New Records at US History Digital Archives Tell Amazing Stories

Record collections and digital archives of US history reveal fascinating stories from our collective past. Here we report on resources relating to the US Colored Troops in the Civil War, old Southern architecture, higher education in Virginia, Southern burial grounds, the south side of Chicago, the history of Illinois, and WWII Japanese internment camps. What might any of these reveal about your family history?

Coming soon: U.S. Colored Troops Database

Usually, we wait to report about new online record projects until they are actually online. But we can’t wait to share this good news about records of the U.S. Colored Troops (African American soldiers who served in the Civil War). According to an NYU news release, researchers are “transcribing the contents of thousands of personnel and pension records from the Civil War, which also include marriages, children, and residencies, among other data, that are gradually forming the African American Civil War Soldiers database.” That database will eventually be housed at the African American Civil War Museum website.

US history digital archives you should know about

Southern architecture: Surveying the South

The Library of Congress has created a new series called Story Maps, which “combine text, images, multimedia, and interactive maps [from their collections] to create engaging online narrative experiences,” according to a recent announcement.

One of the first Story Maps to be created is Surveying the South, based on about 7000 photographs taken in the 1930s of “exteriors and interiors of houses, mills, and churches as well as mansions, plantations, and outbuildings” in Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi, and West Virginia. According to the site, “Domestic dwellings are the most frequently represented structures, ranging from farmhouses and slave quarters to elegant mansions and houses, including abandoned buildings and ruins.” But there are also “city halls, courthouses, schools, churches, and cemeteries…law offices, mills, stores, and taverns.” If locations associated with your family history are part of this Story Map, it could be an incredible resource for you.

Virginia yearbooks

The Archives at the Library of Virginia announced recently, “We have been able to digitize and provide access to 2,308 yearbooks [from around the state] published though 1977, the year that copyright law impacts use. So far, 35 local libraries have contributed their yearbooks, with more in process. There is no set end date for this project; it will continue as long as…funding supports it and there are willing participants.” Click here to explore The Library of Virginia’s digitized yearbook collection (sorted by the public libraries that have contributed their copies).

Southern burial grounds

This isn’t a new collection, but it’s been moved, so it’s a nice opportunity to make you aware of it. The Tennessee State Library and Archives announced the following on its Facebook page: “The Richard C. Finch Folk Graves Digital Photograph Collection is now on [The Tennessee Virtual Archive] TeVA (formerly on the Library and Archives’ Flickr). Dr. Finch has visited hundreds of cemeteries in Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky, Arkansas, North Carolina, Louisiana and Texas photographing covered graves. His main focus has been on comb graves, so called because architecturally, the slabs of stone make a roof or comb over a grave. Click here to learn more about comb graves and the project.

Holocaust News in US Newspapers

We have reported in the past on History Unfolded, a project by the United States Holocaust Museum that collects local U.S. newspaper coverage in the 1930s and 1940s of Holocaust-related events in an effort to better understand what American readers knew about Nazi Germany. The Dallas News reports, “With the help of hundreds of students and dedicated volunteers, the museum built an extensive online archive of American newspaper coverage of key Holocaust events, including more than 12,000 articles from every U.S. state.” Click here to search the growing archive of newspaper stories or to help find more stories in local newspapers.

Home Movies and Oral Histories: Chicago’s South Side

The rich and famous aren’t the only ones who created home movies in the past. The University of Chicago has launched a new online digital archive chronicling everyday life on the South Side of Chicago in the 20th century. “The new South Side Home Movie Project Digital Archive is a globally accessible online portal to home movies shot by residents of Chicago’s South Side neighborhoods from 1929-1982,” says a university announcement.

The archive “showcases home movies organized into easily navigable categories: by the family that contributed their films; by subject matter, ranging across topics like fashion and birthdays to graduations, road trips, and the Bud Billiken Parade; year of production [and] filming location, including local landmarks like Buckingham Fountain….Oral histories recorded by family members describing their home movies are also available as companion works to the films. The archive continues to accept old home movies and encourages viewers to “to add tags and comments to help with identifying places, people, and events in the footage as participants in a collective historical project.” Click here to explore this digital archive.

Story of Illinois

The state of Illinois is celebrating its bicentennial soon, and has launched a new website to celebration. Story of Illinois is hosted by the Illinois State Museum and “features objects from the museum’s Illinois Legacy Collection as well as collections from other museums across the state that celebrate Illinois heritage,” reports the WAND 17 news website. Visitors to the free digital archive can explore the virtual exhibit by several time periods, from colonial to territorial times to early statehood, the Civil War, the industrializing age and history since 1917.

