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New Resources in African American Genealogy

By Tara Penelope Calishain

Umbra Search African American History

 

You might think, now that the Internet has been generally available for decades, that all the digital archives have been done and everything you need to find for your genealogy needs has been found online.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and nowhere does that show more than in African-American collections, specifically for genealogy. In this roundup article I’ll give you details on sixteen new resources (dating, as far as I can tell, from the end of 2016) to help trace African-American history and heritage.

Publications and Newspapers

A new digital archive from Montgomery County, Maryland, offers back issues of the Montgomery Times, an African-American newspaper launched in 1992 which combined with the Prince Georges Times in 1999 and became the African American Times, which ran until 2002. The new archive has seven years’ worth of the newspaper.

Montgomery Times

If you have genealogy connections to central North Carolina, you might like Digital NC’s recently added archive of Future Outlook, an African-American paper out of Greensboro, North Carolina. From the announcement: “Thanks to our partner, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, nearly 25 years of the paper are now online and full-text searchable. The nearly 450 editions range from 1941-1947, 1949, 1952, and 1958-1972.” Digital NC’s constant digitizing includes a lot of African-American / HBCU materials; I find the Digital NC blog a must-read. 

Educational Institutions

Jefferson School, the only African-American high school in Charlottesville, Virginia, is getting its own digital archive thanks to a grant from BamaWorks. A focal point of the archive will be a collection of yearbooks spanning 1940-151.

Meanwhile, the University of Arkansas is creating a digital archive for the first African-American institution of higher learning west of the Mississippi, Southland College. Here’s how the University of Arkansas announcement describes the archive: “The exhibit includes photos and scanned images of letters, circulars, forms, the Southland newspaper and other ephemera, including invitations, the catalog of studies, a diploma and a commencement program. Sixty years of African American history and experiences are represented.”

Digital NC has digitized a collection of newspapers from Johnson C Smith University, a historically black college in Charlotte, North Carolina. The newspapers span 1926-1930. (I could spend all day writing about collections from Digital NC!)

Student newspaper from Johnson C Smith University is now online · DigitalNC

Images

The Library of Congress recently established an online collection of over 25,000 glass plate negatives of portrait photos taken in Washington, DC. While this collection is not specifically African-American, it does include African-Americans and Native Americans in its collection, and spans the late 19th to the early 20th century.

In March, the Library of Congress also made available a small collection of African-American women activists in the late 19th and early 20th century. Not a large collection of images, but in excellent condition and very striking.

Cornell University has digitized a collection of African-American photography. The photographs span the 1850s to the mid 1900s and include everything from tintypes to Polaroids, portraits to images of slaves working in fields. Note while there are a lot of wonderful photographs here and the just under 650 images are worth exploring, there are also some “funny” sketches which aren’t, and at least one photograph of a lynching.

Slavery

It’s not a new resource, but the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database recently added the ability to crowdsource additional slave voyage information. As of early May, the database holds information on almost 36,000 slave voyages.

At the beginning of the year, the University of North Carolina-Greensboro announced an expansion to its Digital Library on American Slavery. This digital library includes information on over 150,000 individuals (enslaved persons, free persons of color, and whites) taken from legal documents/records as well as a collection of runaway slave advertisements taken from North Carolina newspapers. There’s also a collection of slave deeds of North Carolina, and some slavery-era insurance registries.

Digital Library On American Slavery

Villanova University and Mother Bethel AME Church in Philadelphia have teamed up to create “Last Seen: Finding Family After Slavery“, an online archive of ads from former slaves who were seeking, after the Civil War, family from which they had been separated. From a February story in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the resource:  “So far, project researchers have uploaded and transcribed 1,000 ads published in six newspapers from 1863 to 1902: the South Carolina Leader in Charleston, the Colored Citizen in Cincinnati, the Free Man’s Press in Galveston, the Black Republican in New Orleans, the Colored Tennessean in Nashville, and the Christian Recorder, the official organ of the African Methodist Episcopal Church denomination published at Mother Bethel.”

Periwinkle Initiative is developing a new resource called The National Burial Database for Enslaved Americans (NBDEA). There is not yet a public database for searching, but the initiative is accepting reports of burial sites and provides information on the project. This is a developing resource but definitely one to watch.

Falls River, Massachusetts, was one of the stops on the “Underground Railroad” that smuggled slaves out of the United States and into Canada. An online exhibit launched last spring shows the houses and explores the lives of the people who helped the slaves escape.

Racism

An online map launched at the beginning of the year shows the thousands of African-Americans who were lynched between the 1830s and 1960s. Some of the lynching victims shown on the map were white, Native American, Mexican, or Chinese, but the vast majority were African American.

Military

The state of Georgia has released a new memorial database of Georgians who died in WWI. The state corrected a great wrong done with the original 1921 Georgia State Memorial Book was published; that publication included only white soldiers.

Georgia WWI Home Page World War I Centennial

History

Around the beginning of the year, the University of Minnesota brought a large aggregated resource on African-American history out of beta testing. Umbra Search African American History brings together materials from over a thousand libraries and other institutions across the United States. Topics covered include the Underground Railroad and the Niagra Movement.

Umbra Search African American History

Also at the beginning of the year, a new site launched that provides oral histories of African Americans who moved from the southern United States to the north in the early 20th century. The resource is focused on Philadelphia, but also provides information on the second “Great Migration” of 1940-1970, and provides historical information about the movement of African Americans from the south to the north.

Not all of these resources are designed to provide direct information on individuals and families. However, taken together they provide a terrific context that is useful and valuable for genealogy research. Best of luck in building out your family tree!  

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