U.S. Colored Troop Service Record Discoveries

Unidentified Soldier, LOC Digital ID, ppmsca-26456

Unidentified Soldier, LOC
Digital ID, ppmsca-26456

For many years now, I’ve been interested in researching black troops who served in Union forces from the communities where my family lived. Most people know by now that almost 200,000 black people, slaves and free blacks, served in the Union Army and Navy. The Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863 finally began the process of their large-scale recruitment into the service as soldiers. The racial ideology of the times believed that black people, especially slaves, did not have the mental capacity, bravery or intelligence necessary in a soldier. However, blacks served with valor and distinction and proved everyone wrong. Although the impetus for their service was military necessity, their service no doubt contributed to Northern victory and provided proof of their equality as men, even if most whites of the times were not ready to hear that message.

USCT service records are available on Ancestry and Fold3. We always search for our own ancestors, but I’d like to recommend that you also search for others in the same county. Particularly in the case of former slaves, the analysis of service (and pension) records can expand your understanding of the community and add valuable details about the slave community. One of the ways to do this is to enter a county in the birth search box for the USCT Service Records, but do not enter any names. So, if I put “Montgomery County, Maryland” into the birth place box, and leave everything else blank, the database will return soldiers born in that community. Keep in mind that they may have since migrated from that community. Also, there will be others from the county who may not have their county of birth recorded in the official cards. But this process will catch plenty of people. After analyzing these records, I cross reference and attempt to find pension records for those soldiers.

From NARA’s description at the 150th anniversary of the digitization of these records, we find the following:

Researchers may be surprised to find that the USCT military service records hold not only muster rolls but also a huge array of personal papers that can include enlistment papers, correspondence, orders, prisoner-of-war memorandums, casualty reports, and final statements. Starting in October 1863, slave owners could enlist their slaves and receive up to $300 upon filing a “manumission” or deed of ownership. Unique to some of the records of the USCT are these deeds of manumission and bills of sale. For genealogists, these records may offer the only source of documentation of an enslaved ancestor in the absence of other vital records.

I’d like to share some of the personal papers that can be found within the USCT service records. Below are two documents you’ll see in the files to let you know there are “other” papers (click to enlarge):

Enclosures

Enclosures

Personal Papers Form

Personal Papers Form

In the four border states of Maryland, Kentucky, Delaware and Missouri, slaves could join with their owner’s permission (runaways also joined). They had to be freed and the owners were compensated. There will be documents indicating the slaveowner’s claim, title and loyalty, and possibly the manumission document:

Slave Claim

Slave Claim

Ownership Note

Ownership Note

 

Manumission

Manumission

When soldiers died in the service, some files included death certificates and other statements about their death:

Gray_DCert

The brief cards created during hospital stays could provide a valuable contact name in the area for “PO address of wife or nearest relative”:

Hospital Card

Hospital Card

Some files indicate that the person was substituting for another, although who that other person is only sometimes stated. A whole industry of people willing to join for pay arose, stoking class conflict as only those with money had that luxury:

Substitute

Substitute

 

Sometimes the “remarks” on the bottom of cards will mention whether a person was “free” or “slave.”

Slave Status

Slave Status

By far my favorite document is the volunteer enlistment. If I had a direct ancestor who served, I would have this framed and up on the wall:

Declaration

Declaration

Many former soldier’s opened accounts at the Freedman’s Bank, so be sure to cross-reference the soldiers you find with that database:

George Askins

George Askins

 

There are many more interesting documents like medical examinations, documents indicating desertion and subsequent discipline, inventories if the soldier died in the service, letters, etc. Go back through your research and see what discoveries you can make by searching for others in the community. I’d love to hear in the comments what you’ve found.

For more detailed information, read NARA’s description of CMSR records, explore the National Park Service’s  Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database and visit the website of the African-American Civil War Memorial and Museum.

Slaves Search For Their Families in Newspapers

Library of Congress, LC-USZC4-4574

Library of Congress, LC-USZC4-4574

One of the many reasons slaveowners conjured up to justify the buying and selling of people, especially when breaking up families, was that enslaved people did not form the same attachments to their children and spouses as whites did. Elizabeth Keckley was a former slave who later became famous as Mary Lincoln’s seamstress. In her autobiography, she recalled the

Keckley

Keckley

pain of her mother’s cries when her father was sold away. “Stop your nonsense,” her slaveowner’s wife said. “there is no necessity for you putting on airs. Your husband is not the only slave that has been sold from his family, and you are not the only one that has had to part. There are plenty more men about here, and if you want a husband so badly, stop your crying and go and find another.”

That same story of bitter parting can be found in most of the hundreds of narratives written by former slaves. Even slaveowner’s own runaway ads betray their rationale: frequent reference is made in those ads about the slave probably running away to where parents, children or siblings were. Slaveowners knew better.

