In keeping with the legacy of the renowned genealogist and historian for whom the Baltimore chapter is named, we have worked diligently to sponsor quality chapter programs and activities, to acquire, preserve and make available African American records, and to foster interaction with the lay and scholarly communities.
Exploring My Roots Project
In partnership with Dr. Brian Morrison, founder and director of The William J. Watkins, Sr. Educational Institute, Inc., BAAHGS members met monthly with students at Mergenthaler Vocational Technical High School beginning in September 2018. (Planning began in June 2018.) The goal of the project was to use genealogy to foster an interest, not only in individual family histories, but also in African American History.
Training sessions, conducted by individual members of BAAHGS, included interviewing skills–during which senior members of the community were interviewed by the students–newspaper research, community studies and Internet genealogy. The students created their own family trees on Familysearch.org.
Students enjoyed the latter session the most so planning for next semester will include increasing the time available for this activity. The last session consisted of students’ presentations of their family trees along with discussions of their plans for future research. Each of the 14 students was awarded a certificate for participating and received community service credits, a requirement for graduation in Maryland public schools.
The Laurel Cemetery Project
In the mid-19th century, Laurel Cemetery was incorporated by African Americans and served as a final resting place for some of the most influential and financially successful members in Baltimore. Among those interred were Bishop Daniel Payne of the A.M.E. Church; the Rev. Dr. Harvey Johnson, founder of the Mutual Brotherhood of Liberty, from which the Baltimore Chapter of the NAACP evolved; and, Isaac Myers, founder of the first African American labor union and co-founder of the first African American shipyard. Hundreds of members of the United States Colored Troops were also interred at Laurel. Over time, the USCTs were reinterred in a federal cemetery and the other remains were transferred to Carroll County, Maryland. The cemetery was paved over and a department store constructed.
Preliminary archaeological research by Dr. Elgin Klugh, Coppin State University, and Dr. Robert Costanza, University of Baltimore, indicates that there are still human remains at the site. BAAHGS volunteers are working diligently to document and tell the stories of ALL of those originally interred. We have done so by reading obituaries in local newspaper archives, by collecting funeral programs from our members and reading every death certificate issued by Maryland between 1875 and the mid-1950s.
As a result of this collaborative effort with the aforementioned professors, funding was secured and a symposium was held on June 15th at Coppin State University to discuss our findings. In addition to the historical and genealogical communities who participated, descendants of those interred also attended. A secondary goal is to research and identify other descendants and secure their support and assistance in having an historical marker erected on the site.
Research and activities related to Remembering Laurel Cemetery continues, and a Facebook group has been created and maintained by a BAAHGS member to record the names and information about the interred.
The Freedmens’ Bible Project
In September 1864, a delegation of free African American men presented a bible to President Abraham Lincoln “as a testimonial of our appreciation of your humane conduct towards the people of our race.” The money for the gift was raised through the donations of 250 free African American residents of Baltimore. BAAHGS members are researching these donors. The goal is to learn about their occupations, neighborhoods, churches, etc.
Acquisition and Preservation of African American Funeral Home Records
Our chapter has acquired the records of the Locks Funeral Home, the Phillips Funeral Home and the Russ Funeral Home. After processing by our members, the Locks records have been digitized by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and are available at Familysearch.org. The Phillips records have been processed and are awaiting digitization. The Russ records are the most recent acquisition and have yet to be processed.
Partnerships with the Maryland State Archives and Baltimore City Archives
Through collaboration with Dr. Robert Schoberlein, Director of the Baltimore City Archives and Dr. Edward Papenfuse, Retired Maryland State Archivist, our research on the Laurel Cemetery Project and the Lincoln Bible Project is conducted at the Baltimore City Archives. BAAHGS volunteers can be found there five days weekly. We use laptops provided by the Maryland State Archives to access the death certificates for the Laurel Cemetery Project. These laptops give us direct access to the records in the state archives. The archives are also the site where the funeral home records are processed and stored. In addition, BAAHGS staff members are perusing the city’s records identifying those relating to African Americans.