Archive for the ‘Book and Movie Recommendations’ Category

We love genealogy. We spend years and years researching in every direction. We go to conferences and lectures, we read books, and we develop a network of genealogy buddies to discuss every tidbit of information. We collect marriage licenses and deeds, wills and inventories, pictures and other data. So the question is—when you’re gone, what is going to happen to all that valuable research? Will anybody else know about it? Not if you don’t take some time out to focus on the importance of writing up your research and sharing it.

I know how hard it is to break out of the “research” addiction to spend time actually writing. Many people are intimidated, and feel that they can’t write, or simply don’t know where to start. I think the first step is to truly understand the monumental importance of doing it. I’m sure most of us are doing genealogy because we have deep-rooted beliefs about why families need to know from whence they came. However, your research will only be able to achieve that purpose if it survives outside of your mind and file cabinets. We want the fruits of our research to survive us, and the best way to accomplish that is to write up and submit your research.

The hard part is knowing just where to stop—we often feel like we don’t have enough information yet. We’re always looking for just a little bit more. But if we stick to that, we may never get started writing. As a general rule, I like to tell people after two years of research to stop and write up what you have. You can always publish addendums later.

What form should your write-up take? You can do an article. This is one of my favorite formats because then you can submit it for publication in the local genealogy newsletter, and it now has another chance of surviving you. Also, I have found family members really respond well to articles. You can add even pictures to the narrative, and they work well as hand-outs for family reunions. I have done a write-up for each of my family lines, and yes, some are more complete than others but I want what I have done to be known. You could also plan to do an entire book about all of your research. Many have taken this route, and in the age of the internet, it’s easier than ever. Websites such as Lulu.com and Scribd.com make it easy to submit your book for others to either simply download, or for a paperback or hardback to be published and sent.

How do you get started? Several good books have been published on how to write-up your family history and make it interesting and I include a few titles at the end of this article. There is also software available, such as Personal Historian, if you think you’ll need a bit more guidance. I like to study how others have written up their narratives, and take hints and clues from them. For example, the National Genealogical Society (NGS) holds a Family History Writing contest every year. I like to make copies of the winning articles and study them for ideas. Also, getting together on a regular basis with others with the goal of writing is a terrific way to stay motivated.

Whatever your method, the critical thing to do is just get started. You don’t need to be Toni Morrison or Richard Wright; you’re trying to convey and share all the hard work you’ve put into this research. Another huge benefit to writing up your research in this way is that it shows you clearly where you have gaps and missing information. Doing this has pointed me to new research avenues many times. Another point to remember is that you want to fully source cite all of your information. If you don’t include where you got the information in your write-up, it’s virtually useless. Elizabeth Shown Mill’s book “Evidence Explained” is the bible for genealogy source citations and should be right by your side as you write.

Once you have it written, be sure to get it out there to the public. I suggest submitting a copy to: the library system of your research county, the State Archives, the local historical society, and the Library of Congress’ Genealogy and Local History Division. All of these places take genealogies from the public. This will all lead to the greater likelihood that long after your time here has passed, your descendants will find your research and send up thanks to great-great grandmother/father so-and-so for caring enough to preserve and write the family history!

Note: If anyone wants an example of an article I did for one branch of my family, do email me at msualumni33 [at] verizon [dot] net.

Book Suggestions:

  1. “You Can Write Your Family History”, by Sharon Carmack
  2. “Writing Family History and Memoirs”, by Kirk Polking
  3. “Writing Your Family History: A Practical Guide”, by Deborah Cass
  4. “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Your Family History”, by Lynda Stephenson

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Men of Color, To Arms!

My cousin, David Briddell, and Dr. Clara Small just finished and published the wonderful 300+ page book, “Men of Color, To Arms!“.  This book details manumitted slaves and freed blacks from the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland (Worcester and Somerset Counties) who served in the Civil War. This compilation is truly a gem, and represents years of research by the authors. I love to see and promote books like this.