WWII Japanese internment camps

Another Story Map created by the Library of Congress is “Behind Barbed Wire,” an interactive exhibit offering “a unique glimpse into the daily lives of Japanese-Americans in internment camps during WWII through the digitized collection of internment camp newspapers at the Library of Congress.” Here, you’ll follow the story of about 120,000 U.S. residents of Japanese descent who were forcibly removed from their homes and located first in temporary assembly centers and then in permanent internment camps.

At the heart of this collection are more than 4,600 English- and Japanese-language newspaper issues published in 13 camps by the residents themselves. According to the site, “Camp newspapers kept residents informed, relaying administrative announcements, orders, events, vital statistics, news from other camps, and other tidbits concerning daily camp life. They published not only straight news, but also editorials, opinions, human-interest stories, and entertainment pieces such as sports news, literary works, and comic strips. They recorded the daily activities of residents for whom, even in detention, life still continued on.”

About the Author: Sunny Morton

About the Author: Sunny Morton

Sunny is a Contributing Editor at Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems; her voice is often heard on the Genealogy Gems Podcast and Premium Podcasts. She’s  known for her expertise on the world’s biggest family history websites (she’s the author of Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites); writing personal and family histories (she also wrote Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy); and sharing her favorite reads for the Genealogy Gems Book Club.

Mid-Atlantic and Southern Genealogy: Tips & Record Types

Researching your U.S. mid-Atlantic and Southern genealogy can be a challenge (ever heard of “burned counties?”). These top tips and key record types may help you bust your genealogy brick walls in these regions.

Thanks to Robert Call of Legacy Tree Genealogists for writing this guest post! Learn more about Legacy Tree Genealogists below.

The Challenge

Some of the most difficult genealogical research problems filter down to us through the poor record keeping, burned depositories, and social customs of our ancestors who lived in the Mid-Atlantic and Southern United States. Notoriously challenging, many of the requests that we receive at Legacy Tree Genealogists are to assist others in discovering their Southern ancestors. In this blog post, we’ll discuss some of the key record types we use when solving a Mid-Atlantic or Southern States problem.

Top tips for mid-Atlantic and Southern genealogy

First, three general tips are good to keep in mind when researching Mid-Atlantic and Southern ancestors.

1. Be patient

Research problems from these states generally require much patience—slowly chipping away at the problem at hand, searching out documents, considering the evidence, and letting it simmer. Rushing through a problem will result in missed evidence, conclusions with insufficient proof, or even just accidental errors. Giving a research problem time allows for more evidence gathering, more critical evaluation, and for fresh ideas and potential solutions to emerge from the documents and our analysis.

2. See what’s been done

Evaluate the pertinent work others have done on the same ancestral families. Usually, the best places to find the best research are periodicals such as National Genealogical Society Quarterly, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register (which publishes articles pertaining to all regions of the United States), and The American Genealogist. (The article shown here comes from the National Genealogical Society Quarterly Vol 99:1, March 2011, pp. 5-14.) In addition to these, there are state, regional, and local genealogy journals. [Note from Genealogy Gems: use PERSI, the Periodical Source Index at Genealogy Giant Findmypast.com to search for surnames and other subjects that appear in genealogy journal and newsletter articles. Click here to learn more about PERSI.]

Similarly, use search engines and library catalogs (such as the FamilySearch Catalog, university catalogs, and WorldCat) to discover whether book-length treatments of your family have been published. Because these volumes are usually not published by academic presses, are self-published, and are rarely peer-reviewed, the credibility of each history must be carefully evaluated but could offer important clues for your own research.

Online family trees at the Genealogy Giants, like the Public Member Trees at Ancestry.com or the global Family Tree at FamilySearch.org, may also provide good research or point to the holy-grail source—such as a property deed, family bible, probate document, etc.—that provides the necessary evidence. Of course, there is a lot of bad information floating around the Internet (including in online family trees) so be careful about what you accept as reliable. [Click here to watch a free video comparing the online tree model at Ancestry.com with the tree type used at FamilySearch.org.]

