AAGSNC-Sponsored Educational Seminar - Tony Burroughs

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AAGSNC- Sponsored Educational Seminar
Guest Speaker:  Tony Burroughs
Saturday, February 12, 2000 - 1 to 4 p.m.
Y.W.C.A - 1515 Webster Street, Oakland, California
Notes Prepared by Carole Neal, AAGSNC Recording Secretary


SECTION I – Beginning Resources For Tracing the Family Tree


TIP for oral interviews:  ask the person (interviewee) to close their eyes and go back to their earliest memories.


TIP – Use State Archives – houses records created at the state, and possibly the county

level, including prison records.  Photos were primitive in early 1900s and probably not available (for ID purposes) so the prison records include a detailed description of the person


¨       At local library, may find old newspapers on microfilm, which may have write-up of the incident that caused the person to be imprisonedArticle possibly could provide date of entry to prison and other details of the incidentPossible genealogical leads from the article.

¨       At County Courthouse – check for transcripts of the trial


**Family History – correlates to a puzzle.  Piece the family history together Leave no stone unturned in your research.



¨       Write your own autobiography Close your eyes and recall your first memories An autobiography tells what you did and why you did what you did (only you can provide this information) Others can write your biography and tell what you did, but they will not know why you did what you did.

¨       Keep a daily journal including what you did genealogy-wise Can serve as a reference point and reminder when you go back to review what you have done. 

¨       Make a list of living relatives, prioritize the list by age, and interview those relatives not once, but multiple times [Hint:  Someone up in years has an abundance of information, which cannot be shared in an hour’s time.

¨       Transcribe interview tapes For the heading include:  name of person interviewed; who they are related to (i.e., where they fit in the family tree), name of interviewer, date, and whether it was a telephone interview or an in-person interview. 

¨       Use acid-free file folders.

¨       Make a file folder for each ancestor As the interview tapes are transcribed, extract info pertaining to any given person mentioned in the interview and place a copy of that extract into that person’s folder.

¨       Go through your “family archives” – i.e., attic, basement, drawers, boxes, family bible, trunks, photo albums, newspaper clippings, and anywhere records may have been kept – and preserve what you find.

¨       Be aware of rules of genealogy Genealogists are to collect evidence, and then weigh or analyze that evidence to determine its reliability and validity (same rules as those recognized in Probate Court). 

¨       Ask relatives for obituary clippings or obituary programs.

¨       Use City Directories.


¨       Go to the cemetery:  find the Black cemetery At white cemeteries there may be a segregated section Learn the history of the cemetery:  when it started, how it started and under what circumstances)Check with the Sexton’s Office NOTE:  the date listed in cemetery records is the date of interment, NOT the date of death).

Ø      TB (tuberculosis was the leading cause of death at the turn of the century.

¨       Prepare documentation for the information contained on the Family Group Sheets.

Tint-type photos used during the time period of the late 1800s (1890) to 1920.


Response:  Two magazines offer information on genealogy software: (1) “Genealogy Computing (GC)” – deals primarily with software; (2) National Genealogical Society (NGS)’s journal and newsletter.

Tony Burroughs is a member of the Board of Directors of GenTech Their website is

SESSION II – Slave Genealogy

Follow-ups from Session I --

Question from audience regarding ancestors buried in unmarked graves–how to locate gravesite ? Response:  The cemetery Sexton’s Office may be an information source If there is no Sexton’s Office, someone has the records Cemetery is owned (as a business) – perhaps as a partnership or a corporation Businesses must have a business license to operate Check for the church or funeral home closest to the cemetery They may have records Check for neighbors who live closest to the cemetery, as well as local historical societies They may be able to help. 

Question regarding West Indies research.   Response:  “International Vital Records Handbook” is a good resource.


Tracing Genealogy Into Slavery

¨       NOTE:  Read the article mentioned in the bibliography regarding obituaries.

¨       Lay a broad foundation in your research – this equals success Concentrate on families, not just an individual.