Numerous primary sources were utilized  including Maryland Adjutant General’s records, U.S. Treasury Bounty Rolls, land, probate and court records, U.S. Colored Troops slave rolls and oral history interviews. There are newspaper recruitment ads in the book, maps,  photographs and articles on relevant topics such as Selling Slaves in Princess Anne, MD. Many times, for former slaves, the name of the former owner is revealed within the records.

David Briddell and I met online, right at the beginning of my genealogy journey many years ago. We soon discovered that his gg- grandmother Harriett Waters and my ggg-grandfather Daniel Waters were siblings. We have kept in contact ever since.  I do hope those researching in these areas will pick it up….you will not be disappointed! I hope some of us continue this tradition and publish more records for and about African-Americans.

If interested, you can purchase this book from Arcadia Publishers.

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slaveerysouthI just discovered another terrific resource, and you know I believe in sharing. The book shown at right, “Slavery in the South”, by Clayton Jewett and John Allen, was originally conceived as a textbook for seniors and college students working in the subject area. But it turns out to be a dream resource for African-American genealogists.

The book gives a history and timeline for each state, of slavery. I just purchased the book, and I am profoundly impressed. Each section provides that state’s unique history, including their laws re: slavery and freed blacks–that is such a critical piece of understanding your ancestor’s lives. It includes plenty of primary material from the enslaved, and I think the inclusion of that (as opposed to material created and written by slaveowners) is what pushes this book into the ‘exceptional’ category. Each section includes a bibliography, and there are a good dose of statistics (for example, numbers of slaves at various times) and Appendixes provide additional contextual information. Although this book was not conceived for genealogists, to have all this information in one place is quite phenomenal. Great information to add to the write-up of your family’s story.

The book is not cheap ( I bought a used one for $60) but GoogleBooks has it, and if you do an internet search, you could always just copy the information for your state of interest. That’s how I found out about it. But you know me–I’m always looking to add to my genealogy library;)

Check it out, family.

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This is one of my favorite all-time family history related movies. It’s called “Down in the Delta” and was released in 1998 and directed by Maya Angelou. It’s about a woman named Rosa Lynn, living in Chicago, who sends her troubled daughter Loretta and her grandchildren down to her family home in rural Mississippi. What follows is the best of family movies, a tender tale showing how the love of family can heal the deepest of wounds. There’s a terrific segment about the family’s enslaved roots and I found as a genealogist that this film particularly touched me. Please rent it if you haven’t yet. And tell me what you thought!

more about “Down in The Delta“, posted with vodpod

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I have been intrigued lately with the topic of runaway slaves. I research the Prather family in Montgomery County, Maryland and recently discovered that one of the Prathers I am tracking ran away and was picked up in DC in 1858. I guess that started it all. I pulled out my copy of “Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation” by John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger, which is probably the most complete study to date. I also purchased a book recently called “Blacks Who Stole Themselves” (what a great title, right?) that I first saw at the Library of Congress. This book features advertisements from the Pennsylvania Gazette for runaways from 1728-1790. Many of the runaways are from Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey & Virginia. I have a good friend who has a doctorate in African-American History and we talk alot about this. He opened my eyes one day–we were talking about Lincoln “freeing” the slaves. And he said to me, “NO, the slaves freed themselves. They ran away in such large numbers during the Civil War that they forced the issue to be confronted.” I was (and still am) fascinated by this perspective.

I keep thinking about what it must have been like to run away and have no concept of where to go. No maps. To risk your life over and over again (many of the runaways have a history of running away). To go into the woods with your baby. To leave your children. To not be able to read or write, or have anything else  than the knowledge that you were born free and have a right to freedom, and will do anything to attain it. I wonder constantly if I could have done that. I think about how awful it must have been.  I don’t know how they survived. Nothing but the grace of God.

