50 years a slave: the Findley family’s battle for freedom in Virginia

Update 1 May 2014: More information about how Rachel’s story came to light can be found here: 50 Years a slave: Rachel Findley’s story continues to receive media coverage http://wp.me/p1fqOP-jR

UPDATE 16 April 2014:  A search in Google Books yielded some possible answers as to how Henry Clay came to possess the two Choctaw children, Chance and James. Basically, the likelihood of finding one definitive answer is exceedingly remote. The book Kentucky Clay: Eleven Generations of a Southern Dynasty by Katherine R. Bateman covers this subject (http://books.google.com/books?id=ZxScKF_nkyUC&pg=PT45&lpg=PT45&dq=henry+clay+kidnaps+choctaw+children&source=bl&ots=p-0KypKNMf&sig=DzN1ZQLf8I2yTXJt899KMwK5qUs&hl=en&sa=X&ei=_oxNU_C5GOrNsQSkz4D4Dg&ved=0CCgQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=henry%20clay%20kidnaps%20choctaw%20children&f=false from Page 28 onwards) . The possible answers to this mystery the book provides have been compiled from witness testimonies and depositions in the various Findley court cases. Taken decades after the actual kidnappings of Chance and James, no two explanations as to how Henry Clay came to acquire the children are the same. Given this was a time before the Choctaws wrote their history down, it is unlikely there is an oral story that has been passed down through the centuries within that tribe. We would first need to know which Choctaw group the children belonged to and what part of the Choctaw territory they lived in. We’d also need to know their Choctaw names, which would not have been Chance or James  those were the names given to them by Henry Clay. Given this pivotal period of Choctaw history (the tribe’s dealing with Europeans) the story of two stolen children would have easily been lost.

Once again it’s the ladies in my family’s tree who provide an incredible detour and a truly remarkable, if not disturbing, tale. The story of Chance Findley and her descendants in Wythe County, Virginia is a multi-generational saga of the fight for freedom from an illegally imposed enslavement.

An email from Rob F, a distant relation through marriage, sent me down another rabbit hole of discovery. His email introduced me to the story of Rachel Findley, an ancestor of Mary Drew, my great-grandfather Daniel Henry Sheffey’s first wife (I’m a descendant of his second marriage to Jane White).

The family tree below charts my line’s connection to the Findley family. Please note, the Findley (aka Findlay) family is too large to include a full family tree featuring all of Chance Findley’s descendants. I’ve traced the direct line of descent for Mary Drew, noting the other children born within each generation of the Findley family for illustrative purposes.

Malinda Findley Cleaver Drew's family tree

Malinda Findley Cleaver Drew’s family tree – click for larger image


Rachel Findley: 12 years a slave – and then some.

So how did I come to learn about Rachel Findley?

Mary Drew’s great grandmother, Rachel Findlay, was recently honored by the Library of Virginia as part of their “Women in History” programmes. This is what Rob F wrote to me about in his email. Each year the Library of Virginia develops and distributes educational resources for Women’s History Month. The Library uses this occasion to honor women who have made significant contributions to Virginia’s history and culture. The Library honored Rachel Findley this month as one of those women. Rob F was kind enough to share the award ceremony information with me as well as particulars about the award evening.

Virginia's Women in History 2014

Why did Rachel Findley warrant such recognition? She was among a number of Findley’s descended from an illegally enslaved Choctaw Native American woman, Chance Findley, who successfully sued the Commonwealth of Virginia for their freedom.

Virginia's Women in History 2014

The hows and whys of Chance Fielding’s enslavement remain a mystery. All is known is that in the early 18th Century, one Henry Clay of Virginia brought back a Choctaw girl he called Chance and a Choctaw boy he named Frank. He enslaved both regardless of the laws of the land which prohibited the enslavement of Native Americans.

While other Findley’s legal fights for freedom were more or less straightforward – they sued the Commonwealth of Virginia, they won their cases and they were freed – Rachel’s road to freedom was a bitter one.

Rachel Findlay was born into slavery in the early 1750s in Virginia in an area that would later become Powhatan County. Her maternal grandmother Chance was an illegally enslaved Indian woman. Which meant that Rachel’s mother, Judea Findley, was also illegally enslaved. It’s presumed that Rachel’s father was an African descended slave. His name is not known. Virginia law dictated that the children of enslaved women were also slaves, so Judy Findlay and her children were born enslaved. Rachel Findlay, her brother Samuel, and her young daughter Judy sued their owner, Thomas Clay, on the grounds that because their grandmother’s enslavement was illegal, they were also illegally enslaved.

