Finding Jefferson Crockett Sheffey – a surprising link to Hampton University

My cousin Fontaine and I have spent the past four years trying to track down our great grand uncles – the sons of Daniel Henry Sheffey, Sr. Looking at the family tree below, I’m descended from Daniel Henry Sheffey, Jr. Fontaine is descended from Daniel Adam Sheffey. Fontaine and I connected online a few years ago and, to-date, he’s the closest living relative I’ve met from my branch of the Sheffey family. It’s been great having such an enthusiastic researching co-pilot.

image showing The sons of Daniel Henry Sheffey, Jr and Margaret Clark of Wytheville, Wythe County, Virginia

The sons of Daniel Henry Sheffey, Jr and Margaret Clark of Wytheville, Wythe County, Virginia. Click to enlarge the image.

Our missing great grand uncles were: Wade Sheffey, Jefferson C Sheffey and John Sheffey. We just couldn’t find them after 1866.

We think we found John Sheffeylast year. If we have indeed find the right John Sheffey, his end was pretty tragic. However, we still need to confirm if the person we found is indeed our great grand uncle. Wade Sheffey still remains elusive.

Thanks to a random hint via Ancestry.com two days ago, I found the missing Jefferson Sheffey. What a pleasant detour that turned out to be.

Here’s Jefferson and his family in the 1860 Slave Schedule (I haven’t been able to identify the other two female slaves). Julia Ann Crockett Morrison is their mistress . Interestingly, Daniel Sheffey Sr appears both here and in the 1860 slave schedule of Julia’s sister, Susanna Crockett Spiller.

image for Jefferson Sheffey and his family in the 1860 Slave Census

Jefferson Sheffey and his family in the 1860 Slave Census Click to enlarge the image

 

Here he is in the Wythe County (VA.) Register of Colored Persons cohabiting together as Husband and Wife on 27th February 1866

Jefferson Sheffey in the 1866 Cohabitation Register.   Wythe County (Va.) Register of Colored Persons of Wythe County, State of Virginia, cohabiting together as Husband and Wife on 27th February 1866, [register page #]. Cohabitation Registers Digital Collection. Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, 23219.

Jefferson Sheffey in the 1866 Cohabitation Register – click to enlarge the image. Wythe County (Va.) Register of Colored Persons of Wythe County, State of Virginia, cohabiting together as Husband and Wife on 27th February 1866, [register page #]. Cohabitation Registers Digital Collection. Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, 23219.

All trace of Jefferson seemed to simply vanish after 1866. Fontaine and I began to presume he had died between the 1866 and the 1870 Census.

Far from it.

So I get this hint from Ancestry for a Jefferson C Sheffey. Of course it got my immediate interest. I know that a staggering amount of new records have been added to the database, so I was hoping to discover something good: a birth certificate, perhaps a death certificate or, better still, a marriage certificate.

The hint from Ancestry.com turned out to be a series of records for Jefferson from the Freedmen’s Bureau. The reason why he seemed to disappear was the fact that he stopped using his first name, Jefferson. He was known by his middle name, Crockett, which was quite the revelation.

I had come across a Crockett Sheffey years ago in a Civil War Pension Record.  I knew he couldn’t be the Crockett Sheffey I’ve already written about – the buffalo soldier who left the US for the Philippines. The Crockett in the Civil War Record clearly belonged to the generation before Crockett the Buffalo Soldier. Without a race being cited in the record, I put this new Crockett Sheffey on the back burner of my research. There simply wasn’t anything that connected him with anyone I was familiar with in the family tree.

However, the record below, one of the hints from Ancestry.com, is the one that sealed the deal in terms of who this new Crockett was (I’m going to keep referring to him as Jefferson to avoid confusion about which Crockett Sheffey I’m referring to). Living in Wythe County (my line of the Sheffey  family’s stronghold), with Daniel Sheffey as a father, there was only one person it could be…Jefferson. As you’ll see below, he was a very young soldier during the Civil War:

Jefferson Crockett Sheffey's Civil War Pension Record. National Archives and Records Administration. U.S., Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2000. Original data: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration. T288, 546 rolls.

Jefferson Crockett Sheffey’s Civil War Pension Record. National Archives and Records Administration. U.S., Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2000.
Original data: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration. T288, 546 rolls.

I was happy enough finding out that Jefferson hadn’t died as a child. The remaining hints were pure gold dust.

It turns out that in 1869 Jefferson was a day teacher in Cripple Creek, Wythe County, VA. His name appears quite often in the school’s administrative papers. I’ve included the more interesting ones on the gallery below. They’re great for academics curious about late 19th Century educational administration.

crocket sheffey teacher Jefferson Crockett Sheffey - Day School teacher 2 Jefferson Crockett Sheffey - Day School teacher 3 Jefferson Crockett Sheffey - Day School teacher 5 Jefferson Crockett Sheffey - Day School teacher 5 Jefferson Crockett Sheffey - Day School teacher 6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By 1870, Jefferson was teaching at the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia: http://www.hamptonu.edu/about/history.cfm

Lithograph of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in the 1870-71 school year.

Lithograph of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in the 1870-71 school year. Source Information: Ancestry.com. U.S., School Catalogs, 1765-1935 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.

The above image is how  the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute looked when Jefferson began teaching there.

