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! 

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