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Archive for the ‘Census Records’ Category

My great-grandfather John Smith was born in Georgia and migrated to Jacksonville, Florida sometime around the turn of the century. His roots in Georgia continue to be one of my greatest brick walls. I’ve been researching him in more depth recently, and I had a huge breakthrough on his wife’s family yesterday. I am so excited! This is an excellent case study in evaluating evidence.

John Smith married Georgia Harris, and for many years I knew almost nothing about her since she died at the age of 45. I had some success earlier with Georgia’s roots that was a big part of this new discovery. Georgia had two sets of children, one set with first husband Isaac Garner in Madison Cty, FL, and another with presumably her second husband John Smith in Duval Cty, FL. No one in my family knew about that first marriage. Oddly, the only censuses in which John and Georgia and children appear together is 1930 and the Florida state census of 1935. Clearly, they were if not married then at least having children together before then.

My grandmother wrote in her family bible that “Matilda Vickers” was the name of Georgia’s mother. THIS Matilda Davis, Georgia’s mother, migrated to Philadelphia, PA with her other daughter Ruth by 1920, as I detailed in the earlier post.  Matilda’s name on that 1920 census in Philly is “Garvin,” but it’s clearly the right woman since she is noted as being the “mother-in-law”. I assumed Matilda died there in PA–this is an important point to remember (and take note of all my assumptions, LOL).

By 1930, Matilda’s son-in-law Nish Torrence had remarried and was now living in Camden, NJ. This is the census tracking for Matilda Davis/Garvin, mother of Georgia:

Matilda Davis/Garvin, 1900-1920

When the 1940 census came out, I was looking for other family members in Jacksonville. When I looked up Georgia’s son Cornelius Garner, I was surprised to find this:

1940 Cornelius Garner

Cornelius was living with a “Matilda Vickerson” who is 73 and widowed. Cornelius’ relationship to Matilda is listed as “Roomer”. I decided to investigate this mysterious Matilda who kept popping up. Was she the Matilda mentioned in my grandmother’s Bible?

In 1935, a “Metilda Vickers” is living in Jacksonville, FL with Cornelius Garner & other family members. At some point in 1930-1931, city directories show “Matilda Vickers” as living in the house with John & Georgia’s family, although on the 1930 census Matilda is living with a woman named Katie Middleton and described as a Cousin:

City Directory

1930 Matilda Vickers

Before 1930, I could find no evidence of Matilda Vickers in Jacksonville, and I was unable to discover the name of her deceased husband. To recap Matilda Vickers visually:

Matilda Vickers, 1930s-1940

Matilda Vickers died in Jacksonville in 1944, and John Smith was the informant on her death certificate, but no relationship is given (Dagnabbit!).  After dusting aside some of my earlier assumptions, the key question was: is the Matilda Davis, mother of Georgia Harris, who by 1920 is living with her daughter’s family in Pennsylvania as Matilda Garvin, the SAME Matilda Vickers/Vickerson, who appears in Jacksonville by the 1930s?

The ages matched pretty consistently. It would answer why Matilda was associated with John Smith (she was his mother-in-law). It would answer why I couldn’t find that name before 1930 in Duval Cty, FL (she was living in Philadelphia). But I couldn’t explain the surnames. Incredibly, vital record searches solved that, along with a little creative thinking in terms of the names.

I found that a Matilda Davis married a man named Frank Gowen in Jacksonville in 1916.  Of course that was a transcription error–his surname was Garvin. He died in Jacksonville on 12 May 1918, leaving widow, Matilda “Garvin” on his death certificate. That’s why Matilda appears in Philadelphia with that name. And amazingly enough, in Philadelphia, I discovered a Matilda Garvin married Peter Vickers in 1920. And yes–he died there in June 1925. Matilda then moved back to Jacksonville before 1930.

I couldn’t find the records before because I was not looking under the correct surnames and also because “Gowen” did not turn up in a search for “Garvin.” Also, the fact that Matilda had 2 marriages in different cities with men who died shortly afterward added to the confusion. I am in the process of ordering the marriage records to confirm all of the above, but I feel very confidant in stating that:

Matilda Davis= Matilda Garvin=Matilda Vickers/Vickerson!

