A New Feature in the FamilySearch Family Tree: Other Relationships

In August, FamilySearch added a new feature: the capability to link non-relatives to someone in their Family Tree. The FamilySearch Family Tree is a shared family tree where everyone works on the same tree. WikiTree, one of my favourite genealogy websites, is another.

This feature benefits anyone doing FAN Club research. The FAN Club are a person’s friends, associates, and neighbours. Elizabeth Shown Mills coined the term and it revolutionized genealogical research. One of the best ways to solve documentary genealogical mysteries is to focus on others who interacted with our ancestor. Seeing the same neighbours, witnesses, bondsmen, and chain crews (people involved in surveying property) can help us be sure the person we are researching is the person we are interested in, or help us distinguish two people of the same name. To see another post on FAN Club research see here.

The feature can also associate people linked through slavery. The best effort to do this is the US Black Heritage Project at WikiTree, which I’ve written about here. The WikiTree effort differs from the current “Other Relationships” Feature at FamilySearch because there are standards and project teams working to support the effort. Nevertheless, FamilySearch’s “Other Relationships” Feature will benefit researchers.

Here’s where you find “Other Relationships.” First you need to be using the “New Person Page.” To find that, click on the upper right “Go to New Person Page” when viewing any person in the FamilySearch Family Tree as shown below. I’m using my 3x great-grandfather, Thomas Adam Walker, as an example.

FamilySearch Family Tree location of New Person Page link

The New Person Page features a new banner, is organized differently, and provides easier navigation. In the view below, I’ve collapsed the sections so that the “Other Relationships” is visible (red arrow).

“Other Relationships” Section in the New Person Page

When you click on “Add Other Relationship,” a dialogue box appears.

“Add Other Relationship” Step 1

Clicking the “Relationship” drop-down menu provides the following choices, shown below: apprenticeship, employment, godparent, household, neighbor, relative, slavery.

Relationship Options

My ancestor was an enslaver, so I wanted to add a slavery relationship. (I’ve already done this on WikiTree, which has a more robust system to describe relationships and categories. I decided to put it on the FamilySearch Family Tree because many people use it for their research. Thomas Walker’s WikiTree profile with the link to Mary Jane is here. ) When I choose “Slavery” from the drop-down menu, I see the the linkage shown in a diagram, below.

Slavery Option

When I click on “Save” at the bottom right, I get a new dialogue box and I can either add a new person, or use the FamilySearch Family Tree unique identifier to link to them. Since Mary Jane doesn’t seem to be on the Family Tree (and I don’t know if she survived to emancipation, or the surname she used after emancipation if she lived); I will enter her as a new person. She can be merged later if a duplicate entry in the Family Tree is found.

The next step is to enter what I know about Mary Jane, which isn’t a lot. It is enough to help someone who might be searching for her.

Dialog Box for Details

I’ve filled in the details I know below. I used Walker as her last name. WikiTree has the ability to provide multiple last names, which is another reason to make sure this information is on WikiTree. I decided to not guess that she was born or died in Tennessee, which is likely.

Details Complete

When I click “Next,” FamilySearch has checked their database and found someone with a similar name and dates.

Reviewing a Same-Name Person

Since I’m sure Mary Jane was not born in Ireland and I know Walker is a provisional last name, I click “Create Person” as shown by the red arrow. Another box comes up, providing me an opportunity to make sure I have the linkage done properly, showing Thomas Adam Walker as the “Slaveholder” and Mary Jane Walker as the “Enslaved Person.” (Perhaps FamilySearch will reconsider their terms at some point. Slave Holder doesn’t begin to convey the nature of this relationship. “Enslaver” would be a better term. I acknowledge they may be using this term to allow search engines to find this information. Our terms will continue to evolve over time. WikiTree has an explanation about terminology, and why they use the terms they have chosen here.)

Review the Direction of the Relationship

When I click “Save” in the lower right of the dialog box, I am taken back to Thomas Waker’s profile and I can now see the relationship to Mary Jane.

Other Relationship shown in the Profile

I haven’t been asked to add a source at any time, so I need to do that. The Bill of Sale between Thomas Walker and Holloway Key, another of my 3x great-grandfathers, is on FamilySearch, so I navigate to the document. The “Attach to Family Tree” button in the upper right is what I need.

Attaching a Document to a Person in the FamilySearch FamilyTree

This opens a bar on the right.

Creating a Source

I next add in some details about how this record is linked to Thomas Walker, as shown in the upper red arrow in the image below. When I’m satisfied, I click the blue button to choose the person in the FamilySearch Family Tree that I want to add this record to.

Creating the Source and Continuing by Selecting the Person

FamilySearch then asks me to enter the person’s ID (their unique identifying number, which appears near their name on their page) or if I’ve been working in FamilySearch, I will see a list of people below. Note: I’ve placed a grey box over the rest of the list to preserve the privacy of clients I am currently working with.

