Finding Your “Roots” at Alex Haley Museum Opening

Alex Haley home dedicated as a genealogy library and museum.

When 17-year-old violinist Joseph Matthews performed at the dedication of the Alex Haley Museum and Interpretive Center, he had no idea he would discover his family roots. Joseph, a high school senior from Memphis, Tennessee, was among hundreds who participated in two days of festivities at the Interpretive Center located behind Mr. Haley’s boyhood home in Henning, Tennessee. The center was dedicated on Friday, 13 August, 2010.

Mr. Haley, who passed away in 1992, received a Pulitzer Prize for his 1976 novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family. The book tells of his ancestors being sold into slavery in West Africa and their migration from North Carolina to Tennessee. The following year a TV series of Roots, described as “eight straight days of the Super Bowl,” aired and remains the highest rated TV miniseries in television history. Among the significant impact of Roots was a surge in interest throughout the world in family history research.

TIP: Search the Largest Collection of African American newspapers is in GenealogyBank.

Inside the museum Joseph and his family visited a FamilySearch center sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Through the free online program, Joseph explored his ancestral lines. “Basically we were able to type in my grandmother’s mother’s and father’s name, and from there we searched their records and we were able to find information about their parents as well as their siblings, birthdates, wedding dates, things of that nature,” said Matthews. “We made a couple of steps to where we can make some pretty good discoveries in the future as to our family lineage. We’re going to find out a lot more about our family and where we came from.”

According to Art Johnson, FamilySearch area manager, the placement of the FamilySearch center within the Alex Haley Museum is a perfect fit, “I think it’s a great opportunity to simply share the message of family history and genealogy to individuals that come in and commemorate the accomplishments and successes of Mr. Haley’s life. It’s an opportunity to simply bring people in and help them understand their heritage the way that Mr. Haley did.”
William Haley, Alex’s son, said that resources available through
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are very valuable in searching African-American ancestry. “I always send them to the LDS Church. I say, ‘Well find an LDS Church with a history portion and go in there and they will help you find out who you are and it doesn’t matter what country or anything, they will help you.’ Folks are very surprised at that, but it’s true.”

This is one of several related projects supported by the Church. In 2001, FamilySearch released the Freedman’s Bank records on CD, a unique searchable database documenting several generations of African-Americans immediately following the Civil War. In 2006, FamilySearch participated in the
Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society’s (AAHGS) national conference in Salt Lake City. An African-American family history conference is held in Salt Lake City each year.

The Alex Haley Museum and Interpretive Center and FamilySearch center are located in Henning, Tennessee, about 45 miles northeast of Memphis.


National Archives Celebrates 75th Anniversary this Friday!

National Archives Celebrates 75th Anniversary on Friday, June 19th.

Susan Logue (Voice of America) distributed this commentary on the 75th Anniversary of the National Archives.

Before the National Archives was founded, many governmental records were kept in poor conditions. On June 19, 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the legislation creating the National Archives. “There was a recognition by historians, by public officials and others that the history of the nation was being lost,” says assistant archivist Michael Kurtz. “Records were kept by the agencies that created them. Fires, floods and other disasters really ate away at the nation’s documented heritage.”

A visitor to the National Archives examines the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S.

Constitution Seventy-five years later, it is home to some of the most treasured documents in the United States. Every day, visitors fill the rotunda of the National Archives to get a glimpse of the documents that are the foundation of the United States government: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

But there is much more to the National Archives than just the so-called Charters of Freedom. More than 9 billion records preserved.

Since 1934 it has been responsible for all official governmental historical records: judicial, legislative and executive. Of course, not every government document is saved. Only one to three percent are deemed valuable enough to permanently archive. But, as Kurtz explains, that still adds up to more than nine billion records. While the paper records are vast, there are records in other formats as well including video, film, and digital.

