Categories
Random Thoughts Ruminations

Keeper of Family Lore or Family Historian?

I listened to a fascinating CAFE live conversation between historians Heather Cox Richardson and Joanne Freeman the other day. At minute 8 or so they begin to discuss the difference between journalists and historians.

Journalists, they point out, follow the story; they look for facts and find sources to deliver the story. Historians look for facts in primary sources–art, documents, records, newspapers–to find patterns in the past that created change, tracking a story but not always knowing what that story is going to turn out to be.

Journalists tell us what happened. Historians ask “who cares?” and “so what?”

it’s a case of both/and

When my dad declared me “Keeper of the Family Lore” I had no idea how deeply I would travel into the past. The facts led to questions and the questions led to course work and books, which led to more course work and more books. Some 15 years later, I am a citizen archivist and genealogical antiquarian; a history enthusiast and translator of the family lore.

I am drawn to historian folks like Drs. Richardson Cox and Freeman because they have been instrumental in helping me see patterns in the present BECAUSE of their study of patterns in the past. And they motivate me to apply the techniques and processing skills of the historian to find patterns in my genealogical stories.

This blog gives me a platform to connect with other history loving folks. Sometimes I am simply an antiquarian, posting names and dates and timelines for the sheer love of detail. But the posts I most enjoy writing are those with a rich narrative around the facts that answer the “who cares” and “so whats” about my family’s relationships and events.

In this moment I am striving to be a part of a larger conversation that historians are having about our Civil War and Reconstruction era, and how we can use what the nation learned then during this current backlash against expansive democracy. It is a process that is both intriguing and humbling, leading to an ever more liberating understanding of the history behind my family’s lore.

Categories
Good Reads

What I’m Reading: Troubled Refuge

When George Parker decided to risk everything and flee the bondage of a Murfreesboro (NC) plantation for the safety of the Union Army encampment in Suffolk, Virginia he didn’t know how his story would end. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was a military order, establishing George’s status as “not slave.” But the proclamation came no where close to defining a new status for Black Americans. Refugees leaving slavery were stateless, neither property nor US citizens.

Chandra Manning’s book, Troubled Refuge: Struggling for Freedom in the Civil War, asks the reader to consider that this moment of freedom-seeking was not just a story about who catalyzed emancipation, but about a process of emancipation, in which refugees had to navigate and shape military and civil statutes that defined their identity and relationship to the US federal government. And no discussion of emancipation can transpire without a deep dive into how the concept of citizenship–and who could claim it–transformed as a result of the war efforts of black Americans.

Early in the book, Manning reminds us that historically wartime emancipations did not result in permanent freedom nor had they led to a reduction in the practice of slavery. In spite of attempts during the American Revolution and in the War of 1812, the presumptive status of black Americans throughout antebellum America remained “slave,” not freed, not citizen. This ideological barrier enabled white America–north and south–to accept the fact that the federal government had a relationship with white men only. Thus, the United States was a slave nation on the international stage until Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation ruptured that idea, and established a powerful relationship between the federal government and Black Americans.

It was but one step toward altering the place of non-whites in the American consciousness.

Black refugees hoped for more than permanent emancipation. In serving the Army as soldiers, grooms, teamsters, ditch diggers, spies, cooks, seamstresses, laundresses, and nurses, they sought to lay claim to citizenship, and receive the permanent protection of the federal government in securing their rights to mobility, family, jobs with wages, and access to courts. Becoming indispensable to the Union victory was another step in altering the American consciousness.


For emancipation to become permanent and a pathway to citizenship, military authority had to be transformed into civil authority.

It wasn’t until December of 1865, months after the war had ended and President Lincoln had been assassinated, that the federal government codified the abolition of slavery in the 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution, the ultimate civil authority. It would be another two and a half years before the 14th Amendment established equal protections under the law and citizenship rights.

I revisit the story of George Parker with renewed appreciation for the dangers he faced and the aspirations that buoyed his journey out of slavery.

