Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘My Family Research’ Category

It is amazing what can be discovered when you closely analyze and scrutinize your previous research. Sometimes it’s the fact that new records have become available that weren’t available before, and sometimes it’s that your skills are better than they were before. I am quite happy to be my own biggest guinea pig and continue to prove this mantra be true.

I periodically review my research, and in this case was reviewing Phillip Holt. Phillip was the brother of my 3rd great-grandfather John W. Holt in Hardin County, TN. Earlier in my research, I’d located Phillip and wife Louisa living in neighboring McNairy County, TN in 1880, but never found them again and considered that they had possibly died. Phillip had married a woman named Louisa who had been enslaved on a neighboring farm; her maiden name was McClain. You can see her mother Lucinda living with the couple and their kids in the census below:

1880 Phillip Holt

That dreaded 20-year gap between 1880 and 1900 is a notorious black hole where ancestors can easily be lost. That’s enough time for kids to be born and out of the house and you’d never know they existed at all. As always, we’ve got to be in the business of assessing correct identities, and not just matching names.

Now, years ago I had found this 1900 census record in yet another TN county, Madison:

1900 Phillip Holt

I had quickly dismissed this as not being the right man for two reasons: the wife was Lula instead of Louisa (which really shouldn’t have thrown me off) but more importantly, the mother-in-law listed was Emma Rodgers, which led me to believe this woman’s maiden name was Rodgers.

It’s good that I decided to look at this more closely. I will say that the fact that TN Death certificates are now online (through 1959) is what ultimately solved the puzzle: I was able to find a death certificate for this “Lula” Holt in 1931, and it confirmed that her mother’s name was indeed Lucinda McClain.

Lula Holt Death Cert

My analysis before was too quick to assume that the information I was viewing on the 1900 census was correct; turns out it was not. Who knows what caused the error, but the fact remains that Emma Rodgers was simply not Phillip Holt’s mother-in-law.
I’m really excited that Phillip has “come back from the dead.” I was able to isolate his timeframe of death, and track a few more of his children through 1930. Also, Jackson, TN is a larger city than some of the other places in which the family lived and I’m hoping to eventually find more tidbits on him, or better yet, some descendants.

Read Full Post »

Sometimes I just don’t take my own advice. Or, rather it just takes me longer these days to actually do it.

My ggrandmother Georgia Harris’ line has always been problematic for me. Awhile ago, I made some headway in tracing her roots not in Jacksonville (Duval County) Florida, as oral history said, but in Madison County, over 100 miles west of Jacksonville. I was able to find her in a previous marriage and discover she had other children. I also found Georgia’s mother, Matilda, her stepfather, Perry Davis, and sister Ruth also in Madison. After that, the trail ran dry. I really wanted to find out whatever happened to Georgia’s mother, Matilda.

I decided one day last week to research Georgia’s only known sibling, Ruth Harris. Familysearch (don’t you just love them?) listed a marriage between Ruth Harris and a man named “Nish Torence” in 1910. Hmm. A search for his (thankfully) odd name in the 1920 census found the couple living in…drum roll…Philadelphia, Pennsylvania!

The names are mangled, but I’ve been around enough to know its them. And who is living with them? Drum roll #2…Ruth (and Georgia’s) mother Matilda!

1920 Philadelphia

In 1930, they had moved yet again and were living in Camden, New Jersey. By then, Nish was remarried to a woman named Mary (Baity), and had several more children.

1930 Camden

A couple of thoughts. I am still surprised that so many of my ancestors moved around as much as they did. They are all over the place. And that’s a major reason many of us lose the trail. I see Nish worked on the railroad, so perhaps that was the reason behind their move. I get extra happy when they move to a big city from a rural area, because that usually means more  and better records. I am now focusing in on Philadelphia, between 1920-1930, and *hoping* to be able to find death certificates for Ruth Harris and Matilda Davis.

From the SSDI, it appears that Nish lived in Camden until he died in 1970. Another online gift for me was his World War II Draft, which confirmed this is the right family:

World War II

Since I had the address, I went on Google Maps and found a picture of the home–it’s the one in the center:

826 S. 8th Street

I am *hoping” also to try to find some Torrence descendants that may still live in Camden. This would be phenomenal since I’ve never met anyone even remotely associated with this line. To have some new cousins would be very cool.

I’m still wondering why I didn’t find this sooner–as many times as I have told my students, “when you get stuck, search sideways, search the siblings!”. I am still thrilled. One of my favorite roommates in college was from Camden. Anybody out there in Philly or Camden want to do some research for me in those city directories, let me know.

Read Full Post »

I recently had one of those amazing moments in genealogy that reaffirmed my belief that I was meant to this work, called to do this work, by forces beyond my comprehension.

I posted awhile ago about breaking through a brick wall using black newspapers. I had been stuck trying to trace my ancestor James Holt. I am really trying to find all the branches of the Holt family that left the area of Hardin County, Tennessee, and there were lots that left at various times & planted roots elsewhere.

Recently I was contacted by the granddaughter of that man, James Holt. She had been searching for her roots online and found me. We had a tearful & joyous conversation, as we shared stories about our lives and our historical paths. I had reclaimed another family member.

It gets even better. She shared wonderful photos of James M. Holt & his family. My heart leapt as I gazed upon this ancestor of mine who had left Tennessee, the son of an enslaved woman, and blazed a trail across the states (and I mean literally, in each census he is living in a different place) as a successful Methodist minister. Then he attended law school in Mississippi and practiced as a very successful lawyer in Indianapolis. One of the photos below shows him, I assume, in his law office surrounded by legal books.

