Social History for Genealogy and the Colored Farmers’ Alliance

Social history plays a significant role in successful genealogical research. The events of a particular time-frame shed new light on the lives of our ancestors and ultimately lead us to new finds. In this post, Gems Reader Trisha asks questions regarding her family’s ties to the Colored Farmers’ Alliance.

social history for genealogy

“The Colored Farmers’ Alliance.” NBC News. NBCUniversal Media. 29 July 2007. NBC Learn. Web. 22 January 2015.

Did a Member of the Family Belong to the Colored Farmers’ Alliance?

Our Genealogy Gems Editor, Sunny Morton, received the following email recently from Trisha:

I am researching my great-grandparents in Northeast Arkansas. The census records I have found so far list that my great-grandfather was a famer. So, I started looking up farming associations hoping that maybe he was a member and I could find out more information about him and possibly any relatives that lived nearby. I came across the Colored Farmers’ Alliance that was in existence from 1886- 1891 in the southern states, but I have only been able to find out basic general public information about this agency. Do you know if, or how, I can find an Arkansas member list or something similar? Any help or advice you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

The History of the Colored Farmers’ Alliance

The Colored Farmers’ Alliance was formed in 1886 in the state of Texas. A group of southern African-American farmers had been barred membership to the other Farmers’ Alliances and hoped by creating this group, they would be able to cooperatively solve the common problems of its members. The group also encouraged African-American farmers to become economically independent by purchasing homes and eliminating debt. [“Colored Farmers’ Alliance,” The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History (https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/populism-and-agrarian-discontent/timeline-terms/colore : accessed 28 Oct 2016).]

The organization took off and spread across the Southern United States. It’s peak membership was up to 1.2 million in 1891. However, the organization did not survive long. In 1891, the Colored Farmers’ Alliance called a general strike of African-American cotton-pickers and demanded a wage increase from 50 cents to $1 per hundred pounds of cotton. The strike failed and the group dissolved. [“Colored Farmers’ National Alliance and Cooperative Union,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colored_Farmers%27_National_Alliance_and_Cooperative_Union : accessed 28 Oct 2016).]

Pulling Together Some Answers

We pulled the whole team together for this one, and Sunny reached out to me regarding Trisha’s questions. In our initial research, we didn’t come across any references online to membership lists for any branch of the Colored Farmers’ Alliance, including Arkansas where Trisha’s ancestors lived. We did however find an article titled Preliminary research for writing a history of the Colored Farmers Alliance in the Populist movement: 1886-1896 by Omar Ali, written May 11, 1998, which states:
“Little detail is known about individual members of the Colored Farmers Alliance, including its leadership.”
That may not be surprising considering that the organization was attempting to improve member’s situations and fight for better pay. It’s possible that members may not have wished to be named due to concerns about repercussions. It would be important to learn more about the organization and the political and historical environment in which it operated in order to determine the probability of membership rolls existing or surviving.
While not everything is online (by any stretch of the imagination,) the web is the best place to do further homework to track down offline resources. Trisha could start by contacting the Arkansas State Library, and then exploring these search results from WorldCat.org which include a variety of works on the subject. It would also be very worthwhile to spend some time digging into the wide range of online resources such as Google buy syphilis medication Books and the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America digital newspaper collection. Let’s do that now!

Google Books

A search of colored farmers alliance delivers several results on the topic. Use search operators to help Google deliver even better results, by putting quotation marks around the search phrase “colored farmers alliance.” This instructs Google to return only web pages that contain that exact phrase. You’ll find more Google search strategies in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, which also includes an entire chapter on using Google Books for genealogy.

Here’s an example of one book I found called The Agrarian Crusade: A Chronicle of the Farmer in Politics by Solon J. Buck (1920).

 

Click here to see the entire search results list for the search query Colored Farmers Alliance in Google Books.

While I didn’t discover any references to actual member names beyond some of the leaders, Google Books certainly offers more depth and history on the Alliance.

