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Posts Tagged ‘martha simpson’

Historic Brooke Grove, now Agape AME

Historic Brooke Grove, now Agape AME

Well, last week I tried to make the best of being furloughed (fortunately I’m back at work) by doing some genealogy. I’d been wanting to re-visit one of my Prather family’s historic cemeteries in Montgomery County, MD, not far from where I live. The church was historically called Brooke Grove Methodist Church, and is on Maryland’s Inventory of Historic Properties. I discussed how useful these types of databases can be in a previous post.

Brooke Grove was started after the Civil War by a group of former slaves, several of whom had been enslaved together. Some were my Prather ancestors. Generations of the black community in this area are buried at this church. It’s a beautiful, peaceful place, with large oak trees, only interrupted by modern development. I can only imagine what it was like then.

View 1

View 1

View 2

View 2

Heritage Montgomery published a wonderful PDF brochure recently on the African-American churches of Montgomery County; Brooke Grove is described on page 23.

I hadn’t been to the cemetery since about 2009. It was a gorgeous sunny day when I went last week, and I knew so much more now about the community and the people. I could search with brand new eyes and I saw connections everywhere. Years ago when I visited, the headstone for my ggrandparents Levi Prather and Martha Simpson had broken apart:

Old Headstone

Old Headstone

At our family reunion later that year, I suggested we collect donations for a new headstone. I finally got to see it and it looks great!

New Headstone

New Headstone

Part of the purpose of my visit is that I wanted to put into practice some of Elizabeth Shown Mills’ guidance in her quicksheet, “The Historical Researchers Guide to Cluster Research.” I have used the clustering technique many times in my research successfully, but Ms. Mills gave many more examples of its use that I’ll probably spend a lifetime trying to do. Her quicksheet suggests using it at cemeteries. It’s the technique of noticing who is buried near your ancestor, especially those with different surnames. They probably are relatives.

Martha Simpson , from the headstone above, had several siblings buried nearby. The surname “Simpson” made them easy to notice:

Simpson Sibs

Simpson Sibs

Right behind these Simpsons headstones, were the headstones of Nicholas McAbee and his wife “H.Leannah”:

McAbee Headstone

McAbee Headstone

At the time I didn’t know it, but “H. Leannah” was Harriet Leannah Simpson, the sister of my ancestor Martha and wife of Nicholas. It makes sense that they were buried right behind the other Simpsons; the cluster was here at work. There were several McAbee women buried near Nicholas and likely related to him:

Other McAbees

Other McAbees

Here are Howard Prather and his wife Rosie’s headstones:

Howard and Rosie

Howard and Rosie

Right next to Rosie’s headstone is that of Elijah Lancaster:

Elijah Lancaster

Elijah Lancaster

Elijah was Rosie’s father; if you didn’t know her maiden name, the cemetery held a big clue.

I began to map out the cemetery on a few sheets of paper and I got about halfway through before I ran out of energy. There are clearly hundreds more buried at the cemetery than have surviving headstones today.

What adventures have you had at the cemetery lately? The next time you go, study the “cluster”; write down the names of those buried nearest your ancestors. Those individuals could very easily be the parents or family of the wife, or sisters hidden under their married names.

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I am in a state of genealogic shock.

My ancestor Martha Simpson was the wife of Levi Prather. I’ve been working hard in past years trying to unravel the complicated slave relationships in the Prather family of Montgomery County, Maryland. Finding Levi’s slaveowner was hard work, so I hadn’t focused much on Martha yet. Just recently, I’d started thinking perhaps Martha was freed before 1864 (Maryland’s state constitution in that year freed its slaves).

I’d been able to locate a sister of Martha’s (Leanna) and a brother (James) as freedpeople in 1860, so it was logical to think that Martha perhaps had been freed as well. But there was a better reason for my suspicion: we are fortunate to have a few pages of the Prather family bible, noting exact dates births and deaths of some of the Simpson family:

Bible Page

Bible Page

When I started to really analyze these pages, it occurred to me that it would be unlikely that enslaved people would have known exact birthdates dating from the 1840s. So, I did a search for Martha Simpson in 1860, and voila, that name pulled up living in a white Warfield family—but in neighboring Howard County instead of Montgomery County:

1860 Martha

1860 Martha

The Howard County location surprised me, although it shouldn’t have. We are always supposed to examine neighboring counties. I still wasn’t sure this was MY Martha, even though the age matched. But here is yet another example of how use of the clustering technique can be helpful (i.e., looking for groups of people associated with your ancestors). I knew from studying Martha and Levi’s 1870 census neighborhood in Montgomery Cty that they lived right smack dab in the middle of a bunch of black people with the surname–can you guess?– Warfield. So Martha living with a family of that surname made me feel like I was onto something. I decided to see if Martha was there in 1850, and Oh My Goodness. There they were, Martha and several of the siblings listed in my bible page—nice and neat and living as freedpeople in Howard County in 1850! Even better—they are with (presumably) their mother Louisa. The actual image is bad, so I will transcribe the entry:

Louisa Simpson, 33
Harriet L [Leanna], 11
Mary E, 9
James W, 7
Joseph W, 5
Martha J, 4
Minta L, 3 [?]

I have just found another ancestor and extended my tree with the name of ‘Louisa.’ This was an odd case in that I knew the name of the father–Perry Simpson–and it was in fact the mother’s name who had been lost to history. He may have been still enslaved in 1850, and perhaps that is why his name is not shown in the household.

Chills ran up my spine when I saw this census record for another reason: I live in Howard County! To think that my ancestors lived near where I live now over 150 years ago is just earth-shattering for me. But wait—it gets better. Howard County was formally organized relatively late—1851—from Anne Arundel County. Both Anne Arundel and Howard County have some combination of freedom certificates, manumission and chattel records available on the Archives of Maryland website. Just, WOW. It almost gets no better than that.

Doing an online search of these records, I discovered a manumission from one Ann Dorsey dated August 1816, of the following enslaved people:

Lyd, age 30
Harriot, age 11
William, 10
Mary, 7
Belinda, 5
Eliza, age 3
**Louisa, 18 months

Witnesses to this transaction were Gustavus Warfield and Humphrey Dorsey. It is possible the “Louisa” in this list, who is a baby, could be the same Louisa found in the 1850 census who is the mother of my Martha Simpson. Of course, I’ve got alot of work to do onsite in repositories before I can conclude that because we all know nothing thorough can be done online. My first task is to figure out which Ann Dorsey this was, since this was a large, prominent Maryland family and there were Anns all over the place. For right now, I suspect it was the Ann whose maiden name was —Warfield.

I have also gathered that this enslaved community likely had roots in many of the “first families” of Anne Arundel and Howard County: Dorsey, Worthington, Simpson, Warfield, Chase, Hall, etc. Many former slaves with those surnames are living in the community near my Prathers in Montgomery County in the 1870s. I was also fortunate to find at GoogleBooks a downloadable copy of The Founders of Anne Arundel and Howard Counties” written by Joshua Dorsey Warfield in 1905. There is a phenomenal amount of information in this book, and I’m just beginning to sift through it.

This is such a rewarding and absolutely thrilling discovery. I haven’t been speechless in a long time. Martha was here–right under my nose the whole time.

Martha Simpson Prather

Martha Simpson Prather

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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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