Thursday, June 21, 2012

Early Church Provided Home for First School in Western Arkansas For Black Children

Freedman's Bureau Document 1867 Revealing 1st Freedman School 
Established by "Colored" Baptist Church of Ft. Smith, Arkansas

For former slaves, education was the one thing wanted by former slaves for their children.

Ft. Smith Arkansas was the home of one of the Field Offices of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen & Abandoned Lands. Because of the large number of Union soldiers black and white who were encamped in Ft. Smith when the Civil War ended, Ft. Smith became the home of one of the larger field offices in the state. The Ft. Smith office oversaw affairs pertaining to black citizens who were once enslaved in the area. The bureau also served white refugees needing assistance after the war.

The Freedman's Bureau as it was commonly known, operated in Ft. Smith for the first several years after the war, and a series of letters reflect the many issues that faced the newly freed slaves.

A letter found in the documents of the Freedman's Bureau, illustrate that there was already a Baptist Church established in the city, and the pastor at that time, was a man called Austin Thomas. 

The black population was anxious to have a place where their children could be taught on a regular basis, and Thomas approached the officer of the Bureau to offer the structure of the black Baptist Church to be used for teaching the children.

A closer view of the document:

  A roughly transcribed wording of the document states:

Office Supt. R.F. & A.L.Ft. Smith, Arkansas, August 24, 1867

"in A state of agreement made and entered into this day between E.S. Parker, Supt R.F. & A.L. and Austin Thomas Pastor of the Baptist Church (Col'd) of the City of Ft. Smith Arkansas,
the aforesaid Austin Thomas does hereby agree to let the Baptist church be used for teaching school in under the direction of this office from Monday morning till Friday evening, nights excepted for a term of not less than three months and before the house is given up after that time, there must be at least two months notice given to this office.
There is to be no rent paid by the Supt for use of house and the house is in no way to be charged so that it would interfere with tenure servics given (illegible) and for(?) and seal this treaty, first day of May 1867
E.S. Barker Supt  R.F. & A.L. (Seal)
Austin Thomas (Seal)
Pastor of Baptist Church

This document reflects little known history of the city of Ft. Smith, in western Arkansas. Although there was some education taking place, it has often been stated and believe that the first formal teaching began in the 1880s, when E. O. Trent of Ohio, migrated to the city and established the first formal school.

However, the value of the Freedman's Bureau records reflect an earlier history and a desire that existed among newly freed children to have their children educated. Thanks to Pastor Austin Thomas who donated the use of his church, young children in western Arkansas were able to begin to have a formal education during those critical years following the Civil War.

An Image of a School for Children of Former Slaves in NC

Although the exact location of the original Colored Baptist Church is not yet known, it should be recorded that it was the Black Baptist Congregation of Ft. Smith Arkansas, that paved the way in 1867 for formal education of former slave children to have the much sought opportunity to learn.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Militias, Religious Records, Presentations and a Banquet

Early Religious Records Were Among Records Discussed in Course 3 on Thursday

The 4th day of classes unfolded for Course 3 (Research in the South). State Militias and State Land Resources were discussed and presented by J. Mark Lowe. Adjutant General Records were discussed, and an extensive bibliography was provided covering a vast array of military resources and in-depth books about the many state based militias.

J. Mark Lowe Discussing State Land Resources Resources

State Land Resources, a Bibliography Shared

Thursday afternoon was another opportunity for me to give a presentation for the participants in Course 8 (African American Genealogy). My topic was Documenting Indian Ancestors in African American Families.

Presentation on Native Ancestry for Course 8

The day ended with a great time last night at the IGHR Banquet. Dr. Larry Spruill was the guest speaker. The food was great, the speaker even greater, and the best part was the camaraderie with other researchers. One can only look forward to next year with just as much enthusiasm.

Selma Stewart,  Bernice Bennett, Angela Y. Walton-Raji
(Photo Courtesy of Bernice Bennett)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Samford IGHR African American Round Table A Hit Around the Country

Tim Pinnick opened up discussion in the African American Round Table Discussion 

On Wednesday for the second time a round-table met in Dwight Beeson Hall in Brock Forum for a chat about issues of interest to those who research African American history and genealogy. Tim Pinnick and Angela Walton-Raji co-moderated the session and about 35 people took time during the lunch break to participate. The discussions were also shared on Twitter, Facebook and there was an online genealogy chat that also participated at the same time on

Tim Pinnick opened the session by with a discussion of African  American genealogical societies, and their relevance, their value and the value of membership in such societies. He also asked if any society members volunteered in any way to teach or mentor new members.

