NGS 2021 On-Demand! Speaker Spotlight – Amy Bertsch

April 21st, 2021 by Teresa Kelley

Establishing the True Identities of “Felix Richards’ Slaves” – Amy Bertsch

Amy Bertsch

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.

Period slave photograph
From the Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

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.

The Virtual NGS 2021 On-Demand! Viewing Starts 15 June

This lecture series is available to view from home on your computer or mobile device and offers you the opportunity to develop exceptional genealogy skills with a highly comprehensive set of on-demand webinars from NGS’s expert conference speakers. On-Demand! packages of audio-visual lectures are now available for purchase.

Select from the 20 or 40 On-Demand! lecture packages with over 85 sessions to choose from. Watch starting 15 June 2021 through 31 December 2021. Both packages come with access to two full days of NGS 2021 Live! from 19-20 May 2021, the virtual conference syllabus, and sponsored bonus sessions. Plus, view the sessions from NGS 2021 Live! and any sessions you did not choose from the breakouts (nine more) beginning 15 June. All sessions will be closed captioned.


To learn more about the NGS 2021 Virtual Family History Conference’s week-long events, 17-21 May, visit the conference and download a copy of the program brochure.