My Ancestors are Talking To Me

I try to be very organized when I am performing research.  Before going on a research trip, I identify the ancestors I will be researching, check the library’s catalog to determine what resources are available and make a list of questions I would like to answer.   However, some of my best genealogy finds have happened when I was not looking for the information.  When this happens, I jokingly say my ancestors are talking to me.

Here are some examples of some great information I stumbled upon while performing genealogy research.

  • My 2nd great Aunt Matilda Shakespeare had several children while she was enslaved.  One was a son name John Henry Lewis.   At the end of the Civil War Matilda married Dingo Rollins and they had several children.  I found their marriage certificate and the family in the 1870 and 1880 census.  I also found a death record that indicated Matilda died on June 27, 1882.  I could not find any more information on the Rollins family after the 1880’s.  One day I traveled to the Central Rappahannock Heritage Center in Fredericksburg, VA for a research trip.   The volunteers were very helpful as I searched for information on Dingo Rollins, his children and John Henry Lewis. Unfortunately, we did not find any information on the Rollins family.

A few days later I was contacted by the volunteer who was helping me on my research trip.  She told me she had located documents for a court case involving John Henry Lewis and Dingo Rollins’ children.  She happened upon the information when she was looking through a box that was sitting on the shelf.  Another volunteer told her the box had been there for awhile.  The court documents contained a wealth of information on Dingo Rollins and his children including the married names of his daughters and their spouses, as well as the fact that they had moved from Caroline County, Virginia to Washington, DC.   I was able to use this information to further trace the family line and locate some of Matilda and Dingo’s living descendants. They shared with me a family Bible which had a lot of birth, death and marriage information, as well as, numerous photographs.

Matilda & Dingo Rollins’ Daughter Mary Rollins Jones

Matilda & Dingo Rollins’ Daughter
Rachel Rollins Ferguson

John Henry Lewis Sr

John Henry Lewis Sr
Matilda Shakespeare Rollins’ son

  • Two of my ancestors were born, lived and died in Washington, DC.  I assumed they were married in the city as well.  On several occasions, I looked for their marriage certificate at the DC Archive and did not have any luck.  One day while on a research trip to the Library of Virginia, I was scrolling through a microfilm for marriage records when I realized I had scrolled past the name I was looking for.  I looked closely at the microfilm and to my surprise I had stopped on the marriage certificate for the ancestors I believed had married in Washington, DC.  They were married in Alexandria, Virginia which is a little more than 10 miles outside Washington, DC.   Since, I had known both the bride and groom to have lived in Washington, DC all their lives; I never thought to look elsewhere for the marriage certificate.
  • Emma Woolfolk is the sister of my great grandfather, Overton Woodfork.  She married Barnett Hawkins on February 22, 1883 and they had a son name William (Willie).  Willie married Fannie Turner on February 25, 1909. They are listed in the 1910 census and in a 1916 deed, but then the trails went cold. A few years later, I was at the Caroline County Court researching schools for a book I was writing.   I was flipping through a Chancy Court book to locate a certain page and realized I had gone too far.  I glanced at the page as I prepared to flip back a few pages and the name Fannie Hawkins caught my eye.  I had unknowingly stopped on the page that contained the divorce decree from Fannie and William Hawkins.

What about you?  Share some of your stories when you accidentally discovered information that was helpful to your research.

History Makers in Our Midst

Summer is almost here.  Families will be gathering for barbeques, cookouts and reunions.  There will be many stories of days gone by and lots of photo albums and memorabilia to share.  As you are visiting with family this summer, why not use it as an opportunity to preserve  history.  Not only will you learn family history, you may also learn that you have history makers in your midst.

Caroline High School Literary Program
Beryl Jackson is in the first row on the left

Beryl Jackson is such a history maker. She shared her memories of being in the first group of students to desegregate the Caroline County School system when I interviewed her for a book I was writing on Union High School in Caroline County, Virginia.  In 1965, Beryl and a few other students transferred from Union High (the high school for Blacks) to Caroline High ( the high school for Whites).  Although her experience did not make national news and is not recorded in history books like the story of the Little Rock Nine, it did change the Caroline County School system forever.

