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African-American Genealogy Before the Civil War and Other Programs Delving into the County’s History
Monday, 10 December 2018
| County News & Features | | | 0 Comments

​For those interested in learning how to find out more about their ancestors, RELIC has just the opportunities for you. RELIC, or the Ruth E. Lloyd Information Center, is a genealogy service offered by the Prince William County Public Library System. 

RELIC will host several programs over the next few months showing people how to find, identify and use Census records, church records, old family histories, county and city directories, specialized farm, professional and school directories and yearbooks to get started down the path to tracking their ancestry. Maps, books and manuscripts can also add to the understanding of the past.  

Don Wilson, a Prince William County librarian and genealogist, will present a program on African-American Genealogy: Tracking Families Before the Civil War, at 7 p.m. on Jan. 15 at Central Community Library, 8601 Mathis Ave. in Manassas. He will teach people the ins-and-outs of deciphering family history where family history is lacking. "We'll be concentrating on the kind of research needed before the Civil War," Wilson said. "After the Civil War, it doesn't matter whether you're black, white whatever, the records are going to be the same." 

Not being included in the public records before the Civil War can make research difficult, but using the records that appear after the Civil War can lead to discoveries, Wilson said. "A large proportion of black families were not free before the Civil War and they were not in many public records, but there are various kinds of records that they do appear in. What I'm trying to do is show how to use the records found after the Civil War to get people back to the earlier time period and to give them hope that there will be records that will give them details about their family."

At 11 a.m. on Jan. 24 at Bull Run Regional Library, 8601 Mathis Ave. in Manassas, Wilson will teach people another trick in his talk Genealogy 201: Beyond the Basics, telling people that they need to start their research with themselves. "Do not start with your famous ancestor because there's no way you can answer questions that way."

Wilson said it's also handy for people to find out as much as they can about all their ancestors. "In order to go from one generation to the next, you need to know more than just the name of the person you're tracking. You need to be able to put them in time and place. It's good to know their occupation, good to know when major events in their life took place, such as when they immigrated to the United States. You need to know family traditions. Stories that have been handed down can be very helpful. It helps a lot to be able to track how they traveled, what their life would have been like in those days." 

There are also all kinds of software with forms and charts that the folks at RELIC can teach people how to use, Wilson said.

While it would be helpful to take Genealogy 101: Getting Started, the precursor to the 201 class, it's not absolutely necessary, Wilson said. "It would be a good idea if they have already taken the basic course or have at least tried to do some of research on their own." 

Reading "Climbing Your Family Tree" on RELIC's website might also help prepare people for the advanced class, Wilson said. 

The next 101 class will be held at Bull Run Regional Library at 2 p.m. on March 27. Each class is offered quarterly, Wilson said. 

People who are interested can visit RELIC at the Bull Run Regional Library to learn about their ancestry even when classes aren't being offered, Wilson said. "People don't have to wait until a program comes around to call us or visit us to get help about their family history. We help a lot of people one-on-one." 

Call 703-792-4540 or email relic2@pwcgov.org for more information and to make appointments. 

In addition to genealogy talks, RELIC is hosting the program Revealing the Carnage and Chaos of the Hospitals of First Manassas, a talk about how unprepared the Union and Confederate armies were to handle the deluge of wounded after the Battle of First Manassas. Paige Gibbons-Backus, author and historic site manager with the Prince William County Historic Preservation Division, will give the talk beginning at 7 p.m. on Jan. 15 at Bull Run Regional Library.

In all, Backus said, there were 15 hospitals, that included houses, churches, barns and even a post office in the area that were used to tend to roughly 3,500 wounded, and the doctors and staff were unready to take care of them, Gibbons-Backus said. "They were just unprepared with the medical staff, medical supplies and the locations to house all these wounded soldiers."

The program is a good jumping off point for anyone interested in the Civil War or medical history, Gibbons-Backus said. "The talk is an opportunity for people to learn more about the Manassas area and how it was impacted during the Civil War, particularly after the Battle of First Manassas." 

More information about RELIC is available at pwcgov.org/relic.

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