Verify Your Oral History

Idella Prather Diggs

Idella Prather Diggs

One of the first things we’re instructed when we begin our genealogy journey is to interview our family members, especially our elders. This is by far one of the most important things for us do. Our family members can provide information we may never find in documents. It has always been to me, one of the saddest ironies that when most people are interested in tracing their roots, is generally when they are a little older and many of their elders have passed away.

Because this is the case, I advocate to anyone who will listen that even if you have zero interest in tracing your roots, please ask the important questions to your family members NOW and put the piece of paper with those questions and answers to the side. Although you have no interest, maybe your children will. Maybe you will later on, when all the people you need to talk to are gone.

However, we need to understand that oral history has to be assessed in the same way we assess information from other sources. It is another piece of evidence. Everything Cousin Bebe or Uncle George says may or may not be accurate and there are many reasons for this. As we age, our memory can fade, or as my mamacita Carole likes to say, “we have trouble with data retrieval.” (smile)

Stories passed down over generations can change ever so slightly in detail such that by the time we hear it, it bears little resemblance to the original tale. And of course, as humans, we can have valid reasons for “glossing over” or completely omitting details that were hurtful or considered shameful at the time. Divorces, “outside” children, children born out of wedlock, bias, embarrassment, indigent circumstances, interracial liasons, abandonment and criminal behavior are just a few of the kinds of issues that pop up somewhere at some time in many, many families.

Oral history covers not just formal interviews with family members, but also information your parents or other family have given you over time. Letters. Phone conversations. Things you “know” because your family has told you so. So the first step is to write the story down. Write who told you and when. You must attempt to ascertain where the story originated, and whether or not that person had firsthand knowledge of the event. Is your mother telling you something that her great-aunt told her when she was a little girl? Write that down. From page 157 of the book “Evidence Explained” we learn a crucial point about oral history:

Oral history is a resource that is at once important yet questionable. It’s credibility rests upon the reliability of the channel through which the information has been conveyed and the veracity of the original source. [emphasis is mine]

Next, you want to do what you can to verify the information. Some of that will be as easy as ordering vital records to prove/disprove births, deaths or marriages or consulting census and probate records about birth and death dates of children or spouses. Of course, some stories are not as easy to verify. Many African-American families have stories about who enslaved ancestors were owned by or that the slaveowner was the father of our enslaved ancestor.

DNA is now a powerful tool that we can use along with more traditional sources to prove even those connections. My good friend Jonnie Brown is a great example of that. Her father had always maintained that their enslaved ancestor was fathered by the white slaveowner. DNA was able to confirm the truth of her family’s oral history.Though it was a common practice, finding it in written documents is rare. (My friend Aaron was one of the lucky ones)
_pws0091-35

As I mentioned above, there are all sorts of reasons for oral history to not be accurate. Here are a few examples of oral history in my family and my attempts at verification:

  1. One 92-year old elder shared that his aunt, Idella Prather (shown in all her glamorous glory in the photo heading this post) “worked for a Senator in Washington, D.C. His name was Watts.”

    Verification: This elder almost got it right. In the 1930 census, I found Idella and her husband George working as servants in the D.C. household of Congressman Henry Watson.
  2. My maternal grandmother told me: “My daddy had one half-sister I remember. Her name was Mary Neal. She was very fair, almost white, and had long, straight hair like an Indian.”

    Verification: It took the 1940 census for me to finally find the elusive Mary Neal, and unravel her family history. She was indeed a half sister to my great-grandfather, but her multiple marriages would have made her hard to find without this critical piece of intel. Joyously I met her descendants last year, who confirmed that she indeed looked exactly as my grandmother remembered.
  3. Interview snippet

    Interview snippet

    Verification: This is a good example of something that happens frequently with oral history. There are things that are both accurate and things that are inaccurate in the statement above. There were so many free blacks in this area that it came known as Freetown. This name led to speculation over time about how that came to be. There was indeed a man (whose name was Richard Waters) who freed a large number of his slaves beginning in the late 1700s. He inherited his land and his slaves. And he was not Scottish; his family was from Virginia and before then, from England. But I’ve read the Scottish part of the story from other people, so  I do wonder where that started.