Your family member’s memories have historical significance, not just for your family but for the community as well. Here are a few topics that are likely to come up during family discussions:

  1. Way of Life –What was the lifestyle of the people living in the community?
  2. Employment – How did people in the community earn a living? (ex. farming, working in steel mill)
  3. Migration – Did family members come to America from another country? Move from one area of the country to another?  What was their experience?
  4. Clubs/Social Organizations – How did family members socialize with other members of the community?
  5. Institutions – Where did family member go to school or church? What impact did these institutions have on their lives?
  6. Community/Neighborhood –Communities change overtime. What was the community like when your family member lived there?

The next time you go to a family gathering be sure to take your digital recorder and/or video camera and preserve history.

Genealogy Gems in Confederate Citizens Files

My last two posts contained self-publishing tips.  I decided to take a break and publish a research tip.  The next post will continue with the self-publishing tips.

I recently discovered information on three of my ancestors in the Confederate Citizens Files while performing research using fold3.com (formerly footnote.com).  The Confederate States of America (aka the Confederacy) was a government established by the eleven southern states that seceded from the United States during the Civil War. The Confederate Citizens Files were created during 1861-1865 and mainly consist of papers relating to civilians who were members of the Confederate States of America.  These files contains papers such as bills and vouchers from individuals for services and supplies provided to the Confederate Government and claims against the government for damages.

The document titled Perpetuating evidence of slave abduction and harboring by the enemy is of particular interest when seeking information on enslaved ancestors.  In 1861, the Congress of the Confederate States of American passed “an act to perpetuate testimony in cases of slaves abduction or harbored by the enemy, and other property seized, wasted, or destroyed by them”.  This act allowed slave owners to appear before a judge or appropriate representative and make an affidavit of the loss of their property.  Other individuals could submit oral or written evidence in support of the person’s claim. After all the evidence was collected the judge or his representative would state in his certificate of authentication whether the evidence was credible. This act was not meant to imply that the Confederate States were liable for making compensation for any of the property.

I located several documents in the Confederate Citizens File of Jefferson Flippo that provided information on three of my ancestors. My 3rd great grandparents, Sancho (aka Sanker) and Lucinda Shakespeare and their children were enslaved by Elijah Wigglesworth in Spotsylvania County, Virginia.  Elijah died in the 1840’s and the Shakespeare family was separated in 1846 when his estate was divided among his wife and children.

Division of Negroes and Money Belonging to the Estate of Elijah Wiglesworth

Division of Negroes and Money Belonging to the Estate of Elijah Wiglesworth

Three of Sancho and Lucinda’s children: Richmond, Nancy and Matilda were then enslaved by Elijah’s daughter Almira and then Jefferson Flippo of Caroline County, Virginia when Almira married him in 1854.  I have found a lot of information on Matilda both during and after slavery and have located some of her living descendants.  However, I have not found much information on Richmond and Nancy.

Lot No. 6 drawn by Almira W. Wiglesworth

Lot No. 6 drawn by Almira W. Wiglesworth

The perpetuating evidence document for Jefferson Flippo was filed on October 21, 1862.  It contained a list of individuals who were enslaved by Jefferson Flippo and secured their freedom by leaving with the Union soldiers.   As I scanned the list I noticed the names of three of my ancestors: Richmond (age 26), Nancy (age 20) and Susan (age 1).  From early research I believe that Nancy had a daughter named Susan in April 1861 while she was enslaved by Jefferson Flippo.   Based on their ages I believe Richmond, Nancy and Susan listed in this document may be my Shakespeare ancestors.

