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.

Website Review & How To: Archives.com

VIDEO & SHOW NOTES: Learn how Archives.com can help you find your family history. We cover getting started, finding records, building your family tree and answer the question as to whether you should use it if you already use another genealogy website.

Why Use Archives.com?

If you’re new to genealogy, returning after taking a break, or just need a new place to search, Archives.com has a lot to offer. I’m going to show you how to get started with this affordable website packed with genealogical records.

The folks at Archives.com asked me to make a video sharing what I think about their website, so full disclosure, they are sponsoring this video. However, they have no clue what I’m going to say. For the past 17 years that I’ve been podcasting and just shy of that I’ve been publishing videos at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel, I’ve always given you my honest opinion and shared my best strategies. So let’s get started and do that right now as I answer some of the most common questions about Archives.com.

What Makes Archives.com Unique?

Like many other genealogy websites, it has billions of genealogy records. However, the subscription is a fraction of the cost of other big name websites. That makes it ideal for beginners, or if you just need a new place to dig for records in addition to your other subscriptions. Start with a free 7-day trial to find out what Archives can do for your genealogy research. 

archives.com

What Does Archives.com Offer?

The main focus of the website is searching for genealogical records. And they have billions of the most popular.

Archive.com is owned by Ancestry, and according to the folks at Archives there is some overlap, just like there would be with other genealogy records sites. But Archives does include records you won’t find on Ancestry, and there are records on Ancestry that are not on Archives. Since Archives is much less expensive, it’s worth a look.

What Record Collections are Included?

The easiest way to find out if Archives.com has the record collections you want is to go to the Collections page at https://www.archives.com/collections or click Collections in the menu.

They currently have 650 record collections that include billions of individual records. 

Use the filters on the Collections page to browse by Keywords, Record Type or Country. Click the down arrow on the Record Type filter to get a quick overview of the types of records the site focuses on.

In addition to some of the traditional types of records like birth, marriage, death, census and immigration, you’ll find some special collections such as Memory Pages, Surname Histories, and City Directories.

If you’re trying to find ancestors in the “old country”, check the Countries filter list before you start searching. No point in looking for records for a country that they don’t have.

How to Search for Records at Archives.com

In genealogy, we start with ourselves and work backwards. Your grandparents are a great place to start searching. When searching for records, I recommend that you start with a particular ancestor in mind and fill in as many details as you can about them before you move further back in your family tree.

There are three different ways to start searching:

  1. Use the search fields at the top of the home page.
  2. Click the Advanced Search link to go to a more robust search page.
  3. Or click SEARCH in the menu which also takes you to the Advanced Search page.

I recommend going straight to the Advanced Search page. This way you can cut out the results that don’t match and zero in on the time frame and also the type of records you want to find.

In searching for genealogy records it’s important to balance searching narrowly enough to get to what you want while searching broadly enough not to miss something.

When searching for less common names, try just searching on the name without clicking the Exact match box. This will keep your results fairly broad and provide an opportunity to see how many and what kind of results you get. By not narrowing the scope of the search, you’re less likely to miss a record that has a slight name deviation.

Take a moment to quickly scroll down and see how many are close matches. Chances are it’s just a fraction of the total results. In my case, there were only about 9 close results out of over 40,000. 

If the name you are searching is fairly common, then adding a location and life events with dates can help differentiate people and results.

A Beginner’s Basic Guide 

Archives Record filters are in the general order that you need for genealogy:

  1. Gather Death, Marriage and Birth records first.
  2. Fill in with Census Records throughout your ancestors’ lifetime.
  3. Military Service and Immigration Records are also really important milestones to find.
  4. Fill in even more like City and Telephone Directories which were often published yearly.
  5. Check out Family Trees that might include your ancestor, and Media records that can further fill in their story.

Can You Build a Family Tree?

Yes! Archives.com includes a family tree builder users can attach their records to and a discovery engine that helps users find new records about their ancestors. Start with your parents or grandparents.

You can search other people’s family trees from the Advanced Search page. You can also create your own tree. Archive’s provides a nice, simple user interface to build out a family tree online.

I just want to say that in my opinion, the very best place to build your family tree is in genealogy database software that you use on your own computer. That way you always have control of it no matter how long you have a subscription to any website. But if you’re just getting started, this is a great way to get your feet wet

If you’ve already created your tree on your own computer, then you can export it as a GEDCOM. That is the universal file type for genealogy family trees specifically. You can then upload that file to Archives.com and work with it from there.

My online family trees are not what I call my ‘master family tree’. That is on my computer. So why do I create an online tree? The reason is simple. It’s a great way to generate Discoveries and connections. I use it to generate clues and record hints.

Archives.com makes it easy to create a family tree. Start with yourself, add your parents, and what you know about your grandparents, and you are off to the races! Or, as I mentioned before, you can upload an existing GEDCOM file.

Learn more about GEDCOMS with this video: All About GEDCOMS.

As soon as you set up your tree on Archives and start looking at records, you will start generating Discoveries automatically. It’s a way to speed up the research process and make genealogy easier than it’s ever been before.

Resources:

Download the ad-free Show Notes cheat sheet for this video here. (Premium Membership required.)

Not a Premium Member yet? Discover the benefits and join today. 

 

Genealogy Gems Premium Membership

Click to learn more about Genealogy Gems Premium Membership.

 

Pin It on Pinterest

MENU