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Sometimes it can seem as if there is a civil war going on in the genealogical community. After we start researching our families, at some point we hear about the necessity of source citations. Once we figure out exactly what they are, and we see a few, some of us think, “That looks complicated. I don’t have time to do all that.” Or we know we need to do them, and just never get around to it. Or we actually don’t understand how to create them. Or people disagree on the format. Some think it’s just for those “high and mighty” oh-so-serious researchers. When someone asks where we got a piece of information, we think saying “the 1930 census” should be sufficient. We honestly believe we will be able to remember where we got everything. We don’t foresee the paper (and now electronic) chaos of five or ten years later down the road.

Then one day, it happens to us: We see a death date we have recorded in Family Tree Maker for Uncle Bob and honestly have no idea where we got it from. We check a record at a library only to realize we’ve already checked that record. Oh dear.

My first few years of research were indeed spent in the fog of not knowing about and not understanding source citations. Critical pieces of my early research have incomplete or missing sources.

Let me give just one very simple example of how understanding source citations allow for better research analysis and conclusions. I use this example in my class to illustrate the value of citations as well as the importance of examining original sources.

This is a source citation to the marriage of my 3rd great-grandfather, whose full name is Baltimore Merriman:

“Tennessee State Marriages, 1780-2002,” database and images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry/search/: accessed 4 May 2011) entry for Batty Merryman, 24 January 1868, Spokane; citing “Tennessee State Marriages, 1780-2002, microfilm, Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville.”

The citation above makes it clear that the document was reviewed from a database on Ancestry. Shown below is the image itself (I have clipped just my ancestor’s info):

Merriman Part 1

Merriman Part 1

Part 2

Part 2

 The transcriber has recorded the couple’s names as “Batty Merryman” and “Martha Barb.” But I’ve learned to be a diligent researcher. When inspecting the actual image, the first name “Martha” cannot actually be seen, nor can any of her surname. You can sort of make out the “M” but not anything else. Clearly there is water damage in the image, but the transcribed marriage date itself appears to be accurate (2nd image above). But I’m certainly not going to use this unknown transcriber’s interpretation of Baltimore’s wife’s name when I can’t see it myself.

Now, let’s look at another source citation for the same information–the marriage of Baltimore Merriman:

Hardin County, Tennessee, Marriage Records, Vol 1: 106, Balty Merryman to Martha Bailey, 24 January 1868; County Clerk’s Office, Savannah.

This citation tells me the information came from the Hardin County, Tennessee courthouse. And take a look at that image:

Baltimore Merriman Marriage

Baltimore Merriman Marriage

Getting to the original source now reveals the surname of my 3rd great-grandmother: Martha Bailey.

This is one small example of the power of source citations when you understand to use and read them accurately. You will know where that information came from and you can then try to find other places or sources (or just a clearer copy) for the information.

Three of my top reasons to diligently cite our sources:

1) We (and others) need to know exactly what sources we are basing our research on, and where we got those sources from.

2) We want to draw the most accurate conclusions, which can only be judged from the breadth, depth and accuracy of our sources.

3) We often invest decades of our lives to this quest; we want our life’s work to be considered credible.

Elizabeth Shown Mills’ book Evidence Explained (and website) is the Bible for creating genealogical source citations for good reason. Not only is it organized beautifully into categories of sources, Ms. Mills meticulously and clearly explains the why, what and how for each and every kind of source. I also highly recommend visiting the website above; she hosts a forum where genealogists answer questions about source citations, which I have made use of many times.

My personal process is to record all of the information needed for a proper source citation as I am researching. Usually every few months or so, I write-up the research on that line or person or whatever I was researching, and I have Ms. Mills’ book beside me. I turn each and every fact I uncovered into a proper source citation.

It takes a lot of time to do citations. But the payoff is incredible, and well-worth it.

P.S.: I wrote about this subject back in 2009 and that post is still a good read.

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As I have researched more and more enslaved ancestors, I have become more immersed in researching slavery itself. I have a friend who is a Ph.D. and professor of African-American studies and he has really helped me understand the history in a different way. We’ve clocked tens of hours of conversation about the institution of slavery.

