Ancestry Posts Greatly Expanded African-American Historical Records Collection

Captains Lemuel R. Curtis and Charles B. Hall, 99th Fighter Squadron, 06-1944On accepting his Nobel Peace Prize, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “When the history books are written in future generations, the historians will have pause and say, ‘There lived a great people–a black people–who injected new meaning and dignity into the veins of civilization encouraging us to find the origins of our existence.'” is paving the way for African-Americans everywhere to discover their ancestors with the launch of a greatly expanded African-American Historical Records Collection–the world’s largest online collection of black history records. Here’s what you will find in the collection:

  • Freedmen’s Bureau Records
    An eclectic record collection of former slaves (1865-1874) taken by the Freedmen’s Bureau, which was formed to assist freed people in the South during Reconstruction.
  • Freedman’s Bank Records
    More than 480,000 records of Freedman’s Savings and Trust, which served thousands of former slaves between 1865 and 1874.
  • African American Family History Books Online
    Books featuring inspiring stories of African American lives in history.
  • African American Photo Collection
    Thousands of photos showing African Americans throughout American history. The photograph accompanying this blog entry is from this collection and is of Captains Lemuel R Custis (Left) and Charles B Hall, of the 99th Fighter Squadron. (Click on the image to enlarge it.)
  • World War I Draft Cards
    Records of nearly 2 million black men (ages 18-45) who registered for the WWI draft in 1917 and 1918.
  • Slave Narratives
    Narratives that recount the life stories of 3,500 former slaves.
  • U.S. Federal Census
    The U.S. Federal Census online includes more than 53 million African-American records and is a significant source for black family history research.
  • U.S. Colored Troops Records (86,000 Currently available, with more coming soon**)
    Records of the more than 178,000 men who served in the U.S. Colored Troops regiments during the Civil War.
  • Southern Claims Commission Records (**Coming Soon**)
    From 1871-1880, the Southern Claims Commission considered compensation claims made by over 20,000 individuals within the eleven Confederate States.
  • Freedmen’s Bureau Marriage Records (**Coming Soon**)
    Following the Civil War, tens of thousands of newly freed slaves sought to legalize their marriages. The Freedmen’s Bureau was responsible for the “solemnization” of thousands of marriages of former slaves.

This collection is a wonderful way for African-American researchers and students studying Black history to gain insights into the lives of millions of African-Americans who made their mark in history. Click here to access the African-American Collection and start your journey through the past. (Free for three days!)

Nominations Sought for 2007 National Genealogy Hall of Fame

NGS_edited-1.bmpThe National Genealogical Society invites organizations to submit nominations for the 2007 National Genealogy Hall of Fame. This program, in existence for over twenty years, honors deceased genealogists whose superior achievements in American genealogy, for a period of ten years or more, have made a significant contribution to our field.

Nominations for the National Genealogy Hall of Fame must be made by societies or similar organizations. Nominees must have been deceased for at least five years and have been actively engaged in the field of genealogy in the United States for at least ten years. Their contribution should be unique, pioneering or exemplary. Continue reading

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Weekly Planner: Start a Preservation Project

memorabilia.jpgDo your loved ones know the significance of items you would like preserved for posterity? Are they aware that that bundle of yellowed letters you have stashed away are letters your grandfather wrote home while he was away? Or that that those crumbly old recipes sticking out of that old cookbook belonged to your great-grandmother? Do they know that the old stack of postcards in the closet contain correspondence from a special uncle, or that a favorite aunt made the sampler in the dining room drawer as a wedding gift? Take the time to not only make sure these items are preserved in a safe environment, but also that their significance is noted so that it won’t end up in the trash or on the table at a yard sale some day.

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Should We Tell All? by Mary Penner

letter bundle.jpgWhile cleaning out my closet the other day, I thought about Emily Dickinson. Emily had instructed her sister, Lavinia, to destroy all of her letters and manuscripts after her death. The ever-dutiful Lavinia carried out her slash and burn mission until she discovered more than 1,700 poems hidden away in Emily’s home. Duty to her dead sister went out the window. As a result, Emily, an intensely private person in life, has been vaulted to the stature of one of America’s greatest poets.

Only a few of Emily’s poems were published during her lifetime, all anonymously, and not all with her consent. Now Dickinson scholars, and just about everyone who’s taken an American Lit class, dissect and analyze the personal lines Emily quietly penned.

Those of us who love poetry are thankful to Lavinia. But, what would Emily think about the fame and scrutiny showered on her most intimate thoughts?

