Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Writing an Ancestor's Story - Reflections of the NANOWRIMO Experience

During the month November, I participated in NANOWRIMO, an online platform that allows writers to get their story out of their head and onto paper, and to bring it to life. The acronym stands for National Novel Writing Month, thus the acronym NANOWRIMO. I decided to participate in the "NANO" experience several months ago and somehow never expected that it would really be anything that I would stick to. I personally felt that if I finished a week's worth of writing, I would be satisfied, and get some of the "I-want-to-write-a-novel" feeling out of my system.

Surprisingly what came forth was a story where I brought characters to life, whom I have known for over 25 years. The story that came pouring out was a story of my maternal ancestors. Now, I have written about this family line before, and the number of living relatives (cousins) that I have who are interested in the genealogical research on this line, is actually very small. I would say that less than 10 people are interested in this family history story. Well, that is, until I ran into another genealogist whose own ancestral story bumped into mine. So I have a few more possible readers of my story.

The story I chose to write for my NANOWRIMO project was that of Amanda Young. Now, I have have written about her in the past, and I have used parts of her story in a blog post when I discussed my research journey. Several years earlier, I also wrote a similar piece about part of her story. about her as well. However, my focus for my NANO project was not going to the the famous meteor shower of 1833. I decided to tell my ancestor's freedom story. Actually much of the information used in then narrative came from data extracted from a Civil War widow's pension. Within the file and now within my novel several stories of freedom are contained. The historical fact is that within this one family line, some seized freedom as they could, some fought for it, and some had to wait until it came to them. But all of these stories are part of the same family story.

The focus was the family itself, my great great grandmother, her sister, and the men in the family. I chose not to write the typical "slave story". The story is a freedom story choosing instead to tell the  story of their becoming free, from the very first days, through the subsequent months, then years. Thankfully I have some amazing depositions in a Civil War pension file that explained my ancestor's saga. And part of the story was Amanda's effort to find out what happened to her family when they went different places during the war. Her husband left to join the US Colored Troops. Her sister emancipated her own self, and became a contraband on President's Island, in Tennessee, and Amanda was taken further south in Mississippi so she could not escape.

 I placed myself and my imagination on the ground right there with them and told their stories as they moved from enslavement to freedom. The story ends fifty years later when I solve some of the questions that Amanda had about what happened to her family. It was a novel because I inserted dialogue reflecting some of the events that happened, based upon what I learned from research. The story reflects how some made it, and how some, became "lost" in the freedom that they sought.

The exercise of writing was an interesting one, and during the times when I was not writing, pieces of the story would come to me and I had thought them out before sitting down to write late at night. I shall spend the next several months enhancing the story, before seeking an editor and putting it into shape for some initial readers.

The support from the NANOWRIMO folks was quite good--there were words of encouragement, and writing prompts and challenges along the way. I even attended a Write-In at a local library the first week! The support was there if I needed it, and the biggest part of it was the exercise of writing itself, and the continuous encouragement from staff and from writing buddies.

I recommend this exercise for others who have found themselves telling ancestral stories. Get on the ground with the ancestors, walk around, and see the landscape and travel with them. I had to use maps and other tools to move my characters from one place to another. I know that they did not live in a vacuum, even during those turbulent times in the Civil War so I had to incorporate neighbors and close relatives in the story.

Telling the story was not only a good experience, it is something that I recommend that other genealogists undertake. I have some other stories to bring forth, and perhaps next year's NANOWRIMO will allow me to bring forth Uncle Sephus's story and put it out there, for readers as well.

Should others think about using NANOWRIMO as a vehicle to tell the family narrative? Indeed they should!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Unexpected Depositors of the Little Rock Freedman's Savings Bank

Black Churches Were Among Account holders at Freedman's Savings Bank
Source: "United States, Freedmen's Bank Records, 1865-1874," database with images, FamilySearch
Linked Image HERE

Roll 3, Feb 27, 1871-July 15, 1874, accounts 153-1359 > image 22 of 165; citing
NARA microfilm publication M816 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1970).

In the years after the Civil War, a major adjustment was made in the lives of those once enslaved. The need for work, for pay, and how to handle one's wages for the first time was not without its challenges. It is well known that the roll of the Freedman's Saving's Bank was put in place to assist the formerly enslaved with the practice of saving money as well.

