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[ Transcript for: African-American Genealogy: What's Your Story?: Finding It on the Web ]

African-American Genealogy: What's Your Story?: Finding It On the Web Video Transcript

Part Two of a Five-Part Series


MALE SPEAKER: This public affairs presentation is brought to you by the Missouri State Archives Office of the Secretary of State: Where History Begins.

This program is the second in a five-part series on researching African American genealogy. Your series host is Traci Wilson-Kleekamp, Family History Research Consultant.

Today's program: What's Your Story?: Finding it on the Web, will help you explore and use the many resources available from the Internet and local, state and national historical repositories. So, let's join Traci for some good advice and helpful tips on discovering our African American heritage.


:46 Before Searching the Web

MS. TRACI WILSON-KLEEKAMP: The advent of the Internet has changed the face of doing genealogy. What would take 20 years, can now take maybe only a couple of months. A tribute to Alex Haley who worked for many years on his research—he would just be astounded at what he could find out now in just a few minutes with a point and a click.

So if you're going to do research on the web, of course, you have to know, what's your story? Where's your family from? What county? What city? What do you know about the area?

You want to collect a few other things before you head onto the web. But, you can find some of these on the web too. Family papers or news articles or family histories may be about your family or may be about the family that owned your family. Those things might all be on the web. You may have some oral history that's been transcribed into a story that's on the Internet. You may find information or stories about the community and the people who lived there, but still have some bearing on doing research on your family. You may have a family Bible; you may find wills; you may find family trees. All of these are on the web as more and more people start doing genealogy and they put their information out there to share with other people.

1:51 Records Available on the Web

Then when it starts getting down to records there's even more information. There are libraries that put their catalogs on-line and tell you how to research the books that they have in their library. They may have a book, for example, that's an abstract of wills or an abstract of deeds or they may be able to direct you where you can get other records.

Many states now, like Missouri, have death records or death index on-line that you can search. I have found newspaper archives that are on the Internet. If you have a subscription to Ancestry.com, you will have access to numerous records: World War I draft registration cards, the Colored Troops index, marriage records, land records, deed records, a variety of records. And, it varies from state to state what is exactly offered on Ancestry. To find out, you'll have to get on-line and dig around.

States also offer a variety of resources. The State of Missouri has a death records database on-line where you can view records from 1910 through 1957 on-line. Some of the records—or quite a number of them are already on-line. You can view them in PDF [Portable Document Format]. For those that are not on-line you can request those records for only a dollar each by mail. But, besides that there are other things on-line that will give you additional information.

The St. Louis Public Library has an index to a variety of African American resources for researchers. One of the most interesting ones are slave compensation cases. Former slave owners who sent their slaves to war for them—they expected to be compensated, and provided various documentation on their slaves and themselves. And, they also have a descriptive recruitment list of volunteers for the United States Colored Troops from the State of Missouri. Each one of these documents lists the name of the slave, their owner and their physical description. Sometimes on the margins of the index page is other information that might be useful. Those records are available on the Internet—which I have a link provided—and you can also find them on film. They are presently also being held at the State Historical Society of Missouri's library.

4:12 MOGenWeb: Missouri Research Website

One of the things that's even more important about being on the web, again, is the number of resources that you can access at a click. If you're doing Missouri research you will find there is such a thing called the Missouri Gen Web, yeah, such a thing. If you go to just MOGenWeb—just Google MOGenWeb you will find that there is a map that lists all the counties in Missouri and for each one of those counties there is a website and a webmaster who coordinates a listserv for everybody that's doing research in that particular county.

If that's the case that you find your particular county of interest to you, you can do that not just for Missouri, but for Virginia, Kentucky, any state in the Union including other countries. There is a listserv just for your particular area of interest. Why did you want—why would you want to communicate on a listserv? Well, for one, everybody on that listserv is interested in following somebody from the same area as you. If you're doing African American research and you have some clue as to who may have owned your family, but even if you don't know that, once you start asking questions about a particular area and the people, you're sure to find more clues.

