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.

AncestryDNA Works Toward Genetics + Genealogy Integration

 

AncestryDNA Review GEDCOM DNA integrationThe ideal genetic genealogy interface creates a seamless transition between genetics technology and genealogical research findings. Most currently available tools are either DNA technology without much genealogy, or genealogy without much DNA technology. AncestryDNA is really pioneering the genetic and genealogical integration with its newest AncestryDNA product update.

The goal of genetic genealogy is to aid your traditional research by verifying known connections and providing clues to as yet unknown ancestors. DNA was never meant to replace traditional research methods, nor has it ever claimed that ability. Rather, it is meant to aid your traditional research by verifying known connections and providing clues to as-yet unknown ancestors.

I admit, I dream of a future technology so precise that it pinpoints the locations of ancestors and defines our exact relationships to others. While we are not there yet, many have experienced a genetic test’s power to obliterate previously-held beliefs about relationship and heritage, and create new intricate and personal relationships where before there were only blank spaces. In this sense, genetic genealogy can be viewed as a kind of police force of the genealogy world, righting wrongs and taking names. But I digress.

For now, the ideal must remain a seamless transition between genetics technology and traditional research results, so that the two so completely complement each other that we can’t see where one stops and the other begins. Yet the two worlds are often separated by a chasm of misunderstanding and just plain ignorance. Of the three testing companies, two are making mediocre efforts at best to try to help you incorporate your genetics into your genealogy. They are basically dishing out a serving of genetics, offering a vending machine of genealogy snacks and calling it a full meal.

With one exception.

AncestryDNA has put genetic and genealogical integration at the forefront of its product.  They are the only company making a serious effort to integrate your genetics and your genealogy. To be successful, they need two things: tons of people and their genealogy. The more people test, the better the database becomes. Not just in terms of the matches you find, but also in terms of statistics and the power that numbers have to solve complex problems, like relatedness.

So, how do they get more people interested in genetic genealogy?

This reminds me of my early days at Relative Genetics, one of the first genetic genealogy companies.  I was fresh out of college and tasked with training our CEO, CFO, QA director, and marketing director about what exactly it was that we did as a genetic genealogy company. None of these men had any experience in genetics or genealogy. In those meetings as we were trying to figure out ways to grow our company in an unknown industry, I felt like I was the constant downer to the party.  As a scientist I had been trained that there are no absolutes. Whenever we talk about outcomes it is always in terms of “most likely” or “less likely” and to never, ever say “always.” So when they would get excited about an idea and propose wording for an ad campaign, I was always reining them in.

After reading a recent announcement by AncestryDNA, I feel like their marketing department had a meeting on the day their scientific advisor was out sick and without his or her corralling, they started a stampede.

Which, of course, was exactly what they wanted.

In their press release, Ancestry’s Dr. Ken Chahine, SVP and GM of AncestryDNA said, “It is effectively a shortcut through time—you take the test today and we tell you who your ancestors were, for example, in the 1700s. You don’t need to research records or build a family tree — AncestryDNA now transports you to the past.”

Which is exactly what people want to hear, especially non-genealogists who are curious about their past, but don’t have the tools or know-how or interest in doing the actual genealogy work.

But is it true? Is genetic genealogy a short cut through time?

“Absolutely,” says the marketing team.

“Sometimes, and that depends on factor A, and factor B and situation C and…” say the scientists.

And they are both right. The trick is to hear them both as you review these kinds of new advances in genetic genealogy.

What makes the “absolutely” true is that one of the dreams of genetic genealogy is to use the DNA of living people today to actually reconstruct the genetics of our ancestors. So that their actual DNA profile is known. Then it will be easy to identify their descendants as we will be able to see immediately what part of our DNA came from which of our ancestors. Ancestry has demonstrated their ability to do this in a large scale study of the descendants of a 19th-century American and his two successive wives.

Now, time for the “Sometimes.” This full genome reconstruction hasn’t been done yet for your grandparents, or great grandparents. Right now the best we can do is use your DNA to link you to living individuals, then rely on your traditional genealogy to help you find your common ancestor. Ancestry is trying to help you do that using their DNA circles, and now with their New Ancestor Discoveries.