There are many genealogists who access these records and who have appreciated information gleaned from the depositors in the Freedman's Savings Bank. In many cases family data was also collected and the information from the list of depositors has opened many doors for researchers. Among the depositors however, were not only individuals, but also institutions. Many African American churches in the post Civil War Black communities had placed their funds also into the Freedman's Savings Bank. In addition to the churches, various committees within the churches also held single accounts.

While recently looking at the depositors in the Little Rock Arkansas branch of the Freedmen's Bureau, I noticed several Little Rock churches that had accounts. Some of those churches held accounts for different ministries within the church. An unnamed Baptist Church held an account as did Bethel AME, the Missionary Baptist Church, and also Wesley Chapel, which was and still is an active Methodist Church in Little Rock.

Bethel AME Church of Little Rock Arkansas held several accounts with the Freedman's Savings. By examining these records, one can learn a lot about the structure of the church as well. In 1871, several accounts were opened by various committees at Bethel. There was the Widow's and Orphans Fund,  The Ladies Church Aid Society, The Arkansas Conference of the A.M.E. Church Preachers Fund, The A.M.E. Church Concess., J.T. Jennifer for Wilberforce University, Steward's Fund of Bethel A.M.E.,

At Wesley Chapel, the Ladies Aid Society also held an account.

One interesting group of depositors affiliated with a Baptist church, was found with the account for the Sisters of Faith, Hope, and Charity, of the Missionary Baptist Church.

In addition to the churches themselves, in many cases the pastors affiliated with the same churches that held accounts in the Freedman's Bank also had personal accounts themselves with the same church. J.T. Jennifer, pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church held a personal account with the bank.

The trustees of Bethel A.M.E. held a separate account as well.


Researchers of Pulaski Arkansas Black History are urged to examine the records of the Little Rock Branch of the Freedman's Saving's Bank. The data is rich and a few pages of missing history might be found with these images. And the larger lesson is for researchers from other states, to examine ALL of the names of the depositors--not just the name of an ancestor. It is easy to abandon the greater story of the community, once we fail to find an ancestor's name. Embrace the larger story, for it too is part of our own story to tell.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Cemetery Visit: Honoring Dred Scott

He was a simple man, who had many odds against him. Born a slave, his name gained the attention of the world when he sued for his freedom. I had always heard of Dred Scott and I had the chance to visit his gravesite on Monday July 6th.

I arrived St. Louis, on an early flight on Monday, when I arrived to attend and to teach at the Midwest African American Genealogy Institute, (MAAGI). This early arrival allowed time for a pleasant lunch with genealogy friends. Upon leaving, it was suggested that we visit the gravesite of Dred Scott. I had never known where he was buried, and finally I got to stand over the final resting place of this man whose name will be forever known.

After a brief stop at the office of Cavalry cemetery, we were given a map that would direct us to his gravesite. Driving through this massive cemetery was amazing, with rolling hills and magnificent monuments to those long gone. After turning onto a nearby road, a glance to the left revealed a small yet neat stone bearing the name, Dred Scott. The stone is simple yet elegant.

Additional words about his life describe the significance of Scott's struggle for freedom and the impact of the Dred Scott decision. It is eloquently stated, "In memory of a simple man who wanted to be free."

Another small memorial stone next to  Dred Scott's stone is dedicated to his wife Harriet. That memorial marker was dedicated in 1999. Harriet Scott is believed to be buried at Greenwood Cemetery in St. Louis County.

Over the years visitors to the Dred Scott grave have started a tradition of leaving evidence of their visit to his gravesite by leaving a coin. The typical momento is to leave a copper penny at his grave. In respect for the tradition, my colleague Noreen Goodson and I, both left our pennies on the headstone, as well. A thank you for his struggle for freedom and a prayer that he and Harriet continue to rest in peace was said while standing there.

 To mark the occasion of this visit to the gravesite of Dred Scott, my colleague Noreen, and I posed for a photo next to the stone.