If reading history isn’t your thing, I strongly recommend watching Dr. Manning’s interview with the National Museum of civil War Medicine.


Chandra Manning, Troubled Refuge: Struggling for Freedom in the Civil War; Vintage Books: New York, 2016.

“Troubled Refuge: A Conversation with Dr. Chandra Manning of Georgetown University”; National Museum of Civil War Medicine Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvN7ZR9Ssg8), 11 Feb 2021.

Categories
Random Thoughts Strickland The Geek Within: Tips, Tricks and Techniques

Diagram Your Family Tree with Gutenberg Block

I played around with this Gutenberg Block editor in hopes of sharing genealogy basics in a more visually appealing, less overwhelming format.

‘Cause, let’s face it, when you’re trying to engage with kin that lie somewhere out there beneath your family tree’s shade, the typical checklists of names and dates of birth, death, marriage, and the (seemingly endless) enumeration of siblings and kids can be so tedious that a mind wanders and, before you know it, perusing leads to closing the tab rather than clicking a contact button.

What if the data was shared in a more graphic form? Can the Gutenblock editor help me create a family diagram?

My grandfather Strickland was an orphan who inherited the Mecklenburg County (VA) farm from the three, single Dodson siblings who adopted him. Their sister, married to a Sayles, was my grandmother Strickland’s mother. When my dad narrated our hikes around Oakview with stories of his childhood, I only saw my Virginia roots so deeply embedded in that rich red soil, worked by generations of Dodsons, the people they enslaved and the people they hired to sharecrop.

But my last set of posts about Ira Sayles and George Parker got me to thinking about where little boy George Strickland played until his parents died of the flu in 1897. Let’s dip into his family tree.

In my mind I’m going to Carolina

George Ricks “Ricky” Strickland

Born in Franklin County NC; Died in Richmond VA

1893-1960

Children
  • Cleora
  • Luther
  • Norman
  • Polly
  • Laura Maud
  • George Ricks “Ricky”
  • Eugene
Sydney Nicholas Strickland

Born and died in Franklin County NC

1850-1897

married in 1879
Virginia Elizabeth Coppedge

Born and died in Franklin County NC

1859-1897

Anderson Perry Strickland

Born in Wake County NC; Died in Petersburg VA

1820-1864

Married in 1843
Julia M. Stone

Born and died in Franklin County NC

1825-1919

Children
  • Laura
  • William
  • Robert
  • Sydney Nicholas
  • Jane E.
  • George Augustus
  • Lucien
  • DeWitt Clinton
  • Daniel H.
  • Joseph A.

William B. Coppedge

Born and died in Franklin County NC

1829-1896

Married in 1857
Laura Ann May

Born and died in Franklin County NC

1839-1918

Children
  • Virginia Elizabeth
  • Geneva
  • William J.
  • Alverrada
  • Charles
  • Robert S.
  • Ida M.
  • Anna L
  • Minnie L
  • Oliver J.

Look at all those North Carolina folks! I could keep going back, tracking down the Stallings and Bowdens, the Dents and the Boons of Franklin, Nash, and Wake County. But four blocks of vital statistics hit me as a just enough information to whet someone’s curiosity.

My original idea was to end with a diagram, with connections, branches, shoots. And though this attempt is far more basic, I feel satisfied. My goal was to discover another way to share basic data, and I think I stumbled on a satisfying format. Only time will tell if such posts promote more reader engagement. For now…I’d say family historians have a friend in the WordPress editor.

Categories
Sayles Transcriptions

The Obituary of George Parker

George Parker

George Parker died of grip at his home near Alfred, May 28, 1902. He was born in bondage near Murfreesboro, N. C. Slavery kept few records and the date is not known, but at his death he was probably not far from the allotted age of man. He was sold once. In 1863, along with others, he escaped from the small plantation and came to the union camp. A little later he was brought north by Prof. Sayles. The first money of his own was two pennies given him by a little boy. He worked for a number of different people, including Chandler Green, Valencia C. Baker, Amos Burdick and others. He was accounten (sic) an excellent hand. He became widely known and respected. He attended school several terms and, although it was hard for him to learn, he was deeply interested in education. He had an ambition for which he carefully saved his money until nineteen years ago when it was realized, and he bought the farm which was his late home. On May 10, 1885, he was married to Ellen Van Dosen Simons, who survives him.

