Genealogy Roadshow Recap: Houston, TX

Tuesday night’s Genealogy Roadshow took us to Houston, Texas.  Most of the episode was filmed at Julia Ideson Building  of the Houston Public Library (HPL).  The HPL has a great Genealogical Resources webpage and is also home to the Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research.  The HPL also has a robust digital library and an extensive local history department worth checking out if you are doing research in this region.

My favorite segment of the night was of a young country artist who wanted to know more about his rumored relative who served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Tracing African American genealogy can be particularly difficult for many whose ancestors were enslaved because there was a time when the Federal Census did not list the names of slaves – they were often noted plainly by ditto “” marks.  The National Archives and Records Administration put together a useful presentation on how to search for African Americans in the Federal Census, 1790-1930.  If you think the person you are researching may have fought in the Civil War for the Union side, one place you might want to look is in the pension files of the Civil War soldiers.  A similar approach is to use prisoner of war records, as noted in a different segment on Andersonville Prison.

Another segment that I found really touching was of a young woman who was trying to identify with her rumored Native American ancestors.  The Trail of Tears is something I remember learning about in school (and I think Josh put is best when he pointed out that it was “one of those moments in history when you think ‘how could we do this to other human beings’” – a sentiment that unfortunately can parallel much of history.)  In this segment, the show took us into a very specific part of the Trail of Tears – the Cherokee Freedmen.  After watching this segment, I spent a few hours researching more about the Cherokee Freedman and their continued struggle to belong, and to see this emotional struggle still felt so strongly by one of their descendants (who didn’t know she was a descendent of a Freedman) is beyond profound and uncanny – it gave me goosebumps.  If you are searching for citizens or freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes, you should check out the Dawes Rolls mentioned in the segment.

A couple of other resources worth noting:

People sometimes ask me what “biographical” means in the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, and I want to answer them here with a paraphrasing of a great line from the show: The history and the personal stories take someone who is just a name on a chart and turns them into a relative.

I wish you the best of luck in finding your relatives.

Heather Hoffman

(Manager, Digital Collections and Online Services at the NYG&B)