Friday, August 25, 2017

Oklahoma Freedmen Ancestry to be Featured on Blog Talk Radio Show

Many who are active in the genealogy community are quite familiar with the weekly program hosted by genealogist and author Bernice Alexander Bennett. On August 31, her show will feature 4 genealogists who will speak on their genealogical experience as descendants of Oklahoma Freedmen. The Freedmen were those men, women and children once enslaved by citizens of the Five Civilized Tribes. The panelists will share the genealogical process and the documents they used to uncover their family history.

Nicka Sewell-Smith, will speak about her experience documenting her ancestors from the Cherokee Nation. Terry Ligon, will speak about documenting his ancestors who were Chickasaw Freedmen. Ron Graham will share his experiences documenting his family history from the Creek Nation, and yours truly-Angela Walton-Raji will speak about documenting the Walton and Perry ancestors from the Choctaw Nation.

Ms. Smith is a direct descendant of Ike Rogers, the well known US Deputy Marshall who served Indian Territory under Judge Isaac C. Parker. Her family from Vinita, Fort Gibson and other places in the Cherokee Nation is well documented. She shares much of her research on her website Who is Nicka Smith Nicka Smith is also the host of Black Pro Gen, a bi-weekly Google hangout where professional genealogists discuss methods and strategies in a live on camera gathering. She is also a professional photo journalist and documentarian, and serves as a member of the faculty of MAAGI, the Midwest African-American Genealogy Institute.

Terry Ligon's story is fascinating when he shares the amazing genealogical data that he uncovered and learned about his ancestor Bettie Ligon, who was chief litigant in a complex legal case involving over 2000 freedmen. He hosts the blog The Black and Red Journal and also a group on Facebook, called The Indian Territory Reader. He has taught numerous genealogy classes, and was a major instructor in the Choctaw-Chickasaw Freedmen conference several years ago in Oklahoma City. Mr. Ligon has also produced a number of videos on YouTube reflecting not only his history, but many aspects of the complex history of  Oklahoma Freedmen.

Ron Graham is active in many aspects of genealogy of Oklahoma Freedmen. With strong family ties to the Muskogee Creek Nation, Mr. Graham served for several years as president of the Muscogee Creek Freedman Band, a group whose mission is to preserve, and teach history and genealogy of Creek Freedmen. He has conducted genealogy classes and worked with clients seeking assistance with the enrollment process. He continues to be active with the Descendants of Freedmen Association of Oklahoma. He continues to teach throughout Oklahoma and most recently taught a class at the Cherokee Ancestry conference in Talequah Oklahoma.

Angela Walton-Raji hosts the African-Native American Genealogy Blog, the African-Native American genealogy website, and  she hosts the longest running message board focusing on researching Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes, on AfriGeneas. Author of Black Indian Genealogy Research, the first and only book devoted to researching the Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes, Ms. Walton-Raji continues to devote time and energy to teaching and writing in many arenas. She has the longest ongoing genealogy podcast devoted to African American genealogy, with over 400 episodes available free online. Ms. Walton-Raji is also a founding member and faculty member of MAAGI and coordinates the Writer's Track at the Institute. She has spoken nationally at AAHGS, FGS, Roots Tech, SCGS, and the International Black Genealogy Summit.

Bernice Bennett, host of the weekly program "Research at the National Archives & Beyond" on Blog Talk Radio, is well known for her efforts to feature genealogists, writers and scholars who share a compassion for telling the African American family story. Next week's show will be the first program of its kind featuring the topic of genealogical resources for descendants of the Oklahoma Freedmen.

The show will air at 9pm (eastern time) on Blog Talk Radio. To hear the program simply go to: Click on the episode's name to hear the live broadcast. To join the live online chat room, log in by creating a free account, or log in through Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Finding Oklahoma Community Leaders in Masonic Proceedings

Proceedings of the St. John Grand Lodge, Muskogee Indian Territory, 
Annual Communication, 1896 (Cover Page)

In recent months I have been most appreciative of  information that can be gleaned from studying the activities of the Prince Hall Masons and their various lodges throughout the nation. Both the 18th and 19th centuries, many leaders in communities were found to be among men who also were active with Masonic grand lodges.

