Census Extravaganza 1: Be A Genealogy Gumshoe

On January 28, 2012, we kicked off the new year with the first in a 3-part “Census Extravaganza”. This first lecture was presented by chapter President Alice Harris and was entitled, “Census Detectives: Learn to be a Genealogy Gumshoe.” Alice showed our members how to mine the census for hidden clues and privided creative ways of researching.

Our 3-part extravaganza is designed to help us prepare for the upcoming release of the 1940 census by:

  1.  encouraging us to think and research like detectives, and to find essential information about our ancestors,
  2. providing a genealogy workshop to help new members learn the basics of genealogy research, and
  3. to familiarize members with the specifics of the 1940 census, in time for its release in April 2012.

Alice provided a handout which can be downloaded here:
Census Detective

You won’t want to miss the rest of this series, so come on out, join CMAAGHS, and kick off the year with new tools for researching in the census!

Online African-American Genealogy Resources

On November 19, 2011, Angela Walton-Raji gave our members a presentation entitled, “The Future of African-American Genealogy Resources Online.” Angela is a longtime genealogist, lecturer and author and she shared little-known genealogy research tools and records above and beyond the larger sites like Ancestry, Footnote and Rootsweb. Angela showed examples from her own research and talked about the value of finding African-American data “hidden” on sites where it is not labeled as such. She also showed us data located on museum, archive and university websites, places sometimes overlooked for containing genealogy data. Everyone left the meeting with a list of new websites to go home and research.

Angela provided a list of African-American Blogs: AA Genealogy Blogs_Angela.

Angela  also hosts several popular genealogy websites/blogs:

African Roots Podcast

The African-Native American Genealogy Blog

The Beginning Genealogist

African-American Civil War Museum Trip

On October 22, 2011, CMAAGHS took a field trip to Washington, D.C. to visit the new African-American Civil War Museum (AACWM) which opened in July 2011. Hari Jones, the AACWM Assistant Director and Curator led our group on a private tour and talked to us about the role of African-Americans during the Civil War. Hari is a knowledgeable and experienced historian, always willing to hope those in their researching the Civil War. It was a beautiful day and our members came out for the tour, bringing their children and grandchildren alike. We all had a joyous time and the new Museum truly has something for everyone.

We also toured the African-American Civil War Memorial and our members were able to cloate their ancestors’ names on the wall. We took lots of pictures even and found out that the museum provides certificates for those with Civil War ancestors.

Writers Forum

 On October 1, 2011, CMAAGHS sponsored a Writers Forum featuring a panel discussion by expereinced wrters/genealogists Louis Diggs, Ruth Toliver, Marion Woodfork Simmons and Marvin T. Jones. We had a terrific turnout as the panel discussed their varying experiences publishing books (both hardbound and e-copies) & newspaper articles, building webpages, journaling, documenting local history, blogging and podcasting.

As genealogists, we often spend years researching our family histories. The next step is to document and share it so that our descendants will benefit from all of our hard work. Members were able to pose questions and get answers on the process of writing history. The panelists were encouraging and shared tips on how to get started and the challenges they faced. Our members walked away ready to take the next step in recording their research for posterity.

More on our Panelists:

Recent article on Louis Diggs research efforts

Marion Woodfork Simmons blog on local history research

Marvin Jones website on Chowan local history

Census Double Hitter

 On May 28, 2011, our chapter had a census “double hitter” with a lecture first by Natonne Kemp, entitled “Stumbling Without the 1890 Census”, and also one by our President, Alice Harris on “Tips for Finding Elusive Ancestors.”

Genealogists have yet to recover from the loss of most of the 1890 census to fire damage; that 20 year period can be a massive brick wall to researchers. But Natonne showed us numerous rssources we can use to bridge this gap, as she walked through an example from her own research.

Alice took census “brick walls” via email before the meeting, and wowed the crowd by using census “tricks” to find ancestors they had previously been unable to locate on various census records. We all came away from the meeting with more tools to attack the census with.



National Archives Research Trip

 On April 28, 2011, CMC members visited the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington, DC for a lecture and tour focused on the search for pension files. Claire Prechtel-Kluskens, an archivist at NARA gave a lecture entitled, “The Anatomy of a Civil War Pension File”. She was extremely helpful in teaching members how to complete the request forms to view the files.

Thus far, CMC members collectively have identified the pension records of over 20 ancestors who served in the Civil War. On page after page, these records chronicle in detail the struggles of African-American Civil War veterans after emancipation.

CMC does not meet during the summer months, but the hunt for Civil War soldiers resumes in October, 2011. In 2012, we hope to beign the process of compiling soem of their extraordinary stories.

One of our members, Marvin Jones, has already gotten a start and published his article, “Family of Soldiers”, about his Civil War ancestors. A copy can be downbloaded here:


Records of the Rebellion

 At our regular meeting on March 26, 2011, Shamele Jordan presented her lecture entitled, “Records of the Rebellion: Documenting African-Americans During the Civil War” to a packed house.  In commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, this is one of CMAAHGS’ research topics for the year and there wasn’t a better way to begin than this.