    Richard Waters was not a missionary, but he was a prominent Quaker, and was probably led by those religious beliefs to free his slaves. Though he freed many slaves, there were other whites in the area who also freed their slaves, some of them moved by the strong influence of the Methodist church. And in closing, there was indeed an African-American postmaster, Emory Graham Waters, who was a great source of pride to everyone in this community.

  4. One cousin shared oral history that our enslaved ancestor John Holt was from North Carolina and had been a free man.

    Verification: All the evidence I’ve uncovered over the years (deed records, slave schedules, court records) supports that John Holt had been enslaved until the Civil War, was born in and always lived in Tennessee.
  5. Several people I’d interviewed over the years who grew up in Hardin County, TN, spoke of a racial disturbance that occurred early in the century. They spoke of the black community arming themselves and fighting back against a white mob. But no one remembered exactly what the incident was.

    Verification: I’d tried searching the local newspaper and consulting with local historians. It wasn’t until the Tennessee State Archives posted a map from a court record to their blog this year. That led to me finally discovering the case of a young black man who, in 1916, shot and killed a young white man (James Young)in a dispute over a woman. The young man, Lennie Kendall (shot  in the foot), hid out for about a week before being caught. I read the details and the timeline, I knew I’d finally found the story I’d been searching for for almost 20 years–the one I’d heard from so many elders.

    I ordered copies of the entire court case (I won’t tell you how much that cost;)) and thankfully, it was all typewritten. The racial caste system of the times is in full effect, and it’s clear from the files that the (white) community disapproved of James Young’s relationship with a black  woman, and that is largely why this Lennie Kendall was let off pretty lightly given the times. Here are two newspaper articles (1 week apart) from the episode:

    article1916

I have seen some people hold firm to oral history when the evidence they find clearly points in another direction or disproves the oral history entirely. We need to be aware of these biases and fight that impulse within ourselves. Sometimes the story is so fantastical that we really want to believe it, but we shouldn’t let that desire drive our research.

In closing, I have two sidenotes. I want to thank everyone who came out to the International Black Genealogy Summit on September 1-3 in Arlington, VA. I met so many wonderful people and I gave a lecture on Artificial Brick Walls that was very well received. In addition, people are still buying my book in droves and even better, telling me how much it has helped them in their research! I am humbled and I enjoy every minute I spend with fellow researchers. We always have a great time.

Secondly, I have added new information to my previous post about Jordan Anderson, so if you enjoyed reading the former slave’s letter, please go back to the post and see what I’ve added.

A Slave’s Letter to His Former Master

Jordan Anderson

Jordan Anderson

UPDATE: After I posted this, I discovered more articles about the history of Jordan Anderson, the author of this amazing letter. The Smithsonian wrote an article  and  I especially enjoyed this article in the UK’s Daily Mail, which provides extensive background research on Jordan. In terms of genealogy, this author satisfies family historians.

Jordan Anderson was indeed a real person as was the owner to whom the letter below was addressed. Jordan Anderson, born in Tennessee, was found in the 1870, 1880, and 1900 census records in Dayton, Ohio with wife Amanda (Mandy in the letter). A published obituary noted his death in 1905 at the age of 79. His owner Patrick Henry Anderson was found in the Wilson County, TN census records of 1850 and 1860. In 1860, he owned 32 slaves, including one of age to be Jordan.  This letter was included in historian Leon Litwick’s famous slave anthology “Been in the Storm Too Long,” and the letter was published in several newspapers at the time. Jordan indicates that the letter was transcribed by his good friend, a banker with abolitionist leanings named Valentine Winters. I feel somehow connected to Jordan, since my mother grew up in Daytn, and he is buried at the same cemetery as many of my relatives.

