Monday, July 13, 2015

Researching Alaskan Settlers, Railroad Workers & Gold Seekers

Anchorage Centennial Highlights Genealogy
Part I of Alaska Series
If you have ever attempted research on that adventurous ancestor who headed for Alaska, you have probably found a shortage of records.  But this is one region that you must periodically revisit to uncover newly found records. Alaska seems to be late bloomers in jumping on the genealogy train, but it is chug-chug-chugging along now. And, with Anchorage celebrating their centennial, my recent visit (Jun 2015) introduced us to some new finds that helped meet research goals.

Celebrating the Anchorage Centennial has forced many to take a strong look at the history of this “tent city” which exploded in 1915 thanks to the commitment to building the Alaskan railroad. Know that the city was not incorporated until 1920.  

5 Anchorage Resources  - Not to be Missed
Tent City. Anchorage Museum
  1. Land Auction Records: 10 Jul 1915 there was a Great Anchorage Lot Sale / Land Auction. Read about the 1915 land auction.  The Alaska Engineering Commission Record Book, salvaged from the trash, was noted in the Alaska Dispatch News on 14 Jun 2015. This is the earliest ledger book that bridges the tent city to land ownership in Anchorage.  This record book holds names of Japanese, Slavic and Scandinavian settlers of Anchorage. It “lists purchasers, sales prices and initial payments of townsite lots …between 1915-1917.” 
  2. Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records:  this resource will confirm the land patent of your ancestor.  And, don’t forget in Anchorage the town was settled in 1915, but most land patents were about 1921. These records were vital in a study of the expansion of the Russian Greek (Eastern Catholic) Orthodox Church. For more information on the Russian Church and native Alaskan Culture visit the Library of Congress website.

    Although an image is not online, we were able to confirm the 1964 Alaska homestead of Mahala Ashley Dickerson, the “first black female attorney of Alabama” who homesteaded and practiced law in Alaska. For more information on M. Ashley Dickerson, read her autobiography Delayed Justice For Sale.

    Side Note: Many overlook the ex-slave and free-coloreds that settled in Alaska before the turn of the century. Here is an 1897 account of an ex-slave who made a handsome amount panning in the Klondike. He was returning to Georgia to save his late slavemaster's daughter.
  3. Black Gold Miner,  ex-slave St. John Atherton, 1897
  4. Consortium Library’s Archives and Special Collectionsthe University of Alaska Anchorage houses Alaska’s Archives and Special Collections. This holding includes historical manuscripts, photographs, audio, books, and exhibits. One of the favorites is George Harper’s Black in Alaska Exhibit, which included “Blacks in the Gold Rush.” For more information on Blacks in Alaska visit the Guide to George Harper’s Blacks in Alaska History Project.
  5. Cook Inlet Historical Society: a great place to start if your ancestor settled in Anchorage in the “early 20th Century.” Search the database list for Anchorage 1910-1935  Legends & Legacies for your ancestor’s name, or contribute facts on your ancestor for inclusion. Some settlers came for the gold rush, others for the Alaskan railroad. We also see Natives Americans who chose to settle  in Anchorage, miles away from their home community. We suggest the sources of the stories be confirmed, as some may be of undocumented oral history. 
  6. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA): located in Seattle, WA., researchers can access microfilm holdings of “censuses of Alaska Native villages; naturalizations; records of the Alaska Railroad, the Russian-American Company, and the district and territorial governor of Alaska, 1884 -1958; and townsite deeds and deed books.”
Other Great Resources
There are so many other outstanding places to research in Anchorage (and other cities in Alaska).  Before visiting Anchorage, be sure to visit the Familysearch website. We have found the Probate Collection to be a key to unlocking that adventurous ancestor.

If you are looking for the best Photograph Collection, visit the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson CenterThis collections houses more than a half a million photographs.  Be sure to review the Collection Guides.

Kathleen Brandt
Accurate, accessible answers

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