Keep in mind, I could only make the connection once I threw out my insistence that Matilda Davis had died in Philadelphia, and that the census taker had mistakenly entered her name as “Garvin.” Assumptions are fine, but remember that you made them and always be ready to re-examine them in the light of new evidence. One assumption was correct–my grandmother’s entry was wrong. She probably remembered that John Smith was related somehow to this Matilda, and assumed it was his mother. In fact, her mother-in-law died the year before she married her husband so she did not know her personally, so this mistake is perfectly reasonable.

I feel really good about solving this puzzle. I’m even now exploring a hunch that the missing marriage record for John Smith & Georgia Harris could be the one I see listed for John Smith and Florida Harris  in 1916.

Genealogy never stops being exciting for me. And possibly the best part of this is I added a new ancestor to my tree–my 4th great-grandmother, Virginia “Viney” Nealy, Matilda’s mother as shown on her death certificate.

Stay tuned for my next post where I explore just who was this Katie Middleton that Matilda was living with?

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I read an article a few weeks ago that I think every single genealogist should read, and I was excited about sharing it with you all. It is a special issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly from September 2001 (Volume 89, No.3). This issue was completely devoted to discussion of the Thomas Jefferson-Sally Hemings affair that I’m sure everyone has already heard about. If you are a member of NGS (which I highly recommend) you can log in to their website and download this article from their NGS Quarterly archives immediately.

The esteemed Helen Leary, who is an extraordinary genealogist, tackles the subject in an article entitled,Sally Heming’s Children: A Genealogical Analysis of the Evidence,” which starts on page 165.  It is a 40-plus page article, long, but well-worth taking the time to print out and read. Helen illustrates use of the Genealogical Proof Standard to one of this country’s most enduring mysteries: Was Thomas Jefferson the father of Sally Heming’s children?

In Helen’s gifted hands, the evidence is laid out (truly massive amounts of evidence), every hypothesis tested, each conflict addressed and a clearer conclusion you won’t find anywhere. Helen is a masterful teacher, and a thorough researcher. I feel like I grew as a researcher just seeing how she approached the topic and addressed each and every concern. I will continue to apply these methods to my own research.

DNA testing performed in 1998 matched Sally Hemings youngest son Eston’s DNA to that of a Jefferson male. Along with the other evidence, I particularly enjoyed how Helen illustrated handling of bias on the part of researchers, and how that bias can negatively affect results. This article also showed how you can’t the play the game of “XYZ coulda happened” with research. Genealogy is not about coulda, woulda, shoulda.

I’ll leave you with a clip from the 1870 census that this article discusses that just blew my mind. In 1870, a census taker in Ross County, Ohio, enumerated Sally’s son Madison (most of whom went on to live as white people) and wrote the following notation into the census next to his name:

“This man is the son of Thomas Jefferson!”

1870 census

Now, that has got to make you say Wow. I’ve never seen anything like that before. I hope you’ll go read this article, come back here and let me know what you thought. I encourage you to read the entire issue: an article by Thomas Jones dissects the “official” report done by the Thomas Jefferson Scholars Commission (who continue to deny the pairing), and there is an excellent article by Gary B. Mills about proving children of master-slave relationships.

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It is amazing what can be discovered when you closely analyze and scrutinize your previous research. Sometimes it’s the fact that new records have become available that weren’t available before, and sometimes it’s that your skills are better than they were before. I am quite happy to be my own biggest guinea pig and continue to prove this mantra be true.

I periodically review my research, and in this case was reviewing Phillip Holt. Phillip was the brother of my 3rd great-grandfather John W. Holt in Hardin County, TN. Earlier in my research, I’d located Phillip and wife Louisa living in neighboring McNairy County, TN in 1880, but never found them again and considered that they had possibly died. Phillip had married a woman named Louisa who had been enslaved on a neighboring farm; her maiden name was McClain. You can see her mother Lucinda living with the couple and their kids in the census below:

1880 Phillip Holt

That dreaded 20-year gap between 1880 and 1900 is a notorious black hole where ancestors can easily be lost. That’s enough time for kids to be born and out of the house and you’d never know they existed at all. As always, we’ve got to be in the business of assessing correct identities, and not just matching names.

