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AfriGeneas News & Announcements
August 2009

Monday, August 17, 2009

Slave Was the First Chronicler of James Madison's Presidency

Madison and the White House, Through the Memoir of a Slave


WASHINGTON — In 1809, a young boy from a wealthy Virginia estate stepped into President James Madison’s White House and caught the first glimpse of his new home. The East Room was unfinished, he recalled years later in a memoir. Pennsylvania Avenue was unpaved and “always in an awful condition from either mud or dust,” he recounted.

“The city was a dreary place,” he continued.

His name was Paul Jennings, and he was an unlikely chronicler of the Madison presidency. When he first walked into the Executive Mansion, he was a 10-year-old slave.

But over the course of his long life, Mr. Jennings witnessed, and perhaps participated in, the rescue of George Washington’s portrait from the White House during the War of 1812 and stood by the former president’s side at his deathbed. He bought his freedom, helped to organize a daring (and unsuccessful) slave escape and became the first person to put his White House recollections into a memoir.

Next week, Mr. Jennings’s story will take center stage when dozens of his descendants gather for a reunion in the White House. Historians say it will be a remarkable moment in the history of the mansion, which was built with slave labor and now houses President Obama, the first black person to hold the office, and his family.

Historians say the visit will highlight the intimate, day-to-day role that enslaved men and women played in the White House, a community that is little known and whose members have long languished in obscurity.

“It really is a story that isn’t well told yet,” said Lonnie G. Bunch, director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. “It lets people realize just how big a shadow slavery cast on America.”

The White House curator, William G. Allman, said few historical records existed about the black people who lived and worked in the building during its earliest years. Slaves were barred from learning to read and write, and their owners often considered their stories inconsequential.

So the relatively detailed accounting of Mr. Jennings’s life is notable, particularly because he was so closely linked to President Madison and to the portrait of George Washington, which is considered the White House’s most valuable historical object. The portrait, painted by Gilbert Stuart, is the only item currently on display that was also present when the White House opened in 1800. The Jennings family will view the painting during their White House reunion on Aug. 24. The Obamas are expected to be away on vacation that day.

Read the rest of the article . . .

Source: The New York Times

Posted by Staff on 8/17/09 at 1:02 pm EST

Article in Summer 2009 Issue of Intelligent Life Magazine Discusses DNA and African Origins of All Humans


The story of humanity is written in our genes, and thanks to modern science and technology, we are finally able to read it. In our latest cover story, J.M. Ledgard reports from where it—and we—all began ...

From INTELLIGENT LIFE Magazine, Summer 2009

An hour’s drive and a 600-metre drop in altitude from Nairobi is Olorgesailie, a Lower Palaeolithic archaeological site on the floor of the Rift Valley in Kenya. It is blisteringly hot. Nothing moves in the heat of the day except dust, gathering into twisters. There are puff adders in the grass, scorpions under the rocks. The lions are thin, the giraffes few, the elephants killed. It might be the closest we have to the Garden of Eden.

From the campsite it is possible to make out the outline of the prehistoric lake which once flooded the plain in soapy water. According to potassium-argon dating, hominids lived here for 900,000 years. They made handaxes which they used to butcher the hippos, zebras and baboons they hunted and scavenged. Olorgesailie stands for the gaping history of our species, a blurry, half-formed and dreamlike time from which archaeology can pull out only pieces. The Kenyan anthropologist Louis Leakey uncovered a Homo erectus skull here in the 1940s; the brain cavity was disappointingly small. There must have been grunts, gestures with stones, blood, the sky blotted with vultures, ape children kept back in the darkness. The sense of space here is immense. So too is the sense of known time, hominid time, known at first in the way a beast knows time, in light and darkness, but conscious all the same. The night sky is black lacquered. Satellites pass across it like trams. There are shooting stars. Sometimes there is the sound of hyenas.

