As part of my training to become a member of the United States Black Heritage (USBH) Project on WikiTree I worked on a slave narrative that was created from a 1938 interview with someone from the United States Work Projects Administration (Federal Writers’ Project). Though there are criticisms about some of the narratives being rewritten to whitewash slavery and promote African-American stereotypes, the narratives are often a valuable source of information that can help connect a formerly enslaved person with their family and larger community. Project Gutenberg has transcriptions for all the narratives if you’re interested.
I chose John Henry Logan because of his last name, which is one of my ancestral surnames on my father’s side. We aren’t related. John was born enslaved in Little Rock, Arkansas on 15 Dec 1848 in the household of a Mrs. Cozine (I can’t find records for her). When he was about five years old, Mrs. Cozine sold him, his mother, and a few brothers to then-governor of Arkansas John Selden Roane where he remained until about age 20.
This project was very interesting and engaging and very much like solving a puzzle. I didn’t think I would be able to find information about his family members since other profiles created from a slave narrative were light on family connections, but I was able to find his parents, siblings, his first two wives, and his children within a few hours. The fact that he always used at least a middle initial in records and had stayed in Little Rock for most of his life definitely helped. Finding his parents was only possible because he was still living with them in 1870. The 1870 US Census is the first one that formerly enslaved people appeared in. His third wife was the only relative fully named in the narrative because he was living with her when he gave the interview.
John’s family is the first one I’ve come across that had Freedman’s Bank records. Those records are the only proof of existence I can find for three of his siblings, which I believe means that they died young. The Freedman’s Bank (part of the Freedmen’s Bureau, 1865-1872) was created to help the formerly enslaved transition.
I might spend a lot of time creating WikiTree profiles for the people interviewed for the narratives, especially since most of them don’t have profiles. I think I’ll stay away from the Mississippi ones, however, because they were the ones altered the most by white editors.
The next part of my training involves learning how to research and document the enslaved and slave owners.