Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Slaveowner Research’ Category

My Face is Black Is True

Recently, Ancestry somewhat quietly rolled out the Ex-Slave Pension database which contains Correspondence and Case Files from the National Archives. I was excited because I had always wanted to take a look at these records but hadn’t gotten around to it yet over the years. I first heard about these records when Mary Frances Berry wrote a book about them in 2006, called My Face is Black Is True: Callie House and the Struggle for Ex-Slave Reparations.”

In short, it is about the movement to secure pensions from the U.S. government to former slaves. The idea for the movement was inspired by the military pensions that were provided to Civil War soldiers; some thought that the government should play a role in also helping ex-slaves, many of whom were infirm and destitute. Several groups were formed that functioned somewhat like other beneficent groups of the era, with their primary purpose being to lobby and influence the government to provide pensions. The National Archives published an excellent article on these records in their Prologue magazine.

This is one of those things that I couldn’t believe wasn’t covered or taught in schools, but I have since abandoned that silly notion anyway. We simply have to educate ourselves and hopefully others. The Ancestry site provides a brief historical background, but I encourage those interested to read Ms. Berry’s book on the subject. This is a fascinating piece of history and I wanted to just share some of the interesting documents I found.

For a small number of very lucky people, you might uncover the name of that elusive slaveowner. This page is from a register of one of the groups–these people are mostly from Boone Cty, Missouri:

Register of slaves

The government received thousands of letters about the pensions. This is a letter from William Brent of Henderson, KY and names his slaveowner as well:

William Brent letterThe government eventually used an enormous amount of time and energy to go after, arrest and crack down on these ex-slave pension groups, who they largely believed to be fraudulent and criminal. Here are three examples:

Letter 1

Letter 2

To a suspected agent

Isaiah Dickerson was one of the prominent officers who was targeted and eventually tried. If you were one of this descendants, wouldn’t this deposition be wonderful?

The document below was submitted from one of the ex-pension groups listing birthdates of former slaves:

Take a look at these incredible records. If anyone finds a direct connection, please share it here to inspire others!

Read Full Post »

I’ve always known that maps are an underused but vital part of genealogy research. I think the difficulty in finding them and correlating them contributes to this for most people. Recently, I had an example where maps helped me to better understand connections between enslaved ancestors.

My Prather family is from Montgomery County, Maryland and I have been studying them alot recently, trying to make sense of the mountains of data I have acquired so I can finally write this line up properly. One thing I’ve learned (the hard way)and believe is that even though most of us spend years gathering data, the real rewards come when you spend MORE time analyzing and assessing what you have. That is a skill that improves the more you read case studies, especially the ones in peer-reviewed journals like NGS Quarterly which I’m a big fan of. I can’t tell you how many things I realized I already had the answers to, once I sit my tail down
and actually look at things. It also helps to have new and fresh eyes look at your research which is why it helps to have good genealogy buddies.

I went off on another tangent which I am prone to do, but back to maps & my Prather family. Montgomery County has a few unique records that help to uncover enslaved ancestors. Maryland ended slavery in 1864, and in 1867, slaveowners were hoping to be reimbursed for those slaves the way that D.C. paid slaveowners. That didn’t happen, but the counties compiled
a record of slaves that each slaveowner owned back in 1864. These are great records because they list surnames and ages of slaves, and also note which ones had “run off” to the military.

Two other records that were priceless were a series of tax records in Montgomery County that named slaves along with their ages from 1853-1864 (not every year), and the D.C. Emancipation records I mentioned above included many Montgomery County families who were hiring out their slaves in D.C. In the D.C. records, the slaveowner had to note how he got title to the slave and you can see all the many ways that happened. (Those records are now on Ancestry).

I said all that to say, I finally found slaveowners of several family members & related families, but I really couldn’t get a feel for why they were spread out amongst so many different people until I looked at an 1865 and an 1866 map of the area. My ancestor Levi and his probable brother Wesley were owned by Dorothy Williams. Dorothy was the former Dorothy Belt who married Walter Williams. When she became elderly, her son James Williams is shown as owner of her slaves.

