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Archive for the ‘Evaluating Evidence’ Category

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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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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Probate records hold a wealth of information about our ancestors. But when you’re searching, do you just limit yourself to the will (and inventory), and neglect all of the other documents that are part of the probate process? All parts of probate hold potential clues. Here’s a breakdown of other steps that could hold evidence for our family trees:

Petition: The process will start with a petition to the court to start the probate process. This is usually a relative or could be a creditor. Petitions, if they exist, should always be examined.

Hearing: A hearing date will be set by the court to prove the will (or in the case of no will, to administer the estate). The hearing date will usually be published in the local newspaper so all interested parties can have a chance to have their say. If no one contested, the will was proved and ordered recorded,or in the case of no will, an executor is named. Remember also that original wills were retained by the court (unlike deeds which were returned to the owner). Always try to examine original wills if they exist for your locality, versus the one recorded in the will books–transcribing always presents opportunities for error.

Relinquishments/Renunciations: These are interesting sets of records. It could be a executor or administrator relinquishing (or turning down) the duties he or she has been assigned. I found a renunciation for the estate one of my Prather ancestors, and it listed every living heir and where they lived.

Bonds: If a will is proved, the executor posted bond guaranteeing his performance of duties associated with the estate. If no will, the administrator posted bonds. I have found bonds to be extremely valuable, especially in the naming of the individuals who served as securities for those bonds. I have noticed bonds are often recorded in separate books. Usually the court will also approve a notice to creditors to be published in a local newspaper.

Letters Issued: Once the bonds are accepted, the court issued Letters Testamentary (Letters of Administration if intestate). This is the basically the court’s authority in writing for that person to perform those specific duties. Letters are also another set of records I often see grouped together in their own book.

Inventory: Usually the court will appoint three disinterested parties to inventory the estate. These are common records for those of us doing slave research. Just make sure that you search subsequent years ahead–if the case drags on, additions and subtractions are often made to the inventory. I’ve seen slave births be recorded in this way. But don’t neglect the other items int he list. The household items can be powerful measures of social history for that family and give you some insight into what kind of life your ancestor may have led.

Accounts and Sales: I can’t stress the value of this part of probate. Depending on the size of the estate, some will come to an end within a year, while others may drag on for 15 or 20 years, especially if there were minor children involved. During that time, periodic accounting is made to the court by the executor or administrator about the financial status of the estate. This also holds true for the guardianship process, which often mirrors many of these same steps. Again, don’t overlook these sections with regard to slave research–you can find slave sales and sometimes the name of the purchaser as well. Accounts many times are titled “First account”, “Second Account”, “Third and final accounting”, “First and final accounting”, etc.. And always pay close attention to the names of the family members and neighbors who are purchasing items from the estate.

Petitions for Sale: Executors/Administrators may petition the court to sell real estate. They will usually include the reason why. You’ll find many estates going broke who need to sell, or because the land can’t be equally divided among heirs easily.

I have been lucky in Maryland to find books entitled “Docket of Administrations” which listed each individual who had an estate administered, each part of the administration, and each book and page those parts can be found on. So that made life easier for me for that family line. Take full advantage  of the wealth of information available in all of the probate process–don’t just limit yourself to wills and inventories. You never know what you might find!

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John Smith?

John Smith?

One of the most common errors for new genealogists is falling into the trap of “The Names The Same”. What we mean by that is that because we see someone with the same name, living in the same place, we jump too quickly to assume it is our ancestor (or person of interest). This is one of the good reasons we shouldn’t jump around sporadically in census records, but rather work methodically back, slowly but surely. The goal should be to recreate identities–and a person’s identity is far more than just their name. In my previous post, I listed this concept as one of my 10 key genealogical principles.

A person’s identity is made up of things like:

  • who their spouses and children were
  • who their parents were
  • what they looked like
  • their literacy (or lack thereof)
  • who their neighbors and friends are
  • their military service (or lack thereof)
  • what their birth, marriage and death dates were
  • where (specifically) they lived
  • what their occupation was
  • what their religion was
  • what their economic/financial standing was
j0440584

Or John Smith?