Digitized Newspapers

colored farmers alliance

Indian chieftain., March 03, 1892, Image 1 at the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America.
(The Indian Chieftan was published in Vinita, Indian Territory [Okla.]) 1882-1902

While only a small fraction of newspapers published throughout history are digitized and online, what can be found offers a wealth of information. The Library of Congress’ Chronicling America offers an excellent cache of searchable newspapers for free. Subscription websites such as Ancestry’s Newspapers.com and Newsbank’s GenealogyBank offer real value if the newspaper you seek is held within their collections.
Since Chronicling America is free, that’s a good place to start. At the main search page, click the Advanced Search tab. On that page, you will have the option to search by state, publication, and dates. Under “Enter Search” fields, there are three options. Type the phrase colored farmers alliance into the “with the phrase” field. That will narrow the search results down to newpaper pages that include the entire phrase and will eliminate pages that have some or all of the words independent of each other. A search of all states for that phrase delivers over 325 digitized newspaper pages featuring articles that include that phrase.
At Newspapers.com, I found dozens of references as well, many from Arkansas newspapers. I also noticed that several individuals wrote and signed letters to the editor on the subject.

For more help on researching newspapers for genealogy, listen to my two part podcast series titled “Find Your Family History in Newspapers, Part 1 and Part 2.”

colored farmers alliance

members named

Google Scholar

Google Scholar offers not only well-researched works on a given subject, but also the ability to request only results with source citations. These citations not only help you weigh the accuracy and value of the paper, but provide intriguing new leads for research materials.
Using the same search operators as I did in Google Books, I retrieved over 175 results. To filter these results to only those with source citations, click the “include citations” box on the search page at the bottom, left side.
google scholar search for colored farmers alliance
The savvy genealogist will also want to experiment with variations on the query by adding words and phrases such as members included, members list, list of members, and so on.

YouTube

Since I devoted another chapter of my book to using another free Google tool, YouTube, I would be remiss if I didn’t run a quick search at the video giant website. Here is a link to the video I found online.

It’s amazing what the family historian can discover from the comfort of their own computer. With so many valuable resources discovered through an online search, a well-prepared trip to the library or archive will prove even more fruitful.

Gathering Genealogical Evidence to Prove a Theory – Irish Genealogy

Episode 19 Video and Show Notes

Join me for Elevenses with Lisa, the online video series where we take a break, visit and learn about genealogy and family history. (scroll down to watch the video)

Genealogy Consultation Provides a Strong Hypothesis

My 45-minute consultation with a genealogy expert Kate Eakman at Legacy Tree Genealogists broke things wide open on my Irish family lines and gave me the information and resources I needed to make all of the progress I shared in this episode. It’s the best investment I’ve made in my genealogy in a long time. They have experts in all areas. Learn more about how easy it is to book a consultation here.

After my consultation I needed to update my research plan and get to work collecting more genealogical evidence.

Let’s quickly recap what happened when I started working on my brick wall last week in episode 18:

  • Margaret Lynch’s death certificate said her parents were James Scully and Bridget Madigan.
  • Her obituary said she was born in Limerick Ireland.
  • There was one couple by those names in Limerick, having children and the right time. There is a gap in the records where Margaret should be.
  • Her husband Michael Lynch dies in Stillwater MN. St. Michael’s Catholic church. Found their marriage record in Stillwater. It was a large booming town, and a good place to focus. The Lynch family had a farm across the river in Farmington, Wisconsin.

My research question: Was this couple we found, James Scully and Bridget Madigan, who married in Kilcolman, Limerick, Ireland in 1830, the parents of Margaret Scully?

What Kate Eakman of Legacy Tree Genealogists helped me do in my 45-minute consultation:

  • Become acquainted with a variety of excellent Irish research websites
  • Located the indexed marriage record for James and Bridget
  • Located the original marriage record for James and Bridget
  • Located the indexed baptismal records for all of the children who had James and Bridget listed as their parents.