Few facts about the early life of this man are really known. He lived as a free man very briefly and facts about the lives of his wife and daughters in the years before the freedom suits are few. However, some poignant facts were collected a few years ago in a book about the lives of Dred and Harriet Scott, when genealogist and author Ruth Hager wrote a book that provided some insights into the life of the Scott family. The book is entitled, Dred and Harriet Scott: Their Family Story. 

In 2012 while attending a conference of the St. Louis African American Genealogy Society, I had the pleasure of meeting Dred Scott's direct descendant, Lynn Johnson, his gr. gr. granddaughter. She is now the director of the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation and works to keep the legacy of her ancestor alive.

Angela Walton-Raji and Lynn Jackson, standing near portrait of Dred Scott.

There are many notable names in history who struggled against the yoke of slavery. Some fought for themselves and their loved ones such as Dred Scott. Others fought for the freedom of others, like Harriet Tubman. We read about them, and remember their names, but the chance to visit their gravesite is rare. I am grateful that I was able to visit the gravesite of this man, whose struggle, and landmark case deferred a mighty dream. 

He was an ordinary man, a simple man who only wanted to be free. I am humbled by the chance to say that his battle mattered.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Buffalo Soldier Recruitment Letter Among Freedmen's Bureau Documents

Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen & Abandoned Lands, National Archives Publication M1901 Roll 7

The 9th and 10th Cavalry as well as the 24th and 25th Infantry regiments of the U.S. Army are known by many as Buffalo Soldiers. These men enlisted in the US Army after the Civil War.

While recently studying the records of the Freedmen's Bureau recently, an interesting letter was found among letters in the Ouachita County Arkansas records. (1) The letter was sent to the  various agents of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands. In the body of the letter were instructions to the agents to identify men from the newly freed population, and to encourage their enlistment in the army for the 10th Cavalry. The 10th Cavalry was one of the regiments that became known as Buffalo Soldiers and who made a name for themselves as they served on the western frontier.

Both pages are found on the Internet Archives site:
Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen &Abandoned Lands for the State of Arknasas, Roll 7

The letter reads:

"I am directed by the Assistant Commissioner, to inform you that he wishes the Agents of the Bureau  to render such service as they can, consistent with their other duties, in obtaining recruits for the 10th Regiment, U.S. Cavalry, (Colored). When it comes to the knowledge of any Agent, that there are colored men suitable for, and desiring to enlist in, this regiment, he will at once report by telegraph or letter to Capt. J. W. Walsh, 10th U.S. Cavalry, Little Rock, Arkansas.

All recruits are to be at least 5 feet, 6 inches high.  Capt. Walsh will soon furnish to the Agents a few posters giving all the terms of an enlistment. Any expenses incurred by telegraphing or otherwise in obtaining recruits will be paid by Capt. Walsh.

Agents will inform the colored men, through the medium of their preachers that recruits are wanted for this regiment, and the manner of effecting an enlistment.

                                                                                     I am very respectfully,

                                                                                     Your O B't Serv't

                                                                                      Jno. Tyler (signed)
                                                                                       1st Lt. 43rd, US Infantry
                                                                                       Act'g Ass't Adj't Gen'l

Joseph S. Thorpe

*****     *****     *****     *****

This is one of the more unique kinds of records to be found in this amazing record set. The records, also referred to as Record Group 105, contain many name rich records of newly freed slaves, southern whites and land owners. The typical records are labor contracts, marriage records, transportation records and a number of letters and complaints. This particular letter reflects some of the unique orders that were sent to and received by the various agents of the Freedmen's Bureau.

The critical lesson for genealogists is look beyond the lists of names. In the many letters, one can find other gems such as recruitment orders, local county stories and reports of unique incidents that never made it to published county histories.

(1) Bureau of the Office of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands. National Archives Record Publication M1901, Roll 7.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Finding Mitchell Bass in the Early Days of Freedom

Louis Mitchell Bass, Horatio Arkansas

     I recently, had one of those genealogy “happy dance” moment while researching records from the Freedmen’s Bureau. Now, I have been looking at the these for many years, but until recent months the search has always been on microfilm. That usually involved a trip to the National Archives, threading the microfilm reader, and sitting down to scroll page after page. But in recent years, two online web sites have digitized these records: the Internet Archive, and most recently Family Search.  And as a result, research can be conducted without travel to Washington, but from the comfort of my own home.