This slave’s letter to his former master is something that everyone researching enslaved people should read. The letter was written by Jordan Anderson (he spoke and his friend wrote the letter) in response to his former owner’s request for him to come back to Tennessee from Ohio to work for him. The letter is simply amazing. Through his sarcasm, we can feel the pain that his family suffered while enslaved:

Dayton, Ohio, August 7, 1865
To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson
Big Spring, Tennessee

Sir: I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jordan, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this, for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Colonel Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable.

Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again, and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here. I get twenty-five dollars a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy,—the folks call her Mrs. Anderson,—and the children—Milly, Jane, and Grundy—go to school and are learning well. The teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday school, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated. Sometimes we overhear others saying, “Them colored people were slaves” down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks; but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Colonel Anderson. Many darkeys would have been proud, as I used to be, to call you master. Now if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.

As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshal-General of the
Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor’s visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams’s Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio.

If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night; but in Tennessee there was never any pay-day for the negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

In answering this letter, please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up, and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine.

I would rather stay here and starve—and die, if it come to that—than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood. The great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.

Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me. From your old servant, Jourdon Anderson

Deed Record Bonanza

1877 Upper Fairmount/Freetown

1877 Upper Fairmount/Freetown

I’ve discussed deeds in this blog before and why they should be a cornerstone record in uncovering the lives of your ancestors. I want to illustrate in this post how using deeds connected a family from the 1850’s through the mid-twentieth century.

Levin Waters and many of my other ancestors lived in Somerset County, Maryland in a little community called Upper Fairmount and nearby Upper Freetown, shown above in an 1877 atlas. “Freetown,” I believe, got its name from  where he appears in the census from 1850 through 1880. His wife was named Susan. Levin died as a widow before 1900. Levin is an especially tricky man to research, since his neighborhood over the years is filled with other men, of all ages, also named Levin Waters. So care in proving identity, and not just matching the name, requires a thorough search of a broad selection of sources.

Sometime before 1 May 1900, Levin Waters died and because he left no will, the land that he owned descended by the laws of Maryland to his heirs. His heirs decided to sell that land (to a man named Levin T. Waters, Jr., no less!). The 1900 deed gives us the names and current locations of Levin’s heirs, and describes the grantors with the important phrase “heirs of Levin Waters deceased.” Daughters, of course, represent a problem when we don’t know who they married, so that’s one of the benefits of finding deeds like this.

Levin’s named heirs were:
-Alverta Johnson, with husband William C. Johnson
-Samuel Waters, and wife Josephine
-Manuel Waters and wife Mollie
-Fred Waters and wife Mary
-Sarah Johnson and husband James Johnson
-Christianna Hall and husband Garrett B. Hall
-Bessie Moore’s (unnamed) husband James Moore
-Henrietta Waters, and her husband John E. Waters
-John Waters and wife Grace

Look at all the family history provided in this one deed! Before this deed, I had no information about at least half of Levin’s children. The deed also states that Samuel and John Waters and their wives were living in Dorchester County, MD. The rest were still living in Somerset County.

But I didn’t stop there. I kept going through Somerset County deeds, now looking at the names of Levin’s children (and in the case of his daughters, their husbands). The key is that I kept searching forward in time, long after Levin died, as long as I knew any of his heirs were still living in the county.

That led me to another amazing deed. Before his death, Levin gave a small piece of land to Robert Moore. Robert was Levin’s son in law; he had married Levin’s daughter Elenora. Though Elenora died and he later remarried, Levin had numerous children between his two wives.