Now, years ago I had found this 1900 census record in yet another TN county, Madison:

1900 Phillip Holt

I had quickly dismissed this as not being the right man for two reasons: the wife was Lula instead of Louisa (which really shouldn’t have thrown me off) but more importantly, the mother-in-law listed was Emma Rodgers, which led me to believe this woman’s maiden name was Rodgers.

It’s good that I decided to look at this more closely. I will say that the fact that TN Death certificates are now online (through 1959) is what ultimately solved the puzzle: I was able to find a death certificate for this “Lula” Holt in 1931, and it confirmed that her mother’s name was indeed Lucinda McClain.

Lula Holt Death Cert

My analysis before was too quick to assume that the information I was viewing on the 1900 census was correct; turns out it was not. Who knows what caused the error, but the fact remains that Emma Rodgers was simply not Phillip Holt’s mother-in-law.
I’m really excited that Phillip has “come back from the dead.” I was able to isolate his timeframe of death, and track a few more of his children through 1930. Also, Jackson, TN is a larger city than some of the other places in which the family lived and I’m hoping to eventually find more tidbits on him, or better yet, some descendants.

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Sometimes I just don’t take my own advice. Or, rather it just takes me longer these days to actually do it.

My ggrandmother Georgia Harris’ line has always been problematic for me. Awhile ago, I made some headway in tracing her roots not in Jacksonville (Duval County) Florida, as oral history said, but in Madison County, over 100 miles west of Jacksonville. I was able to find her in a previous marriage and discover she had other children. I also found Georgia’s mother, Matilda, her stepfather, Perry Davis, and sister Ruth also in Madison. After that, the trail ran dry. I really wanted to find out whatever happened to Georgia’s mother, Matilda.

I decided one day last week to research Georgia’s only known sibling, Ruth Harris. Familysearch (don’t you just love them?) listed a marriage between Ruth Harris and a man named “Nish Torence” in 1910. Hmm. A search for his (thankfully) odd name in the 1920 census found the couple living in…drum roll…Philadelphia, Pennsylvania!

The names are mangled, but I’ve been around enough to know its them. And who is living with them? Drum roll #2…Ruth (and Georgia’s) mother Matilda!

1920 Philadelphia

In 1930, they had moved yet again and were living in Camden, New Jersey. By then, Nish was remarried to a woman named Mary (Baity), and had several more children.

1930 Camden

A couple of thoughts. I am still surprised that so many of my ancestors moved around as much as they did. They are all over the place. And that’s a major reason many of us lose the trail. I see Nish worked on the railroad, so perhaps that was the reason behind their move. I get extra happy when they move to a big city from a rural area, because that usually means more  and better records. I am now focusing in on Philadelphia, between 1920-1930, and *hoping* to be able to find death certificates for Ruth Harris and Matilda Davis.

From the SSDI, it appears that Nish lived in Camden until he died in 1970. Another online gift for me was his World War II Draft, which confirmed this is the right family:

World War II

Since I had the address, I went on Google Maps and found a picture of the home–it’s the one in the center:

826 S. 8th Street

I am *hoping” also to try to find some Torrence descendants that may still live in Camden. This would be phenomenal since I’ve never met anyone even remotely associated with this line. To have some new cousins would be very cool.

I’m still wondering why I didn’t find this sooner–as many times as I have told my students, “when you get stuck, search sideways, search the siblings!”. I am still thrilled. One of my favorite roommates in college was from Camden. Anybody out there in Philly or Camden want to do some research for me in those city directories, let me know.

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Recently, I solved a genealogical mystery that I’d had for many, many years. As fellow genealogists, you can imagine how immensely satisfying this was. The solution utilized many tools, but black newspapers and the ease with which we can now search some of them deserves the biggest praise for solving the puzzle. My friend Tim Pinnick, who offers a class in newspapers at Family Tree University and a free e-newsletter, has been preaching and teaching about black newspapers for years.  He has even written a book on the topic, which I would highly recommend for your personal library.

The puzzle starts in Hardin County, TN, where one branch of my research is centered. The 1880 census showed two black men named “James Holt”, around the same age. One was living with his brother, one was newly married and living with his wife. For years I thought they were the same man, and the census taker had made an error. Only through deed records did I realize they were different men. The marriage of the 2nd James was not shown in marriage records, but his wife is listed in the land records when he is selling land, thus delineating him from the other James, who had a different wife at the same time. To further confuse—the 2nd James married the sister of the wife of the 1st James. But I digress.


