Friday, October 21, 2016

Remembering Freedmen Schools in Oklahoma

When visiting Oklahoma, one does not see mention of the African American schools in Indian Territory, before statehood, but they were there. Few of the actual buildings remain--but the schools established by and for those once enslaved in the five Indian tribes, were a testament to the earnest desires of former slaves of the Indian slave-holding tribes to have a better future for their children.

Some of the schools lasted till well after statehood, and were eventually merged with the public school legally segregated after statehood. Other schools were small "neighborhood schools" for Freedman children in tiny rural settlements, scattered through the countryside. Some of them were day schools, while others were boarding schools with dormitories for girls and boys and live in staff on expansive grounds.

Today they are all gone, with only a few fragments of buildings that provide hints to a once thriving past. In the early 1900s Oklahoma's education policies established after statehood created a separate and un-equal system, where Black children from the Five Civilized Tribes, had to then depend on the establishment of the newly created state for their education. This also changed things within their communities as they could no longer find direction from trustees coming from the local population. But thankfully, a few images of some of the institutions long gone can be found.

Meanwhile, as descendants of Indian tribal Freedmen are working hard to construct their family narrative, it should be noted that these schools, played a part in the family's history. A few school rosters exist, and thankfully as researchers can now find the names of their ancestors on those few rosters, allowing another dimension to the lives of the Freedmen families to be told.


Tullahassee Mission School

              (Courtesy of Oklahoma Historical Society) 
This school was originally established as a school for Creek Indian children. After a fire in the 1880s the main building was rebuilt and the school was then given to Creek Freedmen and the Indian Children were removed to Wealaka Mission. (1)
- - - - -

Cherokee Negro High School















Not too far away in the Cherokee Nation was the Cherokee Negro High School located northeast of Tahlequah in a small area known as Double Springs. The school was destroyed by fire in 1916.

Evangel Mission












Evangel Mission was a boarding school on Agency Hill in Muskogee. The school was for Creek and Creek Freedmen orphaned children. It was described once as a school for "friendless" children and was founded in 1883


Tushka Lusa Academy










In the Choctaw Nation, there were two boarding schools for Freedmen. There was Tushka Lusa (meaning Black Warrior) which was located in Talihina. To the southern part of the Nation was Oak Hill Academy, under the direction of the Presbyterian Church. Oak Hill was located near Valiant, I.T.

Oak Hill Academy





Choctaw Freedmen Neighborhood Schools

Apart from the boarding schools there were the small neighborhood schools that the Choctaw Nation established for the freedmen as well. Some few schools rosters remain and they are useful for descendants of those Freedmen from the small rural communities in eastern Oklahoma.

Brazil Freedman School, Skullyville, Choctaw Nation

Though few remnants of the schools themselves exist in Oklahoma, there are scattered school rosters that can be found of the Choctaw "Colored Neighborhood Schools," such as the one illustrated above from the old Brazil Neighborhood school in what is now Le Flore County Oklahoma. The schools were usually small in size, and they appeared in communities were small clusters of Freedman families with school aged children resided.

In 2011 I wrote an article highlighting a few of the Choctaw Nation Freedman schools, none of which exist today. The schools were: Cedar Grove, Clarksville, Dog Creek, Fort Coffee, Opossum Creek, neighborhood schools.

Remnants of the Schools in Today's Oklahoma
Only one building still exists today of the many schools in Indian Terrritory. That is Evangel Mission, which is now a popular museum in Muskogee

Evangel Mission - Five Civilized Tribes Museum














The building today is known as the Five Civilized Tribes, Museum, and although there are many historical markers on the grounds of the museum, for some reason there is nothing pointing to its history as a school for Creek Freedmen. Hopefully someday the history of this building will be told in its entirety.

Dawes Academy
 In Ardmore Oklahoma, not far from Calvary Baptist church two steps and a few loosely strewn rock are all that remain of Dawes Academy, a school where many Choctaw and Chickasaw Freedmen attended.










Tullahassee - Flipper Davis or Tullahassee Mission

In Tullahassee, a series of abandoned buildings are referred to simply as the old school. The ruins do not resemble early photos of Tullahassee Mission, but they could be still part of the old school from another angle different from photos of the past. In later years, the school was later part of Flipper Davis College run under the direction of the AME church until the 1930s. Is this part of the the old Flipper Davis Institute? It is not certain and the specifics of this building have not yet been found. However, Tullahassee is one of Oklahoma's Black towns, and only two institutions were said to have been located there.

