Mary Klein, Diocesan Archivist with the “magic card file”

By Mary Klein, Diocesan Archivist

Since delegates at our Diocesan Convention passed Resolution 2019-06 regarding racial reconciliation and reparations, there has been renewed interest in finding records of enslaved persons and other African Americans with ties to the Diocese of Maryland. As noted in a recent issue of Smithsonian Magazine, several new data bases are being launched to add to our knowledge of the lives of enslaved people in North America, including Enslaved: Peoples of the Historic Slave Trade and Freedom Narratives. Investigations are also ongoing concerning post-Civil War narratives, including segregation, Jim Crow laws and unfair practices in housing, education and hiring. Although our archives is small, we possess many documents which can enhance our knowledge of African American life in Maryland over the past 400 years.

Trinity Church Baltimore register, October 2, 1840

The Archives holds about 75 parish registers of churches from around our diocese, some of which contain information regarding baptisms, marriages, burials and confirmations of African Americans. Among these parish registers are the records from historically black churches including St. Katharine of Alexandria in Baltimore, as well as St. Philip’s and Holy Cross in Cumberland. A most important series of volumes are the records of Bishop William Whittingham who served as diocesan bishop form 1840-1879. A meticulous record keeper and complier, Bishop Whittingham sent a questionnaire to all the parishes in the diocese as soon as he arrived in 1840 asking each rector to send him a list of communicants and heads of families in his parish. It is enlightening to read through the names when searching for African Americans. As was common at the time, the bishop always made a note of “colored” (or “col’d” in shorthand) beside the name of black members, so each parish which reported in 1840, showed clearly how many communicants were African American. When he drew up a list after each visitation, the bishop noted the number of males, females and “colored” people he had confirmed. These records are a gold mine for parishes doing research, as well as individuals searching for family information.

King and Queen Parish, St. Mary’s County, communicants, 1840 (click image to see full document)

St. James’, Baltimore (Lafayette Square), communicants, 1840

St. John’s, Hagerstown, “colored” communicants, 1840

My predecessor, Garner Ranney, served as diocesan archivist for 40 years, and when he first arrived in the 1960’s, the archives consisted of a loose collection of documents stored in several locations. Through his untiring efforts he was able to finally organize and move everything into a new dedicated, climate-controlled space suitable to house our precious documents. Another of his lasting legacies is the incredibly cross-referenced and detailed Finding Aid, the “magic card file”, as a colleague has dubbed it. This card catalogue details literally hundreds and hundreds of documents concerning slavery, slaves and African Americans: everything from a 1743 sermon addressed to “Masters and Servants”, to many letters containing questions about slavery and emancipation, to appeals for help in establishing churches for former slaves to details of  “work among the Negroes” by Bisop Paret at the turn of the twentieth century. General bishops’ correspondence also contain information, as do the Journals of Convention, Convocation reports, committee reports, annual parochial reports, sermons, pamphlets and books. Don’t overlook your Diocesan Archives as an excellent source of information, human details, facts and statistics if your parish is engaged in the difficult work of looking at racial reconciliation and reparations, or if you are looking for family information. Researchers and questions are always welcome as we work to discern truths, work toward reconciliation, and strive to truly be the Body of Christ.

Letter from St. Mary’s D.C. to Bishop Whittingham, May 22, 1871