Thankfully I have had an amazing opportunity to speak with, meet with and learn from James Morgan III, of Prince George's County Maryland, who has proven to be quite an authority of the Prince Hall grand lodges, and their history in various regions of the country. Mr. Morgan is a member of the Prince Hall Grand Lodges of Washington, DC. In addition, Mr. Morgan has demonstrated his expertise by locating for me, images of community leaders in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. These same leaders were also among leaders in their local masonic organization. Mr. Morgan's contacts with others who also possess much knowledge of the organizational histories, has proven most beneficial.

As one who studies Indian Territory, and Oklahoma, I was pleased to receive proceedings from the 4th Annual Communication held in Muskogee, Indian Territory. The actual event occurred in Muskogee, Indian Territory in 1896 and it is a clear indicator of who the persons of influence in the Territory were. From some of the pages of the meeting, some of the leaders were reflected. Names such as J. Milton Turner, A.W.G. Sango, William  Vann and others are found upon the pages of the book of proceedings. Many were also leaders in the communities of Freedmen of Oklahoma.

I was excited to also see a list of the various lodges and their post offices throughout the twin territories. The two territories are Oklahoma Territory, and Indian Territory. Also keep in mind that the territories did not merge geographically until statehood occurred in 1907.

Proceedings of the St. John Grand Lodge, Muskogee Indian Terriotry, 
Annual Communication, 1896 

Seeing the location of the various masonic lodges one can actually glean more information about the lives of one's ancestors, and part of their social and also political network. In addition by reading the proceedings one can also learn more about lodges in other cities and states and compile a list from the communities that existed over 100 years ago.

Partial list of masonic lodges in Indian Territory. - 1896 p 1-2

Souce: Same as above: p 3-4

As genealogists, there is much to appreciate in these records, and all are encouraged to explore using some of these publications now in the public domain to study the local community, and to learn about those persons with whom our ancestors lived, and the circle of associates who influenced them.

The presences of these masonic groups in Indian and Oklahoma Territory is a part of the community history. Because of the strong influence that masonic organizations have had over the years, it would be wise to include questions about ancestors who may have been a part of these groups. New chapters may emerge in family histories and some old photos and family artifacts may eventually be explained by knowledge of these fraternal lodges and their value to family and community.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Honoring the Women From Whom I Come....

I can call their names---Martha, Amanda, Harriet, Lily, Pauline.

I can call their names---Lydia, Kitty, Amanda,  Sallie.

I can call their names---Minerva, Nancy, Georgia, Ellen.

These are the women from whom I come.

I can call the names of their sisters---Emily, Paralee.

I can call the names of their sisters---Alice, Violet

I can call the names of their sisters---Susie, Mary, Nancy, Fannie, Hattie, Indiana

I can call the names of their cousins---Bennie, Frances, Etta, Eliza, Lucy

These are the names of the women, some of whom I knew, many about whom I have heard, and some are those whose lives I have studied. I treasure knowing them and sharing the small snippets of their stories.

Many I never met, but I know parts of their stories. Of some I have photos, while there are others whose faces I can only imagine. All are part of me, and on this International Day of Women, I honor them all.

One of my ancestors was a mere child when the stars fell.....