The educational history of the African American population in eastern Oklahoma is a strong testament to the desire of those once enslaved in Indian Territory to grow, thrive and prosper. As many researchers work to tell more of the story long omitted from Oklahoma's history, the story of these schools should be a part of that narrative. It is the narrative of a people, of Five tribes, and of a state on the western frontier.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

William Taylor McGilbry, A Creek Freedman at Hampton Institute

20 Years's Work of Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute
Hampton, Normal Press 1893 p 218
Ancestry.com. U.S., College Student Lists, 1763-1924 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.
Original data: College Student Lists. Worcester, Massachusetts: American Antiquarian Society.


Image Source: Same as above.

The fascinating piece above came from William Taylor McGilbry, from the Creek Nation. He enrolled at Hampton Institute and left during his final year at the school. He is one of the first Freedmen from Indian Territory, that I have ever documented as having attended the Institute during the 1880s.

Looking back at Indian Territory and the educational opportunities in general, it is noted that the Freedmen had a strong desire for education, and they had struggled in each of their respective nations, to have schools established for their children. One of the few opportunities for primary education for Creek Freedmen was Evangel Mission, a school for Creek and Indian children. I wrote an article about Evangel Mission school several years ago. This was mostly for Creek orphans, and the education was primary education with no option for secondary school or higher.

Evangel Mission School


McGilbray matriculated in the 1880s and left Hampton for the last time in 1884. He may have returned only briefly to the Territory, as he eventually lived and worked in Long Island, NY for many years. He had chosen to work in agriculture and horticulture and as late as 1910 he was still working as a gardener for a single employer in Flushing New York. Whether he had obtained training before attending Hampton is not known.

Looking back at the years before he left for Hampton, there were very few options for him to be educated beyond primary school,in the Creek Nation, in the early 1880s. And by that time there was a good amount of traffic from Indian Territory to Hampton, Virginia because of the Indian school that flourished for many years on the campus of the institute. It is possible that the movement among many from the territory Hampton,  may have been his motivation to enroll at Hampton. Most of the students from Indian Territory were not from the Five Tribes, but from other nations, such as Sac and Fox, Pottawatomie, Kiowa and others.

Other education options
Education for Freedmen of all tribes was a constant goal expressed by the once enslaved African Americans from all of the slave holding Indian Tribes after freedom. I located some rosters of students from the Choctaw Nation, "neighborhood schools" and in 2006 compiled the rosters of students in Skullyville County, into a small booklet.



As William McGilbry attended the Hampton School, I became curious to learn more about the Indian school at Hampton, because including not only numbers, but also how they fared, how many actually complete their training,what became of them after their Hampton years. Another fascinating book, called, Education for Life, the Story of Hampton Institute. The book provides some interesting data to study.

Peabody, Francis, Greenwood, Education for Life. The Story of Hampton Institute, Garden City, New York, 1918 p. 372

Close Up of Enrollment data. Source: Same a previous image

Apparently during the years that McGilbry attended enrollment was steady and strong. But as time moved on to the 20th century, the Indian school declined in numbers. Even more startling was the number of graduates and the low numbers. There may have been many factors, including education background prior to enrollment, and of course adjustment to a new place, new climate and a new language.

Professional and Occupations of students after leaving the school varied. For males the work was mostly agricultural, and for female students much of the work was domestic work. Both illustrations below from the same text reflect those numbers.

Peabody, Ibid p 376


Peabody Ibig, p 377

McGilbry lived for many years in New York, but began to come back to Oklahoma so settle once again. He traveled back and forth for some time, working as a gardener for a single employer.


Year: 1910; Census Place: Queens Ward 3, Queens, New York; Roll: T624_1065; Page:1B; Enumeration District: 1290

Though much is not known about the life of William McGilbry in later years. However seeing his small statement and bio in the book about the Institute, shines a light on a story yet to be told---the struggle for literacy among Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes.


Monday, August 8, 2016

It is Time for Some Walls To Crumble

L-R Angela Walton-Raji, Dick Perry, Tonia Holleman, Colin Kelly
Photo taken in 2006.  Both Dick and Colin are enrolled Chocatws

Six years ago, I had the opportunity to meet descendants of the Choctaw family that held my family in bondage. I appreciate that meeting because it was the slaveholder descendant that reached out to me, and for that I shall always be grateful.