As I read over these runaway ads (which are a terrific source for finding slaveholders) I want to share some of the things that stood out to me. In general, in each ad,  there is a listing of where, when and who they ran away from,the slave’s age and name, a detailed description of their clothing, usually comments about their personality, physical looks and perhaps occupation. The ads are very telling on several levels, especially the view of the slaveholder or white majority society’s impression of blacks/slaves. Here’s a list of things and specific ads that resonated with me:

  • the large number of runaways who are described as having what are likely African  or African-inspired markings: holes in their ears and noses, scars on their faces and foreheads
  • the description of many that are “new to this country”, “country-born”, “lately arrived from Barbados”(or Angola, or Guinea, or Dominica) and many who  ” do not speak English”
  • many are described as “Spanish negroes” or “Spanish mulattoes”
  • the description of their personalities as: cunning, sly, complaisant, sour, impudent, bold, artful, smooth-tongued, surly, sour, sensible, talkative, shy, well-spoken, lusty (what in the world does that mean?)
  • many are described as having “been much cut” on their backs, by “often whipping”
  • some ran away in groups of 2-5 people, comprised of women and men, sometimes even with white indentured servants
  • several ads discuss the runaway having Indian blood, one even saying “he can talk Indian very well”.
  • many of the ads mention the slaves having brass or pewter buckles on their shoes, which I assume would have stood out because that was a rare commodity
  • several of the slaves could read and write, and the ads talked about how they are “pretending to be free” ,”will pretend to be searching for a master”,  “is almost white”, and could easily “write themselves a pass”
  • the fear of freed blacks (particularly in Philadelphia) is evident in that many ads purport that the runaway is “being hidden by freed blacks
  • “’tis’ supposed he is being harbored by some base white woman, as he has contracted intimacies with several of that sort”
  • “the said negroe is named Jupiter, but it is thought he may likely call himself by his negroe name, which is Mueyon, or Omtee”
  • “he is a short, thick fellow, limps with his right knee, and one of his buttocks is bigger than the other” (I’m just trying to picture that;))

There are a few websites which have undertaken the goal of documenting runaway slave ads. There’s Maryland’s Underground Railroad website, which includes runaway ads, and the University of Virginia’s project. There’s also a site for Baltimore County, MD and The Geography of Virginia website. Check them out if you get a chance. My friend Michael Hait did a good article on the genealogical value of runaway slave ads awhile ago.  I love this short article at Yale University about analyzing runaway slave ads, which was really interesting.

Let me know your thoughts, family, if you found any relatives you are researching in runaway ads, or if you just found something interesting worth sharing.

I am so proud of the fact that slaves constantly resisted the system of slavery, with dedication and perseverance. I dedicate this post to a slave who ran away in 1759: “…a negro man named Caesar, he has both his legs cutoff and walks on his knees.”

Can you imagine? That one took my breath away. Caesar demanded his freedom so badly he would run way with no legs. Simply astounding.

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One of the best books I’ve read this year was called “Slavery By Any Other Name: The Re-Enslavement of Blacks in America from the Civil War through World War II” by Douglas Blackmon. The book focuses on the convict labor system that developed in the South and the author brilliantly crafts the book around specific examples. It’s a part of history I knew little, if anything about. It will enlighten you on the times our ancestors in 1900, 1910, 1920, etc. suffered under especially if they were indigent. It’s good background for writing your family history especially if your family lived in one of the areas where this ran rampant (Alabama was one). I found a terrific 2-part DemocracyNow! interview with the author that I am posting below. His discussions about the Chattahootchie(sp?) Brick Yard outside Atlanta, the banking system’s complicity, and World War II putting an end to most of it are intriguing. (There’s about a 1:15 minute photo/song montage at the beginning, then the interview will start.)

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Everyone knows how much I love Annette Gordon-Reed and her award winning book on the Hemingses. I recently found a video of her speech at Monticello about the book, and it was incredible. It’s lengthy–there are 7 segments, but I watched every one. Although I had previously posted a link to the videos, the owner has decided to disable the embedment option. I do hope you will go to YouTube, put in “Annette Gordon-Reed” and take a look anyway.

Postscript: I was thrilled and excited to recently to meet and get to hear Mrs. Gordon-Reed talk about her book in D.C. at the Politics and Prose bookstore.

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