Although what genealogists do is similar, it’s also quite different from what professional historians do. We are more interested in the individuals and the specific while they tend to focus more on trends among larger groups of people. The difference in those perspectives fascinate me.

I wanted to present a short overview of some of the most famous works in the evolution of slavery studies and I highly encourage anyone researching enslaved people to read some (at least one) of these works. I haven’t gotten through them all but I’m working on it!

“American Negro Slavery” by Ulrich Phillips, 1918

Typical of the times, Ulrich’s racism was front and center. He believed in the inferiority of blacks and the fantasy of the “Old South.” He wrote that slavery was not a financially profitable institution and that it was done mainly to benefit blacks and maintain white supremacy. He wrote that slaveowners treated, fed and clothed their slaves well. Amazingly, this was the prevailing view of slavery for almost 30 years although W.E.B. DuBois vocally challenged his findings.

“The Peculiar Institution” by Kenneth M. Stampp, 1956

Stampp, in this groundbreaking work, was the first to counter Ulrich Phillips’ school of thought in several areas. He showed that slavery was not benign but a cruel and brutal system of labor exploitation and control. He argued that slavery was indeed a profitable system. He illustrated the extreme suffering of slaves and he also discussed the many methods of slave resistance. Stampp also discussed how becoming a slave owner was a part of a social system which allowed whites to enter the upper class and gain status in the community.

“Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life” by Stanley Elkins, 1959

Elkins was the first historian to look at the psychological impact of slavery rather than just the economics of it. He compared southern slave plantations to Nazi concentration camps and argued that slavery was so brutal and inhumane that it stripped slaves of their African heritage (i.e., they had a “social death”) and transformed them into docile, submissive figures. His most famous thesis was his conclusion that the system of slavery had infantilized slaves, making them “Sambos”—reduced them by brutality to a dependant, child-like status. Although many of his arguments have now been rejected, this single book caused a firestorm and a huge outpouring of responses by other historians.

“The Slave Community” by John Blassingame, 1972

Blassingame presented one of the first slave studies to be presented from the perspective of the enslaved and contradicted historians like Elkins and his “Sambo” thesis.  Through the lens of psychology, Blassingame used 19th century fugitive slave narratives as sources to determine that in fact, a rich and unique culture developed among American slaves, with plenty of evidence that African practices survived. Historians criticized Blassingame’s use of slave narratives (which are considered biased) and questioned his neglect of the WPA slave interviews but the book remains an important contribution.

“Roll Jordan Roll: The World the Slaves Made,” by Eugene Genovese 1974

Eugene D. Genovese was a Marxist and this book attempts to decipher, from a Marxist perspective, the world of antebellum slavery. Genovese’s thesis is that slaves created a rich culture, at once both African-American and uniquely southern. He raised some new arguments and presented a truly dizzying array of footnotes and examples. Sometimes he can lose the reader with his ruminations on social theory, but this is an engaging read nevertheless, from one of the most enigmatic and controversial American historians.

“The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750-1925” by Herbert Gutman, 1976

In this classic text on black family life, Gutman argues that slavery did not break up the black family, which had become a familiar refrain as a result of the 1970s “Moynihan Report.”  Gutman was a labor historian who studied workers and social history. Gutman illustrates that that most black families largely remained intact despite slavery and remained that way during the first wave of migration to the North after the Civil War (although he remained open to arguments about black family collapse in the 1930s and 1940s). Gutman’s work was widely praised.

I could go on and on, and mention works by Deborah Gray White on enslaved women (“Ar’n’t I a Woman? Female Slaves in the Plantation South”) works by Ira Berlin (“Many Thousands Gone”) and John Hope Franklin (“Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation”). There are more than I could ever review here, but I hope if you have not yet thought about reading one of these works you will.

The stories of the people we uncover need to be woven with social history, and perhaps nothing looms larger and more complex than slavery. Pick up some of these at the local library or used book store and shoot me an email and let me know what you’re reading.