African American Genealogy – Six Phases:

1.      Oral history and family records

2.      Research the family to 1870 1870 is a key date – prior to this date many Blacks were slaves.

3.      Identify the slave owner.

4.      Research the slave owners and slavery Study slavery and the history of slavery.


5.      Back to Africa (looking for evidence).


6.      Research the Caribbean Some of our ancestors may not have come directly from Africa to the United States They may have gone first to the Caribbean and from there to the United States.


There are certain prerequisites to slave research The researcher should have done or researched:

¨       Oral histories

¨       Family records

¨       Cemetery records

¨       Funeral home records

¨       Vital Statistics records (including divorce records)

¨       Social Security records

¨       Census records (Note:  there is a 72 year restriction on the release of census records to protect the privacy of persons living)

¨       State records, County and City records [schools, employment records, court records, probate records, guardianship and apprenticeship records, land records, criminal records, civil records (lawsuits), military records. Note:    The Buffalo Soldiers were career military men.


v      State census records Note:  Around Reconstruction, to apply back to the Union southern states took a census.

v      Voting Records

v      Tax Lists

DOCUMENT all research!

v      These prerequisites are the foundation for slave research Do all prerequisites for all ancestors, their siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles. 

v      Find them in the 1870 census.

Locating Blacks in the 1870 Census.

TIP:  When researching, take a list with you of all spellings of the surnames you are researching. 

Rule:  If you find an ancestor in the 1880 census, but not in the 1870 census, look in the 1870 census for the first name, rather than the surname.


¨       Civil War and Reconstruction

¨       Research slavery in depth


¨       “Dictionary of African American Slavery,” by Randall M. Miller and John D. Smith (listed on bibliography)

¨       “Slaves in the Family,” by Edward Ball This book lists some slave genealogies; good sample of slave genealogy.  The Ball family owned 12,000 slaves.

¨       “From Calabar to Carter’s Grove,” by Lorena Walsh

¨       “Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings:  An American Controversy,” by Annette Gordon Reed (listed in the bibliography) Ms. Reed is an African American attorney and law professor In the book she talks about how genealogists should do genealogy, i.e., talks about “evidence.”

There are myths about slavery that need to be destroyed:

¨       Myth:  All Blacks were slaves Truth:  not all Blacks were slaves Look at the 1860 free persons of color schedule.


¨       Myth:  You can find the slave owner from researching the slave schedules Truth:  Slave schedules do not prove slave owner

¨       Myth:  the 1850 and 1860 slave schedule will lead us to the slave owner.

¨       Many small farm owners never owned slaves They rented or leased slaves when they needed them, such as at harvest time.

¨       The slave schedules listed where the slave resided, not the owner.

Slave schedules are highly over-rated.

Where ancestor’s name came from **Most slaves did not take the surname of the last slaveowner. **

To identify the name of the slave owner:

¨       Look for records where the slave states, “the name of my slave owner was _________.”


1.      County history – see if the ancestor is mentioned

2.      Slave narratives – largest collection done by the WPA (housed at the Library of Congress) 3,500 interviews with former slaves Keep in mind that the states listed on the volumes are the locations of where the slaves were interviewed (where they were residing in freedom), not where they were during slavery.

3.      Re: slave narratives – there is a new index, “The Slave Narratives,” by Maria Wilson Stalling.

4.      Freedmen Trust and Savings Co Signature register gives a physical description of depositors.

5.      Freedmen’s Bureau

6.      Southern Claims Commission

7.      Civil War compiled military service records

8.      Civil War pension files

9.      Newspaper accounts – sometimes a notice was placed to find a relative See if some newspaper accounts are on microfilm.

10.  County Recorder’s Office (land, statements or affidavits may have been filed See if your ancestor came into the courthouse and recorded a statement.)

When All Else Fails

¨       Use the “neighborhood theory” concept – travel was done as a group Track an ancestor and you will probably find other ancestors in that same community.

