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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Research Strategies and Stories : The Wisconsin African-American Genealogy Conference

Strategies and Stories: 
African-American Genealogy Conference
Saturday, October 18, 2014
8 am-5 pm

This weekend, I attended the 2nd Annual African-American Genealogy Conference in Madison, Wisconsin.  Remember, I am researching the life of Civil War veteran, Corporal Thomas Nelson, who enlisted in the ranks of the Union Army in 1864 while he lived in Rock County, Wisconsin.  I thought perhaps I would learn a bit more about research techniques and strategies that would be useful to me in my project.  I did not leave Madison disappointed.

Conference speakers, Janis Minor Forte', Carolyn Mattern and Lori Bessler, shared their knowledge and experiences with a room full of conference participants.  Ms. Forte' reviewed the research she had done on her ancestor, Sallie Campbell Driver.  She had developed her research question : How many children did Sallie have?...14, 15, 16,....  We listened intently as she showed us her research plan and rode along with her as she guided us on the trail to review the smallest items of information on the census sheets.  Comparing the details of vital records, historical reports and genealogies, she determined, at the end of her presentation, that Sallie was the mother of 16 children.

Ms. Forte' gave a second presentation about the World War I draft registration in the United States. She entitled her program, "Even Gangsters Had to Register".  Why name it that?  Well, you see, she just happened to have an ancestor who had a rather interesting a gangster.  And, yes, she did show his draft registration form, and highlighted the wonderful personal information that could be gleaned from it.  She also added the draft registrations of several notorious mob figures, noting that every man had to register, regardless of who you were or what you did.  We talked briefly about non citizens who were not required to serve in the armed forces.  Of course, I had to pipe up and tell my story of my grandfather, a non citizen, who was drafted.  He told the members of the draft board that he was an alien, and furthermore, he had a brother serving in the army of the Kaiser in Austria.  They still sent him to boot camp in New Jersey.  However, when they asked the new recruits to write a letter to their families, telling how they would be leaving to go to grandfather wrote a letter in German and his family members living in the Austo-Hungarian empire.  The government needed no more convincing.  Grandpa was discharged as an enemy alien and sent home with what pay he had earned from the US Army.
Frank J. Bognar, Sr., orders to return home, labeled as an enemy alien.  From the personal papers of F J Bognar, Sr.

Carolyn Mattern gave a wonderful presentation about collecting information, forms and packets regarding the Civil War service of African-Americans.  This was of special interest to me.  Remember that Corp. Thomas Nelson served in the Union Army, 1864-1865.  Carolyn reviewed my collection of information on Mr. Nelson, and suggested that I write to the National Archives for the complete pension file for him.  She promised that it would be chocked full of wonderful family information....something that I need more of for my file.  Recently I found a photograph of the members of the GAR of Hinsdale, Illinois, taken in the early 1900s.  Mr. Nelson can be found in the middle of the back row, proudly standing with his fellow veterans.

"Village on the County Line" by Hugh Dugan

Lori Bessler, of the Wisconsin Historical Society reference librarian, followed up with two presentations.  The first was to give advice on organizing research materials and data...something that we all need to review from time to time.  The second presentation was the discussion of resources available to those who wish to research African-American heritage and genealogy.  Most of the nationally known websites were mentioned.  In addition, some of the more specialized websites were reviewed.  Afrigeneas, found at , is a good resource to help those researching their ancestry. Another that I have recently found is BlackRefer, found at , which is a portal for sites.  The Center for African-American Genealogical Research, found at, is another well-respected website.  Don't forget the the Freedmen's Bank Records, and many of the others listed on Ancestry, found at

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