Search for family's roots yields history of many

Winfield man's hobby leads to award of genealogy prize

November 08, 1999|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Jerry Hynson, 61, needed something to occupy his time after he retired in 1988 as an administrator and program coordinator from the Baltimore schools.

He decided to research his family's roots as a hobby.

Two weeks ago, that family research earned the Winfield resident the 1999 Norris Harris Prize from the Maryland Historical Society for the best genealogical source records in Maryland.

"Jerry did two volumes of `The Maryland Freedom Papers' dealing with manumission records and the freedom of slaves," said Robert Bartram, reference and access services librarian at the Maryland Historical Society. "He found deeds and certificates of freedom that identified slaves as they were being given their freedom in Anne Arundel and Kent counties."

Calling the books "very impressive works," Bartram said he wasn't aware of anyone else doing such research in the state.

The books were the idea of Susan Lucas, an employee at Family Line Publications (now Willow Bend Books) in Westminster, where Hynson went to get help with his research.

Lucas suggested Hynson abstract the records -- write summaries of the documents -- and put them in book form.

"I started working on my mom's family from Middlesex County, Va., and dad's family from Kent County, Md.," Hynson said. "Mom knew a lot about her family, but to validate the information, I had to go to Richmond or Middlesex County."

So he turned to his father's side of the family, where less information was known by relatives, but records were closer at hand. Starting at the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis, he encountered a woman who introduced him to Vincent Hynson, a distant cousin, in Kent County.

"Vince took me to the original plantation where the Hynsons had been slaves and later worked as employees," Hynson said. "He showed me the land that the plantation owner, the Gale family, left the Hynsons as they were freed as slaves."

His cousin also showed Hynson the first African-American schoolhouse in Kent County, which still stands at Wardens Point, near the Gale plantation.

Digging deeper, Hynson found census records, manumission papers and certificates of freedom for Hynsons from Kent County to Baltimore. He was looking for his great-grandfather, Charles Hynson.

Charles Hynson was listed in the Baltimore census at age 26, but Hynson could find nothing before that. Then Vincent Hynson introduced him to two cousins who knew the story.

"They told me Charles was a slave who ran away from the Gale plantation at age 14 and was never heard from again," Hynson said. "The family story is that the Gales had a grain boat [that went up the bay], and they trusted Charles enough to let him on it. One day he got off it and never came back."

Hynson studied many documents, including city jail records, looking for Charles. Eventually, he found two Charles Hynsons from Kent County who joined the U.S. Colored Troops during the Civil War. One of them, he believes, was his great-grandfather.

"Back then there was a law that slave owners who let their slaves sign up for the Colored Troops got $300," Hynson said.

Hynson is still searching for information on Charles, but he put together all the records he could find on other slaves from Anne Arundel and Kent counties in "The Maryland Freedom Papers" volumes. He also published a third book, "The African-American Collection, Kent County, Maryland."

Tracing slaves is difficult because many didn't have last names -- or if they did, they were frequently the names of their owners, or someone in the community they admired, or taken from their trade.

His books list manumission records, certificates of freedom and other information he gleaned from his research. Descriptions of the slaves are included.

"Freed slaves had to carry a certificate of freedom with all the information about their freedom and a description of them," Hynson said. "If you were caught without the certificate, you could be sold back into slavery."

His research has led him to others who have broadened his initial goals of documenting his family.

Besides the "Freedom" books, he has published "Free African-Americans of Maryland, 1832," which includes the names of freed slaves from 12 counties. The names had been compiled by a group trying to colonize freed slaves in Africa.

He also published "District of Columbia Runaway and Fugitive Slave Cases 1848-1863." He i now studying a huge roll of microfilmed manumission records from Baltimore County for the next volume in the series.

Since becoming involved in genealogy, Hynson has become vice president for genealogy at the Baltimore African-American Historical Society and vice president of the Maryland Genealogical Society. He travels throughout the area giving workshops on family research to groups and organizations.

His books are available at local libraries and historical societies, as well as colleges and reference libraries.

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