Friday’s post got too long for me to try and catch up so I’ll shoot for a wrap up post in the next couple of days.

Friday was a LONG day! Again, I was fairly methodology heavy, catching another presentation each of Elizabeth Shown Mills and Thomas W. Jones. Mills presented an interesting range of case studies to impress upon us the importance of “trivial” information in documents, for example the minute details in an estate sale that someone didn’t deem important or slaves names that get left out of transcriptions or compilations. She stressed going back to original probate packets or collections to make sure every slip had been accounted for and challenged us to think critically about what the documents said and didn’t say.

Jones presented on documentation. As he noted, this can be a boring topic, but I very much appreciated his detail and again, common sense approach to doing citations. In many ways this is all straight out of undergrad and grad school for me but those days are a little farther behind me every time I blink so getting this refresher and lesson was fabulous.

For the midday and afternoon sessions I jumped over to the African American research track attending presentations by G. David Dilts, Tim Pinnick, Angela Y Walton-Raji, and J. Mark Lowe. Dilts’ presentation (F-322 Overcoming Brick Walls in African American Research) was effectively one on methodology offering ideas to improve attitudes and open one’s mind in approaching brickwalls, as well as offering some common problems and possible solutions.

Pinnick’s session (F-333 And the Church Said Amen) on tracking down records from African American churches was as animated and enthusiastic as the title suggested and somewhere in there he did get an, “Amen!” from the class even after telling us that the existing records weren’t quite what we were hoping for.

Walton-Raji’s session was great survey of Black benevolent societies most of which I knew nothing about beforehand. When I saw her session listing it immediately brought to mind a symbol on my Great-Grandfather’s headstone I had never looked in to. And between her and Pinnick’s sessions in particular, I have a whole new set of records to try and track down.

Finally, I attended J. Mark Lowe’s session (F-350 Following Slaves and Slaveholders…) which offered a great case study emphasizing the need to know the areas you’re researching in and know their laws relevant to your ancestors. This will help you figure out what records might exist to aid you in your research. All were great speakers, but Lowe gets points for making Pinnick hand me a fake $1000 bill in an effort to illustrate that you need to follow the money or assets (whatever they may be).

From there I went straight to the library event in support of the War 1812 Pension Project. I attended the opening remarks and quilt raffle, mingled for a few minutes near the desserts, and then made a beeline for the Genealogy Center to get in some last research for the week. I planned to leave at a reasonable hour (as I had to get it up in the morning) but I had a successful enough time that I didn’t walk back until 11:30 pm.

But now I am just tired…

Happy hunting!

Jess

I’ve had a few questions about connecting slaves and owners since my WMGS talk last month. This is not something I’m an expert in. But I am a good researcher in general so, my advice is to gather every bit of information you can on the former slave family.

  • Pay close attention to all of the locations associated with the family.
  • Look at any evidence of transactions you can—like land, produce, and labor.
  • Follow every side line—siblings, families that seem associated with the one you’re more interested in—African American or Caucasian.
  • Use the Slave Schedules to find possible owners based on age and sex—if you don’t have a better idea start where they were in 1870 but be aware that families sometimes moved with freedom sometimes only a county over and sometimes much farther.
  • Search Slave Narratives through the Library of Congress, Documenting the American South, or in Ancestry.com
  • Search the Freedman’s Bank Records through HeritageQuest.com (often accessible through local libraries)

Once you’ve got a few possibilities start researching the slaveholding families in just as much detail as you would your own. Look at land and probate records, and hunt down plantation records (these could be tucked away in university and state archives).

And if you don’t find that magical record that states clearly the connection between slave and owner, then, look for patterns. For my family that meant recognizing that you could plot the places where my ancestors appeared on a map and have it match up with a certain set of westward moving slave owners—so while I’m not certain which slaveholder was ours the odds are it’s one of a relatively small number of interconnected families.

Unless you are unbelievably lucky this will be time consuming and could take years to track down the right records. Be persistent, flexible, and thorough.

But don’t take my word for it. Track down these great resources for more detailed and expert help:

  • Burroughs, Tony. 2001. Black roots: a beginner’s guide to tracing the African American family tree. New York: Fireside Book.
  • Gates, Henry Louis. 2007. Finding Oprah’s roots: finding your own. New York: Crown Publishers.
  • Howell, Barbara Thompson. 1999. How to trace your African-American roots: discovering your unique history. Secaucus, N.J.: Carol Pub. Group.
  • Smith, Franklin Carter, and Emily Anne Croom. 2003. A genealogist’s guide to discovering your African-American ancestors: how to find and record your unique heritage. Cincinnati: Betterway Books.
  • Witcher, Curt Bryan. African American genealogy: a bibliography and guide to sources. Fort Wayne, Ind: Round Tower Books, 2000.

Happy hunting,

Jess

Harrison and Rhoda (Rogers) TrotterThis last week was meant to be spent on my Massy/Alison family in prep for an upcoming road trip (I’ll get to next post) but instead I received an email from a fellow researcher about our shared Trotter/Hampton families from Bradley Co., Arkansas. It gave me a great excuse to make sure I was caught up that portion of my research. It also gave me the impetus I needed to go page-by-page through Afro-Americans of Bradley County, Arkansas compiled by MacArthur and Princella Davis.

This book is an amazing collection of photographs covering what looks like just about every African-American family from the southern Arkansas county my paternal ancestors have called home since before the Civil War. It includes more than 350 pages of identified photographs with sometimes minimal and sometimes extensive family information. The photo quality is all over the place–I’d guess based on what they received in their call for photos. The one of my grandfather, Levie Trotter, is bad because it was taken from his funeral program (black and white photo on brown paper) but the one of my great-grandparents, Harrison and Rhoda (Rogers) Trotter, with my uncle Christopher is great. Regardless, the fact that there are so many photographs and that they are identified, outweighs everything. The book is an absolute treasure! It has been particularly helpful in filling in gaps caused by the missing 1890 Census especially when used in conjunction with FamilySearch.org’s database Arkansas County Marriages, 1837-1957. Researchers may be thrown by the format of the index (first name), but again the detail and range of information in the book makes up for that.

I’ve now been through it once and it’s cleared up a number of confusing lines. And I believe that, as my research continues, I’ll continue to get more out of it. Anyone with African-American family or ancestors from Bradley County should grab this book. It’s been an amazing resource by itself and a great source of information when I go through it with my relatives.

Cheers,

Jess

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