I’ve spoken of Levi’s father Rezin Prather in another post, but he turned out to be owned by Nathan Cook. Nathan had inherited Rezin from his wife who was a member of the Magruder family. I’m still not exactly sure who owned Levi’s wife
Martha Simpson, but I am leaning towards the Griffith family. The Blunt family owned the wife and children of another Prather (probable) brother, Tobias. When I looked at the 1865/1866 maps shortly, you can see “James Williams” and “N Cook” (Cooke) live in close proximity. Also nearby are the Belt,Griffith and Magruder families, and the Blunts are to the far left of the map. Now it all made more sense.

1865 Map

This speaks to the prevalance of slaves living in “abroad” families, i.e., forming kinship relationships amongst slaves living on nearby farms. A great book about this is “Joining Places: Slave Neighborhoods in the Old South” by Anthony Kay.

After slavery, a deed showed the sale of land from former slave Vachel Duffy to a group of trustees to build Brooke Grove Methodist Church, where my ancestors worshipped and were buried for decades. Those trustees included Levi and Wesley Prather, Wesley Randolph, John Ross,and  later Rezin Prather & others. The 1880 census shows these men living in close proximity, and the 1879 map also shows Duffy, Resin Prather (“R. Prater”)and Wesley Randolph (“W. Randolph), along with the church (“Brooke Ch”). Vachel Duffy’s name is mistakenly rendered as “Rachel Duffy”.

1879 Map

 Two of the maps I purchased from the Montgomery County Historical Society and another I bought for $35 online at a historic map company because I wanted a large full size one. I see the Maryland State Archives map collection has several in the 20th century I’d like to look at to see if I can better locate the old family house, which is no longer standing.

Have you had any luck with maps in your research yet?

Read Full Post »

Image from morninggloryjewelry.com

Slave and slaveowner research is not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure.

On top of all the genealogy methodology that you need to learn to do it well, there’s the emotional impact of simply looking at the documents that you have to deal with.

After 14 years, my heart still bleeds every time I see:

  • a will with “negro Sarah and her two children” in the same sentence with silverware
  • an older slave’s value being listed as “0” in an inventory after a lifetime of stolen service.
  • a slave being “divided” between heirs in a probate division, as if they can truly be split asunder,

I could list a hundred other examples that just make me sad for the human spirit.

But, we press on through all of this and keep reaching for each and every tidbit we can about our enslaved ancestors, or as I  like to think of it, ways to reclaim our kin. Every now and then, we inch forward. I’ve had quite a few interesting breakthroughs lately. I had to take a break because of my new son and I’m thinking maybe it’s because I’m able to look at some of my research with fresh eyes that I’ve had some recent successes.

I have been slowly (very slowly) working on finishing writing up all the research on all of my lines, and being sure to properly source cite them which is the most time-consuming part. It’s a good exercise because you can clearly see places where there are gaps in your research. While doing this for my Prather line, I noticed that I had not viewed all of the probate documents for the slaveowner’s family.

My Prather family is from Montgomery County, Maryland. We are descendants of Levi and Martha (Simpson) Prather; we had a reunion in 2009 of almost 200 people where we celebrated our heritage, laughed, ate & just had an all around great time. I had been frantically researching the line in preparation for the reunion, trying to research the enslaved roots of Levi. It was very, very difficult even with the terrific records available in Maryland and Montgomery County.

I found that Levi’s father was Rezin (Resin) Prather. You’d think both of those names would stick out in the records, but believe it or not, both names were popular in the area at that time and I found many African-Americans and whites with those same names. However, three things lead me to conclude that he is more likely than not Levi’s father:

1.       At age 70, Rezin is living in the household with Levi & Martha on the 1870 census.
2.       Levi and Martha named one of their sons Rezin.
3.       Rezin’s death in 1872 is noted in our Prather family bible.