This suggest to me that Chance remembered who she was and where she’d come from in her early childhood in order to convey the injustice of what had been done to her, and her children, and her ever-increasing family. How her children and grandchildren arrived at the decision to sue for their freedom is unknown. Nor do I know what legal advice they were given or who counselled them. The General Court ruled in May 1773 that they were free. In a turn of events worthy of a Hollywood movie, the Clay family sent Rachel and her daughter Judy west before the court reached its verdict in 1774. The Clay family cynically sold them to John Draper. Draper and his family held Rachel and Judy in slavery in Wythe County.

Bill of sale for Rachel Findley and Judy Findley


Rachel Findlay again filed suit in the Wythe County Court in 1813. Her suit was to obtain the freedom to which she had been legally entitled but had never known much less enjoyed. After seven years of delays and difficulties – and the transfer of the case to the Powhatan County Court- Rachel once again won freedom for herself on 13 May 1820.

Powhatan court verdict for Rachel Findely

The decades of the injustice of illegal enslavement was undone with a simple sentence. This single sentence freed Rachel Findley and Judy Findley. Image courtesy of Rob F.

Chance Findlay’s approximately forty descendants- which included her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren – were therefore legally entitled to become free too. Freedom was not automatically granted to them even in the face of the illegality of their enslavement. Several of Chance Findlay’s descendants successfully sued for their freedom. Others may have never known about the suit and its outcome, or were prevented from also suing for their freedom; regardless, they remained enslaved.

Summaries of the numerous Findley suits against the Commonwealth of Virginia can be found here:



Malinda Findley Cleaver Drew: 19th Century Virginia adds insult to injury

There is another side of Virginia’s history of slavery, one that further impacts on the Findley family’s history. According to Virginia law, slaves freed after May 1806 were required to leave the state within one year or face re-enslavement. Newly emancipated slaves could petition the State to remain, however, approval for such petitions was by no means guaranteed. Virginia simply did not want a large population of free blacks.

And so it came to pass that Malinda Findlay Cleaver, the grand-daughter of Rachel Findlay’s daughter Judy, was sued by Virginia for not leaving the state upon the attainment of her freedom. It’s worth noting at this point that many from the extended Findley family had left Virginia for the mid-West when they won their individual freedoms from the courts. Rachel, Judy and Malinda chose to remain. Malinda’s full case paper is available for review here:



In the end it wasn’t the illegality of her childhood enslavement that saved Malinda from either imprisonment, re-enslavement or a fine. It was the fact that the 1806 Act, which decreed that freed slaves must leave Virginia within a year of their freedom, wasn’t ratified until many years after she’d already been freed. In other words, it wasn’t ratified until after she had been freed. Therefore, she was not bound by its conventions. She remained in Virginia where she would marry Lewis Drew, son of an old, established family of free blacks, and presided over her family.

The court proceedings didn’t serve to further enlighten me on the nature of slavery nor the injustices or corruption that were rife within it. Nor its fundamental inhumanity. I’ve been well schooled on such things already. These court proceedings, as unfortunate and as unnecessary as they were, provided invaluable genealogical information. I would go as far as to say I wouldn’t have been able to construct the Findley family tree without them. I would have known by the family name that various Findley’s were connected to one another. These papers and proceedings told me exactly how the various family groups were related to one another.

More interestingly still is the emphasis on the women. Nowhere have I been able to find information about them men who fathered four generations of Findlay women’s children. It’s not surprising if my assumption that they were enslaved men of African descended slaves is correct. These men, the sons of enslaved African women, could never have their status as slaves overturned and, as such, would be irrelevant to any court proceedings. So their existence is as much a void in the court papers as they are in the Findley family tree I’ve researched.


Filed under AfAm History, ancestry, Black History, family history, genealogy, Sheffey family, virginia, wythe

My first African ancestor discovered

When it comes to African American genealogy, finding an African ancestor seems like a pipe-dream. It’s like winning the lottery jackpot. It’s the holy grail. The idea of it seems so impossible, it brings to mind an image of Don Quixote fighting windmills – well, it does to my literary mind at any rate.