“To the extent we are hardwired, it is probably as small bands of hunter-gatherers,” says Spencer Wells, the American geneticist who heads the Genographic Project. Its aim is to take 100,000 DNA samples from indigenous peoples around the world and write the songline of mankind’s journey out of Africa from a place like Olorgesailie, obliterating any literal interpretation of the Garden of Eden and replacing it with a new evidence-based creed.

The creed holds that every single non-African on the planet is descended from one or possibly two small bands of humans who made it on rafts and skins across the Red Sea at the narrows of the Bab el-Mandeb, or Gate of Tears, about 50,000 years ago. We are a more maritime species than we ever supposed, even if we keep close to the shore. These early humans, this Mayflower on foot, scavenged shellfish along the tideline and in the rock pools, increasing their range by a few kilometres a year. Within 5,000-10,000 years, without much need for adaptation, they had worked their way around India and across the land bridges that then linked Asia with a short sea crossing to Australia.

Read the rest of the article . . .

Source: Intelligent Life Magazine

Posted by Staff on 8/17/09 at 12:53 pm EST

Friday, August 14, 2009

National Archives Launches NARAtions Blog

New blog to focus on online public access to records of the U.S. National Archives

Washington, DC…On Wednesday, August 12, the National Archives launched the NARAtions blog to begin a discussion with researchers on the future of online public access at the National Archives. The public is invited and encouraged to share opinions on ways to enhance the online researcher experience and to increase access to archival materials.

This online community will continue to be a work in progress as we develop new features and content. Questions will be posted to invite discussion, and the blog welcomes feedback and suggestions for new questions to raise. The blog will also inform researchers about newly available online records descriptions and digitized archival materials.

We would like to hear from you! What sort of things would you find valuable from NARAtions?

  • Should we allow the public to tag descriptions in our online catalog? Why or why not?

  • What groups of photographs should we post on Flickr next, and why?

  • Do you have a favorite NARA photograph or document? Is it already available in our catalog or on our web site?

The URL is Please visit often and share this web address with others.

To contact the National Archives, please call 1-866-272-6272 or 1-86-NARA-NARA (TDD) 301-837-0482.

Source: NARA

Posted by Staff on 8/14/09 at 6:24 am EST

Thursday, August 13, 2009

More Than 230 Return to Their Roots in Abbeville

Sunday, August 9, 2009

ABBEVILLE -- For more than 230 people, a Saturday trip through Abbeville County made history.

"We’re walking where our ancestors walked,” Jerilyn Beckley said. "I think it’s going to cause people to think back to all the stories they heard growing up - and that’s a moving experience.”

Beckley was one of the 232 people who visited Abbeville for the 150th Year Commemorative Reunion of the Descendants of Lewis and Fanny Barr, a slave couple who lived on a farm three miles from the city in the 1800s. Genealogy research by a descendant traced the family history back to the Abbeville residents, the Rev. William H. Barr and his wife, Rebecca Reid Barr, who owned the slave family while the reverend served as the minister of Upper Long Cane Presbyterian Church.

In 1859, Lewis and Fanny’s children were sold and separated, moving to different homes and taking on the names of other families. Some 150 years later, members of the Beckley and Reed families reconnected to celebrate their common ancestors.

Read the rest of the story . . .

Source: The Index-Journal

Posted by Staff on 8/13/09 at 8:44 am EST

Wednesday, August 05, 2009 to Get $75 Million in IPO

Genealogy company is going for an initial public offering (IPO) hoping to raise about $75 million in the process. The plans were laid out in an SEC filing yesterday. The economy isn't bouncing back just yet but this is a good sign as, after four quarters of no venture-backed IPO, things started to pick up in the second quarter, with several IPOs, and it looks like the trend is continuing., based in Provo, Utah, goes back 25 years and has been online for the last 12. It changed its name from The Generations Network to Inc. last month, in anticipation of the IPO. The company offers genealogy-related services through a series of associated brands like, Family Tree Maker,, MyCanvas, Rootsweb,, and a number of international sites, and now employs over 600 people.

Read the rest of the story . . .

Source: Softpedia

Posted by Staff on 8/05/09 at 3:21 am EST

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