Yet another sad part of the story is told in the ads placed in newspapers after emancipation by former slaves searching for spouses and children who were sold away. As the mother of a young child, I can’t imagine the horror of being torn away and literally never seeing that child again.

These ads can be found in African-American newspapers such as The Colored Tennessean, The Christian Recorder, The Appeal and others, though finding surviving copies can be a challenge. Many ads were placed in the earlier years after the war during reconstruction, but many people were still searching at the turn of the century. Almost 40 years later, they had still not given up hope of reuniting with their family. A 2012 book by historian Heather Williams called Help Me to Find My People: The African-American Search for Family Lost in Slavery discusses the topic.

The ads speak for themselves and for me, elicit a deep, deep sorrow, and a sense of the lingering pain and suffering that occurred long after the war was over.

Richmond Planet, August 1897

Richmond Planet, August 1897

The Appeal, August 1892

The Appeal, August 1892

The Atlanta Constitution, October 1892

The Atlanta Constitution, October 1892

The Appeal, August 1892

The Appeal, August 1892

The Times Picayune Sun,  January 1868

The Times Picayune Sun, January 1868

The Daily Standard, March 1867

The Daily Standard, March 1867

The Daily NewBernian, December 1880

The Daily NewBernian, December 1880

The Appeal, February 1891

The Appeal, February 1891

(As with anything on this blog, if you believe an image I post may relate to your family, please request via the comments and I will send you a source citation for the image.)

Pauline Waters: Documenting A Life

Pauline Waters

Pauline Waters

Yesterday would have been the 100th birthday of my grandmother Pauline Celeste Waters. She was born April 13th, 1915 in the sleepy town of Stillpond, Maryland on the Eastern Shore. Her death in 1997 is actually what started my journey into my family history research. Like many beloved grandmothers, she had a tremendous impact on her family and friends. She was the eldest and only girl in a family of 5 boys. She attended Bennett College in North Carolina and later earned a master’s degree from New York University. She taught high school for over 40 years in Jacksonville, Florida.

What I remember most about her was how smart she was and how witty she was. She was tall and regal in her bearing, dignified and sure of herself. She was a strict disciplinarian who did not suffer fools lightly, both with her sons and with her students. She loved God and the Methodist Church, which is no surprise since she was the daughter of a Methodist minister. Her religious beliefs shaped her entire life. I don’t think you ever left a conversation with her without her talking about God or praying for somebody. She would just reach out and touch your forehead and start praying.

Everybody has memories of relatives like this. So I thought I’d provide some examples of how I researched her life’s story in the hopes that it will give others ideas for doing the same. Happy 100th birthday, granma! We love, remember and cherish you.

Genealogical Research I Have Collected on Pauline’s Life:

1) Every census taken during her life, her two marriage certificates, and her death certificate.

2) Her college application from Bennett College. I also had her entered into a book written by Juanita Moss, a former “Bennett Belle”, and reading that book provided more insight into her experience there in the years 1931-1935. My grandmother was the first alumni student to serve on the Bennett Board of Trustees, and she was so proud of that.
Pf_Science3) Her bible which included the family tree, copies of some of her diplomas, and a cache of priceless letters she wrote to her son and to her husband before their marriage.

NYU_degree

3) The deed to the home in Jacksonville that she lived in when she married William Smith and had two sons. It was the house where William had himself been raised in.

4) William and Pauline eventually purchased a summer home on American Beach, the African-American beach. I have plenty of stories about their time there from my father, but I learned a lot about the history of not just Amerian Beach, but “black” beaches all over the country.

The Beachhouse

The Beachhouse

5) Pauline’s first job out of college was at the Boylan School, a private school for negro (as they were then called) girls run by the Methodist Church. It is that job that bought her to Jacksonville, where she would meet her husband and stay for 50 years. At an online database hosted by the State University of Florida, I found a program book for the Boylan School, dated 1932. Although it is from a few years before my grandmother taught there, I found it fascinating to get insight into what the school was like and what life was like for its teachers.

boylan

5) I found newspaper articles about the horrific lynching of Matthew Williams in Salisbury, MD in 1931. My grandmother’s family was still living there. Even though she had just left for college, I can only imagine the terror it struck in the whole community. The racial climate was so bad, the Eastern Shore earned the nickname “The Lynching Shore.” Sadly, I also discovered through newspaper articles that her half sister (by a previous wife of her father) was murdered and found in a white neighborhood.

lynching

6) I read  several terrific books that flesh out African-American life in Jacksonville during the 1940s through the 1970s, covering specifically the civil battles of the 1960s as well as Jim Crow in general. Several pictures of Pauline and her family were in the book of photographs below.

aalj

7) I collected interviews with her former students, her younger brother and her sons. The personal stories are simply the best. Of course, I have many photographs and I also have artifacts, like jewelry that she gave to me.

mama_teaching2

Lastly ( I could go on and on), I was fortunate that she wrote a book about her life. Many years later I got it published as a birthday present for my father. Needless to say, that has been priceless. In the book, she tells me her life story, even though I didn’t start my research until her death.