1870 Census

Rezin was born around 1800, and writing the history had me thinking more and more about what his life had been like. At that point is when I discovered I had not researched all of the slaveowner’s family.

Rezin had been enslaved by Nathan Cooke prior to emancipation. Nathan was married to Elizabeth Magruder. Both of them died in 1869, but I finally pulled both their parent’s probate records. Sorting their families took forever–like many slaveowning families, they gave their children the same names and married first cousins and other close relatives. But once I did, I found gold: Elizabeth’s father was Zadock Magruder and he died intestate in 1809. In his inventory I found listed….a boy Resin, 7 years old!

Inventory clip

Many slaveowners gifted slaves to their daughters upon their marriages, or in their wills. Apparently, Rezin made his way to Zadock’s daughter’s household and was now the legal property of her husband, Nathan Cooke. Zadock’s inventory also contains the names of 2 young enslaved women, one of whom is likely Rezin’s mother (given his young age): Nelly or Milly. Zadock Magruder served in the Revolutionary War and there is a high school in Montgomery County today named after him.

This was a great find, just in time for my birthday. To just push it back that little bit further feels really, really good.

Read Full Post »

I’ve been given some gifts lately by the genealogy spirits. I think they are designed to gently ease me back into the fray after my maternity break of several months. This is another really good one.

I have made many connections over the years with relatives, as we discover we are both researching the same family or community. Last year, I spoke with a new cousin named Jahrod and we found we traced back to the same roots in Somerset County, Maryland. Recently, he shared with me an apparently new link that has recently been made available online. It’s a part of the Maryland Historical Trust, and it is an Inventory of Historic Properties in the state. It’s a beautifully designed website but the data is the true goldmine: all the original applications from historic places in Maryland have all been uploaded and are available to the public! Why did he send me this? I was up until 2:00AM. Trust me, when you have a new baby, that is NOT what you need to be doing..LOL. This is the homepage:

You can search by county, address, property or do a simple text search. Since I have two major ancestral counties in Maryland (Somerset and Montgomery) I was just in hog heaven.This is the search screen:

The beauty of these files is that many of them have pictures of the properties, which may not be standing today. There is good genealogical information as many have a chain of title for the deeds to the properties listed, maps showing specific locations, as well as a brief historical background. The quality of each application varies according to who filled it out. Some were sparse, and some ran more than 50 pages.

The jewel for Jahrod and I was that the entire community in Somerset County where our ancestors lived, which is called “Upper Hill”, was designated a historic site! Using these files, it is possible to recreate the entire neighborhood from right around the turn of the century. These forms were completed in the 1970s. One application mentioned one of my brickwall ancestors, the Rev. Daniel James Waters. He apparently owned land in Somerset County when he died intestate in Delaware in 1899. The land was awarded by circuit court decree to another man named John Waters. I have just ordered a copy of the court case, hoping that it will illuminate some relationship between the two men. I haven’t had a new breakthrough on this line in years.

The community of Upper Hill used to be referred to in the early 19th century as “Freetown”. This is likely a nod to the fact that the area was populated mostly by freed blacks, many of whom carried the surname Waters. The white Waters family was a large, multi-generational slaveowning family. A few members were Quakers and freed slaves in the early 1800s, including my ancestor Joshua Waters, who was the father of Daniel James Waters.

This database also had a large file on one of the houses of the slaveowning Waters family that is still standing. Lots of terrific history in that file. My friend Aaron over at In Honor of Our Ancestors told me last year that he found a file on the slaveowning family in a historical trust database. So I did a short walk around the web trying to see if a resource like this exists for other states. Pennsylvania, Texas, Ohio and Arkansas are just a few of the states that seem to have similar databases online. Here are some links you can explore at your leisure (especially the 2nd link):

The National Register for Historic Places (NRHP) has started to digitize their over 80,000 files
Their site also had a terrific link to other states’ inventories that may be online (GREAT list)

Virginia has a 72 page PDF file of its list of properties and the files themselves are available to view at the Library of Virginia. For Virginia, also check here.

