Interested in learning the “quilt code” of the Underground Railroad through song and narrative? Or maybe you’re just interested in learning the basics of genealogy from a researcher and speaker well known among Black history and genealogical circles in East Texas.
The African-American Research Seminar, being hosted at League Street Church of Christ Saturday, Feb. 2, by Hopkins County Genealogical Society in conjunction with Black History Month, has both.
“We hope to get more African-Americans interested in doing research and in coming to the research library,” said Marynell Bryant for HCGS.
The seminar will begin at 9 a.m. with a presentation by the Pleasant Hill Quilting Group from the Pleasant Hill community, located near Linden in Cass County. The group has 14 members whose dedication to quilt-making and history is showcased in the presentations they share as they travel to various venues to explain about the code the blocks in Underground Railroad quilts contain. Some of the quilters will be visiting Sulphur Springs Feb. 2 to give a presentation telling in both narrative and song about some of the blocks.
Most know the Underground Railroad was a network of people — black and white, although predominantly black — who helped fugitive slaves escape from the South to the North and on to Canada, where slavery was illegal. Hundreds of slaves traveled the “railroad” to freedom each year in the 1800s. The group notes that one estimate showed as many as 100,000 slaves leaving the South between 1810 to 1850.
However, not as many know about the quilts and the significance of the codes contained within them.
“Because the Canadian border was so far from the southern plantations and slave owners’ efforts to capture and return the escapees, travel turned out to be a hazardous undertaking. Secret codes and signals were developed to guide the travelers through the hazards. One was the use of bed quilts presumably hung out for cleaning. Each patch of the quilt represented a signal to guide the escapees,” according to the Pleasant Hill Communit0’sy website: http://www.pleasanthilltexas.org.
The Pleasant Hill Quilters are dedicated to preserving and sharing that history through their presentations. They also sell quilts to the public to help raise money for their educational programs as well as to help preserve an African-American school and other similar endeavors which preserve the African-American heritage.
The second portion of the seminar begins at 10:30 a.m. and will feature three sessions to help people get started who are interested in researching genealogy and local history. The session will be taught by Anna Guy-Burroughs of Fort Worth and the Tarrant County Black Historical and Genealogical Society Inc. Guy-Burroughs is a professional researcher and speaker who gives monthly workshops at the Ella Mae Shamblee Library in Fort Worth.
The first topic, “Who’s In Your Genes?” focuses on basic research techniques, organization, family interviews and gathering information. A lunch will be provided at noon by Hopkins County Genealogical Society. Then, starting again at 1 p.m., Guy-Burroughs will explain “Getting the Most Out of the U.S. Census.” The third session, “What’s in a Name?” will begin at 2 p.m. and last about an hour. The researcher will give tips about census research and African-American naming patterns that are often used to help researchers document their ancestors.
“These three sessions are basic topics to help you get started researching. The information can be used by anyone who is getting started and the sessions are open to everyone, not just African-Americans,” Bryant said.
The fee to attend the entire seminar is $20 for those registering by Jan. 30. A late registration fee of $25 will be charged for anyone registering afterward. That includes both the Underground Railroad Code presentation, all three afternoon research sessions lunch and a “large packet of useful handouts.”
A special rate of $5 per person is set for those who just want to catch the Pleasant Hill Quilting Group of Linden and their Underground Railroad Code presentation but not the three research topics. This is ideal for any quilting guildes that want to bring a group.
“This is a great opportunity to kick-start your family research. Volunteers will be on hand to answer research questions,” Bryant noted.
To register, mail the form with the name, address, phone number, email and fee for each registrant to HCGS, PO Box 624, Sulphur Springs Texas 75482 or hand-deliver it to the HCGS Research Library, 212 Main St. Call 903-885-8523 for more information.
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