And she told her story:
   "Somebody in the quarters started yellin' in the middle of the night to come out and to look up at the sky. 
    We went outside and there they was a fallin' everywhere! Big stars coming down real close to the ground and just before they hit the ground they would burn up! We was all scared. Some of the folks was screamin', and some was prayin'. We all made so much noise, the white folks came out to see what was happenin'. They looked up and then they got scared, too.
   "But then the white folks started callin' all the slaves together, and for no reason, they started tellin' some of the slaves who their mothers and fathers was, and who they'd been sold to and where they took em. 
    The old folks was so glad to hear where their people went. They made sure we all knew what see, they thought it was Judgement Day."
(-Words of my gr. gr. grandmother Amanda Campbell Young Barr, enslaved as a child, in Maury County Tennessee, when the stars fell in 1833. She told this story to her children and grandchildren throughout her lifetime.-)

Another brave woman grabbed her own freedom when she escaped and made it to the Union line.
(Mary Paralee Young, escaped and made it to Tennessee and lived for almost 2 years in President's Island Contraband Camp, near Memphis, Tennessee)

Another ancestor lived to become a literate woman who later taught small children how to read.

Frances Young, daughter of Amanda Young

One left us too soon--my maternal grandmother died young shortly after the birth of her only child, who would become my mother. She was gone too soon when tuberculosis was sweeping the country.

Maternal Grandmother
Lily Martin, daughter of Harriet Young Martin

Lily's sister Viola helped to raise my mother who was a infant when her mother Lily died. Forever grateful to Aunt Viola for being a kind and strong force in the family.

Great Aunt Viola Martin Wynn

Paternal Grandmother Sarah Ellen Bass was a stable part of my childhood, in Arkansas. From her I learned to enjoy chicken and dumplings, cornbread and buttermilk, poke sallet, and so much more. From her I learned of her life in SW Arkansas at the turn of the 20th century.

Paternal Grandmother
Sarah Ellen Bass Walton 1887-1978

Her mother, my great grandmother Georgia Ann Houston Bass was the matriarch to a large family clan of Bass, Martin, and Dollarhide families of Sevier County Arkansas.

Great grandmother, Georgia Ann Houston Bass

My great grandmother Sallie, from the Choctaw Nation, represents goodness, sweetness and love to me. I still miss her gentle soul. I taste the food she made for me, and still smell the sweet aroma of sassafrass.

Paternal Great Grandmother, Sallie Walton

There is, lastly the one woman who influenced me the most--my dear mother, Pauline. My mother is my heart. From her I learned kindness, gentleness, and the power of a simple smile. Because of her I developed a profound love of books, music and all things beautiful. Her personality and spirit live with me today.

On this day in which all women are honored--International Women's Day, I am grateful for the women who influenced my life. I treasure them, and honor them.

It is often said that women are the culture bearers of the family. From these dear women, I owe so much for it they shaped the cultural framework in which I live and they polished the lens through which I see life, All of them made me who I am. 

May they all rest in peace and from time to time, may they smile upon me, and may I share their wisdom to those that follow.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Former President's Slave "Driven Away"

(Accessed from Family Search, Grenada Mississippi Field Office Reel 19 Image 25 out of 128)
Miscellaneous Complaints, Grenada Mississippi Field Office
National Archives Publication M1907, Reel 19, Registers of Complaints

"Adlen Willsen (col'd) 78 years of age formerly servant of James K. Polk late President of the United States, for whom he worked 35 years, has now in his old age been driven off, being of no further use, is destitute and unable to support himself and wife applied for medical aid and assistance."

The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned lands tells many stories. Records from this agency known commonly as the Freedmen's Bureau, reflect the years of struggle and survival of many people once enslaved, trying to find their way through a hostile south, that now despised them. This was especially especially the case once freedom was declared and the practice of chattel slavery was abolished. The Bureau records reflect some of their struggles, and among many, are the stories of the elderly and how they fared after the war, and in their early days of freedom.

Amid the documents from Grenada Mississippi Field Office of the Bureau, an unusual notation appeared among a list of complaints. An elderly man found his way to the Grenada Mississippi Field Office. According to the notations made, the man was once affiliated with a former president of the United States.

He had been enslaved for many years by President James K. Polk. It is well known that Polk held slaves while he served in office but it is not known how many. Upon his death, in 1849, it is said that Polk stated in his will that slaves were to freed upon the death of his wife. Since she did not die until well after the Civil War, those people held as slaves by the former president would have been freed at the end of the Civil War, upon the abolishing of slavery. 

