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Archive for the ‘General Research’ Category

I have been having some tremendous breakthroughs in this past year. I am grateful for that. With every new name, a piece of me and and my history slides into place. Into memory.

It is a rule of thumb in good genealogy practice to pull every record related to an ancestor, to perform “exhaustive research” in the language of the Genealogical Proof Standard. This discovery illustrates the value of that principal. This discovery was made even sweeter by the fact that it was so unexpected.

My search for my great-grandmother Matilda’s roots has gone full steam ahead this year and last. Matilda married four times but only appears on the census with one husband, and she gets married in at least three different cities so cracking that case was probably one of the hardest things I have ever done in my family research. I found her marriage dates in online indexes and databases so, as part of my due diligence, I began the necessary task of ordering the actual marriage records and death records of her husbands from the proper state and county offices. As the records came in, I scanned them and put them in the proper folders. I wasn’t expecting to find anything new.

From Matilda’s death certificate, “VINEY NEELY” was listed as her mother, no name of father.

From Matilda’s first marriage record, her surname is given as “MATILDA MEELY.”  Neither of those names enabled me to find Matilda as a child in her parent’s household in 1880. I had her back to the 1900 census, but she was already on husband number two. I also checked “VIRGINIA NEELY” thinking Viney might be short for that. Those nicknames will get you every time.

A few weeks ago, I received a copy of Matilda’s marriage record from Philadelphia to husband number three, Peter Vickers. Now keep in mind, only her first husband is my actual ancestor. To my surprise, the record included a copy of the marriage application, and Philadelphia, at that time, was one of the places that asked people the names of their parents, where they were from, and whether they were alive. It’s hard to read, but her father’s name was given as “CHARLES” (no surname) and her mother’s name was “LAVINA NELLIE” (Viney was short for Lavina!):

Matilda's Parents

Matilda’s Parents

Now that I had the correct names of her parents, I finally, 15 years later, was able to locate Matilda NEELY living  in Taylor County, Florida with her father “CHARLES NEELY” on the 1880 census! His wife’s name in 1880 is shown as “NETTA” (maybe another wife? or is Lavina’s name just mangled?) and there is MATILDA, 8 years old, right where she should be. Charles Nealy is also in the county in 1870 before Matilda’s birth, but the mother’s name is a closer match and shown as “NELVINA”:

1870 Charles Neely

1870 Charles Neely

1880 Charles Nealy

1880 Charles Nealy

This was so exciting!!!! I have siblings for Matilda I can now go on a crazy manhunt to find and I can also start the tough work of uncovering the likely enslaved roots of Charles and Lavina. I guess I have just added another 10 years of research to my life;)

If this doesn’t illustrate why we need to pull every marriage record, even those for other spouses, I don’t know what would. The names are all over the place, but THIS IS HER. Another branch back on my tree;)

P.S.—Now I want to know if I am related to the Neelys on the cooking show, so I can get some discount barbeque!

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I enjoyed those who shared their family artifacts- they were all wonderful! Because I loved this topic so much, I’ve got to post just a few more of my current favorites.

My dad attended Howard University and for awhile wrote a column in the school paper, The Hilltop. It’s pretty cool to read his columns and get a peek into the twenty-something mind that would later become my daddy. He was also the school photographer, his lifelong love of photography starting in high school in Jacksonville, Florida (Shameless plug: see some of his gorgeous pictures at his website):

Howard Today

Howard Today

My Daddy

My Daddy

My grandmother saved lots of cool memorabilia about her sons. Among the papers were my dad’s high school baccalaureate (try to spell that):

1960

1960

Also, here are a few more great items from my Tennessee branch. This appears to be a daily work log, of picking cotton, probably in the 1930’s or 1940’s. The whole community is involved:

Work Log

Work Log

Postcards surprised me with how well-traveled my ancestors were:

Postcard

Postcard

Postcard Back

Postcard Back

This 1925 document shows that George Holt was well read, subscribing to a popular Tennessee state paper, The Weekly Commercial Appeal:

Newspaper

Newspaper

This amazing clip shows part of a log kept in the year 1885, and provides an interesting peep at how much things cost and what kinds of things our ancestors purchased (as well as how important store credit and accounts were):

Store Account

Store Account

My maternal great-grandfather, Walter Springer, was given this award while working at the Wolf Creek Ordnance Plant in Milan, TN. This plant was apart of the whole military buildup before and during World War II that gave many of our African-American ancestors factory jobs making decent wages (while they still experienced discrimination and usually had the worst factory jobs):

Walter Springer

Walter Springer

Always be on the lookout for these unique treasures and what stories they tell about your family.