PAULINE_Cover

Henry’s Slaves: One in a Million

There have been a few times in the 18 years of my research that have truly taken my breath away. I just had another one. Recently, I was researching the possible owners of some former slaves from Dorchester County, Maryland. John Campbell Henry died in 1857, and as a former governor of Maryland, was a prominent person and an important planter. I’ve reviewed hundreds of inventories, but boy was there a big surprise in store for me.

I have never seen–and would bet that I never will again–an estate inventory that lists surnames for all the slaves. Slave surnames are always a topic of debate, and I’ve discussed them here before, but this is a powerful reminder that slaves had surnames, if only that by custom and practice they were not usually recorded by slaveowners. Although I’ve seen surnames attached to a few names in an estate inventory, never have I seen all the surnames recorded. Emotionally it hit me very powerfully; it was like a small admission of their humanity, which so much of slavery tried to destroy. These were people with families; not animals, not farm equipment, not silverware.

The inventory even provides some relationships, noting the mothers of some of the children, and noting some married couples. It is really quite an amazing document. Notice the number of different surnames; that speaks to the hodge-podge nature of enslaved people’s lives. They were bought and sold and inherited such that over time (with marriages) it was not uncommon to find groups enslaved together with many different surnames.

This is a one in a million document. Had more individuals charged with recording estate inventories taken this approach,  genealogical research would be so much easier for those of us researching enslaved ancestors.

(Note: I show only two of the three pages).

Inventory A

Inventory A

Inventory Page B

Inventory Page B

Are You Using Genealogical and Historical Societies in Your Research?

Although the web has certainly enabled me to find things I’m not sure I would have found otherwise, I’m clear that the bulk of records I need are not online and likely never will be. This blog’s title comes as I am in the process of a breakthrough on my Waters family, from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, a line I’ve had little new information on for many years. After 1880, my direct ancestors moved away from Somerset County, MD where they had lived since almost the turn of the century. Somerset County had many African-American Waters families comprising at least three, maybe more, different family lines. They frequently named their children Mary, Sarah, John, George, Samuel, etc. so I simply did not have enough information to track them. I pick back up when the line moved forward in time to my great-grandfather, Daniel George Waters, but that left a gaping hole in the generation of his father Samuel.

I recently uncovered a death certificate for one of Samuel’s brothers, George Leslie Waters, who had migrated to Coatesville, Chester County Pennsylvania where he died in 1938. I found this by putting in a birthplace of “Maryland” and a “Father’s” name as Daniel Waters, and leaving the first name and surname fields blank. That’s a great technique to use when you are trying to find where children of an ancestor might have gone:

George Waters DC

George Waters DC

I quickly found he and wife Sadie in the census. What I needed next was his obituary, which would hopefully name surviving family members. For that, I almost always first turn to local genealogical and historical societies (and local libraries). A little research online led me to the Chester County Historical Society:

Chester County HS Webpage

Chester County HS Webpage

A quick email request was all it took before they responded that they had found George’s obituary. I sent in a $25 research gratuity, and within a few weeks, I had what I needed and more. They had done a quick look into their other records and found a subsequent remarriage of George’s spouse, as well as an entry from the local city directory noting George’s occupation as a barber:

George's Obituary

George’s Obituary

That obituary revealed one surviving sibling: Annie Henry, living in Dorchester County, Maryland. I quickly found her and her husband Nehemiah on the 1900-1940 census records in the county as well as multiple deed records for property they owned. Not only would I have not known to look in Dorchester County, I didn’t even know he had a sister named Annie, because she is not in the family’s 1880 census household. She was probably born in the first few years of the 1880s, and fell into what I called the Donut Hole — the 20 year 1880-1900 census gap.

Unfortunately, neither of these couples appear to have had any children, but the reference to nieces and nephews in George’s obituary implies that he had other siblings who had children. After I find Annie Henry’s date of death, I will try to find her obituary.

Another recent example of this is the lovely folks over at the Lawrence County Genealogical Society in Lawrence County, Tennessee. After realizing that three headstones at Find-A-Grave of some collateral ancestors had the same date of death, I realized that some accident must have occurred. Kathy and Lashawn quickly uncovered an article in the paper about the sad accident, scanned it in and sent it to me:

House Fire

House Fire

Many of these societies frequently have vital record and/or obituary indexes, in particularly for deaths in the 20th century. For small donations, many can answer brief questions and provide just the little bit of evidence needed to take your research to the next level. I have often paid local researchers if I needed more extensive research done in locations I can’t get to myself.

While researching your families, don’t neglect to take advantage of the wonderful collections, indexes and resources of the local genealogical and historical societies and local libraries. This is what they do. I hope you will look back over your research and look for opportunities to contact some of these groups and advance your research.