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For those doing African-American research, antebellum estate inventories are a common resource used to find enslaved ancestors. But we should also get into the habit of looking at the other items on that inventory list, that help us visualize not just the slaveowner’s life, but also our ancestors. Even after the Civil War, scrutinizing our ancestor’s inventories can often provide those interesting little details to make a family history come alive.

The first thing I realized a few years ago when I started doing this regularly was that I had no idea what many of the items were! Especially all the animals and agricultural items. What’s the difference between a bay horse and a sorrel horse? (its the colors) What’s a shoat? (it’s a baby pig) What exactly is fodder? (feed for farm animals). Luckily, for most everything, you can just use good old fashioned Google and quickly get a good definition and even pictures. Or you can use a book like “From A to Zax: A Complete Dictionary for Genealogist and Historians.”

I smile when I think about the future and how our descendants will wrangle over what an Ipad or a cell phone was. I also found it a challenge  to go back mentally a century or two in terms of remembering when there was no electricity, no running water, no refrigerators, etc. I am such a child of technology;)

Let’s look at Alfred Reeds estate inventory in 1858, from Russell County, AL:

Reed 1

Reed 1

I notice:

–How the appraisers are “walking through the property” room by room.
–The appraisers have started outside on the farm. There are plenty of animals, 29 heard of cattle may imply that he was selling meat.
–Horses and mules were sometimes given names.
–Alfred has not just a buggy and harness, but also a rockaway and harness, a much fancier carriage that would imply his higher status, as opposed to  the average farmers who may only have buggies or oxcarts.
–The slaves are listed by name, but no ages or statements are given about their relationships.

Let’s look at the next set of items:

Reed 2

Reed 2

–Now the appraisers are moving through the bedroom or living quarters.
–A piano and accordion would also be signs of his status and musical talent.
–The ability to own a gold watch would again signal a higher status.
–The number of guns (2 pistols, 3 double-barrel shotguns) remind us that we’re in an era where almost everyone owned guns.

The last set of items shown are key:

Reed 3

Reed 3

A glance at the titles tells us Alfred Reed was clearly a lawyer. Book titles are not always listed, so it’s nice that here they were.
Now, Let’s look at the inventory of Caroline Sibley of Richmond County, GA, in 1859:

Sibley 1

Sibley 1

–Her status immediately jumps out—she owned paintings and valuable portraits.
–She owned a bible and hymn book, which tells us she was probably a member of a local church.
–Her estate is notable for what is missing—no agricultural items or animals. She lived in Augusta, GA, but obviously did not farm. I would be interested in how she obtained a living. Let’s look at the last page of her inventory:

georgia2_clip2

–I spoke too soon: she owned $33,000 in bonds and notes! According to one online value calculator, that would be $940,000,000 today. Ms. Sibley clearly does not need to farm!
–We also see she owned a pew in the Presbyterian Church—a great clue of where to go to search more records.
–There’s a piano again, as well as jewelry, and silver.
–She has four female slaves, listed without ages or relation, but we can discern that they were likely working in her home as domestics or rented out.

 William Bryant, also of Richmond County in the same year, owned some bee hives and was making honey along with his other agricultural ventures:

Beehive

Bryant 1

Lastly, let’s look at Mrs. Dudley White’s estate in Halifax, NC in 1934. Some nice court clerk has typed this volume up for us:

1

White 1

She clearly was involved in peanut farming—look at all the peanut equipment.
She also owned 2 cars—both a Star and a Chrysler, as well as a Ford truck.In the following section of her inventory, the rooms are spelled out for us, and we can kinda envision the house:

White 2

White 2

This section is revealing:

White 3

White 3

– Now this is the kitchenware of someone who probably entertains alot.
–She owned a grand piano and a violin.
–She also had the latest technology—a Victrola record player as well as 30 records. She clearly was into music.
–She also owned a sewing machine and table, so someone in the house liked to sew.
–She even had a “mounted hawk”—which I assume is one of the stuffed versions popular at that time.

