Finding Histories: Page 4

As you continue to build a local story, consult local knowledge. In every town, there’s a town historian, and many people with an interest in family or local history. Even if he or she doesn’t know specifically about your community’s African American heritage, they will have information on early notables and the early life of the town.

Historical societies around the state have been or are beginning to look at their towns’ history with enslavement and many have useful materials. In Middletown, for instance, the Middlesex County Historical Society maintains an extensive genealogical study, filling many volumes, of the city’s early black residents. The society also has documents related to the city’s shipping trade, scholarly papers on Middletown’s early black population and many other materials.

It’s always useful to take a look at institutions that store documents and maintain archives. University and college libraries around Connecticut have important collections of books early African American history. Contact the heads of the library at the institutions nearest your town, and ask if there is an online directory of these kinds of materials, or a printed document or even an old-fashioned card file.

The Connecticut Historical Society maintains an astonishingly diverse archive of materials on the lives of African Americans in Connecticut, and it includes letters, diaries, books, broadsides, newspaper clippings, photographs and hundreds of objects. A complete list of the society’s holdings is available in a printed booklet (The Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin, Special Series, Number 1, 1994) but many, many documents are listed online at the society’s website.

There are two important things to remember when starting any historical project:

1. Start with questions, and let your answers to these questions lead to new questions. You can never be sure, at the beginning of your exploration, where you’ll end up. You may hit some dead ends; you may take paths that lead you to unexpected new places. Be adventurous and curious!

2. There are always new histories to be written, new important stories to be discovered. There may already be others looking into the same questions that interest you: these are your partners on the journey, so don’t be afraid to speak with them! Go forward into the unknown with confidence that your discoveries may end up being important to generations of future explorers.