Friday, January 10, 2020

Ancestor of the Month – Dr. Ralph P. Cummings

Dr. Ralph Percy Cummings was born in Demerara, British Guiana, South America (now known as Guyana) in 1882.  He immigrated to Boston in 1907.  He then made his way to Nashville, TN where he attended Meharry College in 1914. After graduating from medical school, he moved west to Arkansas in 1919 where he opened a practice and lived out the rest of his days as a well-respected physician and surgeon in Conway, AR.

Throughout his time in Conway, Dr. Cummings took an active role in community organizations with special interest in improving the health and educational advantages of African American children.  Dr. Cummings continued to serve the Conway community until his death in 1945. Dr. Cummings is the 2X great grandfather of AAHGS member Phillip Cummings.  

If you have an ancestor you would like to share as an Ancestor of the Month, contact us at

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

This time of the year brings shorter days, colder nights, and more comfort foods.  This time of the year is also the start of the holiday season.  Fall happens to be my favorite season and Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  What’s better than family and food?  No matter if you have a big multi-generational dinner, a Friendsgiving, or a small intimate dinner, Thanksgiving is a time for family and friends.

This is a time to get together, relax, eat some good food, and just enjoy each other.  Thanksgiving is also a great time to add stories to your family history.  Take the time to talk to and interview your relatives.  Get the younger generations involved by either having them conduct the interviews with the older generation or have them record the interviews; you can also interview the younger generation. It’s important to get as much information from as many relatives as possible. Thanksgiving is also the perfect time to get those family recipes. Let’s not forget to get those pictures of family and friends before, during, and after dinner.

Thanksgiving can also be a good time to talk with other family members about having a family reunion.  You can take this time to coordinate the date and the place.  You can also brainstorm about family reunion activities and gather contact information for relatives.  Planning a family reunion is hard work, and the earlier you start the easier it will be to plan and organize.
Thanksgiving is a time that brings family and friends together to share food, laughter, and quality time together.  AAHGS wishes you peace, love, and prosperity this Thanksgiving holiday.

Monday, November 4, 2019

AAHGS 40th Annual Conference! Day 3

Saturday morning started with the General Session presented by our Vice President of History, Ric Murphy.  Ric spoke on "Moving Forward with Lessons from 1619".  He reminded us that we do the work that we do ‘Not because it's easy, but because it's hard'.  It was also during the General Session that it was announced that the 41st AAHGS Conference in 2020 will be held in Hampton, Virginia.  The theme of next year's conference "Virginia: Where African American Roots Run Deep – Correcting the National Narrative".  It's going to be a National Family Reunion since all roads lead to Virginia.

Today attendees were able to choose from 18 breakout sessions throughout the day with topics that included:  DNA, Methodology, Writing and Publishing, Organizing, and Researching with Google.  Some of today's presenters were Shannon Christmas; Melvin Collier; Robyn Smith; Phillip Cumming; and Dr. Khadijah Martin.

Today's luncheon speaker was Carroll R. Gibbs.  He spoke on "Jamestown, 1619:  Crucible, Crossroads and the Importance of African American History".  He reminded the attendees of the importance of ‘Our History' and ‘Our Voice' in this turbulent world we are now living in.  He encouraged the attendees to ‘Speak our truth as we never have before, to set a model for those that come after us’. 

Today also included our Awards and Recognition Banquet with keynote speaker Dr. Mary Elliott.  Dr. Elliott is currently a museum specialist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture.  She explained to the attendees that the majority of the collections at the National Museum of African American History and Culture were acquired from everyday people that are family historians; much like us who have collected family and community stories, heirlooms, and artifacts that had been hidden away under beds, in closets, in attics, in basements, and shoe boxes in their homes.  Also during the banquet, the AAHGS 2019 National Awards Winners were recognized for their accomplishments in the preservation of African American history, genealogy, research, and community service.  2019 Winners are Sharon Leslie Morgan, Paul Heinegg, Calvin Pearson (Project 1619 Inc.), and Bernice Bennett.

