Wednesday, October 16, 2013

AAHGS 2013 - A Reflection

It's been three days since I returned home from Nashville, where I attended my very first (history and) genealogy conference.  I'd thought that I would sit right down and author a nice, long reflection about my experience, but as soon as I got in on Sunday night, reality hit me HARD.  I'd barely closed the door behind me before I was deep into lesson planning, data reports, grading papers, and a plethora of other tasks that keep me (and other teachers) busy for hours and hours, each day.  And so it has been for the past three days.  There's not been a minute to spare, until now, and still the idea of writing a long post right now is out of the question!

That said, I will just say what's most important:  I HAD A WONDERFUL TIME AT THE 2013 NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF THE AFRO-AMERICAN HISTORICAL AND GENEALOGY SOCIETY! The leadership of AAHGS really put together a nice event!

As with any affair of this magnitude, there were a few things that could have been better, and a lot of things that could have been worse.  AAHGS provided conference attendees with evaluation forms, which I believe they sincerely intend to take seriously.  It was evident that their intent in planning this conference was to meet the needs of all attendees, and to provide participants with valuable learning experiences, as well as opportunities to socialize and network with each other, with the goal of supporting and enhancing our research efforts.  They did this in a classy, and professional way, and I believe that everyone who attended got something out of the conference experience! (And, the food was good, too!)

For me, the most valuable part attending the conference was being able to meet and spend time with several of my genea-friends, whom I've "known" for years, online, but had never met, in person.  Toni Carrier, Taneya Koonce, and Mavis Jones have each provided me with support, encouragement, and even (dare I say?) friendship for many years.  I am so very happy to have met them! (I also met, and got to spend quite a bit of time with Mavis' lovely mother, who accompanied her to the conference.  What an added treat!)

Not only did I meet three of my online friends for the first time, but I was also privileged to see and spend a bit of time with two other special ladies from my online genealogy circle. Angela Walton-Raji and Dr. Shelley Murphy are leaders in the genealogy community.  I've had the pleasure of meeting each of them, previous to the AAHGS conference, and it was wonderful to be in their presence, again!

Last, but not least, I also got a chance to get to know a young lady, Dinah W., from my own AAHGS chapter, whom I'd seen and chatted (briefly) with at meetings, but had never spent any time around, and I got to see my chapter president, Selma Stewart, in another environment.  (Somehow, Selma and I didn't really get to spend any real time around each other, but we did see each other, often, in passing!)

Yes, for me, being able to share this experience with people I "knew" was the best part of the deal.  Being somewhat of an introvert, I know that if these ladies hadn't been there, my experience would have been quite a different one.  But, our online connection gave me a comfort level with each of them, that made me feel as comfortable as if we'd been old friends, which made me want to socialize, more than I probably would have if I hadn't known anyone there.  So, thanks, ladies!  (Hopefully, you're reading this!) :)
Top left: Mavis & Renate; Top right: Angela, Toni, Mavis, Renate
Center-L-R: Dinah, Mavis' mom, Mavis, Renate
Bottom left: Toni, Renate; Bottom right: Taneya, Shelley, Renate

I'd like to publicly thank AAHGS for putting on a fabulous conference, and for allowing me the opportunity to be a part of it. I don't know if I can do it every year (yet), so Pittsburg 2014 is up in the air, for now.  However, 2015 brings the AAHGS National Conference to Richmond, VA, and my chapter (Hampton Roads) is sure to share in some of the work of hosting, so I know I'll be there!

Thanks for reading!