Thanks to three Rich Square, Northampton County, North Carolina Josey family cousins…I have my ancestral lottery mega millions win. I have my first direct ancestor who was born in Africa.

I have found African progenitors for other ancestral lines like Goins/Gowen, Christian, Cumbo, Barbour and Munzingo. I was pretty excited to find them too. However, these were families that my various ancestral lines married into. Finding my own African ancestor…well, I’m still somewhere circling Cloud 9.

So who is this ancestor? One of my maternal 4x great grandmothers, Venus. Venus “The Elder” would go on to take the last name Josey, the name of family who owned her. It’s also the surname of James Henry Josey, the man who fathered the four children of her daughter, Venus Josey “The Younger”. To distinguish between the two Venuses, I’ll refer to the elder Venus as “Venus” and the younger Venus as Venus Josey.

I’ve spent a few hours chatting with 3 newly discovered cousins from the wider Josey family. While they didn’t have many stories about Venus, what they did tell me shed some interesting light on her life.

Born around 1806, Venus arrived in South Carolina around the age of 13. That is a very useful, seemingly insignificant factoid. It will (hopefully!) help me identify the slave ship she arrived on. I can start researching slave ships that left the west coast of Africa for the southern states between 1817 and 1822. This 5 year spread takes into account her age – she might not have been 13 when she made that Trans-Atlantic slave ship voyage. And 1806 is only an estimated year of birth, given in 1870. Her first child was born in Rich Square, Northampton, NC in 1825. 1824, the year her daughter Venus Josey was conceived, would be the uppermost limit for the slave voyage search range.

mtDNA tests suggest Venus either came from Gabon or Cameroon.

Now that all seems rather straightforward in terms of research parameters. However, looks can be deceiving. The US Congress passed the Act to Prohibit the Importation of Slaves on 2 March 1807. Thomas Jefferson promptly signed it and it came into effect on 1 January 1808. This was about a decade before Venus’s transportation from Africa to South Carolina. And this is where things will get murky. This means she was illegally transported across the Atlantic and sold. Like any illegal activity, the chances of any documentation is slim. Very slim.

Trans-Atlantic slave trade map

Then there’s the question of what port this ship arrived in. Wilmington was an established slave port before the importation of slaves was outlawed. South Carolina, particularly Charleston, seems a more likely port prospect. Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana are just as likely in terms of ports of arrival. However, my instinct tells me that she arrived somewhere in South Carolina, where many of the North Carolina slave owning Joseys had purchased slaves previously.

illustration of a slave ship hold

That’s the historical aspect of this discovery. There is a human element too. I try to think of that 13 year old child crammed into the dark, dank hull of a slave ship for approximately a month with all the foul smells and filth that journey entailed. I can’t. I try to touch upon the fear she felt. I can’t do that either. It’s unimaginable. There are no family stories of any family members accompanying her on that journey. Presumably, she made that journey alone, leaving everything and everyone she knew behind. That she survived is a testament to her fortitude. There’s a glimpse into that fortitude in one last story about her.

Another family tale is that Venus was a princess or, at the very least, a younger daughter of an African chieftain.  While it would be a sensational find, I’m remaining sceptical. Like the many tales in my family of Native American ancestry – which DNA testing has over-ruled – I’m not going to get too excited by this claim ;)

There is one history sliver that my white and black Josey cousins have relayed to me. James Henry Josey freed Venus “The Younger” and her mother when Venus “The Younger” gave birth to the first of their four children. He freed their children too. James’s mother was, by all accounts, very fond of her mulatto grandchildren. She paid for their education and ensured that the money her husband had bequeathed to their grandchildren and Venus “The Younger” was safeguarded and duly handed over. In short, she ensured her grandchildren’s future prospects.

There is one story that I absolutely love. Venus came to understand English. However, she refused to speak it. Nothing could compel her to do it. That snippet of her history speaks volumes to me.


Filed under AfAm Genealogy, AfAm History, ancestry, Black History, family history, genealogy

An American Quaker in Afghanistan: Josiah Harlan, Prince of Ghor

I am an adventurer by nature. I mean the kind of adventurer who has enjoyed trekking through far-flung places: the Indian state of Kashmir, Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan, to name but a few of the off the beaten track destinations I’ve visited. I prefer places without mod cons. Places where I have to rough it (which you wouldn’t guess if you were to look at me!). I’ve thought nothing  of sleeping in drafty old mountainside barns, along  with livestock, for the privileged of experiencing unspoiled parts of the world where few Westerners have ever travelled.

