Written by Netisha Currie, Archives Specialist at the National Archives in College Park.
Today is the kick off for the second annual National Archives Virtual Genealogy Fair. From October 28-30 the Archives will broadcast 17 live lectures from across the nation via YouTube to inform the general public on various aspects of genealogical research. This event is free and open to all levels of genealogist – whether you are a professional or just starting to search for records about your family – all are welcome!
This year I am happy to present with my colleague Britney Crawford about FBI records that can be used in the course of genealogical research. Our talk, FBI and the FOIA: 20th Century Family Research, hopes to introduce genealogists to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process and inform users on the potential for finding your family stories in the records of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The case files of the FBI are of particular value to African American families because many incidents of racial violence, political protest, and social movements were captured in these files when the FBI decided to investigate the actions as possible crimes. Two of the most important classes that are pertinent to African American history are Class 44 – Civil Rights (established to investigate crimes of the Ku Klux Klan), and Class 157 – Civil Unrest (established to investigate civil disorder and demonstrations).
Through my personal research, I was able to locate and submit a FOIA request for the Class 157 file that was in my grandfather’s name. It turns out that the family story I had heard for years of my father’s childhood home being burned down by the KKK was investigated, typed up, and made a permanent government record that sits in the same building where I work! Britney and I will be sharing that story and others of curious individuals finding their family history in the FBI records at the National Archives. Our presentation will take place Thursday, October 30 at 10am, please visit the Genealogy Fair Website for direct links to the YouTube cast and a list of other presentations. Please see other presentations of note below. Hope to see you there!
by Ligon on October 21, 2014
Written by Damani Davis, Reference Archivist at the National Archives in Washington, D. C.
Due to the recent popularity of genealogy-based television series such as, African American Lives, Who Do You Think You Are, and Faces of America, the interest in genealogical research has grown rapidly among African Americans. Reference archivists and specialists at the National Archives Building in downtown Washington, D. C. have assisted many of these new researchers by describing to them the relevant Federal records held in NARA facilities. Among NARA’s records most immediately relevant to African American genealogy and history are the RG 105 Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, or the “Freedmen’s Bureau.” These records provide a glimpse into the lives and experiences of recently freed African Americans in the South during the years immediately following emancipation.
When I first embarked upon my new career as a reference archivist, my colleagues advised that the best way to get acquainted with the records to assist researchers was by researching my own genealogy. I immediately began my research by examining the US Census records. Starting with my paternal line, based in rural Maryland and Philadelphia, PA, I hit a major dead end when the 1900 and 1910 censuses revealed that my great-grandfather, Harold Davis, was an adopted foster child. Unable to find any information on his biological parents, my research into my paternal lineage ended with him.
I then switched to my maternal line, which was based in Augusta and Jefferson County in Georgia. The oldest names that I knew from maternal line were those of my great-great-grandfather, Cain Jordan, and his wife, my great-great grandmother, Mattie (Whitfield) Jordan. Prior to consulting these Census records, I had assumed that all members of my maternal lineage had resided in Georgia, exclusively, since their first forebears arrived from Africa. But the 1900 and 1920 censuses revealed that the fathers of both Cain and Mattie had been born in Virginia. Both of my thrice-great grandfathers would have been alive during slavery, and were likely sold from Virginia down to Georgia. The process of selling surplus slaves from the older tobacco producing states of the upper South to the cotton belt states of the Deep South was extremely common during the last decades of slavery. But this fact was inconvenient for genealogical aspirations, because I would need to trace their lineages back up to Virginia.
As African American descendants of enslaved ancestors begin to trace their genealogy, they will likely be required to track their lineage across different southern states because of the internal domestic slave trade. A glimpse into this history is provided by some of the Freedmen’s Bureau Transportation records that document the efforts of the Bureau’s agents, and the formerly enslaved themselves, to procure transportation to rejoin children, parents, and spouses who had been separated by sale across state lines. Below are some examples that I found while searching the records of offices based in Augusta, Georgia and in South Carolina.