Here are a few general tips as you are perusing estate inventories:

1. Compare your ancestor’s inventory with his neighbors to assess his or her relative economic standing.
2. Books are typically indicators of literacy, which was less common the further back in time we go. Many homes only owned a bible, or perhaps one of the classics.
3. We can often make generalizations about slave ages from their monetary values. The most highly valued males will be in their late teens and twenties, with many working years ahead of them. The most highly valued women will be in their prime childbearing years, also late teens-twenties, maybe early thirties. Children and elderly people will  have lower values.
4. Some inventories enumerate whips and other slave torture (yes, I believe it was torture) tools. These may indicate the relative violence involved in slaveownership.
5. Wealthier people will obviously have more “luxury” items—carriages, silver and gold jewelry, more books and furniture and as we’ve seen lots of china and large serving platters may indicate lots of socializing which was associated with the planter class.

 Tell me—what interesting items have you come across in estate inventories? What do those items tell you about the person’s life?

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Nella Hayes, Hardin County, TN

I recently got a chance to view some pretty cool records. Claire Prechtel-Kluskens gave a lecture on Agriculture Extension Service Reports last year at the NARA Fair. I had never heard of these records before, but after her lecture, I knew I needed to look at them.

Starting around the turn of the century, the Dept. of Agriculture decided to provide a service to “extend” the latest agricultural techniques and processes to farmers. Each state had a state agent and every county (over time) had their own Extension Service Agent. For women of the county, they provided Home Demonstration Agents. They worked with women on everything from canning to interior design. Negro agents were appointed for some counties to do “Negro Work”; they provided the same services to black farmers, just (of course) with less money and fewer resources.

I have always been fascinated with land ownership and farming for our ancestors. Many of our ancestors lived in rural places, which can cause a dearth in information vs. those living in large cities. When combined with information from the agricultural census and local land records, the extension service records can offer us a closer peek into those rural lives.

The Extension Service Agents helped farmers set up cooperatives and demonstration farms to show the effects of certain fertilizers and farming practices. They distributed information on various crops and seeds, and practices to promote healthy farm animals. The records are grouped into “Annual Reports” and  are organized with the Annual Report for the State first, followed by the counties in alphabetical order. What is available for each state varies, but the years covered for each can be found here. NGS Magazine published an article on these records by Mrs. Prechtel-Kluskens and in 1996, Prologue Magazine published another article about these records for Arkansas. Both are excellent.

In addition to providing very detailed records of farming practices, many of the agents sent in pictures from county fairs, pictures of farms and crops and animals and living rooms, and every now and then, an individual picture with a name attached. They started Corn Clubs and Canning Clubs. Some sent in what looked like scrapbooks they were keeping of their activities as well as newspaper clippings. There are numerous references by the agents to individuals in the county. Here are some examples of interesting items I found:

From the 1911 TN State Report
“ The cotton boll weevil has not made its appearance in Tennessee. The army worm and boll worm did damage. Army worms appeared in late August and stopped whole fields of cotton…we fought to get [farmers to] properly space the cotton and corn. We have induced several farms to do special seed selection.”

The Home Demonstration Agent for Anderson Cty, TN , felt compelled to send a 10-page handwritten letter  by Ruth Foster, the state’s outstanding Canning Club member for that year. I’m going to try my best to find any of her descendants:

Ruth Foster letter

In 1915, Hardin County, TN, the agent made the following comments about crops during his report:

“Tobacco is not grown in this county. ..The decline in crimson clover acreage was due to high priced seed, and the tangling of crops by wind storm, which prevented seeding…Soybeans are an entirely new crop to this county… Potatoes are only grown for home consumption. Due to blight, orchard trees did practically no good during the past year… There is no dairy interest or farmers in this county. ..The county was practically free from ticks when demonstration work began….”

Regarding hogs:
“Personally, I have vaccinated no hogs for cholera, but influenced farmers to take up the practice and to consult their local veterinarian…One instance I especially recall was…from Dr. O. Whitlow, of Savannah. He is a cooperator, and he reported that he had 40 or 50 hogs and that he had lost two from cholera. I insisted that he wire at once for serum, which he did, [he] administered the treatment, and only lost 5 hogs.”

Wish Names Were Mentioned !

Images Submitted:

Newspaper Clipping

Pig Club Member

Home Design

It goes without saying that this is good information to include when writing up your family history. It also occurred to me it could explain the timing of why some of our ancestors migrated North when they did.