Sunday, October 13, 2013

AAHGS 2013 National Conference - Day 3

Day 3 - October 12,2013 
     Whew!  I'm TIRED!  AAHGS has had us going from sun up to sun down, without a break (until now), but it's been fun!
     Today, I attended three great sessions.  I started the morning with the energetic, and enthusiastic presenter, Mr. Dwight Fryer, of Memphis, Tennessee.  In his talk, "Unlocking Memphis History An Inclusive Look at the Colorful History of Tennessee's Largest City",  Dwight told the story of the often overlooked impact of the contributions made by African-Americans to the history of Memphis. In his own entertaining way, he kept his audience interested and engaged, as he told us stories about how the first mayor of Memphis married a woman of (1/16th) color, and got run out of town, The Battle of Memphis, Yellow Fever taking over the city, and more.  This was a very enlightening session!
Dwight Fryer

     I stepped out during the question/answer portion of Mr. Fryer's session, so that I could slip in and hear a minute or two of the classes my genea-friend's Angela Walton-Raji, of My Ancestor's Name. The USCT Chronicle, and African Roots Podcast, and Taneya Koonce, of Taneya's Genealogy Blog.  Both of these knowledgeable ladies had packed rooms, with thoroughly engaged audiences.  I was in Angela's room long enough to take her picture, and hear her (as she shared the story of uncovering and discovering her Uncle Sephus) remind her audience that "Spelin doznt cownt!" :)  In Taneya's room, I stepped in just in time to hear her explaining the importance of finding the RSS ID numbers for web sites we wish to track.  She shared that she loves to use findmyfacebook.com, a site I wasn't even aware of!

Angela Walton-Raji
Taneya Koonce

    After this, we had a delicious lunch, followed by three more blocks of concurrent sessions (one hour, each).  First, I attended another Dwight Fryer session, "Unlocking Our Southern Mosaic: Examining A Family's Life Near Its Slavery Origins. Here, Fryer shared the processes he used to verify oral history from the lips of his family's 105 year-old matriarch about incidents that occurred during slavery. Next, I participated in the presentation, "Understanding African American Genealogical Patterns as Remnants of Slave Culture: Demographics, Family Dynamics, and Religious Practices", which was presented by Rev. Dr. Richard Gardiner and graduate student, Ms. Ceteria Richey. This session incorporated audience participation, in the reading of excerpts from the WPA (Former) Slave Narratives, and was followed by a very lively, and emotion-filled question/answer period, during which members of the audience directly challenged each other, and the presenters with impassioned arguments of their points. It was getting "hot" in there, but it was all in love, and we closed on a good note. :)
     My last session of the day was with Dr. Shelley Murphy, who was this time presenting on the topic, "Hitting the Genealogy Brick Walls & Challenges: The Search for Information about Joseph Brand Davis".  Shelley shared the research strategies she used to overcome "challenges" (not brick walls) she encountered while researching her ancestor, Joseph Brand Davis.  She identified common challenges, as well as those particular to African and Native American research.  Shelley suggested several useful strategies to researchers, such as listing what you know and don't know, keeping a checklist, having a map of the area you're researching, and most importantly, remembering to ALWAYS develop a plan! 
   After the third, afternoon session, we actually had a two-hour break before dinner, which is actually when I started writing this post.  However, fatigue took over, and I didn't get to finish it, until now (Sunday morning). The evening continued (after the break) with "Nashville's African American Music History Dinner and Award Presentations".  We were served another delicious meal, and were entertained by a young violinist and her brother, who sang for us. Then, our keynote speaker, Thomas Cain, took us back through Nashville's (Black) musical history, stopping to sing and play for us, as well as to share recordings from a very popular former radio station (which I neglected to write down the call numbers of), which were very entertaining.  AAHGS awards followed, with author Michael Henderson ("Got Proof! My Genealogical Journey Through the Use of Documentation") receiving the organization's highest honor, The James Dent Walker Award.  A very special Lifetime Achievement award was given posthumously to the founder of AAHGS, James Dent Walker, and was accepted by his wife.  The evening ended with a Cake Walk and Ball, which I decided not to attend, because I was sooooooo tired.
     So, that was Day 3 of my first genealogy conference.  It was a wonderful day of learning, sharing, meeting, greeting, and eating!  Today will be my last, here in Nashville.  I will recap my experience with one last post, later this evening. 

Thanks for reading!