5:28 AfriGeneas: African American Research Website

There's also a website called AfriGeneas, it's on the web. It's afrigeneas.com, and it's a website for all African American researchers. Again, it's an exchange on a listserv where everybody is doing research and exchanging what they know or would like to know about their particular family. It is a wealth of information not just for those people who are looking to hook up with someone from the same area, but the website provides lots of other links for documents everyday that are being transcribed and put on the web. So, make sure you check that out too.

6:02 Manuscript Collections Available Online

Next on the list are the items that you may find in other places besides a library or Ancestry that you can get access to them via the Internet. In Missouri, we have a Western Historical Manuscript Collection. It has an office or a branch in Columbia, one in Rolla and one in Saint Louis. You— it's a repository for family records and documents that people donate. Some of the items are put on microfilm. Some of them are original papers, such as Bibles, ledgers, all sorts of original documentation that will prove useful to you.

In my case, my family is from Bunceton, Missouri, and the family that owned my family has fairly extensive records available at the Manuscript Collection. What I was mostly interested in finding was who were the slaves that the family owned? At the Manuscript Collection there is a repository of information on the Leonard family who owned my ancestors. In this case, this record details the slaves that were owned and their ages. While the documents may be difficult to read on microfilm, it's important to take in a little bit at a time, even if you have to go back several times to read everything that's on the film. You may find on microfilm that pieces of information are torn off pieces of paper or that were cut-off and they are filmed in length, sideways on the page or upside down. So, don't look—be sure—you may be surprised to find that not everything on the microfilm is very straight forward and neatly laid out. It takes a little bit of looking to find everything that's laid out on the page.

But, why is this document important in terms of the web? Well, the Manuscript Collection has a catalog of everything that's offered. You can search by alphabetical order or by name and if you're interested in reading the document— even if you don't live in Missouri—you can send an e-mail to the staff at the Manuscript Collection and ask about a particular item that is listed. They will e-mail you back and tell you, "Yes, we do have it." And, even give you more information that's inventoried in the file. If there are specific references to slaves in that collection you can ask for those documents. You pay a fee and the documents are sent to you.

This is the case for many manuscript collections all over the country. They have a website that has a broad sheet of information about each one of the collections that are offered. You can peruse them, decide if it has information in it that—of interest to you, you can send an e-mail to the staff and ask for more details. And, in many cases you can even pay by credit card, using PayPal, or directly to the organization and the documents will arrive to you within just a few weeks.

Why is it important to have access to the manuscript collection? Well, for one thing, it's an excellent repository for people to give away records or where the documents and reports are maintained so they don't sit in someone's basement and kind of rust away or mold away. If you have documents like that that you collect during your research and you don't have room for them in your basement, and you would like to see them preserved, do contact your local manuscript collection or a university that has a special collection and donate those records. You never know, somebody else may come along who will really benefit from your gift.

9:30 Websites of Historical Repositories

Besides special collections or manuscript collections there are also historic societies, your local library. In Missouri we also have a Mid-Continent Public Library that has numerous documents. We have the Missouri State Archives, which has microfilm on public records, land deeds, marriage records, death records and a host of other vital records on microfilm. You can visit their office in Jeff City and, again, like making request from the Manuscript Collection at the University in St. Louis and Rolla and Columbia, you can also e-mail the staff at the Missouri State Archives with questions that you may have about any of the items they have listed on their genealogical resources.

10:19 Using the Census Online

The other documents that are on-line that you probably will use the most is accessing the census. Again, if you haveAncestry.com you can access the census. But, another resource for you accessing the census is your local library. Many libraries are now offering the census via Heritage Quest. You type in your library card number and you can access the census via the library's databases that they offer to their patrons.