     One of my ancestral communities is southwestern Arkansas, in Sevier County. There was a field office of the Bureau, located in that part of the state, in the town of Paraclifta, Arkansas. So, recently, I sat down to inspect the records from that county.  My ancestors lived in a tiny hamlet called Horatio Arkansas during those post civil war years, and I was not even sure that my ancestors would have made it to the town of Paraclifta, or that their names had been recorded by the Bureau at all. But nevertheless, I looked.

     While going through pages, I came upon a set of pages that contained the names of plantation owners from Sevier county where the my great grandparents lived. I saw one letter from bureau staff, that a circular had been sent to the plantation owners to reply to the bureau stating what their agreements were that had been made with freedmen, now that the War was over and that slavery was abolished.  

So, my eyes scanned the names, of plantation owners, and then I saw the name of one that made we stop:  H. C. Pride. 

National Archives publication M1901 Roll 18, page 1007
Internet Archive Image Image on page 1007
     I knew that name! 

     Henry C. Pride, of Sevier County Arkansas, was always said to have been the slave holder of my great grandfather, Mitchell Bass. And there was H.C. Pride’s name as a plantation owner to whom, letters had been sent from the Freedmen’s Bureau. A circular had been sent for him to record the names of the Freedmen employees, and state their wages.

     But after seeing Pride's name, my next question was, “Did he reply, and would I see Gr. Grandpa Mitchell’s name as now an employee?”  Or, I wondered, did my ancestor Mitchell leave and find employment with someone else now that freedom had come?

     The next set of pages consisted of names of a Roster of  Freedmen and notes pertaining to the employer and wages to be paid. I could only hope that H.C. Pride would respond to the circular sent to him by the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands.  I carefully examined each page looking for those enslaved by H.C. Pride. And then came page 9.

     There was Pride, and whoa!! There was my great grandfather Mitchell!  He was listed along with others now “employees” of Pride.

  And as I looked at their names, I could not help but also notice Susan. Was this possibly the same Susan who was also part of our family? Grandpa Mitchell married a Susan after the war. In fact in the 1870 Federal Census, Mitchell was enumerated with his wife Susan and their children. Could this be the same Susan? I am not certain of that, but both names truly caught my attention. But I knew with certainty that this Mitchell was MY Mitchell.

     The heading of the page recorded the names of the Freedmen, the employer, an employee number, date, and wages paid.


     Every entry on the page and on all of the pages of the register consisted of the same payment: B. C. and Med. Att. This meant “Board, clothing and medical attention.” The date of this register was July 1865 and the war had not long been over.

     I could not help but notice however, no money was paid for labor.

     However, seeing Mitchell’s name on this roster, I know was the earliest record of my great grandfather! Mitchell would not keep the surname Pride, and by 1870 five years later, he was using the name that he attributed to his parents from whom he was separated years before. He had once lived with his family who lived and worked as enslaved people on the Bass estate, in Giles County Tennessee.

      By 1870, in an effort to reclaim his tie to his own family from whom he was taken in 1860, he chose to use the surname of his parents, which was Bass.  Mitchell would forever be known as Louis Mitchell Bass, reclaiming the name of his own family, and not that of the last slave holder.

     By 1870 he was a farmer on his own, and within a few years, he would purchase land as a homesteader in Sevier County, Arkansas. He would raise his children there, including a daughter, my grandmother Sarah Ellen Bass. 

     The document from the Freedmen's Bureau, tells a lot. It shows that he remained in the same community after freedom came, and he, like many others did, worked but was not paid cash at that time. And as the document reflected, his name was not yet inscribed with a surname. But a mere five years later, he would be recorded in the federal census as Louis Mitchell Bass with wife Susan and family.

     A lot is still to be known about how freedom actually came to Mitchell, Susan and the others, but oh, what a joy to find great grandpa Mitchell’s name, in the bureau records, in the early days of freedom. He was a survivor, and he did make it to see a brighter day.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Unique Freedmen's Bureau Records Reflect Rations given to Whites and Indians

The recent news in the genealogy community is that Family Search has partnered with a number of African American organizations, societies and communities to participate in the national indexing initiative. The goal is to make the recently digitized records of the Freedmen's Bureau, available online.

