Special to Valley News
Thanks to the global voluntary indexing effort of thousands, a local African-American gentleman, having knowledge of only a few family names including his beloved grandmother’s, yet having a desire to find his roots, accessed a free website where he found multiple records of his ancestors, his search culminating in his finding a 1700 ship’s manifest he believes to be his great-great- great-grandfather, the first man in his family to travel from Africa on a slave ship.
Following through on a friend’s suggestion, Rodgrice (Rodger) Vaughn logged on to familysearch.org, a free website sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and began a computer journey that took him on an emotional rollercoaster.
Florida-born Vaughn, a former Marine who served two tours to the West Pacific Pack and currently coaches two youth basketball teams, said that seeing his ancestor’s name, Carolina Paulling, who stepped off an African slave ship into Port Charleston, South Carolina, was emotionally overwhelming.
“I’ve always had thoughtful dreams about tracing back my extended relatives,” he said. “I have always been a historian. When I find my people and learn their names, I put myself in their shoes and try to imagine what they were like.”
Speaking of the man he believes is his great-great-great-grandfather, Vaughn paused.
“In that small amount of time, I honestly felt as though I knew him personally and that we actually shared a long-lasting relationship,” he said.
In 2015, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints purchased copies of post-Civil War records created by the U.S. Freedmen’s Bureau, an organization that was formed in an effort to help 4 million freed slaves acclimate to society. The bureau solemnized marriages, provided housing, food, clothing, education and medical care. This monumental purchase of records which journals and authenticates the lives of those freed slaves was made in an effort to have these records digitized so that people such as Vaughn, searching for their ancestors, would have access to these records free of charge.
Familysearch International is the largest genealogical organization in the world providing billions of ancestral records to anyone interested in seeking out their ancestors. From the familysearch.org website it states, “Our commitment for helping people connect with their ancestors is rooted in beliefs held by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that families are meant to be central in our lives and that family relationships are intended to continue beyond this life.”
In 2015, Familysearch joined efforts with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society and the California African American Museum. The goal is to take these raw records and have them completely indexed in time for the opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture opening Sept. 24, 2016.
Indexing can be challenging as Pamela Ankeny of Temecula will confirm. Wife of Justin and mother of four, Ankeny has been doing her family history for years but first began indexing in October 2014. In December of the same year she was asked to be the Indexing Director over the Temecula Stake. A stake is normally comprised of 9 to 11 congregations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“President Tracy Ham announced in April 2015 that our stake’s goal was to index 1 million records before the end of 2015,” said Ankeny. “I admit, there were some nights that I laid awake at night worrying that we’d aimed too high. What worried me was not knowing if the members of the church would respond. That part, I couldn’t control but Oct. 2, 2015, we had indexed 1,000,147 indexed records. Then by the end of 2015, we had indexed 1,192,325 records.”
Ankeny said that the stake’s new goal is to extract and index 500,000 records specifically for the US-Freedmen’s Bureau Project. “These records are challenging because the handwriting can be difficult to decipher and it’s not always easy to find the information you need to extract,” she said.
Temecula residents Charles and Dayle Morgan, parents of six, grandparents of 25 and great-grandparents of five, especially love indexing the Freedmen’s records and have spent hundreds of hours working together on this and other projects.
“The Freedman records have been the most challenging because of the varied files,” said Dayle Morgan, a retired math teacher from a Redondo Beach middle school. “However, the Freedman records are also the most rewarding as I read about the lives of these people. A whole letter may contain one or two names, but in finding those names, I read lots of interesting information about each one.”
Charles Morgan, a retired production manager at Aerospace, began indexing genealogical records in 2012 but was later asked to be his congregation’s indexing director so he began to be serious about it and found it to be extremely rewarding. “This is a very satisfying pastime,” he said.
Vaughn was pleased to chat with the Morgans at Harveston Lake over the weekend and thanked them both for all their charitable efforts on his and others’ behalves.
Thinking about the exciting possibilities for finding his current living relatives, Vaughn had an idea.
“When I know more about my family and relatives,” he told them. “I’m going to go on a trip all over America and I’m going to be knocking on some doors. I will say, ‘Do you know that you are my family?’”
Familysearch International has launched an ongoing nationwide volunteer indexing effort and welcomes all volunteers to help with this historical effort. For more information, please visit www.familysearch.org and click on the INDEXING tab. Search the FIND A PROJECT tab and scroll down to the US-Freedmen records. Also search #discoverfreedmen and discoverfreedmen.org.