The resources used for this project are many and varied. The bulk of the documents related to the families are available through web-based, commercial genealogical and historical services. These sites provide access to an ever-growing list of historic documents, scanned and searchable. Similar services offer historic newspapers, military and grave records, adoption and naturalization records, etc. There are several that focus on the specific needs of African American research. The Library of Congress has a useful guide on researching African American history on-line.
As a way to organize and make sense of the available online data, I compiled primary source records retrieved through ancestry.com into offline GEDCOM files. I created a family tree for each of the households on South Adams Street in 1900. Those files are saved and will be given to the Ypsilanti Historical Society on disc. These files contain: census records, death, birth and marriage records, city directories and soldiers records and more. In the process of creating family trees for the individual homes, a family tree that encompassed many of the homes in the neighborhood was revealed. The device of creating family trees covering several generations helped to view the community in a broader context and was essential to understanding the community.
The Ypsilanti Historical Society’s (YHS) archive has proved invaluable to this research. The archives have a black history section that holds many of the papers of AP Marshall, late chronicler of Ypsilanti’s black history, professor at Eastern Michigan University and community activist. Marshall wrote Unconquered Souls, a locally published book on Ypsilanti’s African American history, available through the Ypsilanti Historical Society. The archives are the source for most of the Ypsilanti information, including on Brown Chapel, the First Ward School, veterans, newspapers, obituaries and maps.
The Michigan/Ypsilanti Heritage Room at the main branch of the Ypsilanti Public Library (YPL) has many resources, and connections to more. I spent long hours in the comfortable room, where internet access to on-line genealogy programs is also available, as are recordings of oral histories, videos, maps and a comprehensive collection of city directories.
In addition to the archives at the YHS and YPL, the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan has a number of related resources, including the Robert Hunter Collection covering early 1900s fraternal and social organizations and papers covering the NAACP in Ypsilanti from the 1918 Charter on.
The Library of Michigan has a number of records that were used in this project, including the microfilm records of the Plaindealer and Informer, historic black newspapers published in Detroit. The Other newspapers available through the YHS, the Library of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University’s Halle Library The National Archives has a website devoted to researching records and contains links to many of the reputable for-pay sites.
Several local blogs have researched and written stories on area history, digitized and uploaded historic Ypsilanti documents, newspapers and images, and reported on local history-related issues and activities. They are a gold-mine of information, and more often, of leads. They are:
The Dusty Diary is a blog exploring the YHS archives and is full of well researched stories and facts along with a host of images, historic diaries and newspaper images related to general Ypsilanti history.
Old News produced by the Ann Arbor Public Library has issue scanned of The Signal of Liberty, The Ann Arbor Argus, The Ann Arbor Courier, and The Ann Arbor News that are of high quality and fully searchable.
Ypsilanti Gleanings is the official publication of the Ypsilanti Historical Society and has a number of articles and references related to black history. It can be searched, browsed and has an on-line image gallery.
A national census has been carried out by the United States Federal Government every ten years since 1790. All federal Censuses, except 1890, and many State ones are available on line through a number of commercial services. Most of the 1890 Census was destroyed in a 1921 fire and is unavailable leaving an important gap in some of our research. However, the 1890 Veterans Schedule, which was used mainly to count Veterans of the US Civil War, survived and has provided information on Ypsilanti’s black veterans. The University of California San Diego has developed a thorough guide to researching US Censuses from 1790 on.
The stories told on this site would not have been possible without access to Canadian censuses, also available on-line through commercial sites (. Beginning in 1831 for every ten years until 1901 (when they were taken every five years), there was a census taken for what is now Ontario. Similar questions are asked, however there are differences. Religious identity has never been asked in US Censuses, but is in Canada. The Archives of Canada has a research guide. The Agricultural Census of Ontario provides information in 1861 and 1871 on the amount of land owned, amount under cultivation, crops raised and livestock owned, all with values. The Agricultural Census only counts owners of farms, not those who worked on farms.
The core people in this project are all found on South Adams Street in the 1900 Federal Census, taken in the summer of that year. Questions asked changed from decade to decade. The questions asked in the 1900 Census provide information on: street address, household size, name, marital and relationship status, ‘color’, sex, age, years married, number of children (for women) and number of children living (for women), place of birth, parents place of birth, occupation, immigration, literacy, current schooling (for those of age), home ownership status, and type of home (farm or house). When that information is compared to other decades, the frame of a story can be seen, even if it is sometimes contradictory. I have noticed, for example, that many black residents of Ypsilanti, like Richard Hamilton and Robert Morton, at first claimed Canadian birth, later to claim birth in a Southern state. There were, especially in the earliest years under study, many reason for blacks to be wary about telling the truth to census takers. The bulk of the information we know about the residents of South Adams Street comes from careful study of decades of Census records.
