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Posts Tagged ‘Mattie Holt’

Mattie_bsuit2Today I celebrate the life of my maternal grandmother, Mattie Mae (Springer) Holt. She would have been 92 years old on May 17 had she lived. Although my family has had to do without her physical presence for 13 years now, her influence and spirit lives on in us all.

Mattie was born in 1921 in rural southwestern Tennessee, and she had 7 siblings who survived to adulthood. Her parents worked hard to provide a good life for their family. Her father sharecropped, worked on steamboats and eventually landed what would have been considered a good government job at the Oak Ridge, TN plant, site of the infamous Manhattan Project. Her mother, Effie, was a caring homemaker. My grandmother was the only one of my grandparents I was fortunate to have interviewed and she shared wonderful memories of her childhood. Those interviews, especially looking back today, were a real gift: you don’t think of your grandparents as having once been children themselves. She talked about her father telling the kids ghost stories at nighttime, about attending camp meeting at church, and how although her older siblings picked cotton, she never did. She was proud of that.;) She explained how families wouldn’t have meat for the winter unless they had a hog to kill, and hog-killing was a big celebration in Tennessee that brought the whole community together.

My grandmother finished about 2 years at Tennessee State University, which was quite an opportunity for her generation. She would go on to marry my grandfather, Luther Holt and move to Dayton, Ohio. True to the patterns of the Great Migration, three of her siblings and eventually her mother Effie were all brought to Dayton to live, many working in the Delco factories of the GM plant. Whatever its shortcomings, in Dayton my mother and aunt were able to grow up free of the legalized segregation that was the experience of most African-Americans during this era.

In Ohio, trailblazer that she was, Mattie earned her real estate license and excelled at this male dominated occupation that required charisma, intellect and tenaciousness. I remember thinking my grandmother was a glamorous celebrity because she had an endless array of fur coats, wigs, jewelry and fabulous clothes for me to play in. She fiercely protected and loved her daughters, and she and my grandfather were able to provide all of their girls with college educations. She had a gleaming black Cadillac (her sister had a silver one) and I would ride around with her to collect rent from various properties she owned–I felt so important! She was a businesswoman way back even then. I’ve heard that she enabled many blacks at that time to buy their first homes and also connected them with a Jewish friend of hers who owned a store and would let them to buy furniture and appliances on credit. That may seem like a small thing, but it was a necessary step on the march towards blacks living the American Dream.

Mattie Holt

Mattie Holt

We all called her “Mama”, grandchildren as well. She was smart and funny and loved to keep up with the news and issues of the day–I have this memory of her always listening to the Joe “The Black Eagle” Madison show, on the AM dial here in Maryland. She enjoyed politics. She had a confidence and independence that allowed her to live life on her own terms no matter what “society” thought about it–very ahead of where women were in those days. I’m pretty sure I inherited this trait. She wore the most outrageous wigs in every color and mini-skirts, bikinis–her clothing was entirely out of sync with typical more conservative older women from the South! Everyone you’d interview today will still remember Mattie Holt and her clothes. I think for her it really was an expression of her truest self.

She divorced after 20-some odd years of marriage, a rare thing for a woman of her era to do. And went happily about her life. She and my grandfather later in life became very good friends and she was buried beside him. That kind of bravery and courageousness left a powerful impact on my consciousness as I grew into a young woman. Today, of her three youngest grandchildren, one is in college and the other two will be graduating high school soon. My son Sebastian would have been her first great grandchild. She left a long trail of love in this family and we remember all the gifts she left us. I hope she is looking down with a smile.

 Mama, I am missing you & thinking about you on your 92nd birthday~

Your granddaughter Robyn

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

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

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

wife Ada Seaman

Wow. Gotta remember those darn censuses contain secondary information.

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

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

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

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

Genealogists can be some of the best people!

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Wordless Wednesday

I love this picture. It shows my grandparents on the left (Luther and Mattie Holt) going to a Halloween party in January 1958 with the neighbors. Great costumes, right?

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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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