For African American genealogists, we are constantly faced with the challenge of researching our ancestors before freedom, and we often find the lack of direction and easy path of family history to be quite difficult. The difficulty comes because the names of our ancestors are recorded as the property other human beings claimed that that they were destined to be. But those who have ancestors who were enslaved in Indian Territory, there is a greater challenge, because few citizens of the five slave holding tribes even acknowledge that slavery occurred, let alone engage with the descendants of those once held enslaved.

In the larger genealogy community, there are many cases where white slave holder descendants meet and share information from private records with descendants of the enslaved. In many cases, the names of our ancestors and their parents, often are found on old family ledgers, or wills, and letters and private holdings. And many are often willing to share and even come onto African American Facebook groups asking where and how they can share information where slaves are mentioned with people who may be searching.

For me, oin recent years, I have had two opportunities to  a chance to meet slave holder descendants who were from the families that held my ancestors. I met some when the Drennan home was dedicated in Arkansas, and I wrote a blog post about that experience.

But also, in addition to that time, I also have had the chance to meet a descendant of another slave holder from Indian Territory and I also wrote an article about that experience. In fact that meeting was history making---because I believe this to be the first time that a Native American descendant of a Native American slave holder had reached out to a descendant of his ancestor's slaves. I had the opportunity to meet a person who reached out to me, pointing out that he was a member of the Perry clan, and descended from Nail Perry, a name I knew to be associated with my family. Nail Perry was part of the Choctaw family to which my family held in bondage.

Our meeting was wonderfully cordial one, and we have kept in contact and several times over the years since that meeting. I have yet to read of any other descendant of Native Americans, reaching out to a descendant of their ancestor's slaves. Truly that meeting was is one of the few, if not the only meeting from a Native American family reaching out to a descendant of their family's slaves, in a gesture of friendship.

2006 Meeting of Descendant of Choctaw Slaveholder and Descendant of the Enslaved
As I have yet to hear of other meetings, two days ago, I was more than presently surprised to hear from another person, and this time from an unlikely source. This person was from Chickasaw country!

The letter came from a descendant of Jackson Kemp a wealthy Chickasaw slave holder.
Jackson Kemp, Chickasaw Slave holder
Image: Courtesy of Oklahoma Historical Society

Kemp held dozens of slaves in the Panola District of the Chickasaw Nation. He held over sixty people in bondage by the time the 1860 slave census was conducted.

Slave Schedule, Reflecting Slaves held by Jackson KempSource: Ancestry.com. 1860 U.S. Federal Census - Slave Schedules [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010.Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Eighth Census of the United States, 1860. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1860. M653, 1,438 rolls.

The Chickasaws were extremely conservative and extremely biased towards their former slaves. They were strong Confederate allies and fought for the south during the Civil War. After the war, they refused to adopt their freedmen, and extend citizenship to them, although they signed a treaty in 1866, agreeing to do so. Chickasaw Freedmen were the most discriminated against throughout the post Civil War decades, and many lived in extreme poverty and receive no education, nor rights until way after statehood came. (Statehood was 1907.) Since the Chickasaws refused to acknowledge their former slaves as fellow citizens, their fate was a sorrowful one for years.

But on Sunday I received a very passionate and moving letter from a direct descendant of Jackson Kemp, and I am sharing part of the letter here.

"Nothing I ever do will be enough to make up for what my ancestors did.  There are generations of people whose lives were affected by Jackson Kemp.  It didn't just end when his slaves were freed.  They carried with them the scars that affected their lives and the lives of their descendants.  Even freed, they were treated like they were not human beings.  Even today, they are pleading for their lives to matter.

The letter shared more of the writer's own personal perspective and it was clear that there was sincerity, and there was compassion.

This letter received was perhaps the second time that I have become aware of a descendant of a Native American slave holder reaching out to a descendant of the enslaved people held in bondage. (The first time was when a descendant of Nail Perry of the Choctaw Nation reached out to me.)

Since receiving the email from the Chickasaw person, I have shared the letter with a descendant of the Kemp slaves. Hopefully they will connect and will be able to work together to explore more information and to share their common past. Hopefully in the near future, these Chickasaw Kemps will be able to meet, talk, break bread, and to work together.