…and lots of other things. I read a quote once that I love. It said if you always assume there is at least one other person living in the same area with the same name, then you will force yourself to use other criteria to identify that person. If you want to freak yourself out, Google your own name and see how many other people you find with it. Kinda scary.

We all use the census and vital records initially, but I have found that things like tax, land and court records are especially good at helping to discern identity. Everyone knows I believe in using charts in my genealogy, and this  something that can be analyzed very well with charts.  Make a list of the prospects in the first column, using numbers—for example, Jane Johnson #1, Jane Johnson # 2, etc. Then make additional columns where you fill in the distinctive data for that individual: birthdate, marriage date, spouse(s), land, occupation, children, etc.  Pretty soon, you’ll start to see patterns emerge, and you should be able to have a better sense of who was who.

Maps are important during this process–something as simple as seeing where people lived could be enough to help you see it’s not your person of interest. Complicating factors are really common names, people who lived in the same vicinity, were born around the same time and married around the same time. There are lots of examples of these things happening. And two people named Bill could marry women both named Mary. I’ve seen it!

However, the more evidence you gather and scrutinize, the more you will be able to distinguish between individuals. I am doing this “deconflicting” right now on my gggrandfather, John Smith (yes, you read that right). And you would not believe how many black John Smiths, born ca. 1880, lived in the same district of Jacksonville, Florida in the early 20th century. So this has been no simple task.

So, take a look back over your research and ask yourself if you have really done due diligence in this area. Especially if you’re stuck, have you glossed too quickly over a person, and attached him/her to your tree? I like to say if the only reason you believe someone is your ancestor is that they have the same name and are living in the same place, then you have more work to do. I’d love for people to add to my short list above of criteria that helps define identity.

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SamCHolt Marriage Records are a key component of everyone’s genealogical research. However, when it comes to those marriage records, are you sure of what you’re actually looking at? Are you viewing:

a marriage register/index?
a marriage certificate?
a marriage bann?
a marriage bond?
a marriage license?
a marriage license application?
a marriage announcement?
a marriage record book?
a marriage intent?
a minister’s return?

Depending on your locality’s laws and customs, the types of documents necessary to legalize a marriage will likely be one or more of the above types, but there are subtle differences between them all and it will help you in all of your research to scrutinize and understand the differences between them. Most professional genealogy books, such as Evidence Explained, will discuss them, in addition to all the good genealogy articles and training available online.

Many localities had pre-printed forms such as the one shown above from Hardin County, Tennessee. This page is from the “Marriage Records” book–sort of a catchall term whose contents can vary greatly from location to location. A prudent researcher who examines the above page closely will notice that it has several different sections:

  • the posting of a bond that requires a surety
  • a section requiring consent if underage
  • the actual license to marry, and
  • a space for the minister to “return” the actual date of marriage.

This represents a common scenario. Most ministers were required to have a license from the couplegiving him permission to perform the marriage. Sometimes, the county court clerk tracked marriage license applicants in a register–or it may be called an index. I’ve seen places where the register survives, but the actual licenses do not that may contain more information, such as parents names.  The minister was supposed to “return” the information regarding the actual marriage date and place; you’ll find some places had entire books of nothing but those “minister’s returns“. Maybe the court clerk’s marriage books don’t survive, but dusty boxes full of the actual licenses do. Maybe none of the official documents survive and you’re left with those marriage announcements in the newspapers–in Hardin County, they were published almost every week. Perhaps you were lucky enough that your ancestor saved their marriage certificate gently pressed in the middle of the family bible, containing all the details of their nuptials.

So go back and take a look at all your marriage documents, and ask yourself: what exactly are you looking at?