James Holt & Family

The story didn’t end there. After talking more, I realized that one of my unidentified photos may have been her father. This is mainly because of her description of him as a police officer. And of course, yes–it turned out to be him! She was thrilled to have a photograph she had not seen before, and I couldn’t believe this obscure photograph I hadn’t looked at in years turned out to be him. Another unidentified kin–reclaimed. This experience just warmed by heart, and affirmed for me why I love genealogy so much.

Ferdinand Holt

Read Full Post »

Have you been sure to check for social security applications for all the women in your family? I have been surprised at the number of women I have been able to find who had SSNs. And look at the wonderful little tidbits of information provided. In the one below for “Cora Holt” , the “OK” in parenthesis meant that her mother lived in Oklahoma.

And the one below is just like my great-grandmother Beatrice: ever the detailed one. Look at all the extra data on this document.

One more for Grace Howard:

Have you found many SS5 cards for women in your trees?

Read Full Post »

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!

Read Full Post »

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;)

Read Full Post »

I posted last week about my grandfather, William John Smith, who owned several pharmacies in Jacksonville, FL in the 1940s and 50s. I posted a picture of one of his stores:

A Willie Smith store

Well, he also ran a distributorship for Adolph’s Beauty Products, and sold their products wholesale at his stores and out of his home.

Guess who was the model for this line of business? His wife Pauline. If you look closely at the picture, you will see her mural painted big as day on the front of the store.

Pauline's mural

As a child, and even today, I always thought that was hugely romantic. Can I just tell you if my husband had my picture on the front of his store, I would be driving by every day to show all my friends? The town would be sick of me! LOL.

So, to Bill & Pauline..you make me sentimental.

Read Full Post »

This post is about the grandfather I never got a chance to meet because he died when I was two years old.

William (or Bill as he was called) was born on October 6, 1914 in Jacksonville, Florida. He was born into a working class family and lived in a poor neighborhood on the eastside of Jacksonville. He attended the public schools of the city, and in the picture below, he is shown as a young boy at the Midway school.

William Smith, dead center

His father, John, had migrated from Georgia at some point in the early 1900s and secured what would have been a good job at the Mason Lumber Company as a fireman. The company even sold him his house. Bill’s mother, Georgia Harris, died of pneumonia when he was a 23-year old man.

Bill and car

Bill seems to have always had an entrepreneurial spirit, and at the age of 9, he started running errands for a local pharmacy. He later worked at another pharmacy owned by a Jewish man, called Bernie’s Pharmacy, and the two would share a lifelong friendship. Bill eventually worked himself up to where he could manage and run the entire pharmacy. This must have been exciting for him, to make a little money. In this picture on the right, he is a young man and posing in front of a car he had purchased.

Bill met my grandmother, Pauline Waters, while she was a first year teacher at the Methodist run Boylan School, a private school in Jacksonville for negro girls. She was one of three new black teachers at the school, and they were allowed to invite a local social group in for group discussions. The group was called “The Revellers”, and it just so happened that Bill was President of that group.

Bill is center bottom

Pauline was a staunch Christian, a minister’s daughter, and did not suffer fools. She had a very regal air about her, which comes through in this comment about Bill in her autobiography:

“I don’t know why Bill was so gone on me except by God’s leading because I was not the most attractive of the group. Let me say, however, that in all of my life I was never without at least one admirer and I never had to go get any one of them. I only made an effort to be charming, intelligent and sweet at all times…I had self-esteem all right and not more than I should have…Bill courted me three years and married me in the summer of 1938 on the lawn of my father’s Methodist Parsonage.”

Pauline

Bill was clearly gone on Pauline. My grandmother saved a cache of love letters written between them in the years before and right after marriage. Bill says:

“Dearest Sugar Pie, I’m proud of the fact that such a darling girl as you is going to be my wife. Gosh, I feel silly looking forward to an event of this nature…”

“Pauline, I think about you every 1/1000th of a second…”

“Honey my love for you is again and again…”

Bill promised to work hard and make a good life for them and he fulfilled that promise. By the late-1940s, Bill had two pharmacies of his own, affectionately known around town as the Willie Smith stores. My father grew up working in those stores. Bill became a popular fixture in black Jacksonville of that era, known as being a hard-working (7 days a week) and generous man, and was often mentioned in the local newspaper. He was a trustee at Ebenezer Methodist Church, a member of Omega Phi Psi, on the board of directors for the Urban League, a president of the Jacksonville Negro Business League, and one of the founders of the colored YMCA.

A Willie Smith store

Bill with workers

News article

From Article

He did so well for the family, that they were able to afford a beach house at American Beach, which was the colored beach in Jacksonville. He was known for being extremely charitable, and would give money and time to those in need. He was a close friend of Eartha MM White, a woman who, along with her daughter Clara, reached national fame for her accomplishments. To say that Bill Smith was utterly beloved by the community would not be an overstatement.

Bill the minister

My father and uncle remember their father Bill as a man who worked all the time, and provided well for his family. Consequently, they don’t recall having too many conversations with him, which is why my father has always believed in having lots and lots of talks with me and my siblings. By the late 1960s, the heyday of the stores had passed and a depressed economy led to their closure. Undaunted, my grandfather began a second, though brief, career as a minister. That’s his wife Pauline’s work, I guarantee you.

I grew up knowing 3 of my grandparents, so this 4th one has always been a larger than life figure to me. I am fortunate to have not only a short biography he wrote about himself, but also his wife’s autobiography, and my dad, uncle and mother’s first-hand recollections. How I would have loved to know him.

I’ll close with a scene whose memory still moves my father to tears. Bill’s funeral, of course drew most of black Jacksonville out to say their final goodbyes. During the wake, after it had cleared out, an unknown woman appeared and walked up to the casket. She looked down at Bill, closed her eyes and sighed. My dad had no idea who this woman was, and when he walked up to her, she simply said.

“Your daddy was such a good man.”

Bill Smith

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 »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 80 other followers