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Joseph Harbour

Every family tree, whether we want to own up to it or not, has its share of criminals, vagabonds, shysters, thieves, polygamists, deserters, roughnecks, liars and cheats. While lots of things change, human behavior doesn’t.

One of my shadier ancestors was Joseph Harbour, my 4th great grandfather, who was born in September 1852 in Hardin County, Tennessee. He actually even looks like he was up to no good, doesn’t he? In the early years of my research, he was a mystery. He only appeared in the 1880 census, married to Hannah Barnes, with two children, Doss and Odie. I assumed he died after that.(I’ve since learned that we must always remember our assumptions and be ready to revisit them in light of new evidence.)

I’ve blogged before about various types of court records, and in my lecture on court records, Joseph is the star. Only when I finally got up enough nerve to venture into local court records did more details about his life emerge. It was amazing to me that this behavior was done during the era of Reconstruction, where racial hatred and violence rose to unprecedented levels.

Joseph Harbour appeared in the criminal court records from at least 1882 to 1897. In 1882, he had been charged with profanity. The court minutes alleged that he stood out in front of a church house and said:

“…let any [insert profanity] man report [me] that wants to and by God it won’t be good for him…I am a [more profanity] on wheels…I dare any man to report me…”

I guess someone called his bluff and actually reported him! Sounds like he may have been drinking to me. The records go on to show that Joseph left his first wife and children to marry another woman, Rachel Shannon. Before his marriage to Rachel, the court charged them both with Lewdness (my mind can only imagine what they were caught doing). Our ancestors were truly reality shows before reality shows came to be! For the next decade, Joseph proved to be a constant presence at the courthouse:

Amazingly, Joseph escaped all the charges with fines, even the more serious charge of attempted manslaughter.

Joseph’s escapades must have caused Rachel to contemplate whether taking Joseph from first wife Hannah was a good idea. By July of 1895, Rachel filed divorce papers against Joseph with the Circuit Court. Their divorce papers detailed a violent and troubled marriage with both charging the other with adultery. In addition, Rachel stated that Joseph “threatened to kill her,” while Joseph responded that “the child born during their marriage was not his child.” Their divorce was granted in 1896, after testimony from witnesses on both sides. I have heard of some crazy divorces in my time, but my goodness!

After the divorce, Joseph Harbour disappeared from the written record in Hardin County, however, some of his descendants remain living in the county today. Let me state for the record, they are lovely, lovely people;)

Now I understand why his first wife Hannah, when asked her marital status in 1900 answered that she was a widow (leading me to believe that for many years). I guess he was dead to her, LOL.

1900 census

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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 talked about the importance of writing up your family history, awhile ago. Here are a few ideas for jump starting the writing of your family history and some topics to add meat to the bones of just boring old names and dates. My friend Andrea sent me a terrific quote a few weeks ago that is very appropriate:

“Better to write something now, than everything never.”

Here goes my list:

History of that city, or rural area
Example: The city of Tifton, GA (and the county) was named for Captain Henry Tift, who built large sawmills to harvest the lumber that would be central to this community. My great-great grandfather John Smith was born in Tifton. Many rural areas were named for large slaveowners.

Geography-what was the landscape like?
Example: Many of my ancestors from Hardin County lived along the Tennessee River, so that was a major influence on people’s lives. At the turn of the century, steamboat travel was frequent as were, according to the local paper, drownings of local citizens.

Migration patterns: where did most of the people that settled here come from? Where did many go to?
Examples: Most of the people in early Tennessee were a part of the westward migration from Virginia and North Carolina. This matches exactly the path of the slaveowner of my Tennessee ancestor, Malinda Holt. Also, I have mapped the migration of African-Americans from this county to Northern industries in the 1940s.

 Items from U.S. national history, State history, and/or county history
Example: My friend Marion’s family is from Caroline County, VA, and I think the fact that the Lovings story happened there is very interesting (the couple that won a Supreme Court ruling against laws forbidding interracial marriages). Hardin County, TN was the site of a large Civil War battle and in many ways that informed the experiences of many slaves who ran away and joined the war effort. Tennessee had more black volunteers than any other state.