North Carolina simply had a list of historical preservation links, may be something hidden here.
Same for South Carolina.
Every resource counts. In my case, this one gave me a significant lead on a brickwall ancestors as well as provided lots of good historical information for my various write-ups. Please email me if you search and are able to find something significant in these records!

 

Read Full Post »

The slavery period remains the one of the most difficult for African-Americans to research. Maybe this is why that period is a particular point of interest to me, and why I spend lots of time on this blog on that subject. Recently Family Tree Magazine did a very good article on another research tool I use often: Online Books (August 2010 issue).

I have found this to be very useful in researching slaveowners. The article points out 6 major sources:

  1. Ancestry.com (Stories, Memories and Histories)
  2. BYU Family History Archives (free)
  3. Google Books (free)
  4. HeritageQuest Online (only through subscribing libraries)
  5. Internet Archives (free)
  6. World Vital Records (paid subscription site)

I’ll show you a few examples.

I was researching possible slaveowners in Lawrence County, Alabama, specifically the Sherrod family. I went to Ancestry, their Stories, Memories and Histories Collection which I have marked as a Quick Link. Using their search template and searching on the name ‘Ben Sherrod’, I quickly pulled up the following book: “Recollections of the Early Settlers of North Alabama,” which was originally published in 1899:

Starting on page 233 was a fairly lengthy biographical sketch of the exact family of which I am interested in. The text doesn’t reproduce well here, but here is a page:

This gave me valuable clues and starting points; now I knew what dates to search for probate records. I was also able to understand the connections between the Sherrods and the other names I had seen on the 1870 census, especially the wive’s maiden names and father’s names which we all know also need to be checked as possible sources for slaves.

In the second example here, I used Google Books. I searched for the terms “Hyman” and “North Carolina” as that was the family of interest. This turned up the excellent book, “The Southern Debate Over Slavery: Petitions to Southern Legislatures, 1778-1864.” This book contained a petition from one of the slaves of the slaveowning family I was researching. He had a fascinating tale of his own, but he also provided details ( such as who he was owned by and sold to, when the person died, who the administrator was,  his master’s wishes for his freedom, etc.)that helped me reconstruct the family:

I searched World Vital Records (their Social, Regional and General Histories collection) on Michael Holt from North Carolina, voila, I found a 700+ page book entitled, “The Descendants of Michael Holt.” Keep in mind, however, that information for the family you need may be included in collateral lines covered in a book that is NOT in the title of the book, so be sure to do full-text searches when you can. The title of the book may just say “The Potters and Allied Families” and the surname focus of your search may be hidden in that ‘Allied Families’ referred to in the title.

Ancestry has a pretty good search function. I have to say both BYU and the Internet Archives websites do not have very good search functions, and will take considerably longer to search, although Internet Archive has a beautiful interface for actually reading books online. HeritageQuest, although only accessible through some libraries, has an excellent search function and downloadable PDF files of the books. Google Books, as we all should know by now, does not always provide views of the entire book, and doesn’t always allow easy download (I basically do screen captures when this is the case.)

It is true that the larger and more prominent slaveowners will be the best represented when searching, but that doesn’t mean there is no useful information on smaller slaveowners. There is. In the difficult quest for the slaveowning family, we’ve got to make diligent use of all resources at our disposal, and I rarely find the search in online books discussed or mentioned. I hope to encourage you to add this to your arsenal when researching locations and possible slaveowners.


Read Full Post »

Emancipation in DC: #DS_069H00HP from the NYPL Digital Library

I have been thinking lately about how many states and locations have unique record sets that can really give a boost to those doing slave research. For example, how slave births in Virginia are recorded from the year 1853, and how Maryland’s slave statistics name the last slaveowner as well as surnames for most slaves. They may not survive for every county within a state, but if they do, you’re in for a treat.