Such meetings from Indian country are rare. But they can take place. As I stated above, my first meeting with the Choctaw Perry descendants was six years ago, and hopefully a meeting with the Chickasaw Kemps may occur in the near future.

But such meetings should not occur every six years--they should be commonplace. However, fear has drawn a major line between Indian tribal Freedmen, and the very people with whom they have a shared history.

Fear of Black people, fear of the people once subjugated by their own ancestors, fear of people who have never violated them, has kept Freedmen descendants at a frightful distance, for no reason. There is fear that truly---they don't matter. It does make one wonder when the walls of people who ancestors walked the same trail will be seen as persons with whom they have a shared history. They will find that they have more in common than not in common.

I appreciate the letter from the Chickasaw descendant who has extended an olive branch. I accept it, and hope that others will find some courage within themselves to do the same.

Perhaps it is time for some walls to crumble and for people to meet, talk, break bread and work together.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Freedmen Exclusions From the Atoka Agreement

While reading some articles pertaining to land allotments in the Territory, the specific exclusion of Choctaw and Chickasaw Freedmen to specific rights and privileges caught my attention.

The year was 1897 and the Dawes Commission had begun to implement the process of interviewing citizens of the Territory to eventually allot lands to the various citizens of the tribe. An interesting article appeared in the April 25 issue of  The Daily Ardmorite regarding the planned distribution of land. The article outlined plans in Choctaw and Chickasaw country of what could be expected as decisions pertaining to enrollment were to be made.

Source: 

A lengthy article appeared in the publication describing the agreements in detail that were made in the Atoka Agreement which was an agreement made between the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations with the Dawes Commission. The article was so detailed that it occupied the entire page.

Source: Same as above, page 6

What caught my eye were the policies to specifically exclude privileges to Freedmen. Zooming in on the article were some startling agreements:

"That all lands within the Indian Territory belonging to the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians shall be allotted to the members of said tribes so as to give to each member of these tribes (except the Choctaw Freedmen) so far as possible, a fair and equal share thereof, considering the character and fertility of the soil and the location and value of the lands."





"....and a reasonable amount of land to be determined by the town-site commission to include all
courthouses and jails and other public buildings not hereinbefore provided for, shall be exempt from division, and all coal and asphalt in or under the lands allotted and reserved from allotment shall be reserved for the sole use of the members of the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes, exclusive of freedmen.



The agreement did point out however, that the lands to be allotted for Freedmen of the tribes should come from the land allotted in general, but it was clear that Freedmen were only to get forty acres of land. It should be pointed out that the lands allotted for Freedmen were less than the equal value of land allotted to those who were not identified as Freedmen.

That in order to such equal division, the lands of the Choctaws and Chickasaws shall be graded and appraised so as to give each member, so far as possible an equal value of the lands; provided, that the lands allotted to the Choctaw freedmen are the be deducted from the portion to be allotted under this agreement to the members of the Choctaw tribe, also as to reduce allotments to the Choctaws by the value of the same and not affect the value of the allotments of the Chickasaws.

That said Choctaw freedmen who may be entitled to allotments of forty acres, shall be entitled each to land equal in value to forty acres of the average land of the two nations."



The allotment of forty acres to Freedmen however, was not equal to the size of allotments to others in the nation:

"That each allottee shall select from his allotment a homestead of 160 acres, which shall be inalienable and non-taxable for twenty-one years from the date of his patents and for which a separate patent shall be executed."



The benefits to be extended to citizens of the tribe were clearly spelled out and quite clearly it was stated that the benefits were for all "except freedmen".



There were cases where funds were raised for the benefit of education, and this was included also in the Atoka agreement. But as was found throughout the agreement, was the fact that Choctaw Freedmen were excluded from educational benefits as well.


When reading the terms of this agreement between the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations and the Dawes Commission, it provides historical context in which to view some of the decisions of the Commission. Extending equal rights to those once enslaved. It is clear that whether or not the persons identified as "Freedmen" were related to those identified as Indians "by blood" the mere presences of their being alive and having African ancestry and being part of the population once enslaved, was justification for the many exclusions from equal treatment.

Sadly this was the concept that later allowed for the permanent exclusion of Freedmen that occurred quietly in the 1970s and 80, only a few years after the nation the Civil Rights laws were put into effect in this nation. The issues of Freedman Exclusions were upheld and allowed to stand and remain unchallenged.