“You have wikis and blogs, digital e-mail, all capturing government business,” says Kurtz. He notes they present new challenges to the Archives. “Preserving them is not like having temperature- and humidity-control vaults for paper records, which will ensure the paper records last for hundreds of years. Digital media is much more fragile.”

On the other hand, Kurtz says, the digital age has presented some opportunities for the National Archives, which can provide access to holdings to people who will never be able to come to the National Archives in person.

The National Archives is celebrating its 75th anniversary with lectures and panel discussions, screenings of films, and an exhibit called “Big!,” featuring some of its more unusual holdings. “The original premise was to showcase some unique items that normally don’t get displayed because of their size,” says exhibits specialist Jennifer Johnson.

Those items include a Civil War-era battlefield map of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, that measures four meters square and a bathtub modeled after the one made for President William Howard Taft, the largest U.S. president. He weighed about 145 kilos (320 pounds). “There were a series of items that were custom made for him, including his bed,” says Johnson. “We have a telegram where it is asking for a bathtub, listing the dimensions and describing it as ‘pond-like.'”
When the exhibition, Big!, closes next January, Shaq’s shoe will go to the George W. Bush presidential library. Presidential libraries are also part of the National Archives. There is also a shoe that belonged to basketball star Shaquille O’Neal, which was given to President George W. Bush, and a casting of dinosaur footprints.

Johnson says that was presented to Richard Nixon by two boys who discovered the fossilized prints in New Jersey. “When they discovered these footprints they petitioned Nixon to preserve that area of land so they could study it, and he did. So they gave him a casting of the footprints.” Today, she notes, one of those boys is one of the leading paleontologists in the U.S. There are also more conventional records in the exhibit, illustrating big events and big ideas in American history, like the lunar landing and D-Day, the Normandy invasion that led to the Allied victory in World War Two.

Exhibits like “Big!” give visitors a glimpse of the vast holdings of the National Archives, but the stars of the collection remain the Charters of Freedom.

RFK Dies 41 years ago today

Robert F. Kennedy died 41 years ago today.

With you can read the newspapers just as your ancestors did. It has the stories of your ancestor’s lives – the famous or the obscure – whether it is 40 years ago or over 300 years ago

GenealogyBank has the coverage genealogists rely on to document their family history. Over 3,800 newsapers, all 50 States, over 300 years of coverage. Sign up now.

I had the opportunity to hear RFK speak at Brigham Young University on March 27, 1968. The 1960s were difficult times – in 1968 – the Vietnam War was raging, RFK was challenging a sitting President LBJ for his party’s nomination, demonstrators were in all of the major cities. Less than a week following RFK’s talk Martin Luther King would be shot & killed. Two months after that RFK was shot and killed.

Kennedy’s remarks on campus were effective. He had done his homework; he had broken the ice and won over the respect of the packed arena. That fairly conservative campus was no longer his adversary but was ready to listen. He spoke briefly and took all questions. Tough questions. He was grilled but he was comfortable explaining his positions on the current state of the war and the country.

I clearly remember his opening remarks – with humor he reached out to his audience and showed respect for their history and beliefs. His actions and remarks echo in today’s headlines.

“Thank you very much. Thank you. I appreciate very much being here at this campus … I understand that this is a campus made up of all political persuasions. I had a very nice conversation with Dr. {Ernest L.} Wilkinson [laughter] … and I promised him that all Democrats would be off campus by sundown [laughter, applause].

But I feel very close to this state. Not only did part of my wife’s family live in the state of Utah for a long period of time, I traveled down your Green River…spent part of the time in the water (laughter) … part of my honeymoon here and I’ve had ten children since – so I have learned something from the Mormons [laughter].

I think that we still have a great deal in common, and in common with the man this university honors. For I too have a large family [laughter], I too have settled in many states [laughter]. And now I too know what it is to take on Johnson’s army. [Standing ovation, laughter and applause].” (Read the complete text at: Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought Vol 3, Number 3, Autumn 1968).