List and statement of slaves the property of Jefferson Flippo

List and statement of slaves the property of Jefferson Flippo

As I looked further through the document I found several statements by individuals that provided additional insight.  There was a sworn statement signed October 7th 1862 from Jefferson Flippo where he stated he was the legal owner of the slaves, Richmond, William, Nancy and Susan [illegible]  until about the 1st day of Jun 1862.  His statement also indicates that  Richmond and William left on or about the 1st day of Jun 1862 and Nancy and Susan left about the middle of July.

Statement of Jefferson Flippo

Statement of Jefferson Flippo

Another page of the document contains the oral evidence given by Nelson Beasley and John T. Goodwin, neighbors of Jefferson Flippo and provides further insight.  In addition to corroborating the information provided by Jefferson Flippo,  they also indicate my ancestors were last seen in Fredericksburg.   The final page in the document contains the certification of legal ownership by Philip Samuels, Justice of the Peace.

Oral Evidence from Nelson Beasly and John T. Goodman

Oral Evidence from Nelson Beasly and John T. Goodman

I now have some insight into what happened to Richmond, Nancy her daughter Susan but I still do no know what became of them.  I now have many more questions.  What surname did they use after they obtained their freedom?  Where did they go? The oral evidence states they were last seen in Fredericksburg.  Did they remain there or move to another location?    Did they ever reunite with their family? Many of my Shakespeare ancestors did reunite in Caroline County, Virginia after slavery.  However, I have not found any information to indicate Richmond and Nancy joined the rest of the family.

My great grandmother Louisa (who is Nancy’s sister) had a daughter named Susan whose age is very close to Nancy’s daughter named Susan.  Are Louisa’s daughter and Nancy’s daughter the same person or different people who happened to be born around the same time?  If they are the same person, does that mean something happened to Nancy?  If so, what happened to her?   These are all questions I must answer as I continue my quest to locate my Shakespeare ancestors.

Confederate Citizens Files are an excellent resource for researching the family history of both slave holding families and the individuals they enslaved. Unfortunately, the names of slaves are not indexed; therefore, those searching for their enslaved ancestors will have to search for the name of the slave owner and read each document to locate their ancestors.

======

Sources:

Division of the Negroes and Money belonging to the Estate of Elijah Wiglesworth and Lot No 6. Drawn by Almira W. Wiglesworth.  Will Book R, 1843-1846 Part 2 Page 271 Repository:  Spotsylvania Court House, Spotsylvania, Virginia.

“Confederate Papers Relating to Citizens or Business Firms, 1861-65,”  digital images, Fold3.com (http://www.fold3.com : accessed 26 November 2011), record for Jefferson Flippo, Caroline County, Virginia, Papers of Jefferson Flippo for perpetuating evidence of slaves abducted and harbored by the enemy, filed October 21, 1862, National Archives Record Group 109, War Department Collection of Confederate Records.

Self-Publishing Tips (Part 2) – Preparing to Hire an Editor and Designer

This is the second blog post in a series of self-publishing tips.  The tips are based on my experience writing Memories of Union High: An Oasis in Caroline County, Virginia 1903-1969.  The first post gave tips for preparing your manuscript to be worked on by an editor and designer.

This post focuses on gathering the information you will need when you seek out the services of an editor and designer.  Communicating your vision with the editor and designer upfront will minimize the number of revisions that occur during the design process which will help keep the cost of your project down.

Having answers to the following questions will help simplify the design process and give the editor and designer the information they need to transform your manuscript into the book you envision.