Benjamin Pillman Requests Transport to Get His Three Daughters (Molly, Susan, & Maria) from Mississippi, and back to Augusta, GA.
“I am desirous of bringing from Mississippi my three children, all minors who are now without protection and support. Being twice notified of their condition and warned that I must come for them or they would be bound out for a term of years or set adrift in the world, I have made every exertion to accumulate the means to travel upon but am still unable to go unless you can afford me assistance. My family here consists of a wife and two children who are provided for during my absence to afford that protection and support due from a parent to his children,”
The Bureau Agent comments concerning Pillman: “States that he is desirous of bringing from Miss. his 3 children (minors) who are without support & protection and that he has been mortified that if he does not send for them they will be bound out, and that he is unable to go for them unless afforded transportation, and desires that it may be furnished him.”
Freedwoman’s Daughter was sold from Georgia to Galveston, Texas
Records of the Field Offices for the State of Georgia Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1872; microfilm publication M1903, roll 49, frame 227. (NAID 5717749)
“Nellie Carmichael, Freedwoman, states that her daughter Alice Heard was sold from this city before Emancipation to Galveston Texas where she now is in a destitute condition. She can be found in Galveston by addressing her through the Post Office. I would recommend that as her mother is in comfortable circumstances and able to support her, transportation be given her to this city by the proper authorities in Galveston….”
Transportation Requested for “Freedboy” from Augusta, GA to Richmond, VA
Records of the Assistant Commissioner for the State of South Carolina, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1870; microfilm publication M869, roll 44, frame 274. (NAID 6212822)
“I have the honor to request transportation from this city to Richmond Va, for Freedboy Samuel Smith. This boy has been transported thus far from Augusta Ga. He desires to be sent to his parents. This will relieve the government from his support….”
Transport for “Small Colored Girl” from Columbia, South Carolina to Virginia
Records of the Assistant Commissioner for the State of South Carolina, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1870; microfilm publication M869, roll 44, frame 263. (NAID 6212822)
“I have the honor to request that transportation be furnished from this city for one small girl (Colored) to Orange Court House Virginia. She is in this city in destitute circumstances. And no friends to assist her in getting to her parents. I think this an urgent case….”
Woman Seeks Transport From Augusta, GA to Montgomery, AL to Reunite with Husband
Records of the Field Offices for the State of Georgia Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1872; microfilm publication M1903, roll 49, frame 243 (NAID 5717749)
“Caroline Thomas has applied at this office for transportation from Augusta, GA to Montgomery, AL, where she states she has a husband who is willing to provide for her. She states that she will become a burden upon public charity if she is not sent to her husband. Her husband’s name is Josephus Thomas, and is supposed to be living with S.H. Grant at Montgomery, Ala., at the West Point & Montgomery depot. (her husband is a carpenter). I would respectfully recommend that transportation be furnished in this case if upon enquiry it be found that her husband is able and willing to provide for her….”
Five Formerly Enslaved Persons Seek Transport from Atlanta, GA to New Bern, NC
Records of the Assistant Commissioner for the State of South Carolina, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1870; microfilm publication M869, roll 44, frame 276 (NAID 6212822)
“This will be handed to you by a Freedman who is one of a party of 5 who have been furnished with transportation from Atlanta to Augusta as you will see endorsed upon the enclosed com[munication]. They are desirous of reaching their sons & daughters living near Newbern, N.C. where they can be properly provided for, and to th at end it is necessary that the Asst. Comm of South Carolina furnish them with transportation to such point en route to Newbern as he may have the power to grant and if he may deem it practicable to do….”
Transport of Old Freedwoman from Milledgeville, GA to Charleston, SC
Records of the Field Offices for the State of Georgia Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1872; microfilm publication M1903, roll 71, frames 959-961. (NAID 5756962)
“The Bearer of this a freedwoman Lativa Clements is old & infirm & destitute. She has relatives & children in Charleston, SC to whom she desires to go—if it is possible to give her transportation it will be an act of great kindness to a worthy though unfortunate person….”
