Tuesday, June 28, 2011

From Virginia to Arkansas, and Back to Virginia - A Freedman's Bureau Migration Story

Letter to Freedman's Bureau 
Source: Virginia Freedman's Bureau Letters 1865-1872
National Archives Record Group 105, Reel #44 Image 349
(Also Family Search Image: #4150377)  
(see transcription below)

Researching African American ancestry is not without its challenges.  The 1870 census provides a glimpse at a community of individuals who were a mere 5 years living in freedom.

But sometimes the assumption is often made that the individuals were living in the communities where they had been enslaved, and had not ventured far from their home.

It possible that in most cases this is true, however, if one studies the thousands of non-indexed pages from NARA Record Group 105--(the Freedman's Bureau) a wealth of data can be found that might reflect stories otherwise not known.

The Haney Family - A Case Study

In 1867 a woman Jane wrote to the Freedman's Bureau office in search of her sons. Upon first glance I would have thought that Jane's sons had been sold away from her, and she was seeking assistance to find them.

However in this case---they did not leave Virginia until 1866.  They had signed a contract in Alexandria Virginia to travel to eastern Arkansas, to work for a year, with their father.  Meanwhile, in Arkansas, the father of the two boys died after a short illness and their mother was seeking information about their return.

The letter reads:

Alexander Va.
August 16th, 1867

Col. S. P. Lee
Sub. Asst. Commr.
Alexander Virginia

 I have the honor to apply to you to assist me in procuring my two sons Lewis Haney age 13 yrs, and Joshua Haney aged 16 yrs who are now in the vicinity of Helena Arkansas.

With their father Joshua Haney, they made a , 1866 contract April 16th in your office to work for one year with the firm of Van Belk, & Co., of Helena Arkansas.  They remained with Van Belk & Co. until their year expired and were discharged. After this they were employed by Mr. Briant Lynch of St. Francis Co. Ark until the 27th of July last when the father (my husband) died after an illness of nine days.  The boys are now without any one to care for them and on account of their age I am anxious to have them under my care and protection.

Source: Virginia Freedman's Bureau Letters 1865-1872
National Archives Record Group 105, Reel #44 Image 350
(Also Family Search Image: #4150377)

(next page)
and for that purpose I apply to you for aid, praying that you will have them returned to me through the agencies of the Freedman's Bureau.

Respectfully yours,

Rachel (her  X mark) Haney

Witness  Geo. H. Smith

* * * * *
Rachel's letter was interesting for several reasons.  Was Rachel in search of children who had been sold from her?  Not at all!

She lived in Virginia and it appears that a contract was made with the Bureau to provide labor in eastern Arkansas. Upon reading this letter one cannot wonder what the circumstances were that Arkansas needed to send for workers?  There were thousands of former slaves along the Mississippi River, and there was a Freedman's Bureau field office in many places in eastern Arkansas to assist with labor contracts.

With there being no shortage of labor in eastern Arkansas, what were the circumstances for the recruitment of workers from Virginia?

There must have been steady communication between Rachel and her family since she was clearly aware of what had happened to her husband as well as the status of her sons, when their contract had ended.  This is significant, particularly because this reveals a part of history that is just simply not well known. This tells the story of what happened in those critical years between 1865 and 1870.  

In this case---we see that a contract was made to send a large number of former slaves from Virginia to work in Arkansas.  This was organized by the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands---the Freedman's Bureau.
So----what happened to Rachel's children?  

A report in the Freedman's Bureau files describes what happened to them. 

Source: Virginia Freedman's Bureau Letters 1865-1872
National Archives Record Group 105, Reel #44 Image 703
(See transcription below)

Hd Qrs Ass Com Dist of Va
Richmond Va, Oct 4, 1867

Respectfully returned to Brt. Lt  Col. S.P.Lee S.A.C.inviting attention to understatement of E.G. Barker, Agent.