The difference between Ancestry and Heritage Quest, of course, is if you're using it through the library you are not having to pay for it. But, also Ancestry does index its census also by sound. So, let's say you're looking for someone's last name and it might be spelled a little strange, like my last name is, Kleekamp. It will pull up everything that sounds like that. Sometimes on the census—since they were handwritten and someone's transcribed them to make them digitally available—there is a mistranslation in what was written. So, you may be looking for someone that you know is there, but it's not coming up because of the way it's being spelled.

Ancestry allows you to search for names by sound. If you're using the census on Heritage Quest, you won't be able to search by sound. You'll have to look by exact spelling, which makes it a little bit harder. I actually use both of those resources mostly because sometimes Ancestry has a census image that's not very clear. And, if I go over to Heritage Quest I can get a better image. There's another difference. When you download your files from Ancestry, they’re in JPEG [Joint Photographic Experts Group] files. If you go to Heritage Quest, when you download the files, they're in PDF [Portable Document Format]. You can actually download the census page and use a tool to cut or copy portions of the census that you want to pay particular attention to.

Again, they are different resources and they offer different tools, but they both provide the same information. It's a matter of sometimes using both of those tools so that you can get the best results.

But, back to the census. One thing about the census is that you have to pay particular attention, not just to spellings and where people are placed, but who they are living next to. This is the one resource that you have that you don't have to leave your house and you can spend hours pouring over it. If you're doing African American research and you've worked your way back from 1930 all the way to 1870. Eighteen-seventy is the period of time that you have to study the most. Why? Because many times in 1870 your family is still living near or with their former owner. This is the 1870 census for one of my ancestors. His name was Achilles Johnson. In 1870, Achilles is still living next door to his former owner, Nathaniel Leonard. What I'm able to see in this record—these names also match up to the earlier record that I showed you from the Western Historical Manuscript Collection, where the slaves were listed by their name and their age. Again, some of these names match up absolutely perfectly to what was in the Manuscript Collection document.

When I go to the next census I can see that there's been some changes made in the family. Another thing about the census in 1870 in comparing it to 1880 is you may find that your family had one name in 1870 and a different name in 1880. In this particular case—these are some other ancestors of mine who were living with their owner in 1870. In fact, there is a mistake even on the census. If you look closely at the name of Thorton, who's 25, he is enumerated as white, but he's actually black. It's just a mistake in the census. And you'll find many such mistakes like that. The other thing is to pay attention even to who lives next door to the former owner. In this case, it's the Stevens family. Many times you will find that the families that lived next door to each other are related to each other. In other words, there's a reason why they lived next to each other. But if I'm looking up that same family again in 1880, their name is no longer Tubb, its Miles. All the same people are in the household, they're still living next to a white Tubb family member and, again, they decided somehow to change their name to Miles.

This happens, many times, when you're doing research and you're going backwards and all of a sudden in 1870 you can't find your person. One, because they've changed their name or another thing could be because they lived in another county and they had moved from the time of when slavery ended. In this case, here's Burrell Anderson, he's living in Pettis County in 1870, but in 1880 Burrell not only has a different last name, but he's also in a different county. Again, I'm able to take an inventory of the people that are living in the household to compare that their names are the same. I also found—which is even more interesting—a marriage record in Howard County for Burrell Brown and his wife.

The other thing that gets a little bit tricky when you're watching the census is sometimes people use an informal name, you know, like Tommy instead of Tom or Gene instead of Eugene. So, sometimes you may think that you have the wrong family or it's not the right person. If you're following a family from census to census you can make a comparison.

On later census it actually has additional information for researchers. It includes—like for example the 1900 census, it lists the month that the person was born and the year. Also, if it's their first marriage or second marriage et cetera. It also will tell you their profession or how they are employed or if they can read and write.

As you're studying the census, make sure that you know what types of information is offered on each census. It varies from census to census. For example, on the 1870 census no information is provided as to how relatives or how the people on the census are related. For example, if you're looking at Burrell Anderson here in 1870 it just lists their names, their age, their sex, their race, what their profession is. In this case he's a laborer and she keeps house. It also says how much real estate he owns and how much personal property he owns. And, it lists where he was born and where their parents were born. On subsequent census you may find that there is additional information provided than what's offered in the 1870 census.

