Public Records Help Blacks Trace Roots To 18th Century

February 20, 1991|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — Using the right tools, black families in Carroll often can trace their roots back as far as the 18th century.

The Historical Society of Carroll County will conduct a Black History Forum, aimed at showing residents helpful resources to use in tracing family heritage.

"We hope people will share their family histories with us," said Jay A. Graybeal, society curator. "We will encourage them to pursue those histories through the use of available resources."

Graybeal and Lou Ann Howard-Bowins of Union Bridge will be among the panelists for the forum, scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 27. The historical society is at 210 E. Main St.

A teacher and descendant of one ofCarroll's oldest black families, Howard-Bowins began a search for her relatives years ago. She found it so interesting she decided to continue researching other black families.

Using public records -- such as property deeds and wills -- Howard-Bowins traced some descendants through six generations, ultimately finding a survivor here.

"Iwill discuss (at the forum) how I have collected history," she said."There are many different places you can go to and many resources available when you want to do a family history."

Graybeal will share research on blacks who lived at the Sherman-Fisher-Shellman House, which the society has owned for 50 years.

He said he spent several months researching the lives of servants and slaves who resided at the East Main Street house.

"About 25 percent of the house's residents last century were black," he said.

Public documents provided much information. In his will, Jacob Sherman, the original owner who died in 1822, freed six slaves.

Several of the freed blacks continued living on the property. One of those, Lucy Beho, was among the successful bidders at an estate auction, following the death of Sherman'swife in 1842.

"Residents often freed their slaves by last will and testament or by recording the manumission (the process of freeing aslave) with the Clerk of the County Court," said Graybeal. "Those public records are invaluable research tools."

When slaves were freed, the clerk also would record a detailed physical description along with biographical data. That information gives researchers a look at the daily lives and occupations of blacks in the early 19th century.

"One man's description said he had cut off a finger with a sickle blade," said Graybeal. "So, we knew he had been a farmer in Sherman'shousehold."

Many freed blacks often left Carroll for Baltimore, where they could find jobs as laborers. Those who remained typically became farmers or craftsmen. Graybeal also tracked household members through census records. The 1850 census said Carroll had the largest free black population, 974 people, in Maryland.

Church records often yield insights to black heritage. Alice Green, who wrote a "Historyof Union Memorial Baptist Church," will participate in the forum.

Howard-Bowins also has conducted a study of county blacks who foughtin the Civil War. She said Simon Murdock, a war hero, made several contributions here.

After he was wounded, Murdock returned to New Windsor, where he started a school for blacks.

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