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When I first discovered that my enslaved ancestor’s name was Rezin Prather, I thought, “What an odd name. I’ll easily be able to find him.” Guess what? Turns out it was a very popular name in Montgomery County, Maryland, for everybody. There were several African-American “Rezin Prathers” floating around the county and in Washington, D.C. This situation makes genealogical mistakes easier to make, since people are prone to connect ancestors when they share the same name and live in the same place. It was important for me to finally “sort out all the Rezins” in order to ensure that I was connecting identities properly.

I began with various census records, vital records, deed records and military records as evidence for the different men, and oh of course their names, first and last, were spelled in a million different ways. I will spell them all here as “Rezin,” for simplicity. I had documents I collected online, but I had done most off this research offline.

My ancestor Rezin Prather was born in about 1800-1803 and was found presumably living with his son Levi in 1870. He is most certainly the same Rezin Prather who “departed this life” on Jan. 8, 1872 as lovingly stated in the family bible. He is the only Rezin found with that birth date.

I believe that this “elder” Rezin Prather likely had at least three sons: Levi, Wesley and Tobias Prather, who all lived in the same community, and diligently passed their names down to their children. Looking at the assortment of records, I compiled a list of birthdate ranges. They describe at least 6 different men:

b. 1800-1803 (the elder)
b. 1840-1845
b. mid 1860s
b. 1866-68
b. 1876
b. 1881-1882

I found five marriage records in the area for men named Rezin Prather:

In Montgomery County:
Rezin Prather married Albina Riggs, 4 March 1867
Rezin Prather married Elizabeth Brown, 10 June 1886
Rezin Prather married Annie Simpson, 13 August 1889

In Washington, DC:
Rezin Prather married Rosetta Bowie, 18 April 1900
Rezin Prather married Ella M. Butcher, 26 May 1902
Rezin Prather married Annie D. Stewart, 19 April 1911

Here’s a summary of my analysis:

1) My great-grandmother’s brother Rezin Joseph was born ca. March 1881-1882. He never married nor had any children.  He must be the 19-year old “outlier” shown below in the 1900 census living in the Brown household and he can be tracked until his death in
1960:

Rezin Joseph

Rezin Joseph

2) From oral history, I knew that Wesley Prather’s son Rezin was the same 25-year old Resin Jr. already married to Albina Riggs and raising two children in 1880, living just one page over from his father. The two men can further be connected by their occupation as carpenters. This Rezin was born around 1845. He had the middle initial “R.”:

1880, Rezin "R"

1880, Rezin “R”

3) A 1900 census for an “R.R. Praither” in Camden, New Jersey sparked suspicion. He was born Nov. 1844 in Maryland, and was living with wife “Mary. E.” and three children. He was a minister. When he died in 1903, his body was shipped back to Maryland, and the death certificate verified his father’s name as “Wesley Praither.” That means he is the same man who had first married Albina. This Rezin secondly married Elizabeth Brown in 1886 in Washington, D.C. What about the wife called “Mary E.” in 1900? His wife’s name (as confirmed by city directories) was Mary Elizabeth Brown.

1900, Rezin "R"

1900, Rezin “R”

4) A World War I draft card identified a “Rezin Singleton Prather” born 1876. His name was garbled and transcribed incorrectly, but I found him living in Washington, D.C. I finally noticed that one of Rezin R. and Albina’s sons was called “Singleton” in the 1880 census (see above), born 1876. Thus, Rezin R. Praither, the preacher from Maryland who died in New Jersey, had a son he named Rezin Singleton who lived his life here in Washington D.C. That son married Ellen Butcher in DC (called Elnora below). He is further traced by his occupation as a waiter.

Rezin Singleton

Rezin Singleton

5) The last connection is where it gets tricky. The Rezin Prather who married Annie Simpson in 1889 is never found on any census. Annie was probably dead by 1900, when her two children –Ethel and Wilson –were living with their grandparents. Annie was also referred to in her father’s will as “Annie Simpson Prather.” What’s unclear is whether or not Rezin Prather survived his wife.