About 4 years ago, I found this 2nd James living in Obion County, TN in 1900. I was pretty sure it was the same man (his kids had names like Phlenarie, Ferdinand & Ollie), but he had a different wife (Alora). His occupation was listed as a minister. And that’s where my trail ran cold—again. I simply could never find him again and realized he was probably moving a lot with the church. This is the 1900 entry for him & his family:


A family relative had saved oral history, pictures & other memorabilia with regard to this family. One photo showed a well-dressed black couple labeled “Mr. and Mrs. George and Ollie Knucklis.”

A separate postcard was addressed to “Aunt Nannie” and was signed Ollie. Perhaps this Ollie was the daughter of James Holt listed in the 1900 census? That hunch turned out to be right. The photographer’s studio from the picture was located in Chattanooga. It is there in 1930, and 1910 that I found the couple living. However, in 1920 I found them in Indianapolis, IN (Ollie was misspelled as Dollie). Hmm.

I used the Indiana records at Familysearch.org (marriage & death) to try to look for Ollie or any of her siblings in Indianapolis & I found a Ferdinand Holt who looked promising as her brother. Ancestry had indexed the Indianapolis Star newspaper, and a search in that paper turned up a court case (my specialty) between George & Ollie Knucklis. James Holt was listed next to Ollie’s name—could that be her father? It had not occurred to me to look for him in Indianapolis. I don’t know why–I suppose I was focused on the children by now.

A census search for him found a James Holt, born in TN, living in Indianapolis in 1920 & 1930 but the wife is different (now Harriet) and his occupation is lawyer. Well, this couldn’t be the man I was looking for—he was a minister after all…right? Short answer, of course it was him. My GenealogyBank subscription finally got put to good use, and I searched the black newspaper The Indianapolis Freemen which is archived on the site. Searching James Holt (and later J.M. Holt) turned up numerous articles on this popular, politically active man. I learned that he had been a prominent minister—then went to law school at Central in Louisville & became a lawyer! A profile in the paper even turned up a picture of him—genealogy solid gold:

Articles described his ministry in other states (he was all over the place) including his stint in Jacksonville, FL which is where he was in the 1910 census. I was able to eventually find his subsequent marriages and also his death certificate in Indianapolis. The marriage record for his son Ferdinand made everything conclusive when it noted his parents were James Holt and Mintha Barnes. Wow.

Part of what also helped is simply growing in my analytical skills over the years. I don’t think I could have solved this five years ago. I wrote up a five-page PDF file of this research and my approach to solving it, if you’re interested email me and I’ll send you a copy.

This is the part of genealogy that just makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up! The story the newspapers outlined about this James Holt—the son of an enslaved woman—was fascinating. Without the Indianapolis Freemen newspaper, I would never have realized this was the same person…there were just too many changes.  Just another chapter I have reclaimed from the annals of our precious often-times lost history.

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I’ve got a few new discoveries to report. First, Familysearch.org has finally blessed us Tennessee researchers with a Tennessee death index (“Tennessee Deaths and Burials, 1874-1955“). I thought I’d lose my mind when I ran across it, and of course I stayed up until 2 in the morning with much success. I had watched for years as states like North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas got lots of love from Ancestry and Familysearch, and I was wondering when someone was going to post a database of deaths from my poor lil’ ol’ state! I found about 20 relevant people (direct and collateral) and have already sent off for the certificates.

Familysearch has a much more robust search engine, and even though it is rife with transcription errors, it will pull up data in those valuable ‘mother” and “father” fields. Because of that, I made an interesting discovery.

I finally found my great-great-grandmother’s death certificate–Ada Seaman. She died in 1918, and I know now that it’s her because her father was Baltimore Merriman, and the father’s field says “Baught Merriman.” I had seen this name indexed before, but never thought it was her. Why? Because she showed up on the 1920 census:

wife Ada Seaman

Wow. Gotta remember those darn censuses contain secondary information.