This institution would later become the illustrious Hampton University that we know today. I’m pretty proud of Jefferson. To be a school teacher in this era was a big deal. It was a position that came with respect and prestige. To be an African American education was a very big deal. Not only did you have to be an educator, you also had to be a role model for the African American community. Fontaine and I are speculating as to whether this is why Jefferson’s older brother Daniel Henry Sheffey gave his firstborn son the name Crockett.

32761_1020704762_0591-00002

Jefferson Crockett Sheffey in the 1870-71 Hampton Institute Yearbook. Source Information: Ancestry.com. U.S., School Catalogs, 1765-1935 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012. Original data:

Jefferson Crockett Sheffey in the 1870-71 Hampton Institute Yearbook. Source Information:
Ancestry.com. U.S., School Catalogs, 1765-1935 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.

Naturally, I was curious if there were any actual pictures of Hampton that dated to this period. It was a prestigious school from its beginning. It was as strong a candidate for pictorial prosperity as any other learning institution – all the more so as it was among the first such higher education institutions for African Americans. I found a veritable treasure trove.

Hampton Institute, VA. – pupils studying Whittier, circa 1899. Photograph by Frances Benjamin Johnston. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

There are a number of contemporary Hampton pictures via: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/search/?q=LOT%2011051&fi=number&op=PHRASE&va=exact&co!=coll&sg=true&st=gallery

And here Jefferson’s story ends…for now. I haven’t found a death certificate for him. I don’t know if he married, had children or how long he taught at at Hampton. What I did finds is a great nugget of story…and a family connection to a superb (and historically significant) university.

It’s kind of nice to know I continue the long tradition of carrying the university lecturer’s torch for the family.

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Filed under 1850-1860, 1870, ancestry, family history, genealogy, Sheffey family, virginia, wythe

John Newton Sheffey: Scandalous adultery in 1860s Wytheville

This isn’t the funny story I promised in my previous post. That one involved Stuart Sheffey and his “scandalous” living arrangements with a black wife and a white wife in the same household. The language used in that report is, well, priceless. I can’t remember where I saved that record I found via the Freedmen’s Bureau database, so that story will have to wait. I can’t publish it with that document.

This story, however, is a worthy runner-up. It’s not so much the situation which makes me smile, it’s the language. Words are priceless. One short sentence paints a very vivid picture.

It’s worth pointing out the Freedmen’s Bureau officer who wrote this account isn’t using his own words. No, he’s using the words of the person who reported the situation.

image of Freedmen Bureau's note regarding John Newton Sheffey and Evelyn F Mills, 1867.

Freedmen Bureau’s note regarding John Newton Sheffey and Evelyn F Mills, 1867.

Transcription: John Newton Sheffey (c.) and Evelyn F Mills (note: it was spelled as Miles, which was crossed out and replaced with Mills) living at [I can’t decipher the place name] are said to be living in scandalous adultery.

Scandalous. That is one loaded word. It’s one of those 19th Century words you can just hear being spoken. You can almost picture the man or woman’s face when they said it. In 1867, “scandalous” had a depth that the modern over-use of the word lacks. We’ve used it too much and too erroneously for it to maintain the packed punch it had nearly 150 years ago.

What was the scandal? Records indicate that John Newton Sheffey wasn’t married or involved with anyone prior to this adulterous relationship. All of the children attributed to him were born to him and Evelyn. Evelyn, on the other hand, was married. Oh yeah, and she was white. Quite clearly, this couple was rather open about their relationship. To be that open, they couldn’t have really cared what anyone thought of it. It’s an honesty and openness – and some might say brazenness – which seems to be a family characteristic in more than a few Sheffey family lines.

Whenever the Freedmen’s Bureau cited a person of color, that person was always denoted with either a “(c.)” or “(colored)” after their name. Whites were not. Between Evelyn not having this kind of denotation after her name – and her marriage certificate and her husband’s divorce petition – she was most certainly white. Hence the “scandalous” adultery as opposed to just plain old adultery.

Words – I love them.  Again, a simple sentence in a random document tells quite a story.

 

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Filed under ancestry, family history, genealogy, Sheffey family, virginia, wythe

Sponsored Genealogy Adventures blog posts – your opinion matters!

The Genealogy Adventures blog has come to the attention of genealogy and family history-related businesses. These businesses would like to speak to me about various sponsorship and marketing opportunities.

I’d like to have your input about this.

One company in particular (I can’t name it yet for confidentiality reasons) would like to do a series of sponsored guest blogs. The blogs will be genealogy and family history related. The focus, at this point, would be on how family history researchers can use their database of records for their paid service. And genealogy tips and tricks with a focus on their records. There won’t be any high pressure tactics to use their service.

I would like to balance two things:

1)      Generating an income to support my ability to further my own research; and

2)      Respecting those of you who regularly follow the blog

Addressing the income generating point first, income revenue from sources like the above would enable me to do two things that have been long in the planning:

  • Finance a 2-month Virginia research trip to specifically research the Sheffey and Roane families. The cost of this trip will be around $8,000 – $9,000 for the two month duration of my stay (accommodation, travel, subsistence, copying fees, research costs, etc). Most of
  • Finance my 6-month DNA adventures expedition to North Africa, India and 1 Central Asian country. The cost of this runs around $25,000 (accommodation, travel, subsistence, copying fees, research costs, visas, inoculations, insurance, etc).

