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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.

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.


Wedding Wednesday: Floyd Conner & Mary Young

On this day in 1907, the Nashville Globe newspaper reports on the marriage of Floyd Conner and Mary Young [1].

The notice appeared in the “Columbia Notes” column of the newspaper. After a bit of quick research, I learned that Floyd & Mary’s marriage license was issued April 13th, 1907 and they were married April 14th, 1907 in Columbia, Maury County [2].

In 1910, Floyd and Mary are still living in Columbia and as of yet have no children [3]. This additional newspaper article may also be about Floyd, which states that he was a pastor of the A.M.E. church but was not feeling well at the time [4].

I then learned that Floyd T. Conner passed away March 21, 1920 at only 33 years old of bronchial asthma [5]. He is indicated as being a widow, thus suggesting that Mary pre-deceased him. I wonder what happened to her? Perhaps additional searching will shed light.

Back issues of the Nashville Globe, Nashville’s African-American newspaper, have been digitized and are available online for the years 1907-1918. The Nashville Metro Archives has an index of obituaries published in the paper during the same time period.  Have you found something of interest about your family in The Globe or any other historical newspapers? If so, we’d love to know about it – please share!

Have you found something of interest about your family in The Globe or any other historical newspapers? If so, we’d love to know about it – please share!

[1] “Untitled.” [Marriage of Floyd Conner & Mary Young].The Nashville globe. (Nashville, Tenn.), 17 May 1907. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

[2] “Tennessee, County Marriages, 1790-1950,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 21 December 2016), Floyd Conner and Mary Young, 14 Apr 1907; citing , Maury, Tennessee, United States, Marriage, p. , Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville and county clerk offices from various counties; FHL microfilm 1,011,568.

[3] “United States Census, 1910,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 15 May 2017), Floyd Conner, Columbia, Maury, Tennessee, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 122, sheet 20B, family 306, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1982), roll 1513; FHL microfilm 1,375,526.

[4] “Untitled.” [Floyd T. Conner ill]. The Nashville globe. (Nashville, Tenn.), 23 March 1917. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

[5] “Tennessee Death Records, 1914-1963,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 25 May 2014), Floyd T. Coner, 21 Mar 1920; citing Cemetery, Columbia, Maury, Tennessee, v 39 cn 142, State Library and Archives, Nashville; FHL microfilm 1,299,720.


Historical Marker for Rev. Pharaoh H. Benson

At its meeting in October 2016, the Tennessee Historical Commission approved 4 new historical markers for the state. One of the newest additions was a marker for Reverend Pharaoh H. Benson.  Rev. Benson (1841-1905), was a former slave who was the founding pastor of Mt. Nebo Baptist Church.  He was ordained by Rev. Nelson G. Merry.

Yesterday, I went to Mt. Nebo, located at the corner of Clifton Avenue and 26th Ave N, to take a picture of the marker.

I also did a little research on the family. Pharaoh and his wife Ellen would have at least 12 children, of which only 4 were alive by the time of the 1900 census.  Their daughter Jane married William Henry Fort Sr. and their son, William H. Fort Jr., has a scrapbook of his time at Fisk university that has been digitized by the Tennessee State Libary & Archives.

Many thanks to all those involved who helped make this historical marker possible.  It is a great testament to continuing the quest to preserve African-American history here in Nashville.  If you are interested in keeping up with the work of the Historical Commission, you can learn more about them on their website where you can also sign-up for their periodic newsletter.

A Day of Discovery

Yesterday, the LDS Family History Center in Franklin, TN hosted a wonderful day of genealogy presentations as part of their Family Discovery Day Event!

Franklin Family History Center

The day began with a welcome and introduction by Murray Johns, a member of the Franklin TN stake presidency.  After his introduction, the day was divided into 3 segments, each offering multiple tracks of genealogy & family history instruction and education.

Murray Johns welcomes participants

Example topics included – understanding why Mormons do genealogy research, using DNA for understanding ethnic origins, leveraging deed books & non-population schedules, getting started on and using Family Search Family Tree, breaking brick walls & military research for African American genealogy, writing your personal and family history story, using cemetery and grave records for research, and more!

a sampling of the day’s activities

Representatives from local chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, Daughters of the American Revolution, Williamson County African American Heritage Society, Middle Tennessee Genealogical Society, and the Friends of Tennessee State Library & Archives, were also available to provide information.  AAHGS Nashville also represented and shared information about our organization too.

Our chapter president, Chajuan, begins the process of transferring her family tree into FamilySearch Family Tree
AAHGS member Taneya with Tina Jones of the African American Heritage Society of Williamson County

The Family History Center plans to conduct another Family Discovery Day next year, so keep an eye out for future announcements.  We also include regional happenings on our Calendar, so be sure to check that list from time to time for upcoming events.

Many thanks to the Franklin Family History Center for a wonderful day of learning and education!