Tuesday, February 20, 2018
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Writing Family History

Book Review

Category: Columnist

Genealogy Columnist
Juliet Culliver Crutchfield, Ed.D. - Click for larger view. Juliet's Genealogical Gems
Book Review
 by Juliet Culliver Crutchfield, Ed.D.

Alice O. Walker has compiled a rich source of information on African American families in the book Registers of Signatures of Depositors in the Augusta, Georgia Branch of the Freedman's Savings and Trust Company. Because each person applying for an account was required to provide specific information, these registers often contain a gold mine of information. If you suspect that a family member may have been a depositor in the Georgia Branch, an examination of this work is a must. Although the Augusta Branch opened in March 1866, these Augusta, Georgia accounts are from 23 November 1870 to 29 June 1872.

The Freedmen's Savings and Trust Company was established and incorporated by an act of March 3, 1865 (13 Stat. 510) as a banking institution established in Washington, D.C. for the benefit of freed slaves and former African American military personnel. Commonly called the Freedman's Bank, it was an independent entity and was not under the direct supervision of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (Freedmen's Bureau).

The original account applications were handwritten on preprinted forms that included the following fields of information: name of depositor, date, where born, where brought up, residence, age, complexion, occupation, employer, spouse, children, father, mother siblings, remarks, and signature.

Walker's work has been compiled and typed from the original making it easy to use. Included are (1) endnotes on selected accounts; (2) an every name index; and (3) a map on the end papers of the book representing Augusta as it appeared in 1872. This was the year when the Freedman's Bank was in full operation. The index in the back of the book is a useful finding aid that enables the researcher to quickly locate and compare similar surnames in the area. The map shows the locations of the Freedman's Savings and Trust Company for a number of years. Along with information on former African American military personnel and slaves, some accounts provide information on schools, churches, and other organizations; thereby giving the researcher valuable clues on activities taking place in the community.

The account # 2408 for Robert Jones indicates, in the occupation category, that Jones is "farming, rent[ing] land, work[ing] 3 acres for self and one acre for white man." Other accounts give the first, middle, and surname of the depositor. Such information can be useful in (1) distinguishing one individual from another; (2) uncovering names when only initials are present; and (3) showing how many families alternate the first and second names between generations. Similarly, many accounts list aunts, uncles, and half-brothers and sisters. Sometimes, the names of both husband and wife are given for an account. This valuable information can help identify a couple with no recorded marriage or no other extant records. The account may provide the names of former spouses. This was the case for Lucy Bailey, account # 2208. Lucy's first husband was Nelson David, her second Newman Robinson, and her third Dick Bailey.

You may find the wife's maiden name or at least you may be able to infer it from information given. There may be names of people who were eligible to draw on the account, or names of military units in which the depositor served during the Civil War. In the remarks category, depositors frequently named nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, grandparents, in-laws, and sometimes the location of these individuals and whether they were living or dead.

Many depositors were able to sign their names. Others made a mark. This information gives the researcher an indication of the literacy level of the account holder.

For many Augusta, Georgia researchers of African Americans these records will enable them to secure specific information on ancestors for the critical period just after the Civil War. For others these accounts will be extremely useful in finding general information and new research leads.

The project was made possible by a grant from the R.J. Taylor, Jr., Foundation. D. Douglas Walker drew the map on the end papers of the book. Account numbers 2167-6701 for the period 23 November 1870 to 29 June 1874 are included. The author explains that account numbers 1 to 2166 are most likely not extant. The copyright page indicates that copies of Registers of Signatures of Depositors in the Augusta, Georgia Branch of the Freedman's Savings and Trust Company (1998) may be obtained for $35.00 from the Augusta-Richmond County Public Library, 902 Greene Street, Augusta, Georgia 30901.

Copyright © 1999 by Juliet Culliver Crutchfield, Ed.D.   Reprints require approval by the author.


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