Sponsored blog posts will provide the level of funding required to do at least the Virginia trip in the near term. I also have more control with sponsored blog posts rather than other forms of promotion like affiliate schemes and Google Ads.

And now to the second point – you, the reader.

I have been blessed to have a large regular readership. I don’t take that lightly. There are so many family history and genealogy blogs to follow. That you follow mine inspires me in ways I fail to express. So your opinion matters to me.

Hence the transparency of this post.

Using the comments section, what would you not like to see in a sponsored blog post? What would disappoint you, anger you or make you decide to no longer follow this blog? What would be your concerns?

Thank you in advance for your answers!

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Filed under family history, genealogy

Tobias Roane: The Dark Side of Emancipation

As I mentioned in my previous post George Henry Roane: the new Freedmen’s Bureau databases on FamilySearch are incredible research tools, the various Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records databases on FamilySearch have provided a wealth of information about people from the various branches of my family. The previous post about George Henry Roane featured his fight to claim the legacy left to him in his former owner’s will.

EMANCIPATION AND THE AMERICAN HISTORY CURRICULUM

Emancipation wasn’t something that was really covered in my history classes. It was barely mentioned. It was presented as something of a 10 minute after-thought. A footnote to the American Civil War. My classmates and I were never taught about its implementation or its repercussions, which still echo down through the ages to the present day. My history classes never discussed what it was to be enslaved and then freed overnight. Or how persons born and raised in the centuries old institution of slavery coped. It wasn’t as if this was a bad school. Far from it. It was one of the best schools in the state. Which makes this even more of a lost learning opportunity.

The way it was presented kind of ran like this: President Lincoln freed the slaves, slaves were free overnight, everyone was happy. The proof of the latter were the brief mentions of freed slaves becoming congressmen, senators, academics, businessmen and businesswomen, etc. It never really occurred to me to question just how good things were after emancipation – or what percentage of the newly freed black population it was good for.

Born at the tail end of the Jim Crow Era and segregation –I knew those good times of freedom hadn’t lasted. While I grew up in a middle class home, I knew there was a portion of the American black population who didn’t.  That’s not to say I had it easy. There are overt signs of inequality – and then there re the subtle yet equally pernicious forms of inequality. I grew up experiencing the latter. Somewhere in my teenage brain I knew there was a fundamental disconnect, a huge part of the story that was missing in terms of the post-Emancipation black experience in America. But I didn’t know what it was. I couldn’t put my finger on it. And then stopped thinking about it altogether. Living abroad for most of my life, far away from the racial hurly burly of America, I didn’t have to think about it. An American homecoming has only served to throw into exceedingly vivid, sharp relief.

Using the Freedmen’s Bureau database for my research, and reading hundreds of its documents, I’ve come back full circle to that disconnect in terms of American history. As a habit America doesn’t like re-visiting the dark chapters of its history. Somewhere, somehow, it was collectively agreed that ‘if we don’t talk about those things, they’ll go away. It’ll all just work itself out. We can ignore it – and it just won’t matter any more’. If I’ve learned anything, even in my time abroad, dark histories cause pain that is carried down through the generations – for the descendants of the victims as well as the descendants of the perpetrators. Just ask the Irish, the English and the Scottish. Dark chapters in history never go away. It’s 2014 and look at the race-related topics that remain in the American headlines.

NEWLY ACQUIRED FREEDOM IS A MESSY BUSINESS

So I find myself thinking of Emancipation. I find myself thinking about all those millions of newly freed people, the children of generations who had dreamed of freedom. I’ve gained an understanding that dreaming of freedom – and facing the realities of freedom head-on – are two very different things.

Just look at current world events in North Africa, the Middle East and to events in a post-Communist Eastern Europe. It’s not as though there’s a Freedom 101 course that people can take. Nor does it seem possible for there to be anything like a planned transition period for people to grasp the concept and responsibilities of freedom. Freedom for formerly oppressed and suppressed people, it would seem, is a messy business. That’s not to diminish freedom. It is a basic human right. It’s a comment on the mechanism by which a people become free. I’ve yet to find evidence of a smooth transition from a state of oppression to the state of being free and entirely responsible for one’s self and one’s actions.

ONE CHAPTER IN TOBIAS ROANE’S LONG LIFE

Tobias “Tobey” Roane of Essex County, VA and his wife, Ainsley, are perfect examples of those lost in the chaos of Emancipation. In 1868, Tobey and Ainsley were in their Eighties. They were old. They were crippled, presumably from a life of toil as well as old age. They were also the primary care givers for their three young grandchildren. At the moment, the names of their grandchildren are unknown. Nor do I know what happened to the children’s parents.

an image of a letter mentioning Toby Roane with his family in 1866

Early correspondence about Toby Roane with his family in 1866. Citation: “Virginia, Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1865-1872,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/FPFD-JZR), Toby Roane, ; citing NARA microfilm publication M1913, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland; FHL microfilm 2413570.

