Genealogy, Liberal Arts, and Applying My Research Skills

This blog post is written by Victoria Thomas, a student at Manhattan College who was part of one of our NYG&B Labs teams this summer. The team assisted Professor Adam Arenson in his project tracking and visualizing migration patterns of African North Americans prior to, during and after the American Civil War. A portion of the project focused on processing and analyzing Civil War pension files of African American Civil War soldiers​. The project is still a work in progress, but we are excited to have the students share their updates in a series of blog posts over the next month.  


Our project, which is tracking the migration patterns of emancipated African Americans during and after Reconstruction across the New York/Canada border, sheds light on the difficulties and quandaries in adequately tracking the movement of escaped or emancipated slaves during and after the Civil War era.


Analyzing Civil War pension files and uncovering forgotten stories

In order to effectively track the migration of these African Americans across the New York/Canada border, our team spends a great deal of time consulting genealogical and archival records.

Researching, processing and analyzing past files and documentation has allowed us to piece together migration patterns, which has in turn allowed us to begin to uncover the lost or simply forgotten stories of our African American population. 

Unidentified African American soldier in Union
uniform with wife and two daughters c.1863. 
Retrieved from the Library of Congress, 

Part of my specific role as a history major working on the project includes processing and analyzing Civil War pension files of African American Civil War soldiers.

Through analyzing these files, more specifically the depositions found within the pension files, I was able to piece together the story of individuals as they explored their newfound freedom.

While working on this project I quickly realized the great amount of time, effort, and patience that is required of those working in genealogy.


The value of genealogy and liberal arts

In addition through working with all different kinds of team members I've learned the importance of receiving a well-rounded education that not just teaches you a specific trade, but teaches you a wide range of marketable and beneficial skills. These skills have allowed me to effectively work alongside and better communicate with people from different education backgrounds, such as the team members who are computer experts and data scientists.

In my time spent working alongside the talented and dedicated people at the NYG&B, I've realized that the importance of the hard and tedious work done by genealogists often goes unnoticed. 

Genealogists are not just people who like to uncover lost or forgotten stories of the past. Genealogists work to discover and enlighten people on our past with the hope of leading us to a brighter future. 

Our goal for the summer research was understand a life, a time, and a people in order to gain a new perspective. Understanding how the world operated in the past, and what led to our triumphs and failures is crucial to reaching success in our future.