3. Befriend your ancestors’ friends

Pay attention to the extended kinship network and friends of your ancestors. These people often followed similar migration patterns, which can help you discover where ancestors originated, especially as people frequently moved throughout the South. For example, perhaps you know your Fitzpatrick ancestors in Georgia were born in North Carolina, but you cannot determine where in North Carolina. If many of the Georgian neighbors migrated from Rowan County, North Carolina, it would be worth a look in Rowan County’s records for your ancestors. Documents pertaining to aunts, uncles, cousins, or in-laws may shed light on your direct ancestors and help untangle the web of relationships that may not be clear from documents related to your ancestors.

Now for some insight into record types we frequently use for Mid-Atlantic and Southern States problems.

Top records for mid-Atlantic and Southern genealogy

Property records

This record type is one of the most useful when tackling families in the South or Mid-Atlantic regions. Property records document the transaction of real and personal property among the parties to the transaction. This usually means the transfer of land but could also include enslaved people or other high-value items (we’ve even seen the rights to use and sell a patent in designated areas recorded in property collections).

Property was often transferred among family members, which in turn helps the genealogist in his or her work. Family relationships are not always stated in deeds, but sometimes can be inferred from the phrasing. Even a possible relationship can be noted until additional evidence proving or disproving the hypothesis is discovered. And don’t ignore the witnesses! Property records usually include one, two, three or more witnesses attesting to the validity of the transaction and the witnesses were sometimes family.

Less-experienced genealogists sometimes only search the deed volumes, but a county may have kept other types of property records (mortgages being a common one) which should be searched as well. Property records are helpful when researching enslaved ancestors as well because they document the movements among various slaveholders and sometimes the enslaved person’s family relationships. Because property almost always constituted an inheritance—which fell to family members after debts were paid—the distribution of an estate is sometimes documented in the property collections rather than the probate records.

Excerpt from a property transaction between William C. Cross and his wife, Elizabeth, and William D. Cross, recorded in Calhoun County, Alabama. FamilySearch.org.

Probate Records

Probate records are the documents a court generates to distribute a deceased person’s estate. As mentioned above, the property almost always was divided among the deceased’s family members (instances where the testator chose to bequeath his or her property exclusively to non-family which was a rarity). Thus, in the absence of good vital records, as is the case in Southern and Mid-Atlantic states for most periods, probates may offer the necessary evidence to prove a family relationship.

A word of caution: That someone was listed as an heir to a deceased person’s estate is not proof that he or she was a child of the deceased. Frequently, when an heir was not a child, he or she was a grandchild of the deceased, suggesting the parent of the grandchild was deceased and his or her portion of the inheritance then went to the grandchildren. Like property records, probate records can also help in researching enslaved individuals because they were considered property in the law and were included in probate records as property sold to pay debts or bequeathed to the deceased’s heirs.

Excerpt from a 1730s will from Cecil County, Maryland, where the testator leaves property to his “couzens.” FamilySearch.org.

[Ready to learn more about probate records? Click here to read Gems contributor Margaret Linford’s reasons for loving these genealogically-rich records.]

Guardianship Records

These records were created when a minor needed a legal guardian to represent them in legal matters (especially when the child inherited or could inherit property). It was not necessary for both parents to be deceased for a legal guardian to be appointed for a minor child. We have seen guardians appointed in instances when the mother was still alive, but the father deceased, and when the mother was deceased with the father still living. Guardianships can help prove a parent-child relationship or even whether a set of proposed siblings were truly siblings. These records also help prove the death of an ancestor. Guardians were sometimes older siblings, in-laws, grandparents, or extended families, so noting who the guardian was can help crack your Southern or Mid-Atlantic States research problem.

Excerpt from a guardianship bond from Butts County, Georgia appointing a guardian for William, Samuel, and John Shedrick, orphans of Samuel Shedrick. FamilySearch.org.

Civil court records

Once again, this type of record for mid-Atlantic and Southern states research problems often focused on property. When a dispute arose over property ownership, these matters were usually settled in the courts and there is a good chance that the documents pertaining to those proceedings may survive today. Disputes over property ownership may have been caused by conflicts regarding an inheritance. Or, perhaps neighbors argued over where a property boundary was located and the court records may document how the parties came about owning the property—which could have been through the family.

Court records may be more difficult to access because fewer have been microfilmed (the collections at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, are a good place to start but are by no means complete) or digitized, so it may be necessary to contact the local courthouse or the state archives. But the patience and effort may be well worth the discoveries.

Excerpt from the 1820s civil actions collection of Macon County, North Carolina, naming Su-e-Killah and Yo-hoo-lah as the children and heirs of Au-back, a Cherokee Indian, and his widow, Ta-nah. Ancestry.com.

