Thomas A. Entzminger. Genealogies of African American Families in South Western New York State, 1830-1955

Article excerpt

Aurora, CO: Thaaron Publications, 2002, 182 p.

Unbeknownst to most people, including many scholars of western New York history, persons of African ancestry have played a role in the region's life and culture from the earliest days of European exploration. Although their numbers were always small, African Americans have been a part of the social environment of western New York from the revolutionary period onward. Thomas A. Entzminger, a retired native son of the region, has made a unique and valuable contribution to scholarship in this area.

Genealogies of African American Families in South Western New York State, documents the existence of nearly five hundred African American and mixed race families living in the Allegany, Cattaraugus, and Chautauqua county region of rural western New York, dating back to the earliest days of the state. Except for possible slave ancestors or Underground Railroad passages, most of the families listed in this book do not appear in the local histories of the region. They and their contributions are only mentioned anecdotally, if at all, in the centennial, sesquicentennial, and bicentennial celebrations of the villages and towns along the Southern Tier. Unless one were born and raised in the area, one would probably not be aware of the fact that a thriving African American community has existed in the area for generations. It is only by combing through the census records, as Thomas Entzminger has done, that one becomes aware of the scope of this phenomenon. This publication chronicles generation after generation being born, growing up, raising families, growing old, and dying in the towns and villages of Friendship, Wellsville, Scio and Wirt in Allegany County; Olean, Portville, and Allegany in Cattaraugus County; or Jamestown, Mayville, and Dunkirk in Chautauqua County.

According to Carter G. Woodson's Free Negro Heads of Families in the United States in 1830, there were 105 blacks living in the three county area covered by the book (68 in Allegany Co., 12 in Cattaraugus Co., and 25 in Chautauqua Co.). By the Federal Census report of 1930 the numbers had grown to 1,108 (169 in Allegany Co., 468 in Cattaraugus Co., and 471 in Chautauqua Co.), but African Americans continued to represent less than one per cent of the total population. Even today, with a 2000 population of 4,302 (361 in Allegany Co., 890 in Cattaraugus Co., and 3,051 in Chautauqua Co.) African Americans represent 1.56% per cent of the 273,632 combined population of the three counties.

Entzminger organizes the families by county, then by town or village and finally by surname. There are cross references connecting families to their relatives in different towns and counties. For some families Entzminger's entry consists merely of the name of the head of household and the name of the spouse with approximate birth date and birth state. For others, the entry documents a family's existence over several generations, many for four generations, some for five, and a couple (the Stewarts and the Entzmingers) for six generations. Most entries include birth dates and locations, marriage dates and locations, and death dates and locations. …