Sunday, September 13, 2015

Nothing Wrong With Researching Out On The Limb

By Robin Foster   Posted at  5:10 PM   Philadelphia Marriage Indexes No comments

I am waiting for the pecans to be ready for harvest. There are other creatures there taking early samples.  One thing I notice is they know better than to race from the bottom of the tree to the top looking for samples. They go up the tree a little, then they branch out quickly gathering pecans at the end of the limb. Good researchers are just as smart or smarter than raccoons or squirrels. Often in genealogy research, you have to go out on the limb of your tree so you do not miss the treasure waiting for you there.

Like the raccoons and squirrels that I am in competition with this season, I am racing across the branches of my tree.  The great wealth of records coming online now has brought to my fingertips a host of records helping me to go back and link resources that I had not accessed before. I am so glad that over the course of my personal research I took the time to identify and record the descendants of my ancestors along with their spouses, siblings, and children.

Easier finds

Updates in website functionality on and have made it easier for me to find records that have been added. I can go out on the limb and grab them and attach them. I am finding that these new records are helping me to understand my family more and are encouraging me to go back up my tree with greater understanding about my progentiors and new insights to document them.

My husband found his first document this month among the probate records on He has been coming to classes I teach every Wednesday evening with a renewed desire to experience research for himself. Whomever has the desire to know who they are can find success.  The time has not been better than it is right now to start.

Finding more

I am sure many of my genealogy friends who have been at this for a while are having great eperiences too because of all the painstaking effort put forth on their journeys. To illustrate, I logged onto, and received a record hint (I am trying out the test version) on the home page for Henry Vance (b. 1893), a great uncle. As it turns out I only had one source for him, and I had not entered his wife's name.

"Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Marriage Indexes, 1885-1951," database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 13 September 2015), 1917-1938 > V > image 7 of 50; citing Clerk of the Orphan's Court. City Hall.

I decided to search for more records on Henry because of the hint.  I ended up not only finding his marriage record, but on the same page I found other records for other members of the Vance family who migrated from South Carolina to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  I would not have even recognized them had I not researched all of the Vance descendants. Since only the spouse's maiden name is entered on the index, I searched for Henry's wife in this database and was able to find her first name.

I love the fact that these databases are not ultimatley leaving it up to us to know records have been added, but they are spoon feeding us with hints.  Every suggestion is just that... a sugestion, but if you are diligent enough to add the sources you find, you will be amazed by what you will discover.  Adding sources teaches the database who your family is. After I add sources, I go back and find more suggested records. I rarely find a suggestion that is not in actually the right person.

The Phildelphia marriage index find has opened up other possibilities for me now to link marriage records to each family member who moved and married in Philly during this time period. I can even order the original marriage records to learn more now that I know the year of marriage. I can go out on the limb and link more and learn more.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Principles Part 1: What I learned from my family about color

By Robin Foster   Posted at  10:09 AM   13 comments

The world is in commotion everywhere you turn.  That is a given, but the question is "What responsibility as a genealogist do I have in what I do and say?"  I certainly do not think remaining silent is an option.  In many respects, I feel that I have been prepared for this day and for the current battles.  Through the research of my family, I have learned we find success if we can unite  around true principles.  Differences will melt away as we cease to judge people by outward appearances and stop placing people in categories where we expect them to behave or think a certain way.  You see mostly what you look for. The most common way I find common ground with people is by noticing the love they have for their family.   Although my parents did not make negative impressions upon me when I grew up, I am fortunate to have learned principles about people of different colors. 

My mom

Edna Foster
When I was a child, her skin was much more lighter than in this photo.  I remember people always mistaking her for being Caucasian.  There is something about my mother. She is strong about not being mistaken for being anything other than African American.  She has always served everyone no matter what color they were.  She was always very concerned that she was placed in schools where she could also teach people of color.  When she was going to be placed in a different school district after segregation, she insisted that she remain where she was and be allowed to teach people of color.