17:39 The Importance of Primary Sources

One thing about finding items on the web is that somebody's taken the time to transcribe something they found from an original document. While the web is an excellent resource for finding out information, you should always go back and look at the original. You may find, for example, that someone has quoted information about a probate record and it may even list slaves, but perhaps the information that's been quoted doesn't include all the slaves or maybe there is some other special information that's noted in the original document that wasn't transcribed. While these documents that you may find on the web are important, make sure, if possible, that you can get the original record and compare, just to make sure that what was transcribed is indeed everything that's there.

I'll give you a small example. In some cases it's a matter of something might not be spelled correctly. Not spelled incorrectly because someone spelled it wrong, incorrect because it was difficult to read. For example, marriage records, maybe someone transcribed some marriage records. It doesn't match with what you have, but when you look closely at the original you find that maybe the original was just difficult to read.

I found a marriage record for Peter Henderson, but when I looked at the transcribed version of the marriage record it said Emburson. What helped me was, Peter and several of his sons also got married around the same time. When I went to the census to try and figure it out, nothing came up under Emburson. When I searched by their first name, it came up as Henderson. When I went a little further in the census I was able to see that their name was indeed Henderson.

One thing I might note about searching the census using the Internet or using Ancestry or Heritage Quest is that the Internet or these electronic databases allow you to search for information in numerous ways. So, let's say that you don't know a last name or how it's spelled, but you know how old the person is, you know where they lived and you know their first name. You can actually search by their first name in that county and by their age. You will find everybody, for example, that's named Rose. But, if you know exactly when Rose was born or about how old Rose was or maybe you know who Rose was living with, you can search for them on the Internet using the census and hone down on where—where they might have been living and with whom.

Again, if you have some transcribed information, always try to get the original source record no matter what. Lots of people put things on the web and sometimes someone says, "Well, I don't agree with that or I wouldn't believe that because you got it off the Internet." If you get it off the Internet just make sure that you can back-up what you're using. Don't just copy someone's research just because it's on the Internet. If it's related to your family, you want to know for sure. Even if it's something as simple as the death date, make sure you go get a death record or an obituary or some other record, at least three records that will back-up the story that you're telling.

Remember earlier in the program I talked about taking pictures and collaborating a photo album that tells a story about your family. Again, when you're doing research you want to be able to document that your family did live—did indeed live in this particular place. They did indeed marry this particular person. Don't take somebody else's word for it; find it out for yourself.

One thing that you might find out when you're looking at original records is if you're comparing it to the oral history in your family, you may find that the original records have more information than what’s been passed down to you. You might also find out that some of the information that you've been told, in fact, isn't true at all. You may find that some of the information is partly true and some of it's partly false. That's the whole purpose of going back and getting the original record so that you can see what actually happened.

21:39 Networking with Other Researchers

Sometimes it's not just information that you can get at a courthouse or on the web. Sometimes the web is the conduit for somebody else having a record that you might want. Several months ago I got an e-mail from someone who said that her grandmother died and among the records that she found, she found some pictures and she didn't know what to do with it. And, she had run into my website and she'd asked me, "Would you be interested in having this picture? I don't know what to do with it." So, she sent me the picture. As it turns out, the picture belongs to a cousin of mine that lives in Los Angeles and she had been searching for sometime for information about Henry Clay Rogers and Mollie Rogers. What made the picture so great was that there was already information written on the back of the picture, so there was no doubt, in my mind at least, that it was indeed them. I took the information from the picture and then I was able to compare it to the census. I knew that it came from Boone County and I knew about how old they were because of the date on the back of the picture. Of course, there was—lucky for me there was no other Henry Clay Rogers or Mollie Rogers on the census in Boone County at that time.