  1. What is your anticipated budget and timeline?  This is a very important question. The design process is not cheap nor is it fast.  There is no sense wasting your time or other people’s time if the cost of their services is not within your budget or they can not complete the project in the necessary timeframe. Some free-lance professionals are willing to give you a discount if you explain the project is self-financed.  You can do some fundraising to help raise money for your project.  I created a commemorative calendar for Union High School to use as a fundraiser for my project.  Think of similar fundraising ideas to help finance your project.
  2. What is the subject matter?   You should summarize the subject of the book in a few sentences. Links to a website, news articles or other information that can explain your project are also helpful. My book preserved the history of the only high school for Negroes in Caroline County during the era of segregation.  I created a page on my website about the Union High History Project.  I had several newspaper articles written about the project as well. When I contacted editors and designers I included a brief summary of the project along with links to my website and news articles in the email.  Keep in mind that some people my not be inclined to visit a website or read news articles, so your summary should contain the information necessary to explain your project.
  3. Who is the target audience? What are the characteristics of the people you want to read your book: age, sex, ethnicity, special interest or geographic location?  You can have a primary and secondary target audience.  The primary audience for my book was people who were associated with Union High School. I wanted them to be able to read the book and go down memory lane.  The secondary target audience for my book was people who were interested in local history.  I wanted them to be able to read the book and become familiar with an aspect of Caroline County history they may not have known.
  4.  How would you like to present the information? What look and feel do you want for the book:  formal, coffee-table photo book, or scrapbook?  I wanted my book to tell the history of the school and preserve the memories of those associated with it.   I wanted it to have the look and feel of a memory book with a lot of pictures and quotes containing people’s memories.
  5. What elements will your book contain and how do you want it organized? Will it contain photographs, charts, tables, graphs, sidebars, lists, quotes etc?  Do you want the photographs, charts etc located in one location or interspersed throughout the text?  Will the inside pages be in color or in black and white? Do you want the book to be black and white with one section for color photographs?
  6. What are your ideas for the cover? The cover is the selling point for your book and must appeal directly to your audience. It is helpful to have examples of covers you like. Go to amazon.com and create a list book with covers you like.
  7. What is the cover type and binding style?  A book can be hard cover or paperback.  There are many different binding types. For paperback there are:  perfect bound, saddle stitched, wire bound, plastic comb.  For hardback there are case warp and dust jacket.  Hardcover books are expensive to print and many of the other binding types for paperbacks are not sturdy or practical.  Therefore, I recommend a paperback with perfect binding.
  8. What is the word count?   This will help the editor or designer determine the rough page count of your book.   If you are using Microsoft word, you can determine the word count by selecting Tools from the menu bar and Word Count from the pull-down menu. Keep in mind the higher the page count the higher the cost to print the book.
  9. What is the trim size? Trim size is the final size of your book in width by height.  Books are printed on larger sheets of paper and then cut (trimmed) to the correct size after they are printed and bound. A book with a small trim size will have a higher page count than the same book with a larger trim size.  There are also industry standard and non-industry standard trim sizes. I recommend that your book be an industry standard size because there are additional cost associated with using a non-standard size. Createspace has an excellent table that lists their trim sizes, the page count ranges and identifies which trim sizes are standard.  They also have a table that shows the book trim sizes and maximum page counts.
  10. How are you going to print your book?  There are several options for printing your book: traditional offset printing, digital printing and print on demand (POD).  Traditional printing is usually used for quantities over 1,000 which is not practical for most people self-publishing a book. If you select digital printing you will be responsible for distribution etc.  Print on demand is the best option because the printer also acts as the distributor.  You don’t need to keep an inventory because you can order the quantity of books you need.  Lulu.com or createpace.com are two popular print on demand companies; however, there are many more.  Do your research and wait until you have selected your editor and designer before you make your final selection.

If you have any questions about the information in this post feel free to submit a comment and I will reply.

Next Post:  Self-Publishing Tips (Part 3) – Selecting an Editor and Graphic Designer

Self-Publishing Tips (Part 1) – Preparing the Manuscript

In an early post, I provided several tips for taking an active role in preserving local history.  One way to preserve local history is to write a book. In 2009, I initiated the Union High History Project to preserve the history of Union High School in Caroline County, Virginia.  The end product of the project was a book that preserved the history of the school and the memories of the people who were associated with the school.