My mother was born in South Carolina where I am sure she was exposed to issues at the onset of the Civil Rights era.  She also experienced segregated restaurants, drinking fountains, and the like in Illinois. She tells those stories in a matter-of-fact way, not negatively. I was much more lighter skinned than my dad.  I believed she wanted me never to judge people with darker complexions when she said:  "When I looked for someone to marry, I knew I wanted to find a person with a dark complexion. Your dad was the smartest person of all the people that I knew." 

I would lay on my mother's breast or sit at her feet to be near her.  When I went to school, I would try to remember the scent of her makeup or perfume until I could return home again at the end of the day.  After she had my brother and would go off to help him fall asleep during nap time, it seemed I would have to wait for an eternity for her to return.  She was my first teacher. I thank my mother for teaching me not to treat people with darker skin any differently than I would treat her.  

My dad

Robert Foster (1938-1988)
I know my dad never took a handout. He thought they were a trap to steal your agency. He taught me never to ask anyone for anything. "If you cannot get it yourself, do without," he said. He shunned laziness, and he taught me against borrowing from banks, credit cards, and getting in debt. I think he was as much against those things as anyone would be against murder itself. 

He would sit down and give me problems to solve such as, "If you get a loan for (dollar amount), in 30 years, how much interest would you have paid?" Needless to say, dad built every home we lived in from as far back as I can recall. He purchased everything with cash. I only saw him get a loan once, and it was for a brand new red Thunderbird. He paid cash for half of it. 

My dad was a mathematical statistician, and later he followed his dream of business ownership and became a builder. I used to wish I was a boy so that I could go to work with him. He taught me how to sacrifice to reap the blessings that are worthwhile to me. Even though he met many challenges based on the color of his skin, he never taught me to hate. He taught me to love my country and my fellow man. He taught me to treat people well, or it would come back around to visit me. He sent me to the best schools, and he taught me that only principles like work would bring me success...not color or status. 

I never remember a day in my life where my family did not have all that we needed. We were taught not to be flaunting or frivolous. One day, I was doing my nails (remember the press on nails?). Dad came home and saw me and said, "You know that you do not need all that, right?" He was trying to tell me that I was beautiful without having to apply accessories. He loved my natural beauty. That made a big impact on me in my teenage years. 

One of the things that influenced me the most was when my father told me that in his profession he had worked with colleagues from Princeton, Harvard, and Yale, and he could interact with them in the workplace on the same level. He taught me that if I applied myself, I could do anything. He said, "There is no such thing as you can't. Never say the word can't in this house." 

My way

My parents did not let their struggles in any way dim the belief that people are all children of God. Some act out at times, but goodwill can conquer all. Today when I am exposed to slurs or narrowminded thinking, I do not turn away in disgust. I immediately look for an opportunity to teach and to help people have an experience they may never have had with a person of color. I am usually successful focusing on the principles taught by my parents which luckily so far resonate in the hearts of many people I have met. 

I believe my parents were inspired by God to prepare me for this day. What they taught me about color has helped me not only to not have feelings of inferiority but also to have acceptance for people of every color. I believe a society can stand only so much stress before things begin to burst open. I have had many occasions to sit down with people whose ancestors owned enslaved people. They have researched for years. They come to me very frustrated. In the process of identifying African American ancestors, I have run across resources to document their ancestors too. Some have been a little apologetic or embarrassed to have me be the one to help them. I immediately work to ease them and show my sincerity to help. I have gained close friends through these experiences. I have even in the thrill of the hunt felt their ancestors' gratitude, because there is a great purpose in helping people learn about their progenitors. I truly can sense relief on my part especially. I truly believe acts of kindness help to relieve the tensions people feel. That probably is a very controversial idea in today's society, but it has been tried and proven. 

 Let me tell you, this has been the quickest and most genuine way I know to bond with people of all colors. I cherish the experience of watching people's attitudes change and light come into their countenances right before my eyes. I am grateful for the abilities that I have to do this work. I hope in some small way, I make a difference in my corner of the world. All of us who possess these abilities have a great power to bring about change in people. I know that we can find ways to apply these principles in a way that heals the great divide. I pray we all will sincerely work to put that power to use. 