Madera Ark. Sept 14th, 1867

Respectfully returned to Lieut. H. Sweeney Agt. at Helena Ark. with the information that the children Lewis and Joshua Haney are still with Mr. Bryant Lynch of this County,  and who has a contact with them appeared at this office.  Their compensation is $9.00 for the oldest and $7.00 for the youngest per month the contract expiring on the 25th day of Dec of 1867. Mr. Lynch is a prominent man in St. Francis Co. and I think is treating the children kindly: they will be looked after by the Bur in this co. and in my opinion would do well to remain until the expiration of their contract.

* * * * *

My question----was this common for persons from Virginia, once enslaved and later freed, to be sent under contract to work in places as distant as Arkansas?  

Were there others from the same community sent there as well?  

If so---were there many or were they just a small number whose story is mere anecdotal?

Well, further investigation revealed so much more.  And the answers were found in the Virginia Freedman's Bureau. Thankfully all of the reels are digitized and one tenacious researcher in Virginia is going through each and every reel, looking for interesting stories to share. (Thank you Selma Stewart!)

In fact----she located the very answers to those questions, including a contract with the names of the Haney children and others from Alexandria Virginia.  On reel 52, images 826 - 829 answer those questions. (see image and transcription below)

A signed Article of Agreement in which the Haney children and their father and many others from Alexandria agree to go to Arkansas to go to Arkansas to work, was dated 13th of April 1866. The contract expired on January 1, 1867. It appears that the same Haneys mentioned in the letter by Rachel are her family--Henry, Joshua and Lewis Haney. The wages were $15.00 per month, and Lewis is was stated was to receive $8.00
Source: Virginia Freedman's Bureau Letters 1865-1872
National Archives Record Group 105, Reel #52 Image 826

The surprise was to find a list of names of dozens of people including the Haneys who were from Virginia and sent to Arkansas under contract to work, right after the Civil War.

Close up view of contract
Source: Virginia Freedman's Bureau Letters 1865-1872
National Archives Record Group 105, Reel #52 Image 826

And a few pages later, came the names of dozens of people.

Partial View and Close Up of document from FB where workers were contracted for Arkansas
Source: Virginia Freedman's Bureau Letters 1865-1872
National Archives Record Group 105, Reel #52 Image 827

Surprisingly more pages of names of former slaves from Alexandria Virginia appeared on following pages!

Source: Virginia Freedman's Bureau Letters 1865-1872
National Archives Record Group 105, Reel #52 Image 828

This particular story had a happy ending----the Haney children returned to Virginia and they are found in the 1870 census in Alexandria Virginia.

The question must be asked however----what of the others?  Did they all return to Virginia, leaving Arkansas after their contracts ended?  

And what if they stayed? 
What are the implications for the genealogist? 

One thing is clear---there is a potential for error.  

If some of the Virginia people chose to remain in Arkansas, or move elsewhere they won't appear in the Federal census until 1870. Will their origins from Alexandria Virginia be known?  Probably not.

If the story of being contracted by the Freedman's Bureau did  not survive family oral history---how will the genealogist be able to tell this critical and significant story?

Sandy Nash A Case Study

Let's look at the case of Sandy Nash. His name also appears on the document of former slaves from Alexandria Virginia sent to Helena Arkansas.   

Close Up View
Source: Virginia Freedman's Bureau Letters 1865-1872
National Archives Record Group 105, Reel #52 Image 829

Sandy Nash's name appears on line 306. 

I searched for Sandy Nash in Virginia and did not find him there and then I decided to see if I could find Sandy Nash in Phillips County Arkansas in 1870 and sure enough---he was right there. He had chosen to remain in the west and not return to Virginia.

Excerpt from 1870 Federal Census Reflecting Sandy Nash
Source: Year: 1870; Census Place: Planters, Phillips, Arkansas; 
Roll: M593_60; Page: 63B; Image: 128; Family History Library Film: 545559.
Ancestry.com. 1870 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: 
Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.

Now---if a descendant of Sandy Nash who might still be living in Arkansas, he or she will find Sandy in 1870 in Phillips County. 

The researcher---if following the advice of the masters--will look for him in 1860, and then begin the search to find his last slave owner, presumably in Arkansas. 

Genealogists are taught-- that after determining that a black person was not free in 1860, then one can start to look for the last slaveholder in the same community. 