I decided to self-publish the book because I wanted creative control.  I researched numerous self-publishing companies and narrowed the list down to CreateSpace and LuLu.com.  I selected CreateSpace because it was associated with Amazon.Memories of Union High Cover

This was the first time I had every written a book and I had no idea what I was doing.   I did a lot of research, made it up as I went along, made some mistakes and learned some valuable lessons.

I am happy to say I am pleased with the book.  It is  titled Memories of Union High: An Oasis in Caroline County, Virginia 1903-1969 and I have received a lot of positive feedback.  The book uses remembrances from alumni, faculty, family and friends; excerpts from school newspapers and yearbooks; and over 100 photographs and other memorabilia to preserve the history of the school.

When people learn that I have self-published a book they often ask me for a few tips.  Therefore, I decided to create a blog post to share what I learned from my experience with the Union High History Project.  I have a lot of information to share, so I decided to divide it among several posts.

Originally, I decided to do all the work for the book myself.   As I researched the book design process and began reading about editing, formatting, pagination, fonts etc.  I quickly realized I did not have  the skills to produce a professional quality document.  Therefore, I decided to outsource the editing and design work.  The end result of the book design process was two PDF files (one for the cover and another for the manuscript) which I uploaded to Createspace and printed.  This process was much simpler and I recommend that you hire an editor and graphic designer. The final result is well worth the cost.

Here are some tips for preparing your manuscript for editing and layout before you hand over your manuscript to a professional to create the final product:

  1. Using a word processing software.  Your manuscript should be created using either Microsoft Office or WordPerfect.  Since Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software  I would suggest you use that.
  2. Decide on document layout (but don’t layout the book).  When I was writing my book I inserted images, captions, text boxes, headers, and footers in the document.  After I hired the editor I learned that I should not have done that, so I had to undo all that work. The positive aspect of me laying out the book was I had a clear vision of what I wanted the document to look like and could communicate my vision to the professionals. Even though you should not layout your book, you should have a general idea of what you want the book to look like.
  3. Format the document.   The document should be double spaced with a clean, readable font such 12-point Times Roman. Use the same font throughout the document and do not format the text (e.g.  no bold, italics, underline etc.).   Use a left justified margin and indent the first line of each paragraph with a single tab. Use only one hard return between paragraphs.  Do not use hard returns at the end of a sentence; let the text wrap naturally to the next line.  Begin each chapter on a new page and give each chapter a title.   Number every page.
  4. Decide on image placement.  Images can be grouped together in one section (usually the center) or dispersed throughout the document.  Grouping the photos in one location will help keep the cost down because it makes the graphic designer’s work easier.  It also can save on printing cost if the images are color because that one section can be printed in color (which is more expensive than black and white) and the remaining sections of the book can be printed in black and white.  In some instances it is more appropriate to spread the images throughout the document. In the case of Memories of Union High, photos and text boxes were positioned next to a person’s memory; therefore, the images were spread throughout the document.
  5. Ensure document has the proper sections.  A book has three main parts: Front, Body and End.  Each of these parts is comprised of various sections (some required and some optional).
    • The front portion of the book consists of the following sections. Half-title page contains only the title of the book. Title page contains: book title; subtitle; author; collaborators and contributors; and publisher. Imprint Page contains the copyright notice, publisher contact information, Library of Congress Catalog Number (LCCN) and ISBN. (You will learn more about these items in a future post.)  These sections are followed by the Dedication (optional), Table of Contents, Acknowledgements (optional), Author’s Notes (optional).  The Foreword is optional and is usually written by someone other than the author.  It explains why the reader should read the book.  The Preface is optional and explains how the book came about.
    • The body of the book is the main part and usually consists of the chapters including the introduction and conclusion.
    • The back portion of the book consists of End notes, Appendix, Bibliography and Index. These sections are optional; however, if you are writing a local history book, I encourage you to at a minimum have end notes and a bibliography to document the sources for your information. The Appendix can be used to include supplemental information which may be of interest or use to the reader.