My research

I have never limited my research to basic documentation. I have tried to do my best to study resources that would reveal more about who they were, what they were like, and challenges they faced in their day. Now that I have delved deep into history, I feel responsible to help others understand the insights I have gained in a responsible way. I felt prompted a while ago to just teach about the misconceptions surrounding color that were taught during the lifetime of my ancestors. There were too many, and I was under the impression that the beliefs could not possibly be held on a wide scale today. I was wrong because now when I look at the news and engage in some conversations, I realize these same falsehoods or their derivatives are being perpetuated widely today. 

Now for the benefit of those who are interested but most importantly for my posterity, I will explain what I have learned with the hope that we can avoid being influenced or adopting beliefs about color that are not true. It would be most unfortunate for my future descendants to look back one day and not be able to distinguish the truth or worse yet, not find any evidence that I brought forth truth. The purpose of this is not to incite anyone or entertain arguments. I think the greatest response to this effort would be to research and provide actual examples in ancestral research which would help to reveal truths regarding struggles overcome or true character revealed as I will continue to do. 

A few misconceptions: 

1.  After Emancipation and beyond, people of color in America were seen as a threat to those who felt they had more of a right to citizenship. Even in this 1927 Time Magazine article, Crawford Allen and his family who were sold for $20 in Fluker, Louisiana were referred to as aliens. 
Negroes:  Black Bodies, Time Magazine

2.   Slavery was good in that it kept people of color in line. Much Reconstruction Era literature is replete with the idea that the newly enslaved people were prone to become criminals. The book cited below is entitled Civil War and Reconstruction in Alabama:

3.  Much Antebellum literature professes the belief that the African slaves did not have the intelligence to understand the concepts of freedom or even desired freedom over enslavement, however, there are many examples where people attempted to rebel or escape. See "Freedom?" on the bottom of page 207 of Slaving and Slaving in African History.

4.  Another falsehood that I came across in Reconstruction literature was the belief that people of African descent were lazy. I am very fortunate that what I have learned from researching the lives of my ancestors speaks to the contrary. An example can be found in the text of Christian Reconstruction in the South:

In the research of my own ancestral lines so far, I have yet to discover people who did not pursue what they believed was the American dream. I have yet to find people who did not serve their community or profess Christian beliefs. I have yet to find any who did not value education nor instill that value in their children notwithstanding great challenges. I believe these qualities were manifested before Emancipation in any way they could be. This is based on the evidence of their lives documented during the years just after slavery ended. I believe other families like this existed. Their's are the stories we need to hear, and that is up to you! Follow this blog to so that you do not miss an upcoming post where I will cite examples in my own ancestral research where the misconceptions above do not apply. 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Fueling my own finds while indexing

By Robin Foster   Posted at  12:50 PM   FamilySearch Indexing No comments

It turns out I am even fueling my own finds! Yesterday, while I indexed, I kept downloading batches from where my ancestors lived in Abbeville County, SC.  I was so amazed last night as I indexed the fifth batch of Freedmen's Bureau labor contracts while participating in the Worldwide Indexing Event  from August 7 to August 14th. The last image of the batch was a contract between D. W. Aiken and freedpeople working on his land in 1867.


I recognized Aiken right away from mentions of him made by my great great grandfather, Beverley Vance (1832-1899), in testimonies he gave when he appeared before the SC Senate in 1876.  The life of D. Wyatt Aiken (1828-1887)  is well documented. He was a Democrat who served in the Confederacy as well as a SC Congressman. 

Beverley's connection

Aiken was friends with the former owner of Beverley Vance, SC State Representative, J. K. Vance.  From Beverley's testimonies, I learned Aiken was a neighbor living also in Cokesbury, Abbeville County, South Carolina during Reconstruction. I am researching everyone that would have known Beverley to learn more about him. I even was able to read the journal of Aiken's wife, Virginia Caroline Smith Aiken, in the South Caroliniana Library a few years ago. 

