Enduring Connections Project
Once upon a time, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, historians and genealogists headed off to dusty archives or historical societies, scouring original handwritten records or slowly scrolling through endless reels of microfilm. As with so much else in our world, computers have transformed historical and genealogical research. Thanks to the Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture (the SU Libraries’ special collections and local history archive), we now have a new resource available for Delmarva researchers.
Enduring Connections: Exploring Delmarva’s Black History is a digital humanities project that extracts and transcribes information about African Americans from historical records, in some cases also providing images of the original records. Right now, there are more than 102,000 records from 62 sources, with more being added regularly. Searchable by keyword, family name, location, occupation or source, the data reveal much about Black life on Delmarva, including, as the website notes, “family relationships, community connections, the end of slavery, attempts to re-unite family members, work and wealth-building, and connection to the land and water.”
Right now, most of the records date from the 19 th century, but as the project continues, more records from earlier and later will be added. The entries come from sources such as church registers, census schedules, court records, manumission records, land records, probate records, tax records, and many other documents.
Genealogical researchers have published full-length books of abstracts or indices of records, and some of these appear in Enduring Connections. The project, in fact, owes its origin to published indices/abstracts. A discussion among Nabb Director Creston Long, Administrative Assistant Donna Messick and Research Assistant Aaron Horner sparked the realization that older indices and abstracts often systematically excluded the names of African Americans.
Geographically, the entries span the Lower Eastern Shore counties of Maryland; Virginia’s Eastern Shore, especially Accomack County; and Sussex County in Delaware. This geographic reach enhances the project’s usefulness, allowing researchers to more easily identify connections across county and state boundaries. People on Delmarva often had—as is true today—family, social or business ties that transcended political jurisdictions.
To date, most of the work on the project has been done by Technology Librarian Chris Woodall, Nabb staff Ian Post and Rihana Stevenson ’21, and a few community volunteers. Woodall designed the website and underlying database. Post is the local history archivist and has guided much of the digital phase as well as coordinating transcription and data entry. Stevenson serves as the Enduring Connections Fellow in 2022. She noted: “This has been an enlightening experience. As a woman of color from a family that’s tried to investigate our own genealogical history, it’s definitely exciting to be part of something that can help other families, as well.”
This summer, two interns will help advance the project. The National Museum of African American History and Culture, part of the Smithsonian Institution, has created the Robert Frederick Smith Internship Program “to reverse the trend of underrepresentation of African Americans and other minorities in museum professions.” The program this year is placing student interns at 10 sites across the country, with the museum paying their stipends and housing. In recognition of the importance of the Enduring Connections project, the museum awarded two internship slots to the Nabb Center.
Go ahead and take a look at the project at https://enduringconnections.salisbury.edu. If it interests you, we would love to have more volunteers transcribing records and doing data entry. If you are interested, please contact Ian Post at firstname.lastname@example.org.