At the close of the Civil War, Toby, Ainsley and their grandchildren were forced out of their home. Presumably, their former master had no further use for them and felt no obligation towards them. As the letter below will show, this family of children and the elderly came to reside in a derelict old stable on the periphery of  land owned by John A Parker. It’s unclear of Toby and his family had a connection to Parker or to the McGuire family, Parker’s white tenants who lived in the house on the property and worked the land. Parker clearly wasn’t happy about Toby and his family residing in the disused stable.

image of letter outlining John Parker's complaint against Toby Roane

Letter dated 9 Nov 1866 outlining John Parker’s complaint against Toby Roane. Citation: “Virginia, Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1865-1872,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/FPLV-6ZW ), Tobey Roane, ; citing NARA microfilm publication M1913, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland; FHL microfilm 2414655.

The indignity of their plight did not end there.

Parker began court proceedings to have them evicted from said derelict stable, their only refuge. Correspondence about the case follows below:

In desperation, Toby applied for relief to the local poor house via the local office for the Freedmen’s Bureau.  The letters below show how Toby and his family were turned away from the poor house solely based on race.

Toby Roane petition to enter the poor house

Toby Roane’s petition for admittance to the poor house. Letter dated- 9 Nov 1866. Citation: “Virginia, Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1865-1872,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/FPLV-62J), Tobey Roane, ; citing NARA microfilm publication M1913, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland; FHL microfilm 2414655.

 

Toby Roane's petition for admittance to the poor house. Letter dated 10 Dec 1866 - "Virginia, Freedmen's Bureau Field Office Records, 1865-1872," index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/FPNR-MMV : accessed 16 Jul 2014), Toby Roane, ; citing NARA microfilm publication M1913, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland; FHL microfilm 2413680.

Toby Roane’s petition for admittance to the poor house. Letter dated 10 Dec 1866Citation: “Virginia, Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1865-1872,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/FPNR-MMV), Toby Roane, ; citing NARA microfilm publication M1913, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland; FHL microfilm 2413680.

Toby Roane's petition for admittance to the poor house. Letter dated- 24 Dec 1866 -  "Virginia, Freedmen's Bureau Field Office Records, 1865-1872," index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/FPNJ-PZL : accessed 16 Jul 2014), Tobey Roane, ; citing NARA microfilm publication M1913, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland; FHL microfilm 2413683.

Toby Roane’s petition for admittance to the poor house. Letter dated- 24 Dec 1866.- Citation: “Virginia, Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1865-1872,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/FPNJ-PZL), Tobey Roane, ; citing NARA microfilm publication M1913, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland; FHL microfilm 2413683.

This short series of correspondence gives a sense of the bureaucracy involved in cases like Tobey’s. The letters also evidence the prejudice he and his family faced. And, ok, I’ll say – I don’t find any decency, much less any Christian behaviour, anywhere in this story…with the exception of Second Lieutenant Watson Wentworth. Whoever his descendants are, they should feel proud of the work their ancestor did and the personal dangers he faced in executing his duty.

I don’t know the ultimate outcome of their story. I don’t know if the local poor house came to house this family. I hope so, even it was due to being ordered to do so. It was certainly ordered to do so in the end.

I guess the obvious question would be ‘where was Tobey’s extended family?’ It’s a good question. I’m still trying to place Toby in the Roane family tree. He was of the same generation as other African-American members of the Roane family in Essex County: Spencer Roane (b. 1795), Nelson Roane (b. 1810), George Roane (b. 1810) and Randall Roane (b. 1815). The families of these men were also resident in Essex County at this time. Research hasn’t provided information about the exact nature of the kinship between these men. In the end, I think, the answer is fairly straightforward: these men had their own families to provide for in an uncertain and challenging environment.

The saddest part of this story isn’t Toby and Ainsley’s poverty, infirmity or struggle. At this point in their story they were 80 years old.  80 years. And the only part of their story I know anything about is this one sad episode. Nothing of the joys in the births of their children and their grandchildren. Nothing of their joys in being together. Just a story filled with pettiness, viciousness, uncharitable actions and rather unchristian behavior.

I’ve poured through innumerable records provided by these databases. There are uplifting and positive tales. And a few humerous ones (I’m sharing one of these in my next post). There is the other side of the coin, however – dark stories, poignant tales and tales that are simply tragic. If you were black, elderly, a child or a single woman with children, infirm or not fully physically able – freedom presented new challenges, cruelties and humiliations to be faced. There are pages and pages of petitions for relief, ledger sheets showing food and clothing being given to people who fell within the above groups. There are letters requesting travel fares to enable former slaves to leave the places where they had been enslaved in order to re-join family members in different cities, towns and states. There are also plenty of petitions to the Bureau for assistance in securing wages from employers who either couldn’t or wouldn’t pay for the labor of their black work force. And petitions for the care of newly freed orphaned children.

MY TAKEAWAY THOUGHTS

I’ve come away with three primary thoughts. The first is the sheer scale of the endeavor the Freedmen’s Bureau was tasked with – assisting millions of people who experienced freedom for the first time, with all the fears, challenges, hardships, institutional inequities – and hopes – that entailed.

My second thought is that a subjugated and oppressed people didn’t give up. They persisted and they fought. While freedom was far from being easy, freed slaves clearly grasped it with both hands.

