Tuesday, January 25, 2011

An Award - About our Freedom Award

I am thrilled that this blog has received an award by "About Our Freedom" In July of 2010 I wrote an article about my ancestor Sephas Bass, a soldier from the 111th US Colored Infantry in the American Civil War. In that piece I described how I was able to find my gr. gr. uncle in the records, and I shared the details about his experience as a soldier, who was captured, escaped and rejoined his unit after escape.

About our Freedom is a site created by Robin Foster of Saving Our Stories, and she has devoted this site to sharing stories of Freedom that emerged from the countless individuals who fought, served, and died for the cause of freedom for all.

I am humbled by this award, and grateful for it. Sephas Bass, Braxton Bass, Henry Bass and Emanuel Bass who all enlisted together, share this honor, for it is they who were the true Freedom Mavericks!

On their behalf, I accept this award.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Researching Slavery Era Records

A few books featuring Slavery Era Research Tips and Information

I had a chance to attend a workshop sponsored by the Central Maryland Chapter of the African American Historical & Genealogical Society in Columbia Maryland.

The speaker was Aaron Dorsey and he shared a number of valuable strategies regarding researching ancestors who were enslaved, and how to find them in a number of records.

Many know already that after using resources in the home, conducting oral history and exploring vital records, the census records will be useful from 1930, going back to 1870. And then----there is the WALL!  For those who ancestors are enslaved, the "Wall of 1870" is real.  One will not find their ancestors easily prior to that census year.  In 1860 and earlier years, the ancestors were enslaved, listed as mere property if at all, and usually not within a discernible family group to allow the researcher to easily stay on the ancestral trail.

Researcher Aaron Dorsey provided some very good information to the group including a strategy for creating a census profile, identifying the possible slave owner, how to narrow down possible slave owners, and he did advise researchers to not assume that a surname will be the clue to the last slave owner.   

Aaron Dorsey Discussing Strategies for Slavery Era Research

Among the steps that he outlined:

1) Research the contemporary family first.  Always a good beginning strategy.

2) Collect data on collateral ancestors, when researching previous generations. (He gave a wonderful example of not knowing the maiden name of one his gr. grandmothers.  By obtaining death records from all of the children, 3 of the children listed the same maiden name of the mother. Had he relied on his direct line and ignored the collateral records, he would have missed that information!)

3) Learn the history of the local area. Local histories, historical society journals and heritage books of the county can be useful resources for genealogists.
Heritage books such as this one from Virginia can provide useful information about the county for researchers.

4) Research the Post Slavery Era closely ---the early years of freedom to get information about the past:  Freedman's Savings, Freedman's Bureau labor contracts, marriage records, cohabitation records and more, can provide data that will lead the researcher in the right direction to learning about the years prior to emancipation.

5) Identify the Slave Owning Family. He presented a good number of strategies to identify possible slave owners: 
-Study those who lived close to one's formerly enslaved family.
-Compare the 1870 census with the 1860 census to find the same community during the pre-emancipation era.
-Take note of the value of property in those 2 census years.
-Take note also of those who owned significant amounts of property as indicated in census records.

6) When studying the slave holding family, he recommended the following:
-Create a basic genealogy of the slave holding family
-Develop a census profile on all members of the slave holding family.
-Examine Tax entries
-Review conveyance records or deeds
-Examine personal papers

It was a very thorough presentation, including his recommendation of books that can be critical for conducting more research.

In general it was a good presentation with many questions from the group.  This is a subject in which many more sessions are required and hopefully more researchers will in the future share their strategies for researching this challenging era.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Remembering MLK - Lessons From GOOGLE, to My Own Hometown

Image on today's Google Search Page

"I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

I am on the computer all the time working on websites, podcasts, blogs and other writing projects and research projects. I use the Google search engine all the time for a quick search.  While looking up something a few moments ago, I went to use the Google search engine and looked at the image of the day, and pondered upon its theme. Children, innocently playing a game I too, used to play---hopskotch.

I saw the image, and wondered for a moment what it meant---and then I got it.  The image above should be exactly what it is---children of all colors being able to play an innocent game---color not being of importance, only their innocence as children, should allow them to play a simple game together.

I grew up in a small southern town of Ft. Smith, Arkansas. This is a town rich in history of the past, where the western frontier was right at the city's gates, and the flavor of the south lined the beautiful city streets.  The town I grew up in was not without its challenges for its citizens of color, but I have come to appreciate how times have changed.

Schools were segregated. There were the 2 white high schools and the1 black high school. Therye were the white Catholic schools and the 1 black Catholic School. McCrory's and Kress soda fountains were not open to people of color and it was known.  Yet unlike places in cities like Baltimore, we could use dressing rooms in local stores and some areas of exchange and interaction were never an issue.

During the earlier 19th century years of westward expansion, black US Deputies were commonplace, many rode for the infamous Judge Parker.

In the days of my youth there were also black policemen, among law enforcement officials.  When integration came, it was quiet and also without incident.  Although many elders in the African American community can recall when in the 1960s, when the city's only black doctor tried to get on the school board, emergency phone calls were made across the city to dozens of white citizens to get to the school board right away----votes were needed right away to keep the black doctor from being elected.  They were successful. Yet today the board of education has had members who are of color, for many years.

But unlike Little Rock that got the headlines as Central High School was integrated, Ft. Smith held its breath.  And quietly things were dismantled. The girls academy, St. Scholastica had already opened its doors to black students, as early as 1952 and no noise was ever made. There were others in the city who had been childhood friends across the color line, who also had broken barriers of color without incident.

And as integration came to the city----doors opened rather smoothly.  Restaurants opened, and the schools were integrated, and jobs opened.