Reading the agreements stemming from the Atoka agreement is a sobering read, and again, this part of history should be told. It is understood that this agreement made between the tribal entities and the Dawes Commission, reflect the social climate of the time, but it is also noted that as the present political climate also tells us, language and policies still reflects the social climate of the time.

Equal treatment is stated, but---"freedmen excepted".

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

How Many Oklahoma Freedmen Were There?



I have often wondered why there is not much in depth information about Oklahoma's amazing African American past. On many websites, one sees the African American history beginning with the attack upon Greenwood in Tulsa in 1921. However--black history did not begin with the attack in Tulsa. African American presence is well documented in the mid-1800s but still not spoken of widely. As early as the Indian Removal when Choctaws and Cherokees brought slaves with them, there was a black presence on the soil of what is now Oklahoma.

Someone asked me recently if the numbers of Freedmen were so small, if that would explain why there is so little information. I have become interested in the size of the population also, and recently ran into an article that appeared in the Indian Advocate in 1900 that addressed the size of the population, in Indian Territory.

 Included in the numbers were the numbers of Freedmen from the Five Civilized Tribes. The population of Freedmen included in the article represented 4 of the 5 tribes. (Seminoles were reported as one general population and did not break out the Freedmen in their count.) But of the total population was 314,000 from the tribes, and more than 17000 were classified as "Freedmen".


(Source: same as above.)


The total numbers of the Indian Tribal Freedmen was notable, numbering over 17,000.

The numbers are approximate, and were rounded off, but they are still statistically significant:

Cherokee Freedmen:   4000
Creek Freedmen:         5000
Choctaw Freedmen:    4150
Chickasaw Freedmen: 4500

TOTAL:                      17050

With over 17000 people there are many aspects of the people's lives that can be studied and examined by historians and scholars of many disciplines. There are several dozen black towns, hundreds of families, numerous schools, churches, cemeteries, newspapers, societies & associations that will reflect amazing histories still to be told of the Oklahoma Freedmen.

Hopefully more blogs, preservation and heritage associations, books and articles will be shared by those who are students of all of Oklahoma's history. Among the Freedmen were tribal leaders such as Stick Ross, George Vann, Henry Cutchlow, Sugar George, Harry Island, Cow Tom, Bettie Ligon, and so many more.

There are still stories to tell and I hope that more descendants of freedmen will tell their stories. Their legacy extends beyond the Dawes rolls, and their history predates even their freedom.

Let us all strive to tell all of Oklahoma's story!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Expanding the Entire Genealogical Experience

It is always a pleasure to meet other Oklahoma Freedmen researchers, while traveling. Recently while attending the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree in Burbank California, it was wonderful to meet some new researchers who also have roots in Indian Territory, and to Freedman communities.

We had some wonderful conversations, including a desire to see more activity from the Genealogy DNA community, more in active social media, and a greater presence in national genealogical events.

I was also thrilled and honored to see a fellow speaker at the conference who also is a Cherokee Freedman descendant as well--Nicka Sewell-Smith, a direct descendant of Ike Rogers. (Her ancestor is the noted US Deputy Marshall, and she has direct ties also to Clement Vann Rogers, from the Cherokee Nation.)

In the course of several discussions, two issues stand out about the need for more genealogists to emerge from the community and to become actively engaged in the genealogical community in general.

1) That engagement goes beyond looking at Indian Territory, but also looking at those communities when possible, that were part of our ancestors' life before removal. Emigration rolls, prior to removal can give some fascinating insights about the lives of our ancestors in the earlier part of the 19th century and should be explored.



2) If some of your ancestors were not I.T. Freedmen, but the families also included "state " people, it is important to note that all histories are important, all ancestors make us who we are, and all lines deserve equal attention in the genealogical journey. Of particular interest for those whose ancestors were enslaved in the states, are the records of the Freedmen's Bureau. This record set has recently been indexed by Family Search, and offers many options for research. It should also be pointed out that the Bureau also served Indian Territory. (A full article appeared on the African-Native Genealogy Blog, about the Bureau and its service to Indians, Blacks and whites.)

