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:


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:


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.

Perry Simpson Found in Freedmen’s Bureau Records

Freedmen's Bureau LOC (LC-USZ62-1055555)

Freedmen’s Bureau
LOC (LC-USZ62-1055555)

Finally- I found a needle in a haystack. I found my 4th great-grandfather, Perry Simpson, in Freedmen’s Bureau records! I have probably looked through thousands of pages of these records through the years and that is no exaggeration.

I found his name in a Register of Letters Received in the Field Office Records for Maryland and Delaware. A “register” is one of the formats the agents used to document the many letters that poured in, and each register entry provides a brief summary. Perry, who lived in Howard County, was launching a complaint against Delilah Duvall. She had agreed to split shares of the crop with him (presumably in 1866) and after the crop came in, she refused to give him his share of the crop. Sadly, this was very, very common in the years after emancipation:

Register of Letter, Jan 1867

Register of Letter, Jan 1867

I’m still searching for his original letter, but I also found his case referenced in the book of Endorsements, which shows his complaint traveling up the chain of command. Unfortunately, in the end, there was no justice for Perry. An excerpt from the Endorsement stated:

nothing more has been done in the case, except to call the attention of the State’s Atty Genl for Howard Co. to the matter who informs us with regret that nothing more can be done, Duvall is very worthless-a civil trial will only subject the man Simpson to more expense for nothing, as no Justice of the Peace in that county will give judgement on negro evidence. They do not refuse to take evidence, but allow him to testify in order to avoid the Civil Rights Bill, but do not allow the testimony to have any weight in making their decision, as reported by Mr. Lands [?] the attorney a true friend of the Bureau

I was surprised at how emotional this document made me. It took a lot of courage and moxie for a former slave to formally complain to the Bureau. Retribution from local whites, including acts of violence and even murder were common. The above outcome references the 1866 Civil Rights Bill passed by Congress. It came up quite  bit in Bureau records, because it was supposed to change one of the reasons why black people were always so vulnerable: their testimony alone could never be used in most states against any whites. When the law was passed, some local law enforcement officials still refused to take complaints from blacks without white witnesses, and the Bureau pressed for prosecution of those local officials. What is shown above is that this particular Howard County official would take Perry’s testimony and allow it in court in order to avoid prosecution under the law, but that essentially it wouldn’t be given any weight. Just like all those cases in the 1950s and 1960s.

I tell you, there is so much today that we simply take for granted. I can’t fathom what it must have been like to live with the fear that anything–ANYTHING–could be done to you with no redress.

I have been predicting that when the Freedmens Bureau Indexing Project is completed later this year, family historians are going to reclaim scores of their enslaved ancestors and lost histories. But we don’t have to wait until then. Many of the Freedmen’s Bureau Records have been digitized and are freely accessible on Though the records are difficult to navigate, I suggested a workable strategy to research them back in 2012.

I strongly suggest scrolling page by page through those records. That is the only way I found Perry’s letter. The truth is that the digitization of the Bureau records makes scrolling through a few hundred images pretty easy. Aside from possibly finding a family member, you will learn about the community where your ancestor lived during the transition from slavery to freedom. You will read the stories of former slaves striving:

–to find family members sold during slavery
–to reclaim children being held illegally by former owners
–to be paid for their labor, after employers throw them off the land
–to get legal redress for other crimes against them
–to build schools
–to get their bounty money and pensions
–to find work

…and more. I found myself engrossed in so many of these stories, whether or not they were my ancestors. Tell me in the comments if any of you have had any luck in these records yet. If not, keep looking. Use my find as inspiration;)


Genealogy Resource Recommendations

The Source

The Source

I’ve talked before on this blog about the importance of reading genealogical books in order to learn about how to use various record sets. I want to highlight two of the best resources for genealogical research that some of you may be unaware of. The book “The Source” has been a mainstay of genealogists since its publication. The published book is huge and packed with information about conducting research.  I lucked up one year and found it at a used bookstore for about $7.

No need to purchase anymore—it’s online at The book’s chapters have been digitized and researchers now have access to its content.

Here are the Table of Contents for “The Source”:

Each chapter goes into great detail about how to use each type of record. Please do take a look and bookmark this as a favorite—you can learn so much.

Red Book

Red Book

Another major source for information is Ancestry’s Red Book. This is another massive volume that Ancestry has also digitized.

Ancestry’s Red Book is a resource that makes it easy to find out what records are available for each State. When I find myself in a new research area, the first thing I do is to consult this book.

