Friday, January 29, 2021

Stumped by Your Family Tree?


Start thinking like an academic.

No, even more than that: research like a Ph.D. candidate. That, at least, is the impression I come away with, after spending a heady week with other genealogy enthusiasts at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy.

Granted, some of the SLIG instructors are exactly that, and more; post-nomials certainly included those specific letters, Ph.D. But for those lecturers whose names were not embellished with the coveted accolades, their academic rigor still shone through. Bottom line: their intricate case studies and imparted knowledge turn out to be a big help to me in my quest to learn more about King Stockton, his roots and his family through his friends, associates, and neighbors.

There are some fertile fields in which to expand my research. Of course, I've already started by exploring PERSI on (where, unfortunately, the very Dean article I was seeking was entered there with an incorrect title). And with the unexpected silver lining to the worldwide pandemic coming to us in the gift of free access to JSTOR through this coming June, we have a second guide to access journal articles.

The key, though, is to approach genealogical brick walls as an interdisciplinary exercise. Repeatedly this week at SLIG, instructors reminded us to consider the background history, undergirding legal precedents, and availability of local records in ferreting out the answers to our research questions. In the case of research in the south, there are certain standard resources, of course, but we need to do far more than a cursory examination of resources simply containing the specific name of our target ancestor. We need to be willing to pursue the clusters of individuals surrounding that ancestor—and even that ancestor's community.

Stock in trade for such exploration may include resources such as the Southern Claims Commission of the United States government. Set up in the post-Civil War years, the goal of the commission was to receive, examine, and consider claims of financial or property loss by Union sympathizers residing in the Southern states. However, because many residents of the South moved elsewhere after the start of the war, claims turned out to be filed by residents of at least twenty four states, once the filing period closed.

Though only thirty two percent of claims were approved for settlements, the applications are an excellent resource for researchers for one simple reason: while people like to complain about their misfortunes, before any money can be reimbursed, it is incumbent upon government officials to verify those claims. Thus, the wealth of information on names, dates, locations, relationships, and more.

While that may seem like a treasure trove, don't assume the digging is going to be easy. While has searchable index files—and even a searchable collection of disallowed and barred claims—finding one's way through that massive collection of data may be a daunting prospect. Thus, many researchers' profound thanks to the Saint Louis County Library for their guide to researching the Southern Claims Commission records.

Of course, another resource mentioned in class this week was the Freedmen's Bureau records. While there are a number of genealogical resources available to assist researchers in exploring this avenue, that record set has not been a successful avenue for me so far, in the case of King Stockton of Florida.

For those slaves who were able to escape to the north, or even join the Union Army forces during the Civil War, another record set might have been that of the Slave Claims Commission. That operation was mostly active in the border states. For the formerly enslaved King Stockton in Florida, however, that would hardly be applicable—there may actually be records of his having accompanied one of the sons of his enslaver who served on the Confederate side—so once again, this might not be a record set of assistance in our case.

Rest assured, though, that all resources have not been exhausted. Far from it. This is where the discipline of thinking like a Ph.D. candidate will come in most handily. For the many manuscript collections, private (and even publicly held) collections of personal papers, and other collections of records from this time period, there are ample search options. It's just a matter of finding the right resource at the right repository—a search process which seldom resembles a direct line from my puzzled Point A to the pot of golden answers at the end of Point B's rainbow.

Having observed the piecing together of several case studies this week by the admirable Ari Wilkins, Michael Hait, Deborah Abbott, Ph.D. (yes, with those bona fide post-nomials), the resourceful Scott Wilds, and our SLIG course coordinator LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson, I have seen several demonstrations of how it is possible to trace a family line from current day back to at least the most recent slaveholder of record before the Civil War. While, of course, I already know who that would be, in the case of King Stockton, I can use those same techniques and record sets to follow King Stockton back to the Job Tison plantation where he was born in Georgia—and then to move one step beyond to where his father, for whom he was named, originated.

That process, however, begins to resemble the sausage-making aspect of genealogy far more than the family history best suited for venues such as this blog. And with not only that stage of the process, but date on the calendar, it will soon be time to let this project churn away in the background while we move on to introduce the second of my Twelve Most Wanted list of ancestors to research for 2021. Come this Monday, we'll meet Ancestor Number Two and begin our exploration of the life of a woman who danced her way around the world.  

1 comment:

  1. Interesting that you are taking the class online!!! Hope you learn lots!


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