Use slave narratives & autobiographies from that area to document the slave experience, even if its not your ancestor
Example: For my ancestors from Montgomery County, MD, I include excerpts from the autobiography of Josiah Henson who was enslaved there. For Hardin County, TN, I use the WPA slave narrative of Edward Bradley, who was enslaved there.

Laws relating to slaves and  freedmen
Example: After the Civil War, Maryland’s Eastern Shore utilized the apprenticing laws to basically re-enslave the children of their former slaves. The Freedmen’s Bureau had to fight to get their children back.  I discuss this in my write-up of my ancestors from Somerset County, MD.

 Illnesses and deaths
Example: There was a smallpox epidemic in 1873 in Jacksonville, FL, where my dad’s family lived, which forced many people to temporarily flee the city. Also, the 1918 flu pandemic touched just about every community. Use mortality census records for this topic as well.

Prominent People (both black and white)
Example: Harry Hooks amassed a fortune as a freed black shoemaker in Hardin County, TN before the Civil War, even enabling him to purchase his wife & children. Also, many prominent whites in the county, like William Cherry, were Unionists during the Civil War, which created an interesting dynamic there versus other Southern cities.

Major African-American churches, schools & businesses
Example: My grandfather owned two successful pharmacies in the booming 1940s business district of Jacksonville, Florida, which in part explains why this family never migrated North along with so many others. I find this community he was a part of simply fascinating, and I have documented other black businesses that existed alongside his.

This is by no means complete, but perhaps its given you some ideas to get started. For those who have started, can you tell me other topics that you have added to your family histories?

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I’ve been given some gifts lately by the genealogy spirits. I think they are designed to gently ease me back into the fray after my maternity break of several months. This is another really good one.

I have made many connections over the years with relatives, as we discover we are both researching the same family or community. Last year, I spoke with a new cousin named Jahrod and we found we traced back to the same roots in Somerset County, Maryland. Recently, he shared with me an apparently new link that has recently been made available online. It’s a part of the Maryland Historical Trust, and it is an Inventory of Historic Properties in the state. It’s a beautifully designed website but the data is the true goldmine: all the original applications from historic places in Maryland have all been uploaded and are available to the public! Why did he send me this? I was up until 2:00AM. Trust me, when you have a new baby, that is NOT what you need to be doing..LOL. This is the homepage:

You can search by county, address, property or do a simple text search. Since I have two major ancestral counties in Maryland (Somerset and Montgomery) I was just in hog heaven.This is the search screen:

The beauty of these files is that many of them have pictures of the properties, which may not be standing today. There is good genealogical information as many have a chain of title for the deeds to the properties listed, maps showing specific locations, as well as a brief historical background. The quality of each application varies according to who filled it out. Some were sparse, and some ran more than 50 pages.

The jewel for Jahrod and I was that the entire community in Somerset County where our ancestors lived, which is called “Upper Hill”, was designated a historic site! Using these files, it is possible to recreate the entire neighborhood from right around the turn of the century. These forms were completed in the 1970s. One application mentioned one of my brickwall ancestors, the Rev. Daniel James Waters. He apparently owned land in Somerset County when he died intestate in Delaware in 1899. The land was awarded by circuit court decree to another man named John Waters. I have just ordered a copy of the court case, hoping that it will illuminate some relationship between the two men. I haven’t had a new breakthrough on this line in years.

The community of Upper Hill used to be referred to in the early 19th century as “Freetown”. This is likely a nod to the fact that the area was populated mostly by freed blacks, many of whom carried the surname Waters. The white Waters family was a large, multi-generational slaveowning family. A few members were Quakers and freed slaves in the early 1800s, including my ancestor Joshua Waters, who was the father of Daniel James Waters.