It's hard to believe that the conference has come to an end.  We had three genealogy fun-filled days! There was a special kind of excitement in the air.  Everywhere I looked people were smiling, laughing, hugging, taking selfies, and just enjoying being together.  We are excited about the 2020 AAHGS Conference in Hampton, Virginia.  We are looking forward to having a great time.  Start planning your trip now and stay in touch with us on all our social media for more information.
To see photos and videos from the conference follow us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Written by
Trisha Mays-Cummings
AAHGS Member and Blogger

Sunday, November 3, 2019

AAHGS 40th Annual Conference! Day 2

Day two of the 40th Annual AAHGS Conference started with Ancestral Libation which is an African tradition of pouring of a liquid in memory of the dead.  Before the Ancestral Libation, Sister Martha led the attendees in the song "Remember Me" in honor of our deceased ancestors.  Then the plenary session speaker was Paul Heinegg.  He spoke about how he researched the family histories of most free African American families in North Carolina and Virginia during the colonial period.  You can read more about his work at

Today had offered a total of 16 one-hour sessions.  Sessions topics included: DNA, Research Methodology, Genealogy Proof Standard, the Founding of AAHGS, BCG Certification, and Researching Enslaved Ancestors.  Some of the presenters were AAHGS Founder, Dr. Elizabeth Clark-Lewis; Dr. Shelley Murphy; Shannon Christmas; Leslie Anderson; Thom Reed; LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson; and Sherri Camp.

The luncheon speaker was Dr. Karsonya Wise-Whitehead.  Her subject was "400 Years of Black History: We Will March On ‘Til Victory is Won".  She spoke about stories that she gathered for her book, "I Speak for the Unforgotten", about black people in Baltimore – the Black Butterfly.  Also, during the luncheon was a panel discussion with the 2019 International AAHGS Book award Winners.

Today was a day of fellowship, learning, and celebrating genealogy and history.  Everywhere I turned there were groups of people sharing stories, laughing, and embracing.  It was really like one big family reunion.  Attendees were able to reconnect with each other, meet people from social media, and make new genealogy buddies.  Today was a busy day with all the sessions offered, the vendors being available, and the author’s luncheon.  It’s days like this when I see the joy that this organization brings to people that makes me so proud to be a member.

To see photos and videos from today follow us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel. 

Written by
Trisha Mays-Cummings
AAHGS Member and Blogger

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

AAHGS 40th Annual Conference! Day 1

Thursday, Oct. 10 was the first day of the 40th Annual AAHGS Conference in Hyattsville, Maryland.  This year’s theme is 400 years of Black History: The Struggles, Challenges, and Perseverance.  The day began with a panel discussion about the importance of the organization that is both genealogical and historical in 2019 and the significance of the 400th anniversary of the first documented Africans to America in 1619.  The panelists included Founder of AAHGS, Dr. Elizbeth Clark Lewis; AAHGS National President, Gene Stephenson; and AAHGS Vice President of History, Ric Murphy; and Zann Nelson, moderated by Toni Byrd-Vann. 

Later in the afternoon, I began to see more and more people with their red AAHGS conference bags, and I knew that the registration table was open for business.  There was a steady flow of people getting their badges, bags, and general information about the conference throughout the afternoon.  Attendees were also able to attend sessions today including:

·       New Members/First Time Attendees Orientation presented by Dr. Shelly Murphy
·       Getting the Most of Family Search presented by Carol Kostakos Petranek
·       Sharing of Research Findings on and Offline presented by Erica Tinsley
·       Overcoming the Hurdle of the 1890 Census presented by Natonne Kemp

This evening was the State of the Society Meeting.  During this meeting Gene Stephenson discussed the hard work of the national executive board, the chapter presidents, and the conference host chapter that not only makes the conference possible, but also the everyday work of the organization.  Next was the 2019 International AAHGS Book Awards Ceremony.  

Book winners included:

·       Forced American Heroes: Coloring and Activity Books Volume II by Janelle McDowell
·       Simone Visits the Museum by Keisi Bramort
·       Fate & Freedom:  Book III – The Middle Passage by K.I. Knight
·       Baltimore Civil Rights Leader Victorine Q. Adams by Ida E. Jones
·       Chance or Circumstance?  A Memoir and Journey Through the Struggle for Civil Rights by James Mapp
·       If I survive: Fredrick Douglas and Family in the Walter O. Evans Collection by Celset-Marie Bernier and Andrew Taylor
·       In Search of Purity: Popular Eugenics & Racial Uplift Among New Negroes 1915-1935 by Shantella Y. Sherman
·       The Thompson Family: Untold Stories from the Past (1830-1960) by Walter Curry
·       Dred Scott: The Inside Story by David Hardy
·       Rear Admiral Larry Chambers, USN: First African American to Command an Aircraft Carrier by Ric Murphy
·       Finding Otho: The Search for our Williams Ancestors by Kathy Lynne Marshall
·       From Carefree to Caregiver: A 31 Day Devotional to Balance, Encourage, and Support You in Your New Role by Teraleen W. Campbell
·       Gendered Resistance: Women, Slavery and the Leagacy of Margaret Garner by Mary E. Frederickson and Delores M. Walters
·       Southern Roads and Selected Poems by Karl W. Carter

Today was a busy day.  Attendees were able to learn, support each other’s research, put faces with names that are followed on social media, get to know strangers, and just enjoy being around other family historians. 