While Southern and mid-Atlantic States genealogy research is some of the most challenging research in the United States, solving those “brick wall” problems is exciting and satisfying! Patiently working through the property, probate, guardianship, and court records while searching for our direct ancestors and those connected to them can help extend our ancestries and discover previously unknown ancestors.

Robert Call is a researcher for Legacy Tree Genealogists, a worldwide genealogy research firm with extensive expertise in breaking through genealogy brick walls. To learn more about Legacy Tree services and its research team, visit www.legacytree.comExclusive Offer for Genealogy Gems readers: Receive $100 off a 20-hour research project using code GGP100! (Offer may expire without notice.)

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

New Digital Archives for Genealogy

Do you use digital archives in your genealogy research? You should! Check out these new digital archives relating to notable women in the U.S. and Sweden; Scottish WWI hospital records; the WWI Armenian genocide; Ohio; Irish-Americans; and African-American military service. Bonus: we also provide quick links to new archives for Kansas in WWI; historic Montana; post-WWII Manchester, England; vintage Tacoma, WA; and colonial Florida.

New digital archives: genealogy treasures

Irish-American resources at the Library of Congress. The Library of Congress announced recently on its blog the release of a new guide to researching the Irish-American experience and new images in its “Free to Use and Reuse” archive. The latter features “sets of themed content: travel posters, presidential portraits, Civil War drawings and all manner of dogs,” explains the article. “All the sets highlighted in the archive—and these are just a few examples—are fee to use and reuse, meaning there are no known copyright restrictions associated with the content, and you can do whatever you want with it.” New content comes from various Library of Congress collections relating to folklife, maps, music and prints/photographs.

Women’s obituary collection in the New York Times. “Since 1851, obituaries in The New York Times have been dominated by white men. Now, we’re adding the stories of remarkable women.” So states the home page of Overlooked, a new obituary collection at the New York Times website. The site goes on to explain how they will be adding belated obituaries—short biographical sketches—of women and others whose lives deserve recognition. You can read about many, search them and even suggest nominees for the series.

Oral history archive of Armenian genocide. The USC Shoah Foundation “has received one of the largest collections of testimonies from survivors of the Armenian Genocide” of World War I, PR Newswire recently reported. More than 1,000 oral history interviews comprise this collection. Only a small number appear online presently; more will be added as the files are digitally remastered and indexed. Click here to learn more about this collection.

Biographies of notable Swedish women. The Chicago Evening Post reported recently on a new online biographical dictionary of women in Swedish history. The site itself is Svenskt kvinnobiografiskt lexicon (it does have an English-language home page). Its home page encourages visitors to “Read up on 1,000 Swedish women from the Middle Ages to the present day. Use the search function to reveal what these women got up to, how they were educated, which organisations they belonged to, where they travelled, what they achieved, and much more. All of them contributed in a significant way to the development of Swedish society.” According to the Chicago Evening Post, the current collection of 1,000 biographical sketches will soon double (at least).

Scottish WWI hospital admissions. The records of a hospital that treated WWI wounded have been digitized and put online. “Erskine Hospital [in Renfrewshire, Scotland] – then called the Princess Louise Scottish Hospital for Limbless Sailors and Soldiers – was set up in 1916 to treat soldiers who had suffered the loss of a limb during the war,” explains an article at BT.com. The original leather-bound admissions registers from 1916-1939 have been digitized and placed online at Erskine.org. In many cases, not just admissions are recorded, but patients’ progress, prosthetic fittings and other long-term care details.

Ohio Digital Network Collections. The State Library of Ohio recently announced that “over 90,000 new materials from Ohio Digital Network are now discoverable in Digital Public Library of America (DPLA).” Several institutions have partnered to contribute content, including the State Library of Ohio, Ohio Library and Information Network (OhioLINK), Ohio Public Library Information Network (OPLIN), and Ohio History Connection [the state historical society). “The Ohio Digital Network builds on strong digital collection efforts across the state including Ohio Memory and the Ohio Digitization Hubs project. Click here to start exploring Ohio Digital Network collections.

