Friday, February 29, 2008

"Researching Slaves in the Family" Presentation at CVGS

Margaret Lewis, the President of the San Diego African-American Genealogy Research Group (SDAAGRG), gave a wonderful presentation on "Researching Slaves in the Family" at the Chula Vista Genealogical Society meeting on Wednesday, 27 February, at the Chula Vista Civic Center Branch Library. There were about 45 attendees, including at least 13 guests and visitors.

Margaret's talk centered on two things - the resources that should be considered in a search for slave ancestors and their masters, and examples of some of the records found in her own search for three sets of slave ancestors. The resources included Bible, church, newspapers, court, census, narratives, homestead, Freedman's bureau, Southern claims, military and pension, etc. She told many stories about her ancestral search, some funny, some sad, and one very unique - a slave's recounting of the meeting between General Grant and General Lee under an apple tree the day before the formal surrender at Appomattox courthouse in 1865.

Margaret provided a six page handout that provided significant information content to her presentation.

Listening to her story of searching for records, stories and contacts, it struck me that:

1) Not all of these records are available on the Internet. The census records, Southern Claims and Freedman's Bureau records are available, and many historical newspapers are online. However, many of the documents she showed were obtained through personal contacts, from repositories, or the National Archives.

2) Other than the specific slave records, the record types and repositories are essentially the same that most researchers of any American family would investigate for the 1850 to 1950 time period.

This was a fascinating hour, and it went by quickly due to Margaret's enthusiasm and knowledge about her subject. She answered many questions from the audience about records, social views, slave activities, etc.

My impression was that the attendees came away from this talk knowing more about, and better appreciation of, the difficulties of researching slave ancestry, and admiration for the effort that Margaret has made to find her ancestry in the available documents and records.

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