The bureau is officially known as the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, and field offices existed throughout the south after the Civil War. One such office was located in Ft. Smith Arkansas, and this office not only assisted former slaves in western Arkansas, but also assisted local whites in need of aid, and also Indians from nearby Cherokee and Choctaw Nations. On the following document one can see clearly that rations were shared with persons of all backgrounds.

National Archives publication M1901 Roll 8, Ft. Smith field office

Source for all images:
Same as above: National Archives publication M1901 Ft. Smith Field Office
Also found on Family Search:
"Arkansas, Freedmen's Bureau Field Office Records, 1864-1872," images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1971-46268-22619-19?cc=2328125&wc=9VRS-VZ4:1076659802,1076659805 : accessed 25 June 2015), Fort Smith (Sebastian County) > Roll 8, Register of application for restoration of property, register of marriages, and register of persons drawing rations, 1867 > image 16 of 23; citing NARA microfilm publication M1901 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

Interestingly during that time, it is fascinating to see that Freedmen, or former slaves were the smallest population receiving rations at the Ft. Smith field office. Also from these particular pages this was now two years after the Civil War, and assisting the hungry and people in need was still a large focus of the bureau.

There was a community that lived by the Arkansas River for many years. The area was sometimes referred to as "Coke Hill." Though there is no evidence, it is possible that these may have been early settlers in the community that would later develop. By the late 1800s and early 1900s this community still lived near the Arkansas River. And for many years both poor whites and blacks lived along the banks of the River. With time as the city grew and changed, the communities would reside along 2nd 3rd, 4th street. By the mid to late 20th century they would eventually disappear.

These western Arkansas records are unique in that they are reflecting the population not often mentioned as having been affected by war. These refugees requesting rations in the western Arkansas field office are quite revealing. Seeing the number of white citizens, and even those from the Cherokee and Choctaw nation, tell a story on the local history level that is unique. These pages shed light on the importance that the western military post on the Arkansas river had on the civilians living nearby.
It is hoped that the new indexing project launched by Family Search will see the value of including the whites and Indian in the indexing as well. Including their names will be of benefit to genealogists, historians and students of state and county history. For genealogists the value of all names on a record are important. It is understood that the bureau served millions of former slaves, but this record set holds many other stories as well on those pages, and it is hoped that all will be included in the new indexing effort underway.

Thanks to the digitization of these records, more chapters of the unwritten post civil war years can be written. For family historians the value is clear. For community historians there are equally valuable stories to extract from these pages. And for those who study Civil War history and its impact upon the civilian population, records such as these will shine the light on many areas never studied before.

It is hoped that as many study the records that they will share the stories and place all who were there on the historical landscape where they belong.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Rail & River Passes from the Freedmen's Bureau

Freedom of movement of was the one thing that restricted enslaved people every moment of their lives while enslaved. Unless one had a pass--written permission from a slave holder giving permission for a person of color to walk on the road, enslaved people were invisible from the roads and lanes for decades.But the end of the Civil War brought about something new. Freedom brought movement!

At last, as the structures of a slave culture began to crumble, black men, women, young, and old took to the roads. This was unnerving and shocking to the local southern white populations, when as early as 1861, when contraband camps began forming, the word was out--get on the road, get to the union line and find freedom!

People who at one time could never been out of sight of slave holder, or overseers during the day, and the slave patrols at night. Slaves caught without passes were severely punished by whippings and even being sold away from family. So the chance to move brought about immediate changes in their lives. Early photos in post civil war days reflect the movement of African Americans choosing to leave, and find another life and move about freely.

A rich source of records for formerly enslaved people are the transportation records found in Record Group 105, commonly referred to as the Freedmen's Bureau. These records reflect movement. Some were leaving places where they had been enslaved and seeking a new life, others were seeking family that had been taken, and others seeking to return to families from whom they had been separated.

From Devall's Bluff, Arkansas, a unique set of transportation records were found. It is known that rivers were widely used for transportation, and like trains, frequently long distance travel was made via river ways and trains.