Digital archive of African-American military service. The Library of Congress has also launched the William A. Gladstone Afro-American Military Collection, named for a historian and author of books about black Civil War troops. According to the site, “The collection spans the years 1773 to 1987, with the bulk of the material dating from the Civil War period, 1861–65. The collection consists of correspondence, pay vouchers, orders, muster rolls, enlistment and discharge papers, receipts, contracts, affidavits, tax records, miscellaneous military documents and printed matter. Most items document African-Americans in military service, especially the United States Corps d’Afrique and the United States Colored Troops, which were organized during the Civil War. Also included are many documents concerning slavery and various other Civil War documents that mention African-Americans.”

More digital archives for genealogy: quick links

These smaller collections are more specific, so they won’t apply to as many of you. But if they DO apply, they may reveal unique family stories or documents.

Didn’t find anything here that applies to your family history? Let the diverse topics and record types in these collections inspire your searches for similar items about your relatives.

About the Author: Sunny Morton

About the Author: Sunny Morton

Sunny is a Contributing Editor at Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems; her voice is often heard on the Genealogy Gems Podcast and Premium Podcasts. She’s  known for her expertise on the world’s biggest family history websites (she’s the author of Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites); writing personal and family histories (she also wrote Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy); and sharing her favorite reads for the Genealogy Gems Book Club.

Tracing your African American Roots: Top Tips

Researching African American roots has unique challenges. This Q&A with expert Angela Walton-Raji can inspire you with tips and success stories. Learn what to ask, what history you should know, how to face the 1870 “wall” and how to explore your ancestor’s freedom story.

Not long ago, genealogy expert Angela Walton-Raji joined me on the Genealogy Gems Podcast. She shared fantastic insights about tracing your African American roots, including why it can be challenging and how to overcome some of the brick walls you might encounter.

I’ve distilled our conversation down to some essential points here. Of course, I invite you to listen to the whole thing yourself in the free Genealogy Gems Podcast, episode 201.

Tracing your African American roots: With Angela Walton-Raji

To start with, I asked Angela what was unique about tracing your African American genealogy. She offered this important background:

“The African American story is unique in and of itself. Of course we get into the standard records that everyone uses: the vital records and census records. But there are going to be some challenges once one gets into 19th century, particularly once one reaches what we call the “wall” of 1870. [On the previous census, about 90% of African Americans were enslaved and therefore they aren’t listed.] Often you’re not quite sure where to go next.”

Oral history: what to ask

When someone doesn’t appear in the mainstream record trail, you have to find another path. Sometimes, you can start down that path with living relatives. Here’s some advice from Angela about talking with your family:

“Oral history is really important. If you’re talking to an elder today who may be in their seventies, they were clearly born in the 20th century. They may be the last generation living who knew someone who had been born enslaved. So ask them: ‘Who was the oldest person that you remember when you were a child? And did that person ever talk about anyone who may have been enslaved?’ Find out whether they happened to know anyone when they were a child who had been born into slavery.”

“Also ask what they know about where the family was from: ‘Were we always from Georgia, or were we always from Pennsylvania, or was there a time when we came from another place?’ There are so many critical questions and also key points in the historical timeline that you want to zoom in on and ask elders. These are critical things to ask elders to sort of jar their memories and get them to start talking as well.”

I totally agree with Angela about the need to ask questions that get people remembering. Often when we sit down with someone for an interview, the first response may be, “Oh, I don’t know” or “I don’t remember.” But if you come prepared with a collection of really thoughtful yet pointed questions, you can help them access their memories. They may be amazed at just how much they really do remember.

The most compelling stories in our family histories are often to be found during moments of change and transition. And that’s certainly what the end of slavery was. Angela talks passionately about discovering your family’s freedom story:

“The war ended. Slavery ended. How did freedom come to your family? It was not the same for everyone. Don’t forget, a major war took place. Some had a male relative (or several) who enlisted in the Union Army. Some emancipated themselves. If there was a conflict nearby or if there was a Union raid coming through the town, this was an opportunity. Men, women, and children left and followed the line and became contraband. There were hundreds of contraband camps all around the South. Some volunteered; some became employees, nurses, matrons, and cooks. (Click on this Wikipedia Commons photo of a contraband camp to learn more about it.)

“And what’s amazing is there may be records. We know the Freedmen’s Bureau records are there, but there are a whole lot of other records also. The records of the U.S. Colored Troops contain a plethora of family data, particularly if the soldier upon his death left a widow, or children, or sometimes a mother (I’ve even seen fathers claim a pension for a deceased son).