A Genealogy Research Plan for Collecting Evidence

After the consultation I developed a new research question: Are the children that we found records for in Ireland the siblings of my Margaret Lynch?

My research plan included:

  1. Verify if there were any other couples by the names James Scully and Bridget Madigan married in Ireland, particularly in the time from of circa 1830. (Location of source: RootsIreland.ie)
  2. Search in the U.S., starting in the area where Margaret lived, for each child. I’m looking for records that name these same parents, and show the child at an age that correlates with the baptismal date.

I identified several sources I believed would help me accomplish my goals.

Marriage Records – I conducted a search for James in Bridget in all counties in Ireland. I discovered that the couple Kate found during my consultation is the only couple in the RootsIreland database with those names married in Ireland. This gives me more confidence that I have the correct couple. 

U.S. Records – Armed with the names and ages of the children of James and Bridget, it was time to return to America. I needed to search U.S. records to see if any of the children came to America (perhaps living near Margaret) and if these parents were named. 

Records to look for:

  1. U.S. Federal Census (Ancestry, FamilySearch), and State Census (Minnesota Historical Society, Ancestry, FamilySearch)
  2. Death records (Minnesota Historical Society, FamilySearch.)
  3. Newspapers, particularly obituaries possibly naming parents or Limerick. (Minnesota Historical Society, Newspapers.com)

Before I began my search I created an excel spreadsheet to capture the information. I included columns for what their ages should be in each census. 

Excel spreadsheet for genealogy research

Using a spreadsheet to track my findings.

Now I was ready to start the genealogical hunt!

U.S. Census

Search each sibling one at a time in the census.

  • Focus on Washington Co., Minnesota (marriage and death location for Margaret & Michael Lynch)
  • Move on to Polk County Wisconsin, and greater Wisconsin.
  • Search both U.S. Federal Census & State Census
  • Top locations identified for this search: Ancestry.com, Familysearch.org, Minnesota Historical Society

Results:

  • Found individuals matching the sons in Stillwater and Baytown (Washington County)
  • Found Bridget Scully (Mother) living with various sons in various census records.
  • Immigration years listed for some of Margaret’s siblings.
1870 us federal census genealogy

Found in the 1870 U.S. Federal Census: James, Thomas, Daniel and Bridget. 

I created folders for each sibling marked MAYBE and collected the records on my hard drive.
Learn more about hard drive organization in Elevenses with Lisa episode 8.

Searched FamilySearch and the Minnesota Historical Society for a death record for each son.

  • Found Thomas and James.
  • James Scully and Bridget Madigan listed as parents
  • Ages matched
  • Next step: order the death certificates

Newspapers

Next I searched the Minnesota Historical Society website for newspapers.

Results:

  • 170+ articles
  • Two obituaries for Bridget Scully! (8 children, immigration year, husband died in Ireland implied)
  • Found James Scully working with his brother and his obituary

Research Tip: Look at a map and identify nearby towns and larger cities. Expand your search to these areas.

I found a James Scully in the 1860 census with Bridget and his brothers, and working with Thomas in many newspaper articles.

Bridget’s obituary said she came to America with 8 children. 7 had baptismal records in Ireland. James and Margaret were not found in the baptismal records but were confirmed in U.S. records to have the same parents. That would be a total of 9 children. It’s possible one of the daughters that have not yet been found in U.S. records may have died in Ireland prior to their leaving for America.

I then combed back through my Lynch binder – I might spot something that I marked as unsure, or that might jump out at me now that didn’t 20 years ago.

  • Found History of the St. Croix Valley I had photocopied a section. Names Daniel Scully (who I have since found in the census, newspapers and death records) and says his parents are James Scully and Bridget Madigan!
  • Looked the book up in Google Books. It’s fully digitized. Now I can extensively read and search it.

Tech Tip: Clip and combine newspaper clippings with SnagIt software

Clipping and saving newspapers poses a unique challenge for genealogists:

  • Clipping a small portion of a very large digital newspaper page can result in a low resolution file. 
  • If you clip an article you don’t always capture which newspaper and issue it came from
  • Articles often continue in different locations on the page or pages, making it impossible to capture the entire article  in one image. 