This database also had a large file on one of the houses of the slaveowning Waters family that is still standing. Lots of terrific history in that file. My friend Aaron over at In Honor of Our Ancestors told me last year that he found a file on the slaveowning family in a historical trust database. So I did a short walk around the web trying to see if a resource like this exists for other states. Pennsylvania, Texas, Ohio and Arkansas are just a few of the states that seem to have similar databases online. Here are some links you can explore at your leisure (especially the 2nd link):

The National Register for Historic Places (NRHP) has started to digitize their over 80,000 files
Their site also had a terrific link to other states’ inventories that may be online (GREAT list)

Virginia has a 72 page PDF file of its list of properties and the files themselves are available to view at the Library of Virginia. For Virginia, also check here.

North Carolina simply had a list of historical preservation links, may be something hidden here.
Same for South Carolina.
Every resource counts. In my case, this one gave me a significant lead on a brickwall ancestors as well as provided lots of good historical information for my various write-ups. Please email me if you search and are able to find something significant in these records!

 

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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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Lately I have been reading a lot of published slave narratives. These are not to be confused with the WPA slave narratives from the 1930s that many of us are familiar with. I am referring to slave narratives that were written and published from the mid 1800’s through the mid 1900s by slaves and former slaves, many of which who had fled slavery. These are books that were were popular during that timeframe, especially as a part of the burgeoning anti-slavery movement. We probably know about the most popular, like Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery and Frederick Douglass’ autobiography. But I think we forget—I know I did—that this is primary information out of the mouths of slaves, and also that there were hundreds more like this published.

The University of North Carolina has a wonderful online collection entitled “North American Slave Narratives.”   It is apart of the collection entitled “Documenting the American South.” In the Slave Narratives, they have collected and displayed all the known existing slave narratives, including pamphlets and articles through 1920. I had seen this collection many times over the years, but never dove in and explored it further. The other day I started reading them, and got so engrossed in the stories I stayed online for 3 hours! They are very detailed, and I realized that these could be a terrific resource for part of the write-up of my family.

My Prather family was from Montgomery County, MD (they are shown above in the picture on this blog). I have mentioned here before that I am focusing on writing up the various lines of my research, fully and properly sourced, and getting them out to the relevant repositories. So, I went to UNC’s collection and found the story of a man named Josiah Henson who was enslaved in Montgomery County.

 

Josiah Henson, from Wikipedia

His claim to fame is that he is credited as being the prototype for the lead character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s infamous book Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Josiah escaped from slavery and later became an abolitionist and a minister. I was able to utilize the following descriptions from his narrative, published in 1849, “The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself” :

[My master was] coarse and vulgar in his habits, unprincipled and cruel in his general deportment, and especially addicted to the vice of licentiousness. His slaves had little opportunity for relaxation from wearying labor, were supplied with the scantiest means of sustaining their toil by necessary food, and had no security for personal rights… The principal food of those upon my master’s plantation consisted of corn meal, and salt herrings; to which was added in summer a little buttermilk, and the few vegetables which each might raise for himself and his family, on the little piece of ground which was assigned to him for the purpose, called a truck patch. The meals were two, daily…”

He continues with his description. Doesn’t this first-hand account make the experiences of my ancestors come alive just a little bit more?

I cannot believe I have not made better use of this resource in the past 13 years. When you have some time, peruse the UNC website and read through some of the pages of the various narratives. Perhaps you can find someone who grew up in your ancestor’s state, or better yet, their same county.

UNC’s entire collection is extraordinarily valuable, and a separate collection that I found useful was the one entitled “First Person Narratives of the American South”. This collection encompasses all Southerners, white and black, and I found some of the diaries of slaveowners and their wives to be very eye-opening. For example, Elizabeth Pringle, daughter of a prominent South Carolina planter had a book published about her life growing up on a southern rice plantation called A Woman Rice Planter. Here’s a tip for this collection: Browse by subject, and under the heading African-Americans, you’ll find a sorting of the narratives by state.) Other standouts in the online UNC DocSouth collections include:

The Church in the Southern Black Community
Oral Histories of the American South
North Carolina Maps

I am always on the lookout for ways to enrich the story of my ancestor’s lives, as well as educate myself on the topic even further. These narratives are rich reading, even as they relayed horrific realities. Kudos to UNC, and I hope visit and do research one day, as I’ve heard their library/archives is one of the best in the South.

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