“Again, sometimes the key is to learn the history—even the local history. Let’s take Memphis, Tennessee for example. Right now if you live outside of Memphis, there’s a big industrial park in a little area called President’s Island. Well, guess what? In the Civil War President’s Island became a contraband camp. There were three contraband camps close to Memphis, and these were individuals who had really freed themselves and then had started to settle and create little settlements during the war and into the late 1860s, and this became a community. And that’s a story right there.” [Angela actually shares her own family’s story at President’s Island in this blog post.]

Next steps: Finding your enslaved ancestors

After discovering that freedom story, a genealogist tracing African American roots will eventually reach the point in history when their ancestors were enslaved. Angela describes this as requiring an entirely new approach: “identify the last-known slaveholder, and then follow that person’s history—because within their history you often find your ancestors popping up, as well. It’s a challenge but it can be done.”

Angela goes deeper into this and other topics in her video class, African American Genealogy Research Essentials. This hour-long class covers barriers arising from the institution of slavery and how to overcome them with persistence and the right approach. You’ll learn essential resources for digging deep into your African-American family history, with an emphasis on those that can be found online. This video class was originally presented as a live webinar and includes her Q&A. Click on the image here to order that webinar.

Thanks to Angela for sharing these strategies with us here at Genealogy Gems—and thanks in advance to YOU for sharing this free article with others who will want to read it. You’re a gem!

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

Lisa is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Mobile Genealogy, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and producer of the Family Tree Magazine Podcast.

African American Genealogy Records: New and Free!

Explore these African and African American genealogy records in celebration of your family history and Black History Month!

Also this week: see new records online for Southern Claims Commission, GA, NY and VA as well as African heritage sites, Liberia and South Africa. And check out a limited-time offer from Fold3 to view its Black History collection for free.

Black History Collection free this month at Findmypast.com

“In recognition of Black History Month, Fold3 is making the records in its Black History collection available for free through the end of February,” states a recent company announcement. “The Black History collection gives you access to more than a million documents, records, and photos that help to capture the African-American experience during five eras of American history: SlaveryThe Civil WarReconstruction & Jim Crow LawsWorld War I & II, and the Civil Rights Movement.

The Fold3 announcement lists several of its richest collections, and we think they’re worth noting individually:

African American genealogy records newly published online

U.S. Southern Claims Commission. The “genealogy giant” Ancestry.com has updated its collection of U.S. Southern Claims Commission, Disallowed and Barred Claims, 1871-1880. According to the collection description, “In 1871 the U.S. government created the Southern Claims Commission, an organization through which southerners could file claims for reimbursement of personal property losses due to the Civil War. Claims could only be filed by residents of AL, AR, FL, LA, MS, NC, SC, TN, TX, VA and WV.” Your African American ancestors may be among those listed therein: “Each claimant was required to provide witnesses. The witnesses had to answer the same 80+ questions that the claimant had to answer. Many of these witnesses were former slaves whose names rarely appear on any other legal document from the Civil War era. They also provided names and dates for family members who often lived on other plantations.”

Georgia. “The records of the Georgia Association of Educators (1921-2015)…are open for research,” reports the George State University Library. “The collection, comprised of unique documents and photographs, provides an in-depth look at the history of the organization that represents many of Georgia’s teachers. The collection includes convention proceedings, contracts and constitutions, meeting minutes, newspaper clippings, audio-visual materials, photographs, and periodicals.” Among the topics covered are the mergers of the previously-segregated black and white state teachers’ associations and integration of public schools about 1970. Click here to explore the finding aid to this collection.

New York. A first-of-its-kind free database documents those involved in the institution of slavery in New York from the earliest times. The New York Slavery Records Index “is a searchable compilation of records that identify individual enslaved persons and their owners, beginning as early as 1525 and ending during the Civil War,” reports the site. “Our data come from census records, slave trade transactions, cemetery records, birth certifications, manumissions, ship inventories, newspaper accounts, private narratives, legal documents and many other sources. The index contains over 35,000 records and will continue to grow as our team of John Jay College professors and students locates and assembles data from additional sources.” A hat-tip to WGRZ.com for publishing this article that alerted us to this valuable new resource.

Virginia. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education reports, “Students in an introduction to public history class at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia, created a digital archive of newspaper and other clippings collected during the civil rights era by the Hill Street Baptist Church in Roanoke. The project documents efforts in the area to desegregate lunch counters, movie theaters, and public schools during the 1950s and 1960s.”