I use SnagIt software to clip my newspaper finds. I can then save them to Evernote or archive them on my hard drive. SnagIt can save your clippings in wide range of file types and can even clip video. You can get your copy of SnagIt here. It’s a one time fee and download – no subscription! (Thank you for using my link – it financially supports this free without any added expense to you.)

How to combine multiple clippings with Snagit:

  1. Clip the paper title and date
  2. Clip the article
  3. Clip any additional applicable sections of the article
  4. In the SnagIt menu under Image click Combine Images
  5. Drag and drop the clippings into the desired order
  6. Click the Combine button
  7. Save the combined image: In the menu File > Save As (you can select from a wide variety of file types)
SnagIt https://tinyurl.com/snaggems

Use SnagIt to combine newspaper clippings – https://tinyurl.com/snaggems

Research Tip: Using Street Addresses in Google Earth

When you find a street address, whether in a newspaper, city directory, census or other genealogical record, use it to find the location in the free Google Earth software program. You can then save an HD quality image of the location.

How to find a location in Google Earth (on a computer):

  1. Type the address into the search field in the upper left corner
  2. Click the Search button
  3. The map will automatically “fly to” the location and a pin will mark the general spot.
  4. Hover your mouse pointer in the upper right corner of the to reveal the navigation tools. Click the plus sign to zoom in closer.

How to view the location with Street View:

  1. Zoom in relatively close so that the street and buildings are distinctly visible.
  2. Just above the zoom tool you will find the Street View icon (the yellow “peg man”). Click on the icon and drag it over the street in front of the building / location. Don’t release your mouse. It may take a second or two for the blue line to appear indicating that Street View is available in that location. If no blue line appears street view is not available.
  3. When the blue line is visible, drop the Street View icon directly onto the blue line in front of the location you want to view. by releasing your mouse. If you miss the line and the picture looks distorted, click the Exit button in the upper right corner and try again.
  4. Once on Street View, you can use your keyboard arrow keys to navigate. You can also click on further down the street to move forward that direction.

How to save an image of a street view location:

  1. Position yourself in the best view of the desired location using your mouse and keyboard arrow keys as described above.
  2. In the toolbar at the top of the screen, click the Image icon (it looks like a portrait-oriented page, near the printer icon)
  3. A Title and Description box will appear at the top of the screen beneath the toolbar. Click it and type in a title and description for your image if desired.
  4. You can adjust the size (resolution) of the image you will be saving by clicking the Resolution button above the title box.
  5. When you’re ready to save the image to your hard drive, click the Save Image

Learn more about using Google Earth for genealogy in Elevenses with Lisa episode 12.

how to use google earth for genealogy

Order the video training series at the Genealogy Gems Store featuring 14 exclusive step-by-step video tutorials. The perfect companion to the book The Genealogists’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke.

After a week of post-consultation research:

Question: Who were the parents of Margaret Scully born in Limerick Ireland on approximately July 9, 1840?
Answer: James Scully and Bridget Madigan, married in Limerick, Ireland June 13, 1830. (Though I feel confident about this, I still have additional records I want to find in order to further solidify this conclusion.)

Question: In what Parish was Margaret Lynch born?
Answer: Most likely Kilcolman based on the baptismal locations of her siblings.

My Next Research Steps:

  • Browse search through the baptismal parish records at NLI 1839-1842 for Margaret, and 1834-1836 for James Scully.
  • Look for marriages of Margaret’s female siblings, and family burials.
    (Contact St. Michael’s church, Stillwater, MN.)
  • Go through newspapers.com – there are several Minneapolis and St. Paul papers running articles from Stillwater.
  • Resume my search of passenger list records with the newly revised date of c. 1851.
  • Search for the death record of Bridget’s husband James at RootsIreland and NLI.

