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Posts Tagged ‘Hardin County Tennessee’

All of us know about the horrid history in this country of slavery, racism, white supremacy, Jim Crow and the types of discrimination that persist to this very day. Violence was at the core of those systems. Without violence, those systems couldn’t exist. Far from being passive or willing subjects, African peoples and their descendants fought back in myriad ways (so did Native Americans). That’s why slave rebellion plots were often dealt with by using ever-increasing levels of depravity, such as burning bodies and cutting off heads.

The practice of lynching is what I call the original American brand of terrorism. I see a clear difference in these types of murders; they were meant to send a message to the community and to elicit a set of behaviors that maintain white rule. This is evident in the detailed files on  lynching that the NAACP kept (and their subsequent push for legislation), as well as the efforts of brave journalists like Ida B. Wells-Barnett. It must have been a frightening time in general, but especially to our ancestors who risked their lives to try to vote, buy land, educate blacks or any of the other things that whites believed looked too much like being an actual citizen. I am glad I live in a time and place where I can have friends and family of all colors, ethnicities, religious beliefs and pretty much anything else.

Early in my research, oral history from Tennessee ancestors noted the lynching of one of my Holt ancestors. Never did I think I would find documented proof, but I did. The local paper, which in the 1880s and 1890s was replete with mentions of race riots and lynchings in other parts of the country wrote the following in May, 1887:

“George Holt, col., who lived near Sibley met his fate by the rope route last Friday.”

George Holt

I was shocked by the sarcasm and  brevity of it, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. They had the audacity to write “Suicide” as the header, which of course it was not. George, I later discovered, was the brother of my gggrandfather John W. Holt. He owned hundreds of acres of land at the time of his death, and he had a young wife and children. This was a  rural West Tennessee community that never had a large black population. Though slavery and racism existed, this small African-American community must have been rocked and terrified y the act of terror. The reasons for the lynching are lost to time, although some of George Holt’s descendants believe it had to do with a dispute over his land.

Did he know his assailants? How did his family go on after that? I don’t know how. Do you leave the area? How do you rebuild? Is revenge ever an option? His brother John W. became one of the most prominent blacks in the county– land wealthy, a merchant and former Postmaster. But even his own brother was not untouchable. How did John react? I am in awe of their strength and endurance.

These are questions for which I’ll never know the answer. Our ancestors take many of their secrets with them, never to be discovered. Years ago, while searching through the local black cemetery in the community, I dug through the bushes and came face-to-face with George Holt’s headstone. I remember the vines and roots had come out of the ground and were wrapped around the headstone, eerily reminiscent of the way he died. I got chills up my spine. When I find that picture (one of those prehistoric pre-digital pictures) I will post it here.

Today, I am remembering George Holt and all the others, named and unnamed, who met their fate “at the hands of persons unknown.” May they rest in eternal peace.

PS—Check out the Project HAL database—Historical American Lynchings

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My ancestor Malinda Holt was enslaved by Giles Holt of Hardin County, Tennessee. Giles enslaved her along with one other woman, named Judy (sometimes written Julia) Holt. Both woman had multiple children of around the same ages. Although I will probably never know whether or not Malinda and Judy were actually sisters, I have decided to track Judy’s children as my relatives because it is obvious that their children had close kinship ties and considered each other family. I did a post sometime ago about Judy’s son James and his amazing life story. This rough chart shows each woman and their children:

One (of the many) wretched things about slavery is that often we trace back to that elusive female, listed as head of household in 1870 and we find no hint of a man. Our climb through the tree stops—there is no other branch to trace. Particularly if the children have light complexions, we wonder whether our ancestor was one of the millions who conceived children by white men in the community. We all know that slaves formed families with enslaved neighbors, but this relationship can be difficult to uncover if they are not found living together in 1870.

As I tracked Judy Holt’s children, a delightful surprise emerged. Judy’s son Henry Holt died during the Civil War, while he was a member of the 55th US Colored regiment. His mother Judy’s subsequent application for a pension in 1887 provided me with details of her children’s names and (approximate) birthdates. One of the depositions, from fellow soldier Richard Kendall, also included this little gem:

Richard “was well-acquainted with Henry Holt and knew his family. I do not know whether his father is dead or alive. His name [was] Sam Dixon.”

At last I found evidence of Judy’s relationship with a (presumably) black man. But where was he? For years I couldn’t find him because of my utter inability to be very creative with name spelling variations. But looking through Hardin County probate records recently led me to the will of one Elizabeth Dickson (note the spelling). That rang a bell in my mind, and sure enough, among the legacies she left to her daughter Jane was this:

“and she is to have my black man Samuel while…she lives single”

Racing back to Ancestry, there he is: Samuel Dickson in 1870, in the town of Savannah, right where he should be, and the right age, although he appears to be married to Lucinda now. Or perhaps Lucinda is a daughter.

1870 Sam Dickson

I got even luckier (I think its all luck at this point) when Judy also included in her pension file the fact that her daughters Sarah and Frances were both now surnamed “Davy”. Using that surname, I found, Judy’s daughter Frances’ (nicknamed Fannie) death certificate in 1917. Guess who was listed as her father? Sam Dickson.

Fanny Davey

While there is no way to know exactly how many of Judy’s children were fathered by Sam, the fact that I was able to uncover evidence for two of her children is pretty amazing. This is also a good example of using the technique of cluster research, to expand your vision and research the group of people surrounding your direct ancestors. The hunt for elusive enslaved fathers continues.

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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 can’t go totally wordless:  Hardin County, Tennessee, Holtsville School, ca. 1912. My great-grandmother, Vannie Lee Harbour is the girl on the far right, middle row with the great big bow on her head.

Holtsville School

Holtsville School

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