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A Genealogist In The Archives: February 2023

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Black History Month: Julius Rosenwald and the Rosenwald Fund

As my last blog post for Black History Month I want to talk about my favorite African American subject, the Rosenwald Fund. 

1963 Graduating Class at the W.H. Hensley School
Houston County, TN. Archives & Museum

The Rosenwald Fund also known as the Julius Rosenwald Fund was established in 1917 by Julius Rosenwald and his family with a partnership with Booker T. Washington to build and support local African American schools in the south. Unlike other endowed foundations, which were designed to fund themselves in perpetuity, the Rosenwald Fund was designed to expend all of its funds for philanthropic purposes before a predetermined sunset date. The fund donated over $70 million to public schools, colleges and universities, museums, Jewish charities and African American institutions before funds were completely depleted in 1948.

Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington
Photo Courtesy of Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library

One of the more well known projects was providing funds to local school boards to build African American schools. Over 5,000 schools were built in the states of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, North Carolina, South Carolina, Missouri, Virginia and West Virginia.

Rosenwald Fund Schoolhouse Construction Map, 1928
Courtesy of North Carolina Digital Collections

In Houston County, Tennessee, where I am the archivist at the Houston County Archives & Museum, we have uncovered documents, photos and information about an African American school we had locally that was funded by the Julius Rosenwald Fund. The W.H. Hensley School was built with funds from the Rosenwald Fund. This fund also provided funds for books and other supplies. While the school building itself no longer exists, the history of this school is being documented so that it is not forgotten.

W.H. Hensley School, Houston County, Tennessee
Houston County, Tennessee Archives & Museum

If you think your African American ancestors attended a Julius Rosenwald funded school, check with the local historical or genealogical society and see if they have any information, documents or photos. Many of these school buildings still exist and have historical markers placed to honor the work Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington accomplished.

Courtesy North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources

We should be researching all aspects of our families ancestry, including the schools they attended!


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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Black History Month: Finding Lucy

February is Black History Month and all month long my blog posts will be about researching African American ancestors. 

I was very excited to see that my local news station WSMV-Nashville Channel 4 is doing a series of stories during Black History Month highlighting African American history and genealogy. Their first story really interested me as a genealogist and as an archivist. 

1859 Ambrotype Photograph of 9-Year Old Lucy Waggoner

Marius Payton, one of the WSMV news anchors ran across an ambrotype photograph of a little 9-year old girl named Lucy in an issue of the Tennessee State Museum Magazine. This photograph is dated 1859 and Lucy was enslaved with the Waggoner family in Davidson County, Tennessee. Marius reached out to the Afro-American Historical Genealogical Society (AAHGS) to help him research the history of this little girl. The AAHGS website is at this link:

I will not recount the remainder of the story here in my blog, you can watch the video of what researchers found at this link: fbclid=IwAR2ErrM5aIs0F4Y6o2XctPvdHimC0ZaEOHA3nNJxZAxfDlTEqSc5qwuXW1A

Researching African American genealogy can be a daunting task, especially once you get back before 1870. But do not let that deter you from researching your black history. Many archives have records, photographs and artifacts that could help you. February is the time to be on the look out for these archives to share what they have as we celebrate the lives and history of African Americans. 

Maybe you have a story like Lucy Waggoner, I would encourage you to not give up and to keep searching for the answers. Everyone who ever lived on planet Earth has a story to tell and we as genealogists need to be telling that story so it is not forgotten.


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Saturday, February 4, 2023

Book Review: Revolutionary Roads by Bob Thompson

Revolutionary Roads: Searching for the War That Made America Independent and All the Places it Could Have Gone Terribly Wrong by Bob Thompson. Published by Twelve Books: 1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY. 10104;; 2023. ISBN 978-1-4555-6515-3. 448 pp. Bibliography, illustrations, index, notes. Hardback. $32.00.

Cover of Book, Courtesy of Twelve Books

Bob Thompson’s new book Revolutionary Roads is a true adventure story. I am always telling genealogists to “walk in your ancestor's footsteps” and Thompson’s book is like going back in a time machine to experience the crucial places during the American Revolution. Many times, we can’t understand what our ancestors experienced, saw, and lived through unless we actually go there and see if for ourselves.

Revolutionary Roads tour through many of the Revolutionary War sites makes for a great read. I found myself not wanting to stop reading and couldn’t wait to get to the next chapter. I was concerned that I would not be able to visualize the places the author visited but his writing kept me interested and I could really see the places he was describing. In addition, the reader gets a great dose of “what if” from Thompson as he talks about what could have happened if the war didn’t go just as it did.

This book is an example for every genealogist to consider the events your ancestors experienced through their eyes as much as possible. Visiting those places, if they still exist, that had an impact on their lives, their decisions, their accomplishments, and their defeats can really add to your ancestor story.

The author covers many of the lesser-known battles and incidents, which I really liked and was glad to see. I envisioned my ancestors that I know were living in the same areas or were involved with the Revolutionary War as I read this book. Thompson’s writing helped me to place my ancestors in those times and places and truly have more of an understanding of what they went through.

I can highly recommend Bob Thompson’s Revolutionary Roads: Searching for the War That Made America Independent and All the Places it Could Have Gone Terribly Wrong to anyone wanting to know how to trace their ancestor’s footsteps and especially if you are like me and love reading about the Revolutionary War.

Courtesy of Twelve Books


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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Black History Month in the Archives

February is Black History month and many of our local, state and national archives in the United States are gearing up for Black History Month programs, exhibits and displays. These archives will be sharing African American histories, documents, photographs and artifacts. 

As the archivist for the Houston County, Tennessee Archives & Museum, I am very excited about celebrating the black history in my county and the entire United States.

Bransford High School Graduates, Tennessee State Library and Archives

Many of our local, state and national archives take great pains in collecting, preserving and sharing their African American records with the public. Whether these records are Manuscript Collections, Photograph Collections, School Records or artifacts that directly relate to the history and lives of African Americans, they are extremely important to our over all world history.

Portrait of Henry W. Allen, Catherine B. Allen and Minta B. Allen, Tennessee State Library and Archives

Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history. Also known as African American History Monty, the event grew out of "Negro History Week", the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson in 1915 and other prominent African Americans. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating Black history.

If you have African American ancestors, I hope you take the month of February to celebrate their lives and tell their stories. Every person has a story to tell and if we as genealogists do not document and preserve our ancestors stories, they will be lost forever.


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