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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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Effie Blanche Fendricks

Effie Blanche Fendricks

This is my great-grandmother, Effie Blanche Fendricks, who was born in Hardin County, TN, ca. 1891. She was one of 13 children (8 who survived).

Effie married Walter Springer and birthed 9 children, 7 of whom survived to adulthood. She was a homemaker  and when I interviewed my grandmother Mattie before her death she shared many fond memories of her mother. Effie’s husband Walter farmed, worked on the Tennessee steamboats and eventually landed what would have been considered a good “government” job at a factory making munitions for the war.

Walter Springer

Walter Springer

My grandmother Mattie eventually migrated to Dayton, Ohio when she married in the mid-1940s. Later, her widowed mother Effie joined them as well as several other siblings. Sadly, Effie suffered a stroke and died in 1959, likely about 67 years old.

I am  thinking about Effie today because of Luckie’s discussion going on over at Our Georgia Roots in search of one of her ancestor’s slaveowners. Luckie, you are such an inspiration! I’m also finally also getting some traction this year on Effie’s family after a 12 year brick wall. These brick walls really do bother me on an emotional level…just the thought that the basics of someones life is LOST, even to their descendants, makes me sad. I think that’s why I have such a passion to try to snatch back that lost memory.

Effie’s “Fendricks” line has been a challenge, number one because the name has been rendered in every way imaginable (and unimaginable). Her parents, Mike and Jane Eliza, migrated to Hardin County, Tennessee by 1880 and all I knew was that they were from Alabama. My journey to find out what county in Alabama was very similar to Luckies–it was more about using my skills now to reassess information I’ve had for years.

I’ve tentatively finally traced back to Effie’s grandfather, John Mike Fendricks living in Lawrence Cty, AL in 1870. Once there, I put together a chart of neighbors and potential slaveowners. I ordered 6 rolls of Lawrence Cty Probate records and deeds and I’ve been spending the last 2 weeks pouring over them. It’s slow work as I’m tracking 3 families (Sherrod, Shackelford and Bynum) who intermarried and had large land and slaveholdings. I’m putting each probate entry into a table for analysis and I’ve also done census baselines for each family from 1860 back.

I know I’m hot on the trail, but there is always the chance that that “smoking gun”  we want won’t be found. There are some missing records for Lawrence County and one specific book that I know has the slave distribution for one of these families is in one of them. So I was thinking about what are some of the ways that we can make the case connecting our ancestors to a slaveowner when we are missing some of those critical traditional documents? Here are a few thoughts, and I’d love to hear more from my genius genea-bloggers (that means you Luckie, Angela, Renate, Michael, Mavis, Sandra, George and others):

  • Proximity is always a clue. Most slaves in 1870 still lived near their former slaveowner. Not all, but proximity is a good clue. Some may be living on a former slaveowner’s land.
  • Use of slaveowner’s surname. We all know all slaves did not take the last name of the most recent slaveowner, but many did. Check those slaveowner’s wives maiden names, because some have that surname if they came from her family.
  • First names in the enslaved individuals family matching first names in the slaveowner’s family. I’ve seen alot of that.
  • Interactions with the slaveowner’s family. I’ve seen slaveowner’s act as witnesses for marriages as well as posting bond/acting as sureties. Another big clue is found in deeds. Many slaves purchased their first land from a former slaveowner so always find that first land record. Check the slaveowner’s probate records even if they died after 1865–your ancestor may be purchasing items from the estate indicating a connection.
  • Interactions of generations of both families into the early 20th century. It is not uncommon to have descendants of the slave/slaveowner still interacting or living in close proximity even in the 1900, 1910, 1920 census.
  • Freedmen’s Bureau labor contracts between your ancestor and an individual is another good clue. Most of these aren’t indexed and don’t exist for every locality, but be sure to check.

Remember, I am talking about when you can’t find that document that actually names your ancestor. I am certainly not suggesting that any of these things in isolation would be a good basis for making the claim of a particular slaveowner.But,  I do believe that there are still ways to build a strong case from circumstantial evidence that your ancestor was owned by an individual. Of course, you may still be more comfortable adding a caveat to your family history with the word “likely” or “probable”, and then presenting your reasoning.