Wouldn’t you know it–Robert Moore also died without leaving a will sometime before 1950, thus, the piece of land he owned descended to his living heirs. They decided to sell their land in May 1950 to George E. Waters. That deed described the legal history of the land, very specifically, starting with the phrase that the grantors are selling “the same land which was conveyed to Robert H. Moore by Levin Waters.” It goes on to say that when Robert H. Moore died, the land descended:

-to daughter Hennie Waters
-to son James E. Moore
-to daughter Beulah Whittington
-to Lorena Horsey, Donald and Thelbert Moore, the widow and children of son Fred Moore, deceased
-to Russell Nichols and William Smith, children of deceased daughter Hattie
-to Olivia Keith, daughter or deceased daughter Nora
-and to Laura, Welthus, Reginald and Marjorie Moore, the widow and children of deceased son Samuel

The deed goes on to state that Beulah is currently living in Port Norris, New Jersey,
that Russell Nichols and his wife Dora, William Smith and Olivia and her husband Lewis Keith are living in Atlantic City, New Jersey and that Lorena Horsey and her husband John are living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. All of the others are still living in Somerset County, Maryland.

Thus in two deeds, we have mapped the history of Levin Waters, who was born about 1820, all the way through his daughter Elenora Moore’s heirs, who lived through the mid-20th century. That is simply amazing and shows the power of deed records.

Here are a few tips for your search:

  1. Use the census as a guide: whenever you see that a person you are researching owns land, then you should automatically know deed research is necessary.
  2. Search the deed indexes for the names of every known child. When you look at the deed indexes, look for grantors that include the phrase “and others” or “et al.” When creating the indexes, the court clerk can’t possibly write all those names in the index, so he will simply pick one. The 1950 deed was indexed under “Hennie Waters and others” to “George E. Waters.” So be on the lookout for that.
  3. When your ancestors own land, try to find the deeds that document them buying or inheriting the land, and also what happens to the land when they die. Tax records should be searched since someone has to pay taxes on the land. Remember that if taxes are not paid, that land will be sold at a Sheriff’s auction, and many of those sales are published in local newspapers every tax year.
  4. Deeds will often provide the history of the land, and also include the book and page number for referenced deeds (although in these examples that detail was not given).
  5. Deeds will sometimes mention that the land is being sold as a result of a court decree, and in those cases will (in most cases) provide the exact case number. You’ll want to find that court record.

Much of deed research will include searching through very dry records that describe the boundaries of land and the legal transfer of ownership, and many provide no information about families or relationships whatsoever. The victory will come to those researchers diligent enough to keep searching in spite of that.

There are several good books and training available to help you understand deed records and how to use them. I encourage you to learn that information before you dive in, or else, you’ll be looking at a lot of documents that you don’t understand. Those of you who have had incredible discoveries through deed records, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

The Ku Klux Klan Hearings

LC-USZ62-93080, Klan rally in DC, 1926

LC-USZ62-93080, Klan rally in DC, 1926

In 1871, the U.S. Government decided to hold hearings on the rampant violence in the South by the Ku Klux Klan and other white terrorist organizations. The official name of these records is the “Report of the Joint Select Committee Appointed to Inquire Into the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States,” but they are often referred to by historians as the Ku Klux Klan Hearings or the KKK Testimony. I first discovered this set of records when my friend Tim Pinnick  gave a lecture about them, and he shared some of the indexed pages which he posted on his website.

Thanks to the Making of America, you can now access all volumes of the Ku Klux Klan Hearings. It gets even better—the volumes are fully text-searchable! I have been waiting for this for years; here is the what the website looks like:

web

The hearings were documented in the U.S. Serial Set, which are the published records of the U.S. Congress. These hearings were the precursor the passing of the 1871 Klan Act, which enabled President Ulysses Grant to send federal troops to go into southern states to maintain order and to penalize the acts of private citizens. Federal prosecutions under this Act did serve to sufficiently cripple the first iteration of the Klan, although in the first decade of the 20th century, it would come back with a vengeance.