The Rezin who married Rosetta Bowie in 1889 was found in D.C. in 1900. His occupation was “sexton.” Rosetta Prather died on 28 May 1908.  Analysis revealed that the Rezin who married Annie and the Rezin who married Rosetta—both born 1860s– must be two different men. The first was already married to Rosetta at the time the second married Annie; Rosetta did not die until 1908.

1900, Rezin and Rosetta

1900, Rezin and Rosetta

A 1910 census intensified the mystery. A widowed 42 year old Rezin Prather was living in D.C, in a household with his sister “Hester Prather.” Ethel and Wilson Prather, who had been living with their grandparents, are in his household and called “lodgers.”

1910, widowed Rezin in DC

1910, widowed Rezin in DC

The only person who had a daughter named Hester who could have had a son born in mid 1860s is Tobias Prather. And I believe he is probably the same Rezin who had been first married to Rosetta. Had he been the one married to Annie, Ethel and Wilson should have been labeled as his children, not lodgers. Another clue was his occupation as a “janitor” in a church. That’s awful close to what a sexton does, which was the occupation of the man who was married to Rosetta. This man was still in DC in 1922, according to city directories, working as a janitor.

This “other” Rezin Prather, born in the mid 1860s–the one who first married Annie Simpson–went on to marry Annie D. Stewart in 1911. He was found on the 1920 and 1930 census records living as a farmer in Montgomery County. I do not know who this man’s father was, but I hope to find his death certificate, since he lived well into the mid-20th century. I think he was the 14-year-old “outlier” in 1880:

1880, Rezin age 14

1880, Rezin age 14

Is your head spinning yet? I hope that you too will consider trying to track identities if you have several people living in the same area with the same name. Here are some of the important takeaways I discovered from this exercise:

*Watch out for “outlier” children and teens, especially in 1880 and 1900. Black people are frequently living in other households as servants or lodgers and not in their parent’s households. It can easily cause you to miss children who should be in a family unit.

*Be aware of middle names and initials. I often find people using their middle name in one document and their first name in another.
I have posted before about the need to be on the lookout for multiple marriages. They can impede our ability to discern between one person and two.

*Use occupations, addresses, city directories and deed records to help properly merge identities. Sometimes city directories add spouses in parenthesis, which is extremely helpful.

My chart after analysis looks like this:
b. Born 1800-1803: “elder” Rezin Prather, d. 1872
b. Born 1840-1845: Rezin R., mrd Albina and Elizabeth, died in NJ, minister
b. Born early 1860’s: This Rezin married Rosetta only, worked as janitor in DC. Do not know who his parents were.
b. Born 1866-68: This Rezin mrd Annie Simpson and then Annie Stewart, his father was Tobias
b. Born 1876: Rezin Singleton, son of Rezin R., waitor, mrd Ellen
b. Born 1881-1882: Rezin Joseph, never married, his father was Levi

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This is a chart I like to share with my classes to illustrate the importance of collateral research. Like almost everyone, I was focused strictly on my grandparents and great-grandparents–all my direct ancestors–when I first started my research. Opening my eyes to include all siblings in each generation, and understanding the necessity of knowing the informant (and their relationship to the decedent) unlocked a world of information.

My great-grandmother, Beatrice Prather Waters (shown 5th from the left in the picture on the blog), had 8 siblings. The table below shows parent’s names gathered from her death certificate and 6 of her siblings (2 died in states where I can’t get copies of their certificates). I have also included who provided the information:

Prather Siblings

There’s a lot of room for confusion here, and the table makes that point clear. Had I stopped at just my great-grandmother, I would have been forever lost, because Beatrice’s son remembered “Eli” instead of the correct name “Levi.” And he didn’t remember the mother’s name at all. Beatrice’s mother was Martha J. Simpson and 4 of the 7 death records got it right. What’s interesting is that Margaret Simpson and Susan Simpson were in fact family members, but they were not the wife of Levi. People gave what they remembered at the time. Margaret was Martha’s stepmother, and Susan was her Martha’s sister. Of course, I can’t remember what I did this week.

All of this information was correlated with census, probate, deed and other record types to paint as clear a picture as possible of this family.

