The internet continues to excel at what it was designed to do: Share information. For family history researchers, the free sharing of methods and resources has transformed a pastime that was once championed by the elite eager to prove descendancy from royalty to a hobby that proves we are one family.
I’ve compiled a list of free resources and learning opportunities for people who are just getting started or want to make sure their documentary genealogy research is on a firm foundation.
FamilySearch: FamilySearch is the largest database of free genealogy records and guidance on how to do genealogy. The FamilySearch Wiki is one of the first places I turn when starting a new project.
Research Resources: This part of the Wiki includes a section on Beginning Genealogy with a section on the research process, tips on choosing software, how to use the Wiki and research tools. There is more information on this page than any one genealogist knows.
Guided Research: This feature of the Wiki will walk you through how to research birth, marriage and death records in many localities around the world. Use the map to identify the locality you want and follow the links.
Main Wiki Page: From the main page, you can find the resources available for any locality, down to the county level in the US.
National Genealogical Society: This membership group has been around for over 100 years and publishes the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, the most prestigious genealogy publication. Recent diversity and inclusion efforts are encouraging.
Getting Started: This free online course includes methods and approaches every genealogist can use.
African American Research: The continued efforts to share records related to African American history and the legacy of enslavement has meant more is possible than ever. Because of systematic attempts to hide the reality of slavery, records can be hard to find. African American research does require a great deal of persistence and unique approaches to discovering ancestors.
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.
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).
When you click on “Add Other Relationship,” a dialogue box appears.
Clicking the “Relationship” drop-down menu provides the following choices, shown below: apprenticeship, employment, godparent, household, neighbor, relative, slavery.
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.
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.
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.
When I click “Next,” FamilySearch has checked their database and found someone with a similar name and dates.
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.)
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.
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.
This opens a bar on the right.
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.
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.
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.
I write about the enslaver-enslaved relationship in the box provided.
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.
This is a quick fix. I click on “Add” (circled above) and a dialog box appears.
I add the date and recheck. It’s now in the right place.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Who was Lydia?
Lydia Judah’s school opened at Third and Leigh street in October of 1866. 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. A court record from 1841 attested to the free status of the Judah children.
Benjamin was a shoemaker. Lydia grew up in a large and family. 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.]
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.
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.
Lydia and the other schoolteachers of the Freedmen’s Bureau contributed to the cause of freedom.
 “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.
 “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
 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
 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.
Hawkins Wilson wrote a letter to the Freedmen’s Bureau searching for the family he was separated from as a 6-year-old. It was May of 1867. He described his mother, uncle, and siblings and their location in Virginia before his enslaver took him away to Galveston, Texas.