The reference to “Johnson’s Army” was a reference to his taking on President Lyndon B. Johnson in the Democratic Party Primaries as well as to President James Buchanan sending General Albert S. Johnston and his troops to quell the non-existent “Utah Rebellion” in 1857. This otherwise obscure reference was well known to BYU students schooled in Utah history. With this series of well thought out personal & historical references he won over the crowd.

After his remarks students crowded around to shake his hand. I was one of them. I was surprised at how short he was. I had always pictured him as over 6’ tall – but he was only 5’9” … shorter than I was then (but now that I am shrinking, I am catching up to him :)

(Photo courtesy BYU Archives).

I learned that day that it is important to see and hear a person speak for themselves – to take the measure of a man. I concluded that he was an honest man who believed in what he was doing and trying to accomplish. It was an honor to shake his hand that day – 27 March 1968.


NY Student History Research Contest Deadline Approaching

New York State Archives Sponsors 19th Annual Student Research Contest Albany, NY

This is a terrific opportunity to encourage students to use historical records.
The deadline for the contest is July 1st.
Awards go to individual students and to class projects. has over 300 New York (1719-Today) newspapers.

Click here to search all New York newspapers.

Use GenealogyBank to win this award.

The New York State Archives, a program of the State Education Department, is sponsoring the 19th annual Student Research Awards. The deadline for entry is July 1, 2009 and the contest is open to all New York students in grades 4-12 who use historical records in their research projects.

Three awards are presented each year: grades 4-5, grades 6-8, and grades 9-12. The awards consist of a framed certificate, a check for $100 from an endowment established by Regent Emerita Laura Chodos and her husband Robert Chodos, an invitation to have lunch with the Regents in Albany, and a behind-the-scenes tour of the State Archives.

Eligible projects are computer-based entries, such as websites or PowerPoint presentations; exhibits; documentaries; performances; research for a historical marker, property or district; and traditional research papers.

Student Research Award winners for 2008, Grades 4-5, were: Walden Elementary School (Orange County) students Jenalee Amundsen, Sarah Baker, Brianna Canto, Nicholas Cavallucci, Annalise Cardish, Felix Cepeda, Isaiah Skyler Chapman, Alex Clum, Frank Cook, Jr., Ilyssa Daly, Michael Daly, Brandon DiSimone, Sara Donovan, Abigail Hardy, Antonio Jackson, John lamb, Shiann Malvasi, Joshua Metzger, Jad Moumen, Sammy Moumen, Anthony Newton, Alyssa Rosario, Nyle Rose, Sarah Savasta, Brianna Sheehy, and Mary Sherman for their entry Capron, He’s My Street.

Grade 6-8 winners for 2008 were Persell Middle School (Chautauqua County) students Mark Brombacher, Jennie Gross, Taylor Estrada, Michelle Ferry, Alex Hoagland, Justin Hodges, Holly Johnson, Nick Myers, Jacob Perkins, Marisa Pope, Lucas Raak, Lindsey Rensel, Olivia Sinatra, Johnna Vanstrom, and Ben Whitney for their entry The Lost Neighborhood Project.

The Grade 9-12 Student Research Award winner for 2008 was Alexandra Rheinhardt, a student from Cooperstown Central High School (Otsego County), for the documentary, Sounds of Conflict: A Cultural Divide.

Julie Daniels, coordinator of the awards program, explained that in order for an entry to be competitive, a substantial portion of the research should be based on historical records from archives, historical newspapers, museums, historical societies, libraries, local governments, or other organizations. She offered some examples of historical records: original letters, diaries, and photographs; meeting minutes; police and court records; ledgers, census records; and wills.

