Thursday, March 28, 2019

Wide World of Resources

You would think, after reviewing all those online resources I've mentioned this week, that all those resources would be sufficient for discovering what we need to know about our King Stockton and his family.

Think again. There's more.

Hidden behind all those glittering online links where we can speed-click our way to easy answers, there is a more old-fashioned way to research the answers we seek. It's a way of books, but it is also a wide world of records behind the brick walls of traditional repositories. Every university, every archival collection, every private museum—and many other organizations, as well—is home to donated collections granted them by the rich and famous, as well as the lesser-known players in history. How to find these treasure troves is key.

I'm still struggling to make sense of how to find my way around this secret world of paper. Many of these collections keep their finding aids behind firewalls, inaccessible to the search engines of Google and other tech giants with prying eyes. Whether there is or isn't a biography on King Stockton—or any other the other members of his extended family—I really couldn't have known, if it weren't mentioned first as a footnote in a journal article, which led me (title of biography in hand) to the university which held that tiny item in its collection.

It's that process, repeated over and over again, that leads us to original sources that sometimes are the only way to find answers, particularly for issues of historical significance. But finding the key clue that leads to answers can be a challenge.

For what it's worth, here are a few of the ways I've found to crash through and find such gems.

Of course, the prime resource for background information on slavery in the United States would be the website of the National Archives. Here, for instance, I found this overview of civil records regarding the history of slavery. The list provides brief details on the record groups available, but doesn't, itself, offer up the actual documents. That, of course, would be yet another step in the process.

A similar repository would be the Library of Congress, which operates a free-of-charge cooperative cataloging program known as NUCMC (often pronounced "nuck-muck"). The acronym stands for the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections, and the cataloging records it creates can be found on the Online Computer Library Center's networked libraries' database, WorldCat.

While that may be more than you ever wanted to know about finding stuff in libraries, that's the long explanation for how I found the King Stockton biography at the Rose Library at Emory University. Obviously, I now hope to find much more, especially in the way of background information on slavery, reconstruction, and the years of Jim Crow laws in the south. We can't just research the names, dates, and places of genealogy; sometimes, when we fail to find what we're seeking, we need to delve into the history behind the genealogy.

That, however, is only one way to access material available through libraries. Another resource is to look for keywords through the Digital Public Library of America, where lists like this one on slavery in the state of Florida can lead us toward more background information on our topic.

There is yet another world out there to research. I'm beginning to uncover information on repositories which seem unconnected from each other. Most of these, I stumbled upon, thanks to Cyndi's List. There is, for instance, a list of finding aids on African American genealogy posted at the online library system of Florida Atlantic University. The University of North Carolina at Greensboro hosts the searchable Digital Library on American Slavery. In Austin, the University of Texas Briscoe Center for American History provides a searchable online resource where I found several pages of results about slavery.

If these three unrelated universities have searchable collections, there are surely others—universities, museums, archives, and other repositories. To discover each possibility—and then search through their holdings—would take an enormous investment in time. That's why it was encouraging to hear, in Kenyatta Berry's presentations at the Family Tree DNA conference I attended last weekend, that a committee is forming to discuss ways to network the many collections related to the slavery issue in America—a one-stop-shopping approach to allowing researchers to uncover the universe of possibilities as they tackle the historical questions in their niche specialty of this broad topic.

There are more lists and resources than one could imagine. Take, for instance, this website which I never had heard of before. I think I found it thanks to Cyndi's List, but at this point, I have forgotten what led me to their digital door. But searching their wiki for broad categories, I found this list for information on plantations in Florida, and another list for Georgia, as well. Clicking through to each sub-topic in the lists revealed more resources.

Yet another set of resources, as I clicked through from website to website, turns out to be sites devoted to urging participants to share what they have found. One site in particular, The Beyond Kin Project, urges descendants of slaveholders to share what records their ancestors might have kept which reveal identities of enslaved persons. Their website also includes a list of other helpful web pages related to this issue, such as the website, Last Seen: Finding Family After Slavery.

With all the resources I've mentioned so far this week, it would seem it is enough information to fill a Ph.D.'s course of study in the American history of slavery. And yet, I am quite sure this is just the tip of the iceberg of all available records out there to access. Knowing how to find such stuff is just the first step. Then you have to read it, absorb it, analyze it, and synthesize it.

Just listing all these possibilities has even exhausted me! Sometimes, when that feeling of chasing myself in circles descends upon me, I find I need to set aside a research project for a while. I've been poking at it from every angle I can think of, and yet, I'm not gaining any advantage. It may be time to do some background reading, and then come at the issue with fresh eyes after a few days' respite. 


  1. Another wonderful compilation. I now have so many bookmarked websites, I get lost in them. Time to make sub-categories!

    1. It's good you are organized, Lisa. It's helpful to be able to put your finger on a link the next time you'll need it, as well as for questions now.


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