Memories of Union High contains three Appendices.  The first appendix contains Principal Messages from the yearbooks.  These messages added value to the book by providing insight into the principal’s thought process, but there was no place to include them in the main portion of the book.  Therefore, I thought it was best to put the information in an Appendix.

The second Appendix contains a summary of historical events that took place during the time period covered by the book. Originally, I included explanations for these events in the main portion of the book.  This made the flow of the book awkward and difficult to read.  Additionally, the information was not necessary for people who were familiar with these historical events.   Summarizing the information in the Appendix was the best place for the information because it allowed readers who needed the summary to review the information before reading the book.

The last appendix contained a list of all the Union High History Project Participants.  Originally, I included this information in the acknowledgements section; however with over 100 participants the list was entirely to long.  Therefore, I moved the information to an appendix.


6. Ensure images are of good quality.
 It is important to have good quality photos to eliminate the need for the graphic designer to do extra work to correct problem areas which can greatly increase the cost of the graphic design work. Images should be of high quality (300 dpi or higher) and should be free of major flaws or blemishes.  Poor quality or damaged images may require some restoration.  If you are handy with graphic editing software such as Adobe Photoshop, you can repair the photographs yourself.  Otherwise, it may be necessary to use the services of a person who specializes in photo restoration.  I used Drew Klausner from pixlfixl.com and was very please with his prices and his work.  He often gives discounts to repeat customers.

1948 Union High Baseball Team - Before Restoration

1948 Union High Baseball Team - Before Restoration

1948 Union High Baseball Team -  After Restoration

1948 Union High Baseball Team - After Restoration

7.  Create an image folder. Each image should be labeled sequentially (ex. image1, image2 etc.) and all the images should be placed in one folder.

Image Folder Example

Image Folder Example

8. Insert image and text box place holders.  A place holder such as [Image1], should be used to indicate where the image should be placed in the manuscript. The place holder should correspond to the filename for the image in the image folder. The text for the text box should be included in the manuscript.  A place holder (ex. [textbox 3] )should be used to indicate the text to be included in a  text box

Image Place holder example

Image Place holder example

9. Create caption file.  The caption file should be a sequentially numbered list  and contain the text for the caption for each image or text box.    (ex. Homecoming 1968 attendants, Miss Union High and Miss Football Sweetheart.  Source: 1969 Union High Yearbook.) The number on the list should correspond to the number of the image or text box. Example, Item 1 on the list in the caption file is the caption for Image1 in the image folder.

Caption File Example

Caption File Example

10. Proofread the manuscript.  You should meticulously proofread the manuscript before submitting it to the editor and graphic designer.   This will greatly cut down on the number of revisions that are needed which will help keep the cost down.  I suggest enlisting the help of a friend or family member with the task. (Just one person will do. Feedback from too many people will cause confusion.)

If  you follow the above tips, your manuscript will be ready for editing and design by the appropriate professionals.  The next blog posts will discuss selecting an editor and graphic designer, the editing and design process and how to obtain identifying information for your book.

If you have any questions about the information in this post feel free to submit a comment and I will reply.

Next Post:   Self-Publishing Tips (Part 2) – Preparing to Hire an Editor and Designer

 

Washington High DC School Cadet Corps

Harlan Woodfork 1950-1951

Harlan Woodfork

The other day I was looking through my family history files and came across some pages I had copied from the Washington DC’s Dunbar High 1951 yearbook.  I had found the yearbook at my uncle’s house a few years ago.  It belonged to his brother and my uncle, Harlan.  Harlan Woodfork was second to the youngest child of my grandparents Sylvester and Ethel Woodfork.  I never met Uncle Harlan; he died when he was 19 from congestive heart failure.  He was about to start his sophomore year at Hamilton College in New York.

From the yearbook I learned Uncle Harlan was a member of the football team, the Rex Club (Senior Boys’ Choir), captain in the Dunbar High School Cadet Corps and aspired to be a lawyer.  The yearbook contained a brief history of the school’s Cadet Corps along with several pictures, as well as, an article about the armory that was written by my uncle.