How to Book a Genealogy Consultation

My 45-minute consultation with a genealogy expert Kate Eakman at Legacy Tree Genealogists broke things wide open on my Irish family lines and gave me the information and resources I needed to make all of the progress I shared in this episode. It’s the best investment I’ve made in my genealogy in a long time. They have experts in all areas. Learn more about how easy it is to book a consultation here.

Learn More:

For more step-by-step instructions for using Google Earth read my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox available at the Genealogy Gems Store.

Recommended Genealogy Gems Premium Member Videos with downloadable handouts:

Learn more about Genealogy Gems Premium membership here.

 

Genealogy News: Free Webinar

Watch the free video recording of my session on the MyHeritage Collection Catalog here.

 

Resources:

Live Chat PDF– Click here to download the live Chat from episode 19 which includes my answers to your questions. 

Genealogy Gems Premium Members:

Become a Premium Member here

 

 

Google Books for Genealogy Success Story

Using Google Books for genealogy is a successful tool to many. A Gem’s reader shares the remarkable story she uncovered using the tips for using Google Books she learned from a recent Genealogy Gems Premium podcast.

From Genealogy Gems Premium member:

“Hi Lisa,

Premium 137I was just listening to the newest Premium podcast concerning filtering the lists on Google Books (Premium episode 137). I would like to relay my story for using your hints and tips on Google.

My great-grandfather was a Confederate soldier. At the age of 48, he married my great-grandmother and my grandmother was born the next year. I found much to my dismay, that he committed suicide when my grandmother was a few weeks old. It was stated that he had what would be described today as post-traumatic stress disorder, and the burning of the court house where he worked as a county clerk set off something. My Dad was born on what would have been my great-grandfather’s 90th birthday.

I have known for about 30 years that my great-grandfather wrote articles under a pen name. My aunt told me she had been told he wrote articles about the scenery in southern Utah where he lived. I searched and searched and never found any of his articles. Then, I had a breakthrough. I found the pen name by using several tips you mentioned for using Google. The pen name was Lock Melone. It was spelled differently than I had been told.

It turns out, he was a very well-known humorist. One of his stories appears in a publication alongside an article by Mark Twain. (He wrote articles in the 1870s and 1880s.)

Now, back to your tips on Google. I was Googling, checking all the old newspapers I could find to collect his writings. One of the sources continually mentioned in Google Books was a literary magazine called The Californian.  These were not all free on Google, but I was not to be deterred after all these years! I used the basic information and time frames listed in Google Books and looked at WorldCat. That led me to e-books and to some of the holdings in universities around the country.

As of today, I have found 69 of his articles! They have made an ancestor who I thought had a rough life with a tragic end, a new person, full of life and laughter! I am sure his stories are based on events that occurred during his “real life” adventures. He lived life to the fullest, traveling a great deal, and saw the world through a light heart.

I am continuing to search for more articles and have begun to compile his writings to give to my children and cousins for a Christmas present this year (if I can figure out how to put it all together!) With my grandmother as his only child, I will have given his life to all his descendants, a very special chore on which I have worked on with great pleasure.

Thanks for the tips on Google and other sites you have given over the years.”

This Gems member is certainly on the right track in many ways. She figured out how to harness the power of Google to search for the proverbial needle in a haystack—not just her grandfather’s articles but articles written under a pseudonym! Good for her for using Google Books and WorldCat. That’s a great combination. You can learn more about using WorldCat for genealogy in my book How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers and in the Premium video Getting the Scoop Part 2: Tech Tools for Newspapers.

Follow-up Ideas for Using Google Books for Genealogy

Here are a few follow-up suggestions reGoogle Books and Scholar for genealogy success lating to finding issues of a literary magazine or another scholarly publication like The Californian:

First, turn to another powerful free tool in the Google toolbox: Google Scholar. It takes Google Books to the next level and you may hit on some things that Google Books may miss. Refer back to Premium Podcast 136 for a discussion of Google Scholar for genealogy, and Chapter 11 in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Second Edition.