Today, the school board has African Americans as part of the team, medical professionals come in a variety of colors, and children sit together, of all colors innocently as they should---and color is not an issue for them--their innocence as children dominates their day.

I looked at an image of children on the page of the school board's website,  and saw the city represented.  Faces, black, white brown, reflecting the city's image---children who were Vietnamese, Laotian, Hispanic, African American and Caucasian---all are there, and all sat listening to a story being read.
Image from page of Ft. Smith School District

The city council has a person of color among the leaders, tv news reporters come in a variety of colors and backgrounds, and life goes on as it should.

During this time, in our nation, where succession balls are held, the nation celebrates or commemorates it's own Civil War of not too long ago, some wounds are still tender, and some have never healed.  Perhaps some day we will get it sorted out.

Perhaps they should take some lessons from my hometown, where life goes on, as it should.

"I have a dream that little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers."   ~Martin Luther King Jr.~

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

"Mustered Out" May 1866, Little Rock Arkansas, A First Day of Freedom

Colorized Image  from Harper's Weekly illustration
of Black  Civil War soldiers  mustered out of service in Little Rock Arkansas
Source: Harper's Weekly, May 19, 1866

One of my favorite Civil War images was depicted in a Harper's Weekly illustration, of black soldiers being mustered out of the US Colored Troops in Little Rock Arkansas. 

The illustration was printed with the caption, "Mustered Out" and the scene depicted is beautiful.  The soldiers were greeted in the middle of the street by their wives and children, and the sight of it all, must have been so moving that a Civil War illustrator, for Harper's Weekly, captured that moment.

Dead center is the man in a loving embrace with his wife.  Her face is not shown, only the back side of her bonnet. His face is not shown, only the side of his head and his cap atop his head as he pours his affections upon his wife, and their embrace can only be described as so tender.

Soldier and wife in loving embrace

But so much more occurs in that image: 

One soldier introduces his comrade, to his wife. The soldier tips his hat to the Mrs. and the soldier proudly holds their child in his arms.

One soldier introduces his army buddy to his wife.

On the far right of that picture, very faintly, there is an image of a lady who stands alone in the street as if looking for her loved one to return.  

I mention her here, because I have to think about my ancestor Lydia Talkington.  Her husband never made it home. He was injured at Jenkins Ferry and later died from his wounds. And I still wonder as Union soldiers returned to her community in NW Arkansas, did she stand to the side, watching such a reunion?  Did her heart ache over and over, as she still scoured the crowd of men, hoping to see her own husband, although knowing that he had already died?  Did she wonder if it had possibly been a mistake and maybe, just maybe he might come home to her? Did such a scene that brought such joy to many, strike a bittersweet note in the hearts of those whose loved ones were lost?

In another part of that image, other soldiers stand embracing their wives and looking around as joy explodes all around them.  Not only were these men of war returning, but these families had a new beginning, a chance at last, at life! They could stay, they could leave, and these men now had a voice in the direction that their families could take!  They had taken the risk, and had won!

Other groups of soldiers with their wives and children

Those of us who research the 19th century whether Civil War era, or not, can appreciate that moments of pure joy were few and far between, for many who lived during those years.  But the pure joy of families reunited, and enjoying freedom for the first time, had to be a special time, for so many of our ancestors.  The fact that historical illustrators were so moved to capture this scene for Harper's Weekly, suggests that to have been there at that moment was special indeed. 

Over the years, as time would pass, images of former slaves were presented as caricatures and people to ridicule and that trend would be placed in magazines, postcards, newspapers, for decades.  

But at this moment at the very end of this War for Freedom, this is an image that viewers of any era, from any place, can understand.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The First Black Marriages of Ft. Smith Arkansas Found in Freedman's Bureau Records

Among the many desires that slaves had once freedom came was to legally marry.  Many men were anxious to marry the woman they loved and have those marriages recognized by the community, the state and they could be considered husband and wife forever.  In the years after the Civil War, for the first time, courthouses recorded the marriages of those who had once been enslaved. Once ordinary life was restored in those communities affected by the war, black men and women rushed to have their marriages recorded. 

The city of Ft. Smith was no different. At the time the war ended, the city had been occupied by Union soldiers---the 57th US Colored Troops. All entrances to the city were guarded by these black Union soldiers, and one can only imagine the impression that many of these soldiers in their blue uniforms must have made upon the local women, who had never seen such a number of free men of color and in uniform no less. It is easy to say that courtships occurred and subsequently marriages followed.  

These marriages were recorded--but not in the Ft. Smith court house.  In fact--these marriages, predated the marriage records found in the Sebastian county Courthouse.

They were performed at the Ft. Smith Bureau of the Office of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands. These marriage ceremonies were performed at the Ft. Smith Field Office by Chaplain Francis Springer.

I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a ledger several years ago, and was amazed to find the marriages performed by Francis Springer in 1865 to 1867.

In this image, Nelson Call and Maria (no last name) are married, and
John Shields and Elizabeth Wagner were married.

Isaac McDaniel and Gracie Hall were married by Springer,
as were Peter Harris and Elizabeth (no last name given).

The ledger consists of 17 pages of marriages performed.  Needless to say I was thrilled to locate them, and I have published the names of the marriages on my Arkansas Freedmen website.

Francis Springer is known to those who study the history of the community in and around Ft. Smith, Arkansas. Each one of the marriages that he performed, reflect his signature as the officiating officer. 

It it not widely known that he performed so many marriages at the Bureau. But the records are there, and I have a copy of the entire ledger.

The presence of these Union Army men, and their marriages to women from the community could explain how so many of the same soldiers came to also be buried in Ft. Smith National Cemetery.  Many remained in the western Arkansas area and made it their home.

I was thrilled to find these marriages and am happy to write about these weddings that occurred at the Ft. Smith Field Office of the Freedman's Bureau.