We challenged our members at the start of the meeting during our game, Faces and Places of the Civil War. Large easels were placed around the room with images of African American Civil War heroes and heroines. Our members know their history!

Lecturer, writer and podcaster Shamele Jordan showed us numerous examples and explained various records available to research our ancestors during the rich but tragic period of the Civil War. She discussed both military records and also civilian records.

We were also delighted to have Juanita Patience Moss speak to us about her book, “Forgotten Black Soldiers Who Served in White Regiments During the Civil War.” She urged us not to forget African-Americans who served wiht white regiments; they are not as easily identified, but they are there.


Ancestral Libation Ceremony

Slave Commemoration Scroll

On February 12, 2011, we celebrated our ancestors at a fantastic libation ceremony held at St. John Baptist Church in Columbia, MD. We had a terrific turnout and everyone mingled in African garb, had light drinks and snacks and enjoyed the music from the live band. We watched a “Tribute to Our Ancestors” DVD slideshow developed by our President Alice Harris that turned out to be so popular, we now offer copies for those who make a $20 chapter donation. The DVD is a compilatin of members, friends, documents, songs and activities that captures the journey of our ancestors from Africa to America.

Before the ceremony, we had collected names of our enslaved ancestors and they were printed on the large “scroll”.  Another highlight was the actual blessing and libation ceremony which was performed by a young woman trained in African spiritual practices. Our members also set up tables with information about their research, African artifacts, and other items relevant to african-american history. It was an emotional and wonderful day. It was empowering to see the fruits of our research and we know the ancestors appreciate that we indeed remember them.

Here are a few more pictures, but because we hired a professional photographer, you can also view over 100 more at our Shutterfly account. Use the password: serengeti9800.

Slave Era Research

Aaron Dorsey

On January 22, Aaron Dorsey presented an interesting and well-researched lecture on conducting slave era research to a packed house of over 50 people. Mr. Dorsey has been researching for close to 20 years, and has traced several of his lines back to the enslaved ancestor and beyond.

Using his formal training in historical study, he gave a thorough presentation which began with a brief overview of African-American history in the U.S. Mr. Dorsey then discussed the major records associated with each era and presented in-depth case studies from his personal research. He deftly weaved together tax, probate, census, land records and oral history to provide attendees with a template for how to begin this very difficult aspect of African-American research. Most important: Don’t dive into slave research too soon. Do your due diligence and work back slowly. Read local history. Research the cluster of people, not just one person.

This lecture was a great way to start off  2011. Slated for release at the end of the year, Mr. Dorsey will be working with fellow chapter member Robyn Smith to create a booklet of case studies on how to do slave research.

Aaron lecturing

Mr. Dorsey’s bibliography and slave resource guide for the lecture can be downloaded here:

Slave Era Research Resource Guide

Two Terrific Lectures Rounded Out Our First Year!

“Beyond Ancestry and Family Search: Online Records for African-American Research”: September 25, 2010

Michael Hait, author, columnist, and professional genealogist stunned members of the Central Maryland Chapter of AAHGS when he presented information on the vast array of online resources currently available for researching African American ancestry. Michael provided his perspective on the value of each of the websites presented in terms of the quality of the information and its limitations, geographic areas covered, and effort required to search the data provided on the websites.  Information was also provided on how to find transcriptions of records and blogs on African American research.

After the meeting, each chapter member received via email a list of clickable links to state and national websites with information for African American online research. Members were also provided links to articles with additional information of value on online resources.

“Researching Blended Families: Finding Native American Ancestors in African-American Families”: November 20, 2010

Angela Walton-Raji, noted author of Black Indian Genealogy Research, gave a presentation on some of the challenges in researching blended Native and African American families. Angela has been at the forefront of research on relations between the Five Civilized Tribes and African American slaves for the past two decades. She is a researcher for PBS’ African American Lives 2, a lecturer, blogger, and podcaster. Angela provided numerous examples of resources available for researching blended families, including special Indian census records, the Dawes Rolls, and the Guion Miller Roll. However, she emphasized the importance of initially following the basic research steps and techniques before expanding research to other records.

Angela was born on the border of the Choctaw Nation. She stressed the importance of examining the history, geography, and culture of your ancestral home. Angela shared her vivid recollections of her great grandmother speaking Choctaw, serving sassafras tea, and sharing information about her life in the Choctaw Nation.  Angela provided a handout with the questions that should be asked during oral history interviews and explained how helpful oral history was in tracing her own ancestors. She also provided a list of books for reading more about African and Native American history.

Chapter members provided pictures of ancestors whom they are researching who may have been from blended families. The pictures were placed on display with other examples and information on researching blended families.

For those who attended these lectures, please share through the comments box below what you liked most or what information you learned that was most helpful to you. (More photos can be found under the Tab “Chapter Photos”)