I have been unable to locate any Freedmen's Bureau records for Beverley thus far.  I had not seen the labor contract above. I do not recognize any of the freedmen listed on the contract, but some of their surnames look familiar. Who would have guessed I would be indexing a record so close to home? In some way I do not feel it is a coincidence. I believe it is just a reminder to not give keep searching and to keep faithful that I will learn more.

I am so fortunate to have several historical references to Beverley. His senate testimonies alone help me to glean so much about him and my family. Here is one of the testimonies that mentions Aiken:

He received many threats on his life for being a strong leader. Another great man,
Senator B. F. Randolph was murdered in October of 1868 in the same area wherRandolph had made a trip to Cokesbury to campaign. Beverley served as a constable in this same area. 

These were very violent and troublesome times for the freedmen. Beverley was obviously well versed judging from his testimonies, owned land, voted his conscience, and was seen as a leader.  To me it is a miracle that he even survived the time period. 


My first day of participating in this event was an incredible experience. We are very fortunate to have the opportunity that indexing gives us to literally #FuelTheFind.  Where would we otherwise be once we exhausted the records readily available to us? Indexing helps to:

  1. teach us about record types that exist
  2. find that next bit of information to glean more about our ancestors
  3. have an opportunity to help someone else, and that feels good!

Without historical records, we are merely telling fables.  I hope everyone takes the opportunity to give back by indexing during this week and beyond this week! 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Title of Freedom

By Robin Foster   Posted at  12:53 AM   Robert Foster 2 comments

June 2015 left a scar on my heart which has now been soothed. I have hoisted this title of freedom.  It makes my heart skip a beat.  It represents all that a perfect society could be (Recite the pledge aloud).

My ancestors lived in a society which for them fell short of the basic freedoms that I have today, but that did not hinder their ability to seize the opportunities that were bestowed upon them.  They looked to my day in anticipation of what I would be able to achieve.  They did not lose faith because of freedoms denied them or injustices they endured.

My own father, a graduate of Central State University (one of the nation's oldest historically black universities) took graduate courses (in Illinois) and worked in civil service as a mathematical statistician.  He made a hard choice when I was very young which had a lasting effect on our family.  He quit his job to build and rennovate homes. Working for himself helped him to avoid on-the-job conflicts stemming from they way people treated him because of his color.

Robert Foster 1938-1988
He was available every day to drop me off and pick me up from school. I never rode a bus.  I learned a lot from him. I would stuggle in math, and often was brought to tears. I would wait up for my dad thinking he would help me do my problems. He would come in and say, "You need to get it on your own. Work every single problem in the book. When I was in school (graduate school), no one let me in their study group.  They divided up the problems and met to share the answers with each other. When it came time for the test, they could not work all the problems, but I could because I had completed each problem on my own."  Because of my dad, I still remember how to work those trig problems.

Because he became self-reliant through his business, our family never knew lack.  Even with my dad's education and success, I still saw people treat him differently because he was a very dark shade of brown. He taught me how to handle these situations. He never was rude in return nor sought to even the score. He found victory in being the best at everything he did. When the odds were stacked against him, a divine power intervened. He taught me "What goes around, comes around.  Be careful how you treat people because the very person you mistreat might have to pick you up out of the street one day."  My dad was a patriotic man. He loved his country. He studied current events. He loved to serve his fellow man.

I have been enlightened by my ancestors and their faith, their ability to keep their perspective in spite of what they endured.  Man has multiplied laws beyond comprehension, but I can hear my ancestors whispering:

"Jesus said, all laws can be satisfied through two great commandments:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

Thy shall love thy neighbor as thyself.  (Matthew 22: 37 and 39)"

For me, I choose to give all with all that I have. I pray that all who are connected with me in this society benefit from that, and this great banner of freedom is my symbol.  I look forward to the day when all will be made right and when I shall behold the face of my Great Sovereign King!

Friday, May 22, 2015

My Journey on Genealogy! Just Ask!