Response Letter From Daughter: Charleston, February 8th, 1867
Records of the Field Offices for the State of Georgia Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1872; microfilm publication M1903, roll 71, frame 962. (NAID 6212822)
“Dear Mother, it is with much pleasure that I sit down to write you these few lines hopeing that they will find you well as the leaves me at present. …I would have written to you before but I did not know how to direct your letter. I was more than glad to hear from you and glad to hear that you is well….You must be in good cheer until we send for you; I expect to get a free transportation from Genl. Scott to come for you, but if I do not get it I will send for you. All is well all of the children sends howdy for you; they says that they would like much to see you….Harry Mathews expect to get a free transportation to go for his family and I think I will get one the same time; but the General is not here at present, he has gone to Savannah to see about some business. But I will see him as soon as he comes….When you write you can Direct your letter to Mrs. Celia Gibbs for I do not know any one else that you could Direct to. Write soon for I am longing to hear from you….I hope that I will see you before long for I am very anxious to see you. If god spears my life I hope that we will meet once more again before we die. I have no more to say at this time I remain your Daughter Sophy Brown.”
Not all of the Freedmen’s Bureau transportation records reflect the efforts of separated family members seeking to reunite with loved ones. Some transportation records document the first voluntary migrations of groups of African American seeking to gain land or better opportunities elsewhere. This not widely-known, first mass-migration of African Americans was actually an intra-South migration in which recently freed blacks hoped to get land or better pay in relatively newer southern areas in Arkansas, Texas, Florida, and even parts of Mississippi. The majority of blacks that were part of this particular migration were departing mainly from states Georgia and South Carolina. Examples of this process are documented in travel registers from these states.
While searching records of the Augusta field office in Georgia, I found several work contracts documenting large groups of freed black departing for Arkansas. One travel register from South Carolina has lines that list large groups departing:
Records of the Assistant Commissioner for the State of South Carolina, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1870; microfilm publication M869, roll 44, frame 245 (NAID 621822)
- from line 7: “35 adults, 14 children from Columbia, SC to Grenada, MS (49 persons).
- from line 8: “Adam Pully & fifty-six others from Columbia SC to Vicksburg, MS (57 persons)
- Other lines on the same register show much smaller groups, couples, and single individuals trying to get Virginia.
So these records highlight two important aspects of early black movement. First, there was the effort to many to get back to their native states in order to reunite with family. This movement was mainly towards the old tobacco states like Virgina from which they were likely sold or forced to move with owners who had relocated to states further south. The second aspect reflects the voluntary migration of large groups of African Americans from states such as Georgia and South Carolina who hoped to gain better opportunities in other southern states. The main point to take away from this, from a historical and genealogical standpoint, is that the lineages of majority of African Americans will ultimately lead back to the oldest southern states: Primarily back to Virginia and the greater Chesapeake region; and secondarily, back to South Carolina and Georgia.
by Ligon on October 7, 2014
written by Dr. Trichita M. Chestnut, Management and Program Analyst, in the Office of the Chief Operating Officer at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland
“…there is no East, no West, no North, no South, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole, wide world:”
~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Sermon at the Marienkirche, East Berlin, September 13, 1964
In 1964, the city of Berlin was divided between East and West Berliners, much like the United States was segregated by black and white Americans. If anyone knew and understood the political and social ramifications of such divisions and discrimination, that person would be African-American Baptist minister, nonviolent civil rights activist, and leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Fifty years ago, at the invitation of Willy Brandt, Mayor of West Berlin, Dr. King, traveled to Cold War Berlin in September 1964 to speak at the 14th annual cultural festival (See telegram 1964-09-14a). In one and a half days, Dr. King spoke and toured the city of Berlin “which [stood] as a symbol of the divisions of men on the face of the earth,” on the principles of unity and faith: “we are all one in Christ Jesus and that faith overcomes all man-made barriers.”
