Monday, December 5, 2011

Monday Mapping Exercise: Finding African American History on Maps

Detail from 1878 Map of Hampton Virginia

Last summer I attended a wonderful class at Samford Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research where I enrolled in the Maps Class. I blogged about the experience the entire week.

The first point emphasized by Rick Sayre, one of the faculty members, was that maps tell a story. The entire week we were exposed to a number of maps telling some of these stories.  One map caught my attention right away--a map of Camp Nelson Kentucky revealing the location of a contraband camp.

Civil War Era Map of Camp Nelson KY Showing Contraband Camp

I was so thrilled to have seen this image!  I have ancestors who were contrabands, and seeing this map outlining details of the camp was so amazing and enlightening.

A genealogy friend of mine in Virginia, shared an amazing map with me, also. It was a map from 1878 reflecting Hampton Virginia.  The details once again caught my attention and told me so much! In fact I found ten different features of interest to anyone studing African American history in the Hampton Roads area.
The map itself was printed in 1878, more than 10 years after the war, however, the city of Hampton was still recovering from the war, and some of the Civil War era sites were still there.
Map Title Reflects the Territory and Details

I found several features highlighted on the map that reflected the rich history of the area, including several black cemeteries, (see image at the top) schools and a detailed outline of the campus of Hampton Institute!

Hampton Institute Found on 1878 Map Reflecting Buildings and Orchards

One of the things that I learned from the maps class was that maps tell a story--sometimes by what they show and also by what they don't show.

Last year on another blog I wrote a piece about an old "Negro Settlement" that existed for about thirty years, in what eventually became Oklahoma, and then it disappeared. I was able to tell the story from several images of maps that reflected this settlement.

This unknown and unnamed settlement existed for 3 decades in Indian Territory, now Oklahoma

On that blog post I illustrated how the community was depicted on maps by a number of publishers, and then, suddenly it vanished. No history of the community has been written. Who were they? Where did they go? To date, nothing has been discovered, although I have heard from a few curious people who live in the area, who are also asking the same question. One visitor to the page found an old map in the local Cleveland County Oklahoma Courthouse and found a local map that also showed the same community.  

Of course there are also some wonderful online sites that have created maps to specifically documenting African American history. A favorite site is Mapping the African American Past. This site is interactive and a wonderful way to learn from contemporary maps, specifically what was there and what was not there during a specific time period.

However, my particular interest  lies in historic maps. 

We need to take a close look at the communities where our ancestors lived. Many maps of the day, especially those created during the years in which the ancestors lived, often reveal long forgotten places and they can point to long forgotten burial sites. 

These old maps often quietly point to other untold stories from the past. Our goal is simply to find them, study them, and then---tell those stories!!

1 comment:

Oklahoma Traveler said...

There's definitely a lot of truth to this. Large area maps are great for pinpointing different locations that have long vanished, as well as tracking the movements of different families throughout time. Smaller, city maps can tell you many things as well. Even small details, such as how houses were constructed or if the roads had curbs or not, can tell a lot of history about a town. This really is a great blog! Thanks for sharing!