For those who had enslaved ancestors in Washington, D.C., a wonderful set of records exist. The National Archives has the following:

Records of the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia Relating to Slaves, 1851-1863 (M433)

-these rolls include emancipation, manumission papers, freedom affidavits, and fugitive slave case papers

Habeas Corpus Case Records of the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia, 1820-1863 (M434)

Both of these first two have very good information for those of us descended from slaves. Christine’s Genealogy website has indexed parts of several of these records on her website:

D.C. manumissions from M433

Index to habeas corpus cases

And, fugitive slave cases

An even more exciting set of records exist. D.C. enacted an Emancipation Act in 1862 where the federal government agreed to pay slaveowners up to $300 for each slave laboring in D.C. Slaveowners applied in droves. This created the record set:

Records of the Board of Commissioners for the Emancipation of Slaves in the District of Columbia (M520)

These  record sets include the petitions of each slaveowner to qualify under the terms of the Act. In most cases, they provided very detailed physical descriptions of the slaves, what kind of work they did, and amazingly enough, the circumstances of where and how they acquired each slave. Sometimes, that can take us years to discover, if we are ever able to discover it! They even oftentimes reveal those

Very precious relationships among enslaved ancestors that are so hard to come by. Even luckier for us, Dorothy Provine has published all of these record sin a wonderful book I just purchased, “Compensated Emancipation in the District of Columbia”. The book is available for purchase from Heritage books.This book is well worth the purchase price. Mrs. Provine also produced a volume called “District of Columbia Free Negro Registers, 1821-1861”.

A few examples will illustrate the richness of the records (these are abstracted, the originals are more detailed):

  • Petition of Alfred Y. Robinson, of PG County, MD for Edward Humphrey, age 35 or 40, mulatto….Robinson inherited him from his mother Elizabeth Robinson and has held him for over 30 years.
  • Petition of William Gunton, administrator for William A. Gunton, for two slaves, Joshua and Hennie. The late William A. Gunton purchased Joshua from William Tolson, Hennie was a gift from John B. Mullihan of PG County to his daughter upon her marriage to his son, William A. Gunton on June 20, 1848.
  • Petition of Mary A. Smoot, for two persons, Henry and Margaret. Smoot’s grandmother, the late Mrs. Mary B. Smoot, left these persons to her by a will that was recorded in D.C. in June 1857
  • Petition of Matthew McLeod, for Ellen Cole, age 51 or 52. He acquired title from the will of his mother-in-law, Mrs. Mary Manning of St. Mary’s County, and later the will of his deceased wife.
  • Petition of Anna Bradley for William and James (brothers). Bradley acquired title from her mother. William and James’ great-grandmother, Patty (!!!) was a slave of Bradley’s mother, Elizabeth Ann King, long since deceased. Her mother acquired Patty from John Hammond, her father (!!!), late of Annapolis, MD. Bradley states she also became the owner of Jenny, the daughter, and of Mary, the granddaughter of Patty (!!!). Mary was the mother of William and James and thus they have belonged to Bradley since their birth.

Aren’t these records incredible?? As you can see, many slaves were employed in D.C. but were owned by people living in Maryland and Virginia as well as a few other states. I found some important clues regarding several owners of my Montgomery County, MD ancestors, who also applied under the Act. Christine’s Genealogy Website also has an name index to these petitions on her website.

I hope if D.C. is one of your research areas (or someone you know) you will check these records out. And keep hope alive–a record set like this may open up one day for your state and county. We can always hope, right?

Read Full Post »

I know, I know, I have been gone too long! A short word of explanation. I recently celebrated my 40th birthday with a party and a week-long trip to Barbados (check out my tan!). I’m feeling whole and happy, and fortunate to be surrounded by friends and family who love me. I have a such a good life.  This has been a busy last few months, and I haven’t had as much time to blog as I’d like, but rest assured my genealogy passions still burn bright. My next class in Advanced African Amercian Genealogy starts April 20 at Howard Community College, if anyone is in the local area and interested.

