I just finished my first day at the 2014 National Genealogical Society conference in Richmond, Va. and I must confess I am exhausted! There are so many exhibits and programs to choose from (the program syllabus is 656 pages) and the Richmond Convention Center is so big (it takes up 2 city blocks and is connected by elevated walkways) that it was a bit overwhelming. I think tomorrow will be better.
On a positive note, thanks to my mother’s great directions, I got to downtown Richmond (on the north side of the river) from where she lives (on the south side of the river) in less than 15 minutes without any traffic. I thought it was a fluke since I left her house at 6:30 am but I had the same luck when I came home at 5:00 pm.
As an added bonus, on the way to the conference I drive past my first school, the house where my grandmother lived in 1920 and the neighborhood where my mother grew up.
Not to mention that I get to drive across the Robert E. Lee bridge – just doesn’t get much better than that for this southern girl.
So here are three things I learned today:
1. Farmers’ diaries are great sources for finding out the weather on a particular date at a particular place in the past. This probably explains why my grandfather Kingsbury’s 1910 diary when he was a student at George Washington University in Washington DC always starts with the weather that day. He grew up on a farm in Iowa.
2. Searching genealogy records for ancestors from Richmond Va (where most of my mother’s family is from) is difficult because many records were destroyed in what they call “the evacuation fire” in 1865. The departing Confederates set fire to the warehouses and munitions facilities near the river so the Union wouldn’t have them but the fire spread “up the hill” to the courthouse. VA records going back to the 1600s were stored there. It wasn’t only State records that were lost. When the Civil War started, many of the counties surrounding Richmond sent their local records to Richmond for “safekeeping.” (Surely the capital wouldn’t fall, they must have thought.) There’s a term in VA genealogical research – “burned county” – for those counties whose records were lost in that fire.
3. The Virginia Historical Society (a private nonprofit not a state repository) has 9 million manuscripts and probably one of the best historic portrait collections in the Southeast. There is a heavy emphasis on Civil War records but they also have the diary that George Washington kept during his first year as President. They also have the bowie knife that JEB Stuart took from John Brown when he was captured at Harpers Ferry and according to the librarian who was giving the talk – “guns – lots of guns!”
They also have a memoir written by Elizabeth Keckley – the first exposé written by a White House insider. Elizabeth Keckley was born a slave in VA in 1818 but bought her freedom in St. Louis and moved to Washington DC. She was the seamstress for many women in Washington and became the seamstress and confidante of Mary Todd Lincoln. (There was a scene in the movie Lincoln of her on the porch talking to Lincoln.) Her biography published in 1868 was entitled Behind the Scenes: Or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House (1868).
Well – that’s all for now. I’ve got to figure out which talk I’m going to at 8 am tomorrow so I can hit the ground running.