of your family lines, and submit it for publication to that county’s genealogical journal or newsletter. Not enough of us are getting our research out there, and a local genealogical journal is a great place to start. They usually don’t have stringent source citation rules and you can include a bibliography of the sources you consulted at the end of the article. Reread some of my past ideas for writing here and here. Other bloggers have also recently posted about this topic that you can read at The Armchair Genealogist, and at Genealogy’s Star and one at Family HIstory Writing Challenge. Don’t wait until you “finish” your research, because you’ll never be finished! Make 2015 the year you start. Linda Crichlow published her mother’s memoirs, and I have to recommend it to you all as a beautiful example of a published family history. You can purchase “Back Then, There” from her website. Getting our research out there by publishing is one way to ensure it will survive for our own descendants to find. On to my post’s topic—I just finished reading the book Remembering Jim Crow, published in 2001. For those researching African-Americans, a lot of our efforts are eventually spent in the complexity of slavery, but I think we all need to pay better attention to the era of segregation. Most of us still remember this era or have parents alive who do. Reading the stories in this compilation, which included audio tapes, was heartbreaking for me. This was a caste system, and in many ways, being born black defined your place in the system. Richard Wright wrote a powerful piece abut his experiences with Jim Crow. I recently saw the film “Selma,” and cried nonstop through the film.

Separate Fountains

Separate Fountains

My father, who grew up in Jacksonville, Florida shared his recollections of Jim Crow with me during several interviews. “Jacksonville was a big city, and of course we lived on the East Side, in a black neighborhood. We never really encountered white people unless we had to go downtown.” He discussed how it didn’t seem odd or strange because that’s just how it always was. The year my father left Florida to attend Howard University, the city erupted in violent racial protests and riots, marked today with a historical marker. My father remembers leaving his father’s downtown pharmacy during the start of the riots, only to encounter an angry white policeman who barked at him to go home. Which of course, he did. But there were also many wonderful stories. My father shared precious memories of his segregated Matthew W. Gilbert Junior-Senior High School, school of the legendary Pro Football Hall of Famer, Bob Hayes. The bonds of friendship formed there are close to this day. He told me about the segregated beach where my grandparents owned a summer home, American Beach; it was a storied place of refuge for blacks of the era, who were shut out of other beaches and pools.

Smiths at American Beach beach house

Smiths at American Beach beach house

My mother on the other hand, had a very different experience. Her parents migrated from Tennessee when she was three years old to Dayton, Ohio. There was no de facto segregation in Ohio, so all of my mother’s school years were integrated and her Dayton neighborhood was one of blacks and mostly Eastern Europeans. Have you written down your recollections of this painful and shameful period of our history? Have you interviewed your parents and siblings and other relatives about their specific memories of school integration, Jim Crow laws and how it affected their lives? This is likely to be a topic that we can collect and record lots of memories for our descendants who like myself, were born after the worst of these times was over. I discovered that there was a horrific lynching in Salisbury, Maryland in 1931, where my paternal grandmother lived at the time, and I wish I had asked her about what that was like.

Another thing that I think about as I look at census records from 1900, 1910, 1920, etc. is how the vast majority of black people were relegated to the hardest, dirtiest, lowest paying jobs. Men were either farmers, laborers, janitors, drivers or factory workers with just a handful able to become skilled workers or businessmen, doctors or teachers. Women were maids and cooks and laundresses; a choice few became teachers or nurses. In other words, you were absolutely limited for the most part in what you could reasonably aspire to be if you were black. I can’t imagine that, thankfully in my own lifetime, living now in a country with a black President.

I have noticed also that the experiences differ depending on where people lived. Big cities were different from rural areas, like where my maternal grandmother grew up in Tennessee. They worked in concert with their white neighbors farming, although Jim Crow laws certainly applied when they went into the city. Some of the people I interviewed had relatively peaceful experiences with school integration, unlike what happened in places like Little Rock or Mississippi. Places that had larger populations of  black people tended to be the most committed to separation of the races, which makes sense in that the white community was more fearful and more likely to enforce the existing social structure.

Birmingham, 1963

Birmingham, 1963

Include interviews with local whites if you can. I like to ask them what their experience was, what their feelings were as children seeing all of this, how it affected them growing up, etc. Whites who joined in the battle to secure civil rights for black people earn some of my highest regard. They could see our shared humanity, even in the midst of all the hatred.

Rich resources exist for researching this painful period. Here are a few:

1) The excellent documentary  “The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow”

2) Duke University’s powerful collection of oral histories of Jim Crow, called “Behind the Veil”

3) the University of Virginia contains links to similar databases

4) You Tube Video on Jim Crow Remembrances

5) The Jim Crow museum at Ferris University is a must-see full of painful remainders

6) “Living with Jim Crow: African-American Women and Memories of the Segregated South,” by Ann Valk and Leslie Brown

7) Michelle Alexander has a powerful book called “The New Jim Crow

8) Examples of Jim Crow laws can be found at: the National Park Service  the Smithsonian’s Brown v. Board exhibit  American Radio Works

9) The Southern Poverty Law Center has a resource on Teaching Tolerance

10) A brief history can be found at the Library of Congress on Jim Crow

The struggles continue as Ferguson and other recent events teach us. I hope that we can all learn the lessons of the past, and approach each other with more love, compassion and understanding.

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