Family mystery: African American Wards of Wythe County, VA. (republished with an update)

Post updated 15 December 2013

update follows at the bottom of this post

This is a wee mystery that’s been simmering on the proverbial back burner for the past few years.  The mystery involves three women with the surname of Ward who married into the Sheffey family. Every blue moon, I trot this mystery out and spend a week or so attempting to solve it. It’s one heck of a stubborn mystery.  While I usually avoid giving inanimate things human characteristics…this mystery is definitely reluctant to give up its secrets.

First up is Angeline Ward who was born around 1832.  Her birthplace is cited as Selma, Alabama. She was the wife of Godfrey Sheffey, born around 1836 in Virginia (he’s another mystery). There is a small group of us working on the Angeline and Godfrey family group. The working assumption was Angeline and Godfrey were the slaves of Dr Lawrence Brengle Sheffey (26 Nov 1818 , Wythe, VA – 1866, Huntsville, AL) . He’s the only slave owning Sheffey we’ve found who moved from Virginia to Alabama.  This assertion is given further credence in the 1860 Slave Schedule for Huntsville, Madison Co, AL. Angeline and all her children born before 1860 are found in this document. There is a question mark over whether the 41 year old slave male in this census is Godfrey Sheffey.

imageshowing Angeline Ward, Godfrey Sheffey and their children

Angeline Ward, Godfrey Sheffey and their children

Descendants of Angeline Ward and Godfrey Sheffey

Descendants of Angeline Ward and Godfrey Sheffey

At some point between 1870 and 1880, Angeline returned to Wytheville with most of her children.  She did so without her husband Godfrey who presumably died between the census of 1860 and the census of 1870. Her son Lewis returned to Wytheville with his mother, however, made the trip back to Huntsville, AL where he died in 1919. What’s interesting is her grand-son William T Turner of Wytheville married my great-aunt, Callie Sheffey (daughter of Daniel Henry Sheffey III and Jane A White). In previous posts I noted that Angeline returned to Wytheville, one of the Sheffey’s Virginia strongholds, as part of a post-slavery Sheffey family reunion process. What I hadn’t considered is this homecoming could have been twofold. There are a handful of black and mulatto Ward families with a long history in Wythe County too. As yet, I have been unable to connect her to any of the Wythe-based Ward families I’ve found. In my opinion, it’s more than mere coincidence.

Dicey Ward (21 Dec 1847, Wythe Co, VA – ?) was the wife of James Zachariah Mitchell Sheffey and resided in Marion, Smyth Co., VA.

image showing Dicey Ward and James Zachariah Mitchell Sheffey and son Charles Sheffey

Dicey Ward and James Zachariah Mitchell Sheffey

Sarah Ward (1845, VA – ?) was the wife of Perry Cloud (1840, VA – ?) and was resident in Fort Chiswell, Wythe Co., VA.  Their daughter Mary (1860, Fort Chiswell, Wythe, VA – ?) married Godfrey Sheffey, Jr. (1852, Huntsville, Madison Co., AL – ?), the son of Angeline Ward and Godfrey Sheffey, Sr.

Image showing Sarah Ward, Peter Cloud and their descendants

Sarah Ward, Peter Cloud and their descendants

Angeline Ward, Dicey Ward and Sarah Ward were contemporaries.  Whilst older, Angeline is of the same generation as Dicey and Sarah.

If our educated hunch is correct, and Angeline is indeed connected by blood to Dicey Ward and Sarah Ward, this provides an interesting insight into the wider family relations. It would mean that one of Angeline’s sons married one of her Wards relation while one of her grandsons married one of her husband’s Sheffey relations. In other words, her descendants re-connected with both sides of their family through marriage, strengthening those bonds.

Is there an association among these 3 women and the slave owning Ward family of Wythe County, VA? Some initially intriguing results may yet shed some light on this. One of the names which keeps cropping up is Ballard Ephraim Ward, born on 1 Dec 1828 in Cripple Creek, Wythe. The Wards of Wythe County are connected to various branches of the white Sheffey family through marriages with the Edwards, Stewarts, Dobyns and Bland families. Ballard himself was directly connected to the Sheffeys through his marriage to Amelia Gwyn Nuckolls, a relation of Cena Nuckolls, Lawrence Brengle Sheffey’s step-mother and the mother of Lawrence’s half-brother, Ezra Nuckolls Sheffey.