The last thought is around educational opportunities. It’s the academic in me. The digitized versions of these original records are invaluable teaching tools. They come from people who experienced emancipation from all sides – freedmen, their former owners, local peoples and communities as well as the US government’s viewpoint and the viewpoint of its official representatives. Written in their own hand, their words transform Emancipation from a concept into the reality that it was. Collectively, these documents form an eloquent and articulate road map showing the journey of how the ghosts of emancipation still haunt America to this very day.

 

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Filed under 1870, ancestry, family history, genealogy, Roane family, virginia

George Henry Roane: the new Freedmen’s Bureau databases on FamilySearch are incredible research tools

UPDATED: 15 July 2015.  Thanks to a distant cousin, whom I’ll refer to as Mia, more information about this story has come to light. Mia spent the day in the Library of Virginia ad made some amazing discoveries.

The digitized Freedmen’s Bureau records just keep throwing up surprise after surprise. Some of these surprises have answered some questions I’ve had over the years – like how some individuals in a locality were related to one another. Other surprise record finds have relayed experiences that were tragic, poignant and, occasionally, humorous. I can’t stress this enough – if you’re an African American researching your southern Emancipation Era ancestors…the Freedmen’s Bureau records and databases are tools you need to familiarize yourself with.

As a quick re-cap, the records help by the Freedmen’s Bureau’s national – as well as regional and local offices throughout the American south – were produced from 1865 to 1872. I’ve seen a handful of records pertaining to people who were 100+ years old when they were freed (meaning they were born roughly around 1765) who mention their parents and grand-parents by name. One record like that can push your family’s genealogy and history back to the 1690s to the first decades of the 1700s.

These databases don’t just cover freed slaves, either. They are treasure troves that also have records for blacks who were free men and women during the time of slavery.

I’ve heavily researched the Freedmen’s Bureau’s banking records database. These were the records produced when emancipated blacks opened up bank accounts with the Bureau. In numerous cases, the names of the account holder’s parents, siblings and children appear. This is invaluable information if that ancestor’s family were split up and sold to separate owners throughout the south. This information allowed me to connect tangent lines to my family tree.

I’ve stumbled across a new Freedmen’s database on FamilySearch.org which has offered up some stunning finds. The database I’ve discovered is called the Records of the field offices for the state of Virginia, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands: NARA, RG105, M1913, 1865-1872. True, the database I used is specific for Virginia (here’s the link https://familysearch.org/search/collection/1596147). For other southern states, please see the link provided at the bottom of this post.

What can you find?

Lists, ledger entries, notes, reports and letters related to:

  • Rations for freedmen and women who were ill, incapacitated, infirm/crippled and those without employment and incapable of providing for themselves (this is a dark aspect of Emancipation I’ll be covering in my next port)
  • Medical relief to both freedmen and white refugees
  • Supervised labor contracts between planters and freedmen
  • Administered justice involving freedmen
  • Petitions to and work with benevolent societies in the establishment of schools and poor houses
  • The opening of several hospitals for the sick and infirm, schools and places of worship

My 3x great grandfather, George Henry Roane (1796-1876) is going to kick things off.

GEORGE HENRY ROANE vs THE EXECUTORS OF MAJOR EDMUND CHRISTIAN’S ESTATE

Even though he was a recognized member of the aristocratic slave-owning Virginian Roane family, George was sold to Edmund Christian in Henrico County, Virginia – and not his son-in-law, John D Warren, as previously believed. Mia is hoping to find the deed record of George’s sale to Edmund Christian.  Both of us are hoping this will provide the elusive link to the Scotts-Irish Roane who owned him. It will, we hope, shed some light on which Scots-Irish Roane was his father.

Language around slavery is tricky to use. Americans haven’t had an honest and open discussion about slavery, its ramifications, much less its aftermath. So forgive me if I use terms which may appear inappropriate.

George was thought of very fondly by Edmund Christian. In a Codicil of his Mar 1851 Will, Edmund willed George an annuity of $30 per annum. 1851 – a decade and a bit before the civil war. In other words, George was still a slave when Edmund left him this annuity in his will. he received the annuity due to the manner in which he had served Edmund. I’ve yet to come across anything remotely like it.

In this will, George’s children are mention. I knew of three children: Patrick Henry Roane, Anthony Roane and Edmund Roane. Edmund’s will provided three more names: Priscilla, George and Joseph. Mia’s message about the previously unknown children was an exciting discovery – one I was so happy she shared with me pretty much as soon as she made it. The will also confirmed the name of George’s wife, Eliza.

You can read a digital copy of Edmund Christian’s will and codicil below (courtesy of cousin Mia) – click the thumbnail to see the larger image.

Upon Edmund’s death, as per the terms of his will, his daughter, Edmonia, became the mistress of George and his family. When Edmonia married John D Warren, the ownership of George and George’s family appears to have transferred to him.

The relationship between John Warren, his wife Edmonia Christian Warren, George and George’s family also appears to have been a close one. Both sides seem to have held the other in high esteem. The relationship was close enough for Patrick Henry Roane, George’s son, to name his only daughter after Edmonia Warren when his daughter was born in 1871.

From what I can gather from the court documents, Edmund Christian Sr’s son William, one of the executors, died insolvent. His son, William Christian Jr, was  left to handle his grandfather Edmund’s estate. George’s payments ceased. Whether George knew this or not is unclear.  He pursued the matter of his legacy through a petition lodged with the Freedmen’s Bureau’s Richmond Field Office.

