Monday, February 20, 2012

Reflections from the St. Louis African American Genealogy Conference

Program Booklet from St.Louis Afr. American Genealogy Conference Booklet
Photo: Personal Collection

Sarah Cato Call the Conference to Order
Photo: Personal Collection

This past weekend the 3rd Annual St. Louis African American History and Genealogical Society took place at Harris Stowe State College and University campus, in midtown St. Louis. This was a wonderful experience to be a part of and the community of researchers left me with an invigorating experience.

Prior to the opening session a power point of previous events was shown as members poured into the auditorium of the William Clay Early Childhood Development Center. Sarah Cato launched the conference calling the attendees to order. She was an excellent moderator, keeping everyone, and everything on time and moving.

Greetings were also extended to the attendees, by St. Louis organization president, Mr. Charles Brown and Constance Gully of Harris Stowe State University.

Charles Brown, President Greets Attendees at Annual Conference

Constance Gully of Harris Stowe University, also greeted the guests.
Photo: Courtesy of Charles Brown

I had the honor of delivering the opening keynote address The conference theme was Piecing Together Your Heritage, A Journey of Discovery and my presentation to the group focused on how we as researchers have many pieces of our own ancestral quilt, and that we have the task to piece our own quilt and tell the story.

Delivering the keynote was a special honor for me. My hope was to set the tone for the event, and to encourage others to begin the journey of the discovery of the wonderful legacy left by the ancestors.

Delivering the Keynote Address on the morning of the conference
Photo: Courtesy of Charles Brown

There were a number of breakout sessions, which provided ideas for members in attendance.

Breakout session

Members Listening to Presentation
Photo: Courtesy of Charles Brown

I was truly excited to sit on in a session conducted by Janis Forte of Chicago. She offered a very detailed introduction to the powerful  Digital Library of American Slavery.  This database is provided by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and in her session, she explained methods of using this massive database and how to find data by many categories. This workshop was extremely valuable to me, for I was able to find a useful abstract to a family line that I have been examining for over 20 years. The division of the estate of one of the slaveholding families affiliated with a maternal line was included on that site, so I was delighted that Ms. Forte's workshop opened a door for me!

Janis Minor Forte of Chicago Illinois

Wanda Williams of the National Archives in St. Louis presented a session providing an overview of the holdings at the National personnel record center in St. Louis.

Wanda Williams of the National Archives
Photo: Courtesy of Bernice Bennett

The luncheon was a good opportunity for presenters and attendees to mix and mingle with each other, and just share stories and fellowship. I was happy to have a chance to meet some new people, and to also meet some people who had previously been email contacts only.

Speaker Bernice Bennett & Lisa Landrum

There were a number of exhibitors, and it was a special pleasure to meet one of the exhibitors who was from the Dred Scott Foundation. Lynne Jackson from the foundation, is a direct descendant of Dred and  Harriet Scott.

Lynne Jackson and myself standing near a portrait of her ancestor Dred Scott
Ms. Jackson is the gr. gr. granddaughter of Dred & Harriet Scott

The afternoon, keynote was delivered by Bernice Bennett. She told the story of her success with a line from Edgefield South Carolina. Her delivery had everyone on the edge of their seats and she was a smashing success! It can easily be said that she set the tone and had people talking the rest of the day after she told  her own story of her South Carolina research experience.

Image from Bernice Bennett's Presentation

After the conference, many took time to take photos with new friends old and new. 
Angela McGhee, Bridget Stegall, Bernice Bennett, Charles Brown, 
Angela Walton-Raji, Harold Russell, Janis Minor Forte
Photo: Courtesy of Charles Brown

The day was truly an exciting one, and meeting so many people with such a strong interest in family history is always a special event. In addition, a few faces from the AfriGeneas family also had a chance to connect and meet in real time as well.

AfriGeneas Friends: Bernice Bennettt (bbenn), Lisa Landrum (bearnut2) 
and Angela Walton-Raji (AYWalton)

I truly had a great day in St. Louis and I found the questions asked from the various persons in attendance to be thoughtful, and thought provoking.  I found the atmosphere from the staff at Harris Stowe to be a very warm, and the site was a true state of the art facility. And most importantly, I found the members of the St. Louis African American History and Genealogical Society to be a wonderful group of people. They were delightful hosts, serious in their quest for knowledge and a group that was a true pleasure to meet and spend some time.  

I want to extend a special thank you to them for their kindness, their hospitality and for presenting a wonderful conference.

