Sunday, April 5, 2015

First Marriages in Freedom, Sevier County Arkansas 1865

First Marriages of Formerly Enslaved Men and Women, Sevier County Arkansas 1865
"Arkansas, Freedmen's Bureau Field Office Records, 1864-1872," images, FamilySearch (,1076659115 : accessed 5 April 2015), Paraclifta (Sevier County) > Roll 18, Register of marriages, copies of indentures, and register of purchase vouchers issued, 1865-1867 > image 5 of 21; citing NARA microfilm publication M1901 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

One of  the first acts of freedom when the Civil War ended, was the opportunity for men and women, once held in bondage to freely marry whom they wished to marry, and to have their marriages recorded so that their commitment to each other would be known by all. This act was so important to former slaves, since up until that time, their spouses could be snatched away, sold never to be seen again. Thankfully a few such records of those first marriages could be found.

In Sevier County Arkansas, one of my ancestral communities, I found three couples who are among the very first African Americans who dared to have a ceremony performed by an official at the Freedman's Bureau. The community was Sevier County Arkansas located in the southwest portion of hte states. In December 1865 three couples were married by the chaplain in charge of the Paraclifta Field office. They are not related to me directly, but one of the names did stand out, as it was a name that my family mentioned over the years as being close neighbors, and even tenants in later years on and in recent generations even cousins.

The Freedman's Bureau, officially known as the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, operated in multiple states, and the purpose was to provide some assistance to newly freed slaves.

One can only imagine the fears of having to suddenly "conduct business" in a community where before the war, one could not even walk on the roads without a pass, or permit. Therefore finding these marriages--one can imagine the fears of approaching the courthouse to obtain a marriage license, when, before the war, the closest one came to the courthouse was when one was being auctioned to the highest bidder--as property--human property.

So, the significance of these three marriages, written in a Freedmen's Bureau ledger, is significant. These three couples were married, and their marriages were from this time forward to be recognized as legitimate bonds between two people who loved each other. This is one of those times in which their status as human beings was being inscribed for the first time in the county where they had lived, toiled, and their ancestors had died.

I was thrilled to find these names and hopefully descendants of these families will someday find this ledger, print and appreciate it for the gem that it is. At the creation of this simple marriage ledger, the trajectory of these three families was forever changed. They were no longer human chattel to mistreat, ignore, and trade. They were husbands, and wives, who would become the matriarch and patriarch of families now free to move forward in a new world.

I share their names here:

Groom: Charles Clark
Bride:  Louisa Boshell

Groom: Alexander Dilahunter
Bride: Nancy Sherrott

Groom:  James Hollman
Bride:  Jinsey Coulter

I recognized the "Dilahunter" name. My grandmother who was the daughter of Louis Mitchell Bass, often spoke about her neighbors the "Dillahunts". I later noticed that the "Dillahunts" were actually "Dillahunty" and the name sometimes appeared in the records also as "Dilahunter".

Seeing the names of the first Black marriages performed in the very year that slavery ended, is humbling indeed. Also it should be noted that the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution was officially ratified in December of 1865, the same month in which these marriages were performed.

It took some time for the larger white community to acknowledge that those once held as property were indeed free men and women. But these six people--these three couples were among those who courageously took some of the first steps and dared to make their mark upon the ledger of the free.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

On the Eve of Roots Tech

Well it is amazing how a day can be truly full even before the conference begins. I arrived in Salt Lake City yesterday afternoon, and was settled in at the Radisson hotel with two genea-buddies, Shelley Murphy, and Bernice Bennett. And after a good night's rest we arose to the various tasks that awaited us.

After a wonderful breakfast at the Radisson, I then needed to officially register, to obtain my conference badge and plan the day. The conference guide is an attractive, and streamlined journal that meticulously outlined the workshops in both conferences, and included biographies and so much more. (For those that don't know, Roots Tech and FGS are taking place at the same time, in the same facility--the Salt Palace Convention Center.)

