Did My Granddad Play in the Negro Leagues?

Henry Louis Gates Jr. and NEHGS Researcher Meaghan Siekman, Kristin Britanik
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.

Another article, published in the Plain Dealer on July 31, 1925, details how the Douglas A.C. team was in the Cleveland Amateur Baseball & Athletic Association. The team consisted of nine African-American men who lived on East 38th and Central Avenue Southeast in Cleveland. According to the article, most of the men had played together for five years on both baseball and basketball teams. This fact, that Claude Barclay may also have played basketball, is supported by another article that lists him on the roster of the 1944 Cleveland Hurons basketball team as the equipment manager.


From a search of these newspaper collections on the Douglas A.C. team, we see that through the 1940s they eventually became a part of the Class A division of the city’s baseball league. It appears that they were a segregated team that competed against other teams of white athletes in Cleveland baseball leagues, rather than being a Negro League team. You will want to continue a search of digitized newspapers to see if Barclay played for any other Cleveland baseball teams, or if you can find more records of him on the Douglas A.C. team.

The next step in your research is to see if you can find a history of the Douglas A.C. team itself and learn more about the players. To do this, you can search general Ohio-history sites such as the Cleveland Public Library’s Digital Gallery and Ohio Memory’s online collection. You may also want to contact the Western Reserve Historical Society to see if it has any collections pertaining to the Cleveland Amateur Baseball & Athletic Association.


Searching for Other Genealogy Records of Claude Barclay

To determine whether or not your grandfather played baseball professionally, you’ll also want to search for more-traditional genealogical sources, such as birth, marriage, death and census records. A basic search for Claude Barclay of Cleveland in the 1920s on FamilySearch returns a copy of a death certificate showing that Barclay was born Oct. 27, 1905, in Birmingham, Ala., and was the son of Robert and Thula (MacGregory) Barclay. He worked as a lather (someone who prepares the wood lathe that was used in building construction) and died at the age of 48. The death certificate shows that he moved to Cleveland when he was about 8 years old.


From this one record alone, there is a lot of information that can help you find even more. For example, this shows that he was in one of the many African-American families who left the Jim Crow South to move north during the Great Migration.

Because he was living in Cleveland from the 1920s until his death, you should be able to find a record of him in the 1920, 1930 and 1940 U.S. census returns, which are searchable online (frequently for a fee) and are also available at the National Archives and state archives. You know that Claude Barclay was born in Alabama in or around 1905, so this will help you identify him in the census records.


To find a record of his marriage, you can search the Ohio, County Marriages, 1789-1994 collection at FamilySearch, since many of the marriage records of Cuyahoga County are included in this collection. We found a marriage record of a Claude Barclay and Beatrice Penn in 1924. His birth date is listed as circa 1902, and his father’s name matches what was in the death certificate listed above. His mother’s name is listed as “Lulu Terry.”

In addition to vital and census records, city directories might be another useful source of information. City directories will list a person’s address and occupation, so you can find out if Claude Barclay was ever listed as a baseball player in any of the directories. Although African Americans were not always included in city directories, many of the Cleveland directories do list African-American residents. The Cleveland Public Library’s Digital Gallery has many digitized Cleveland directories in its online collection, including a few from the 1920s and 1930s. The subscription sites Ancestry.com and Fold3 also have collections of city directories that include Cleveland.


By reaching out to other family members, recording their stories and sharing photos, you began to get of glimpse of your grandfather’s life and you learned that he played baseball in the 1920s in Cleveland. With some additional genealogical research, you can fill in more specifics about his life and his family. Together, these sources of information can give you a more complete view of who your grandfather was. You will also have a starting point that will help you trace your ancestry back even further into Alabama.

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and founding director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. He is also editor-in-chief of The Root. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.


Send your questions about tracing your own roots to TracingYourRoots@theroot.com.

This answer was provided in consultation with Kristin Britanik, a researcher from the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Founded in 1845, NEHGS is the country’s leading nonprofit resource for family history research. Its website, AmericanAncestors.org, contains more than 300 million searchable records for research in New England, New York and beyond. With the leading experts in the field, NEHGS staff can provide assistance and guidance for questions in most research areas. They can also be hired to conduct research on your family. Learn more today.

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