One question which has us thinking hard is this one: did marriages between their slaves further cement familial ties between slave owning families also united through marriage? Naturally, I asked THE awkward question:  If slave families mirrored the marriage aspirations of their owners, and there were blood ties between slaves and white masters, did this influence the treatment slave families received from their owners?  In other words, how deep did these blood ties go? Unravelling this particular mystery might go some way towards shedding some light on this subject.

Just like some of the other family mysteries, the answer to this particular mystery is tantalizingly close. Cracking it will illustrate the close ties between the African American Ward and Sheffey families living in Wythe and Smyth Counties, Virginia.

15 December 2013 update

Jane Ward

Isaac Taylor Sheffey & Laura Ann Woodson family tree

Isaac Taylor Sheffey & Laura Ann Woodson family tree- click for larger image

I stumbled across yet another Ward lady while doing some additional research on Taylor Sheffey (son of Angeline Ward and her husband, Godfrey Taylor Sheffey). Taylor has been a bit frustrating to research as all traces of him cease after the 1880 Census. I had a feeling that this had something to do with him using a different name – and I was right…kind of.  I knew that his widow, Laura Ann Woodson Sheffey, had moved to Washington DC with their daughters. So I concentrated on trying to find any evidence of Taylor Sheffey residing in Washington DC. This included finding a death certificate. It seemed the most sensible and logical thing to do.

What I found was death certificate for his widow, Laura Ann:

Transcription of Laura Ann Woodson Sheffey's death certificate, courtesy of FamilySearch.org

Transcription of Laura Ann Woodson Sheffey’s death certificate, courtesy of FamilySearch.org – click for larger image

original record: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/F7B7-2QX

And there it was. Taylor’s full name was Isaac Taylor Sheffey. I got excited. I thought I’d found the vital key to unlocking more of Taylor’s story. As with all things genealogy-related, it did and it didn’t. What it did yield was more evidence that his first name was Isaac.  This came in the form of his daughter Stella’s marriage record:

Stella Sheffey's marriage certificate

Stella Sheffey’s marriage certificate – click for larger image

And here the trail for Isaac Taylor Sheffey runs cold. despite extensive searching I’m unable to find further documents for him.

I’m going to take a wee step back and return to his wife, Laura Ann Woodson. Her death certificate threw up a nugget of gold in the form of her mother’s name. Her name had been unknown until this point: Jane Ward of Wythe County, VA. She is another member of the African American Ward family. All I know of her history is that she was born around 1834, died on 20 October 1869 and was the first wife of Frederick M. Woodson. It’s not much, perhaps, but is more than I knew two days ago. So for now, she is another member of the Wythe County based Ward family clan with a Sheffey family connection who warrants further research.

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3 Comments

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

3 responses to “Family mystery: African American Wards of Wythe County, VA. (republished with an update)

  1. Incredible research. How does a person better yet where does a person start if they want to begin genealogy on an individual’s slave roots?

    • Hi Christina

      There are a couple of great online resources you can use. I can’t say you will definitely locate slavery-era individuals, but they are great resources to use in your search:

      - 1866 Cohabitation Records (not all southern states had these). These provide details of children, including abandoned children as well as the last slave owner.

      - Freedman Records: There are separate archives for bank records, etc. In many cases, these records provide details of the account holder’s parents and siblings. I’ve pieced together large parts of my family tree through these records alone.

      - Civil War Colored Troops Records: male-centric, but still invaluable

      The Afrigeneas website has a great collection of links as does the Lowcountry Africana website also has a great collection of links.

      Also try Googling “African American historical records” or “African American genealogy records” – and similar search terms. Believe it or not, there is a wealth of information out there.

      My advice is if you’re just starting out, stick with one family line. It makes it a far less daunting task. I started with my father’s direct line. I only branched out (sorry, bad pun!) when I was really confident I knew what I was doing..and had worked out some research strategies that worked for me.

      Hope this helps.

      Brian

  2. Pingback: White & African American Ward – Sheffey family links in Speedwell, Wythe Co., VA | Genealogy Adventures

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