Taking Back What Was Once Lost

NGS 2009 in Raleigh

My good friend Tim Pinnick has made a special request for me to give a little more detail on NGS this year in Raleigh. Tim’s specialty is black coal miners, but he lectures and writes on a wide variety of African-American historical topics and is one of the most lively and gracious individuals you’ll ever meet. He’s got loads of information on his website, so please check it out if you haven’t already.

Friends1So thanks Tim for that reminder. My godmother Carole and I drove down to the conference on Tuesday and the weather could not have been more perfect—the drive was relaxing and restful. There was an African-American panel session that was scheduled for that Tuesday that was advertised as having Dorothy Spruill (who wrote the groundbreaking Somerset Homecoming) and Henry Louis Gates. It was disappointing that at some point they changed the program and neither individual came. I did hear that Dr. Barnetta McGhee White’s presentation was wonderful.

I will say I was dismayed that there were not many classes focused specifically on African-American topics. In comparison to the Federation of Genealogical Society’s (FGS) conference over the past few years, FGS was far more responsive to the special requirements of African-American research. In fact, at NGS there weren’t many classes relevant to any minorities. There was one excellent seminar on African-American research by Reggie Washington from the National Archives, but that was it. There were also classes on:

  • Plantation Papers at the North Carolina State Archives
  • Melungeons
  • Indian Ancestry
  • Mid South African-American AG Professionals

That’s four classes and one seminar out of nearly 100 sessions! I think NGS can do better than that. I’m not sure how many of us submitted papers to present, but if that was the issue, then we need to step up the plate. I certainly think this illustrates why the upcoming International Black Genealogy Summit in Fort Wayne in October is so important and so desperately needed.  This will be the first major genealogical conference that brings together African-American genealogy organizations from around the country. It will be held October 29-31, 2009 in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Nevertheless, there were plenty of good lectures and great teachers at NGS. The classes were insightful and instructive. Needless to say I came away with lots of new methodologies and research to try. Much of it was reinforcement of things I haven’t paid enough attention to.  Don’t you constantly feel that there are just not enough hours in the day? Dr. Thomas Jones and Elizabeth Shown Mills continue to be at the top of their respective games and I attended several classes by them both. I get exhausted just listening to the level of detail and meticulous nature of their research! It shows me just how much more I have to do. One of the things I’d like to point out about their lecture handouts is that they always give reference lists of journal articles to reinforce the lessons they teach—I often get copies of these articles and have found them particularly helpful. Other standout classes for me this year were several sessions on court records, one on using topographic maps, the new Rootsmagic 4.0 genealogy software , and a terrific lecture on what exactly is considered reasonably exhaustive research.

exhibithallA few more points: I would be remiss if I left out that one of the highlights of the conference was the Exhibit Hall.  They had so many interesting exhibiters and books, books and more books! A few I’ll highlight:

  • Historic Stagville—a project to uncover in part the descendants of the 900 enslaved individuals that belonged to the richest antebellum family in North Carolina, the Bennehan-Cameron family. This was a fascinating organization, doing important work—check out their website.
  • Caswell County Historical Association–rarely do I see the average genealogical or historical society undertaking the type of slavery project they are here–they purchased and are spending thousands to restore and digitize a critical slave ledger for Caswell County. It consists of 148 pages of recorded tobacco and slave trading information from 1837-1845. I don’t think there is information about the ledger on their website, but if you are interested, I’m sure you could contact them. They had the ledger out on their display table.
  • Genlighten-this new company aims to hook up people who need copies of documents with people who can get the documents. It’s not a new idea, but the way they have it set up, I think it’d be nice for some side income.

We researched at the North Carolina State Archives a few days, and the Archives staff could not have been more welcoming or helpful. There is a free shuttle that runs all day long downtown, so we just hopped on the shuttle in front of the conference center and got off a few blocks down at the Archives. You can also purchase copies of lectures from the conference if you didn’t make it-I’m a big fan of doing this and there were long lines of folks buying.

I had the odd experience in Raleigh that was a fire at my hotel one morning, prompting everyone to have to evacuate before 9am. Luckily, it wasn’t anything serious, but as I had just gotten out of the shower, I have never gotten dressed so fast in my life!

Overall, the conference was a good experience. One of the benefits of attending conferences is all the sidebar conversations you get to have with lecturers (thanks to J. Mark Lowe for all those tips on Tennessee!) and the people you get to meet while having lunch, waiting for aahgslectures, etc. etc. I met two wonderful women from the AAHGS chapter  in New York and we hung out a few days. Now I’ve got two more hopefully lifelong “genealogy friends” to add to my roster of support and encouragement.

Whew, that was a long one. Well Tim was that enough detail? LOL


  1. June 14, 2009    

    I’m so glad Tim Pinnik asked you to give this detailed account of your time at the NGS in Raleigh. I enjoyed reading it very much! I just wish I had been there, too. I’ve never attended one of these conferences and am encouraged to be ready when the next one is my area.

    • June 15, 2009    

      Hi Judith, thank you so very much for your kind words–I appreciate it. Stop by anytime;)

  2. June 15, 2009    

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience! I have yet to make it to a genealogy conference, but I sure do try and read as much about each one as I can.

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About Me

I blog, teach, write and lecture about family history research and it's just as rewarding today as it was when I began 18 years ago. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my past and I've taken back--reclaimed- my kin and some of that lost memory.  

Post History

What I Talk About

Locations and Surnames

Hardin, Chester and Lawrence Counties, TN
Holt, Barnes, Harbour, Bradley Springer and Fendricks
Lawrence County, AL
Springer and Fendricks
Montgomery County, MD
Prather, Simpson
Somerset County, MD
Waters, Fountain, Curtis
Duval and Madison County, FL
Smith, Harris, Garner

Favorite Family History Quotes

"The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past."
-William Faulkner

"Call it a clan, call it a network, all it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one"
- Jane Howard

"Friends are God's apologies for relations."
-Hugh Kingsmill

"No matter what you've done for yourself or for humanity, if you can't look back on having given love and attention to your own family, what have you really accomplished?"
-Elbert Hubbard

"Families are like fudge; mostly sweet with a few nuts."

"If you can't get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you might as well make it dance!"

"Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city;)"
-George Burns

"Where does the family start? It starts with a young man falling in love with a girl. No superior alternative has yet been found."
-Winston Churchill

"The great gift of family life is to be intimately acquainted with people you might never ever introduce yourself to had life not done it for you."
-Kendall Hailey

"If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all the generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people."
-Thich Nhat Hanh