He was converted in younger years. He loved to go to church, and attended regularly until failing health made the trip too hard. He had many friends. They say of him that he was perfectly honest, his morals were above reproach, his heart tender and appreciative. He did not understand being born again, but it was his purpose to serve his God and live right. In at least one of the homes where he worked he was counted one of the family, and when speaking of the young ladies of the family he would call them ” our girls.” Only kind words are spoken of him, and the feeling of many would be expressed in the words of one man who said: “Well, George and I have been friends ever since he came to this country.”

There was one occasion when he was always present, if possible, and that was Memorial Day. Probably this was the first time he has missed for many years. It was peculiarly appropriate that his funeral was held in the same place the next day, and that the same patriotic decorations were in place. Surely it was as he would have had it be. Under the flag whose stars and stripes thrilled his heart when he saw it floating over the Union camp–under that flag the last tribute of love and respect was paid to his memory.

Funeral service were conducted in the First Alfred Church Sabbath afternoon, May 31. A brief sermon was preached by James Dawes, the black missionary who has been attending the University. A short life sketch and tribute was presented by Pastor Randolph. A large and sympathetic audience was present. Interment in Alfred Rural Cemetery.

L.C.R.

Published in The Alfred Sun (New York) on June 4, 1902.


Annotations

  1. died of grip: died of complications from influenza
  2. the allotted age of man: George appeared in the 1865 New York State census with stated age of 22. He could have been between 55-60 years of age when he died.
  3. came to the union camp: George was part of a group of refugees who arrived in Camp Suffolk’s contraband camp, Uniontown, in early 1863. [see post His Future Was Not Yet Written]
  4. he was brought north by Prof. Sayles: Professor Ira Sayles was a well known educator of Allegany County.
  5. he attended school: George attended the Preparatory Program at Alfred Academy, 1869-1870.
  6. he bought the farm: the farm lay on the outskirts of Alfred, New York
  7. he married: George married the widow Ellen Simons, and helped raise her son, William.
  8. he was converted: George became a member of the Alfred Seventh Day Baptist Church, adherents of which keep the sabbath on Saturday. Alfred Academy and Alfred University were affiliated with the Seventh Day Baptist denomination.

Post photo of Alfred, New York countryside by Kay Strickland, 2013.

Categories
Maps Sayles Surnames

His Future Was Not Yet Written

Shortly after my father died I began to search for his ancestors, my ancestors. Within a couple of years I had masses of information about Ira Sayles, my dad’s mother’s grandfather, including a one-line reference in The Alfred (NY) Sun obituary of one George Parker.

A little later [George Parker] was brought north by Prof. Sayles.

The Alfred Sun (Alfred, New York), June 4, 1902

Research into those words revealed a story of serendipity.

Murfreesboro, North Carolina, 1863

George Parker was a young black man, 18 to 20 years old, who sought refuge from slavery in the cabins of Uniontown, a contraband camp outside the Union stronghold in Suffolk, Virginia. He arrived as part of a small group of refugees from Murfreesboro, North Carolina in early 1863 after Lincoln’s promised emancipation proclamation became reality.

Murfreesboro was an important antebellum town not far from the Virginia border situated on the Meherrin River, a tributary of the Chowan River which flowed into the Albemarle Sound. By the fall of 1862 its shops and academies had been appropriated by the Confederate cavalry for barracks, commissaries, and stables; a Union boat sat down river guarding the way to the coast.