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beatrice_chair_fixed

Beatrice Prather

When I refer to an artifact, I am referring primarily to those items passed down within our families, or items we’ve dug up from family members during our quest.  Pictures are one kind of course, and family bibles, military papers, marriage and birth certificates, letters, deeds, and even quilts are things commonly found within families. I wanted to post some of the items I have gathered, both old and older, and show how each has expanded my understanding of my family and the communities in which they lived. The artifacts tell their own stories, and we should use them in the writing of our histories alongside the census and other records that we uncover. In many ways these are even more valuable because many of these can’t be found in public records or archives.

I’ve got a silver necklace my paternal grandmother gave me when I was probably about 16 (thank God I didn’t lose it). It had belonged to her mother Beatrice Prather and it came with a note that reminded me that it “was pure silver, and don’t be too proud when you wear it”;). Beatrice was an extremely well-educated woman to have been black (negro or colored in her era to be more accurate) and born in Maryland in 1888. I have several of her diplomas, including this one from Armstrong Manual Training School in Washington D.C. in 1910:
armstrong

The Armstrong school itself tells part of the story of black life in and around Washington D.C. at the turn of the century. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places and graduated luminaries like Duke Ellington and Billy Eckstein.

My great-grandmother Beatrice was an educator, and also later a nurse and a beautician. I have a paper she wrote on “Negroes of Interest Born in the State of Maryland”:

Paper

Paper

Beatrice even wrote her own obituary (and yes, it was used):

Obituary

Obituary

In Tennessee, my maternal grandfather Luther Holt was a proud Union member and leader. I have his lifetime membership card from Local 801 International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers, and my mom told me he was thrilled when Richard Nixon wrote him a letter congratulating him on his role in a crucial Union vote. I was excited recently to find a collection of the records of this local union at Wright State University along with a very concise introduction to its history. My grandfather was a retired Frigidaire worker, and when he retired he got more involved with the work of the union. I thought about granddaddy alot  during the recent Presidential elections and the debates about collective bargaining and the “battleground” states of Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Luther Holt

Luther Holt

Union Card

Union Card

Letter

Letter

My granddaddy also was an accomplished carpenter and woodworker who could build or fix anything. He made treasured handcarved gifts for his 3 daughters and his only granddaughter at the time (that would be me;)). This is a photo of the beautiful sewing box he made for my mom:

Sewing Box

Sewing Box

A cousin in Tennessee had some of the most amazing artifacts that his father, George W. Holt, had saved from his father and grandfather. These include receipts for paying the poll tax, one of the most pervasive tools in the Southern States used to disenfranchise black people and poor white people:

Poll Tax Receipt

Poll Tax Receipt

He also had a copy of his membership card in the Prince Hall Grand Lodge, popular in the black community especially in the 20th century:

Lodge Card

Lodge Card

There was also a receipt indicating payment of tuition for his 5 children in 1923 (although I wish the school was named):

Tuition Receipt

Tuition Receipt

George Holt’s records also contained a letter from “The Inter-Racial League of Tennessee,” addressed to Prof. Joe White from R.E. Clay illustrating the political prowess used to get a new school built in the community for black folks in the 1920’s. Interestingly enough, R.E. Clay was Robert E. Clay who led the Rosenwald School Fund in Tennessee, which is the very last topic I blogged about.:

League Letter

League Letter

 

 

 

All of these records speak to a family (the Holts) that was well-educated, landowning and upwardly mobile to say the least. That isn’t the case for all my lines; every one is different of course.

When I got the idea for this post, I didn’t realize how many terrific artifacts I’ve collected over the years regarding my family, so I’ll close now and leave more for ‘Part 2′. In the meantime, tell me about what artifacts you’ve found and what did they tell you about your family’s life?

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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.

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My friend Marion is teaching a free class this Saturday at the Kensington branch of the Family History Center. Anyone who is in the local MD/DC/VA area should take the time to see this presentation. I blogged about her book awhile ago, and I’ll toot her horn a little to say her book was a finalist in the 2012 National Indie Book Awards in the African-American Non-Fiction category.

