Did My Granddad Play in the Negro Leagues?

Tracing Your Roots: A family photo and video interviews leave clues and shed new light on blacks in baseball.

Douglas A.C. baseball team. Claude Barclay is shown on the far right. 
Douglas A.C. baseball team. Claude Barclay is shown on the far right.  Courtesy of Barclay Family

“I’m curious to know more about my paternal grandfather, Claude Barclay, from Cleveland. ‘Beatrice Penn’ was the name of his wife. He died many years before I was born, and for many reasons my father never talks about him.

“During the most recent Thanksgiving holiday, I decided to ask my father and his siblings about our family history and videotape their responses (here is one of them). I told a cousin what I was going to do, and she mentioned that she had a picture of our grandfather. She brought it to our hotel the next day. My grandfather is in a baseball uniform, on the far right. I have since found out that he would play with the Negro Leagues when they would come to Cleveland to play. I understand that many teams did not or could not travel with full teams and would pick up players when they came to town.

“I am trying to find out more about my grandfather and about the teams he may have played for, as well as the Douglass baseball team shown in the picture.” —Chris Barclay

You have already taken a great first step in learning more about your family’s history by recording the memories of your living relatives and preserving them for future generations. Although documents can give us a lot of facts about a person’s life, family stories give us a glimpse of our ancestors’ personalities and other details that aren’t always found in the paper trail.

Now that you have this basic information, you can begin to search for other documents that can fill in other details of your grandfather’s life and find more information about his time on the baseball team.

Claude Barclay’s Baseball Career

Through talking with your family members, you discovered a photograph of your grandfather Claude Barclay wearing a baseball uniform with the name “Douglas” on the jersey. There are several ways you can start your research to find out more about the teams he played on and any other details about his baseball career.

First you should search digitized newspaper collections for Claude Barclay’s name. Since sporting events were often written up in local newspapers, you’ll probably find some articles about the team. Several sites have large collections of digitized newspapers, such as the subscription sites GenealogyBank, NewspaperArchive.com and Newspapers.com. There are also free sites, like the Google News Archive and the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America collection.

Whenever you search a collection of digitized newspapers, you want to be sure that the place and time period you’re researching are included in the collection. To research your grandfather, you’ll want to search to make sure the sites you’re using have Cleveland newspapers digitized from the early to mid-20th century. You can also do a broad search in all of the states, because it’s possible that he may have traveled with the team.

After a quick search of some newspapers, we found a couple of articles about your grandfather and his team. An article published in the Cleveland Gazette on May 2, 1925, gives a full roster of the Douglas A.C. (spelled with one “s” in this account; the “A.C.” probably stands for “Athletic Club”) Class C baseball team; Claude Barclay is listed as a shortstop.