Thousands of births records of 20th-century Black mothers at a South Georgia nursing home have been digitized.
The Georgia B. Williams Nursing Home in Camilla and the Digital Library of Georgia have collaborated to present the birth registers of the mothers and babies born at the historic maternity shelter between 1949-1971. The news was announced on the Digital Library of Georgia blog.
Georgia B. Williams Nursing Home was the first — and for much of the 20th century, the only — professional birthing center in the rural South where local doctors allowed Black women to receive midwife delivery for their newborns. This took place in the era of segregation, Jim Crow and medical deprivation. The nursing home is at the former dwelling of state-certified midwife Beatrice “Miss Bea” Borders.
“The digitization and cataloging of the records from this Black-owned/operated business present an opportunity for students and researchers to learn about this historically significant place and the people who entered its doors,” said Melissa Jest, program coordinator for African American Programs at the Georgia Historic Preservation division of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. “It is our hope that this project will bring awareness to Mrs. Borders and will build support for the physical preservation of where she did her work.
“The Georgia B. Williams Nursing Home in Camilla, Georgia, survives as a very rare example of a professional birthing center run by Mrs. Borders, a state-certified midwife,” Jest continued. “Increased access to the business records and related documents generated between 1941 and 1971 will assist hundreds of people researching their genealogy and roots in Mitchell County, Georgia.”
The nonprofit, which is also on the National Register of Historic Places, applied for and received a grant from the Digital Library of Georgia to digitize the records, according to the Georgia B Williams Restoration Project Facebook page.
Records are publicly accessible online.
Over two decades, Miss Bea and her assistants oversaw more than 6,000 births.
Entries in the collection include the mothers’ names, when they entered the facility, times of the birth and the babies’ weight and gender. Entries may also include complications such as a stillbirth. Some useful genealogical information is available too, including age, address, place of birth, occupation, number of children and fathers’ names.
While these documents provide resources that can help Mitchell County residents find their roots, College of Coastal Georgia Library in Brunswick offers tips for anyone looking to get started on their genealogical journey. Birth dates are among the kinds of information you need to know to begin your search.
According to beasbabies.org, new health rules and regulations in 1972 led the state to close Georgia B. Williams Nursing Home. For 33 years, it served as a daycare center managed by Miss Bea’s granddaughters’ mother, Mrs. Arilla Smiley, who trained and worked under Miss Bea. Fundraising has begun for the nursing home to be restored as museum and education center under a preservation plan.
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