The real jewel of these records are the verbatim testimony that was taken in the states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. I don’t need to tell you how genealogically rich these records are—they cover 13 volumes and over 7000 pages of testimony and reports! These records include first person testimony from numerous freedmen and women, but also include testimony from local white officials, both those aligned with the Confederate cause and those aligned with the Union, such as Freedmen’s Bureau officials.  These records are indexed in great detail at the beginning of each published volume, so that’s what you’ll want to explore first. Here is example of one of the indexed pages as well as two pages from Andrew Flower’s testimony:

indexpage

Index Page

Page 45

Page 45

Search for your family surnames, but I also highly recommend searching also for your county of research and its surrounding counties. For example, my ancestors were in Taylor County, Florida, so I printed testimony about those counties. These records provide some of the best testimony describing what living conditions were like for former slaves in the South during Reconstruction. As expected, there are thousands of beatings, whippings, murders, rapes and other assaults. There was violence directed towards any efforts by freedmen to educate themselves or to better their economic station by purchasing land. Black churches were also burned down. I found it interesting during the testimony that the violence became so common, they turned “Ku-Klux” into a verb, and talked about people being “Klu-Kluxed last night.”

The violence during Reconstruction, which I have blogged about before, is truly mind-boggling. Needless to say the freedmen were the primary victims, but so were white men who pledged allegiance to the Republican Party (the old Republican Party, not the one in force today). Black republicans, who had been able to participate in state and local government and vote since the Civil War, were especially targeted. It goes without saying that most of the perpetrators were never brought to justice.

What may surprise you is how much of the violence was directed towards getting the freedmen to not vote the Republican ticket, especially in 1868. The perpetrators understood that they needed to regain political power.This is yet another demonstration of how “racist belief” by itself was not the only driver for the violence—it was a form of control designed to keep the freedmen at the very bottom of the economic, social and political ladder and to keep a compliant and dependent labor force in the South to continue to work the land. I think it’s important that we really understand that. One website offers some chilling examples of how well the violence accomplished it’s purpose:

“Those murdered during the KKK’s campaign included Arkansas Congressman James M. Hinds, three members of the South Carolina legislature, and several men who had served in state constitutional conventions. According to testimony, in other violence, Klansmen killed more than 150 African Americans in a single county in Florida, and hundreds more in other counties… The Klan was most successful at taking the vote away [from] black southerners. For example, in the April 1868 Georgia gubernatorial election, Columbia County cast 1,222 votes for Republican Rufus Bullock, but in the November 1868 presidential election, the county cast only one vote for Republican candidate Ulysses Grant.”

If that isn’t chilly, I don’t know what is.

I have already spent many more hours than I need to wading through these records. I am just overcome with the sadness and utter amazement that African-Americans survived all of the historic atrocities they collectively endured. I’d love to hear your comments about this source.

Thomas S. Sudler Account Book

sudlers

I’ve written before about the information that can be found in what I call Community Papers: account books, diaries, ledgers, loose papers, family records, etc. These are the papers of (usually) men in the communities we are researching, such as doctors, merchants. Almost every library and archives has these kinds of papers housed in their Manuscript or Special Collections.

I recommend viewing these records for what they can tell us about the lives our ancestors lived; slaves and free blacks are often mentioned in these records since they were a critical part of every community. Capturing that social history, I believe, is just as important as reclaiming the names and lineages of our ancestors.

I recently got a chance to view the Thomas Seon Sudler Account Book at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore, Maryland. Thomas lived in the community where my ancestors lived in Somerset County, Maryland in the early 1800s, an area known as “Back Creek,” near the Great Annemessex River. He owned more than 400 acres of land called “Sudler’s Conclusion,” and in 1820 he owned 15 slaves. His home still survives (shown above), along with some of its outbuildings and is one of the most important historic homes in the county, and is included in Maryland’s Inventory of Historic Homes. I have collateral ancestors who were enslaved by Thomas and my direct ancestors were enslaved by his neighbor William Waters and other members of the Waters family.

