I think the joy of having a breakthrough is so much more intense after you’ve been researching for years and years, because they are so few and far between. I had one the other day and it illustrates how the most basic of rules of genealogy methodology are always instructive.
Shown at left is my grandmother, the ever-wonderful Mattie Mae Springer, born in Hardin County, TN in 1921. Her line has been a huge brick wall for me–both of her parents, in fact. Her parents, Walter Springer and Effie Fendricks, were both also born in TN and I trace them both pretty well. It is their parents who have stopped me cold. Both sets of parents indicate on the census that they were born in Alabama, so of course the big problem becomes where in Alabama? I’ll focus on Effie since that’s where the breakthrough came in.
Effie’s father was Mike Fendricks and I find him first as a young man, newly married in Hardin County, TN with his wife and infant child in 1880. The surname is odd–there were none even close to that I could locate in TN. In fact, it took me several years to even locate Mike Fendricks in 1880 because the census taker as you can see wrote “Fenwick”.
Mike Fendricks was not in TN in 1870–I assumed he was still living in Alabama at that point. In those early years, I was not as well learned in the art of census searching as I am now, but I also have not been great at conceiving of surname variations.
I did find him in 1900 (now spelled Fendrix) and subsequently on all the other censuses in TN until his death.
The most interesting thing of note on this census was that his father was listed as being from “Washington, DC”. That jumped out at me and are the sorts of clues you’ve got to really be good at catching because they’ll help you later on.
I diligently researched all of his children, finding good data on all except one or two. After that, Mike Fendricks fell into a black hole, where I just couldn’t find anything. I couldn’t find my Mike in 1870 in Alabama–there were too many to search without some sort of lead.
Finally, using the cluster research technique (on an associate named Dee Suggs who was also from AL) led me to focus on Lawrence County, AL. I noticed there were a few blacks with the surname “Fendrix” in 1910, 1920, etc. When I tried to trace them back on the census, I found another man named Mike “Fenrick” in 1880 in Lawrence County! Now I was really confused.Who in the heck was that? MY Mike Fendricks was 27 and living in TN at this time; could this “Mike Fenrick” be his daddy? He is 53 years old in 1880, with a wife and many children in the household. I can’t make out his birthplace on this census: it is rendered as Massachusetts (MA) on Ancestry.com.
Trying to find this 2nd “Mike Fenrick” in 1870 proved fruitless. Until I used the magical wildcard symbol *. I decided to just search for all black males, no first name, last name Fen*. Viola. Up jumped “John M. Fenerick.” That’s right. JOHN. M. FENERICK. Talk about an odyssey of name variations.
Wow. I didn’t see that one coming. But again, the wildcard technique was not one I was using in earlier years.
His first name here is John, with his likely middle name being Mike, but it is absolutely the same person who is being called “Mike” in 1880 because of the wife & children. And look what else I found:his birthplace was D.C. You know I coulda fell out my chair!! My Mike is not in the household in 1870, but going by age, this 2nd John Mike (possibly my gggrandfather) would have birthed my Mike Fendricks when he was about 18 years old.
Another interesting point is that when I researched the Fendricks/Fendrix name for white slaveowners, they seemed to all be in the Washington DC area on the 1850, 1860 slave census. My working theory is that Mike Fendricks father (John Mike) had been sold to the deep South from owners in DC. Those particular name spelling variations never occurred to me! I don’t know why. It always pays to revisit brick walls every now and then, with fresh insight and fresh knowledge. I contend that every day/month/year I read journal articles, read my fellow geneabloggers , attend conferences and converse with my genea-buddies makes me better and better.
Now, on to the task of finding his slaveowner. I am so excited to get to 1870 on this line. And, yes, I did check the 1860 census to make sure he wasn’t a freedman. So I filled out my “1870 Neighbor Chart” for John Fenerick where I note all the people within 10 pages of him on the census who are: black with the same surname, white with with a large amount of real estate, and any others who jump out at me for assorted reasons. My Neighbor Chart is a customized chart I created in Word to analyze ancestors on the 1870 census. I also note the prevalent surnames that blacks are using. This chart allows me to identify possible white slaveowners in order to focus my research, as well as to identify other possible black ancestors.
I have centered for now on Samuel Shackelford, a large slaveowner who lived closest to John Mike, as well as the Bynum family. The research continues!