I thought of Emily because of the box I found in my closet. It was filled with letters written to me by a guy from my past. Glancing at the envelopes carried me back to that long ago place and time. That relationship changed the direction of my life, or at least it set me on a path that brought me where I am today. That guy was important to me then, but not now. Continue reading

The Fabric of Our Lives, by Maureen Taylor

dresses in trunk2.bmpI have a teenage daughter which means I’m all too aware of contemporary fashion trends–short skirts and camouflage prints. “I think you should change,” is commonly heard at my house followed by a strongly uttered, “But MOM!”

Since I study costume history I know that it’s only a matter of time before the styles change. (Whew!) Just like my daughter, yesterday’s teenagers tried to look as fashionable as possible. The proof is in your family photo albums. What they wore reflected when those teens lived, their economic status, and their knowledge of fashion. The fatigue pants and camouflage prints worn by today’s teens are similar to trends in past generations like the military braid of the 1860s and the sailor suits of the World War I period.

A family photograph tells you many things such as what your ancestors looked like and who took their picture. However, some details are left to your imagination. Those gorgeous heritage photos show family dressed in their everyday clothes or Sunday best, but those black and white images seem incomplete. If you’re at all interested in the styles of the times, you want to actually touch the fabric of those beautiful dresses and see the colors in your great-grandpa’s checked coat. There are ways for you to understand the clothing trends followed by your relatives and get a feel for the past. Continue reading

Tips from the Pros: Stir a Child’s Interest, from Maureen Taylor

Getting kids interested in family history can be easy or hard depending on the child and their interests. There are a couple of simple things you can do to grab their attention.

  • Tell Stories
    Find a way to work the past into an everyday moment. You don’t have to relate ancestral tales of adventure although sometimes that helps. In second grade, my son was fascinated by an ancestor who protected a New England town from wolves. He ran to school to tell his teacher and friends. My daughter on the other hand, likes to compare her life to the other women in the family. 
  • Childhood Fun
    Do you remember the colors in the Crayola box from when you were a kid? It’s a great conversation starter as you sit down with a child to draw or color. One thing leads to another. Begin by chatting about your memories of art projects and before you know it you’ll be passing along facts and memories of your own childhood as you color within the lines. 
  • Give and Take
    In addition to talking, you’ll be listening as your child or grandchild joins in the conversation. Kids are curious about all aspects of life including their predecessors. All it takes is a few moments of time to join them in an activity of their choosing. The last time my Mom visited she sat on the couch next to my son as he played a video game. Within moments he was explaining to her how to work the controls and she was sharing stories of the things she liked to do when she was his age. There was a lot of listening going on.

Take a few moments to share your interest in family history with a child by looking at photographs, telling a tale, or playing a game. If you’re looking for ideas check out the age appropriate activities on the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) Youth Committee website, Future Genealogists. 

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The Year Was 1825

Erie Canal, East Frankfort, N.Y. (postcard postmarked Oct. 1912)The year was 1825 and in Canada, a forest fire consumed an estimated 6,000 acres in the Miramichi District of New Brunswick. The fire is described in Twenty-seven Years in Canada West, or, The Experience of an Early Settler, by Samuel and Agnes Strickland (found in Early Canadiana Online) as follows:

“. . . the inhabitants along the river were suddenly surprised by an extraordinary roaring in the woods, resembling the crashing and detonation of loud and incessant thunder, while at the same instant the atmosphere became thickly darkened with smoke

“They had scarcely time to ascertain the cause of this awful phenomenon before all the surrounding woods appeared in one vast blaze, the flames ascending from one to two hundred feet above the tops of the loftiest trees; and the fire rolling forward with inconceivable celerity, presented the terribly sublime appearance of and impetuous flaming ocean. In less than an hour Douglas Town and Newcastle were in a blaze; many of the wretched inhabitants perished in the flames. More than a hundred miles of the Miramichi were laid waste, independent of the north-west branch, the Baltibag, and the Nappen settlements. From one to two hundred persons perished within immediate observation, while thrice that number were miserably burned or wounded, and at least two thousand were left destitute of the means of subsistence, and were thrown for a time on the humanity of the Province of New Brunswick. The number of lives that were lost in the woods could not at the time be ascertained, but it was thought few were left to tell the tale.

“Newcastle presented a fearful scene of ruin and devastation, only fourteen out of two hundred and fifty houses and stores remained standing.” Continue reading