As a result a unique set of pages from Devall's Bluff Arkansas, were found among the bureau records. This subset of record consisted of passes to travel via rail or river. This set of records is found on Microfilm Roll 8 of the Records of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands for the state of Arkansas.

The rosters consist of the name of the traveler, their place of residence, and their destination. This can be seen as equivalent as a passenger list or passenger manifest, with the primary travelers being post Civil War Freedmen.

Many of the Freedmen were travelling from Devall's Bluff to Little Rock, the capital, but some were traveling to other cities and states such as Memphis Tennessee, or Brownsville Texas.

A quick search on Google Maps, shows the distance between Devall's Bluff, and Memphis. Today such a journey takes less than 90 minutes by car. But in the mid 19th century, the journey would have been a combination of possibly rail and rivers, partially traveling on the many wandering tributaries of the Arkansas River.

Google Map showing today's route from Devall's Bluff to Memphis


Source of Bureau Images: National Archives publication M1901 Roll 8, Target 2
Subordinate Field Office, Devall's Bluff, Prairie County, Contracts, Volume 1 (75)
January 1865 - July 1865

Rosters such as this, which can be found among bureau records are unique as they show movement made by former slaves as they formed new lives. They are among the many gems to be found in Record Group 105.

Hopefully as researchers get more acquainted with these records, they will move beyond the joy of finding a loved one, and graduate to a wider story involving entire communities. There are amazing stories that come out of these records and transportation records are among the treasures to be found.
Both the Internet Archive and Family Search, now have these records digitized. 

(Genealogists and researchers are encouraged to make these records more easily accessible, by participating in the Indexing Project conducted by Family Search.)

Monday, June 22, 2015

Understanding and Exploring Freedmen's Bureau Records

Many of us watched the announcement several days ago of the new indexing project presented by Family Search, elders of the LDS church, and leaders from the African American genealogy community.  It is encouraging to know that an effort to index these records has now unfolded.

As genealogists, our task is not only to collect information, but also to tell the story, cite the correct record group for our data accurately, and to present it clearly for others to follow. As we begin to negotiate these post Civil War records, it is important that the records are fully understood.

So what are these records?
These records reflect the business conducted by the US military after the Civil War. The goal was to assist the communities affected by war, and to assist with bringing order throughout the south.

What is the official name of this agency?
The official name is the Bureau of Refugee, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands. It has been a part of the National Archives records categorized as Record Group 105.

Who were the people served by the Bureau?

Refugees were southern whites, left destitute and homeless after the  Civil War.
Rations Issued to white refugees in Ozark Arkansas.
Source of Image: Internet Archive

Freedmen were people of color, black people, recently freed from bondage.
Roster of Freedmen employees in Sevier County Arkansas
National Archives M1901 Roll 18

Abandoned Lands pertained to property of white land owners of plantations and farms abandoned during war.

Document reflecting lands abandoned in Jacksonport Arkansas
National Archives M1901 Roll 6

What kind of records are there to be found in the Bureau?

*There are ration records, reflecting people who receive rations of food and clothing. Recipients of these rations were white, black and in western Arkansas, there were even cases of Indians receiving rations.

*There are marriage records reflecting many former slaves wanting to have their marriages officially recorded.

*There are bounty records reflecting payments to Union soldiers, many of whom were US Colored Troops.

*There are transportation records of freedmen being relocated to other states, fleeing terror in their old communities.

* There are school records, some reflecting student enrollment of black children being taught to read without punishment.

* There are hospital records, from the many freedmen hospitals that were created during and after the war. Some suffered from disease, such as measles, typhod, cholera, and others from injuries.

*There are countless letters from citizens requesting assistance in bringing children back, still held in bondage. Other letters reflect decisions made to settle disputes between Freedmen and employers refusing to pay former slaves wages.

The potential is there for many more chapters to be opened in America's post Civil War story. The need is for all of the genealogy community to get involved, and hopefully the appeal to bring these records to life will be felt by all.

To find the field offices for the bureau, visit Mapping the Freedmen's Bureau. The records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, belong to all of us. It is an American record set with an American story, still to tell.