It’s worth bearing in mind that, although free, those of African descent (including those who had always been free people of color) could not bring a lawsuit against someone of European descent. Not directly. An intermediary was required. The Bureau’s Richmond Office was George’s intermediary.

Here’s one record about the case. It’s the Freedmen’s Bureau record that sparked off this whole journey of discovery about George’s case:

image for George Henry Roane's lawsuit against Christian estate

Freedmen’s Bureau, Richmond Office, correspondence re: George Henry Roane’s suite against the executors of Edmund Christian’s estate. Citation: “Virginia, Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1865-1872,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/FPLQ-RYC : George Ronn, ; citing NARA microfilm publication M1913, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland; FHL microfilm 2414642.

My initial hunch that George won his suit was, in the end, wishful thinking. It transpired that he lost his case. The Codicil which had bequeathed him an annual annuity was deemed to be invalid. The documents are a bit hazy about why. It’s interesting that the defense counsel for the Christians didn’t use an insolvency argument.  That would have been the logical, the understandable, route to take. No, not a bit of it.  Instead, the Christian’s counsel went with something almost surreal: that the Codicil and annuity to George were only applicable if George were still a slave. In other words, that the annuity  had been Edmund Christian’s way of a moral reparation to a fondly remembered slave. Now that George was free, there was no longer a moral obligation to carry out the deceased’s wishes.

You can click on the images below (courtesy of Mia) to see the larger image.

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Still, what a prized find! And it all began with the discovery of one digitized record.

I was curious about how much $30 from 1868 would be worth in 2014. The answer? Approximately $750.00. I’ve used a historic standard of living value of income or wealth as a comparison. A Historic Standard of Living measures the purchasing power of an income, or wealth, in its relative ability to purchase a (fixed over time) bundle of goods and services such as food, housing, clothing, etc that an average household would buy. I feel it’s the best economic comparator to use. No matter how you cut it, $30 was a nice chunk of money in 1868.

One hint when searching these databases…use very variation of names you’re aware of. For instance, when researching the Roane side of my family, I got the best results for the whole of the family when I searched on: Roane, Roan, Rone, Rhone, Rowan, Rowen and Rowand.

Here’s a link to other vital Freedmen Bureau databases: https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/African_American_Freedmen%27s_Bureau_Records

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George Henry Roane: Ancestry.com DNA test throws me a curve ball

While Ancestry.com’s DNA test answered a fundamental question about which second generation German-American Sheffey was the father of my Sheffey family line…it threw me one heck of a curve ball regarding the Roane side of the family tree.

The Usual Suspects: The English Descended Roanes in Virginia

I’ve mentioned in previous posts how my  enslaved 3 x paternal great-grandfather George Henry Roane was acknowledged as a member of the Virginian Roane’s ‘colored family’. Ah yes, that family bible that I’m still trying to contact the current owner about!  Well, I have had a few English-descended Roanes in the frame (I’ll call them the English Roanes). For various reasons too long to go into, I focused my attention on  the English-descended Roanes associated with King & Queen, Essex and Westmoreland Counties in Virginia.

This shortlist of paternal candidates was based on simple math: the men’s year of birth along with when he would have realistically produced children.

Building A Paternity Shortlist for George Henry Roane

George Henry Roane was born around 1800. I narrowed the list of potential Roane fathers down to a handful of English Roanes born between 1750 to 1780. The thinking behind this was George’s father’s age would have ranged from 50 at the top end of the viable paternity scale to around 20 years of age at the younger age range. It was – and I think it still is – a good, solid, ball-park estimate for an age range. Thankfully, it narrowed the list of possible candidates quite successfully. The English descended Roanes were a, how can I say it, prolific family. So I needed a means to whittle the candidates list down. I had a list of 8 men. I had researched their respective descendants and I was completely familiar with the surnames associated with each of their lines. There were some names each line shared in common. Thankfully, this was the exception rather than the rule.

The method above was how I learned the name of the Sheffey who sired my ancestral line. The name Susong was the breakthrough moment – a name that is associated with only one Sheffey line. I was hoping that one unusual name would pop out at me when looking at these Roane cousin DNA matches.

Ancestry’s DNA Test & Cousin Matches

Ancestry’s DNA test gave me two cousin match hits on the Roane name, specifically. The two individuals were ranked as 5th – 8th cousins. Yes, yes, I hear you shouting from the gallery like Staedler & Waldorf from the Muppets: What the heck does that mean?

A 5th cousin and I would share two 4x great grandparents. In other words, we would share George’s father in common.

A 6th cousin takes it back one generation. We would share a pair of 5 x great grandparents..and so on and so forth. Each level of cousin takes the identity of a shared ancestor back one further generation.

The Curveball

So I was pretty happy to see a likely match on a 5th cousin, give or take a generation or two. What I didn’t expect was the name of the Roane ancestor the match was returned for: The Honorable Archibald Roane. Yes, that one – the second Governor of Tennessee.  Archibald, the uncle of Arkansas governor, John Seldon Roane. The one who comes from a Scotts-Irish Roane family line.

To be clear, I’m not saying that Archibald Roane was George’s father. All I can say, at this point, is that I share a DNA connection with Archibald and his descendants. One of Archibald’s cousins could also easily be the father of George.