Attaching the Document to a Person, Select Person Step

I’m almost done. FamilySearch asks me to check my work and asks for an explanation next to the red arrow. This is an important step. Linkages form the foundation for genealogy.

Checking the Linkage and Providing a Rationale

I write about the enslaver-enslaved relationship in the box provided.

Completed Rationale

I like to check my work, so I go back to Thomas Walker’s profile and check the Sources list. The date for the Bill of Sale is missing! It doesn’t show up in order in the Sources list.

Missing Date in Sources

This is a quick fix. I click on “Add” (circled above) and a dialog box appears.

Entering the Date

I add the date and recheck. It’s now in the right place.

Updated Sources list

My final task is to add this document to Mary Jane. Since she is linked on Thomas Walker’s page, I can repeat the above process for Mary Jane to create a source, and on Holloway Kee’s page, I can add the “Other Relationship” along with the source. It’s much faster the second time since I have a model to follow.

The result is that Mary Jane now has a Page on the FamilySearch Family Tree, shown below.

Mary Jane, provisional last name Walker

This is a great step for FamilySearch and will help researchers in many ways. The functionality on WikiTree US Black Heritage is superior. For example, the category search that would allow anyone looking for an enslaved person in Benton County to find Mary Jane. A person could also search the Benton County Tennessee Slave Owners (see note about terminology above.). The ability to give her multiple provisional surnames also aids any researchers looking for Mary Jane.

Thanks FamilySearch, for adding this feature!

Learning WikiTree

For the past couple of months, I’ve had the opportunity to introduce members of the Linked Descendants Working Group of Coming to the Table to the U.S. Black Heritage Project at WikiTree.

Coming to the Table (CTTT) is a U.S. non-profit “working together to create a just and truthful society that acknowledges and seeks to heal from the racial wounds of the past, from slavery and the many forms of racism it spawned.” The Linked Descendants Working Group includes CTTT members who “want to know the truth about their ancestors, discover their connections, maybe even heal a bit of the wounded past.” Members descend from enslavers and enslaved and some are connected through slavery and some as family. Members discuss how to make connections including genealogical research methods, practical matters regarding communicating with potential linked descendants, and the emotional aftermath of slavery. Members descended from enslaved people are searching for their family history. Other members seek to share the information they’ve uncovered about enslaved people through researching their own family history. That’s where the U.S. Black Heritage Project comes in.

The U.S. Black Heritage Project’s mission is shown below.

Mission of the U.S. Black Heritage Project

The similar interests of the two groups have provided me an opportunity to support the Linked Descendants to begin using WikiTree. Once they feel comfortable with WikiTree, they can join the many projects within the U.S. Black Heritage project (such as the Plantations Project, or the one I am involved with the Heritage Exchange Profile Improvement Team.)

If you would like to know more about using WikiTree to support your family history, including your Linked Descendant journey, I’d be happy to share resources if you contact me. An introductory video I created is available via the Virtual Genealogical Association.

A tribute to the Lydia Judah, teacher, Freedmen’s Bureau

The greatest success of the Freedmen’s Bureau lay in the planting of the free school among Negroes, and the idea of free elementary education among all classes in the South. 

W.E.B. DuBois, The Freedmen’s Bureau

While delving into the Freedmen’s Bureau records for a client, I came across the “Teacher’s Monthly School Report” for June of 1867 in Richmond, Virginia. The locations of the schools caught my eye: “16th st. near to creek,” “cor 3rd And Leigh,” and “All[e]y bet Clay & Marshall.” The roster named each teacher, the date the school opened, the ethnicity of the teacher (most in Richmond were “colored”), the number of students, and other data reporting the students’ progress. Two hundred and seventy-seven students were tallied on the page.

Teacher’s Monthly School Report, Freedmen’s Bureau, Richmond, Virginia, June 1867

Third and Leigh street, Google informed me, now hosted a bus stop. Google street view came through, including the bus. Passers-by walk the street where the teacher of the Third and Leigh Street school supported the dreams of students. Her name was Lydia Judah.

Third and Leigh Streets, Richmond, Virginia

Who was Lydia?

Lydia Judah’s school opened at Third and Leigh street in October of 1866.[1] In June of 1867 she taught ten male students and twenty-one female. Lydia reported that twelve students were early readers and twelve were advanced.

Lydia Judah, the daughter of Benjamin W. Judah, and was born free in Virginia in about 1838.[2] A court record from 1841 attested to the free status of the Judah children.

Richmond City Court Minutes

Benjamin was a shoemaker. Lydia grew up in a large and family.[3] The household in 1850 may represent Lydia’s parents, Benjamin and Judith, an older sister, Pocahontas, married to Patrick Cross, another older sister, Augustine, and younger sisters Frances and Sarah. [Note the surname Cross was erroneously provided as the surname of the Judah children.]