For each state, Red Book provides a county map, a brief history of the state and what records are available (and where) in the following categories:


  • Vital Records
  • Census Records
  • Internet Resources
  • County Resources
  • Background Sources
  • Land Records
  • Probate Records
  • Court Records
  • Tax Records
  • Cemetery Records
  • Church Records
  • Military Records
  • Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
  • Archives, Libraries, and Societies

For example, the Delaware chapter contains the following sections:

  • Delaware Land Records
  • Delaware Probate Records
  • Delaware Court Records
  • Delaware Tax Records
  • Delaware Cemetery Records
  • Delaware Church Records
  • Delaware Military Records
  • Delaware Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
  • Delaware Archives, Libraries, and Societies
  • Delaware Immigration
  • Delaware Naturalization
  • Ethnic Groups of Delaware
  • Delaware County Resources
  • Delaware Special Interests
  • Map of Delaware

Another website I often use is The site shows animated county formations for each state. You can also click on a year and see exactly which counties existed at the time. For example, this is Maryland in 1867:

Maryland 1867

Maryland 1867


This is Maryland in 1918:

Maryland 198

Maryland 198

One lasr recommendation before i go: I’m often surprised at how few people have maps of the areas where they research. The U.S. Geological  Service has a wonderful set of maps you can purchase at very low prices, and I have purchased many over the years.

As an example of using the site, from the home page, click on the “Download or buy maps!” link. Then click on “Map Locator & Downloader”. I entered the city of “Laytonsville, Maryland” in the search box. When the map pulls up, you then click on the red location marker to see what maps are available at at or near your location. As you can see from the list below, you can purchase historical maps as well as recent maps:




You can purchase a high resolution map by download or purchase a physical map. I like that I can find river names, cemeteries, churches and any number of other useful items for family research. maps help us to more accurately see the landscape of our ancestors, especially those in areas that have been built up drastically.

I hope you’ve discovered at least one new site from these recommendations to add to the Tool Kit. My readers, what websites (other than the large, well known sites) do you find yourself going back to again and again in your research?



U.S. Colored Troops

U.S. Colored Troop Unknown

Unidentified Soldier, LOC
Digital ID, ppmsca-26456

For many years now, I’ve been interested in researching U.S. Colored 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 as U.S. Colored Troops 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.

U.S. Colored Troops 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 U.S. Colored Troops 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):

U.S. Colored Troop William Abel

William Abel

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:

U.S. Colored Troop Alfred Snowden

Slave Claim

U.S. Colored Troop Mortimer King

Ownership Note


U.S. Colored Troop Snowden manumission


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

U.S. Colored Troop Leonidas Gray Death Cert

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

U.S. Colored Troop Frank Posey 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:

U.S. Colored Troop Sam Abernathy Enlistment



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

U.S. Colored Troop Campbell Harris 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:

U.S. Colored Troop Uriah Perry 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:

U.S. Colored Troop George Askins bank card

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.

Tips on Using World War Draft Registrations

World War I soldierWorld War Draft Registrations (World War I and World War II) are some of the most valuable tools in genealogy research. The World War I draft registration is one of the earliest records I used in my research. Their easy access on today, along with part of the draft registration for World War II, remain some of the best resources for our research. They are especially helpful for the men born in the late 1870s or 1880s, as the lack of a 1890 census record makes that 20-year-gap hard to cross.

It’s important to read all of the data that offers on each of its databases. That gives us the necessary information we will need to evaluate the evidence and we miss clues when we don’t know as much as we can about Ancestry’s source for each record. The records they have may be incomplete, or missing certain states or years. Both draft databases have important information we need to understand. For example, the World War I draft cards are pulled from three separate sets of registration, and each card was slightly different. There are blank examples of each card on Ancestry. This was the first registration card which asked 12 questions:

World War I Draft Registration Card

Blank First Draft

Be aware of the cards you have for your family and which registration it came from. Two big differences in the 3 sets of registration cards is that the 1st set does not request names of dependents, while the other two ask the names of the nearest relative, and the 3rd set does not ask for the place of birth while the others do. Also notice that for all African-American applicants, the left corner of the 1st draft card above was to be torn. Oh, the ugly vestiges of segregation.

I have also noticed as I have been analyzing many of these draft cards that there are quite a few men with discrepancies in their birthdates. Now, these cards are original records with primary information–the person filling out the card is getting the information from the applicant sitting in front of him. While most of the discrepancies are a year or two, some are  four or five years, and I’ve seen an 8-year difference. Two examples are shown below (both WWI and II cards are combined in the pictures):


Mathews, 4 year difference

Mathews, 4 year difference

And while we might expect the birthdates to make the person too young or too old to be drafted, the cards don’t always show that to be the case. Some of the discrepancies are probably just memory and others may be just that having to know one’s exact birthdate was really a new phenomena predicated by the new Social Security program.

Now, you need to know that for the World War II draft, only one set of the four draft cards are publicly available. And, unfortunately cards for the states below were destroyed before being microfilmed:

  • Alabama
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Kentucky
  • Mississippi
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee

But, if you are lucky enough to have ancestors in the other states, they are a rich source. They specifically ask for middle names, which is helpful when people use both their first and middle names on various documents. Hamilton Riggs, shown on the 1900 census below, was revealed to be “William Hamilton Riggs” on his draft card:

1900 Hamilton Riggs

1900 Hamilton Riggs


Finally, I’m always interested in social history and since these cards capture migrations, I like to plug my research county in the “born” search box, and find out where people migrated and what kind of jobs they got. Here is an image from an article I wrote mapping migrations from Hardin County, Tennessee in the World War II draft cards:



I hope this post has given you new ways to use this resource, and as always, remember to correlate these with all of the other evidence you’ve gathered to verify accuracy.