To see photos and videos from today follow us at and

We have two more genealogy fun filled days ahead of us! Be sure to subscribe to our blog to receive updates on days two and three of the conference!

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Honoring Grandparents

One of my favorite songs is "Grandma's Hands" by Bill Withers.  The song is a tribute to a nurturing grandmother that shows love to her family and her community with just her hands. Grandparents have always played an important role in the African-American family.  Many of us grew up multi-generational homes with grandparents or maybe your grandparent lived down the street. Grandparents often introduce their grandchildren to family rituals such as family dinners, cultural rituals, history, spirituality and God. Grandparents have the ability to tie generations together with their past and present.

Grandparent's Day would be a great opportunity to sit down and honor a grandparent, great aunt/uncle, or other elders in the family by recording or writing down their life stories.  You can ask questions about their involvement with the Civil Rights movement, the family’s migration, and military service. Ask if your family has a family Bible.  Ask to see pictures of family members and help document who is in the pictures.  Ask about family traditions, favorite recipes or past family reunions.  Angela Walton-Raji ( once said, if you just drop a few key words you might jar their memory and get an amazing narrative to come out.

Happy Grandparent's Day!

"Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children." Alex Haley

Written by
AAHGS Member and Blogger
Trisha Mays-Cummings

Thursday, August 29, 2019

1619: 400 Years Later All Roads Still Lead to Virginia

The first Africans who arrived in present day Virginia in 1619, were kidnapped from their villages in what is present-day Angola, and forced onto a Portuguese slave ship, the San Juan Bautista.  Towards the end of this voyage, the slave ship was attacked by two English privateers, The White Lion and The Treasurer, in the Gulf of Mexico and robbed of 50-60 Africans. The two privateers then sailed to Virginia where The White Lion arrived at Point Comfort (present-day Hampton, Virginia) in August 1619. John Rolfe, a prominent planter and the colony's secretary recorded and documented the arrival of some 20 negros to Point Comfort.

This year marks the 400th anniversary of their arrival.  While there are still some that question the details of this part of American history, the fact still remains that there were 20 negros accounted for and documented as arriving in Virginia during the summer of 1619, and that alone is worth celebrating.  There have been celebrations across the United States in observance of this significant part of our country's history, including AAHGS 40th Annual National Conference – 1619: 400 Years of African American Passage - October 10-12, 2019 in Hyattsville, Maryland at the College Park Hotel and Convention Center.

Ric Murphy, AAHGS Vice President - History, says it best when he tells people that 'All roads lead to Virginia'.  I remember the first time I heard him talking about it in 2015 at my first genealogy conference.  He was sitting a few chairs down from me with six or seven people around him.  He told someone that they probably have ancestors from Virginia because all roads lead back to Virginia 1619.  I didn't know what he meant by that at the time.  I remember I had to look up Virginia 1619 because as far as I knew my ancestors weren't from Virginia.  A couple of years later as I continued my research, I discovered that my ancestors whom I had thought were from Alabama, were indeed from Virginia; they had migrated south with their slaveholder family in 1810 and settled in Alabama.

One of the things I love about AAHGS is the organization is equal parts history and genealogy.  Family history is not just about learning about your ancestors.  To get an honest and clear picture of them, you have to know about their community and the history of the times they were living in.  What's your 1619 story?  How are you celebrating 400 years? Share your story with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with #AAHGS1619story Visit our website to read more about 1619.

Written by
AAHGS Member and Blogger
Trisha Mays-Cummings

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Summertime Equals Family Time!

Summer is here, and that can mean our schedules are less busy, more time with family, and longer days.  Summer can also include family vacations, family reunions, or even genealogy road trips.  Whether you have a big multi-generation vacation planned or a staycation, family history can always be incorporated in your plans.

If you are attending a family reunion, make sure to make time to talk with the elders in your family.  Family reunions are a great opportunity to ask questions and get your family's oral history.  With today's technology most of us have a voice recorder, video camera, and digital camera at our fingertips with a smart phone.  And these family memories that you capture this summer can easily be shared with other family member through iCloud, Google drive, and social media.  Family reunions are also a great time to get multi-generational photos.

If your family is going on a vacation, see how you can incorporate some family history into your trip.  Start a family tradition of taking a photo in front of a tourist attraction or have the kids keep a vacation journal.  Vacations can also be a great time to get some research completed if you are going to a city with a national or regional archive.  You may be visiting a city that has a repository or a library with genealogy resources that aren't available in your hometown that you can take advantage of.

