Writing the Ridgelys

On 11 August 2010 National Park Service archaeologists at Monocacy National Battlefield announced that, using clues from the historical record, they had discovered the remains of several slave cabins dating from ca. 1794–1827.[1] I remember reading the Washington Post report on the discovery, and thinking I would love to research the families that lived there.

Within two months, I received an interesting telephone call from the owner of African American genealogy website Afrigeneas. They had been contacted by Essence Magazine for a feature piece, and needed someone with experience researching slaves in Maryland. With the deadline looming I was able to identify one of the slaves owned by the Vincendiere family and trace his descendants down to a journalist in Pittsburgh. His obituary named his ex-wife and a daughter, both still living. The piece, “A Legacy of Love and Pride,” by Robin D. Stone, appeared in the February 2011 issue of Essence.[2]

I decided to follow this with an article discussing some of the research I had done—the methodology, not just the results. On 21 February 2011 I published “Researching the descendants of the Vincendiere slaves, part one” in the African American Genealogy column I wrote on Examiner.com.[3] I originally intended this short piece as part of a series describing the research I had conducted on the family. The first part garnered some attention from the right people. Within another few weeks I received an email—and then a phone call—from the Cultural Resources Program Manager of Monocacy Battlefield, Joy Beasley. We met for lunch and discussed a potential project.

To make a long story short, the National Park Service hired me to research the lives and descendants of all of the slaves living in the slave village—all of the slaves owned by the Vincendiere family. When all was said and done, several months later, I delivered a report over 900 pages in total length, including document images. I had discovered the identities of slaves and their descendants not only in Maryland, but also in Louisiana. One of these families was the Ridgely family.

The Ridgely family—including mother Caroline Ridgely, her children, and their descendants—fascinated me. Their stories were remarkable. All of them had been freed by 1860. Caroline’s son Cornelius Ridgely served in the U. S. Navy during the Civil War. A number of the descendants graduated from various universities. Several became doctors or dentists in Baltimore and Washington, D. C. One descendant worked for the National Park Service during the 1930s before serving in World War II, and later became principal of a Washington, D. C., high school not far from where I worked in Washington. The family story seemed perfect for a three- or four-generation family history narrative. The story wrote itself.

Writing a family history narrative uses different skills than does writing a proof argument or a case study. The one piece of advice I would give anyone attempting to write such a piece is to identify a common theme that holds the story together. This technique produces a compelling narrative.

After I had finished it, I spent about a month editing it. Reading it and re-reading it. Making sure the sentences were concise and the paragraphs were topical. Finally, just a few days before the deadline, I mailed copies to the National Genealogical Society, for its annual Family History Writing Contest.

Several months passed. Finally I received a response. I had won First Place. The prize was an all-expenses-paid trip to the NGS Conference and possible publication in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. As I was already speaking at the 2012 Conference just a month or so later, I was given the option of attending the 2013 Conference in Las Vegas.

For publication in the Quarterly, more work still needed to be done. The Contest judges had provided me with comments for improving the article. Taking these into consideration, I went into another round of editing and rewriting. Finally I submitted the product to Thomas W. Jones and Melinde Lutz Byrne, the editors of the Quarterly.

A short while later, the editors came back to me with more edits and a few items that needed follow-up. Another round and I resubmitted the article.

After all was said and done, the editors sent me a final draft. This draft was in the familiar format of the Quarterly—the fonts, the spacing, the header and footer. It was a very exciting day for me. Having an article published in the preeminent genealogical journal in the United States had been a long-term goal of mine. I was finally at the last step.

Of course, the rest of the issue had to be laid out. It had to go to the printer. I had to wait for the issue to be completed.

About two weeks ago, my two-and-a-half-year journey had reached a new milestone. I received my copies of the December 2012 issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. My article, “In the Shadow of Rebellions: Maryland Ridgelys in Slavery and Freedom,” was the first in the issue.[4]

This research has not yet reached its final conclusion. Who knows where it may take me next?

SOURCES:

[1] “Slave Village Discovered in Maryland,” press release, 11 August 2010, National Park Service, Monocacy National Battlefield, Maryland (http://www.nps.gov/mono/slavevillage2010.htm : accessed 16 February 2013).

[2] Robin D. Stone, “A Legacy of Love and Pride,” Essence Magazine, February 2011, 122–127.

[3] Michael Hait, “Researching the descendants of the Vincendiere slaves, part one,” posted 21 February 2011, in “National African American Genealogy” column, Examiner.com (http://www.examiner.com/article/researching-the-descendants-of-the-vincendiere-slaves-part-one : accessed 16 February 2013).

[4] Michael Hait, CG, “In the Shadow of Rebellions: Maryland Ridgelys in Slavery and Freedom,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Volume 100 (Dec 2012): 245–266.

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12 responses to this post.

  1. Michael,

    Congratulations !!!

    I know Monocacy and “a” Ridgely family of Maryland. You have given me a couple of items to read. As you know there is a Worthington farm at Monocacy, and there are several Worthington / Ridgely connections in Maryland. I have seen photo’s of some slaves on the Worthington farm.

    Thank you,

    Russ

    Reply

  2. This was an EXCELLENT article! It was really easy to follow your line of reasoning. I shared it on Facebook as soon as I read it in the NGSQ.

    Reply

  3. Posted by marydouglass on February 17, 2013 at 11:42 am

    Congratulations!

      Mary Clement Douglass Transcribing & publishing Kansas genealogical records

    “If you can’t get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you’d best teach it to dance.” – George Bernard Shaw

    ________________________________

    Reply

  4. Posted by Cathy Naborowski on February 17, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    How exciting! Congratulations on what I’m sure is a job well-done.

    Reply

  5. Posted by Jackie Ruttinger on February 17, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    You’re an inspiration to all of us! Thanks for your contributions.

    Reply

  6. Bravo Michael! I loved the article and would like to place it in the schedule of upcoming articles for discussion in the NGSQ Article Discussion Groups.

    Reply

  7. Posted by J. Paul Hawthorne on February 17, 2013 at 9:25 pm

    Congratulations! A long process indeed, but well worth it. Even Dr. Thomas W. Jones went through the same process years ago, as you probably know, but with Elizabeth Shown Mills proofreading and making correction marks.

    Reply

  8. Posted by Jen de Fiebre on February 18, 2013 at 12:48 am

    Congratulations! What an exciting accomplishment (and a heck of a bucket-list item!).

    Reply

  9. [...] That being said, some periodicals are of better quality than others. My absolute favorite is the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, which is edited by two well-qualified experts in the field. Publication in the Q is highly sought after, but only the most well-crafted and researched articles are able to pass through the rigorous review process. [...]

    Reply

  10. Wow, that’s so exciting, My December 2012 NGSQ is still sitting in its plastic wrap. I’m gonna go unwrap it now!

    Reply

  11. Posted by George Paul Farris on February 22, 2013 at 10:39 pm

    Michael, my congratulations on a splendid achievement well done! Let’s have lunch when you’re next in DC.

    With respect and regards,
    George

    Reply

  12. [...] the December 2012 issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. Michael’s blog post Writing the Ridgelys describes some of his behind the scenes efforts on both [...]

    Reply

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