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.
“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).]
“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!
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).
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Are you ready to start a genealogy blog (or improve one you already write)? Here’s a quick Q&A for you, prompted by questions by Genealogy Gems Premium member Kevin:
Q: “I am ready to start writing a blog but my typing is slow. Is there a dictation app (iOS) or software (Windows) that I could use to dictate my first drafts of my blog posts?
A: If you go to www.genealogygems.comand scroll down and enter “Dragon software” into the Amazon box and click “Go” it will pull up a great dictation program that might be just what you are looking for. (Using our Amazon box supports the free podcast – thank you!)
Q: Which blog site do you use and why did you select it?
A: I use Word Press for my website and blog. They have a free version at wordpress.com. Google also has Blogger which is free. I have a free series of videos on the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel about how to set it up. They are a few years old, but will give you the basic idea.
Q: Do you compose your blog posts directly on your site or do you type them in Word or some other word processing program then cut and paste them into your blog?
A: It’s best to compose them directly into a new post on Word Press or Blogger. Cutting and pasting out of Word will likely carry over unwanted formatting which can cause headaches.
Listen to the Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast by Lisa Louise Cooke. It’s a great series for learning the research ropes and well as refreshing your skills.
Ready to get inspired and tutored on genealogy blogging? Check out my FREE podcast series on how to start a genealogy blog. Click here to reach my Family History Made Easy podcast landing page, then start with episode 38 and continue through episode 42. You’ll learn step-by-step how-tos and you’ll be introduced to some inspiring blogs that WORK. We often hear about success stories from listeners who started a blog after hearing these episodes. (We’d love to hear YOUR success story, too!)
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In this episode:
Exploring what you can do to go deeper in your genealogy research for a more accurate family tree with Elissa Scalise Powell
Irish genealogy podcaster Lorna Moloney, a professional genealogist with Merriman Research, discusses Irish genealogy.
Marcia Finds Treasure on eBay
“I recently remembered your idea of searching for family related things on eBay.
My grandfather and his brother both worked as agents for the Wrought Iron Range Co. of St. Louis. They sold excellent quality wrought iron stoves and my great uncle did very well there as a supervisor.
I did a search for the Wrought Iron Range Co on eBay and immediately pulled up a history of the company, an advertisement for the range and a metal they gave away. I bought them all!
However, the best goodie which I am still bidding on is a “salesman’s sample Wrought Iron Range stove about 12 inches tall and 14 inches long in color and with all working parts.
(Photo: The stove Lisa inherited from her grandmother.)
I may not win the bid, but I am thrilled with what I found.
This will bring my grandfather’s occupation to life for my great nephews!!!!”
“I came across a new site that you might like to inform your listeners about. It is very new and just getting started, so I know they would appreciate a mention.
The name of this new site is “German Letters in Letters” [germanletters.org]. What they are doing is trying to collect letters written between German immigrants to the US and their relatives back home in Germany.
You can very easily submit scanned copies of any letters you have and the really neat thing is that they will post them at their site. Once they post them, they are asking for translations by any volunteers. So, this is an excellent way to have any letters in your possession to be translated….. for FREE!
I was given about 30 letters written to my GG grandfather, Johann Bernard Husam, who immigrated to Adams Co., Illinois about 1855.
They are from his siblings, nieces, and a nephew back in Germany. They range from 1866 to the early 1900s.
I scanned them and they are now on this site. I was given these letters by great granddaughter-in-law [my aunt] who spoke German as she had grown up in the Sudetenland area of Czechoslovakia. She had escaped Czechoslovakia at the end of WWII before the Russians invaded. She, thankfully, had translated all of the letters.”
Learn more about German research from these articles at Genealogy Gems.
What Ann Likes About the Podcast
Hi, Lisa, I’d love to say that your podcast has helped me with a genealogy brick wall but at this point I’m only a “drop-in genealogist,” figuring that I’m the only one in the family interested at this time (working on one grandson though, because I think he’d be a real asset) in finding and preserving family stories.
I do research in fits and starts. But, I do love your podcasts. I’m catching up on back episodes now and recently listened to one that started with you describing a granddaughter’s first Christmas coming up.
