I am excited to introduce to you Robyn Smith and her blog, Reclaiming Kin: Taking Back What Was Once Lost. Robyn describes her blog as being “primarily a teaching blog. I try to use my own research to illustrate methodology or introduce a new record set. As an African-American, I have several lines of enslaved people, so I have many blog posts discussing methods and sources of doing that uniquely complex research.“
I initially heard Robyn interviewed on Blog Talk Radio and knew I wanted to know more about her. You can listen to her interview here: Do You Have an Artificial Brick Wall?
A Little About Robyn
“I was born in Washington, D.C., and raised and educated in Prince George’s County, Maryland. I am an engineer by day and those analytical and research skills have been put to great use in my genealogy. I lecture locally and have taught an Advanced African-American Genealogy course at Howard Community College since 2008. I have a special interest and expertise in slave research, court records and Maryland research.”
How Robyn Got Started in Genealogy
“In 1997, after the death of my paternal grandmother, I realized that I had one grandparent still living and simply did not know that much about my family history. I started that year with a visit to the National Archives and found my grandmother on the 1930 census. I had no idea at the time that it would become a passion and a lifetime love of discovery.”
Robyn’s Thoughts on Blogging
“I started my blog about 6 years ago, mainly as a way to journal my own research. But, the more I blogged, the louder the voice of the teacher became, and now I view it not just about my own research, but about how I can use that research to help others along their own journeys.”
Robyn’s Advice for New Bloggers
“Two things: While genealogists learn from each other’s research, a blog that solely talks about one’s own discoveries may wear thin over time. Try to expand upon your own research and how its lessons can be applicable to others. Also, find your own unique voice. Mine developed over time into something different than how it started.”
Robyn’s Favorite Blog Post
“That’s a hard one, I like so many of them! I guess my favorite is my 2nd most popular one, Do You Have an Artificial Brick Wall? because it resonates with such a wide swath of people.”
Robyn’s Time with the Ancestors
“I spent a lot of time on it before I had a son four years ago. I now probably average only about 2-4 hours a month. I get to play with Play-Doh and Legos and trains most of the time now.”
Robyn’s Favorite Ancestors
“What a question. I am fascinated by so many of them. I will cheat a little and say Judah Holt (1817-1890) and Malinda Holt (1816-1881), two enslaved women whose families fascinate me. They were both enslaved by the same man in Hardin County, Tennessee, but they do not appear to have been blood-related. Their owner, Giles Holt, migrated from Virginia to Tennessee, but how he acquired them is still unknown.
These women birthed 21 children total, and their families tell so much of the story of African-Americans in the 19th century. Judah’s son Henry ran away and fought in the Civil War, where he died; Judah eventually got his pension. Three of their sons, Phillip, John W. and Samuel, bought about 200 acres of land just a few years out of slavery. John W. and Samuel and another brother George would continue that tradition in Hardin County, eventually owning hundreds of acres. John W. was active in the Republican Party during Reconstruction, became a merchant and Postmaster, and opened a school for black children. Brother Samuel donated the land for a local church that is still in operation today.
The area where they lived was historically called Holtsville, which still appears on many maps. Judah’s son, James, left the area as a minister with the Methodist Church, but later graduated in one of the earliest law schools that allowed black people, Central Law School in Kentucky (now the University of Louisville). He eventually settled in Indianapolis, Indiana with a successful law practice. Many of the Holt women attended college and served as educators in the black schools of Hardin and surrounding counties.
There was of course, tragedy. Malinda’s son George W. was lynched in 1887, a painful reminder of the times. Some of their descendants migrated to Northern cities during the Great Migration, but there are some still there in Hardin County. I could go on and on about the Holt descendants, but it all started with Judah and Malinda. I only wish I had started all of this when my grandfather, Luther Holt, was still alive.”
How Genealogy has Improved Robyn’s Life
“I have such a great appreciation for the importance of history now and I see history everywhere and in everything. I think I have greater compassion for people. You see these relatives and have to accept their entire lives, the good, bad and ugly. You’re able to see how universal our issues are, and how little people have changed. There is nothing going on now that hasn’t been going on for a hundred years! I definitely am able to see my life in greater perspective, in terms of gratitude. Knowing what my ancestors when through, I have nothing to ever complain about!”
Robyn’s Genealogy Bucket List
“I’ve been to Salt Lake City and several national conferences, but haven’t been to one of the excellent institutes yet. I think I’d like to do that. I’ll be publishing a book based on this blog in a few months and I’ve been working for a year on my own book about all of my research. That’ll be a dream come true, to get that done.“
Robyn’s Time Capsule Message
“Your lives are important! Please tell us about your lives, leave us letters and pictures and stories.”
Additional thoughts from Robyn
“I have a special interest in encouraging and helping others to write and record their stories and family history and get the information out there—by book, by article, by pamphlet, or by blog. Send a copy to your local library, to the State Archives, to the Library of Congress’ Genealogy Room. If we don’t tell these stories who will? Write about the community you’ve researched. I worry that this era of technology and digitization—though wonderfully useful in genealogy—will mean fewer if any actual letters and photographs to pass down since the photos will be trapped in people’s hard drives and SIM cards and phones. So while you’re taking the incredibly exhilarating ride of genealogy, don’t forget to get your findings written down and out there for the world to see.”
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Please take time to head over to Robyn’s blog, Reclaiming Kin and leave a comment, letting her know you stopped by. Thank you Robyn for sharing your thoughts and your blog with us!
© 2015, copyright Michelle Ganus Taggart, All rights reserved
Michelle Ganus Taggart lives in Kaysville, Utah, where she enjoys the beautiful outdoors, time with family and researching her ancestors. She shares her passion for her southern research in her blog, A Southern Sleuth. Are you a genealogy blogger who would like to be interviewed for the “May I Introduce To You . . . “ series? If so, contact Michelle via email firstname.lastname@example.org