Saturday, January 29, 2011

Wonderful Record Discovery

One of our regular patrons came into the Family History Center not long ago and said she wanted to ask for some advice.  A few months ago she was in North Carolina doing research on her family.  While she was in one office, she noticed a book on the floor under a trash can (yes, you read that right) and asked the clerks what it was.  They didn't know and said she could pull it out and look at it.

It was a "cohabitation register" from after the end of the Civil War (or would that be the War of the Northern Aggression, since we're talking about North Carolina?), for black couples who had not been permitted to marry legally while they were slaves but who had what were essentially common-law marriages.  They were allowed to register their relationships and thereby make them legal and binding and legitimize their children.  Michael Hait, the well known researcher of black American genealogy, told me that most former slave states had these registrations.  He also said that several of the marriages were recorded in the Freedmen's Bureau Field Office records, but that many states had their own registers, as with this one.

There are a few hundred entries.  It's minimal information -- names, when the relationship began -- but what a find!  Thinking quickly, our patron took photos of all the pages in the book.  Unfortunately, I believe after she was finished the book was returned to its previous home on the floor.

What the patron wanted to know was what she should do with the information now that she had it.  I suggested she transcribe the names and create an alphabetical index, then submit it to RootsWeb, USGenWeb, and any genealogical and historical societies that are relevant for research in that county .  I also asked if she would give a copy of the file to our Family History Center.  Sharing information is a long-standing practice in genealogy; I've uploaded several indices to RootsWeb and also shared them with other Web sites.

A story like this makes you wonder what other records are buried and forgotten in other offices and repositories.  The next time you see a book tucked away, maybe you should ask to see it . . . .

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