Sunday, April 3, 2011
I attended a couple of classes on African American genealogy yesterday. One of the students was proudly showing his membership into one of the societies. I'm not sure which one, but there are societies for being a descendant of a pioneer family of a particular town, or a Mayflower traveler or someone who served in the Revolutionary or Civil War. It is helpful to join the society, because you have to prove your lineage, which is helpful in making sure you are properly documenting your work. Then you share your information with one another, so you wind up getting a lot of information about others related to your ancestor. You also get connected to people who share your passion not just for genealogy in general, but for the particular ancestor.
Since we were discussing how difficult it is to study slave ancestors, it seems to me that there ought to be a society for people who have figured out the owner of their slave ancestors. It is a big deal to find the owner - a lot of time and effort and money goes into finding each tidbit. Plus, the benefits of joining the society as mentioned above are probably even more relevant in this case. Like a detective, you have to put together clues and come up with theories, and prepare proofs that your theory is right. You can't be sure that your Henry is the same Henry as the one on that bill of sale, so you have to research several Henry's to say why those Henry's don't work. Having a peer review your proofs, and maybe provide some insight or other theories, would be helpful. Plus it would be a big accomplishment, certainly worthy of a certificate and a dinner. And sharing with each other, and combining our tidbits of knowledge and our logic (and our funds for getting more records), we might be able to prepare a more solid case for each slave ancestor.
Another thing that I think would be helpful for the slave ancestors is a better sharing of the information. On Ancestry, there is a way to make a comment on the index for a person if you think their name is spelled wrong, or if you know the married name. If, on Ancestry or FamilySearch, we could do the same on the slave schedules, and list the name that the slave chose after becoming free, then I think that will help us identify everyone. If I know that someone already has proved one Henry as theirs (and with a different name of course), then maybe I should start researching the other possible Henry's first. While it is possible that that person making the claim is wrong, it might save me some time following the wrong Henry in the more likely case that the researcher is right.