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.