In other news, I got a wonderful act of genealogical kindness. One of my Holt ancestors, Mattie Holt, had been a mystery for many years. I found her on the TN census as a child and never was able to find her again. A few years, ago, I visited descendants of this family I had found  in Inkster, Michigan. One cousin remembered going to visit his Aunt Mattie in Texas. I wouldn’ t have thought to look there, but that’s where she was. I found her on the census, and I found her death certificate–she was running a funeral home, and the oral history was that she’d made a fortune in 1918 during the flu epidemic.

Her married name was May, and I found her husband George May’s death certificate and headstone, but after that, the trail went cold.

I had contacted the local genealogical society in search of an obituary to no avail. But this week I got an email from that researcher who just decided out of the blue to look for Mattie’s probate records since she was in the courthouse. Don’t you just love that?

Jackpot! She found Mattie’s very detailed will and emailed me all the goodies. Mattie in fact did have a daughter (I never knew that) and the will named her nephew as well. It also outlined her 3 marriages and gives dates and places–her first marriage was in Oklahoma.  Talk about doing the happy dance! Now I’ve got much more to follow up on. Sharon, thank you again for all your help with this.

Genealogists can be some of the best people!

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John Smith

My great-grandfather, John Smith, remains one of my most stubborn brick walls and one of my most elusive relatives. These are the factors that complicate this search:

-Of course, his name, which is judged to be the most common name in the world
-He eventually migrated to Jacksonville, FL (from Georgia) a huge city with a very large black population
-His father was white (via oral history & DNA testing), his mother’s name is unknown, which suggests I probably won’t find him in an early census family group
-Sources differ with regard to what county he came from in Georgia
-The earliest I can only identify him with any certainly is on the 1930 census, and possibly as early as 1909 in the city directories
Most of the family members (siblings, etc.) died young and very little oral history survives about him

Talk about frustrating. On top of that, his family history with his wife and my great-grandmother Georgia is utterly confusing. I have never found a marriage license for them, but they are living together as husband and wife in 1930, and the 1935 Florida State census. I think I found them on the 1945 state census as well, but the copy is pretty unreadable.

1930 Census

In 1920, Georgia is listed in the census as head of the household, but with a different surname, Gardener (it was Garner). Finding this record was a huge breakthrough for me for her. Although John is not there, she already has several children in the house with the surname Smith.

1920 Census

That led me to believe she had been married before to a Garner (which no one in my family knew). I found that couple on the 1910 census which also confirmed that Georgia was not from Jacksonville, as oral history reported, but from Madison County, FL, about 100 miles west!

1910 Census

In that year, she was married to a man named Isaac Garner and I was able to find their marriage record. Oddly, even though they had several children, she also had a Smith child in the household and this marriage is listed as her second…???. I located Georgia’s mother, Matilda, in that same census, with her husband Perry Davis. One of Georgia’s Smith children seems to be living with them.

1910 Davis Census

Hmmmm…what exactly is going on here? Whatever it is, I haven’t figured it out yet. Now I’m wondering if Georgia married John in Madison County before she married Isaac Garner, but I haven’t found the marriage record in that county yet either.

Georgia Smith died in 1937 at the age of 45 from pneumonia.

Georgia's Death Certificate

Georgia's Death Certificate

John lived a quiet life, raising his children, working what would have been considered a good job at the Mason Lumber Company as a fireman. John died in 1960. My father & uncle remember him well, as he spent a lot of time at their house when they were growing up.

Some of the things working in my favor are:  the rich city directories for Jacksonville. I have many of them, but still need some of the missing years. In the earlier years, there are many different black John Smiths living in the same area, so these are good sources to try to distinguish between the various John Smiths, using their addresses. I also pulled many John Smith WWI draft registrations that I will use towards the same purpose. There are also good collection of Jacksonville maps (especially Sanborn maps) available online at several universities. I also found several deeds to the family house, which the Mason Lumber Company actually sold to John. He raised his family there, and his son William raised my dad & uncle in that house as well. It no longer stands.

1438 Harrison Street

Other evidence I’ve located thus far include:

  • John’s SS5 application naming father Simon, mother unknown, birthplace Tifton County, GA
  • John’s obituary, as well as his son William
  • Several of the death certificates for the Smith/Garner children
  • John did not appear to have a headstone, although I know where he is buried. I could not find a headstone or obituary for Georgia.