Friday, February 10, 2012

"I Don't Know Where They Carried Him To"

The Christian Recorder, 1896

All excerpts in this post, are from the same issue of  the January 2,1896 edition of The Christian Recorder a publication of the AME Church. (I was able to access the old copies of this publication through Accessible Archives). Many former slaves used this publication in search of loved ones who were lost to sales and whims of slave holders many decades earlier.  The genealogical value of these letters speak for themselves. The continued pains of slavery are felt in the longing of these former slaves for their parents, husbands, children and siblings. I am sharing a few of them here.

In this first letter, Eliza Holmes of Fayette County Texas is hoping that someone will connect her to her son, but she explains, "I don't know where they carried him to."

Wanted Ad from The Christian Recorder,  
January 2, 1896, Volume XLIII p. 7

In the 1890s letters such as these appeared in African American newspapers throughout the country. These letters represent the true horrors of what happened to people, and true heartbreak of separation. Many such letters were written decades after freedom, and yet loved ones were still be sought--so strongly missed, and clearly leaving holes in the hearts of former slaves.

Some were themselves sold away, and circumstance never allowed them to find their way home. Emma Washington of Meridian Mississippi, was still looking for her mother who was enslaved in Warrenton Springs Virginia. The family data is so rich, although with the passing of time, chances of their being reunited were slim.

Wanted Ad from The Christian Recorder,  
January 2, 1896, Volume XLIII p. 7

So many of these announcements provide rich genealogical data in addition to reflecting the heartbreak of separation. In Pleasant Beal's letter, one can see how often slaves were exchanged, and moved about so frequently. Mr. Beal knew his parents--the Slaters and after three decades still sought their whereabouts and their fate.

In other situations there were men who left. Some left to fight, others left simply to serve in any way they could. They were often counted simply as contrabands, or refugee slaves, but they were still brave men, whoyseized the chance for freedom, and followed the Union soldiers:

Because these poignant letters were written three decades after the war chance of families being reunited were slim. However, the amazing genealogical data and the illustration of a strong sense of family is immediately noticed by the reader.

As overjoyed as so many were to finally be free---the heartache continued for thousands of former slaves throughout the nation. Time was perhaps the only healing balm that soothed so many of their souls. They deserved so much and got so little. I pray that they will never be forgotten

May all of those who suffered be finally at peace. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

My Ancestor and Her Great Escape to Freedom!

This is an image from Video of Slavery in Pittsburgh (Scroll  down to view the video)

Earlier today I got an email from a professor Tom Wing at the University of Arkansas, Ft. Smith. He mentioned that I might be interested in a site that he had found discussing a video that would probably interest me. The video was about an exhibition held at the University of Pittsburgh.  I watched the video---and then halfway through the video----there it was---a reference to a woman-----one of my ancestors!!!!

The story is a simple one. 

While on a trip to Virginia with his wife and her slave girl, John Drennen of Van Buren Arkansas spent a night at the Monangahela House in Pittsburgh.

The Monangahela House, Pittsburgh
Image: Courtesy of Samuel Black Curator, 
African American Collections, Senator John Heinz History Center

The staff of the hotel had waiters and maids who worked there as part of the population of free people. Many such people from the community were active with the Underground Railroad. The story is simple---the girl was exposed to a community of free blacks for the first time, and quite easily, seeing people of color coming and going freely it is not hard to imagine that she was easily enticed to sample freedom herself. It was said that she was sent to sleep in the servant's quarters.

A panel describing the Drennen Slave Girl and her opportunity to escape

After assisting the mistress in dressing for dinner, the young girl had requested that a trunk of clothes that had been damaged to be sent out for repair. After attending to Mrs. Drennen, the girl attended to the trunk needing repair. She followed the servants carrying the trunk out to the street, and she disappeared.

Depiction of  the Drennen Slave Girl and her opportunity to escape

Seeing this image struck me. Although this is a mere representation --- this was a dramatization that gave this young girl a face.  She was originally part of the Drennen family of slaves--and she is believed to have been the younger sister to my  gr. gr. grandfather Patrick Drennen.

And seeing this representation of her--the young teenaged girl that she was I cannot help but be moved---she was so tender in age, yet so vulnerable, and so unexposed to the world. She had to now trust those who would  assist her on this new journey, and she would remain vulnerable to so many unknowns. But--the word eventually got back---she made it to freedom! It is not known how long the Drennen's sought her return, but with slaves being considered slaves for life, into perpetuity, she was most likely still considered simply to be "missing" property.

In Arkansas, she was more than likely the young girl reflected in the Drennen household in the 1850 Slave Schedule. 