But in this case----Sandy Nash's last slave holder was in Fairfax county Virginia and was never in Phillips County Arkansas. It is usually recommended to African American researchers that when beginning the search for the last slave owner, that one begins in the community where one finds the former slave. 

And if this was not known via oral history---then how will the research ever know where in Virginia to find Sandy Nash?  

Chances are---the researcher may hit this brick wall and remain there for years. Even should the researcher turn to Freedman's Bureau records, the first move would be to use the Bureau records from Arkansas. And all of this data came from Virginia!

There are several points that I have learned from the cases above.

1) It is important to share what you find. Had a research colleague living in Virginia not shared this with me, I would never have known about these workers, several hundred----of them being contracted to go to Arkansas to work after the Civil War. She happened to know that Arkansas is one of my states and generously shared it with me.

2) It is important to avoid making assumptions  In this case--the researcher might hit a brick wall, unable to find the last slaveholder in the local community.  One might have to think outside of the box and ask about other resources that reflect the community and the time period--especially in those critical years after the Civil War. One should not assume that the former slave found in 1870 was a slave in the same place before the war.

3) Utilize all available Reconstruction Era records.  In the case of the Haneys, the researcher might find the Haney children in 1870, with little additional information about the family. However, the Freedman's Bureau letters contain a wealth of data found in the letter from their mother telling the story of their being in Arkansas.  She mentioned them by name, and also mentioned the name of their father, who died while in Arkansas.  If no known death record was known to exist--her letter might be the only piece of data about the father--his name and approximate time of death are in her letter.

We conduct our research because of the love of history and a desire to see that stories are told, and in this case---stories can be found when we least expect them.

Special thanks to Selma Stewart of Newport News Virginia, who in  her effort to look at every reel of microfilm that is now digitized, and available on Family Search, she shared the letters to me, and she opened my eyes to new possibilities.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

In Appreciation of Fathers, & Men in the Family Who Provide Love and Guidance

In Memory of My Father Samuel Lewis Walton

In memory of Mohammed Raji, Patriarch of the Raji Family   

In Memory of My grandfather, Samuel Walton

Honoring my brother Samuel Walton

Honoring Nephew Fred Walton

Honoring Nephew Kevin Dedner

The Uncles

In memory, "Uncle John"  John Martin, Patriarch of the Martin Line

In memory of  Uncle George Bass, Patriarch of the George Bass Line

And of course, my dear husband:

Honoring Ganiyu Raji,  "Big Daddy" to many and faithful husband to me.

Happy Father's Day!

From Oak Hill Cemetery to the Lab and Departure

Listening to the Director at Oak Hill Cemetery

The Friday session of the maps class began with a field trip to Oak Hill Cemetery, the oldest cemetery in Birmingham.  We were greeted by the cemetery caretaker who gave the group a small introduction to this beautiful burial ground.

We were given a thorough orientation to the layout of the cemetery by director Stuart Oakes.

The cemetery is a beautiful one and our task was to learn how to map a cemetery using the GPS device. Divided into small groups, we headed towards our sections and got to work.  My partner and I had a strong interest in seeing the old African American section, and headed that way to see what was there. It was a pleasure to see the headstone of one of the leading African American citizens of Birmingham, Rev. William Pettiford.  He was also an early pastor of the well known 16th Street Baptist Church which many of us know was bombed during the Civil Rights movement.

Headstone of Rev. William Pettiford, leading minister and educator in Birmingham

Two other researchers were busy documenting the same section.
Crystal Simmons and LaDonna Garner study map of cemetery before marking the perimeter on GPS

The exercise at the cemetery was followed by a session in the computer lab where we learned how to take the data using ArcGIS Explorer to present the data captured on the GPS devices.

Computer Lab, Capturing Data from GPS

Sadly, the last session came to an end.  We discussed the points that we enjoyed most and shared ideas for next year's institute.

This experience at Samford had been wonderful for me, and I must say that I can only look forward to next year. New friendships were made, and old ones were re-established.  I learned so much from both the faculty and also from the participants.  My head is full of new ideas, and after I catch up on my rest I have some new things to try, to enhance what I do----to tell the story better.

Thank you to all who worked so hard to make the Samford experience, once again a great one. And alas, farewell to that beautiful campus!