This was an unexpected find. The conduit was the Internet. I had a website. I said I was interested in doing African American research and that I would take records or documents or pictures or whatnot that people would send to me. Invariably someone always e-mails me and says, "Well, have you heard of this person or that person?" And, I check my files and sometimes I have something to share. Anybody can do that. In my case, I just happen to be interested in central Missouri. I've been collecting information that I can share with other people.

Even though you're not doing research on a variety of families that are unrelated to you, you may have information in your files when you're doing research that you may be able to share with someone else. Even if it's not slave related, maybe it's a document that would be of importance to somebody else. Keep that in mind when you're collecting your original documents, about what those documents could mean to someone else. I'm not saying give away all of your research to someone, but if you have a piece of information—for example, maybe you have a wedding announcement, an actual wedding announcement that's been kept in your family or maybe it's a picture or maybe it's a letter. One of my cousins has—I don't know, maybe a couple hundred love letters between one of his relatives. It's an incredible resource that he has. The records or the letters are nearly 100 years old. And, I was lucky enough just to get a copy of just one. But, he knew that that one little piece of information would mean a lot to me.

So, if everybody does a little bit, in terms of looking at original records, you can build a strong case about the story that you heard or thought you heard or think might be true can be made credible.

In addition to unexpected surprises, you can also meet interesting people because of the Internet and the ability to communicate with people all over the world. It just so happened after one of my trips, early in my research, I was given names to contact of people who might be able to help me. So, I sent e-mails to the names I was referred to. One of the ladies that I e-mailed lived in northern California and she was 99 years old. She was from the very same community that my family was from. I actually made a trip out to visit her and she gave me a picture of when she was a young girl. What she remembered was that in her family that they had a former slave that used to serve her family and her name was Julia Glasgow or Julia Gilliam and she gave me a picture. Of course, there would be no way for me to ever have found out about this person if I hadn't e-mailed them or got information about them, but to get a picture on top of it with a story is worth quite a bit. I was able to take the picture and do a little searching and find out more about Violet and her sister Julia.

One thing about the Internet and interviewing people and getting access to original records is it often leads to other discoveries. In this case, once I interviewed the person directly, I discovered that she knew more about the community that would be helpful to me in my research. She also recognized some of the names in my family tree. And, she also asked why some of her relatives were on my family tree, to which I didn't know, until later I discovered that we had a family connection.

In this case, her family were the slave owning family and she knew quite of bit of detail about the family that helped me in my research. In this case, it was the Internet connected me to an actual person. Someone I could go talk to and get additional information. She did have some original documentation, not a lot, but she was able to tell me and I was able to take her story and use it as a guide in collecting more information.

Again, the Internet gave me access to a person and a story that I would have had a very difficult time getting in the past without the Internet.

26:55 Conclusion

The last thing I want to say about what's out there on the web is it may look hard, but it's pretty easy. But what makes one person good at finding things on the web versus another is just the digging, just using Google or the various search engines and plugging away and seeing what comes up. If you're on a listserv for a particular county or counties of interest, you can exchange information with other people who are researching the same area. You may even find that you can get a buddy to do research with. A second pair of eyes is always helpful. What you may miss, somebody else may pick up. Don't be afraid to share information with other people or pick their brain about what you see or what you interpret in the information.

Also, be very conscientious about the information that you take from the web. Make sure that you verify what you get. If someone has transcribed information or given you information and it's not the original record, be sure to try to get— or be sure to get the original record if at all possible.

And, also, have fun when you're doing it. Think about this: all the information you're getting off the web somebody else took the time to put there. So, everybody is putting a little bit into making research possible for you and history accessible to everybody. Thanks.

28:19 Finale

MALE SPEAKER: Thank you for watching What's Your Story?: Finding it on the Web, the second program in a five–part series hosted by Family History Research Consultant Traci Wilson-Kleekamp.

This series provides helpful techniques in researching African American genealogy through the Internet and local, state and national historical repositories.

This public affairs presentation is brought to you by the Missouri State Archives Office of the Missouri Secretary of State: Where History Begins.