Saturday, October 12, 2013

My Very First Genealogy Conference - AAHGS 2013

Woo-hoo!  I've finally done it!  I am here in Nashville, Tennessee, attending the 34th National Conference of the Afro-American History and Genealogical Society!  Although I've been a member of this organization (Hampton Roads Chapter) for several years, I've never attended this, or any other genealogy conference.  I'm so excited!

Day 1
I arrived in Nashville yesterday, early in the morning.  After picking up my rental car at the airport, I rushed over to what I thought was the conference hotel, to try to catch the bus that was heading out to tour the Wessynton Plantation.  However, I went to the wrong hotel, missed the bus, and ended up driving the 35 or so miles out to the plantation.  It all worked out perfectly, though.  I pulled up at the same time as the bus, and actually was able to help out with my vehicle to transport some of the folks up the long drive to the property (since the bus couldn't go up). And, although I'd been a bit nervous about joining the group, "cold", they were all so welcoming and warm, that I immediately felt right at home with them.  And, to put the icing on the cake, my genea-friend, Angela Walton-Raji, was one of the first people I saw!  I'd met Angela before, in Washington, DC, so hers was a familiar face, and it was really great to see her!
       Angela Walton-Raji, and another conference attendee on the grounds of Wessynton Plantation.
Anyway, once we all got up to where the main house is located, we had a presentation by our host, John F. Baker, a direct descendant of Wessynton Plantation slaves, and author of the book, "The Washingtons of Wessyngton.  He talked to us for about 45 minutes, sharing his knowledge of the property, the original owners, and of his enslaved ancestors. He also had many oversized, laminate photos to share, not only of the Washington homeowners, but also of the plantation's slaves!  These, he passed around, after describing the subjects and telling what he knew about them.

After John's talk, we began our walking tour of the property, beginning with the "Big House" and the family cemetery.  Next, we took a very long (and unexpected) HIKE through high grass and brush, and up, down, and around hills (dodging "cow patties" along the way), to visit the slave cemetery.  Sometime ago, the White Washington descendants funded the creation of a monument on this site, with the names of 35+ slaves who John has been able to document as being buried there.  Plans are in the works to use sonar-wave technology to determine exactly how many bodies are interred there, and where.  Once we accomplished the long, hot, exhausting walk back to our starting point, I left the plantation to head back to the (right) hotel to get checked in, and to attend the "First Time Attendees" session.

The First Time Attendees session was nice.  It was led by Dr. Shelley Murphy, President of the Central Virginia Chapter of AAHGS, and a genea-friend I'd had the pleasure of meeting, about a year ago.  Shelley did a great job of acclimating all of us to the conference atmosphere, and of encouraging us to get the most out of the conference by talking, sharing, and networking with others. At the end of the session, we took a group picture, which I'm told will be on the AAHGS Facebook page (but I don't see it there, yet). :)
Moderator Shelly Murphy works the room.

One of the greatest joys about being here is that I'm meeting people "in the flesh", whom I've known and communicated with, online, for several years.  While standing in the 4:00 p.m. registration line, I "met" my long-time genea-blogging friend, Mavis Jones.  It was so funny, because we'd been standing very near each other, but I didn't realize it. I turned around and saw her, and went right over to her with a questioning, "Mavis?  Is that you?"  She responded, that it was, and showed me that she had her phone out.  She'd seen me, and was about to call or text me to ask if I happened to be standing in the registration line...lol.  We both got a laugh out of that. :)  After registering, Mavis and I, along with her beautiful mother (who accompanied her to the conference), and another member of my chapter, all went out to a great dinner at a nearby restaurant, where we shared stories and laughs, and just got to know one another.  Then, we returned to the conference site, where we attended the "State of the Society" Meeting, and the Prelude Reception.  At the meeting, the first-timers were recognized, again!  We were called up by name, and were presented with AAHGS pins, which were put on us by chapter presidents. I thought that was a very nice touch!  The reception featured heavy h'orderves, hot and cold beverages, and a cash bar.  It was a nice, relaxing way to end the evening