I’ve been perusing Southern Claims Commissions records lately and rediscovering how fabulous they are. Footnote has put up many (not all) of the original images. The Southern Claims Commission was established in 1871 to receive and adjudicate claims by loyal Southerners for reimbursement of property damaged or taken (animals, food, housing, etc) by Union soldiers. The Commission received over 20,000 claims applications. Claims fell into three categories: approved, barred, or disallowed.

The claimant had to present proof of ownership of the it and also prove they had always been loyal to the Union cause. This proof was often in the form of depositions giving eyewitness accounts. These depositions include, many times, depositions from former slaves. Content of the files vary. Some have just a few pages and some run 20 or more pages long. Here are a few examples of what I’ve found interesting lately:

Cupid Hamilton, Beaufort County, SC
My name is Cupid Hamilton. [I am] 45 years old. I live at Wm Heyward’s plantation near Pocotaligo, Beaufort County, SC. I have lived here all my life. My business is farming…I was the slave of Mr. William Heyward. I became free at the end of the war. I carry on farming—plant principally rice. I owned the property charged in this claim before the war. I got the property after Hilton Head was taken by the United States. My master Mr. William Heyward gave me two horses and a wagon to make a living for myself and family as he could not afford us any longer. He said I could keep them my lifetime as he did not intend to carry on planting any longer. He is dead now. He died in Charleston of yellow fever in 1872. His grandson Mr. William Hankel was not present when he gave me the horses and the wagon, but he lives on the plantation now and I believe knows all about it…I was the waiting man of Mr. Wm Heyward on the plantation and when he left the place after Hilton Head was taken he gave me the two horses and the wagon and gave me [and] Moses Washington, the driver, also one horses and gave Alleck Wilson [?] the head carpenter one horse also for faithful services.

Coleman Sherrod, Lawrence County, AL
At the beginning of the war, I was a slave and belonged to Mrs. Tabitha Sherrod. I became free when Lincoln set us free by his Proclamation. I worked on the farm after I became free. I rented land from Mr. Shackelford. I bought the mule when I was slave. My owner allowed me to own a horse. Mr. Sam Shackelford allowed me the privilege to own a mule. I was with him under his control. I bought the mule from Mr. Gallahan a year or two before the war commenced. I gave him $164 or $165. Mr. Jack Harris and Oakley Bynum went with me to see me righted in the trade…they saw me pay the money. It passed through their hands to him, Mr. Gallahan. I got the money by trading. I was [a] carriage driver and [had] the privilege of trading.I paid $60 in gold which I got from Mr. John Houston for a horse I sold him….

Primus Everett, Halifax County, VA
During the war, I was the slave of Wm Everett, but lived with Mr. Alex Thompson to whom my wife belonged about seven miles east of the courthouse. For more than six months in the last year of the war I went off to North Carolina for fear of being put to work on the breastworks–I went of my own accord. I said nothing about it to my master…I was always a Union man. My simple reason was that I wanted to be free all the time & I belived the Yankees would set us free, and they did….I was hired to Mr. Thompson–he allowed me to keep all I could make over a certain fixed sum. I bought the horse with the proceeds of my own labor and raised the bacon.

Look all all the wonderful details about slave life that can be gathered from just these few examples. I think one of the biggest myths that need to be dispelled is this image of slavery as a monolithic enterprise. As evidenced here, some slaves worked on the task system and were allowed to keep their own money. There are also details given about the slaveowner’s family. I hope these examples will inspire you to look at these records if you haven’t already. Be sure to all categories–allowed, disallowed, and barred. Also, Ancestry. com has an index to these records on their website, while Footnote, as I mentioned before, has many of the original files. This website is a terrrific resource for more details about these records and how to research them.