Sample record from the western Arkansas 
Freedmen's Bureau serving people from Indian Territory as well as Arkansas.
Source: National Archives Publication M1901, Roll 8, Ft. Smith Field Office

3) There are other aspects of our work, including preservation. Historical landmarks have disappeared on many levels and there needs to be far more effort from I.T. Freedman descendants to work to preserve cemeteries, such as Old Agency Cemetery, and to seek and identify other neglected burial grounds, and become engaged in efforts to preserve them. (A future article will focus on the neglect of historical burial sites such as the Creek Freedman burial ground in Muskogee with Town Kings and Warriors graves buried under toppled six foot markers.) In addition--contribution of burial sites to sites like Find-A-Grave, and Billion Graves, needs to be part of more than one or two concerned people. We need to understand the contribution of burials to the larger genealogical community.

4) Join the larger genealogy community, both online, and in person. The activity of engagement extends beyond websites--but there is a live-online community. Google Hangouts, Periscope, Vokle, Snap-chat, are among a few of the options and communication platforms now available online. Recently on Google Hangouts we had a great discussion about records from Indian Territory. The new platforms from technology are there--and as I.T. Freedmen descendants we need to utilize them, and become a part of the well-connected genealogy community.

MAAGI - The Teaching Institute

5) Hopefully in the future, there will be more I.T. Freedmen visibility on the national level at conferences, webinars, and institutes. In the past several years, the Samford Genealogical institute featured a track on the Five Civilized Tribes. Participants even came from around the country, including speakers from the Oklahoma Historical Society. However, few, if any I.T. Freedman descendants have attended the institute. The Midwest African American Genealogy Institute, now going into its 4th year which has also had Freedman descendants among the speakers. Yet, few with Oklahoma roots have attended to expand their genealogical skills.  It was great however, to meet some I.T. Freedman descendants at the recent Southern California Genealogy Jamboree! Some were speakers and several were attendees. (Two Choctaw Freedman descendants and one Cherokee Freedman descendant were among the faculty.)

6) Wider social media presence can be extremely useful for I.T. Freedman descendants. There are several Freedmen groups already on Facebook. But just as there is room for multiple groups to thrive on multiple platforms, there is plenty of room for more interaction as well. On Facebook, there are 3 groups that have some visibility and focus on Freedmen: Black and Red Journal, Oklahoma & Indian Territory Reader, Cherokee Freedmen Descendants. There is also an interesting group devoted to Muskogee  African American History and Art.


Three history-focused groups on Facebook


In addition to the groups above a smaller group is also on Facebook devoted to the litigants of Equity Case 7071, headed by Bettie Ligon. That group is known as Bettie's List.


The opportunities for live contact online has surfaced, and thanks to Nicka Smith, a Cherokee Freedman descendant who is well versed in technology--a recent Google Hangout series has emerged, and most recently there was a hangout discussing Indian Territory records. This series is sponsored by Black Pro Gen, a group of African American professional genealogists who meet regularly online to discuss techniques and research strategies with each other and to share their insights and tips with each other and with the live audience.

Black Pro Gen meets on Google Hangout platform 
and a recent hangout was featured on Vokle platform.


7) As was mentioned in an early post this month there is an enormous body of genealogists connecting through DNA testing! The autosomal tests are a great way to connect with lost cousins, and to solve family history mysteries. A few have undertaken DNA testing and there is a possibility of some groups forming for DNA studies with the purpose of allowing others to connect and solve genealogy brick walls. Companies such as 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, and AncestryDNA are allowing researchers to expand in multiple generations! Join that community of thousands to make new family connections. The DNA community is one of the largest segments of the genealogy community and you are encouraged to join it.

Clearly there is a very wide genealogical audience, and one that has plenty of room for more descendants of Freedmen to join. The energy is high and the interaction is dynamic and stimulating! Let's exapnd our network and connect!

There is a new generation of millenials and Generation X'ers who are new to the community, and they too are seeking their history. Many of them have roots that are part of our history as well! 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Where are the Freedman DNA Testers?


I have just returned from the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree (one of the big 3 genealogy conferences), where I was honored to be a speaker. 



While there, I met a woman who is a Choctaw Freedman descendant and we had an interesting discussion about DNA autosomal tests. Autosomal tests are the tests that reflect ethnic percentages, because they look at the distribution of all 23 chromosomes, as well as the X chromsome (female inherited traits). 

(Note---our discussion was NOT a discussion about Indian blood. This was not a focus, nor was there discussion about trying to enroll in a tribe.)