For information about this year’s program, click on “Education” at, call (518) 474-6926 or email

Armed Forces Day – "United in Strength" – Saturday, May 16, 2009

President Harry S. Truman led the effort to establish a single holiday for citizens to come together and thank our military members for their patriotic service in support of our country.
On August 31, 1949, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson announced the creation of an Armed Forces Day to replace separate Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force Days. The single-day celebration stemmed from the unification of the Armed Forces under one department — the Department of Defense.
(Courtesy, US Dept. of Defense)

This month GenealogyBank Blog has been featuring the military history resources in

Military History Books
Heitman, Francis B. Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, from its Organization, September 29, 1789, to March 2, 1903. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1903. 2 volumes. (Serial Set Vol. No. 4535, Session Vol. No.96; Report: H.Doc. 446 pt. 1 & 2).
Click Here to Read Volume 1
Click Here to Read Volume 2

The Centennial of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1904. 2 volumes. (Serial Set Vol. No. 4751, Session Vol. No.125; Report: H.Doc. 789 pt. 1 & 2).
Click Here to read Volume 1
Click Here to read Volume 2

US Navy Register
Click here to see the listings for 1950-1961

US Army Register
Click here to see the listings for 1900-1909
Click here to see the listings for 1910-1919
Click here to see the listings for 1920-1929
Click here to see the listings for 1930-1939
Click here to see the listings for 1940-1968 is packed with military information: Books, newspapers and historical documents.

GenealogyBank has the resources genealogists actually use and rely on to document their family tree.

Jacquelyn Ladd Ricker – 1935-2008

Long time office manager of the Connecticut Society of Genealogists has passed away.
A prolific genealogist and writer – she was a long time presence in Connecticut genealogical circles. She is best known for her republication of the Barbour Index to Connecticut Vital Records which was issued as a CD-ROM under the title: The Ricker Compilation of Vital Records of Early Connecticut Based on the Barbour Collection of Connecticut Town Vital Records and Other Statistical Sources.

Our condolences to the family.

Here is her obituary – posted by permission of

Star-Gazette (Elmira, NY) – April 4, 2008
RICKER, Jacquelyn Ladd 1935-2008
Was born September 25th, 1935 in Elmira, NY, and passed away March 30th, 2008 in Payson, AZ. Mrs. Ricker graduated from Southside High School in Elmira, NY, and then attended Upsala College in East Orange, NJ. Mrs. Ricker returned to her native Elmira, and worked at the American Bridge Division of the U.S. Steel Corp in Elmira, where she met her husband.

After moving to Glastonbury, CT, she volunteered in several civic organizations while rearing their two sons. Then Mrs. Ricker began a career in genealogy and worked her way up to be Office Manager of the Connecticut Society of Genealogists. During this time, she became an active member in several genealogy organizations. She also became a prolific researcher of genealogy archives and was a noted author and editor of several genealogy publications. After retiring from The Connecticut Society of Genealogists, Mrs. Ricker moved to Payson, AZ with her husband and continued her extensive Genealogy research and publishing.

She also has been active with the Library Friends of the Payson Public Library, The Gila County Historical Society and The Zane Grey Cabin Foundation. Mrs. Ricker was predeceased earlier this year by her husband of nearly 50 years, David T. Ricker. Mrs. Ricker is survived by her sons, David W. Ricker of Dallas, TX, and Dr. Jonathan E. Ricker (Nancy) of Danville, KY. She is also survived by her mother, Arthea Johnson of Prescott, AZ; two brothers, William E. Ladd (Mary) of Scottsdale, AZ and Gary A. Ladd (Vivian); two grandchildren, Jeffrey L Ricker and Rachel E. Ricker, both of Danville, KY; four nephews and one niece.

A celebration of life will be held from 11:00 a.m. to noon Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008, at Messinger Payson Funeral Home, 302 W. Aero Dr., Payson, AZ. Memorial gifts may be sent in Mrs. Ricker’s honor to the Library of Friends, Payson Public Library, 328 N. McLane Rd., Payson, AZ 85541; Payson Humane Society, 812 S. McLane Rd, Payson, AZ 85541; RTA Hospice, 511 S. Mud Springs Rd., Payson, AZ 85541; and the Zane Grey Cabin Foundation, 201 N. McLane Rd., Payson, AZ 85541.