But at the time of Polk's death in 1849, were all of them retained after the president died? Were some of them sold away and only those attending his wife left behind? Was Mr. Wilson the enslaved man, among those still attending her after his death?  Those questions remain unanswered.

The fate of many slaves of presidents has been documented in various places, but finding a document among records of the Freedmen's Bureau, was surprising and also disheartening. The story was simply that Adlin (Alden) Willsen (Wilson), was enslaved in the household of President James K. Polk. But details of his life are not clear and how he ended up in Mississippi is not stated, but the document speaks for itself. He was now an old man, and he had been dismissed from the Polk household, no longer of use to the estate.

Many questions arise:
1) After slavery ended were all of the former slaves driven away, were only those for whom there was "no use" sent away?
2) Since the president's wife Sarah did not die until 1891, were those who were able-bodied, required to stay with the Polks and tend to her "needs"?
3) Were any of them kept later as paid servants after the war ended?
4) Was Alden Willson sold after the death of the president?
5) Would that have explained his presence now in Mississippi in 1867?

In some cases there are stories of a close relationship forming between house slaves and their slave masters. Did Polk have such a relationship with Alden Willson? When was he actually "driven away" from the Polk household? Was it during a time before old age affected him or earlier? As he was stated to have been a personal servant to the former president who was long deceased, clearly any personal fondness towards Mr. Wilson by Polk himself, may have been long gone by the time they had to officially release their "servants" from bondage.

Though much is not well known and little is gleaned from this records, clearly, there is clearly a story to be told.

This record reflects one of the many tragedies that many faced former slaves, particularly those unable to work due to advance age. He had worked for 35 years for James Polk, but what of his family? Or did he have other relatives to whom he could turn? Were there, perhaps, grown children?

The records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen & Abandoned Lands reflect many of these sad cases of the difficulties faced by many during those post-Civil War years. It can only be hoped that Mr. Willson and his wife were reunited perhaps with grown children and later able to live out their remaining  years with some degree of stability, safety, and care.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Mapping Slavery in Indian Territory

I am happy to share something that education has never before reflected. I am happy to introduce the first map reflecting the places in Indian Territory black men, women and children were enslaved.

Actual Interactive Map Can Be Accessed HERE.

For over 150 years, countless maps have omitted the presence of slavery in Indian Territory and never have maps been shown to reflect the geographic distribution of slaves within the Five Civilized Tribes. Those tribes specifically are the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole Nations. Because slavery is not widely studied west of Arkansas, maps have never reflected this history.

Until now.

When I see historic maps that reflect slavery in North America, I cannot help but stare at the blank spake right above Texas when I see those maps. But, having ancestors who come from what is now Oklahoma, and knowing that they were enslaved in Indian Territory, I stare at that space, because I know that there were people enslaved in that place, and among them were my own ancestors living in the Choctaw Nation. However, in most texts, the maps always reflect the lands just north of Texas as being a land where slavery was not present. I cannot help but see those historical maps and stare that the big hole in the middle. The "big hole" is the space right above Texas.

Map Showing the Distribution of the Slave Population

of the Southern States of the United States Compiled from the Census of 1860
Washington September, 1861
Map accessed from Mapping the Nation

The map above is the "MASTER" of slavery maps. It was created in 1861 by the US Coastal Survey and was compiled from census data. It is also the map that was presented to President Lincoln to illustrated the prevalence of slavery in the southern states. (A zoom-able version of this map can be found HERE.)

There are other maps such as the one below that fall into the category of "historical geography" that were used to share a policy and where the effects of that policy prevailed. But again, in that map one sees Arkansas, then a vertical line skirting around Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) and into Texas. The map was used to show the "curse of slavery". But the "curse" did extend west, directly into Indian Territory.