Second, remember that sometimes serial publications change names, or two different ones may have the same name. Wikipedia’s not the most expert source, but its article on The Californian says something you can follow up on. The Californian was published from 1880 to 1882, as a continuation of the earlier Overland Monthly which had stopped in 1875, and then in 1882 it switched back to its old name. This means you should look for both titles.

A third idea may be to check e-bay for back issues of old magazines and journals. Sometimes, it’s cheaper and easier to buy them than to try to borrow them through inter-library loan. E-bay does happen to have a CD version for sale of The Californian issues from 1880 to 1882. I talk more about finding family history items on e-bay in the Premium Podcast episodes 16, 76, and 131.

Lastly, don’t forget JSTOR. JSTOR is a shared digital library for scholarly journals and the like. It launched in 1995 to serve university and college libraries, running out of space to store old journal issues. Today, it includes over 2,300 journals and thousands of other materials. It’s even started including books. Over 50 million pages are digitized, with another 3 million being added every year.

The nice thing about JSTOR is that you don’t have to be affiliated with a major library to get access now. Individuals can register for free access allowing them to read some materials online. They offer free access to their Early Journal Content collection of scholarly content published before 1923 in the U.S. (and before 1870 in other parts of the world.) That collection alone has nearly a half million articles from over 200 journals.

Unfortunately in this case, JSTOR doesn’t have The Californian or Overland Monthly in its collections. But one can certainly use JSTOR to search for other journals. JSTOR is just a great resource for anyone to use when searching for historical articles, especially those you may come across in Google Scholar without the full article text.

Your Google Books for Genealogy Success Stories

It is so rewarding to hear your success stories in using Google Books for genealogy. Your stories inspire others. Please feel free to share your experiences in the comment section below.

Keep Reading: More Gems on Using Google Books for Genealogy Success

Free Video: Google Books Image Search for Genealogy and Family History

Google Scholar for Genealogy? Here’s Why to Try It

Can Google Help Me Search Digitized Newspaper Pages?

my ancestor in the newspaper newsCan Google help you search digitized newspapers you find online? Recently I heard from Garth in Ontario, Canada with a question like that. Here’s what he asked and here’s what I told him:

“A friend found a digitized newspaper article by clicking on this link and going through various years–very time consuming! I’m thinking there has to be a better way with Google, but no luck. I think I have used most of your techniques from Genealogy Gems. Would appreciate any hints.”

genealogy gems podcast mailboxFirst of all, thanks to Garth for alerting us to an online local archive of Canadian newspapers, The Clarington Local Newspapers collection. I like making people aware of collections like this. Here’s what I told him:

If the website had text transcriptions of articles then Google would have easily been able to grab the phrase “Arthur Levi Brunt” off any page. The search would be “Arthur Levi Brunt”  or, even better, would be a site search, which would be formatted like this: site:http://vitacollections.ca/claringtonnews “Arthur Levi Brunt.” In Google site searches, you start with the word “site” with a colon, followed by the home page in which to search, followed by the exact phrase you want to search in quotes.

However, the Clarington Digital News website relies on its own built-in Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to spot and retrieve search terms on the digitized newspaper images. Google doesn’t have access to their OCR, and can’t apply OCR itself to images on the web (the pages on this site are images, not pdfs). So in this case, Google would not be able to locate the same article.

I did notice in looking at the Clarington News site that there is a search box, so your friend didn’t need to browse through the years looking for article on Arthur. Simply entering his name in site’s search box instantly brought up the relevant list in seconds. Here’s a link to that search, so you can see for yourself. Perhaps a few of the other newspaper articles found in that search will be of interest to your friend as well!

Genealogists Google Toolbox 2nd edition coverLearn more about Google search strategies (Google site search is just one!) in my newly-revised, hot off the press 2nd edition of The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Second Edition. So many genealogy gems like these news articles are buried online: you just need to know how to harness the power of Google’s FREE tools to find them!

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