You may not find your ancestor, but you may find other slaves owned by the same person. If not, research claims by others in the county. All this can give you more detail for a hard-to-research time period.

Read Full Post »

I finally got back to Tennessee after 5 long years! And what a trip it was. I just have to share some of the major highlights with you.

I flew into Memphis, TN and met in person not one but two cousins I had talked to on the phone a few years ago. Both Dianne and Leatha were kind and generous, and shared their family photos and funeral programs, which I handily scanned with my portable scanner & laptop. Here is a picture of me and my new cousins, after they treated me to a fabulous meal at the world famous Rendezvous bar-b-que restaurant:

Robyn and new Cousins

My cousin Leatha’s late husband was one of my Holt ancestors, and she shared many family documents that he saved. One of the most incredible was a Bible record of deaths (the bible was owned by his grandfather) that for the first time, listed my enslaved ancestor Malinda’s death! WOW.

Another Holt Bible

Later during my trip, I took pictures and video at the cemetery (Cawthon Cemetery in Hardin County, TN) where Malinda is buried along with many of her descendants:

Robyn with gggrandmother

Robyn with gggrandmother

After a night in Memphis, I drove the next day the two hours to Hardin County, and spent the rest of the day at the courthouse, where I would have one of the most mind-blowing discoveries of my entire 13 years of research. While perusing Chancery Court original loose files, I found a case where my two enslaved ggggrandparents, Mason and Rachel Garrett/Garrard, both gave depositions. This 200+ page file also included the names of their slaveowner and where he got them from (his wife’s father)! It had the slaveowner’s will and inventory (listing them and their children) and many, many many relevant details about that time and place.

Did I mention this had been one of my brick walls where I had been unable to find the slaveowners? Two other important points: they actually lived in the neighboring Decatur County,  but the plaintiff lived in Hardin so that was where the case was filed (thus, always look in neighboring counties!) And, although this file was started in 1870, it had information going back to 1854 (thus, researching post-emancipation files can lead you to the slaveowner).

The file involved a lawsuit between the daughter of the slaveowner and the administrator of her father and uncle’s estate. The suit lasted about 5 years. I’ve posted before about the value of court records, and yesterday I gave a well-received lecture at a local genealogy group about using court records to uncover the lives of slaves. Although these are not beginner records, when you’re ready, please do dive in!!! There are so many jewels to be found.

I spent two days in the ancestral birth town of my maternal grandparents, Hooker’s Bend, Tennessee (which is in Hardin County). I stayed with my lovely cousin Evelyn, and enjoyed the treat of her southern home cooking and charm. I visited several other cousins while I was there, and one even had a photo of my grandfather that I’d never seen before:

Luther Holt

Saturday I spent a few hours at the public library, where a kind courthouse worker allowed me to peruse old circuit court records (Thank you soooo much, Tammy) Then I headed 45 minutes away to Decatur County, TN to meet–yes, you guessed it–another new cousin, Emaline. We ate and laughed and shared information and I have to tell you again how gracious all of my extended family members are.

The trip closed out with me heading back to Memphis for one final evening with cousin Gloria. This was an A+-Super research trip and I came back enthusiastic, exhausted, but feeling blessed beyond belief.

I am still riding on the ancestor’s wings.

Read Full Post »

I have been researching Giles Holt for 13 years now. He enslaved my ancestor, Malinda Holt. I was reading a blog post by my genea-buddies Luckie and Sandra about how long you should research an enslaved ancestor. I’d had this thought many times about Malinda Holt. I concluded about a year ago that I may never find out where and how Giles acquired her. There’s simply a limit to the written records, and at some point, accepting this and being happy about what I had discovered seemed the right thing to do. I am in the late 1700s, early 1800s, and for many locales (unless you’re lucky enough to be in one of the original colonies) that’s the end of the road for written records.