Accessed from Mapping the Nation
Map by John F. Smith, in the Library of Congress "Historical Geography" Map, 1888

Now it can be said that the number of enslaved people in Indian Territory was not as high as it was in states like Mississippi, or Alabama. And one might be able to say that the old maps are not wholly inaccurate since there may have been less than 10 percent of the total population was enslaved in Indian Territory. However--that percentage, also cannot be proven, because only free whites and free blacks were recorded in Indian Territory in the 1860 population census. And the Indian population was not tabulated at all in the regular population census at that time. But--there was a census made of the enslaved population--and the slave holders--the Indian slaveholders were listed along with the people whom they enslaved. And the communities were they lived are shown. They were included as part of the Arkansas Slave schedules.

The Arkansas Slave schedule is found on National Archive microfilm population M653 Roll 54. All of the Arkansas counties are listed on the reel of microfilm. Following Yell county, the list of enslaved people in Indian Territory begins.

There are 865 images on that reel of microfilm. On that record, there were slave holders such as Cherokee Chief John Ross, or Choctaw leader Robert Jones who owned hundreds of Black people as slaves.

Yet countless maps omit the presence of slavery in Indian Territory and never have maps been shown reflecting the geographic distribution of slaves within the Five Civilized Tribes. Those tribes specifically are the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole Nations. Maps have never reflected this in textbooks. Until now.

For the most part, it is not generally taught that slavery even occurred in Indian Territory. That oversight has made the omission of slavery in the Territory easy to overlook in the American historical narrative. However, slavery did occur in the territory, and it was real, it was painful, and there were runaways, slave uprisings, and efforts among the enslaved to become free from bondage. Therefore, the more I studied maps and records, the more I saw a need to see a map reflecting the land of my own ancestors--the enslaved people of Indian Territory.

Finally thanks to the technology of Google Maps, and using the 1860 slave schedule, a new map reflecting slavery in Indian Territory has been made.

The New Map This new map has made a part of the interactive map on the website, "Mapping the Freedmen's Bureau." By using Google maps, the markers are placed to coincide with the communities that were clearly defined in the 1860 slave schedule. The markers are also placed accurately with the appropriate geographic coordinates. By using Google Maps the markers reflect the actual community where the enslaved families were held. In the years after freedom, many people remained in the same communities especially during the first  years of freedom, so this map also represents these families in both slavery and freedom. And there was an extremely large contraband camp at Fort Gibson, and that encampment site is also marked on the map.

Some Indian tribal Freedmen were even captured in the collection of records from the Freedmen's Bureau. Many lived close to the Arkansas border and used the services of the Bureau in nearby Arkansas. The Fort Smith Bureau reflected Cherokee citizens appealing to the Freedmen's Bureau for help.

Contents of the map
For this map, the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Chickasaw nations are more thoroughly reflected. That is because there was a more thorough assessment of the slave holders of the nation. In the Creek Nation, the slave holders and their slaves were recorded, but the different tribal towns were not indicated on the slave schedule, as the slave schedule would simple describe the residence as "Creek Nation, West of Arkansas." As a result a single marker was placed marking Okmulgee the capital of the Creek Nation. Similarly, for the Seminole nation. Seminole leaders such as John Jumper,  Billy Bowlegs and others were also slave holders, but the enumerator did not go into Seminole country, and thus a single marker is placed over Wewoka, the capital of the Seminole Nation. When and should a better site with a link appear, additional markers will be added for those two communities.

When Using the Map
The map provides a direct link to the Internet Archive where one will find the 1860 slave schedule reflecting the people enslaved in Indian Territory communities. (This includes a direct link to the Creek Nation pages as well.) By hovering the mouse or cursor over a marker, a small pop-up window will appear, and that window will contain a link to the exact pages on the Internet Archive that contain the images of the slave schedule reflecting Indian Territory. By clicking on that pop up, the user will find the direct link in the text about the site description.

