Sunday, April 28, 2013

2nd Annual AAGG Conference Report

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From Left: Dean Henry (AAGG), Michael Hait, David Lynch
Yesterday I presented a talk on Virgin Islands Genealogy at the AAGG Conference “Researching African American Genealogy: Building Bridges to the Past” in Philadelphia, PA.  This was my first conference (either as a speaker or as an attendee), and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

AAGG president, Carlean Mullen, told me that she really had wanted a session on Caribbean genealogy because speakers on that area are hard to find and many people are interested. 

As I mentioned before, in Preparing my Presentation for the AAGG, I had quite a tall order.  I knew it would be impossible to cover anything in depth, but I wanted to give my audience something new, tell them something beyond “here are the birth records, here are the death records”.  50 minutes just isn’t enough time to discuss techniques or resources in depth.  So, I decided on a different approach.  I put together a presentation that introduced the West Indies, commented on the types of genealogical problems, and then used my experience with the Virgin Islands as an example of the wonderful records that exist and the rich history that few people know.  I was looking to excite interest and fascination. I think I accomplished that goal.
I knew there would be few, if any, people who traced their ancestry to the Virgin Islands at the session.  Many people who attended my talk returned to me throughout the day with follow-up questions or very positive comments.  One young man who was just beginning his research had a family from Trinidad.  While I didn’t speak of Trinidad at all, he seemed very excited at the mysteries his island must hold.  Everyone there seemed to get quite a bit from the session.  One older lady came up to me at the end of the day and told me she had a Caribbean line but stopped working it because it was too difficult and she couldn’t find any direction.  After my talk she said she is now committed to working that line and is excited about what she might find.

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Char McCargo Bah
I attended several talks as well.  Char McCargo Bah, a prolific writer and worker in Black records in Virginia, spoke at several general sessions on African American Church and Death records.  As she spoke I kept noticing many strong differences between the slave societies of the American South and the Virgin Islands.  While American slaves were often prohibited from marrying, in the islands, marriage among the slaves was encouraged.  It was seen as contributing to stability and moral character.  While Southern churches were segregated, on the islands slaves and whites would attend the same service.  Free Blacks were common in the islands, but rare in the South.  All of this contributes to our ability to find records of our Black ancestors much earlier than is possible in the South.

I also got to meet and speak with many other genealogists, including Shamele Jordan, who speaks often on genealogy techniques and research, and fellow geneablogger Michael Hait who writes his blog, Planting the Seeds.  I read Michael’s Blog regularly (although he hasn’t been posting recently, *hint*).  Michael is a full-time professional, certified genealogist who specializes in African American research.  Shamele spoke on organizing your genealogical records and shared her methods of keeping your binders of genealogical papers in order.  I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I don’t have any binders.  Nearly all of my records, family groups, and proof narratives are electronic.  The only paper I have are a few original documents and photos.  Now those I need to organize.

I also spoke with Byron Woodson, who is a descendant of Sally Hemmings and Thomas Jefferson, at lunch. He regaled us with tales of genealogical serendipity that go to prove that you never know what will break down that brick wall.

One person I definitely need to follow up with is Reginald Washington.  Reginald is a recently retired archivist from NARA and was involved with a project to index and search records from the Panama Canal building project.  Since a great many people from around the Caribbean went to work on the canal (including some of my relatives), those records should be very interesting.  The records are apparently in College Park, the same location as RG55, and close to my house.  Maybe there will be a future post once I check them out.

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Carlean Mullen, President AAGG
I want to thank Carlean Mullen, and the LDS staff, and the rest of the AAGG for making me feel so welcome and at home at the conference.
Oh, and as to how I came to be invited.  Carlean mentioned that I was recommended to speak by one of my long-time blog readers.  I quipped that apparently I was recommended to speak by someone who had never heard me speak!  Well, it turned out just great and am truly grateful for the opportunity.
They have already asked me to come back next year.


  1. David, you need a Virgin Islands lapel pin since your new position seems to be "roving ambassador"!

    Great job!

  2. Sophie, you can't really see it in the photo, but I'm wearing my grandfather's lapel pin: crossed Danish and US flags.

  3. I'm sure he'd be really proud. Keep up the good work!

  4. Fantastic! Now I feel like I had been there. So glad you enjoyed yourself and hopefully this will open up all kinds of new adventures.

  5. David,
    It is a shame the Moravians were not there, they really need to publish their records on the Caribbean, the VI especially.
    Many of the black citizens were Moravians,

    1. Yes, the Moravian missionaries were extremely active and many members of my family were Moravian. Some few records have been copied and are available at Whim, but the vast majority are in the Moravian archives in Bethlehem, PA. They're going through rennovations right now, but it's on my list as a Field Trip.

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