It reminded me of one of the best things about your podcasts – it’s like you’re sitting in my living room with me, having a cup of tea, discussing your stories and tips and tricks to help with mine.
Thank you so much for all the information, and for your casual, personal, yet professional style!”
Kristine is No Longer a “Cooke-Cutter” Researcher
“I just retired and guess what is first on my list of things I WANT to do? 🙂 I jumped in with both feet listening to your Premium podcasts and realized a few times that I am the ‘cookie-cutter’ researcher. But, no more. You are the Captain of my ship now. Thank you!
After binging on your podcasts the last two weeks, the first bit of advice I took was changing the way I searched on Newspapers.com. My family’s everyday life’s treasures were buried in the pages of the local news! You made me take a second look after I dismissed the possibility of ever reading about them.
Thank you so much for your dedicated work on behalf of all the genealogists. My Premium subscription will NEVER run out. When a family member says “I don’t know what to get you” I’m prepared to solve that dilemma!
GEM: Overcoming Shallow Research with Elissa Scalise Powell
About today’s guest:
Elissa Scalise Powell, CG, CGL, is co-director of the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP); past-president of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, and 2017 She won the Association of Professional Genealogists Professional Achievement Award. She is a Certified Genealogist®, and Certified Genealogical LecturerSM. You can reach Elissa at Elissa@PowellGenealogy.com. (Thank you to Elissa for contributing notes for this episode.)
The Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS)
The Genealogical Proof Standard was created to help genealogists gain confidence in their research conclusions by providing criteria that can be followed. A genealogical conclusion is considered proved when it meets all five GPS components.
The 5 Components of the GPS
Reasonably exhaustive research – This type of research emphasizes original records that provide the information for all evidence that might answer a genealogist’s question about an identity, relationship, event, or situation
Complete, accurate citations to the source or sources of each information item contributing—directly, indirectly, or negatively—to answers about that identity, relationship, event, or situation
Tests—through processes of analysis and correlation—of all sources, information items, and evidence contributing to an answer to a genealogical question or problem
Resolution of conflicts among evidence items pertaining to the proposed answer
A soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion based on the strongest available evidence
The book Genealogy Standardsby the Board for Certification of Genealogists provides a standard by which all genealogists can pattern their work.
Some sources are considered “Low-hanging fruit.” They can be described as:
record type is easily understood
document states the fact desired
Many times, genealogists will need to stretch and reach for harder to find sources. These types of sources are:
possibly unknown to you at this time
not easily accessible
time-consuming to explore
take study to understand it
Elise’s Examples of the Pitfalls of Shallow Research
Believing that family stories have been accurately passed down in all details.
Believing that official documents are always correct.
Believing that published records, especially transcriptions or abstracts, are faithful representations of the original.
Premature conclusions can come back to haunt us.
Disregarding ill-fitting evidence can create brick walls.
Careless citation practices do not give us the tools we need for analysis.
Researching and understanding historical context is crucial to solving problems.
Barriers requiring expertise beyond our own should not hamper the research process.
Assuming there is only one record and suspending research when the first one is found.
Assuming that details are unimportant, or not noticing them at all.
Elissa also points out that when we do shallow research, we can actually do more harm than good. Shallow genealogical research:
Doesn’t allow our ancestors to reveal themselves or their reasons for actions
Puts them in the wrong time and place
Can create wrong kinship ties
Misleads future researchers
Causes brick walls
Wastes our time
Does a disservice to our current family and descendants
GEM: Irish Genealogy with Lorna Moloney of Merriman Research
While speaking at THE Genealogy Show conference in Birmingham England in June of this year I got a chance to sat down for the first time with Lorna Moloney host of The Genealogy Radio show which is produced at Raidio Corcabaiscinn. It airs live on Thursday at 4p.m. and is podcast (click here for episodes). Lorna runs Merriman Research which is dedicated to bringing educational solutions and resources to a wide audience.
When was the last time you sent a letter or email to someone you didn’t know? Gail did, and you will be touched and inspired by her sweet story of finding a long lost cousin in Italy. Sometimes, all it takes is sending a letter to make a monumental cousin...