Her’s her description and more info on the class:
Description
Learn how you can take an active role in preserving the history of the communities where your ancestors lived. The class is taught by Marion Woodfork Simmons, a family and community historian who self-published the book Memories of Union High:  An Oasis in Caroline County, Virginia 1903-1969.  She will use her experience to provide tools, tips and resources to empower ordinary people to research, document and preserve local history.

What You Will Learn:
1. How to select a topic.
2. Resources and repositories to use when performing research.
3. How to analyze and verify information.
4. Various methods for documenting local history.
5. Where to donate historically significant items.

The class is FREE but you must register.
For further information and registration, please email info@wdcfhc.org or call 301-587-0042.

“Preserving Local History”
Date:   Saturday, June 16, 2012
Time:  9:30 – 10:30 am
 Location:   
Washington DC Family History Center
10000 Stoneybrook Drive
Kensington, MD 20895

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I’ve always known that maps are an underused but vital part of genealogy research. I think the difficulty in finding them and correlating them contributes to this for most people. Recently, I had an example where maps helped me to better understand connections between enslaved ancestors.

My Prather family is from Montgomery County, Maryland and I have been studying them alot recently, trying to make sense of the mountains of data I have acquired so I can finally write this line up properly. One thing I’ve learned (the hard way)and believe is that even though most of us spend years gathering data, the real rewards come when you spend MORE time analyzing and assessing what you have. That is a skill that improves the more you read case studies, especially the ones in peer-reviewed journals like NGS Quarterly which I’m a big fan of. I can’t tell you how many things I realized I already had the answers to, once I sit my tail down
and actually look at things. It also helps to have new and fresh eyes look at your research which is why it helps to have good genealogy buddies.

I went off on another tangent which I am prone to do, but back to maps & my Prather family. Montgomery County has a few unique records that help to uncover enslaved ancestors. Maryland ended slavery in 1864, and in 1867, slaveowners were hoping to be reimbursed for those slaves the way that D.C. paid slaveowners. That didn’t happen, but the counties compiled
a record of slaves that each slaveowner owned back in 1864. These are great records because they list surnames and ages of slaves, and also note which ones had “run off” to the military.

Two other records that were priceless were a series of tax records in Montgomery County that named slaves along with their ages from 1853-1864 (not every year), and the D.C. Emancipation records I mentioned above included many Montgomery County families who were hiring out their slaves in D.C. In the D.C. records, the slaveowner had to note how he got title to the slave and you can see all the many ways that happened. (Those records are now on Ancestry).

I said all that to say, I finally found slaveowners of several family members & related families, but I really couldn’t get a feel for why they were spread out amongst so many different people until I looked at an 1865 and an 1866 map of the area. My ancestor Levi and his probable brother Wesley were owned by Dorothy Williams. Dorothy was the former Dorothy Belt who married Walter Williams. When she became elderly, her son James Williams is shown as owner of her slaves.

I’ve spoken of Levi’s father Rezin Prather in another post, but he turned out to be owned by Nathan Cook. Nathan had inherited Rezin from his wife who was a member of the Magruder family. I’m still not exactly sure who owned Levi’s wife
Martha Simpson, but I am leaning towards the Griffith family. The Blunt family owned the wife and children of another Prather (probable) brother, Tobias. When I looked at the 1865/1866 maps shortly, you can see “James Williams” and “N Cook” (Cooke) live in close proximity. Also nearby are the Belt,Griffith and Magruder families, and the Blunts are to the far left of the map. Now it all made more sense.

1865 Map

This speaks to the prevalance of slaves living in “abroad” families, i.e., forming kinship relationships amongst slaves living on nearby farms. A great book about this is “Joining Places: Slave Neighborhoods in the Old South” by Anthony Kay.

After slavery, a deed showed the sale of land from former slave Vachel Duffy to a group of trustees to build Brooke Grove Methodist Church, where my ancestors worshipped and were buried for decades. Those trustees included Levi and Wesley Prather, Wesley Randolph, John Ross,and  later Rezin Prather & others. The 1880 census shows these men living in close proximity, and the 1879 map also shows Duffy, Resin Prather (“R. Prater”)and Wesley Randolph (“W. Randolph), along with the church (“Brooke Ch”). Vachel Duffy’s name is mistakenly rendered as “Rachel Duffy”.