Benjamin Judah household, 1850 US Census, Richmond, Virginia

By 1860, Lydia was the eldest child in the family, and three young children with the Cross surname complete the household. The family fortune had declined between 1850 and 1860.

Benjamin Judah household, 1860 Census, Richmond, Virginia

The Confederate government oppressed free blacks during the Civil War and more hardship likely confronted the Judah family. At the war’s end, Lydia stepped up to provide an education to those who had previously been deprived of an education.

Lydia Judah died of consumption in Philadelphia in August of 1868.[4]

Lydia B. Judah death, 10 August 1868

Lydia and the other schoolteachers of the Freedmen’s Bureau contributed to the cause of freedom.

For more about the Freedmen’s Bureau schools, see Scott Britton Hansen, “Education for All: The Freedmen’s Bureau Schools in Richmond and Petersburg, 1865-1870,” Virginia Commonwealth University, Thesis, 2008.


[1] “Virginia, Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1865-1872,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-D1L7-94X : accessed 25 June 2022); “Teacher’s Monthly School Report,” June 1867, Richmond,  Virginia; citing NARA microfilm publication M1913, roll 168.

“United States, Freedmen’s Bureau, Records of the Superintendent of Education and of the Division of Education, 1865-1872,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-C9TH-KS4T-1 : accessed 27 June 2022); “Monthly Education Report, Virginia,” 20 February 1868, page 5; citing NARA microfilm publication M803, roll 32.

[2] “Richmond City, Virginia, Hustings Court Minutes, No. 14, 1840-1842,” 14 June 1841, page 354, regarding children of Benjamin W. Judah; digital image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-C374-V9R5-X: accessed 27 June 2022), Film #008574656; citing County Clerk

[3] 1850 U.S. Census, Henrico County, Virginia, population schedule, Richmond, page 383 (stamped facing page), dwelling 671, family 778, Ben. W. Judah household; digital image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:53HT-DC33-832 : accessed 27 June 2011); citing NARA microfilm publication M432, roll 951.

1860 U.S. Census, Henrico County, Virginia, population schedule, Richmond Second Ward, page 195 (penned), dwelling 1047, family 1187, Benj. W. Judah household; digital image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.ora/ark:/61903/3:1:3357-8BF2.9L1 : accessed 27 June 2022); citing NARA microfilm publication M653,roll 1352

[4] Pennsylvania Department of Health, death certificate, Lydia B. Judah, Philadelphia, 10 August 1868; database with images, “Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Death Certificates, 1803-1903,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-6SZ7-HZW : accessed 27 June 2022); citing Philadelphia City Archives and Historical Society.

Unlearning

For most of my education, American History started with the Pilgrims and ended sometime around World War II. History books largely ignored contributions of women, impacts on Indigenous people, the horrific middle passage of enslaved Africans, slavery, and ongoing inequities experienced by anyone considered “the other.” In 8th grade our history book contained an image that upended the paper pilgrim hats, George Washington’s cherry tree, and Lincoln’s log cabin.

The image of the slave ship Brookes haunted me: black figures, lying chained together in the hold of a ship, layers of unwilling human cargo. Considered one of the most important infographics of all time, English abolitionists posted it on walls of taverns and published it in newspapers and pamphlets.[1] It contributed to the passage of laws abolishing the slave trade throughout the British empire in 1808.[2] On seeing the image in 1974, I began to doubt the history of the just and righteous founding fathers. Three years later, the miniseries Roots caught the attention of the nation and demonstrated that memories of capture, the harrowing trip across the ocean, and enslavement survived the passage of time. Alex Haley based his novel on stories his grandmother told of his seventh great-grandfather stolen from Gambia.[3]

By 1998, the publication of Slaves in the Family by Edward Ball[4] invited Americans to look at the past. He wrote:

No one among the Balls talked about how slavery had helped us, but whether we acknowledged it or not, the powers of our ancestors were still in hand. Although our social franchise had shrunk, it had nevertheless survived. If we did not inherit money, or land, we received a great fund of cultural capital, including prestige, a chance at education, self-esteem, a sense of place, mobility, even (in some cases) a flair for giving orders. And it was not only “us,” the families of former slave owners, who carried the baggage of the plantations. By skewing things so violently in the past, we had made sure that our cultural riches would benefit all white Americans.

Edward Ball, Slaves in the Family, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998), p. 13-14.

I am committed to unlearning, “to discard or put aside certain knowledge as being false or binding.”[5] The history I learned in school denied reality. My unlearning has taken on new urgency as the world continues to struggle to address racism. A new wave of book censorship threatens our ability to unlearn.[6] I believe my grandchildren deserve history lessons that face the past. It is only then that we can create a better future.