1950-1951 Dunbar HIgh Cadet Corps - Regimental Staff

1950-1951 Dunbar HIgh Cadet Corps - Regimental Staff

1950-1951 Dunbar HIgh Cadet Corps - Battalion Staff

1950-1951 Dunbar High Cadet Corps - Battalion Staff

1950-1951 Dunbar High Cadet Corps - Company A

1950-1951 Dunbar High Cadet Corps - Company A

1950-1951 Dunbar HIgh Cadet Corps - Company B
1950-1951 Dunbar HIgh Cadet Corps – Company B

1950-1951 Dunbar High Cadet Corps - Company C

After reading the information I became interested in the Washington High School Cadet Corps and decided to do a little research….

The Cadets Corps – a precursor of the Junior ROTC – consisted of male high school students.   The purpose of the corps was to teach them disciple and leadership.   Like most of America at that time, the Cadets Corps were segregated.  In 1882, two companies of High School Cadets where organized for white high schools.  The first competitive drill for white students was held in 1888. The first colored high school cadets were organized in 1888 at M Street High (which would later become Dunbar High School) by Christian Fleetwood.

M Street High School Cadet Corps 1895

Source: Library of Congress

Cadet Corps were a great source of school and community pride. They marched in parades, including presidential inaugural parades, escorted dignitaries and participated in drills.   Being in the high school Cadet Corp was a family tradition for many households.  One of the highest honors was to be commissioned as an officer as a senior.   In addition to being in command, an officer wore a saber (instead of carrying a heavy rifle) and enjoyed increased popularity.

The annual drill competition at Griffith stadium was a major event for the entire community.  Every cadet company participated in the  drill.   The cadet corps was removed from the high school curriculum in the late 1960’s

Washington, D.C. high school Cadet Corps unit holding a competitive drill at Griffith Stadium - 1935

Courtesy: Midwestern Femm

Taking an Active Role in Preserving Local History

I started researching my family history in Caroline County, Virginia in 2004.  I was frustrated by the dearth of information on African Americans.  As I talked to African Americans in the community I would hear interesting stories of their lives growing up in the county.   As I listened to their stories, I would often think what interesting information it was and that someone should preserve it.

In 2009 I decided to become that someone and take an active role in preserving the history of the communities where my anceMemories of Union High Coverstors lived. My first project would be to preserve the history of Union High School – Caroline County’s only secondary school for Negroes during the era of segregation.

I knew nothing about the school and had never written a book; however, I decided to take on the challenge.  Once I began to spread the word about the Union High History Project many people were eager to participate.  The result of the project is a book titled Memories of Union High: An Oasis in Caroline County, Virginia, 1903-1969.  The book available at amazon.com and my website.

In addition to writing a book, I have collected a large amount of Union High memorabilia and ephemera including hundreds of photographs, a complete set of yearbooks, commencement programs and school newspapers. I plan to donate these items to libraries and historical archives.  Because of the collaborative efforts of numerous ordinary people, the history of Union High School has been preserved for posterity.

You many not want to take on the monumental task of writing a book.   Here are some ways you can help preserve local history on a smaller scale:

  1. Donate items to libraries, historical archives and genealogy societies. When going through family members’ belongings, save old documents, papers, photographs, memorabilia and ephemera and donate them to a local library or archives.  A lot of historical items are classified as junk and thrown away because the person who is cleaning out an elderly or deceased person’s home is not mindful of the significance of the items.

I urge people to donate original items on a regular basis and keep copies for their records. Using this method, you or your family members will not be faced with the daunting task of sorting through a large amount of information years later.  You don’t have to organize the items just put them in a box and take them to the organization.  Some organizations may even send staff to your house to retrieve the items if you have a large amount of information.