Front page of Conference Guide Book

There are over 130 pages in the book that has a slim and sleek appearance. The conference guide has a sleep and professional look to it, with a full description of events to unfold in the next three days. The size is perfect as it easily slips into a purse or folio.

The thin size still consisted of 130 pages of RootsTech/FGS events

I spent some time in the business center of the Radisson hotel, polishing my presentation for later in the week. With some free time on my hands, I was able to engage in my favorite exercise--research.
So, I went down to the Family History Center. While there, I was able to copy more than 70 documents and put them on my flash drive.

Family History Library, Salt Lake City

One thing about attending an event this large is that one must truly be prepared to walk, alot. The Salt Palace Convention Center is huge, and though the hotel is next to the facility, that does not reduce the walking. While going through two huge exhibit halls that were being set up for the next several days, then going down the long never-ending halls, does make one appreciate health. Add to that fact that the city is in the mountains, so that means slower walking for those not accustomed to thinner air. Thankfully the weather was beautiful walking outside was not too hard.

I took a break to have something for dinner, after which, I returned to the Family History center to continue my research. After another two hours went by quickly fatigue set in and I knew I need to come back to the hotel for rest. The opening session is tomorrow, and the day will unwind with lots of things to do, thousands of people to see and two entire exhibit halls to roam tomorrow.

And so it goes, on this eve of  Roots Tech, and all I can say is "bring it on"! 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Source: Harper's Weekly, 1867
The image from Harper's Weekly always warms my heart. In the image one sees men of color participating in the affairs of government, by voting. That simple act of casting a vote is so well reflected in the image. One sees a man dressed as he may have been a farmer. A suited man stands behind him, and then there is the soldier. All are standing proud as men ready to participate in the voting process for the first time, in country of their birth. This was a privilege that until February 3, 1870, that they had not had. But finally when given the opportunity, they did cast their votes so proudly.

On this day in 1870, the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified. This amendment state that  "right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."

Of course the next century would see continuous efforts to prevent the vote from being extended equally to all. And many states would rescind claiming states rights to prevent people of color from exercising this right. Until 1964 and the Voting Rights Act, efforts to prevent the descendants of former slaves from having equal rights. The struggle was a long and painful one. I recall as a young girl listening to a courageous Fannie Lou Hamer  speak of how she was so brutally beaten for fighting for that simple right to cast a ballot. It was hard to understand how after almost a full century after ratification, the battle for the right to vote was still being fought in this land.

Although this is not a widely known data in American history, it should be, especially in this season of Freedom. So we must pause and understand the importance of February 3 and not forget its significance.

The right to cast a vote was ratified, and to all who fought to keep that right and to defeat illegal laws that were put in place to supress that right, this day should be commemorated.

It is our history. It is American history.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Map of Freedmen's Hospitals Can Provide Useful Genealogical Data.

Several days ago, the new website Mapping the Freedman's Bureau was launched. The purpose is to encourage researchers to research their ancestors during those critical first years after the Civil War. As a result, the site was created to encourage more researchers to use these records as they are becoming digitized by both Family Search, and also the Internet Archive. Some sample documents can be found on the new website and it is hoped that all of the records will be considered essential records as more begin to look at their community history with the aid of these digitized records. Among these records to explore, are hospital records.

In those critical years after some had set themselves free from bondage, and took refuge in contraband camps, one of the many challenges facing the post civil war population was one of health. In many cases disease took lives of the refugees seeking aid. As a result a good number of hospitals arose as the demands for health care suddenly increased.

From every state where there was a new population seeking aid, and in temporary housing, measles, yellow fever, typhoid, and other epidemics arose. In addition, injuries, childhood infirmities and catarrh were also common, all of  which had to be addressed. What resulted were records of patients, being treated in those hospitals and also of those employed in those "Freedmen" hospitals.

