Newly Digitized Resource for Historians and Researchers
The Center for Local History’s online collection now includes over 100 documents from funerals of Black community members, donated by Arlington residents Birdie and Mable Alston. These materials will be an important resource for historians and genealogical researchers.
Using Funeral Programs
For African-Americans doing genealogical research, information such as exact dates of birth and death, past residences, place of burial, and maiden names are often difficult to find in the South due to slavery and segregation laws.
According to the Georgia Public Library Service, “The records of many in these communities were often either destroyed, kept in private hands, or never created in the first place.”
These gaps in information can often be found in funeral programs. They may often give valuable personal information about the deceased’s life including hobbies, friends, relatives, and community involvement.
Obituaries can also give context to a person’s life beyond genealogical information and provide insight to researchers that might not be available elsewhere.
In addition, large groups of obituaries give a broader view of a community's makeup and show larger local historical trends.
Birdie and Mable Alston
Birdie (1919-2020) and Mable (née Shirley) Alston (1920-2017) were married neighborhood activists and prominent community members in the Halls Hill/Highview Park area. The Alston’s came to Arlington in 1944 and settled in Halls Hill in 1947. Both were heavily involved with the Langston Civic Association and the NAACP.
CLH Staff recently finished digitizing Series 1: Funeral Programs of RG338, Birdie and Mable Alston Collection. This includes over 100 programs from funerals of the area’s Black community members spanning from 1961-2011. Each program contains information about the deceased’s life and family, with many including photographs.
About the Birdie and Mable Alston Collection
Upon Birdie Alston’s death in 2017, his estate donated much of his personal files, photographs, and other materials to the Center for Local History. The materials relate to the various community organizations that the Alston’s were involved with, such as the NAACP, Langston Civic Association, Halls Hill (High View Park) Neighborhood Preservation Plan, and Calloway United Methodist Church. The material dates from 1905-2019, making it an important resource for documenting the changes in Arlington’s Black community.
Related Collections in the CLH
For other collections of active Black citizens in Arlington, see RG 11, Papers of Edmond C. Fleet, and see RG 349, Dorothy Hamm Personal Papers. There are also several oral history interviews detailing life in the Halls Hill/Highview Park neighborhood, including one from Birdie Alston in 1991. RG 48, Records of the NAACP, Arlington Branch, has more detail on this group where the Alston’s were members.
Help Build Arlington's Community History
The Center for Local History (CLH) collects, preserves, and shares resources that illustrate Arlington County’s history, diversity and communities. Learn how you can play an active role in documenting Arlington's history by donating physical and/or digital materials for the Center for Local History’s permanent collection.
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