African Genealogy and History Resources Now Online

African world heritage sites. CNN.com recently reported on a new online resource that seeks to provide digital preservation and access to important archaeological sites across Africa. “The archaeological wonders of the world offer a rich window into the past,” states the article. “But many are crumbling, weed-laden and victim to vandalism and conflict….Concerned with the decay of African heritage sites, The Zamani Project, based at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, is seeking to immortalize historic spots in three-dimensional, virtual reality-ready models…. Presently, they’ve mapped around 16 sites including Lalibela in Ethiopia, Timbuktu in Mali and Kilwa in Tanzania.”

Liberia. The free “genealogy giant” FamilySearch.org has added over 24,000 new record images and nearly 27,000 newly-indexed names to its free collection of Liberia, Marriage Records, 1912-2015. Documents include “applications for marriage licenses, marriage licenses, marriage returns, documents certifying marriages from Liberia.”

South Africa. FamilySearch has also updated two of its existing South Africa records collections with more indexed names:  South Africa, Cape Province, Kimberley, Probate Records of the Supreme Court, 1871-1937 and South Africa, Cape Province, Probate Records of the Master of the High Court, 1834-1989.

Listen to more African American genealogy topics

The free Genealogy Gems Podcast and the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast have both featured inspiring interviews on African African genealogy research. We recommend these:

Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #201: Angela Walton-Raji joins Lisa Louise Cooke with tips for interviewing African American relatives, learning important history and getting past that 1870 brick wall into the era of American slavery. Listen for free!

Genealogy Gems Podcast episode #200: A university professor shares his discoveries about a mother and young daughter separated by slavery. Learn how he pieced together their story from a poignant family heirloom found at a flea market.

Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode #130: Oprah Book Club author Lalita Tademy talks about her book Citizen’s Creek, a novel about an African American and Creek Indian family. This special episode (and all Premium Podcast episodes) is something extra just for our Premium subscribers; click here to learn how to subscribe.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

About the Author: Sunny Morton

About the Author: Sunny Morton

Sunny is a Contributing Editor at Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems; her voice is often heard on the Genealogy Gems Podcast and Premium Podcasts. She’s  known for her expertise on the world’s biggest family history websites (she’s the author of Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites); writing personal and family histories (she also wrote Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy); and sharing her favorite reads for the Genealogy Gems Book Club.

New U.S. Vital Records Online: Freedmen’s Bureau, Statewide Databases and More

Millions of U.S. vital records have recently been published online! These include updates to the U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index; nationwide obituary, funeral home, and cemetery databases; Freedmen’s Bureau field office records; a new African American Center for Family History; and updates to vital records collections for CA, ID, LA, MI, NV, PA, SC, St. Croix, and WA. 

U.S. Vital Records new and updated

Scan this list of nationwide, regional, and statewide collections of vital records: which should you search for your U.S. ancestors? Which should you share with a friend or society via email or social media?

U.S. Vital Records: Nationwide Databases

Ancestry.com has updated three nationwide databases of vital events for the United States:

  • Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007. Click here to learn more about this important collection, which takes the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) a step further by providing additional information on millions of names.
  • U.S. Obituary Collection, 1930-2017. “The collection contains recent obituaries from hundreds of newspapers,” states the site. “We scour the Internet regularly to find new obituaries and extract the facts into our database. Where available we include the original URL link to the source information. As the internet is a changing medium, links may stop working over time.”
  • U.S. Cemetery and Funeral Home Collection, 1847-2017. “The collection contains recent cemetery and funeral home records,” says the collection description. “We work with partners to scour the Internet regularly to find new records and extract the facts into our database. Where available we include the original URL link to the source information. As the internet is a changing medium, links may stop working over time.”

Across the South and African American Heritage

Ancestry.com subscribers may now also search a new database, U.S., Freedmen’s Bureau Records of Field Offices, 1863-1878. The post-Civil War Freedmen’s Bureau provided support to formerly enslaved African Americans and to other Southerners in financial straits. This database includes records from field offices that served Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, and the cities of New Orleans and Washington, D.C. It also includes records from the Adjutant General’s office relating to the Bureau’s work in Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and South Carolina. Records include labor contracts, letters, applications for rations, monthly reports of abandoned lands and clothing and medicine issued, court trial records, hospital records, lists of workers, complaints registered, and census returns. A related collection, U.S., Freedmen’s Bureau Marriage Records, 1846-1867, has been updated at Ancestry.com.