That fall, across the North Carolina border, soldiers–including those commanded by my great-great-grandfather, Captain Ira Sayles–regularly marched out of Camp Suffolk to the Blackwater and Nottoway Rivers, streams just to the north and east of Murfreesboro, foraging and engaging in skirmishes with “secesh” troops.

By the time George Parker and his fellow refugees made their way in wintry conditions past skittish pickets and irate slave-catchers into the pine cabins of Uniontown my ancestor Ira was too ill to carry his officer’s sword.

So how, then, did Ira and George begin a collaboration culminating in George Parker’s lifelong residence in Alfred, New York?

Uniontown (above right hand corner)

and Camp Suffolk, 1863

My great-great-grandpa was an exceptional teacher by all accounts, equal parts demanding, unrelenting, and encouraging.

Ira Sayles also had a long history as an abolitionist. In the fall of 1850 he organized his Alfred colleagues, neighbors, and family in resisting the Fugitive Slave Act, declaring in a published op-ed that they would refuse to cooperate with any enforcement of the act “even unto death.” In the summer of 1862 he once again organized these folks, exhorting fellow able-bodied men to answer President Lincoln’s call for 300, 000 volunteers, and enlisted himself at the age of 44.

Captain Sayles was an acknowledged leader in his community because of his brain, not his brawn. And though his heart and soul longed to be part of the moral defeat of the Confederacy, his body was not able to endure the physical privations and disease of camp life.

The muster rolls for January and February of 1863–the time period I suspect George Parker arrived in Camp Suffolk’s Uniontown–indicate that Captain Sayles was too unwell to report for military duty.

But perhaps not so ill that he couldn’t teach.

A convalescing Sayles may have walked from his hospital bed to the Uniontown school, lecturing, tutoring, assisting in the classroom tasks. Or perhaps Ira simply stayed in bed and tutored from his cot anyone who wanted to learn. Including young George.

It is hard to know who first recognized the potential in the relationship. Ira knew he had to resign, that he couldn’t wield his sword against the “insolent foe.” As the teacher-soldier was digesting this bitter pill, perhaps George expressed a desire to move on, out of the crowded camp, away from the disease and constant threat of re-enslavement. And perhaps Ira proposed that the young man travel, not just to another contraband camp, but to New York, to a community of farmers and educators invested in the freedom of the formerly enslaved.

He came north.

George and Ira crossed paths, just in time, as one was arriving in camp, and one was preparing to depart. They found each other by pure serendipity.

Ira received his honorable discharge February 25, 1863. Shortly thereafter, they traveled by boat–one middle-aged white dude, one very young black man–down the Nansemond River to the Chesapeake Bay, on up the Potomac River to Washington, D.C. There they caught a series of trains to Alfred Station, disembarking to lead very separate lives.

George Parker came north with Professor Sayles, his future not yet written.


Epilogue

George Parker spent the rest of his life in Allegany County, New York, a welcomed member of the town of Alfred. Student, farmer, friend, husband, father. He died in 1902, leaving the farm he purchased on the edge of town to the Alfred University community that embraced him.

The Alfred Sun (Alfred, New York), June 4, 1902; accessed digitally from Old Fulton New York Post Cards (fultonhistory.com) 5 April 2021.


Murfreesboro, North Carolina: Confederate States Of America. Army. Dept. Of Northern Virginia. Chief Engineer’S Office, Campbell, A. H. & Cassell, C. E. (1863) Map of Hertford and part of Northampton and Bertie counties, N.C.: surveyed under the direction of A.H. Campbell, Capt. of Engineers & Ch’f. Topog’l Dep’t N.D. Va. [S.l.: Chief Engineer’s Office, D.N.V] [Map] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/gvhs01.vhs00323/.

Camp Suffolk, Virginia: Allen, O. S. (1863) Map of the siege of Suffolk, Va. [S.l.: s.n] [Map] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/gvhs01.vhs00399/.

A terrific read on the process of emancipation and the role of contraband camps: Troubled Refuge: Struggling for Freedom in the Civil War by Chandra Manning, Vintage Books: New York, 2016.