Thursday, February 26, 2015

Wilda Bell Howard

Wilda Bell Howard 
Wilda Bell Howard was a remarkable woman who contributed much to the City of Medina, the Second Baptist Church, and Medina's Black community.

Learn more about this incredible woman by clicking on the following links:

A Medina Post YouTube video:

Her listing on that includes her obituary:

A Medina Gazette article with many charming photographs:

Do you have any memories of Wilda Bell that you would like to share?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Genealogist is NOT In!

There will not be a genealogist in on Tuesday February 24th because of staff meetings at another location. Check back with us in March!!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Julia Williams

Julia Williams
Circa 1846-1937

The Works Progress Administration did many incredible things to provide work during the Great Depression. One of the projects was to document the lives of the African Americans who were born into slavery. On 10th of June 1937, Forest Lees interviewed Julia Williams who lived in Wadsworth.

Julia (MACK) Williams was born into slavery around 1846 near Richmond, Virginia. After the Civil War and Emancipation, Julia reunited with the rest of her family. She married Richard Williams in the south around 1868.

In 1876, the Wadsworth area experienced a series of coal  mine strikes. To break the strike, the owners imported hundreds of African Americans from Virginia. Among them was Richard Williams. When the miners discovered what the owners had done, they threatened retaliation on the strike breakers. The mine owners built blockades and dormitories for the imported workers. Some of the workers, fearing for their lives, returned to the south. Others, like Richard, sent for their families and put down roots in the area.

The Williams family were founding members of the First Baptist Church in Wadsworth.* The census tells us that neither Richard of Julia could read or write. They had a large family. Richard worked in the mines for many years before becoming a laborer for the Wadsworth Streets Department. He died 19 February 1915.

It was fortunate that the WPA workers interviewed Julia, as she died just six months later:

Medina County Gazette  3 December 1937 page 6.

Julia tells about her life as a slave in this interview:,+Julia)) 

*Wadsworth Center to City Eleanor Iler Schapiro, editor. 1938.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Joseph Reno

As a rule, it can be difficult to trace the lives of African Americans in the 19th Century. But there are exceptions. Here is one from Medina's History:

Joseph Reno
Joseph Reno was born in Champaign County, Ohio circa 1812 to Francis & Rachel (Magee) Reno. He married Anna King in Springfield, Clark County, Ohio on 11 Aug. 1830 and moved to Medina by 1840.

In the 1840 census for Medina, Ohio, Joseph Reno's household includes 2 Black people: a male, 24-35 years old, most likely Joseph and one female, aged 10-24 years old, probably Anna.

In the 1850 Census, Joseph is entered as a Mulatto; age 36, born in Ohio; Occupation, barber; personal property valued at $1600; Rhoda, aged 34; born in Ohio; race not indicated, and Abram Reno, aged 27, listed as mulatto; barber; $800 in personal property.

In the May 22, 1855 Medina County Gazette: "J.H. Maxell and Alex McClure have purchased the space next to the Exchange Buildings formerly occupied by Jo. Reno, and intend to erect a splendid store, three stories high, immediately."

For the 1860 census in Medina County, Joseph is listed as 45 years old (no race indicated). He is a barber, with property valued at $1500. "Roda" is age 43.

Joseph's mother, Rachel (Magee) Reno, died in Medina on 22 May 1864 at his home.

In the History of Medina County and Ohio (1881) on page 248:
      "At another time a larceny had been committed in Medina, and Joseph Reno, a colored man, had ferreted out the thief and arrested him, and fearing that he might not be allowed to testify on account of his color, so induced the criminal to confess in the presence of a white witness as to effect his conviction. Reno was offered as a witness and the State offered to show he was more than half white, but Judge Dean would not hear any such proof and decided that, by "inspection" Reno was a "negro" and refused to allow him to testify. At that time, by the laws of Ohio "negroes and mulattoes" were not competent witnesses where a white man was a party."

In a March 1870 Gazette -- "Joe" Reno an old colored man at the American House, known to all the world and the rest of mankind as just the best fellow in the world to have around a hotel, and whose jovial countenance is never invisible, though under a cloud, celebrated the adoption of the 15th Amendment by taking a trip to Cleveland, stopping with his old friend Terrell of the Forest City House. We trust he had a pleasant visit."   Terrell was a previous manager of the American House.

And just a month later, also in the Gazette:
"At the election in this village last Monday, Mr. Joseph Reno - everybody knows "Joe" - cast his first vote. Sixty years old, and a taxpayer for may years, he now comes into the exercise of a right which all men are bound to respect. It is needless to say that Joseph voted a straight Republican ticket."  During this time period, the Republican party, the party of Abraham Lincoln, was considered favorably by the African American Community.

For the 1870 Medina County Census, Joseph was listed as a Mulatto, but now his occupation was listed as "Domestic Servant". In the house with him, is Hannah, aged 40 with Personal Property worth $4380. Also listed is May, aged 15, Mulatto, Mandy age 9, Mulatto and Elena, age 1, Mulatto. 

The relationship between Joseph and the people he lived with is never defined. His wife, Anna, never shows up by name in the census records with him. Joseph Reno is not listed in the index for marriage or divorce records for this time period.

The next time we see Joseph's name in the newspaper is 28 June 1872:

Erastus Hitchcock and another youth were firing a pistol across from the American House. Joseph confronted the young men about their reckless behavior as they were disturbing the peace and upsetting a sick child. They refused. Joseph then struck Hitchcock with a broom handle that he used as a cane. Erastus fired at Joe, but missed. But the second shot didn't miss.

Joseph was able to dictate his statement, before he died:

In a time period when minorities and women were largely ignored in the local press, The Medina Gazette dedicated 4 paragraphs to Joe's obituary on July 5th:

We are still searching for where Joseph Reno was buried.

1875 Medina Gazette: "Erastus Hitchcock, who was sentenced to the Penitentiary for six years for shooting Joe REno, was pardoned last week."

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Black History Month

In honor of Black History Month, we will be focusing on African American Genealogy Sources and Medina County African Americans of Note.

The following resources are offering free access to these African American genealogical sources for the month of February:
Black History Collection - Free Access

Fold3 is offering free access to:

  • "Colored" Troop Service Records
  • Court Slave Records
  • Amistad Records
  • Slave Registry
  • Anti-Slavery Records
Ohio Memory

The Ohio History Connection is offering free access to their Siebert Collection:
For those who don't know, Prof. Wilbur H. Siebert spent a large portion of his life documenting the Underground Railroad system in Ohio and was the foremost expert on the subject.

Mapping The Freedmen's Bureau

Mapping the Freedmens Bureau gives advice on how to search the Freedmens Bureau for information on African Americans in the years right after the Civil War.

Ancestry has launched an African American Research Center and access is free for this month:

Just a reminder that you don't have to have African American ancestry to benefit from these records, Aboltionists, UGRR stops and bankers names also show up in these records.

Happy Researching!!