Remember that to be included in a DNA circle you have to have a “ticket” to the party, meaning both your genetics and your genealogy match with at least two other people in the database and a circle is created around the host of the party, who is your common ancestor.

With New Ancestor Discoveries, we are letting those with just a genetic ticket into the party. Meaning that if you share DNA with two or more people in a DNA Circle, the host of that circle is named as an ancestor who might be on your pedigree chart.

Did you notice how I said “might?” That this newly discovered ancestor MIGHT be in your pedigree chart?

As an idea, New Ancestor Discoveries is VERY EXCITING, don’t you think? To be able to find out using both genetics and genealogy that a particular person living 100 years ago might just be the one who belongs in that blaring blank space on your pedigree chart? And it will be. But right now, Ancestry needs to work out some bugs, starting with a stronger acknowledgement that the ancestor listed in the Discoveries is by no means an absolute, but just a hint.

Genetic Genealogy and DNAIn coming posts I will share with you how I am using the New Ancestry Discoveries to discover more about my genealogy, even if it isn’t exactly in the way Ancestry intended. For now, learn more by reading my recent posts: from the left side of the Genealogy Gems home page, search on the category “DNA.”

And click here to visit my website and learn more about how I can help you navigate the exciting world of genetic genealogy.

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 237

The Genealogy Gems Podcast is the leading genealogy and family history show. Launched in 2007, the show is hosted by genealogy author, keynote presenter, and video producer Lisa Louise Cooke. The podcast can be found in all major podcasting directories, or download the exclusive Genealogy Gems Podcast app to listen to all the episodes and receive bonus content. 

Podcast host: Lisa Louise Cooke
January 2020
Download the episode mp3

Download the Show Notes PDF in the Genealogy Gems Podcast app. 

We are celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Genealogy Gems app. We blazed a new trail back in 2010 when we launched the app – apps were still really new back then.  I loved the idea of having a way to deliver exclusive bonus content to you as well as the audio, the show notes and best of all an easy way for you to contact me and the show.

genealogy gems podcast app 10th anniversary

It’s more popular than ever, and as far as I know we are still the only genealogy podcast app available. If you haven’t already downloaded it just search for Genealogy Gems in Google Play or Apple’s App Store, or get the right app for your phone or tablet here.

In this episode I have two interviews for you on very different subjects. First up will be a follow up to last month’s episode where we focused specifically on the New York Public Library Photographers’ Identities Catalog.

Well, in this episode we’re going to talk to the genealogy reference librarian at the New York Public Library, Andy McCarthy. And as you’ll hear, there are a massive amount of resource available there for genealogists everywhere.

Then we’ll switch gears to Scandinavian genealogy with David Fryxell, author of the new book The Family Tree Scandinavian Genealogy Guide: How to Trace Your Ancestors in Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

The free podcast is sponsored by RootsMagic

Rootsmagic

GEM: The New York Public Library’s Milstein Division of United States

History, Local History & Genealogy with Reference Librarian Andy McCarthy.

The NYPL is one of the largest public genealogical collections in the country. They have a “wide-angle” approach to providing reference materials for local and US History.

The Top Resources at The New York Public Library

#1 The reference librarians.

Email them at history@nypl.org Ask questions, prepare for your visit.

#2 The online catalog:

Click here to visit the New York Public Library’s Online Catalog.

While they subscribe to many genealogy databases, they don’t host many. Use the catalog to determine what’s available, and what to ask for. See if what you’re looking for exists. Pay close attention to subject headings to identify resources.

#3 The Digital Collections

Click here to visit the Digital Collections at the New York Public Library. 

  • City Directory Collection up to 1933.
  • Manhattan is the largest and is coming soon. This collection was only available previously on microfilm. It is a browse-only collection (not keyword searchable)
  • The 1940 Phone Directory is online.
  • Sanborn Fire Insurance Map collection is digitized and online.
  • The Map Wharper which is a crowd-sourcing project providing for historic map overlays, and super zooming in views. 

Offline Materials: 

They also have a massive collection available in house of books, pamphlets, newspapers, etc. There are research and photo copying services available.

#4 Research Guides online

Click here to view the New York Public Library’s research guides. 