¨       Use Land Ownership maps (the Library of Congress has the largest collection of these maps).

¨       A book, “The Source,” tells you how to plot your own land ownership maps.

¨       For his research, Burroughs came across a journal called “Lafayette,” which told the history of Lafayette County In that history he found mention of one of his ancestors.

 Note:  Pennsylvania was the first state in the north to abolish slavery.

Once the slave owner has been identified, research the slave owner; i.e., what was done with the property Look for published genealogies (which identify original records).

From the audience:  database posted at AfriGeneas, “List of African American Search Notices After Slavery 1865-1892” for TN, SC, TX, KS, & OK.


¨       “Domore with what we already have. ” Process the research we’ve already located.


¨       Stop Researching!

¨       At the beginning level, the researcher spends the majority of time researching and less time analyzing, studying, and organizing.

¨       At the intermediate level, should be spending less time researching and more time with analysis, organizing, and studying genealogy.

¨       Stop using the “notebook” system.

¨       Use the “file cabinet and file drawer” system Use acid-free file folders.

¨       Convert all scraps of paper to 8-1/2x11” sheets of paper (so nothing gets lost)

¨       Reference:  “Managing a Genealogy Project,” by Bill _______________.


¨       Two-drawer file cabinet:  (1) family records or data;  (2) genealogy records (conference info, state and county info, how-to information)

Process Data

¨       Transcribe interview tapes. 

¨       Extract info about individuals (and place in their file folder)

¨       Create a Research Calendar to track your research (date, where searched including card catalog number or microfilm or microfiche number, name of ancestor)

¨       Create a Records Searched list for each surname:

                  Records Searched


     [list the date and description of the record(s) searched)

¨       Create a Document List (for each ancestor)

                   DOCUMENT LIST


¨       On the backside of documents (such as census records, etc), record where and when it was researched (i.e., date and repository such as NARA or FHL) Use this information to footnote sources when compiling family group sheets.

¨       Transcribe original documents and re-read several times You may have missed something in the earlier readings.


¨       Make a research “To Do” list. Jot things as they come to you Continually update and prioritize this list.

SORT RECORDS – this helps to organize your records.

Use chronology to help solve problems .

¨       There is a “cause and effect” relationship between the event and the ensuing record.

¨       Analyze the genealogy Use this to determine the location and dates of events.

¨       Do a chronology of any file; i.e., military, probate, for example.

¨       Compare events (i.e., chronology of person to chronology of event) Tells where person was and what was going on at that time.


¨       Be aware that slaveowners found loopholes to circumvent the law For example, could have taken a slave over state line to give birth so baby would be born in a state whose laws were more to the owner’s liking.

¨       Merge chronology of ancestor with the state’s history and state law.

¨       Know what was the law at the time a person applied for something (for example, a military pension) because the prevailing law determined the outcome.


·         Use chronology to locate records

·         Use chronology to develop new theories of research

·         Evolve chronology in a biography of an ancestor (add anecdotes, history). 

·         After creating a chronology on each of your ancestors, create a biography on them.

Overarching goal:  write family history (even if you don’t get back to Africa).

Tips learned during follow-up conversation:

¨       Information about Tony Burroughs’ lecture tapes available at

¨       A new Ancestor series on PBS is scheduled for June.

Responding to comments regarding military records research:

¨       Contact the local VA Office and request the VA file number If the representative acts like he doesn’t know what you’re talking about, tell him to research the Burrell or Burrough (sp?) Systems for the VA file number You should provide the date of birth and the place of birth of the veteran.

¨       Ask for the name of the “Freedom of Information” officer

¨       Write a letter to the Freedom of Information officer requesting a copy of the vet’s VA file.

In Washington, D.C. there is a military historical association (perhaps called the Military Historical Center), which has unit histories.

¨       Write to the VA office in the county where soldier was drafted or entered service They keep records of World War I vets from that county.