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!



  1. Great post! Glad you first day was so nice. I'm especially glad that you were able to visit Fisk - there is so much history there. You may be interested in a post I made when my family went several years ago - http://taneya-kalonji.com/blog/visiting-fisk/.

  2. Great post and it was nice to finally meet you in person.

  3. Thanks, Mavis and Taneya. It was wonderful to meet both of you, and Mavis, I'm glad we got to share this experience, together!


  4. HOpe to see you all next year! This was wonderful. I hope my 1st Conference goes like this!!!!! Great Blog!

  5. Enjoyable read Renate.. I wish I could have been there

  6. Thanks, True and Vicky! Next year? :)