Image: Slave Schedule 1850, Crawford County Arkansas, Van Buren Township The red arrow is believed
to be the young girl who escaped from the Drennen Household While Traveling With Drennens in Pennsylvania

It should be noted that The Drennen home is the only home in the entire state of Arkansas continually occupied by the same family from the time it was built until it was recently sold to the University of Arkansas. 
The home itself is a simply one-story structure that sits on 26 acres. No one other than members of the Drennen family or Drennen family descendants have ever lived in the home. Patrick and his sister and his family lived mostly likely close by in servants' quarters, or possibly in one of the many additional structures on the ground.

Source: Southwest Times Record May 8, 2011, Features Section

I have visited the home several times. The first time, a friend and fellow researcher Tonia Holleman a well respected historian and resident of Van Buren, took me there for the first time. It was, in fact it was she, who educated me on who the Drennen family was.  I only knew the name of John Drennen from the depositions of my gr. gr. grandmother Lydia, whose husband was Patrick who lived on the estate. And it was Ms. Holleman introduced the Drennen family history to me, and I shall always be grateful to her for the information that she shared.

I have met some of the Drennen descendants on more than one occasion, and last year at the dedication of the newly restore Drennen home, I met several more. In honor of  my gr. gr. grandfather Patrick, and his family, I was there for the dedication.

I like to think that also on that day,--a young woman smiled down from the heavens--this same young girl who made her escape to Freedom, I like to thing that she too was also present that day, as she and her family were represented as having been there, too.

Did this anonymous  young girl return to America? 

Image from Exhibition on the Great Escape of my ancestor

I don't know. But it would be about 15 years before she could have ever safely returned to a life of freedom in the United States. My only hope is that she thrived, and she lived to pass her story down.

Quite possibly she adapted to life, probably in Ontario, possibly in the black Canadian settlement of Buxton. But wherever she landed, she breathed fee air, and with time, all of her family did.

I knew only a small part of her story, and I never realized however, that her story would be considered one of America's great escapes!! But it was, a great escape, and I know that she found a new life and found her way.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Full Day of Genealogy: A Talk Show About Genealogy & Fun Watching Roots Tech Online

A Collage of Images Taken While Watching RootsTech Live Video Stream
Images from & Twitter Stream

* * * * *    * * * * *   * * * * *
I have had a full genealogical day. I began at 8:00 as a guest on the Bernie Miller show on WNGU-AM a local radio program out of St. Louis, with a discussion of the upcoming genealogy conference sponsored by the St. Louis African American History & Genealogy Society. There were 4 guests, including the chapter president, the conference planner and another conference guest. The hour went by so quickly and it was a great experience. I was even able to share a tidbit about one of the guest's ancestors. 

Shortly after that broadcast, I was excited to get online to start to watch some live video feeds coming from the RootsTech Conference, now underway in Salt Lake City.

Roots Tech Conference Site Logo 
The conference is taking place February 2-4 in Salt Lake City, Utah

Like hundreds of people around the world, I have been at home, and spending time today watch live video stream coming from the 2nd Roots Tech conference in Salt Lake City! There are over 4000 people in attendannce and apparently this is probably one of the largest recorded genealogy events on record. And in addition--there are over a dozen sessions that will be shown online so that others will be able to watch them from around the world. I was thrilled to be a part of the audience. The image at the top of this post reflects live screen shot images taken while the sessions occurred.

In addition to watching--it was just as much fun to be a part of the social media--where genealogists were very active on Twitter sending out messages about the various session that they were watching. And what fun to watch when the cameras would switch and show audience members and to pick out faces of people whom I have met at other genealogy events.

Like many in the genealogy community, I have been soaking up wisdom from technical specialists offering a variety of suggestions of everything from how to use clouds more effectively, to better ways of storing and capturing data.

There are several sessions that offer a live video streaming feature allowing viewers around the world to watch.

I have been extremely impressed with the quality of the video--nio fuzzy screens and no static. Just sharp, clean images and a stable platform has prevented any of the presentations to lose connection.  This is what one would expect from a conference presenting state of the art technology to those in attendance. Well the quality is everything that I would hope to see.  I kept saying to myself how sharp the images were!! The Powerpoint images were sharp and crisp and the faces came through as if watching High Definition television!

I enjoyed the keynote and also the session on using Clouds for backing up data! And the afternoon called for a bit of fun in the Genealogy Idol competition!!  Four presenters gave brief presentations on Technical Tips, Serendipitous moments and their favorite genealogical websites. The format was done in a live webinar, and viewers were then allowed to vote for their favorite presenters.

I spent the afternoon, catching up on other projects but spent a bit watching one of the RootsTech sessions that that I missed. Bravo to the RootsTech planners--they have made completely used technology to showcase technology and the video quality has truly made this virtual experience to be wonderful!!