Roster of Patients in Mobile Alabama Freedmen's Hospital
Source: Internet Archive, Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, M1900 Roll 23

The new mapping site should be used for those who are seeking knowledge about the ancestral community. The site, allows the researcher to zoom in, and to focus on the local community from various perspectives. If there was a  Field office, then there may have been a school, a hospital, and possibly a contraband camp nearby. Everyone is urged to use the tools provided on the maps to learn more about the ancestral community

The Freedmen's hospitals are unique because they also provide data about the nature of public health in the early post Civil War days. One can study the kinds of diseases that affected a population that had possibly been transplanted into a new community after the war.

Another advantage is that in many cases genealogists who use the 1900 census note that a female listed the number of live births, but sometimes only a portion of the family can be found. Where were the other children not in the 1900 census? Were they separated by slavery and its system of separating mothers from babies? Or could the child have been ill and died during those years of transition to freedom?

All answers will not be found, but hopefully the mapping site will become a useful tool for one to have reason to explore the records of the Freedmen's Bureau with enthusiasm and vigor.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Beginning of a Milestone Year - 2015 In the Spirit of Freedom

This new year is the beginning of a milestone year!

150 year ago, the nation changed!
150 years ago, 4 million people found freedom on the soil of their birth
150 years ago the trajectory of the United States was altered, forever!
150 years ago, the ending of slavery would bring about the "Reconstruction Amendments".
150 years ago, with the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, slavery was abolished.
  The passage of the 13th Amendment opened the door for the later ratification of the 14th and 15th.
    The 14th Amendment to the Constitution gave citizenship to those once enslaved.
    The 15th Amendment to the Constitution gave many the right to vote for the first time.
  Though ratified after 1865 the way was paved for these critical amendments in 1865.

So yes---this is a milestone year! But strangely there are no celebrations of this incredible year! I know that for the past five years we have seen all kinds of celebrations reflecting the events pertaining to the Civil War. From 2011 when there were events noting 150th anniversary of the first shots fired at Ft. Sumter in 1861. And over the years there have been re-enactments of various battles fought from Gettysburg to Olustee. A simple google search on the 150th Civil War anniversary will reflect that.

A screen shot after a Google Search on the 150th Civil War Anniversary

It is great that the Civil War's ending is noted by people today, But the war was not simply battles--the war was about people. As a genealogist, my job is to tell a story about those people, many of them my own people, and to place the ancestors on the proper historical landscape. My ancestors were there during the Civil War and I am obligated to tell that story.

Some of them were soldier, true freedom fighters. My soldiers on the Bass side served honorably in the 111th US Colored Infantry. They were captured and managed to escape from the notorious N.B. Forrest.


Civil War Service Records of 4 soldiers from Giles County who were captured and who escaped. Capture was at Sulphur Trestlein the fall on 1864, under N.B. Forrest.

Other ancestors were self-emancipated---when the chance came---they left. They walked a very hard walk from Mississippi to Tennessee. Upon arrival they were then taken to President's Island contraband camp.

From Civil War Pension File
Claimant: Amanda Young, Soldier Berry Young

And yet others stayed back home because they were not able to travel and in fact had been taken away during the war so they would not escape.

So, as  I look back at 1865 and I know that the legal status of my ancestors changed during that amazing year, and that my ancestors emerged as survivors of a heinous system.

As survivors they laid the foundation for my family to continue to thrive today. Therefore, I have a commitment to not only tell their story, but to celebrate the precious legacy of freedom. I am committed to honoring their own struggle for freedom and I am obligated to tell the story of how they found freedom. And of course I am committed to sharing data of the beginning of their lives finally lived out as free people.

My hope is that others in the genealogy community will begin to honor this sesquicentennial year as well. I leave the following suggestions for bloggers to explore, in the spirit of Freedom.

