Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Blogging Black History

But first . . . A Bit of Shameless Self-Promotion

Well, 2005 got off to a fast start! Here it is February already and myy posting haas fallen behind. That's partly due to helping a cousin stand up a website that covers all the surnames listed here. It's Our Lifetimes--The Legacy of An American Family, and can be found at The site is growing, but is already pretty robust. For example, it has tables of family members who enlisted in the Army in World War II (see the Birdsong
family listing); family trees for certain branches of families (see the Bryant example), and sections highlighting "Notable Quotable" family members (see Manson example). There are also some decent historical descriptions of surname origins (see Manson and Gines examples) and hopefully there soon will be more historical documents, such as this 1839 enlistment paper from Texas. Check it out!

Black History Month

In 1926, a Harvard-educated historian developed the observance of what he called Negro History Week. The son of former slaves, Carter Godwin Woodson, Ph.D., believed that one day, his "Negro History Week" would be unnecessary as the place of blacks in American history became universally known and appreciated. Today, the entire month of February is dedicated to recognition of African-American history. It's not that Dr. Woodson's hope of greater appreciation so failed that now a whole month is needed to make the point. Indeed, it's precisely the opposite.

Along with an appreciation of the greater history of those of their race, blacks have taken significant interest in their individual family histories. On a recent visit to the National Archives main building in Washington, DC, I couldn't help but notice the large percentage of black researchers. I made similar observations at the Virginia Room of the Fairfax City Regional Library in Fairfax, Virginia. Especially interesting and heart-warming were the numbers of black families--parents and children--working together at the Fairfax Library.

Black history, like all history, is made every day by ordinary people in the things they do. All history is personal, ultimately. And genealogical research is the way we all--whether black or any other race-- discover the often unheralded personal stories behind the universally known history.

Black History and Genealogical Links

I have African-American ancestors and cousins, so I've come across several resources that I really like. One that I just discovered is the African-American Sailors Index on the Civil War Soldiers & Sailors site of the National Park Service. This is a joint project of the Park Service, Howard University, and the Naval Historical Center. An easy search device supplies names and personal information on thousands of blacks who served in the Union Navy. Sarchable fields include name, hometown, state, and country. The state and country search yields some unexpected results. For example, we discover that there were black Union sailors born in Utah and (believe it or not!), Sweden.

At Our Black, you won't find a lot of individually useful information, but the exemplars there are interesting and may spur further research ideas. There are a number of documents such as slave rental agreements and a letter from Booker T. Washington. Similarly limited, but interesting is the online site of The Black Archives of Mid-America.

Of greater research utility are the Freedmen's Bureau Online and African-American Cemeteries Online. The Freedmen's Bureau site has, among other things, marriage, labor, and "outrage" records. The cemetery site is good, but still growing.

Two other sites I like are Brenda Kay's African American Genealogy and Christine's Genealogy Website.

The Princeton Public Library has a black history/genealogy site that highlights New Jersey native son Paul Robeson. It has a lot of other good research links as well. Finally, there is a subscription site that may be available free in your local public library. It's The African-American Biographical Database.

Dr. Woodson would be thrilled at the sources available on the Web. I'll highlight some other good sites throughout the month.

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