Martha Jones, a professor of African American history at the University of Michigan, was shown two old photograph albums that were in the university’s special collections library. Inscriptions on the two albums indicated that they were originally owned by Arabella “Bella” Chapman. But little else was know about Chapman or her family.
Professor Jones made it a project of her class on African American’s women history to find out as much as they could about Chapman. Many of the photographs have notes on the back or in the margins that include dates and places.
The students’ research found that Chapman was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1859. When she was five, her family moved to Albany where her two brothers were born. She was the first African American graduate of Albany Free Academy, now known as Albany High School. Chapman married Clarence Miller and their family lived in North Adams, Massachusetts. She died in 1925.
The University of Michigan students set up a website documenting their findings. Some of the people in the photographs in the two albums remained unidentified and the students hope that displaying the images may enable members of the public to help them in their research.
Below is a video about the project.