L. R. “Jack” Davis, the funeral director of Davis Funeral Home (which later became Storke Funeral Home) in Bowling Green, VA, was responsible for moving  graves after the government purchased land in Caroline County, to establish the  AP Hill military reservation. Mr. Davis kept very detailed records in a 250+ page document which provides information of the location of graves before and after the move.

Many years later, his daughter made copies of the document and distributed it to libraries and the Caroline County historical society.  This document is an excellent resource for anyone performing genealogy research in Caroline County.  Because of the generosity of Mr. Davis’ daughter, numerous family historians and genealogist have been able to obtain valuable information about their ancestors.

  1. Write articles for newsletters.  As I research my family history I also collect information about the communities in which they lived and the organizations in which they were members.  I have written several articles for the Caroline Historical Society newsletter in order to share this information.
  1. Create a website or blog. I acquired several documents from the Fort A.P. Hill Environmental Office that continued valuable information about the people who lived in the community prior to the establishment of the military reservation.  I uploaded the documents to my website to make them more accessible.  I have been contacted by people all over the world who were very grateful for this information being on the internet since it was not feasible for them to travel to Caroline County to perform research.   Some information may be copyrighted so be sure to get permission from the owner before you post any information and documents on the internet.
  1. Give speeches and make presentations.   I have made several presentations on the subject of researching, documenting and preserving local history.  I share my experience from the Union High History Project and give tools and tips for preserving local history.
  1. Share research strategies and information with staff at libraries and historical archives.   Performing genealogy research for African Americans can be a frustrating experience, especially when researching our ancestors who were enslaved.  Because slaves were considered property, the traditional methods for performing genealogy research can not be followed.

I frequently perform research at the Central Rappahannock Heritage Center in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  The staff is very friendly and helpful. On one occasion I struck up a conversation with several staff members who inquired about my research.  I told them I was searching through documents about my ancestor’s deceased slave owner (Elijah Wigglesworth) to learn more about my ancestors. I explained how I had to research my ancestor’s slave owner family in addition to my own

family in order locate my ancestors. I showed them how my ancestors were listed in the Inventory and Appraisement of the slave owner’s estate,  and how the document showing the distribution of his estate showed my great great grandparents family being separated when the slave owner’s estate was divide among his wife and children.  I then explained how I had to search for slaves in wills, inventories, and other court documents for each of the new slave owners to trace my ancestors’ movement during the slavery.

I pointed out that since the names of the slaves were not provided on the summary for documents in the collection I had to spend hours reading through documents in hopes of finding information on my ancestors.  They agreed this was not an easy task since many times the documents were handwritten with poor or fancy penmanship, faded and very difficult to read.

Once the CRHC understood the research strategy they began including the slave names on the summary for documents in the collection that is published on the CRHC website.  I find most staff at libraries and archives are very helpful and open to suggestions.  I recommend that you share your research strategies and ideas whenever you have a suggestion for improvement.

  1. Participate in activities to preserve the history of the communities you are researching.  In 2007, the Fort A.P. Hill Environmental Division initiated the AP Hill Oral History Project to preserve the history of the communities that existed before military reservation was established.  I was one of several individuals hired to interview people who had lived in the community.  The end result of the project was a book titled Wealthy At Heart: Oral History of Life Before AP Hill.

Although I live over 100 miles from Caroline County, I was still able to contribute to the project by interviewing former residents who lived near me.  All interviewers were required to take an oral history training class.  Therefore, not only did I help preserve the history of the community where my ancestors lived, I also learned techniques for performing oral history research that I still use today.

 

  1. Support genealogy and historical societies.   Most genealogy and historical societies rely heavily on volunteers and donations. I urge you to volunteer at the genealogy and historical societies where you perform research, become a member and make financial donations.

Preserving local history is not just the responsibility of professional historians.  It must start with the ordinary people who live, work and have an interest in the community.  I urge you to follow the above steps to help preserve the history of the communities where you and your ancestors lived.

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