Now I’m in the process of trying to hire a researcher who lives in Jacksonville to pull some of these records for me and do some more research. I don’t get there often. My present goals are to keep researching the cluster of people: Georgia’s first marriage to Isaac, her parents, find all the children, and I’m also researching some of the people who are seen living with them in the census records.

I press on to uncover the life of John Smith.

I have been remiss to acknowledge the Ancestor Approved Award I received from Renate and Dionne some time ago. My kindest thanks for this, and please blame it on my heart and not my head!)

I have been humbled by how soon after enslavement many of my ancestors purchased land and realized education for their children, surprised by simply how much information I have been able to uncover, and remain enlightened in my own life by reflecting on the struggles they had. Nothing in my life seems that hard or troubling anymore.

Everyone I would pass this award to already has it…so I guess that means we are all equally approved in our genealogical journeys;)

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Hopefully, you are all familiar with the Afrigeneas website for African Ancestored research. I want to bring your attention to a terrific article that resides there, albeit somewhat hidden.

From their homepage, if you click on the link that says Records, and then click Library Records, you will find a collection of articles and other submitted materials by Afrigeneas readers. All of the articles are good & should be explored, but my favorites by far are the ones by author David Paterson.

The title of this post refers to an article of his called “The 1850 and 1860 Census, Schedule 2, Slave Inhabitants” that I first read many years ago. It opened my eyes in a whole new way to the 1850 and 1860 documents because it discusses at length the political wrangling in Congress over what information these schedules should contain. To think that this is the reason why we see no names there today is just mindboggling.

I am going to quote liberally a section of his article (with permission), but only because I hope it whets your appetite to read the entire article, as well as his others. This excerpt is from a Congressional debate over two proposed census forms to use, one that did record slave names and one that did not. It is very long but I think once you start reading you won’t be able to stop. ( I’ve only made very minor omissions because of length):

[quoted section begins]

On 9 April 1850, Senator John Davis of Massachusetts opened the Senate debate over which of version of the population forms would be used. ..

Senator Arthur P. Butler of South Carolina immediately rose with an amendment, saying: “I move to amend, so that instead of requiring the names of the slaves to be taken, the number only shall be required . . . and I now move to strike out the word ‘names’ and insert the word ‘number.’”

Davis: “I believe that the only thing which induced the use of the word ‘names’ in both of the tables [free and slave], was the supposition that a greater degree of accuracy would be thereby ascertained, and any fraud be the more readily detected. However, if gentlemen have any choice on the subject, I am not disposed to object.”

Butler: “The census heretofore taken has only required the numbers of the slaves, and I see no useful information the obtaining of the names can afford. On a plantation where there are one, two, or three hundred slaves, there are perhaps several of the same name, and who are known simply by some familiar designation on the plantation. It can afford no useful information, and will make a great deal of labor.”

[Davis] asked Butler: “If we are only to get the aggregate number of slaves, how are we to ascertain the owners?”

Butler: “By providing that the number of slaves owned by him shall be put opposite to the name of each owner.”

David: “Then we shall lose the benefit of the classification of ages.”

Butler: “Not at all. The age and sex will remain—everything but the name.”

At this point, Senator Joseph R. Underwood of Kentucky rose to defend inclusion of the names…: “If you leave the age and sex of each slave, it will be perceived at once that the master and the census-taker must have his attention directed to each individual slave. Then, as each individual slave upon the plantation must constitute the subject of particular reference at the time, in order to ascertain the age and the sex, and other inquiries which the census table proposes to enumerate, it does seem to me that he must necessarily get the name.”

Senator George E. Badger of North Carolina interjected a mockery of slaves’ names: “What do you want of such names as Big Cuff or Little Cuff?”

Butler: “Or of Little Jonah and Big Jonah?”

Some senators laughed.