If you don't have any vacations planned, then the summer is a good time to review your research plan and start working on a brick wall that you may have.  If you live close to a college or university, summer is a great time to visit their library to see what genealogy collections they have available and talk with a librarian or archivist.  Many colleges and university libraries have books, manuscripts, microfilms, and other collections from different parts of the country.  If you live within driving distance of your ancestral home, you could take a day trip there and visit the local library, court house, or cemetery. 

For me summer has always been about food, family, and fun.  Summer was a time when aunts, uncles, and cousins came to town for visits.  Longer days meant more time spent with cousins visiting from out of town.  Summer meant BBQs and fish fries any day of the week not just on weekends.  That's part of the reason that summer is my favorite season. 

Genealogy and family history are more than just collecting names and dates.  It is also about spending time with family, making memories, and sharing those memories.  Let us know what some of your favorite summer memories are, and how you will be making summer memories this year.  Share your summertime photos with us on Facebook and Twitter using #AAHGSsummerphotos

Written by
AAHGS Member and Blogger
Trisha Mays-Cummings

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Happy Juneteenth!!!!

On June 19, 1865 Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation - which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. But the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance. In 1980 Juneteenth became an official state holiday in Texas through the efforts of Al Edwards, an African American state legislator. The successful passage of this bill marked Juneteenth as the first emancipation celebration granted official state recognition.  Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. 

Over the years Juneteenth has been celebrated with a wide range of activities such as rodeos, fishing, barbecuing, family reunions, special church services, and baseball games just to name a few. Juneteenth also focuses on education and self-improvement. Guest speakers are brought to celebrations and the elders are called upon to recount the events of the past. Prayer services were also a major part of these celebrations. Juneteenth today, celebrates African American freedom and achievement, while encouraging continuous self-development and respect for all cultures.

When I think of Juneteenth, I always wonder where were my ancestors when they heard the news?  How did they hear the news? Were they overjoyed or confused?  Did they plan on staying where they were or did they plan on leaving to find family lost during slavery or make a new life for themselves?  Juneteenth is celebrated all over the country throughout the month of June.  I usually spend June 19 researching my family history and reflecting on my ancestor's stories.  My community has a Juneteenth celebration on the fourth Saturday of every June that I attend.  

How do you celebrate Juneteenth?  Let us know about your community Juneteenth celebrations.  We would love for you to share your  Juneteenth pictures and stories with us.

Written by
AAHGS Member and Blogger
Trisha Mays-Cummings

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Did Grandpa Work for the Railroad?

In honor of Father's Day, I wanted to dedicate this blog to all the African American men that worked for the railroad system. The U.S. railroad system is second only to the United States government in the employment of African American men.  America’s first steam locomotive made its debut in 1830, and over the next two decades railroad tracks linked many cities on the East Coast. By 1850, some 9,000 miles of track had been laid east of the Missouri River. Hundreds of thousands of enslaved men were used for the labor of these railroad tracks.  The Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 chartered the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific Railroad Companies.  Following the end of the Civil War many African American men continued to work on this project connecting the east and west.

In the early 20th century there were many railroad companies such as Northern Pacific Railway Company, Kansas City Southern Railroad Company, Missouri Union Pacific Railroad Company, Norfolk Southern, and the Pullman Car Company.  All of these companies continued to employee African American men for various jobs including carpenter, painter, car oiler, baggage handler, porter, and blacksmith.  Because of these small and larger railroads across the U.S. there are some very valuable employee records that can assist with genealogy and family history research.  While some records may have been lost or destroyed, many records were archived and are available to the public.  

Employee records can provide the employees' full name, birth date, address, name of a close relative (for emergencies), tenure of employment, and job title.  Also included would be pension applications, pension appeals, and accident or incident reports.

Do you have a relative that worked for the railroad?  Have you been able to find some interesting documents about the railroad in your research?  Please let us know how you found your information.  We would love to hear about who worked for the railroad in your family!  

Railroad Retirement Board 

A name index to the pension files

Railway and Locomotive Historical Society 

Newberry Library large collection of Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, Illinois Central, Pullman Company, etc.  

National Archives and Records Administration 

Slavery and Southern Railroads 

Written by:
Trisha Mays-Cummings, AAHGS Member and Blogger

Ancestor of the Month – Dr. Ralph P. Cummings

Dr. Ralph Percy Cummings was born in Demerara, British Guiana, South America (now known as Guyana) in 1882.  He immigrated to Boston in...