Find your ancestor's story of freedom
Learn the community's story--how were slaves freed in the town,in the county.
Extract the many stories of freedom in the many Freedmen's Bureau records, Freedman's Bank records, Civil War Military records, old newspapers. Search for them, read them--and share them!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Exploring the Cherokee 1890 Census

The recent partnership between the Oklahoma Historical Society and Ancestry has brought about more than 3 million records to the public. For Oklahoma researchers this is more than a gold mine, the data contains everything from census records to full color scans of  Dawes Cards, to marriage records, wills, unique tribal records and so much more. One special feature for Oklahoma researchers is the fact that while most US based researchers lament the tragic loss of the 1890 census, but Oklahoma researchers do have data from that year available. Many of the records from the Twin Territories (Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory) were never lost! And now, one does not have to travel to Oklahoma to see them, because one can easily research them online.

Oklahoma Historical Society Description: CHN 04 1890 Census of Cooweescoowee District A - TData from: Indian Marriage and Other Records, 1850–1920. Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Ancestry Source: 
Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Marriage, Citizenship and Census Records, 1841-1927 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA

I have written articles already about some of these records on my other two blogs. (Choctaw Freedmen Legacy, and African-Native American) However, because of the diversity of the data found within the Cherokee Nation 1890 census, I decided to post this article on my primary genealogy blog, because so many people can benefit from looking at this record set.
The records from the Cherokee Nation in 1890 focused on the four primary groups that lived within its borders. There were 1) native Cherokees, 2) adopted citizens,which included Cherokee Freedmen and Inter-married whites, 3) Delawares and 4) Shawnees. 

It should be pointed out that the qualtity of the scanned images is excellent, and generally load quickly on the site, and navigation is not complicated. The records are divided geographically by the various districts of the Cherokee Nation that existed at that time---Canadian, Coowescoowee, Delaware, Going Snake, Flint, Ilinois, Saline, Sequoyah, and Tahlequah Districts. I am showing images from the Cooweescoowee District below.

It its very clear to see how the citizens were described in the "Note to Census Takers" provided at the very front of the ledger.

Source: Same as above.

The design of the census schedule was different from the standard design of the US Federal Census. Personal information about the citizens was provided such as name, age, gender, race, and occupation.

The census schedule from 1890 census
Source: Same as above

This close up view provides a more detailed look at data collected.
Source: Same as Above.

It is also noted that this particular census schedule focused upon details of the land, and the personal property owned by each citizen, including crops, livestock as well as improvements made.

Additional Agricultural Data Collected
Source: Same as Above

At the end of each district is also a population summary. And one can see that data collected included native Cherokees, Delawares, Shawnees, Whites and Negroes. With the last two categories Intermarried white citizens were simply classified as "whites" and Cherokee Freedmen were simply classified as  "Negroes".

Summary of District's Data

Also it is important to keep in mind that this 1890 Cherokee Nation Census was made of persons who were citizens of the Cherokee Nation and this is not a census of persons considered to be "intruders". However note that there are Intruder census records that were collected in a separate group.

Hopefully many will see the value of one of the critical record sets reflecting the 1890 census year.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Continuing the Legacy

Harper's Weekly, November 16, 1867

After 150 years of freedom I, a descendant of people once enslaved was able to exercise my right to vote, again.

This mid term election is significant as it occurs on the eve of the 150th anniversary of freedom, and yet, there are son and daughters of those who were once oppressors who have worked hard to keep me, keep my family and many others who simply look like me from that privilege. And many of them will take office, for the climate has changed into one in which code words dominate but they all are signals that say so much.

Such times and social climates remind us that sadly we cannot rest and take things for granted. The forces are there to accuse people who ask for change as being not worthy of citizenship. In recent  years we have seen acts of violence go unchallenged and dismissed with a shrug, and possibly many with such shrugs will take office soon.

Days like today mean that one small gesture can possibly make a difference. Yes, things come and go, and as society progresses, occasionally the winds blow, and bring in negative forces as well. But one things is constant and that is time. How we choose to spend that time is important, so, I made to sure take some time today, to try to slow down the destructive winds, so that they will turn into nothing more than a passing thunderstorm with the rainbow at the end. 

But to get to that rainbow, I had to take some time to do one small thing, that my ancestors did long ago, and it planted them firmly on the soil as people who could make a difference.  

I voted today.