Posts Tagged ‘family research’

National Black Arts Study Group at Wessyngton Plantation

Sunday, June 13th, 2010


Today I had the honor of conducting a study group tour of Wessyngton Plantation for Dr. Collette Hopkins, Director of the National Black Arts Festival of Atlanta, along with a number of her colleagues and distinguished guest.  The tour included a visit to the Wessyngton mansion, Washington family cemetery, and a former slave cabin.   Participants were told about the lives of enslaved African Americans on the largest tobacco plantation in America and walked in their footsteps. 

The above photo was taken at the entrance gate to Wessyngton Plantation where I was told as a small child by my grandfather that was where my ancestors came from.  The interest in my family’s history led me on a thirty year journey of discovery and the writing of The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation: Stories of My Family’s Journey to Freedom.

International Black Genealogy Summit in Ft. Wayne, Indiana

Sunday, November 8th, 2009
Meet the Authors event, International Black Genealogy Summit

Meet the Authors event, International Black Genealogy Summit

I just returned from a very exciting event—The first International Black Genealogy Summit held in Ft. Wayne, Indiana on October 29-31, 2009.   Several hundred people participated.  Throughout the conference I shared my research experience with genealogists.  It was wonderful to speak with many people who had already read my book. The give and take of ideas illustrates that we are just at the beginning of a long and interesting journey to learn about our roots. 

At the Meet the Authors event everyone could talk to the authors of books related to African American genealogy. The authors posed together for this photo. (L-R) Tony Burroughs who wrote Black Roots: A Beginners Guide To Tracing the African American Family Tree; myself; Tim Pinnick, author of Finding and Using African American Newspapers; and (Seated) Frazine Taylor, with her book Researching African American Genealogy in Alabama.

Slave Owner’s Family Bible Documents Slave Births During the 1700s

Monday, October 26th, 2009
Blow Family Bible

Blow Family Bible

Slave owners kept detailed records of their slaves’ births, and deaths, and purchases; although many of them have not survived.  They often recorded these events in their family bibles along with information on their own families.

The 1715 Blow family bible records the births of slaves owned by the Blows of Sussex, and Southampton counties in Virginia.  Nineteen births of four mothers are recorded from 1737 to 1763 spanning three generations.  This is a goldmine of information for African American research.  Descendants of these slaves can be found searching other records in the Blow Family Papers in the Swem Library in Virginia.

Divorce Case of Former Slaves Reveals Family History

Friday, October 23rd, 2009
Arry Fort Pitt 1836-1918

Arry Fort Pitt 1836-1918

Today divorce is very common, but in 1800s and early 1900s it was rarely heard of, especially among African Americans.  In my research I found this extraordinary divorce case of two former slaves in Robertson County, Tennessee which detailed the history of their family.

Alford Pitt 1830-1900 and his wife Arry Fort Pitt 1836-1918 were married during slavery and had eleven children.   Alford was a carpenter and later accumulated more than 500 acres of land.  He had African American and white sharecroppers working his land.

In 1900, Arry filed for divorce from Alford stating that he had an affair with two black women and one white one.  She stated that she had worked hard to help him amass everything they owned and she was entitled to half.  Alford claimed that she had not helped him accumulate his wealth and felt since they married during slavery and never married after they were emancipated that she was not legally his wife and therefore not entitled to any of his property.

The divorce case put a great strain on the Pitt family, their friends and neighbors.  Arry had more than fifty witnesses to prove her claims and Alford had nearly as many to support his.  Half the children sided with their mother and the others their father.

Arry was represented in court by a family member of her former owners.  In 1866, a law was passed in Tennessee which made all former slave marriages legal if the couple continued to live as man and wife.

The courts ordered Alford to give Arry 100 acres of land, $1,000, a horse and buggy and other livestock.  Shortly after the verdict Alford died from complications of a cold that he caught from walking to court in bad weather. 

Some of the Pitt property is still owned by their direct descendants.  A street that runs through the property bears the family name.

Genealogy Tips #1

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

1.  Start with yourself


     The first step in tracing genealogy is to start with yourself and work backwards. 

      Start with what you know such as the names of parents, grandparents etc. then search

      for the unknown.


2.  Interview older relatives


     Older family members can give you personal information about your ancestors      

      not found in official records.  They may also give you information that will lead you          

      you to other genealogical resources such as the names of extended family members,

      locations where family members lived during a certain period, birth, marriage, and

      death dates of family members.  Always record the interviews if possible.


3.  Copy old photographs


     Copy all old family photographs and share them with family members.  Be sure to

      record the names of all persons featured in photographs on the back.  We have all

      seen old photographs of family members that no one can identify.


4. Share information with family members.


     Always share what you find with family members.  If you share information others

      will likely share with you. 


5.  Organize your work


     Always organize your research and cite sources so the information you find is

      useful to others.