Establishing the True Identities of “Felix Richards’ Slaves” – Amy Bertsch
SESSION: NGS2104-AA-04 TRACK: African American
While working for the Office of Historic Alexandria, Amy was asked to research a photograph of two women and seven children taken during the Civil War near Alexandria, VA. The caption identified them as “Felix Richards’ slaves” and additional information indicated the photo, then in a private collection, was taken at a farm called Volusia located in Fairfax County, VA.
Amy believed it was important to find their true identities so they would no longer be known only by their enslaver’s name. Using a variety of local and federal records, she was able to determine who the women and children were and later she shared her research with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture after it acquired the photograph.
In her presentation, Amy shares the records she used in her research, including probate records, a chancery suit, Civil War pension files, and a claim for federal compensation, and she explains why these records may be helpful to others researching African American families. Amy discusses how the most recent indexing of Virginia’s chancery cases can benefit those doing African American genealogy but she also points out some of the limitations. Another group of records Amy explores are compensation claims among the Congressional Jurisdiction Cases from the U.S. Court of Claims. Claim records in this collection share some similarities with the Southern Claims Commission records, such as witness accounts, correspondence and financial information, but are part of a separate record group at the National Archives.
This presentation emphasizes the necessity of researching the genealogy of the enslaving family and demonstrates how their marriages and deaths impacted those they held in bondage. Amy also shows how, after determining the first names of several individuals enslaved at Volusia, she was able to find them in freedom even though their last name of Hughes was a completely different one than those associated with the enslavers.
Amy recalls the rewarding experience she has had working with genealogist Norma Wright, MLS, a descendant of the Hughes family, and she encourages attendees to collaborate whenever possible.
BIO: A historian and genealogist, Amy Bertsch has taught in the Public History and Historic Preservation certificate program at Northern Virginia Community College and she worked for several years for the Office of Historic Alexandria in Alexandria, VA. She has a master’s degree in history from Sam Houston State University and her article, “Lost Potters of Loudoun County, Virginia: The Gardner-Duncan Family,” was published in the Journal of Early Southern Decorative Arts in 2019.
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