1879 Map

 Two of the maps I purchased from the Montgomery County Historical Society and another I bought for $35 online at a historic map company because I wanted a large full size one. I see the Maryland State Archives map collection has several in the 20th century I’d like to look at to see if I can better locate the old family house, which is no longer standing.

Have you had any luck with maps in your research yet?

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Recently, I solved a genealogical mystery that I’d had for many, many years. As fellow genealogists, you can imagine how immensely satisfying this was. The solution utilized many tools, but black newspapers and the ease with which we can now search some of them deserves the biggest praise for solving the puzzle. My friend Tim Pinnick, who offers a class in newspapers at Family Tree University and a free e-newsletter, has been preaching and teaching about black newspapers for years.  He has even written a book on the topic, which I would highly recommend for your personal library.

The puzzle starts in Hardin County, TN, where one branch of my research is centered. The 1880 census showed two black men named “James Holt”, around the same age. One was living with his brother, one was newly married and living with his wife. For years I thought they were the same man, and the census taker had made an error. Only through deed records did I realize they were different men. The marriage of the 2nd James was not shown in marriage records, but his wife is listed in the land records when he is selling land, thus delineating him from the other James, who had a different wife at the same time. To further confuse—the 2nd James married the sister of the wife of the 1st James. But I digress.


About 4 years ago, I found this 2nd James living in Obion County, TN in 1900. I was pretty sure it was the same man (his kids had names like Phlenarie, Ferdinand & Ollie), but he had a different wife (Alora). His occupation was listed as a minister. And that’s where my trail ran cold—again. I simply could never find him again and realized he was probably moving a lot with the church. This is the 1900 entry for him & his family:


A family relative had saved oral history, pictures & other memorabilia with regard to this family. One photo showed a well-dressed black couple labeled “Mr. and Mrs. George and Ollie Knucklis.”

A separate postcard was addressed to “Aunt Nannie” and was signed Ollie. Perhaps this Ollie was the daughter of James Holt listed in the 1900 census? That hunch turned out to be right. The photographer’s studio from the picture was located in Chattanooga. It is there in 1930, and 1910 that I found the couple living. However, in 1920 I found them in Indianapolis, IN (Ollie was misspelled as Dollie). Hmm.

I used the Indiana records at Familysearch.org (marriage & death) to try to look for Ollie or any of her siblings in Indianapolis & I found a Ferdinand Holt who looked promising as her brother. Ancestry had indexed the Indianapolis Star newspaper, and a search in that paper turned up a court case (my specialty) between George & Ollie Knucklis. James Holt was listed next to Ollie’s name—could that be her father? It had not occurred to me to look for him in Indianapolis. I don’t know why–I suppose I was focused on the children by now.

A census search for him found a James Holt, born in TN, living in Indianapolis in 1920 & 1930 but the wife is different (now Harriet) and his occupation is lawyer. Well, this couldn’t be the man I was looking for—he was a minister after all…right? Short answer, of course it was him. My GenealogyBank subscription finally got put to good use, and I searched the black newspaper The Indianapolis Freemen which is archived on the site. Searching James Holt (and later J.M. Holt) turned up numerous articles on this popular, politically active man. I learned that he had been a prominent minister—then went to law school at Central in Louisville & became a lawyer! A profile in the paper even turned up a picture of him—genealogy solid gold:

Articles described his ministry in other states (he was all over the place) including his stint in Jacksonville, FL which is where he was in the 1910 census. I was able to eventually find his subsequent marriages and also his death certificate in Indianapolis. The marriage record for his son Ferdinand made everything conclusive when it noted his parents were James Holt and Mintha Barnes. Wow.

Part of what also helped is simply growing in my analytical skills over the years. I don’t think I could have solved this five years ago. I wrote up a five-page PDF file of this research and my approach to solving it, if you’re interested email me and I’ll send you a copy.

This is the part of genealogy that just makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up! The story the newspapers outlined about this James Holt—the son of an enslaved woman—was fascinating. Without the Indianapolis Freemen newspaper, I would never have realized this was the same person…there were just too many changes.  Just another chapter I have reclaimed from the annals of our precious often-times lost history.

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