Underwood: “I have no particular anxiety to see these classical names that have been suggested, and whether it be Cicero or Cuff, it makes no difference to me. As it is necessary that attention must be directed to each individual, it occurred to me that the census taker could certainly make more progress by putting down the name, instead of being obliged to make a series of calculations. Then all that will be necessary will be, to put down the name, and to carry out the age and sex opposite to it; otherwise, the census taker will have, in the course of his examination, to take a child of one age and put him down, and make a memorandum, and then go on and take another child of another age, and put him down, and so on; and before he can make all the inquiries in regard to each on the plantation, he will have a whole sheet of paper covered with calculations and figures. I do believe the work can be done quicker and faster by making an entry of the names, and passing from one to the other, and thus save all of this calculation. This same process has been adopted in reference to the white population. The old system of proceeding was, to put down the population according to a classification of ages, as between five and ten; and ten and fifteen; and fifteen and twenty; and so on. The effect of that arrangement was, to require the census taker and the head of the family, in the calculation to which I have alluded, to ascertain the particular ages, and what class the particular individual should be enumerated under; and we thought . . . that it would really take more time and labor to make this classification . . . than it would merely to put down the names and ages—the simplest of all processes. I believe, therefore, that instead of imposing additional labor, it would save time and labor.”

Senator Robert M. T. Hunter of Virginia: “Is it proposed to publish the names?”

Underwood: “Not at all; there is a total mistake on that subject. The names of the white population are not proposed to be published, nor are the names of the blacks.” Only the statistical tables produced by counting the names, ages, et cetera, were to be published.

Senator David L. Yulee of Florida could not see the use of recording any names: “I wish to ask the Senator what public advantage there can be in having on the files of the department the names of all the inhabitants of the United States, white or black? What advantage can there be to know that there is a John Smith in New York, another in Kentucky, and another in Georgia? It has never been done before, and will certainly be a work of great labor and expense.”

Senator Underwood patiently repeated his explanation…: “I imagined myself going about with the census taker,” said Underwood, “and how he would talk with the head of a family, and how he would make his memorandums as he went along, and the conclusion was irresistible that he would do the business faster by merely putting down the name and age”.

Senator Jeremiah Clemens of Alabama objected: “There is not a man in the South owning a hundred negroes who knows scarcely any more of the names of the slave children than I do. He would be obliged to send the census taker to the negro quarters himself, to ascertain the information.”

Underwood shot back: “If the slave owner cannot give the name of the children, how is he to give the age?”

Clemens: “He knows how many children there are, and can tell about the time they were born. Say that he has a negro woman of the name of Eliza with four children—he can state about the time each was born. As to their names, he would not know anything about that until the children had reached the age of twelve or fourteen.”

Underwood: “I cannot speak for the large negro owners in the South, but I can of that description of people and the negroes in my own State. And I venture to say that there is no plantation in my quarter, although the slaves are nothing like as numerous as they are in the South, but what the owner can tell you the name of every person on the plantation, and that without hesitation. We generally keep a record of their names and ages. And I should suppose that while the farmers of the South were recording, according to the suggestion of the Senator from Alabama, the ages of their slave children, they could put down something for their names also.”

Clemens: “I did not say that they had a record of their ages, but merely that they could tell very nearly what they were.”

Underwood: “Well, if there was any record of their ages I should suppose it would be connected with their names. If no record is kept of the age, then it has to be guessed at, and the name may as well be guessed at also, for it is wholly immaterial. But you must describe the children in some way, or take and put them down as child number one, child number two, and give the age of each. It will do just as well to designate them by numbers as by name, provided it secures the basis of the calculation which it is necessary to make afterwards. An oath that it is the correct name of the child is not required, and if the age of a child can be given, so can a name, and if all are given the same name it makes no difference. . . .  The idea suggested, that the farmer will not know the names of his slaves makes no sort of difference. He can know as much about the names as the age; and all we can expect is, to come as nearly to what is precisely correct as possible, and that by the safest and most correct means. I have nothing more, I believe, to say on this particular subject.”

Butler: “I cannot see the use of taking the names; in fact, I am surprised that the idea is even entertained. My friend from Kentucky generally has my vote; but upon this matter we see so differently that I am compelled to be at issue with him.”

Senator Butler’s amendment, to replace slaves’ names with numbers, was then put to a vote and passed.

[end of quote]

I was struck when I read this by the racist and ridiculous thoughts about blacks evident in many of the senators comments. There is a point in the article where a senator actually says that the average slave wouldn’t know how many children she had! I think of this debate every single time I look at those slave schedules.

I do hope you will visit the site and read David’s article in its entirety. It gives much more detail and background and more information than I excerpted above and it will enrich your genealogy research in this area greatly.

