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Meeting Recap: Cemetery Community of Rutherford County

This past weekend, we held our October monthly meeting and learned about the freedmen community, called “Cemetery,” in Rutherford County.  Established soon after the Civil War by former enslaved African Americans, the story of the Cemetery community is being actively preserved, shared, and disseminated through the efforts of descendants, historians, genealogists, and community members.

Our guest speaker was Dr. George C. Smith. Dr. Smith has been thoroughly engaged in these efforts and it was truly educational to here his discussion of the community’s significance.  There are only a few remaining freedmen-established communities in the state of Tennessee so it is important for their stories to indeed be told.

“Cemetery Notes” column in the Nashville Globe newspaper (May 24, 1907).

An archive of materials related to Cemetery is available online via Middle Tennessee State’s Public History Program; visit the site to learn more. The African American Heritage Society of Rutherford County is very heavily engaged in helping to capture the story of the Cemetery community to follow them on Facebook or visit their website to stay abreast of project updates.  You can also hear a presentation by community member Leonora Washington.

Happy Birthday Robert Churchwell

Today AAHGS Nashville wishes to recognize the 100th anniversary of the birth of Robert Churchwell, a man of great character and integrity. His work played an important role in capturing the voice, events, and perspectives of black Nashville.

Greenwood Cemetery Biographies

For more than 120 years, Greenwood Cemetery has served as the final resting place for many of Nashville’s African-American community members. AAHGS Nashville friend, Kathy Lauder, continuously works to showcase the lives of the individuals buried in the cemetery through short biographies she writes each week to complement her work for the Greenwood Project.

The Greenwood Project, started in 2014, seeks to create an as comprehensive list as possible of individuals buried in the historic African American Greenwood Cemetery here in Nashville (including Mt. Ararat & Greenwood Cemetery West). Burial records are culled from a variety of sources, including personal family knowledge, newspaper obituaries, death certificates, extant burial listings, and more.

We are now pleased to have a page on our AAHGS Nashville site to list the biographies and help raise awareness of the life stories of Nashville community members who are no longer with us. There are currently more than 100 biographies! Visit our new page to learn more about their phenomenal lives.


Researching with Freedmen’s Bureau Records

Many thanks to our members who were able to come yesterday for our workshop on using Freedmen’s Bureau records for family history research! This was our 2nd members-only workshop of the year; our 3rd one is in November and will be about DNA for genealogy research.

Formally known as “The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands”the “Freedmen’s Bureau,” was established in 1865 to provide assistance for thousands of formerly enslaved African Americans and impoverished whites. Operating in the Southern United States and the state of Ohio, the Freedmen’s Bureau played a critical role in relief efforts after the Civil War.

Many records were created as part of this extensive effort – records about schools, health care, marriages, employment, labor contracts, military claims, crimes, and so much more. With records spanning the time period between 1865-1872 and containing a plethora of information about black Americans, learning the ins and outs of how to use this collection is important for everyone researching individuals of African American ancestry.

Here are some resources to help you navigate this collection of records:

  • Just as with other forms of genealogy, location is important.  Use the maps at Mapping The Freedmen’s Bureau to find field offices, hospitals, and bank offices located near where your family lived.
  • Thanks to the wonderful efforts of FamilySearch, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, the California African American Museum, and about 20,000 volunteer indexers, more than 1.8 million names have been indexed from the collection and are searchable on the DiscoverFreedmen website. Search for your own family members!
  • Even with the excellent indexing efforts over the past couple of years, not all the records are indexed; FamilySearch has many sets of the records with the images available online that you can browse, including the Tennessee Field Office Records. Though not indexed, browsing online is certainly much more convenient than using traditional microfilm readers. Learn more about which record groups are searchable vs. browsable on the FamilySearch Research Wiki. Explore the browsable collections to see what you can find.
  • The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) created very detailed descriptive pamphlets of the records — you will definitely want to peruse them to learn more about the structure of the records, and for insight that will help you use and interpret what you find in your search results. Visit NARA’s African American Freedmen’s Bureau Records page for details.
“United States, Freedmen’s Bureau Marriages, 1861-1872”, database with images, FamilySearch ( : 25 February 2016), George Mcgowen and Rachel Anksum, 1864.

In my own research, I’ve located marriage records, labor contracts, and more about my family. At the meeting yesterday, one of our members shared a bank record she located that listed her ancestor and his family; the family members had been previously unknown to her!

Have you found something relevant for your own family? Share and let us know.

Our next meeting is October 7th (see details). If you’re in the Nashville area and interested in African American history 0r genealogy, we hope to see you there!

June 18th: Exploring Your African American Genealogy

On Sunday, June 18th, AAHGS Nashville is participating in a series of events hosted at Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage as part of their Juneteenth Celebrations.

Join us at 2 pm as we present a 1-hour genealogy workshop, followed by individual consultations from 3-5pm.  If you have already started your genealogy research, come with as much prepared information as you have as that will help us offer you more specific help and advice.

Use the button below to register.  We look forward to seeing you there!


Sunday’s Obituary: Nettie Langston Napier

James and Nettie Napier langston3
James C. & Nettie (Langston) Napier

From the September 29, 1938, issue of the Tennesseean.  Nettie Langston Napier was the daughter of John Mercer Langston and Caroline Wall Langston.  Caroline’s family will be discussed in our upcoming June 3rd meeting – Passing for White: Researching the Invisible Color Line (see meeting details).  Be sure to join us to learn more!

Colored Death Notices: NAPIER

Died Tuesday, September 27, 1938, at 10:25pm at a local infirmary, Mrs. Nettie Langston Napier, wife of James C. Napier, one of Nashville’s leading citizens.  Mrs. Napier was the daughter of John Mercer Langston, member of the 51st and 52nd Congresses of the United States from the Louisa County District of the State of Virginia.  For the past 60 years, during her entire married life, she has been active in the religious, civic, and social movements in this city.  Her friends are legion and they grieve and sorrow with her aged husband.  She leaves two nephews, John Mercer Langston of St. Louis, Mo., Carroll Napier Langston, of Chicago, Ill., and a grand-nephew, Carroll Napier Langston, Jr., a graduate of Oberlin and now a law student at the University of Michigan; two nieces, Nettie Langton Lee and Nettie Langston Harlan of Washington, D.C.  She also leaves a nephew, Dr. J.A. Napier, a dentist of Nashville, and his sisters, Mrs. Ida Napier Lawson of Hartford, Conn., Mrs. Willie Napier Gomez of Havana, Cuba, and Miss G. Beatrice Napier of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Funeral services will be held Friday, September 30, 1938, at 2pm at Howard Congregational Church, the following ministers officiating: Dr. Thomas Elsa Jones, Rev. Richard Ewing, Rev. Henry Allen Boyd, and Rev. W.S. Ellington, and others.  Active pallbearers: Dr. J.A. Napier, Messrs. C.N. Langston, E.L. Price, A.G. Price, M.G. Ferguson, L.S. Headen, Prof. C.E. Van Horne, and N.S. Holiday.  Honorary pallbearers: All members of the Board of Directors of the Citizens Savings Bank & Trust Company and trustees and directors of the Y.M.C.A.  W.H. McGavock in charge.