Now dear old Archibald’s side of the Roane family presents some formidable challenges. I have never researched their lineage – either their ancestors or their descendants. All of my efforts in researching the Roane family has been focused on the English Roane lineage. Family anecdotes strongly suggested it was the English Roanes who held the answers to our Roane paternity. That’s the sole Roane line I’ve ever focused on. In doing so, I completely ignored the Scotts-Irish Roanes.

I’ve previously written about what a mess most of the English Roane family trees  are…and my herculean efforts to get my own English Roane family tree absolutely correct and accurate.

I’m faced once again with the same herculean task. The family trees for Archibald’s Roane ancestry are just as incorrect as those for Charles Roane.

Getting Things Straight With These Two Different Roane Lineages

To kick things off, most Roane family researchers – and their family trees illustrate this – insist that Archibald Roane is a descendant of Charles “The Immigrant” Roane. He is not. Archibald descends from a Scottish-Irish family of Roanes, who may or may not be related to the English Roane family.

Let me start with the basics. Have a look at the basic family lines I’ve given in the image below:

image of An outline of the English Roane and Scotts-Irish Roane family lines between 1611 and 1811

An outline of the English Roane and Scotts-Irish Roane family lines between 1611 and 1811

 So time to debunk some myths:

  • There is a myth that Robert Roane (Charles Roane’s father) was the father of Archibald Gilbert Roane, Sr. Robert was dead for a few years before Archibald Gilbert Roane, Sr was born.
  • Archibald Roane, Jr was not the son of Charles Roane. Charles had been dead for decades before Archibald, Jr was born.
  • Neither Andrew Roane (Archibald, Jr’s father) nor Andrew’s brother William (the father of Spencer Roane), were the sons of Charles “The Immigrant” Roane. The marriage records for both William and Andrew clearly indicate that their parents were Archibald Gilbert Roane, Sr and his wife, Jeannet.

All I can say about Charles Roane and Archibald Gilbert Roane, with any certainty, is:

  • Both men bore the same surname;
  • Both men used a similar Roane family crest;
  • Both men were alive at the same time for a period of almost two decades; and
  • They were both resident in the UK before arriving in the American colonies – although they resided in two completely different parts of the United Kingdom before they did so.

Now the Scots-Irish Roanes and the English Roanes very well may have a shared ancestor somewhere in the mist of medieval English history. The English Roane’s ancestral heartlands appear to be Yorkshire and Northumberland – two quite northerly parts of England. In other words, spitting distance from the Scottish borderlands. It’s not unfathomable that one branch of the family went south (to London and Surrey) while another went north to Scotland, and then on to Ireland.

So The Research on Archibald Roane Begins…

So the joys of researching Archibald Roane’s line has now begun. This means researching every single descendant line stemming from Archibald Gilbert Roane. It’s the only way I can discover the unique surname matches within one specific descendant line that will indicate who, exactly, the shared common ancestor is between me and the Scots-Irish side of the family. It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack – but the payoff is always worth it. I like to think of it as CSI Genealogy. It just takes a lot of diligence, time and patience.

I am ignoring all family trees in the process. I’ve learned from painful experience when it comes to researching the Roanes. This time, I’m tracing the family lines solely through the official records.

While I’m on the topic of his descendants, it’s worth noting that the celebrated Virginian judge, Spencer Roane, belongs to the Scots-Irish Roane family…and not the English descended Roane family. Spencer and Archibald were first cousins.

I get the confusion between the English Roanes and the Scots-Irish Roanes. It doesn’t help that some of the Scots-Irish Roanes not only settled in Virginia – they settled in the same counties as the English Roanes. Essex County is a primary example.

So…while I don’t have a definitive name for the man who fathered my 3x great-grandfather George Henry Roane – I at least know I’m now looking within the right Roane lineage. I’m on the right path. Time, as they say, will indeed tell.

Yet again, I’m glad to say that a simple DNA test was worth every single penny.

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Ancestry.com DNA test answers one fundamental question

In my previous post Using the right DNA testing tool to answer the right ancestry question (http://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2014/05/28/using-the-right-dna-testing-tool-to-answer-the-right-ancestry-question/ ) I cover the importance of being clear about what you want to achieve through DNA testing.

For me, I have persistent gaps in my genealogy. Ancestry.com’s DNA test is the second DNA I’ve taken. I did it in the hopes that it would help solve some of these persistent gaps in my family’s genealogy.

Well…my Ancestry.com DNA test results came in the other day! And to say it answered one fundamental question is a bit of an understatement. That question was whether or not my family were Sheffeys by blood or by close ties with their former slave masters. I am going to put my hand up and say that over the past three years I had my doubts that we were Sheffeys by blood. It wouldn’t change my outlook on being a Sheffey if we weren’t. It’s just a thing that would be nice to know.