And I’ve finally found a distant relation I think would have appreciate this.  This cousin happens to be the first American to step foot in Afghanistan.

Josiah Harlan in his Afghan robes. The only known photograph of him.

Josiah Harlan in his Afghan robes. The only known photograph of him. Image is in the public domain

19th Century Pennsylvania-born Quaker Josiah Harlan, Prince of Ghor (Afghanistan).  He’s my second cousin quite a few times removed on my mother’s side of the family. The more I read about him, the more I feel he’s a kindred spirit. Restless in the times he lived in, definitely a non-conformist – he was a man who was never going to be a 9-5 white collar office kind of guy; although that was very much the world he was born into. A man who reputedly inspired the main character in Rudyard Kipling’s story The Man Who Would Be King.


A Memoir of India and Afghanistan, which is actually still in print!

Josiah wrote a memoir of India and Afghanistan in 1842 (A Memoir of India and Afghanistan − With observations upon the present critical state and future prospects of those Countries).  His story would have been well-known during the time Kipling lived in Afghanistan.

Josiah Harlan was born in Newlin Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania on 12 June 1799. He was the ninth of ten children. When his mother died, she left a 2000 dollar inheritance to each of her children – a small fortune back in those days. Harlan and his brothers, however, were expected to build their own fortunes. Josiah and his brothers all had an adventurous streak, and a number of them chose to explore various exotic locations. Josiah’s brother Richard worked as a doctor in India. Richard returned to America with tales of his experiences and set up a job for Josiah on a ship to Calcutta. At age 20, Josiah worked at sea for a little over a year, using his shore leaves to explore China and India.

When his fiancée broke off their engagement, Josiah returned to India and stayed overseas for almost 20 years (This resonates with me. I spent 30 years in the not-so-exotic England). Interestingly, Josiah wasn’t actually trained as a doctor. I’m not sure how he blagged that one. However, he worked as a surgeon with the East India Company, which allowed him to live in India. His desire for adventure and glory soon pushed him beyond India’s borders. In 1815, he read an account of the Kingdom of Kabul, and its dependencies in Persia, Tartary, and India.  This book’s view of the Afghan Nation inspired Josiah’s goal to achieve the level of glory and riches described in this book.

I guess this where we differ. My treks to roughly the same part of the world were journies of enlightenment. A spiritual quest as it were. Josiah, it appears, was in it for the glory.

Map showing The location of Ludhiana in the Indian state of Punjab.

The location of Ludhiana in the Indian state of Punjab.

Image of Shah Shujah al-Moolk, circa 1835

Image of Shah Shujah-al-Moolk, circa 1835

His Central Asian saga began in the Indian border town of Ludhiana. It’s here that he met the deposed Afghan king, Shah Shujah-al-Moolk, who was in exile. Josiah approached him with a startling proposition: he would organize a rebellion against Dost Mohammed Khan, the usurper who had seized the crown.  In 1827, Josiah led a “ragtag” mob of Afghans, Muslims, Hindus, and Akali Sikhs off to Kabul. He followed the path Alexander the Great had taken into Afghanistan, both in travel and in politics. He disguised himself (as what, I don’t know) and slipped into Kabul.

By his own account, Josiah immediately fell in love with Kabul. He writes of “a jewel encircled by emerald, with flowers and blossoms whose odours perfume the air.” Its markets overflowed with fruit; grapes were so abundant that he fed them to his horse.

Image of Ranjit Singh, maharajah of the Punjab

Ranjit Singh, maharajah of the Punjab

Once he was in Kabul, Josiah survived a particularly virulent cholera epidemic. He credits “hard drinking and smoking intoxicating drugs,” in avoiding contracting the deadly disease. While there he heard rumours that Ranjit Singh, maharajah of the Punjab, was recruiting European generals. He rode to Lahore, where he met Singh, who granted him governorship of Gujrat. Joseph Wolff, an English missionary, sought a meeting with the Gujrat ruler, when “to his great surprise he heard someone singing ‘Yankee Doodle’.” Yep, this would be Josiah’s voice he heard.  Wolff described Josiah as a “fine, tall gentleman . . . with an Indian hookah in his mouth.”