Samford University, a beautiful campus.

Friday, June 17, 2011

From Migration Maps to GIS, to Geo-Caching

Thursday consisted of exposure to maps of all kinds

The world of cartography is an amazing one, and we got a chance to see in so many ways, how the human story is still unfolding not only with historic maps but also with contemporary events. World crises from earthquakes in Haiti, to efforts to document public health epidemics such as H1N1 virus, maps are so important in our lives. It was exciting in the class to see how this world has expanded and come to address contemporary events. We also learned a lot as genealogical applications of GIS were also shared with the class.

Discussing Historic GIS and the Genealogical Applications

Before we headed outside for some fun with Geo-Caching, we had some interesting exercises.  We tried our hand in a virtual poll via a quick texting exercise.

Voting via Texting

But then it was time for Geo-Caching! But what is geocaching? Geocahing is a real-world outdoor treasure hunting game. Players try to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, using GPS-enabled devices and then share their experiences online. We were not participating in an official way---but the exercise gave many of us 
some experience in using GPS devices for something other than finding our way to a destination. But first we  had to become acquainted with the equipment.

Setting up the GPS

Everyone in the class seemed to have gotten into the exercise, and all began to study the settings and heading off to find the cache.

Outside the Science Center and Getting Started

In small groups everyone studied their devices to see where to go.

The exercise was a good one, as it made us comfortable with the GPS device, and it also taught us some of the various features of the unit as well.  The compass, the ability to follow something that had been marked, required our adjusting to readings and how to interpret them.

We found our cache and enjoyed the message enclosed.

The day was full of so many resources, it is difficult to describe how one left feeling amazed at the end of the day when taking it all in.  I did enjoy all of the exercises---even in that Alabama  heat!!!

The evening was topped off with a wonderful time at the banquet, before one final day that awaited us!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Computers and Mapping

Well the Wednesday session of the Maps class (Course 8) we were really able to get down to exploring the world of maps from the many maps that can be found online, to the many resources that are available.  The most fascinating thing for me to was to see that the world of genealogy and geography do mix quite well.  I am still more amazed than ever to note how many maps are now becoming available for researchers online. So many sites from government sites to universities and to repositories are now digitizing rare maps and there are so many more.

The day began with an interesting session on Military Maps.  I really enjoyed this session because it focused on so many things that can be learned from maps.  I was especially interested in seeing a number of interesting maps from the Civil War.

Civil War Map reflecting battle sites.

Rick Sayre gave two excellent presentations on the use of maps in research.  The military maps session was very interesting as it showed how some maps were created to reflect what was taking place, and other maps were created in fact after the war, when a certain political stance was intended. Many of these maps were often created  years after an event occurred.  In the afternoon, he presented an amazing case study using maps, city directories and other resources to solve a genealogical puzzle from his own research. 

 Military Maps Session Underway

In many cases maps can tell a story. Well, one particular map caught my attention--it  was a map that told the story of Camp Nelson.  Many who study Civil War history know that Camp Nelson was a major site where US Colored Troops were trained. In addition---it was also a contraband camp during the Civil War.  I was quite interested to note that the actual contraband camp was reflected on the map itself.

Map of Camp Nelson 

The map was one created during the war, and this particular map actually reflected the location of the contraband camp---a place for refugee slaves who had fled plantations when the Union line was close. They found refuge at the contraband camp.

Detail from Camp Nelson Map Showing Contraband Camp
The Camp Nelson Map was actually surveyed in 1866

We had a number of exercises throughout the day, including analyzing Sanborn maps, under the direction of Malinda Kashuba, and many of us during the breaks were anxious to get a chance to explore some of the wonderful websites that we learned about in the classes.

Exploring some of the new site presented in class.

The day ended with all of us anxious to get back to our rooms to pull out our laptops to explore new sites, try some new methods, and to see what else we can do with maps to more effectively tell our stories of the people and places that we research. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Learning All About Maps

John Lanier Presented Topographical Maps

Today was a full day getting to learn everything about maps and never knew to ask. We began by learning quite a bit about topographical maps. This was a very interesting session as I often thought that topographical maps had little value for those interested in history. But I realize that this was not quite the case! In fact there is a good amount to learn about communities and often about the people by learning about the land where they lived.