Bernice Bennett shared her experience as a volunteer at the Family History Center in Kensington MD, and how she has a dynamic group that has formed specifically for African American researchers. This group was recently featured in a front page article in the Washington Post. (The article can be found here.)

Bernice Bennett describes her involvement with a genealogy group in the greater Washington DC area.

In Central Maryland, Alice Harris took a group that had gone dormant for almost 7 years.  She shared how she was able to revive the group, bring the membership up to several dozen members, and how the group now is a vibrant community of genealogists from beginners to advanced. Ms. Harris actually teaches a beginners genealogy class at  Howard County Community College. From that class she was able to revive a chapter of the Afro-American Historical & Genealogical Society. She shared how she was able to bring a dormant chapter back to life.

Alice Harris, President of the Central MD Chapter of AAHGS.

One participant made a suggestion of the collaboration with other established groups. Collaborations with historical societies, or state genealogical societies could be a method of reviving those groups that have had problems with dwindling numbers.

Mona Vance of Columbis MS suggested Collaborating with other established groups could be a useful strategy.

The audience appeared to be very engaged in the dialogue and as many got up to share their experiences, some also had questions asking for advice for establishing chapters, and for stimulating activities for current members.

Audience members listening to others sharing their stories about their own societies.

Pat Richley-Erickson (DearMRYTLE) had some good observations to share with the group and show some general support. She also pointed out that society issues are the same all over the country. Technology issues, dwindling membership and a need to reach out to younger members is essential for all groups.

Pat Richley-Erickson (DearMYRTLE) sharing her thoughts with the group.

One useful suggestion for those hoping to create a society, was made by Course 8 coordinator Frazine Taylor. She suggested that one consider working with a local African American church. Churches are the often the pulse of the black community and by working with local pastors in small communities, one might be able to stimulate some interest in the local area.

Frazine Taylor, Coordinator of Course 8 suggested reaching out to local churches.

Isaac Prentiss relocated from Maryland back to Alabama several years ago. He shared how he was able to create a group of Buffalo Soldier historians and re-enactors. He found a group of people with an interest in history and genealogy who would often drive to Atlanta. He was able to establish a group in the local Alabama community.

Isaac Prentiss of Alabama shared his experience working with a local community. Mr. Prentiss has also established a chapter of 9th and 10th Cavalry Association.

Participants from Course 8 and other tracks at Samford joined the discussion. Nancy Fisher of FL shares her perspective with the group.

In addition to the valuable dialogue was the use of social media and the internet during the meeting. A live chat was taking place on The daily "Lunch Bunch" got a chance to attend "virtually". As dialogue ensued in the live roundtable discussion, they were updated on the discussion and the members of the online group also engaged in meaningful discussion about the same subject.  A large screen was also available for the audience to watch the online chat as it was unfolding as well.  The live chat on AfriGeneas has also been logged and the log, is now available to read on

The live online screen of the AfriGeneas Chat unfolded during the roundtable and they had 
an online discussion of the same subject at the same time.

In addition to the live chat on AfriGeneas, photos of the Round Table were also being shared on Facebook as well as on Twitter. I was personally updating my followers on Twitter by uploading images to the genealogy community there.

My Twitter Page reflects the continuous posts that I was making to the genealogy community on Twitter

The response to the photos and updates being placed on Twitter was positive and the request was to keep them coming as many in the Twitter community were following the posts.

Some responses from the Twitter genealogy community reflected an interest expressed from those who could not be present but who expressed an interest in the round table discussion.

The Round Table gathering was a success and the discussion was also carried out into the AfriGeneas community pulling in participants from Arizona, Ohio, New York, Atlanta, Washington DC and more.  We were delighted to be able to use social media and share images on Facebook, Twitter and a live java-script enabled chat that pulled many from the cyber-world and blogging community together. Hopefully such discussions will now become a regular feature of this track and others at  Samford IGHR.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Georgia on my Mind--Day 3 IGHR 2012

Linda Woodward-Geiger on Day 3 of Institute

Beginning with the sound of Ray Charles singing Georgia on my Mind, the participants in Course 3 knew that the theme of the morning was Georgia. Linda Woodward-Geiger gave an introduction to several online resources including the Georgia State Archives, and the Virtual Vault, a vast online resource with digitized images of historic books, maps and early records from colonial Georgia.