I think thats the way we should approach this quest. For some of our lines, we’ll find the definitive evidence, but for others we won’t.

My search for Effie’s enslaved roots continues. And if I don’t find that bill of sale or inventory that lists her grandfather (or any of the things where a slave names his ex-owner), I’ll still be working on building my case. Let me hear your thoughts, family.

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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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I’ve been absent the last week because we had a huge Prather Reunion on Saturday that was 6 months in the planning. It was a booming success–but I was absolutely exhausted afterwards. I wrote the family history & we are now at almost 200 descendants. Phenomenal. It was great to meet everybody.

In preparation for this reunion, I’ve spent the last 8 months or so really diving deep into this branch. Beatrice Prather was my great-grandmother and her parents, Levi and Martha Prather, were the progenitors of this branch. They lived in Montgomery County, Maryland and I’ve enjoyed researching every aspect of African-American life there in the 19th and 20th centuries. I’ve spent lots of time at the Montgomery County Courthouse, the Montgomery County Historical Society & the Maryland State Archives.

I’ve posted here about Bible records previously, and in the middle of creating the book for the reunion some new Bible records appeared that I hadn’t seen before and really will help augment and support my research on this branch in serious ways. I wanted to share how information in these records served to support a thesis of mine. Every bit of evidence helps.

Levi and Martha Prather appear first on the 1870 census in Montgomery County.

1870 Census

1870 Census

Here is Levi Prather (the picture is very faint):

Levi Prather

Levi Prather

Here is his wife Martha (Simpson) Prather:

Martha Simpson Prather

Martha Simpson Prather

I had posited that the 70 year old Resin Prather found in the household was likely Levi’s father. His presence in their home in 1870 was one bit of evidence, but Levi also named a son Resin. My grandmother also wrote in her Bible that Resin was the father of Levi, but she was deceased when I saw this so I couldn’t ask her where this information came from.

Here is one of the three new Bible pages:

Bible Record

Bible Record

The first line says:
“Resin Prather departed this life on Jan 8, 1872″.

I was so excited about this. His presence in this Bible record strengthens my thesis that he was a relative (and likely his father). I don’t think its a stretch to assume that most Bible records would contain mainly records of relatives.

There were two other Bible pages in addition to this one, and there were several new names listed of people that I did not previously know were relatives, especially on Martha’s Simpson side. That’s a huge lead for me as the Simpsons had been somewhat of a brick wall.

Another listing helped me with identifying the last slaveowner. Right after Resin Prather, there is a line that says:

“Tobias Prather (departed this life) on July 28, 1873.

Here is a partial clip from an 1855 slave tax assessment in Montgomery County for Dorothy Williams:

Slaves Taxed

Slaves Taxed

This lists several of her slaves, including Levi, age 18, and Tobias, age 36. I knew Tobias used the surname Prather after slavery and there is another slave Dorothy owned, Wesley, age 30, who also used the name Prather. She also owns two slaves named Darius–my Levi named a son Darius and that name has survived down through the current generation today. I had previously discovered that Levi’s suspected father, Resin Prather, had a different owner living nearby, Nathan Cooke.

However, the somewhat uncommon names grouped together–Tobias, Levi, Vachel, Darius, Wesley–is what helped me be more confident that she is right owner. Tobias’ listing in the family Bible again strengthens the case that these are the same group of formerly enslaved individuals.

Next I discovered Dorothy Williams was the former Dorothy Belt (the family that is the namesake for Beltsville, MD) and that she married Walter Williams. I’m now tracking both of these families for any more insight into their slaves.

Sometimes, when you least expect it, good things drop down into your lap. I think the ancestors gave me this one, on the occasion of their descendants coming together 145 years later to remember them. Thank you, Levi and Martha!

