Blog Post

Digitization of slave records: an update

I have been on hiatus since last fall and am so happy to be back! I have so much to share.

For good reason, I named this blog "The Whale's Hand" (see blog #1 in my list), and it remains an appropriate and meaningful title. I have shared that my work in genealogy, and I would add in education, involves assisting people in recapturing their own sounds--their own uniqueness, history, and memory. I have proposed to offer such assistance centrally through providing digitized slave records.

I am so pleased then to announce that I have published and am in the process of promoting my project website: What is it? Well, you should visit the site to get a really clear idea, but suffice it to say that the National Archives holds perhaps dozens of discovered and undiscovered "registers" of African Americans who resided at contraband camps during the Civil War. The registers have been available for a while in microfilm form but not in digitial form. Information that could fairly easily allow probably hundreds of thousands or more of African Americans to learn pertinent information about their families' situations before the war has not been made public although such records are public information.

My website is both a place for individuals and families to search for ancestors and a place for scholars and genealogists researching contraband camps to collaborate. For example, the site has already connected me with a leading genealogist whose ancestor was at the same Memphis camp as my own. Imagine that! She and I live in two separate states, I in Indiana and she in Maryland, but learning that our ancestors were at the camp has brought us together after nearly one hundred and fifty years.

Just as exciting is my latest find. On one of the registers on which I am working to transcribe, digitize, and publish to the site, I have discovered two African American children, each under one year of age, who were born at the contraband camp at Corinth, Mississippi and, after their births, moved to, again, the Memphis camp, whose register I'm transcribing. It so happens that the Corinth camp has been the subject of much study and the various organizers of the camp's memorialization have been probably more successful in this kind of work than any other group in the South or North. Last week, two National Parks Service personnel, who have worked tirelessly for many years to bring into fruition what is now the Corinth Contraband Park and Interpretive Center, came on board. Needless to say, I expect much to come from our partnering.

Likewise, I am pleased to announce yet another collaborator, Rachel Ensor, an Illinois historian working on camps at Island No. 10 (Missouri) and Cairo, Illinois. Like Corinth, both Island No. 10 and Cairo form a triangle around the Memphis center. African Americans were moved in and out of all three camps, so it is smart and strategic that scholars of each of these areas are working together. The fruit of such work ultimately will be the location of descendants of camp inhabitants. Once the project reaches this high stage, it will be well on its way toward the largest goals of the work--to allow postmoderns to recapture their own sounds, their histories and memories.


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