When you research, don’t forget to research all the siblings.

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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.

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Wordless Wednesday

Eugene and Darius Prather

Cousins of mine. They are sure looking dandy, aren’t they?

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I have had some wonderful Bible discoveries in the past year. I want to share them with you along with some thoughts on evaluating them. I’m sure many of you already know the definitions and importance of determining whether your latest genealogical discovery is:

*an Original or Derivative Source
*Primary or Secondary Information
*Direct or Indirect Evidence

If you want to get really good at this genealogy thing, learn these concepts and work through some examples. The indefatigable Elizabeth Shown Mills has written extensively on this.  I also suggest the book “Genealogical Proof Standard” by Christine Rose. I’m going to only talk about the first two in the interest of keeping this post long and not really long.;)

An Original Source is the very first–the original–record of an event (such as a birth certificate). A Derivative Source has to copy its information from an original source (an example is a book of transcribed vital records or those online transcribed databases we are all so fond of). An important point to remember is that derivatives always introduce the opportunity for errors. Typically, an original source is regarded as more reliable than a derivative source.

The terms Primary vs. Secondary Information refer to the quality of the information. Primary information was made by someone in a position to know firsthand usually at or near the time of the event OR made in writing by an officer charged by law, canon or bylaws with creating an accurate record (like a court clerk who records marriages). Anything else is secondary information (for example, all census records are secondary).  Typically, primary information is regarded as more reliable than secondary information.

So one of the goals in genealogy is to find as many Original Sources and as much Primary Information as possible.

It can get really tricky, though. A death certificate is an original source, but it can have both primary (the death dates) and secondary information (the birth dates) on it. An original source, generally deemed more reliable, could in fact have incorrect information on it.

When evaluating evidence, you want to ask yourself WHO wrote this, WHEN  and WHY.

So this year my newfound cousin Lester Holt shared copies of a Holt Family Bible, which appears to have belonged to his grandfather. If you’ve never taken pictures of a Bible that is falling apart, it works really well. But, be sure to take a picture of the publishing page so you can know what year the Bible was published. If the Bible was published in 1948 and it contains entries dating in the 1920’s, those obviously could not have been recorded at or near the time they happened, which affects how you evaluate the data.

Here’s a page of deaths from the Holt Bible:

Holt Deaths

Holt Deaths

I am fairly sure who wrote this-either the mother Ila or the father Samuel. I know why–to record the important dates in their family. But, the copyright/publishing page was disintegrated or missing, so I have no idea what year this Bible was published. This means I don’t know when the dates were written in. I don’t know if the dates included were copied in as they occurred or in bulk entries after the fact– that can be an important distinction.

This Bible is clearly an original source. But for something to be considered primary information it ideally should be written down as the events are occurring or a short time afterwards. It does look like the entries could have been made at different times, right?  But I concluded it is not as big an issue here because these are most likely two parents noting births and deaths of their children, which they are likely to have known firsthand. They even listed the deaths of their mothers.

Now notice a page from the births:

Holt Births

Holt Births

Hmm. Those first six look like they were entered all at once don’t they?
They probably were.  But, again, because the information in this Bible does not conflict with any other data I have on these individuals, and because of the likelihood that a parent recorded it, I am concluding these dates are correct. But this gives you a sense of all the things you have to think about.

Now I want to show a cover from a Prather Family Bible that was shared with me last year by my cousin Laverne Prather. This belonged to her mother Sarah:

Prather BIble Cover

Prather Bible Cover

Luckily, I was able to copy the copyright page:

Copyright Year

Copyright Year

Sarah diligently copied almost everything for  all of her kids, and all of the events happened after 1903. This gives me an added level of assurance. This page of dates appeared opposite a page of names:

Prather Dates

Prather Dates

Both of these Bibles cropped up when I wasn’t even looking and had no idea that they even existed, so even 12 years later the spirits are still sending me pleasant surprises. These Bibles were both filled with information I didn’t have. If you come across a family Bible, digitize it so that the data can survive the actual book which is bound to be fragile. As you can see here, the pictures turn out pretty well. Just don’t forget to copy the copyright page!

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