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I have had some wonderful Bible discoveries in the past year. I want to share them with you along with some thoughts on evaluating them. I’m sure many of you already know the definitions and importance of determining whether your latest genealogical discovery is:

*an Original or Derivative Source
*Primary or Secondary Information
*Direct or Indirect Evidence

If you want to get really good at this genealogy thing, learn these concepts and work through some examples. The indefatigable Elizabeth Shown Mills has written extensively on this.  I also suggest the book “Genealogical Proof Standard” by Christine Rose. I’m going to only talk about the first two in the interest of keeping this post long and not really long.;)

An Original Source is the very first–the original–record of an event (such as a birth certificate). A Derivative Source has to copy its information from an original source (an example is a book of transcribed vital records or those online transcribed databases we are all so fond of). An important point to remember is that derivatives always introduce the opportunity for errors. Typically, an original source is regarded as more reliable than a derivative source.

The terms Primary vs. Secondary Information refer to the quality of the information. Primary information was made by someone in a position to know firsthand usually at or near the time of the event OR made in writing by an officer charged by law, canon or bylaws with creating an accurate record (like a court clerk who records marriages). Anything else is secondary information (for example, all census records are secondary).  Typically, primary information is regarded as more reliable than secondary information.

So one of the goals in genealogy is to find as many Original Sources and as much Primary Information as possible.

It can get really tricky, though. A death certificate is an original source, but it can have both primary (the death dates) and secondary information (the birth dates) on it. An original source, generally deemed more reliable, could in fact have incorrect information on it.

When evaluating evidence, you want to ask yourself WHO wrote this, WHEN  and WHY.

So this year my newfound cousin Lester Holt shared copies of a Holt Family Bible, which appears to have belonged to his grandfather. If you’ve never taken pictures of a Bible that is falling apart, it works really well. But, be sure to take a picture of the publishing page so you can know what year the Bible was published. If the Bible was published in 1948 and it contains entries dating in the 1920′s, those obviously could not have been recorded at or near the time they happened, which affects how you evaluate the data.

Here’s a page of deaths from the Holt Bible:

Holt Deaths

Holt Deaths

I am fairly sure who wrote this-either the mother Ila or the father Samuel. I know why–to record the important dates in their family. But, the copyright/publishing page was disintegrated or missing, so I have no idea what year this Bible was published. This means I don’t know when the dates were written in. I don’t know if the dates included were copied in as they occurred or in bulk entries after the fact– that can be an important distinction.

This Bible is clearly an original source. But for something to be considered primary information it ideally should be written down as the events are occurring or a short time afterwards. It does look like the entries could have been made at different times, right?  But I concluded it is not as big an issue here because these are most likely two parents noting births and deaths of their children, which they are likely to have known firsthand. They even listed the deaths of their mothers.

Now notice a page from the births:

Holt Births

Holt Births

Hmm. Those first six look like they were entered all at once don’t they?
They probably were.  But, again, because the information in this Bible does not conflict with any other data I have on these individuals, and because of the likelihood that a parent recorded it, I am concluding these dates are correct. But this gives you a sense of all the things you have to think about.

Now I want to show a cover from a Prather Family Bible that was shared with me last year by my cousin Laverne Prather. This belonged to her mother Sarah:

Prather BIble Cover

Prather Bible Cover

Luckily, I was able to copy the copyright page:

Copyright Year

Copyright Year

Sarah diligently copied almost everything for  all of her kids, and all of the events happened after 1903. This gives me an added level of assurance. This page of dates appeared opposite a page of names:

Prather Dates

Prather Dates

Both of these Bibles cropped up when I wasn’t even looking and had no idea that they even existed, so even 12 years later the spirits are still sending me pleasant surprises. These Bibles were both filled with information I didn’t have. If you come across a family Bible, digitize it so that the data can survive the actual book which is bound to be fragile. As you can see here, the pictures turn out pretty well. Just don’t forget to copy the copyright page!

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