Dr. King signs the Golden Book. Reference: 306-BN-466-2
Following Dr. King’s signing of the Golden Book at Berlin City Hall he opened the cultural festival at the Berlin Philharmonic Hall in a memorial service to late President John F. Kennedy, who visited the city the year before he was assassinated. In his eulogy, Dr. King emphasized “Kennedy’s devotion to human rights throughout the world and specifically to civil rights issue at home.” Later that afternoon Dr. King delivered a sermon before a crowd of 20,000 West Berliners in Waldbühne amphitheater on the occasion of “Tag der Kirche” (Day of the Church). After his sermon, Dr. King learned that an East Berliner had been shot when he attempted to escape to West Berlin. Immediately, he insisted to be taken to the Berlin Wall where the shootout had taken place between the U.S. soldiers and East German border guards.
Dr. King visits the Berlin Wall. Reference: 306-BN-466-1
In his pursuit to promote the spirit of brotherhood, he also wanted to visit East Berlin, as he believed that “we are all one in Christ Jesus, for in Christ there is no East, no West, no North, no South, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole, wide world.” Later that evening, without a passport, he surprisingly managed to cross at Checkpoint Charlie, the border crossing point between West and East Berlin, into East Berlin with his American Express card as form of identification. While there, Dr. King spoke at a church service at Marienkirche (St. Mary’s Church), where he preached essentially the same sermon he gave earlier that day in West Berlin to 2,000 standing-room-only East Berliners.
“My dear Christian friends of East Berlin,” Dr. King began as he spoke eloquently of “his spiritual message of brotherhood” as the city of Berlin symbolized a “divided humanity.” Identifying faith as a means to reconcile and not divide the people, regardless of the “man-made barrier” of the Berlin Wall, he stated, “…this city, which stands as a symbol of the divisions of men on the face of the earth. For here on either side of the wall are God’s children, and no man-made barrier can obliterate that fact.” He also called attention to African American’s fight for civil rights in the United States, “As you know, there is a great social revolution taking place in the United States of America, and it is the struggle to free some twenty million Negroes from the long night of segregation and discrimination.” The congregation was so moved by his sermon’s emphasis on the similarities of the faith, struggles, and sufferings of African Americans in the U.S. to their own, that some wept openly. Since the church was filled to capacity, the overflow crowd was sent to nearby Sophienkirche (Sophia Church) and Dr. King ended up making a second, last minute appearance there. Before returning to West Berlin, Dr. King also took the time to speak with students from Humboldt University and church officials at the Hospice Albrecht.
Dr. King’s visit to Cold War Berlin and his message of brotherhood, peace, faith, and civil rights for all of humanity, brought hope to both West and East Berliners of a possible peaceful social revolution. Dr King argued that a “common humanity, common history, common calling, and common hope for the salvation of the world” binds together people in the divided city of Berlin and also in the segregated America, “regardless of the barriers of race, creed, ideology, or nationality.”
Dr. King is standing at the Soviet Sector border of the Wall, while the director of the Berlin Information Center is indicating points of interest. Reference 306-BN-466-4880
Chronology of Dr. King’s Visit to Berlin
September 12, 1964
- 3 pm: Arrival at Tempelhof Airport and Welcome by West Berlin Government and Church Officials Press Conference at the West Berlin Senate Guest House, Grunewald
September 13, 1964
- 10 am: Reception at West Berlin City Hall with Mayor Willy Brandt and Signing of the City’s Golden Book
- 11 am: Opening of the 14th Annual Cultural Festival with a Memorial Service for John F. Kennedy at the Berlin Philharmonic Hall
- 1 pm: Reception at the Foyer of the Berlin Academy of Arts hosted by West Berlin Senator for Arts and Science, Dr. Werner Stein
- 3 pm: Open Air Church Rally and Sermon at the “Waldbühne” (20,000 people) and visit to the Berlin Wall (Bernauer, Schwedter and Stallschreiber Street)
- 5.30 pm: Award Ceremony for an Honorary Degree of the Theological School of the West Berlin Protestant Church in the home of Bishop Dr. Otto Dibelius
- 7 pm: Border Crossing at Checkpoint Charlie 8 (Friedrich Street)
- 8 pm: Church Service in East Berlin’s Marienkirche (St. Mary’s)
- 10 pm: Additional Church Service at the Sophienkirche (Sophia Church) in East Berlin and meeting with Leading Representatives of the Protestant Church Berlin Brandenburg at the Hospice Albrecht Street
- 11 pm: Return to West Berlin and Late Dinner at Guest House Grunewald
September 14, 1964
- End of Visit and Onward Journey to Munich
Telegram found in: Classified Central Subject Files, 1963-1975 (NAID: 7450662)
Photographs found in: Photographs Relating to World War II, the Cold War, and U.S. – West German Diplomatic, Economic, and Military Contacts, ca. 1951 – 1994 (NAID: 639717)
by Ligon on September 23, 2014
written by Dr. Tina L. Ligon, Archivist at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland
For many years, employees at the National Archives have participated in the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) annual conferences. They’ve shared information on records relating to the black experience that can be found at the National Archives. Panels in the past have addressed various topics including pension files, naval records, African-American women, civil rights, the Panama Canal, and genealogy.