Our focus was about family, family history, and finding lost relatives. We also discussed the many DNA study projects where genealogists who have done autosomal testing, and whether or not many or any descendants of Indian Territory Freedmen have been using DNA to solve genealogical questions.

In the genealogy community DNA is discussed online in many arenas and researchers are sharing their data and methods of interpretation with each other widely. Also family historians are getting research questions answered and news strategies of how to navigate the world of DNA and Genealogy in various groups online.



For those who are unaware, there are thousands of people who take autosomal tests, the most popular tests being AncestryDNA, 23andMe, and FamilyTreeDNA. These three tests reflect not only ethnic percentages in one's lineage, but also assist genealogists with locating relatives, close and distant. Many have been able to find cousins previously unknown who descend from a common grandparent, or great grandparent, or even great great grandparent.

The goal for many is to reconstruct families that were affected by slavery. With African Americans whose ancestors descend from Indian tribal Freedmen, there was also been much separation of families in the past, due to buying and selling of slaved people, efforts during the Civil War to keep the enslaved from escaping to Freedom such as Texas. Later there was the post Civil War migration, and there is also the 20th century period of the Great Migration. As a result, many people from Oklahoma and Indian Territory, have relatives scattered throughout the country and the family network was torn or scattered over the years.

As a genealogist with a strong interest in the Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes, I have seen that many families from Indian Territory often married to Freedmen from other tribes. So one may have an ancestor who was a Choctaw Freedman, but one parent was a Creek, or Cherokee, or Chickasaw Freedman. With time, the descending family took on identity of one of the parents, and within a few years, after migration to the north or  the far west, the identity and family connections faded.

But--autosomal DNA testing is now helping genealogists find those missing cousins, and many projects have emerged in the genealogy community to study various groups, and many are being conducted by the researchers themselves.

The young lady with whom I spoke is a Choctaw Freedman descendant, and has a strong interest in such a project. I shared her thoughts with another person, Nicka Smith--a Cherokee Freedman descendant (and direct descendant of Ike Rogers) who was also a presenter at the Jamboree. As a result, she actually made an inquiry with one of the autosomal companies, at the conference that welcomes DNA community projects.

The response from FamilyTree DNA was that projects of all kinds are welcome among those who have tested with their company. This is a notation from one of the companies:



I also want to point out that there are several DNA communities in social media where African American researchers are engaging, and finding new family members all the time. Others are getting help with their DNA results and are helping others in not only interpreting their data, but also in helping them with the next strategy to unlock more family history. The activity is dynamic, but I have noticed that it is rare to see descendants with ties to Oklahoma and/or Indian Territory, and even fewer with ties to the Indian tribal Freedmen.

Several questions have arisen for me:
1) How many descendants of Freedman from Oklahoma have taken autosomal DNA tests? (NOTE---the tests conducted by African Ancestry several  years ago was NOT an autosomal test.) The tests would be with  23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, and AncestryDNA.

2) With which company have you tested?

3) Have you uploaded your data to Gedmatch?  (If one has already tested with those companies, then one can submit their raw data (a few computer clicks away) to a site called Gedmatch, that allows people to share their data with those who have tested from different companies to find missing cousins. This service is available for free.)

One of the features offered by the DNA autosomal tests that provide ethnic percentages of one's background. However, it should also be noted that these tests cannot be used for anyone seeking enrollment in a federally recognized tribe. The benefit is for the participant's personal interest in their own genetic makeup and history.

I took an autosomal test with 23andMe and received the following data from the test. (see image below.)



4) If there are some who have tested with those companies, would there be an interest in joining a DNA study to connect with other "lost cousins"?

How much are the tests?
For those who are new to autosomal testing, it should be pointed out that these tests are not cheap, but occasionally around holidays, the companies will offer a sale where the test kit can be purchased with a good discount. Some families have made the DNA testing effort a joint family effort with various members donating to the family's own DNA project.

Who should be tested?
If you are considering going into the DNA aspect of family history then you want to consider who should submit the DNA sample. 1) I recommend that you start with yourself, but if funds permit, then 2) Then test a parent or grandparent. That will allow you later to determine where a DNA match is coming from and on which side of the family a "new cousin" is located.

Join the Wider Community
Consider joining the larger community of researchers, genealogists and DNA participants. Not only are they taking the tests to learn more of their personal history but their interaction with others is a d dynamic experience.

I hope that more Freedmen Descendants will be a part of a fascinating community.