By Robin Foster   Posted at  8:47 AM   Genealogy! Just Ask! FamilySearch 1 comment

I was asked in the Facebook group, Genealogy! Just Ask! to share more of the spiritual side of being an admin in the group on this thread.  I know that is a peculiar question for those who have never made a connection between the two before, but as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, genealogy goes much deeper than looking for evidence to construct a family tree.  I believe the question posed to me refers to my testimony and the faith that drives me.

I would first like to explain that because of my faith in Jesus Christ, I believe anything is possible in the quest to identify our forebears.  I believe we have more help that we are unable to see. Those who have gone before us are pulling for us, and even helping us.   We have a loving Father in Heaven whose main purpose is the establishment of eternal families. We cannot establish an eternal family going back generations unless we know who they were. He will help us.  As proof of that, we have a wonderful website at the world's disposal free to use,

When I first began my research, I turned to those who were considered knowledgable.  They shared opinions with me that included the belief that I would not be able to document my African American ancestors before 1870.  Because of my faith, I refused to accept that. I figured there must be records out there that they had not seen yet. I vowed to uncover those records for myself and for anyone else who could use them. That meant for me, moving to South Carolina to scour the archives in person and to meet living cousins.

I found success because of faith. I found several records between 1865 and 1870 that documented my family.  Another principle that I followed was to research the former owners of my African American ancestors.  This was easy because the owners were in several cases my ancestors too. I looked for the records generated by the owners to document both slave owner and enslaved ancestors.

I have followed both lines as far back as I can go so far. That enabled me to become proficient in tracing both races of people.  People often look to me as being an African American genealogist only with expertise in researching African Americans.  To that I say, do not look at records as documenting only one color of people.  People stumble today because even the Freedman's Bureau records document more than African Americans.  For example, when the formerly enslaved people signed labor contracts, who did they enter into those agreements with?  I am just as able to trace people not my color, especially since I have traced ancestors who owned my formerly enslaved ancestors back several generations. Looking with the eye of faith, seeing the possibility in my mind's eye, taught me that.

My experience and training through FamilySearch enabled me to assist scores of people at the same time, understand the dynamics of social media, and learn how to stay abreast of developing technologies.  I learned that I could master technology by teaching it regularly to others. That is why I volunteer at the library near me, and I present for whomever asks me.

After overcoming my own hurdles in research and understanding the pain of not knowing who you are or where you came from, I was left with a great desire to help everyone else I could.  There are limits to helping people offline. The is a limit to how many people you can assist.  Facebook and other social media puts you in touch with the world. My desire is to help as many people as I can to feel the joy I have felt. You can call it an addiction.

I knew there would be people who would want to also share what they knew. I did not know it would be to the tune of 13,000+! Sometimes we miss out on opportunities to learn from ordinary people who are not considered experts. They have a hard time finding a place to share and feel satisfied from offering service. Genealogy! Just Ask! is a place where people can help others past the hurdles they overcame. They can share with others knowledge about records they have accessed without being made to feel inadequate. That makes for a successful community.

Genealogy! Just Ask! is a commuity that I feel so rewarded to be a part of . The exchanges that go on there are simply amazing.  I am in awe of the vision of it's creator, Jan Mitchell, who through her eye of faith followed her vision and invited me.

I hope this give those who requested this post some insight into the journey I am on. I am happy to share more if need be.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Are You Looking For Grandma's Husband?

By Robin Foster   Posted at  1:40 PM   research 1 comment

"Are you looking for Grandma's Husband?" is an article I wrote as the National Genealogy Examiner where I showed how to find the husband of the widowed Grandma Emma Warner who has two daughters and her grandchildren living with her in Accomack County, Virginia in 1940.

I found her on the 1930 Census ten years earlier, but her husband was still not there.  I did find him with her on the 1920 Census, but by that time there were so many different children between those three censuses that it was hard to keep track of them.  I usually use a census tracker when there is such a big family group.

I created the chart below so that it would be easy to see which child I had found each year.  Now I can tell easily which children should show up on the 1910 Census.











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