Explaining the Features of a Government Made Topographical Map

One interesting "hands on" object was a formerly classified map--now declassified, map of the Soviet Union. The most unusual feature about this map was that it was made of silk. Apparently, the durability of silk made it an excellent material that could also sustain things that paper could not sustain.

Examining the silk map.

A session on Gazetteers, and their value to genealogical research was presented by Malinda Kashuba.

This session was interesting as it covered the issue of place names. (Did you know that there are more than 60 places in the US called Springfield?)  

Some wonderful suggestions were given on how to learn the older names of a community---and how to possibly follow the changes in spelling of places. It is important for example to take into consideration spelling variations, as well as vowel and consonant mix ups, such as the I-E/I-Y mix up which can be common thing. And there are variations in place name like those preceded by the word St. (or Saint, or Ste. or San, or Santa). And there is the possibility that an ancestor may have had an accent when naming  town or place, and it was written down incorrectly based on what was heard.

Malinda Kashuba Discussing Gazetteers and Place Names.

I have several plat maps in my possession, from both family documents and other documents that I have acquired from the Oklahoma communities that I research. I only have a vague idea of how they actually reflected a community, but Jerry Smith made it much clearer in the session on plat maps.  I learned something about meets and bounds but was admittedly pleased that my ancestors lived farther west where the more simplified township plat maps abound. I was surprised that some of the exercises had some practical applications for genealogists.  This was much greater than I had expected.

Jerry Smith explaining plat maps

After some time in the computer labs this afternoon, we adjourned for the day, with homework assignments and plenty of new databases to explore online with the information gained from today's sessions.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Mapping Class Gets Underway at Samford IGHR 2011

Monday finally arrived and after a hearty breakfast, a short bus ride to the campus, and finding my way to the right building, the Mapping Class got underway.

The class is taking place in the science center, and as students poured into the classroom, there was no 1uestion that mapping was the order of day as maps were placed on the walls of the room.

Maps lined the walls of the classroom where Class 8 is taking place.

We were all eager to get started and the atmosphere was friendly and warm.

Selma Stewart of Virginia awaits the beginning of the class.

Many who have attended IGHR in the past have very warm memories of a friend and colleague to many people, Birdie Holsclaw, who passed away last year. Although she is no longer with us, a moment was taken at the beginning of the session to remember her.

* * * * *   * * * * *    * * * * *

In Memory Birdie Holsclaw -  August 23, 1948 -  May 13, 2010

* * * * *   * * * * *   * * * * *

And so we got to work. After a brief introduction, Rick Sayre, the instructor set the tone for the day, sharing the goals and objectives of what we will be learning this week.

The Mapping Class Begins

There is no way a mapping class could get boring, as we had an excursion into the city of Birmingham to the Birmingham Public Library. 
Birmingham Public Library

Our destination was the Special Collections department where we were able to look at old maps and work in groups and to share what we learned from them.  

Working in Small Groups Each Group Got Busy

Through Observation, Speculation, Analysis, and Evaluation (OSAE) we studies the maps in small working group.  We studied the essential details---Date, Orientation, Grid, Scaled, Title, Author, Index, Legend, and Sources.

Studying maps at the Birmingham Public Library

Discussions seemed lively as the details were examined.

Another Group Discussion

One Group had 19th century geography textbooks to examine.

A special feature while at the Library was to have a chance to see some old maps and old books by map makers in the Special Collections. Some of the old volumes were beautiful and carefully being preserved by the archival staff.  I did get to film a few seconds of one of the rare books being explained to our group on the tour.

ATour of Special Collections

The evening was topped off after dinner with a wonderful presentation by Pam and Rick Sayre. They shared some of the special features that they had mastered on Google Earth. I was interested in this presentation, as I have, blogged about old communities on one of my other blogs. On one blog post I had student old and current maps to learn something about an old and no longer existing historical black settlement  in what is now Oklahoma. I have learned now some methods that I will be able to better tell the story.

Rick & Pam Sayre Presenting Google Earth

Well, it was a good ending to a good day, and tomorrow promises even more!