Before you go:

  • Definitely reach out before you go.
  • Provide them with specific questions and they can help you identify what to focus on while you’re there.
  • Visit the Milstein home page. They also have many public classes. Check to see what will be available during your visit.

One of Andy’s Favorites Collections

The Photographic Views of NYC Collection. Arranged by cross streets

The free podcast is sponsored by MyHeritage

MyHeritage

GEM: Scandinavian Research with Author David Fryxell

David Fryxell’s book on Scandinavian Genealogy

David A. Fryxell is the author of the book The Family Tree Scandinavian Genealogy Guide: How to Trace Your Ancestors in Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

David is an award-winning author, editor, speaker and publishing consultant. He founded Family Tree Magazine, the nation’s leading genealogy publication. As a writing expert, he wrote the Nonfiction column for Writer’s Digest magazine for more than a decade and served as director of the famous Maui Writer’s Retreat. He has authored countless articles for Family Tree Magazine, and is also the author of additional books including Good Old Days, My Ass and MicroHistory: Ideas and inventions that made the modern world.

David Fryxell Scandinavian Genealogy Author

Author David Fryxell

Here’s a brief outline of my Q&A with David Fryxell on his new book and Scandinavian genealogy research:

Question:

To understand the ties between the Scandinavian countries, and why countries like Finland and Iceland aren’t included, we have to learn about the cultures and languages, right?

Answer:

Scandinavian countries are really tied by language. And at one point all the countries were united. Borders change. The records reflect these various changes.

Question:

What’s the timeline of Scandinavian immigration?

Answer:

The First Wave, 1825–1860

The Second Wave, 1865–1880

The Third Wave, 1880–1924

Question:

What value do you think DNA testing provides, and what should we keep in mind if we do test?

Answer:

DNA results are most helpful to find other relatives who may be able to assist in your research.

Question:

Let’s say we know we’ve identified the ancestor who immigrated. What else do we need to know before we can jump the pond and start digging into Scandinavian records?

Answer:

In the case of Scandinavian ancestors, you may not have to find the U.S. passenger records. They have excellent passenger departure records.

Question:

Tell us about the census in Scandinavia. Is it consistent among all three countries?

Answer:

Norway and Denmark have good census records. You can find them at:

They are increasingly searchable, and much like our census records in the U.S.

Sweden doesn’t really have useful census records. But they have Household Inventory records in church books. They were recorded every year. Turn to websites such as ArchivDigital, and Ancestry.com.

Question:

Let’s dig into the records. Where do you recommend we start?

Answer:

Church records are key. (Vital Records, census, vaccination, etc.) Also Military, Land and Tax.

Question:

I love that chapter 16 is called What to do when you get stuck! Give us an example of a common area where researchers get stuck and one of your favorite strategies for unsticking them.

Answer:

  • Get familiar with and pay close attention to patronymic naming conventions where a man’s name is typically based on the given name of their father.
  • Look closely!
  • Challenge your assumptions!

More Resources from David Fryxell: https://vikinggenealogy.com

Protect Your Precious Genealogy Data

Don’t wait another day. Get the computer backup that I use www.backblaze.com/Lisa.

Backblaze lisa louise cooke

Profile America: First Radio Broadcast

Monday, January 13th. Today is the anniversary of the first radio broadcast to the public. It took place 110 years ago in New York City, engineered by Lee deForest, a radio pioneer and inventor of the electron tube.

Lee de Forest First Radio Broadcast

The 1910 broadcast wasn’t made from a purpose-built radio studio, but from the Metropolitan Opera house. DeForest broadcast the voices of Enrico Caruso and other opera singers. A small but impressed audience throughout the city gathered around special receivers to listen with headphones.

Today, 95 percent of American households have at least one radio.

One-hundred ten years after deForest’s lonely effort, some 5,400 radio stations employ about 92,000 people.

Sources:

Courtesy of Census.gov.

MyHeritage LIVE conference

I’ll be speaking at this conference in Tel Aviv, Israel on October 25 & 26, 2020. Read more here.

RootsTech 2020

I’ll be presenting 4 sessions and look forward to visiting with you at the Genealogy Gems booth at the front of the exhibit hall. Get all the details here.

Read our latest articles at Genealogy Gems:

 

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