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This past June, I had the opportunity to attend the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research held at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. As the recipient of the Jean Thomason scholarship, I was provided funds to cover the cost of tuition to take a course at the Institute. To build on my knowledge of African American collections, I chose the Researching African American Genealogy: Black Roots in Unique Collections course. The class explores a wide range of topics including Manifests of Slave Shipments, The United Mine Workers Journal, Antebellum Plantation Records, and Apprenticeship Bond and Labor Contracts. Led by a group of distinguished scholars in the field, Tim Pinnick, Frazine Taylor, Ari Wilkins, Shamele Jordan, Larry Spruill, Emma Davis Hamilton, Deborah Abbott, and Sharon Batiste Gillins, each day consisted of provocative lectures, case studies, and discussion. Additionally, we had the opportunity to venture outside of the classroom. We visited the Alabama Power Company in downtown Birmingham. We were given special access to their collections and treated to a “behind the scenes tour” of the Company’s archives that document Alabama Power’s 100 year history. We also visited the Birmingham Public Library to consult their local history resources and in the evenings, made use of Samford’s Special Collections. One morning was spent at the University’s computer lab where we each created a family map showing homeowners, churches, schools, and landmarks.
At the beginning of the week, we split into small groups and were given a research project that was based on our visit to the Power archives. One group was given a 1939 photo of African American street railway workmen and asked to provide biographical information on each individual. My group was asked to identify individuals that were listed on a survey map of cemetery relocations. At the end of the week, we presented our findings to the class and our projects were given to the Power Archives to assist them with information on former African American Power Company employees and individuals that lived on Alabama Power properties.
The week at IGHR was intense, exhaustive, and powerful. I learned so much from both the instructors and my fellow students. Furthermore, the instructors sit in on the class the entire week and actively participate in class discussions…it was also great to be able to pick their brains during breaks! I look forward to sharing with genealogists and staff the knowledge and resources gained through my week at the Institute. I can frequently be found at the 2nd floor genealogy desk, so feel free to stop by and I’d be happy to assist you!