Jemimah Sheffey, born around 1770 in Virginia, is my earliest discovered African-descended ancestor on the Sheffey side of the family. I knew she wasn’t a Sheffey by blood. It all came down to the identity of the father of her children. It’s still not 100% clear which German-descended Sheffey owned her. The German-American Sheffey family history in Virginia made it very easy to narrow down the possible candidate for the potential father of her children – born between 1800 and 1815 – if indeed any of them were. It could only be one of three second generation German-American Sheffey brothers: Daniel Henry Sheffey, Major Henry Lawrence Sheffey and John Sheffey.

image of Johann Adam Sheffey family group

Johann Adam Sheffey family group

Daniel Henry Sheffey seemed the most likely candidate at first. He was a slave-owner. And, after all, my 2 x great grandfather, Daniel Henry Sheffey, was named for him by his father, Jacob Sheffey (Jemimah’s son). He was also a slave owner. Daniel was my strongest contender. His brother Henry, also a slave-owner, was just as viable a candidate. I always discounted Henry, however. I can’t explain it. For whatever reason, in my mind and in my gut, he was out of the frame.

Last up was their younger brother John. I always discounted John. While he’d been (and remains) difficult to track through digitized records, he never owned slaves. That much I did know. Other than that, I knew that John just up and left either Frederick, Maryland (the home of his) or Virginia (the home of his brothers) for Greene County, Tennessee. I can’t even tell you when, exactly, he left for TN. All I can say with any certainty is that he left MD or VA for TN sometime between 1820 and 1828, the year he married Margaret O. Thompson in Greene County, TN.

There was another problem with John…his date of birth. In innumerable family trees, his marriage certificate and on his tombstone, his year of birth is given as 1804. Jacob Sheffey, my 3xgreat-grandfather, was born in 1800. So you can see the problem. However, I always knew John’s attributed year of birth was incorrect.

imageof John Sheffey's resting place in Greene County, TN

I’d already found him in the 1790 census as a minor living with his parents and two of his sisters.

image of ohann Adam Sheffey household in Frederick, Maryland in 1790

Johann Adam Sheffey household in Frederick, Maryland in 1790

His father, Johann Adam Sheffey, died in 1793. His mother, Maria Magdalena Loehr Sheffey, would have been 65 years old in 1804. Basic math and the laws of time and biology makes the year of 1804 impossible as the year of his birth. Yep, another mystery on how that year became his ‘official’ year of birth!

I don’t know how close John was to his brothers. The deep, brotherly affection shared between Daniel and Henry is well-documented. The letters, public accounts and biographies I’ve read for both men never mention John. Never. Their three sisters – Catherina Sheffey Brengle, Elisabeth Sheffey Geyer and Mary Sheffey Guyton – also have easily discoverable profiles online. They were written about and their family histories and genealogies are covered in great detail. John? It’s as though he simply didn’t exist from the family’s perspective.

So, I always discounted John. Well, I shouldn’t have. As it turns out, he is my 4 x great-grandfather.

Ancestry.com breaks down your cousin matches by generation. As it turns out, I have 30 or so 4th to 6th cousins who have also taken the same DNA test. Out of that number, 18 or so have made their family trees publicly accessible. After the first dozen or so glimpses at these distantly-related cousins and their family trees, I came across a small group of people who had ancestors from the Sudwestpfalz, Rheinland-Pfalz region of Germany. This is the same region where Johann Adam Sheffey (Scheffe) – the father of John, Henry and Daniel – left to come to America. However, I didn’t recognize any of the surnames in these cousins’ trees (I’ll have to work that out later!)

Nonetheless, I started to get excited. That specific region of Germany was indicating that there was indeed a blood-link to the German-American Sheffeys. However, I needed more proof to seal the deal.

That proof I needed came with cousin matches 23, 24 and 25. I saw the names Cochran, Susong and Thompson in these family trees. And there’s only one Sheffey lineage where those names appear: John Sheffey’s. These were his descendants. Indeed, among all of my many branches on both sides of my family, there is only one place where these names converge – in association with John.

The combination of factors that led to this discovery are mind-blowing to me. For one, it relied on John’s descendants joining Ancestry.com and building comprehensive family trees. Secondly, that they made those family trees public (too many people don’t!). Lastly, that a handful of these descendants went on to take the ancestry.com DNA test. The combination of these three random factors was so perfect that they easily could have never happened.

It was a jaw-hitting-the-floor moment.

It figures that my 4x great-grandfather would be the one son of Johann Adam Sheffey that I knew the least about. His public profile was on a different scale from his brothers. His life isn’t that well document. I also haven’t met many of his descendants online…although I hope that will change. I’d love to know more about his life. And hopefully answer the question of why he so abruptly departed for TN. Although I now have a pretty strong suspicion. ;)

Interestingly, James Frank Sheffey Sr, an African American Sheffey born in Virginia around 1840, was resident in District 1 of Greene County in 1880 with his family. A coincidence? Or did he know? Of all the counties in Tennessee, why Greene County? James stubbornly refuses to find his place in the Sheffey family tree. I can’t find his parents’ names for love nor money. It does raise the interesting prospect that my Sheffey ancestors had full knowledge of their Sheffey roots. Knowledge that somehow got lost over time.

I’d love to know if there are any images of John. The African-descended Sheffey men tend to all bear a remarkable similarity with one another. I mean it’s uncanny how much we look alike. No matter which branch of the family that descends from Jacob Sheffey…there is an instant recognition and we and our families end up saying the same thing: “Yep, you’re a Sheffey”. Will we see ourselves in John?

For now, I’m basking in the afterglow of discovery and confirmation. And I am SO grateful that the year’s I’ve spent researching the Scheffe family in Germany wasn’t for nowt!

 

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