Josiah was eventually sacked by Singh. The charge was for counterfeiting currency. Undaunted, Josiah struck oil in the ruins of a city razed by Genghis Khan, and later met the Hazara tribe – famed for its women, who were fearless hunters and famously beautiful.

Now quite a few adjectives get bandied about when it comes to Josiah during this period of his life. None of them are flattering: treacherous, duplicitous, and Machiavellian. While I don’t grasp all of his decisions, I’m trying to put myself in his shoes. He’s alone in a strange land where none of his fellow countrymen have ever been. I’m sure he was forced, many times, to live by his wits. Remember, there were no consulates or embassies to run to. Or, in the pursuit of glory, all other considerations were secondary.  I can’t make my mind up.

It’s reputed by the British (who occupied parts of Afghanistan at this time) that Josiah convinced the people of Kabul that he was a god. It’s worth noting at this point that the British were not Josiah’s biggest fans. Perhaps it was due to Josiah’s ‘going native’ – which was always a no-no with the British. Or perhaps it was because he upset the power balance in that part of Afghanistan where he settled by training the Afghans to fight.


Map showing the provice of Ghor in Afghanastan

Whatever the reason, Josiah became a prince through an agreement with the region’s ruler, Dost Mohammed Khan.

Image of  Dost Mohammad Khan

Image of Dost Mohammad Khan

In and amongst his personal papers, there is an ancient contract penned in Persian. By all accounts, this contract is stamped with an intricate and beautiful oval seal. Issued by a tribal leader, this contract granted him powers that included “the absolute and complete possession of his government.” Josiah had, indeed, become an Afghan suzerain (an autonomous sovereign). Which must have been anathema to the British government, which was engaged in annexing Afghanistan to its empire at the time. He ruled until 1839, resigning after British forces came to Kabul and reinstated an Afghani king.

After 20 years of adventure in India and Afghanistan, Josiah returned to the United States. He married Elizabeth Baker on 1 May 1849, in Chester County, Pennsylvania . Both were Quakers. Josiah was re-admitted back into the Friends after a judgment against him for violating the rules of pacifism had been withdrawn.

Harlan was feted as a national hero when he returned to America. His relationship with the American press was skillfully played. He instructed the press not to dwell on his royal title, since he “looks upon kingdoms and principalities as of frivolous import, when set in opposition to the honourable and estimable title of American citizen.” His glory quickly faded after the publication of his memoir, where he openly criticized the British and lauded the Russians, who were competing against the British for influence in this part of the world. It’s no surprise that Josiah was denounced in Britain.

Josiah became a consultant for the US government in the 1850’s during its quest to use camels as military transport in the deserts of the west. The US government opted for camels from North Africa instead, and a Turkish immigrant was used to secure them. All of Josiah’s plans to return to Afghanistan via a US government posting came to nothing.

Josiah wasn’t one to be idle. He turned a hand to botany. By all accounts he had a talent for it. At the outbreak of the American Civil War, he formed Harlan’s Light Cavalry (41 officers and 1,089 enlisted men) to fight for the Union. His abhorrence of slavery was his driving force. While I’ve read much of his writings, there isn’t any indication he was aware that his Harling cousins were slave owners in South Carolina. Whether or not he was aware of his own family’s connection to slavery, his Civil War gambit didn’t fare very well. Several subordinates objected to the old soldier’s abrasive manner and mutinied. There was even a messy court-martial.

Josiah died on 12 Oct 1871, while walking down the street in San Francisco, California.

As a result of a treaty Harlan signed, his heirs (which includes the 1978 Dawn of the Dead actor Scott Reiniger), are granted the title Prince of Ghor in perpetuity.

Whatever his faults and foibles may have been, I admire his adventurer’s spirit, his fortitude and his resilience.


Filed under ancestry, family history, genealogy

The 1926 Lynching of Raymond Byrd Part II

The August 1926 lynching of my second cousin twice removed, Raymond Arthur Byrd, remains one of my most read posts. Every week. Thanks to Google Analytics, I’ve been able to monitor the reach with posts relating to Raymond’s story. It doesn’t surprise me that Black History/Studies academics have read it. I can gauge this from all of the readers accessing the original post from university computers (e.g. IPs associated with accounts like .edu and .ac.uk). The NAACP has certainly read it. As have journalists from CNN, Al Jazeera, the BBC the UK’s Channel 4, Italy’s La Repubblica and the French newspaper Le Monde. It’s also been read by people at Twentieth Century Fox. It’s reach led to a British PhD student to get in touch with myself and one of Raymond’s descendants as part of her research into race issues in America.

