Generations. The WPA Ex-Slave Narrative Genealogical Resource Database.
Volume I: Ex-Slaves with Virginia Origins
By Dr. James M. Rose. A DVD published by Genealogical.com. 2013. 3009 pages.
Dr. James Rose compiled an impressive set of ex-slave narratives that would be a gold mine find if you happened to come across one of your ancestors here.
On the DVD is Dr. Rose’s interview with Annette Scipplo, who found her ancestor within the slave narratives. Her account of what this meant to her family research (she verified some important dates handed down in oral history), to her personally (the family stories of muscadine wine unexpectedly made sense when she read about the muscadine grapes her ancestor family harvested) sets the tone for the human element found within the stories.
The core of the disc are the texts of the ex-slave narratives collected by the federal workers some decades ago. This volume is organized by chapters for ex-slaves then living in the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas.
Incorporated throughout the PDF are scanned images of pertinent documents to the person such as death certificates, federal census pages and more moving, photographs. There are physical descriptions for some persons, a major breakthrough for researchers with no similar, reliable information on their ancestors.
The PDF document is 3009 pages long. The text is searchable but the information in the scanned images is not.
There is a frustrating aspect to reading these narratives. The recorders who documented the personal narratives resorted to “dis” and “dat” and “boss massa” language, dialect demeaning to the ex-slaves and eradicating the true voices of the men and women who trusted the writers with the details of their lives.
Dr. Rose writes in his comprehensive and informative introduction, “Charles Perdue included in an appendix to his book, Weevils in the Wheat, correspondence from John A. Lomax, National Advisor of Folklore and Folkways of the Federal Writers’ project. In his letter, Lomax suggested that the workers get together and agree on a commonly used dialect for the narratives. He went on to suggest a list of words that would be used to ‘make it easy for those unacquainted with Negro speech to read the stories.’”
Transforming these hard-copy paper records into a PDF and then getting them on a DVD created an efficient, well-organized, and uncomplicated way to research these records. Even though I figured I have no ancestors on this DVD, I was caught up in the stories of those who dwell in American history with a particularly distinctive point of view.
Sadly, Dr. Rose passed away some months ago. I think he had more to give us, but he left a legacy of African American heritage that we can deeply appreciate.
Generations. The WPA Ex-Slave Narrative Genealogical Resource Database is available from Genealogical.com at http://goo.gl/JRZGYW, from Amazon at http://goo.gl/nTXe5z and probably at many other bookstores.