Newspapers, unlike most official documents, contain information about the daily lives and interests of people. The politics and attitudes of the times are illuminated in ways impossible in secondary writings on the time. As my research developed I would return to newspaper articles I had already read and they would be full of information I was unable to notice before. Historic newspapers are an essential part of understanding the past and I have included a number of clippings related to our subject in the text. The Newspapers section contains a massive amount of articles covering black Ypsilanti life in the period beyond Adams Street is a trove of information.
The newspapers I looked at were accessed at the Ypsilanti Historical Society’s archives, the Library of Michigan, the Ann Arbor Public Library and Eastern Michigan University’s Halle library. They include:
The Signal of Liberty, an abolitionist paper aligned with the Liberty Party, published in Ann Arbor from 1841 to 1847.
Ann Arbor Argus, published from 1879 to 1896 and continued on as the Argus-Democrat.
Ann Arbor Daily Courier, published from 1876 until 1899.
Ann Arbor Register, published from 1875-1879.
Ypsilanti True Democrat, 1864-1865. Changed to Ypsilanti Commercial in 1865 and published, with some interruptions, until 1900.
Ypsilanti Sentinel published from the 1840s until it merged to form the above Commercial in 1865.
Ypsilanti Daily Press, published from 1905-1912.
The Ypsilantian, published from 1880-1912.
The Plaindealer, an African American newspaper published by Robert Pelham in Detroit from 1883 until 1894.This paper contained a weekly column on Ypsilanti and is a wealth of information on the larger community in which Ypsilanti was a part. Unfortunately, not all of the issues are available on microfilm. Another Detroit-published African American newspaper of the period was the Informer, now largely unavailable.
Other Primary Sources
In addition to censuses, the locations for all of the households on South Adams Street were fixed and confirmed by the 1889-1900 and 1900-1901 Polk’s Ann Arbor Directories found at the Ypsilanti Historical Society. A number of local directories are on-line and listed here. The local directories, in keeping with the racial politics of the time, often identify black residents as ‘col.’ for colored. In addition the directories will give street address and sometimes occupation, removal to another area, and widow status for women (who are often not recognized as heads of households where men are present).]
Many death records are available through Seeking Michigan. Birth and marriage records, city directories and soldier’s records, immigration and tax records were all obtained on-line and are collected in GEDCOM files in the Ypsilanti Historical Society archives.
Specific sources will often be linked to or mentioned in articles. For specific information not found in official and semi-official documents, these books were invaluable:
Pegues, A. W.. Our Baptist ministers and schools. New York: Johnson Reprint Corp., 1970.
Gaskin, Wendell. Lenawee County Michigan Afro-American Directory. Adrian, MI, 1895.
McRae, Norman. Negroes in Michigan during the Civil War. Lansing: Michigan Civil War Centennial Observance Commission, 1966.
Marshall, Albert P.. Unconquered souls: the history of the African American in Ypsilanti. Ypsilanti, Mich.: Marlan Publishers, 1993.
Marshall, Albert P. Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Ypsilanti, A Brief History.. Ypsilanti:1979.
Marshall, Albert P. Sketches of Brown Chapel and AME history celebrating 200 years. Ypsilanti, Mich.: [s.n.], 1987.
Marshall, Albert P. Unconquered Souls: The History of the African American in Ypsilanti. Ypsilanti, MI: Marlan, 1993.
Other Communities and Canada
Vincent, Stephen A.. Southern seed, northern soil: African-American farm communities in the Midwest, 1765-1900. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999.
Tobin, Jacqueline, and Hettie Jones. From Midnight to Dawn: the last tracks of the underground railroad. New York: Doubleday, 2007.
Past and Present of Washtenaw County, Michigan, published in 1906. (a good source of statistics, as well as personality)
Bien, Laura. Hidden history of Ypsilanti. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2011.
Mann, James Thomas. Ypsilanti: a history in pictures. Chicago, IL: Arcadia, 2002.
Mann, James Thomas. Footnotes in history. Ypsilanti, MI: James Mann, 2003.
Mann, James Thomas. Ypsilanti in the 20th century. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2003.
Mjagkij, Nina. Organizing Black America: An Encyclopedia of African American Associations. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 2001.
Salzaman, Jack. Encyclopedia of African-American culture and history: the Black experience in the Americas. Detroit: Macmillan, 2006.