David also has several other excellent articles posted on Afrigeneas, but two I believe are absolute must-reads: “Georgia’s Slave Population in Legal Records” and “Case Study on Determining Maternity by Correlating Records of Alpheus Beall’s Slaves”.

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j0439485The best way for me to interpret and analyze any sort of data has always been to represent that data as a drawing, picture, tables or a chart. Even in engineering school, I could never solve those advanced mathematical problems if I couldn’t visualize it. We all have different learning styles and types of intelligence and its been a natural progression for me to apply this knowledge to my genealogy. I recently shared this with my class and thought it would be a good topic to blog about. Of course, the core documents for genealogy are charts—descendant and ancestor charts and family grouping sheets. You’ll also notice that many NGS Quarterly articles include the use of charts—I think it greatly helps to organize your research with regard to clarity if you are publishing.

The third step in the Genealogical Proof Standard involves analysis and correlation of your data. I find that tables are perfect for helping to do this. Most of the time I find it easiest to create a table in Microsoft Word, although sometimes I will use Microsoft Excel.

Here are some of the custom tables and charts I have created in my own research. Most of us are familiar with census tracking charts and timelines, so I’ll omit those, and most of these are several pages long so I’ll just show the first page. The possibilities are endless and only limited by your imagination:

  • Birthplace Tracking Chart: I’ll organize birthplaces from a set of census records (say 1870-1930) in order to figure the most likely place of birth:
    Birthplace Tracking Scan
  • Birthdate Tracking Chart: Using a set of census records to estimate a birthdate range for individuals
  • 1870 Neighbor Chart: Because analyzing the neighbors in 1870 is especially crucial for African-American research, I have a chart where I track them. I also use the Formatting options to shade and color certain cells. Here, my family is shaded yellow and a potential slaveowner is blue:Neighbor Chart Scan
  • Tax Tracking Chart: Self-explanatory.  On this chart, the index listings are yellow and my primary families of interest are blue:
    Tax Tracking Scan
  • Land Records Chart: I saw this in Emily Croom’s book Unpuzzling Your Past. She made a chart where she traced each piece of land for an ancestor, but also recorded where that land went (i.e., showing the person selling the land, and showing who bought or inherited that same piece of land). I do charts like these for all the members of a particular family, for example. Here’s Emily’s example in the book:
    Land Scan
  • Slaveholder Tracking: I do lots of different slaveholder tracking. I have charts of “potential” slaveholders, showing their slaveholdings from census records. I have charts of their family structures, their deed transactions involving slaves, and of their entire probate processes. Here are 2 examples:
    Slaveowner Tracking Scan1
    Slaveowner Tracking Scan Probate
  • Slave Charts: This is related to the slaveholder charts, but once I amass enough information on a group of slaves, I will typically chart those separately.
  • FHC Film Charts: I chart all the films I order from the FHC. Over the years, I’d forget what I’ve already viewed if I didn’t:
    FHC Film Scan

On all these, I usually include the FHC film number (if that’s what I used), book numbers (if applicable), the dates I did the research, the location if it’s done at a repository, microfilm information, page numbers, and any special notes or comments.

Of course, there are plenty of good websites online with blank charts of all types to use for your genealogical research. Cyndi’s List has a category for Supplies, Charts, Forms, also Ancestry, Family Tree Magazine , and Rootsweb have assorted charts and forms. My favorite census forms are Gary Minder’s at the Census Tools website. He’s also got plenty of other useful forms. There are also a wide array of private vendors who offer these sorts of products, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my buddy Michael Hait again and his terrific disk called Family History Research Toolkit, available from the Genealogical Publishing Company.

If you haven’t expanded beyond the basic genealogy charts, I encourage you to take a look at some of these downloadable charts and also don’t be afraid to create your own. You may see something in a new way or notice something you’ve never seen before. In the comments to this post, please feel free to make any other chart suggestions that you utilize or any other websites you know about that have unique forms.

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Mattie Mae Springer

Mattie Mae Springer

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”.

1880 Mike "Fenwick"

1880 Mike “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.

1900 Mike Fendricks

1900 Mike Fendricks

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.

1870 John M. Fenereck

1870 John M. Fenereck

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!

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