About the Slave Record
It is noted that the 1860 slave schedule contains the name of the slave holder and the number, gender, and complexion of the enslaved population kept in bondage. The slave schedule can be used in a community study, or an analysis of the age, gender breakdown, and status-whether runaway or still physically held. Though names of the enslaved were not recorded, the record still provides useful data, when compiling the family narrative particularly whether they were part of a large estate, or a small family held by one person.

In the Cherokee Nation the districts represented are:
Going Snake
Cooweescoowee (Kooweeskoowee)

In the Choctaw Nation, the districts represented are:
Red River
Sugar Loaf

In the Chickasaw Nation, the districts represented are:

In the Creek Nation, the area represented is:

In the Seminole Nation, the area represented is:

This is the first time that slavery has been "mapped" for Indian Territory, and hopefully in the future, a more thorough representation of the heartbreaking institution of slavery will be shown. Thanks to Google maps, this story can now more accurately be told, and reflected.

Monday, January 2, 2017

If Only We Could See Their Names - Part 1

When searching for enslaved ancestors, the first major frustration comes for the first time researcher, when he or she encounters the slave schedule in the 1860 and 1850 census for the first time. The shock to the researcher is that the "slave census" does not contain the names of the slaves. Only the name of the slave holder is recorded. That is also the first time that one encounters the reality of slaver and its horror---the ancestors were not considered to be people worthy of names. They were simply property and their presence as enslaved people only meant that they would be counted, just as cattle, horses, and other livestock.

And usually upon that discovery, the researcher heaves a very heavy sigh, exclaiming, "if only we knew their names."

And so it goes. But several years ago, while in Chicago attending a conference, I met Belzora Cheatham who was anxious to share a find! One line of her family is from Bowie County Texas and she had just found them on the 1850 slave schedule. With their names!

The document was one of those amazing errors in the census that many whose ancestors were enslaved, wish we could find. The error was a wonderful one---the enumerator wrote the names of the enslaved people--all of them!

I have thought of Ms. Cheatham many times over the years and several years ago, I looked at the records myself, and wrote a piece about them. I recently looked at that small collection of records from District 8 of Bowie County, and decided to write another article, because of its significance.

We recently celebrated the indexing of the Freedmen's Bureau records and how important we can now look at the years between 1865 and 1870 and learn about our ancestors in the early days of freedom. But this slave schedule is equally significant--although it reflects a tiny community---this is 15 years before freedom, and this provides a rare glimpse at people still enslaved, and their names can be called.

So many of us find the slave schedules for the first time, and then sigh in frustration noting that only the names of the slave holders are recorded. For those who survived enslavement and who lived to see freedom--it would be 20 years before their names would be in print again on a census. And for some--who did live to be free, this is the only piece of evidence that they ever lived.

A few years ago I wrote a small article about this collection, but I only included a few images. But upon reflection of the fact that for some--their names would never appear in a census as free people, and in light of our focus on celebrating everyone, enslaved and free, I have decided to include this larger article and share all 23 of the pages. So therefore, I am submitting this two-part piece reflecting the names of the enslaved population, sharing the images themselves. The district was not a large one, and therefore they deserve to be seen, by all.

The images reflect District 8, of Bowie County, Texas. There are only 23 pages reflected in this slave schedule, and all will be shared on this blog. The first 12 are shared below. (Part 2 will reflect the remaining pages.)

1850 Slave Schedule
Bowie County, Texas, District 8 1850 U.S. Federal Census - Slave Schedules [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2004.
Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Seventh Census of the United States, 1850. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1850. M432

It is clear upon looking at the images that some severe water damage occurred on the pages of the census book. This is most unfortunate, as in many of the pages,the names have simply vanished with the dampness, dissolving the lettering.

As one moves through the pages some of the water damage appears to lessen. And in some places on the page the names of the enslaved people can be read through the water stains. 

Though the water stains are still there, hopefully others new to the process will still look at the names of these people who lived during a trying time. My hope is that most did survive and live to breathe the air of freedom.

End of Part 1