The class was given an overview of early Georgia history, including the early maps reflecting Georgia's colonial presence that extended to the Mississippi River. The acquisition of land including Creek and Cherokee land was a frequently occurring issue for several decades.

Territorial Records including the American State papers contain much data reflecting early Georgia history as well.

More features were explored via maps of all kinds including those early maps reflecting early wagon trails, other maps reflecting colonial history and even others looking at coastal Georgia's history through Google Earth.

Early maps presented by Linda Woodward-Geiger reflecting early Georgia history.

(I had to miss Deborah Abbott's presentation on Slavery, Slaves & Slaveholders, which was presented in the late afternoon, because I had to teach a class in Course 8, the African American track.)

However, the day was also a full day, as I had the chance to participate in a lunch time Round Table on African American Genealogy that I shall describe in a separate post.

Course 3 Research in the South, has been focusing primarily on The Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland, and Georgia. The sessions have been detailed and are rich with data to examine more closely.  Thursday brings a promise for more interesting data to learn.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

IGHR Day 2 Research in the South

J. Mark Lowe discussed holdings from the Carolina 

The second day of Course 3 got off to a good start with an overview the wealth of data from early records from Virginia. This was followed by a two part presentation of land records and resources from Maryland, and the day ended with a thorough introduction to several resources of southern records from Federal resources.

While Mark Lowe set the day off with a overview of Virginia, an introduction to Maryland and the many resources was presented by Michael Hait. Early land records as well as an overview to the Maryland online resources was presented.

Michael Hait presented Maryland Resources

Linda Geiger gave a good introduction to the resources for southern research on the Federal level. From the WPA, to the TVA, to the records of the Eastern Cherokee, scholars of southern history have many resources on the Federal Level to use.

Tennessee Valley Authority Records Presented

Linda Geiger Discussed Federal Records

The records presented on this second day of  Course 3, Research in the South were very detailed and the many online databases and archival collections were impressive. Course 3 provides an amazing overview into the holdings of a large part of the country, and there are many strategies that must be employed to research especially in those counties where some records were missing. The session continues to provide a clear insight into how to approach each region. Though many communities were close to each other and similar in culture and structure, they were still unique government entities whose policies and laws were as unique as their own geographic features.

Looking forward to a third day!

Monday, June 11, 2012

IGHR Course on the South Begins

Beginning of Course 3 IGHR 2012

Course 3 at Samford IGHR began this morning as coordinator J. Mark Lowe set the tone for will most likely be an informative week. With the focus on the American South being examined, participants are likely to have a thorough introduction to early history, laws and policies that affected our ancestors who lived in the South.

Introductions were made of participants as well as faculty, and the class began. Today provided a close look at both North and South Carolina, from wills, maps and other records reflecting the unique history of these states.

Tomorrow will consist of an overview into Maryland and much more.  The class is data rich and record rich and hopefully will continue to be as full of information as the first day.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Samford IGHR 2012 Gets Underway

Lining Up for IGHR registration allowed participants to make new acquaintances and renew old ones.

In spite of a heavy rainfall, participants in the Fall 2012 Institute of Genealogical & Historical Research at  Samford University, participants poured into the library Sunday afternoon to collect registration packets parking passes and materials for the week. Genealogists came from all around the country, and several researchers from east to west gathered for this summertime institute. All were looking forward to a week where new topics will be explored, new concepts learned and new strategies explored.

Sunday afernoon is always a day of orientation and there was plenty of time in the library lounge area to visit old friends and discuss current new projects.

J. Mark Lowe and Dr. Deborah Abbot have a friendly chat before orientation

Bernice Bennet of Blog Radio & Pat Richley-Erickson (DearMYRTLE) share a friendly moment while standing in line for registration.

Each year brings newcomers to IGHR, but likewise many who have attended in the past also make a return trip to take another course.

Selma Stewart Hampton Roads AAHGS President & Bernice Bennett of Blog Talk Radio Pose for a Friendly Photo

One of the pleasures of the event is that the institute provides opportunities for old friends to spend time with each other and to catch up on months of absence.
Angela McGhee of Chicago and Deborah Abbott of Ohio greet each other

The orientation outlined what should be a full week, and lectures, books and events will make this another well spent week with genealogists anxious to listen and learn!

I am registered for Course 3 Research in the South, coordinated by Mark Lowe. I look forward to this course and am anxious for class to start.

And so it begins!

Weekly schedule for course 3, Research in the South. Coordinated by J. Mark Lowe