Thomas was a meticulous record-keeper (though not a neat writer) and his book recorded many things we would expect to see from someone who owned a farm: he noted what crops were planted, what the weather was like, and other activities like hog killing and shearing sheep. He planted primarily tobacco, wheat and some cotton, but other entries mention a variety of foods probably for consumption by his family and his slaves like watermelon, red peppers, corn, sweet potatoes, apple orchard and beehives for honey:

Farming Info

Farming Info

Began to heap the plant bed before the door Friday Feb 12, 1819
Note: I lent Emory S Sudler one cow and calf to give him milk Friday Feb 12, 1819
Tubman W Sudler was to see me Thursday Feb 11, 1819 and helpt the people to worm the plant and fence in the Neck..[?] It took 26 pannels of fence ‘round[?] the bed
Began to Burn the plant bed before the door Monday Feby 22 & finished burning Tuesday 23 and sewed it on Tuesday..

He writes about births and deaths, visitors to his homes and things like making candles. Surprisingly, at times he includes poetry and scripture, and many entries record his feelings in the way of a diary:

Burial

Burial

Note January 4th Poor old Nish Departed this Life being Friday Night and on Saturday morning January 3rd, 1819 Tubman W Sudler and his wife went away from me by perswasion which was a sorrowful day to poor me I don’t know what is to become of me, I see nothing but trouble and want both to me and my family what to do. I cant tell for the best I sent Caleb up for my poor son Tubman W Sudler, whether he will be too good as to come and see me

That’s not all–this book offers all sorts of other interesting tidbits.  The image is hard to see, but in this entry, Thomas paid several free black men for harvesting wheat. They likely worked alongside his slaves as well as alongside other white men:

Free Blacks Working

Free Blacks Working

To John Tull 1/2 day work harvest, $1.50
To Levin Tull 1/2 day work harvest, $1.50
To Negroe Nathan Turpin one day, $1.50

June the 27, 1826 Harvest Wheat
To Negroe Harry Waters half day, $.50
To Negroe Peter Waters half day, $.50
To Negroe Levin Waters, half day $.50

One page simply provides a list of names, but I am almost certain these are Thomas’ enslaved people. They appear throughout the account book performing various tasks:

pageb

Enslaved People

One entry shows a man named Daniel making shoes for Thomas’ slaves:

Shoes

Shoes

Daniel made 5 pair viz Nan, Ben,Tobe, Job and Cesar….13 pair in all

Here’s and entry showing a purchase of “stockings” for his “black people”:

Stockings

Stockings

Note all our black people new stockings in the fall 1815, except 4 as follows Tobe, Ben, ?, Lucey

Another page notes the death of a slave owned by one his neighbors, William Waters:

Stephen's death

Stephen’s death

Note Negroe Stephen the property of Capt William H Waters got drowned on Friday December 23, 1825

The story of Arnold’s runaway is recounted on one page. It is unclear whether Arnold is Thomas’ slave:

Arnold's runaway

Arnold’s runaway

Arnold ran away on Sunday May 21, 1825 and taken up in the Delaware State on Monday 23 by Mr Peter Stewart. Tubman W Sudler went up after Arnold on Thursday the 26..

But Arnold paid the ultimate price. He was sold at the slave market located in nearby Princess Anne:

Arnold sold

Arnold sold

William L Wynn Petersburge who bought Arnold May Saturday 28, 1825 at PAnn Town

I hope this post shows you that even items with benign titles like “Account Book,” can convey the wealth of information in this book. This book had often short entries, but they give us a glimpse into the early 1800s and therefore a glimpse into our ancestor’s lives, things like the care of enslaved people, what work they performed, what punishments were given, what kind of food they ate, and how they were viewed by the

This post also illustrates how important it is to study the neighborhood. It is only because I knew Thomas Sudler was a neighbor that I knew to take a look at this record. Many of the free black Waters men he mentions are men whose families I know. And while the 1820 census does not include slaves’ names, Thomas’ book uncovers the names of many of those people.

Readers, have you looked at any Community Papers yet that have given you a closer look at your ancestors’ lives?