Day 2
My second conference day was fun and information-filled.  It began with a light breakfast in the hotel's atrium, followed by the opening plenary session.  The planned speaker was unable to be here, due to a family emergency, but her last-minute stand in Pamela Foster, did a very nice job of discussing the role of music in the lives of our ancestors, and focusing us all in on the genre of "country music", as it may relate to our African-American family histories.  We watched a video of a current-day, African-American country musician, Darius Rucker, and I have to say that I was amazed at how much I enjoyed his song, "Wagon Wheel"!  We also listened to, and looked at the original wording of, "Carry Me Back to Ole Virginny".  I was surprised that I'd never heard these lyrics, nor did I know that the song was written by a Free Person of Color from New York.  I plan to follow up with a bit of study on that!

I attended two sessions today.  In the morning, I thoroughly enjoyed, "Port Royal: The Birthplace of Freedom in the Old South", which was presented by another online genea-friend, Toni Carrier.  Toni was one of the very first people I connected with in the online genealogy community, way back so far that I don't even know what year it was.  But, I'd never had the opportunity to meet her in person. I was honored to do so, today, because she has highly-respected, researcher, and is as personable and friendly in "real life", as she is online!
I'm so glad to finally meet Toni Carrier!

I left the conference at midday, and took a self-guided, driving tour of Fisk and Tennessee State Universities, accompanied by my fellow Hampton Roads Chapter member.  In addition, we checked out The Parthenon, a replica of the real one, which is (for some reason) located here in Nashville.  I can't wait to show my students, who will be learning about this structure, soon.  I plan to tell them that I went to Greece! (But, I will come clean after I see the expressions on their faces.) :)  We got a good look at downtown Nashville, with it's impressive state government buildings, before returning to the conference for our afternoon sessions.
                                     Jubilee Hall at Fisk
For my second session of the day, I attended, "Finding Your Ancestors in Unusual Places", presented by Leigh Ann Gardner.  This session was probably not the best choice, for me, because I didn't get any new information.  It was probably better targeted towards the more novice researcher.  However, I did learn that African-American benevolent societies often sued one another over things such as property rights (to cemeteries and such), and that the records of these suits can provide helpful genealogical information. So, wow... I guess I did actually learn one thing! I left this session (after the presentation) to do some networking.

This evening ended with a DELICIOUS southern barbeque buffet dinner!  I've been to lots of conferences in my day (not genealogical), but I've never had a meal like this at any of them!  We had ribs, pulled pork, freshly carved beef brisket, sweet potato casserole, collard greens, potatoes, potato salad, cole slaw, apple cobbler, and ice cream!  It was good!  After most of us had finished pigging out eating, we had the pleasure of listening to Mr. Muriel D. Roberts, who has started an oral history project called, "Slave Grandchildren Remember".  Mr. Roberts is interviewing people who knew, and remember, their formerly-enslaved grandparents.  We got to watch a 12 minute video snippet from one of his subjects, a Mr. Northern.  It was very well-done, and inspiring.  We were all encourage to make a similar effort to reach out to any of the elders in our area who might fit the criteria for this project.

After the dinner, I spent some time socializing and sharing.  Before retiring to my room, I perused the books in the "Free to Read" Book Fair, and chatted with some of the authors.  One, Michael Henderson, whom I'd talked with a bit on Thursday, really encouraged me to write, and publish the story of my gg-grandparents, Anna and Nathaniel, which has a few similarities to his own, which tells in his book, "Got Proof! My Genealogical Journey Through the Use of Documentation".  We'll see what happens!

Well, that's a wrap for the first two days of my first-ever genealogy conference.  The last couple of hours have been put into writing this post. :)  Now, it's off to bed to catch some zzzz's, so that I can get up and be ready for Day 3, tomorrow!  Stay tuned, and, as always, thanks for reading!

It's so great to be here with so many of my online friends!