Here’s a few books to consider:

Thomas Norman DeWolf, Inheriting the Trade: A Northern Family Confronts Its Legacy as the Larges Slave-Trading Dynasty in U.S. History

Tom De Wolf, one of the founders of Coming to the Table, recounts his family’s journey to understand their ancestors’ role in slavery by retracing the slave trade route.

Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge

Judge and others were denied freedom while living in a free state by the Washingtons’ practice of sending enslaved people back to a slave-holding state just as they became eligible for emancipation. George Washington misused his power during attempts to return her to slavery. New Englanders sympathetic to Judge blocked Washington’s efforts and helped Judge maintain her freedom.

Henry Louis Gates, 100 Amazing Facts About the Negro

In this surprising book, Henry Louis Gates revises an ambitious and not totally factual book of the same name first published in 1934. The original author, Joel Augustus Rogers, introduced many African Americans to their history during the Jim Crow era. Henry Louis Gates corrects Roger’s misunderstandings and creates a fascinating look at the many ways African Americans shaped world history.

Adam Goodheart, 1861: The Civil War Awakening

Adam Goodheart carefully catalogs the events leading up to the Civil War on a personal and national scale. For those of us who learned the Civil War was about “states rights,” this book provides overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Harriet Jacobs, born in 1813 in North Carolina, recounts the years she was enslaved, sexual abuse by an enslaver, and years hiding in an attic before her escape to New York. The book was first published in January 1861 and you can read it online.

Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist

Kendi’s own journey into antiracism forms the backbone of his book. He deftly walks the reader through racist thinking and how it shapes policies and systems.

Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Brown, editors, Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019

Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Brown brought together ninety authors, each writing about a 5-year period in American history beginning in 1619 with the arrival of the first Africans in Jamestown. Using short story, biography, poetry, essays, and calls-to-action, the authors provide connections to current issues.

DeRay McKesson, On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope

DeRay tells of his life of activism, including his involvement in the founding of Black Lives Matter movement with fellow activists.

Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy

As founder of the Equal Justice initiative, Bryan Stevenson fights daily for the rights of people unjustly charged with crimes. His book recounts story after story of last-minute legal maneuvering to save people’s lives. His organization documents the history of racial injustice.

Dorothy Wickendam, The Agitators: Three Friends Who Fought for Abolition and Women’s Rights

Dorothy Wickendam chronicles the lives of Harriet Tubman, Martha Wright, and Frances Seward who each fought for abolition and women’s rights, sometimes together, and sometimes with differences of opinion.

Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration

Harrowing experiences of racism in the south led each of the three people profiled in the Warmth of Other Suns to distinct locations: to the north, the midwest, and the west. Isabel Wilkerson’s comprehensive research, interviewing acumen, and storytelling demonstrate how racism followed each to their destination and continues to impact people today.

David Zucchino, Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy

The death of the promise of reconstruction is recounted in Zucchino’s book about the massacre of African Americans who had risen to elected office and prominence in business in Wilmington.


[1] Thomas Clarkson, The History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade by the British Parliament, (London: publisher not given, 1808); digital image and description, British Library https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/diagram-of-the-brookes-slave-ship(: accessed 4 May 2022).

[2] Michael Sandberg, “DataViz History: The Slave-Ship Chart That Kindled The Abolitionist Movement, 1788,” DataVizBlog.com (https://datavizblog.com/2013/03/09/dataviz-history-the-slave-ship-chart-that-kindled-the-abolitionist-movement-1788/ : accessed 4 May 2022).

[3] “Biography: Alex Murray Palmer Haley, August 11, 1921 – February 10, 1992” AlexHaley.com (https://alexhaley.com/biography/ : accessed 4 May 2022).

[4] Edward Ball, Slaves in the Family, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998).

[5] “Unlearn,” Dictionary.com (https://www.dictionary.com/browse/unlearn : accessed 4 May 2022).

[6] Annie Gowen, “Censorship battles’ new frontier: Your public library,” 17 April 2022, The Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2022/04/17/public-libraries-books-censorship/ : accessed 4 May 2022).

Celebrating with the Virtual Genealogical Association (VGA)

Image by D. Sharon Pruitt, courtesy of WikiMedia Commons

We celebrate far too little. So when the VGA asked me to come to the party, I said, “yes!”

I spent 3 hours today with fellow family historians. We heard from great speakers who shared fun tips and told interesting stories. We played genealogy games, too! I shared my version of a much-loved evening game show that involves responding to an answer with a question. Yes, that’s the one! Everyone had a blast and we had a winner who excelled at the Genealogical Proof Standard Category.

The sponsors recorded the presentations and shared additional presentations on their YouTube Channel. I contributed two recordings: Concise Communication for Genealogists using SBAR and an Introduction to WikiTree’s US Black Heritage Project. Head on over to listen to my recordings and hear all the wonderful presenters.

What a fun party!