At a summit of genealogical and historical society leaders in 2017, I was surprised to learn that most of our state’s local societies have their own special collections of local and/or family history materials. Some have their own shelves or a closet within a local public library. Some have a filing cabinet in a local courthouse. At least one owns a very special library.
As I write this, I begin my second term as president of the National Genealogical Society (NGS). My mind turns to what drew me, an Alabama lawyer, to join the organization twenty-seven years ago.
In the summer of 1992, Elizabeth Shown Mills—one of the most incredible mentors any genealogist could ever hope to have—suggested I join the NGS. I had met Elizabeth at the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research at Samford University. Fortunately, I had the good sense to pay attention. As has always proven to be the case with any of Elizabeth’s suggestions, the NGS has been invaluable. As an NGS member, devoted reader of the NGS Quarterly and the NGS Magazine, and an attendee at NGS conferences, I have learned more about genealogy than I could have anywhere else.
Due to their fragile and ephemeral nature, paper records, like personal papers, are often difficult to find (if they survive) and to preserve. Many genealogists have horror stories of finding paper records (or not finding them) in burn piles and trash dumps or in ancient trunks and barns. Our ancestors often kept important pieces of paper, but with the passage of time, these fragile materials are forgotten and left to deteriorate. At a time when everyone seems to adhere to the motto that digitizing everything will fix all archival problems (bad news, it doesn’t work that way), paper records remain the sine qua non of genealogical research—and they require special attention when trying to preserve them.
That piercing stare. That demanding finger. A century after World War I (WWI), viewers still squirm under Uncle Sam’s steely gaze. They are motivated to act, and quickly. Now look into those eyes again today—and consider yourself recruited. The Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) has launched its first crowdsourced transcription project, and we want you to join the effort.
In the growing list of delights emerging form our state's three-year bicentennial, the Alabama Public Library Service (APLS) has acquired a statewide subscription to Ancestry Library Edition, making this database available for free at every public library in Alabama through 2019. This modiﬁed version of Ancestry.com gives library patrons free access to more than 30,000 databases of name-rich world-wide records, containing billions of historical documents and millions of historical photos. The library edition oﬀers many of the same resources available in the paid version of Ancestry.com, without the tree-building technology. It presents a great way to get started in family history research before you are ready to invest in the paid edition of the genealogy powerhouse that Ancestry.com has become.
Genealogy took on a whole new dimension for me about nine months ago. Alabama Heritage associate editor Susan Reynolds showed me a bill of sale for a woman her ancestor purchased many generations ago. It occurred to me for the first time that I should be documenting any enslaved persons my ancestors held. Like Susan, I should be making the information available to those who will value it.
That bill of sale and countless other documents that could help the descendants of slaves find their heritage often remain in the hands of the slaveholders’ descendants. Virtually all references to enslaved populations in public documents fall under the slaveholder’s name. And slaveholder’s descendants, myself among them, have to go through those records line by line to do our own family histories, anyway. Who better than we, then, to take a hammer to the “brick walls” of African American genealogical research from the other side?
Anyone who has ever lived in Marengo County, Alabama, can be included in the upcoming book Marengo County, Alabama History & Families, sponsored by the Marengo County Historical and Archives Museum. To be included, you need to write up in 500 words or less details of your family's history, include one family photo, and send to:
Marengo County History Book
101 N. Walnut Ave.
Demopolis, AL 36732
For more details, click the below link or contact Mary Jones-Fitts, (334) 289-0599, firstname.lastname@example.org
DEADLINE: November 15, 2017
Click the below link to download the brochure with more details on how to become a part of Marengo County's history.
After an hour or so with Deane Dayton, hearing about the historical resources he has put online for public access, I found myself asking, "How amazing would genealogy be in this state if we had a Deane Dayton in every county?" In this case, the lucky county is Madison.
Dayton’s passion for history began with walks around his new neighborhood of Twickenham in Huntsville thirty years ago. House after house in this antebellum community had a story to tell, and he began to photograph them. Soon he wanted old images of the houses, HABS surveys, and whatever he could ﬁnd. Then his high-tech skills took over, and he wanted to oﬀer to others what he was collecting. Eventually others joined him in the eﬀort.
A friend of mine visited Greer, South Carolina, recently and used a Snapchat filter for the town of Greer to post a photo of her stay there. What made this one post interesting is that Greer is also her last name. Others soon commented on her social media post about how they will have to visit the towns that carry their own last name, like Steele, or Benton, Alabama. Then I wondered how many towns were named for actual people and if there was a Minder or Todd out there.
I'll confess it: When I took the job at Alabama Heritage fourteen years ago, I had qualms. With eleven years in a private-sector computer communications job, it was a risk. Was I foolish to give up that security for the love of history?
I remember the day my qualms vanished. New on the job in July 2002, I did what most historians and genealogists only dream about: I entered the cloistered and sacred “stacks” of our co-publisher, the Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) in Montgomery. I viewed the inner sanctum of Alabama history’s most treasured store.
Hosted by Ed Bridges, the ADAH director at the time, I explored nine ﬂoors of rare gems—shelves and cabinets holding myriad records and fascinating artifacts. I even got to touch Hank Williams’s hat and the shoes George Wallace wore the day he was shot. Driving home that day, I thought, “If being editor of Alabama Heritage gets me days like this, I’ll never look back.” And I never have.
“Adventures in Genealogy” is a regular department in Alabama Heritage magazine that spotlights the many ways people are uncovering their roots in Alabama.