We can find so much about our ancestors through probate and land records, tax records and court records, and many others. But the reality is that because slaves were considered personal property, they could also be purchased with no surviving record of their purchase. Perhaps there’s an entry in a slave trader’s logbook (a logbook that is no longer extant). Perhaps they were purchased at a slave auction, with no surviving record. The nature of slavery was so colossal and tragic. That feeling never escapes my mind for long.

There’s always the possibility that some clerk searching in a dusty courthouse closet will uncover a trove of unprocessed records, or some person’s passing will result in their family papers being donated to a university archives. Or, that sometime in the future, records closed to the public now will become open. Barring that (which I’ll always hold out hope for) I can be proud of the job I’ve done fleshing out Giles’ very complicated life and part of Malinda’s. I thought I’d share some of the things I discovered about Giles, and in particular what documents helped me in those discoveries.

Giles was born ca. 1790 in Amelia County, VA to Jesse and Mary Holt. At some point in the early 1800s he migrated to Smith County, TN, a popular migration route for the times. Tennessee was still considered “frontierland” and many sons wanted to head south/west and start their own fortunes. Giles was married by 1820, with a large family in Smith County, and still there in 1830. By 1840, he had moved further westward to Hardin County, TN, where he died in 1876. Giles served in the Union army, at odds with many of his sons who served in the Confederacy. He had between 11-15 children.

Because of the spareness of data census records during this timeframe, it was county level records that provided critical details about Giles’ life.

Early on in my research, descendants of the slaveowner provided me the info about his migration and possible parents (who knows how long that would have taken me to find out?) I had to gather the evidence, though, which took years. The hardest part when talking about migration is proving that the Giles Holt in Amelia County, VA is in fact the same Giles Holt in Smith and Hardin County, TN. A power of attorney, recorded in a deed book, helped tie my Giles’ to both his mother and the VA roots. Chancery court and probate records also helped greatly. We need to always be conscious of not assuming identity just because the person has the same name & age. I wrote up a Proof Summary on this dilemma, which helps to organize your analysis as well as the evidence you’ve gathered.

The other problem was the fact that there are other Holt families living near the Giles Holt family both in VA and TN. Deconflicting families is important to show that you are tracking the correct people. I had to show and prove that the families were in fact separate lines. Chancery court records, probate records and tax records helped me to do this. When another Giles Holt appears on the 1820 US census of the same age and family makeup, but living in Connecticut, I had to prove it was not my Giles Holt. I did that because I could show who his parents were (different) and when he died (different).

During this time, my Giles Holt married at least 4 times, divorcing at least once, possibly twice. The wives were difficult to figure–his first wife is never directly named in any document. I had to prove her existence using indirect evidence. None of his marriages had surviving records. However, I uncovered a premarital agreement and a divorce and criminal complaint (along with post 1850 censuses) that helped sort them out.

Several bills of sale listing slaves in 1843 and 1845 were important pieces in identifying Giles’ ownership of my ancestor. Malinda is not living far from Giles in 1870, and she died in 1881. I proudly (and unexpectedly) located her headstone in the local cemetery.

It is obvious to me that the critical period for Giles’ acquiring slaves was his time as a young man in Smith County, TN  while he was presumably growing his large family. He moved there with one slave (whom he later sold along with her 4 children), and by 1840 when he moved to Hardin County, he had 10 slaves. Unfortunately, Smith County, TN is one of those counties with many missing records. If there was once thing I really needed to go back on Malinda, it would be more available records in this locality during the early 1800s.

It’ s been quite a journey and I’m working on a lengthy article on Giles Holt to submit to the genealogy journal in Hardin County, TN.  I always wanted to find a picture of him, and it doesn’t seem as though one exists. Although I may never find anything documenting how Giles came to own Malinda, I do find solace in the knowledge that I’ve gone this far and brought back the voice and at least some of the details of an enslaved ancestor. I think Malinda would be proud;)

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 87 other followers