ASALH 2014 panel on records relating to the black experience at the National Archives. Pictured left to right Trichita Chestnut, Tina Ligon, Lopez Matthews, and Netisha Currie.
ASALH was founded by Carter G. Woodson in 1915 to celebrate the legacy of the African-American experience. The mission of the organization is to promote research, preserve, interpret and disseminate information about black life, history and culture to the global community. The annual conferences allowed scholars, researchers, and students to come together and discuss issues and scholarship on black life. The theme this year is “Civil Rights in America” and the conference is taking place in Memphis, Tennessee at the historic Peabody Hotel.
Dr. Debra Newman Ham compiled and published Black History: A Guide to Civilian Records in the National Archives in 1984. In 2012, a committee of about 20 NARA employees, which include archivists, archives specialists, students, and interns assisted with the update of the guide by writing descriptions, editing entries, and contributing to the Rediscovering Black History blog. The new black history guide will be web base and include information on both civilian and military records at NARA, as well as information on related electronic records, moving images, photographs, sound recordings, and a few artifacts.
This year, Dr. Tina L. Ligon, Dr. Trichita M. Chestnut, Ms. Netisha Currie, and former NARA employee Dr. Lopez D. Matthews, Jr. presented a glimpse into the development of the black history guide at the National Archives, along with the factors leading to its creation and issues that have emerged from the project. Each panelists discussed an aspect of the relationship between black history and the National Archives. Lopez spoke about the importance of black history in the archival world. Tina updated the audience on the progress of the guide and showcase select textual series of interest that will be included in the black history guide. Trichita demonstrated how classified records become declassified and how these records will be added to the new black history guide. Lastly, Netisha discussed the creation and function of the webpage and introduced the audience to the Rediscovering Black History public blog. In addition, she solicited suggestions from the audience on what they would like to see with the online resource.
The Rediscovering Black History: Updates to “Black History: A Guide to Civilian Records in the National Archives” presentation took place in Memphis, Tennessee at the Peabody Hotel on Friday, September 26, 2014
by Ligon on September 9, 2014
Today’s blog was written by Kevin L. Bradley, Archives Technician in the Motion Picture, Sound, and Video Division at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland
The economic hardship of the Great Depression affected everybody, but it was especially harsh for African Americans who were already suffering from unfair employment, housing, and educational practices. In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to assist with the needs of Americans during the time of economic crisis. The WPA provided jobs to needy men, women, and youth to work mostly on public construction projects. The agency also gave employment opportunities of struggling artists, writers, actors, and musicians. Many of those employed by the WPA were African Americans.
The film We Work Again, 1937(NAID 12322) was created by the WPA to promote the involvement and activities of African Americans who were employed with this agency. This film shows the role of WPA programs that assisted African Americans during the Great Depression. The first reel depicts African Americans waiting in breadlines, receiving household and health care training, and working on public construction projects. The second reel highlights African Americans artists, musicians, writers, and actors. The film contains footage of the all-black version of Macbeth. Some of the black performers were Juanita Hall, Alma Dickson, Bertram Holmes, Zola King, Josephine Williams, and Wilhelmina Williams.
Click here to view the 15 minute clip of “We Work Again”