Useful Articles from Academic Journals

Recently on the AfriGeneas Slavery Forum, I suggested Academic Journals as a non-traditional source for family research.  Over the years I have found several articles in academic and professional history journals that have direct application to our genealogical and historical searches and methods.  Yesterday I decided to rummage through my file cabinet and describe a few of the best ones.

Although some are about specific people or places, any family researcher or local historian may learn some useful tips on sources, methods, and interpretations.  Footnotes in academic articles show where the author found her or his information; therefore, footnotes (or endnotes) are a great source of ideas for places to look for evidence for your own research project.


Analyzing Family Structures
Virginia, Dinwiddie County, Rowanty Township

Jo Ann Manfra, Robert R. Dykstra, “Serial Marriage and the Origins of the Black Stepfamily: The Rowanty Evidence,” The Journal of American History, Vol. 72, Issue 1 (June 1985), pages 18-44.

This article is doubly important as a study of family structure in the generation after Emancipation, and for bringing attention to a valuable resource for researchers of Rowanty Township, Dinwiddie County, Virginia: a survey taken in 1878 of 457 black households in Rowanty. All researchers will gain from the author’s analysis of insights into break-ups of enslaved marriages, remarriages, step-children, disease and death.  This study complicates any easy reading of the 1870 or 1880 censuses.

In 1878, John J. Hamilton needed a research project to complete his Master’s degree program at University of Iowa. He was fascinated with the debate between leading whites of the day on the so-called “Southern question” over whether restoring political control over the ex-Confederate states to southern whites would work for or against the economic and social advancement of the ex-slaves. On Hamilton’s first tour of the South he interviewed hundreds of people on racial attitudes, but on his second visit, he decided to go to Virginia, “get a boarding place . . . in a single neighborhood with a view to obtaining a better insight into the real economy of Virginia neighborhood-life.” He stopped at Dinwiddie Court House, checked into a hotel, and laid out a sociological survey plan to interview the heads of household “of all the colored families in the township.” Hamilton interviewed heads of households for their:

  • name
  • age
  • color
  • state of health
  • parents’ names and whether living or dead
  • literacy
  • religious affiliation
  • political party
  • smoking and drinking habits
  • marriage history
  • occupation
  • financial wealth
  • property ownership
  • names of wives
  • wives’ ages, color, state of health
  • names of children
  • childrens’ ages, if dead what they died from
  • any other miscellaneous information that impressed him.

Hamilton wrote what he thought he heard—so when Richard Mumford told Hamilton his “Father was a nebo came from Africa”—we can readily guess that what Mumford had actually said was his father was “an Ibo” from Africa. Hamilton collected information for 457 Black households in Rowanty during September through December 1878. Amazingly, after completing this 238-page manuscript, Hamilton changed majors to Journalism, and never published his work.

Researchers seeking ancestors in Rowanty Township have a potential goldmine of information, but they will have to go to the original manuscript in Iowa, since this article is a statistical analysis and only quotes snippets of the original data.  The manuscript is in the John J. Hamilton Papers (Special Collections Department, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City):


1910 Census

Samuel H. Preston, Suet Lim, S. Philip Morgan, “African-American Marriage in 1910: Beneath the Surface of Census data,” Demography, Vol. 29, Issue 1 (February 1992), pages 1-15.

Researchers already know that each census is prone to errors of various kinds. This study uses statistical analysis to suggest that marriage and widowhood categories in the 1910 census “are more fluid and more ambiguous than the categories suggest.” [quoting the synopsis:] “This paper examines the quality of information about marital status, marital duration, and marriage order among African-American women in the U.S. Census of 1910. It compares the reported prevalence of widowhood to estimates of widowhood based on the mortality of black men and on the ages of women at first marriage. It also compares the reported distributions of duration of first marriage to estimates based on mortality and age at first marriage. It concludes that census reports are subject to serious error. Widowhood is overreported, and marital turnover appears to have been faster than implied by census reports. The prevalence of ‘own children’ is used to confirm these conclusions and to suggest motivations for misrepresentation.”


vknJune 8th, 2009 at 1:23 am

David I found this article very helpful for the advanced researcher in particular. I am downloading this piece to read at leisure and will comment to specifics in detail after I have had a chance to do that,

GarykPattonJune 16th, 2009 at 6:40 am

Hello, can you please post some more information on this topic? I would like to read more.

Freddie ShearinMarch 31st, 2010 at 5:55 am

Search the Petitions
Currituck County Courthouse and Old Jail
Currituck, North Carolina
Underwritten by a “We the People” grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, The Digital Library on American Slavery is a cooperative venture between the Race and Slavery Petitions Project and the Electronic Resources and Information Technology Department of University Libraries at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The Digital Library offers a searchable database of detailed personal information about slaves, slaveholders, and free people of color. Designed as a tool for scholars, historians, teachers, students, genealogists, and interested citizens, the site provides access to information gathered and analyzed over an eighteen-year period from petitions to southern legislatures and country courts filed between 1775 and 1867 in the fifteen slaveholding states in the United States and the District of Columbia.

Information in the petitions can be accessed in three ways. To search the petitions by keyword, select geographic and date criteria then enter a search term or phrase below. To search the database for specific named individuals, select the Search By Name tab. To see petitions associated with particular historical, legal, or cultural topics, select the Browse Subjects tab

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