Join the Indexing Project

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Freedmen's Bureau Indexing Initiative Begins June 19th

Live Announcement to be streamed online

A major initiative will be announced live on Friday June 19th at 1:00 pm EDT. Coming live via video stream from California, Family Search will announce that the genealogically critical records from the Bureau of Refugees Freedmen and Abandoned Lands---the Freedmen's Bureau, are now available online for genealogists to study. And for this critical record set to be used best by the genealogy community, Family Search is putting forth a call to action to get these records indexed!

Genealogists of all backgrounds will find the amazing records of the Bureau, to be vital to all 19th century southern research. The Bureau is also known by many researchers and scholars as National Archives Record Group 105. Now thanks to digitization genealogists with ancestors throughout the south, will be able to explore labor contracts, transportation records, hospital records and much more.

All Cultures Are Reflected in the Bureau Records

One thing must be emphasized---Record Group 105 should be of interest to all Americans, white, black and even Native American. The "refugees" served by the bureau were white southerners. The Freedmen were black people once enslaved, and newly freed, and the abandoned lands belonged to the white land owners, left abandoned during the years of the Civil War. This record set will allow many people to find their ancestors during those critical  years between 1865 and 1870 when they appear in the first Federal census as citizens in the land of their birth. And many southern whites whose families were left without land and resources after the Civil War will also find their ancestors receiving rations and petitioning for aid after the surrender.  Those whose ancestors served in the Union Army will find their ancestors among the workers of the Bureau, and others may find them as teachers in the Freedmen schools throughout the south. In western field offices like Ft. Smith Arkansas, one will even find Cherokee citizens being served by the bureau.

Early Marriages Recorded
For many, a particular treat will come with the dozens of Field offices of the Freedmen's Bureau that allowed formerly enslaved men and women to have their marriages recorded. Some of the records appear as simple ledgers while others are full elaborate certificates. These ceremonies were often recorded by the chaplain stationed at the military post that became the site of the Bureaus's field office. In some field offices full pre-marriage data was collected, in the form of co-habitation records as well. This name-rich record set will provide new information for researchers, and the access to these records is going to open doors once considered closed to many researchers whose ancestors were enslaved.

In previous posts I have shared samples of records from the Bureau. Hospital Records as well as marriage records, and transportation records reflect the vast amount of data found in the various field offices. In addition, bounty records reflecting payment of US Colored Troops after the war are also among the wonderful records to be found.

In 2011, I wrote a piece devoted to the Ft. Smith Arkansas marriage records that reflected ceremonies performed by Chaplain Francis Springer. 

The Challenge
The challenge is to get them indexed, so that families can be found. 

Many unwritten chapters in American history lie among the millions of pages to be indexed. 

Our charge is to get to them, and bring forth their names so that we can bring forth their stories!

We can get this done!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Southern California Genealogy Jamboree Begins

The Southern California Genealogy Jamboree is now underway! 

I had the honor to share a panel with Bernice Bennett, and Nicka Smith for the panel "Reaching Out and Reaching In" early this morning. This was the first session offered in the African American track at the Jamboree. 

(courtesy of Felicia Addison)
Our panel listening to comments from audience.

A very poignant discussion unfolded and the interactive action that we desired, unfolded smoothly. And delightfully there was good audience participation. They found the topic to be a much needed one, and everyone shared their thoughts and ideas.

Bernice Bennett served as moderator of the panel and raised several key questions,

What does reaching out reaching in mean to each of us?

Why isn't there diversity?

What is the community?

Who "owns" the African American story?

Where do we begin?

As a presenter I was delighted to see the participation from the audience, and their willingness to share their stories with each of us.

After the session ended, I had the honor of meeting a gentleman whose family history I had researched and blogged about in 2013. He had printed the article  and asked me to autograph it for him. What a humbling thing to meet him and to know that he had appreciated the article.  He, Mr. Tommy J. Clark of San Diego, is a direct descendant of Chickasaws, Samuel Chawanochubby and Mason Clark.

Awaiting the opening of the exhibit hall later and I shall be posting things from there. But the day is off to a great beginning!

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 (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1942-46287-8953-41?cc=2328125&wc=9VR9-BZC:1076659111,1076659115 : 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.