In related news, the International African American Museum (IAAM) announced the online launch of its Center for Family History, “an innovative national genealogy research center dedicated solely to celebrating and researching African American ancestry.” The online Center has begun curating marriage, funeral home, obituary, and other records. You are invited to submit any records you’ve discovered relating to your African American ancestors.

California and Nevada marriage records

Over 4.3 million new records have been added to Findmypast’s collection of U.S. marriage records for the states of California and Nevada. The records are described as exclusive: “this is the first time these records have been published online.”

Idaho marriage records

Ancestry.com has updated its collection of Idaho, Marriage Records, 1863-1966. “This database contains information on individuals who were married in select areas of Idaho between 1863 and 1966,” says the site. “Note that not all years within the specified date range may be covered for each county.” Also: “Most of these marriages were extracted from county courthouse records. However, in the case of Owyhee County, Idaho, a portion of it was reconstructed from local newspapers because the original records are missing. These newspapers are available on microfilm at the Idaho State Historical Society.”

Louisiana death records

Nearly 50,00 indexed names have been added to FamilySearch.org’s free database, Louisiana Deaths, 1850-1875, 1894-1960. According to the site, http://www.mindanews.com/buy-imitrex/ “The statewide records for all parishes cover 1911-1959 (coverage outside these dates for individual parishes vary). Death records from 1850-1875 are for Jefferson Parish only.”

Michigan death records

Ancestry.com has updated its database,Michigan, Death Records, 1897-1929.” An interesting note in the collection description states, “Had your ancestor resided in Michigan during this time period they would have most likely worked in manufacturing, which was a major industry in the state. Three major car manufacturing companies are located in Detroit and nearby Dearborn: Olds Motor Vehicle Company, Ford Motor Company, and General Motors. Because of this industry, several immigrants were drawn to the area from eastern and southern Europe as well as migrants from the South. Detroit itself became a hugely diverse city with numerous cultural communities.”

Pennsylvania Catholic baptisms, marriages, and burials

Findmypast.com has added new databases from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to its Roman Catholic Heritage Archive. These include:

  • Philadelphia Roman Catholic Parish Baptisms. Over 556,000 new records, which include name, date, and place of baptism and the names and residence of parents.
  • Philadelphia Roman Catholic Parish Marriages. Over 278,000 sacramental register entries. Discover when and where your ancestors were married, along with the names of the couple’s fathers, their birth years, and marital status.
  • Philadelphia Roman Catholic Parish Registers. Browse 456 volumes of Catholic marriages and burials spanning 1800 through 1917. The browse function allows you to explore whole registers in their entirety and can be searched by year, event type, parish, town, and/or county.

South Carolina marriages and deaths

Ancestry.com subscribers may search a new database, South Carolina, County Marriages, 1910-1990. “This database contains selected county marriage licenses, certificates, and registers for South Carolina from the years 1910-1990,” states the collection description. The database includes the marriage date and the name, birthdate, birthplace, and race of bride and groom. “Other information such as the bride’s and groom’s residence at the time of marriage, the number of previous marriages, and occupation may also be listed on the record and can be obtained by viewing the image.” A related Ancestry.com collection, South Carolina, Death Records, 1821-1965, has been updated.

St. Croix: The Enslaved and the Free

A new Ancestry.com database reveals more about life in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands: Slave and Free People Records, 1779-1921. “The diversity of records in this database reflects some of St. Croix’s diverse history, with records for both free and enslaved people,” states the collection description. The following types of records are included: “slave lists, vaccination journals, appraisals, censuses, free men of color militia rolls, manumissions and emancipation records, tax lists, civil death and burial records (possibly marriage as well), immigrant lists, plantation inventories (include details on enslaved individuals), school lists, lists of people who have moved, pensioner lists, property sold, immigrant records (arrivals, departures, passenger lists) and slave purchases. Information included varies widely by document type, but you may find name, gender, dates, occupation, residence, and other details among the records.”

Washington death records

FamilySearch.org has added over 1.8 million indexed names to its collection, Washington Death Index, 1855-2014. “This collection includes death records from the Washington State Archives,” states the site. “There is an index and images of deaths recorded with the state. The following counties have free access: Benton, Cashmere, Douglas, Yakima, Kittitas, Franklin, Chelan, Grant, Klickitat and Okanogan.”

Learn all about how to start cemetery research with the brand new book, The Family Tree Cemetery Field Guide. Discover tools for locating tombstones, tips for traipsing through cemeteries, an at-a-glance guide to frequently used gravestone icons, and practical strategies for on-the-ground research.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links. Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

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