Monday, May 30, 2011

In Remembrance

Oh FREEDOM! thou art not, as poets dream,
A fair young girl, with light and delicate limbs,
And wavy tresses gushing from the cap
With which the Roman master crowned his slave
When he took off the gyves. A bearded man,
Armed to the teeth, art thou; one mailed hand
Grasps the broad shield, and one the sword; thy brow,
Glorious in beauty though it be, is scarred
With tokens of old wars; thy massive limbs
Are strong with struggling. Power at thee has launched
His bolts, and with his lightnings smitten thee;
They could not quench the life thou hast from heaven.

Excerpt from: Antiquity of Freedom by William Cullen Bryant

A heartfelt THANK YOU to all who served and gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sun, Surf and Surnames

Wow, after spending a week playing in and around Charleston, South Carolina, I am fully in favor of picking similarly cool destination spots for genealogical conferences! Seriously, the southern hospitality, instant summer temps, Spanish moss, beautiful beaches and enough history to get overdosed on is proof of a great pick......but then, add genealogy as the icing on top of that cake and you have my version of heaven! I had been to Charleston years ago, but fell in love with it all over again during this conference. So, Kudos to the NGS people for choosing this sweet spot!

As far as the conference itself, I'd call it another rousing success. Great speakers, great events, great food, great new and old friends.....and really great instructional opportunities. I adored the little break out sessions throughout the conference and within the exhibit hall. This nice informal structure allowed for a fluid schedule and greater opportunity to pop in for a few minutes for some tips. As always, completely blown away by the warmth of the attendees - a truly fun and helpful group!
For those of you who have never gotten to one of the major national conferences: try to get to one! They are so inspiring. The perfect way to jazz up your research and jump start your way to more creative methods of conducting the family hunt. Even if there were no session or exhibits, the networking alone is priceless! I spend hours sometimes just chatting with groups of fellow researchers and learning new things with each conversation! However, I know attending can be costs, registration costs, accommodation costs, etc. But keep your eye out for one of these conferences even remotely near your area. To save money, the large conferences always offer a one day attendance option which usually runs in the $100 range.....pre-view the conference schedule online and pick your favorite day to head up for a night. Also, if you are in the area and simply cannot afford the attendance prices, keep in mind that most of the exhibit halls are either free and open to the public for the entire conference, or at least for one day only.

The exhibit halls are a blast and usually frequented by several genea-celebrities! My coolest moment at this year's conference by far: meeting the Naked Cowboy's Dad! Turns out the Naked Cowboy is an Ohio native and his Dad was there in his genealogical capacity to advertise next year's NGS hosted in Cincinnati! This too is my home turf and I can't wait! True, it will not be an exotic vacation locale for me next year, but it is a beautiful city with amazing historical collections throughout the tri-state area. The capital/state historical societies for three states are within a 2-3 hour drive. Don't forget, the Cincinnati/Kentucky/Indiana area was quite the gateway for many of our ancestors that headed out west, and the records are still here for your enjoyment!

As a small treat, here is a slide show of some conference highlights. Until next year.....

Monday, May 9, 2011

Beach Reading - Slaves in the Family

For those of you heading to the NGS annual conference in Charleston, South Carolina, an amazing experience awaits. Not only is Charleston one of the most beautiful cities on the East Coast, but the history that permeates your surroundings is a venerable feast of delights. With this year being the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, Charleston serves as the perfect place to reflect on the atmosphere and historic conditions that lead to the "Civil War", "War between the States", or "War of Northern Aggression" - whatever your preference. However you choose to romanticize or dissect this chapter in our history, it is always important to take all viewpoints into consideration in order to gain a complete understanding of our culture during that time. Since we will be in the city where the first shots rang out, I suggest reading Slaves in the Family by Edward Ball. An older book published in 1998, this is still a wonderful, and highly enjoyable read when looking to experience this unique culture. Also, for those of you conducting African American research in the area, chapter 16 has a couple of paragraphs devoted solely to the surnames adopted by the former slaves from the Ball plantations.

As a direct descendant of the Ball family, Edward Ball explores how his family made its fortune along the Cooper River, just outside Charleston, beginning as early as 1698. Their story is not exactly a typical one. They did not make their fortune through cotton, but relied on rice as their crop of choice. However, their reliance upon slave labor was very high, and quite prolific as some of the family dealt directly in the international slave trade. His thorough account runs chronologically, from the 17th to the 20th centuries, with some flash fowards to the present day descendant branches.

The unique depth of this book cannot be overlooked. The story told here is not just family legend and oral history. The documentation that survives from this family is very extensive and provided the foundation for Ball's chronological accounts. To supplement the family history he inherited, and the documentation already on record, Ball then explored the African families that were entwined with the Balls. He found that the heritage he inherited was also ingrained in the lives of current African American families whose ancestors had been enslaved by the Balls. In several cases, the relationships transcended the former slave/owner connection. Not only did the former slaves sometimes remain socially connected via business, etc, but in some cases, the families were related by blood, which was the impetus for the title. By talking to the modern day descendants, Ball uncovered a rich tapestry that serves to increase any complex view we may have had about how slavery affected families and communities.

My only caveat with this account is the lack of slavery era African viewpoints. This is the story of slavery written by the white descendant of a white slave owning family. He does an amazing job of not withholding the good or the bad. You will encounter moments that seemingly display affectionate ties between the slaves and their owners, but in the next chapter, you might encounter the cruelty and apparent lack of any human sympathy. It is truly fascinating to read about the early years of the slave owning dynasty, and how it developed into this affluent, yet self absorbed group of people that lived in luxury while enslaving and abusing their fellow humans. Despite this book's valuable insight from a particular historical standpoint, for a more complete view of this period of Charleston's history, you might want to add a couple of slave narratives to your beach bag.

P.S. I picked up my copy at Maia's Books' booth while in Knoxville at the FGS Conference. They are slated to have a large booth at the NGS - along with slave narratives - so head there first for a great selection of beach reading material!


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