This is a widely read story.

I’ve published one chapter of the story. That post covered  the circumstances which led up to Raymond’s lynching (Love and Lynching in Wytheville: Raymond Arthur Byrd https://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2013/06/26/love-and-lynching-in-wytheville-raymond-arthur-byrd).

I’d drafted a second chapter which discussed the immediate aftermath and the effect it had on his wife and children. I’ve never been able to bring myself to publish it. However, the poem written by Raymond’s widow, Tennessee “Tennie” Hawkins speaks to this far more eloquently and poignantly than I ever could:

In the cemetery at Murphysville where the flowers gently wave
Lies the one I love so dear in a cold shallow grave.
Folks may think I have forgotten and may think the wound has healed,
but they do not know the sorrow that is in my heart concealed.
I do not know the pain he bore
I did not see him die,
but this I know,
he had to go and did not say goodbye.
Sleep on, Sleep on, early fallen in your green narrow bed.
I will see you in eternity where no more goodbyes are said.

picture of WWI veteran Raymond Arthur Byrd with his wife, Tennesse "Tennie" Hawkins. Image courtesy of Anthony Q.

WWI veteran Raymond Arthur Byrd with his wife, Tennesse “Tennie” Hawkins. Image courtesy of Anthony Q.

With a story as horrific and tragic as this, there is always more to be told. This is a painful story. Raymond’s descendants still feel the pain of his loss and the circumstances behind that loss. So needless to say they are not always up to the task of discussing it. No one wants their family defined by personal events like this. His descendants have been. And that is a hard past to live with.  I write this update mindful that thousands perished in the southern states due to lynching:  African Americans, Irish, Italians, Hispanics and Chinese. The pain of Raymond’s family is one that too many families will be all too familiar with.

Raymond’s lynching was big news in America in 1926. Time Magazine and several newspapers around the country wrote several articles about it. I’ve embedded a number of contemporary articles at the bottom of this post.

My cousin Anthony Q recently provided more information about the aftermath of Raymond’s lynching.  Anthony’s wife is Raymond’s direct descendant. Anthony has provided a glimpse into an aspect that I’ve never really thought about: how did those who did the lynching live with themselves afterwards? 90 years later people are still uptight speaking about it.

I’ve seen pictures of lynch mobs. All those proud and smiling faces. Seemingly righteous and congratulatory  in their actions. I’m now asking myself if this was always the case. I’ll let Anthony’s own words do the talking:

Raymond Byrd, Wythe County, Virginia, was lynched (shot in the head, beaten about his head, dragged from his jail cell and taken about 9 miles and hung from a tree near a church) in 1926. He was a married man, age 31, veteran of WW1, of 3 daughters. He became involved with a young white woman (employer’s daughter) and she was impregnated by him. They hid the pregnancy but tried to find a home for the baby. They eventually found one.  However, by then, the walls were caving in.

The white woman’s [Minnie Gubb] father and locals found out about the affair. They tried to coerce the young woman to lie and say he raped her. She wouldn’t do it. They then made her 12-year-old sister lie and say he ‘came after’ her. This statement in hand, locals arrested him on these charges. After threats, and people warning to move him to a jail where he would be better protected were ignored, 50 white men in masks came in the jailhouse that night (sheriff/deputies somehow were nowhere to be found) got the keys and brutalized and killed him in a manner to warn other African Americans who thought about stepping out of what was deemed acceptable in that town.

Minnie never got along with her father after the killing and had as little as possible to do with him.

Floyd Willard was the only man indicted by a Grand Jury for the lynching bragged about being involved. He was acquitted after only ten minutes of deliberation during the trial on July 19, 1927. His family lied and said he was home during the whole time of the killing.

Walter White, later head of the NAACP, helped the family to investigate the murder.

Click for larger image.

It’s the next piece of the story that Anthony recently shared that really hit me.

Talking to descendants and others, most of the men involved [in the lynching] all died terrible deaths. There was a case where a man was on his death bed saying, “Raymond Bird! Leave me alone. Leave me alone! Help me someone. Get him out.” I’m not sure how true this is, but many people I spoke to who don’t know one another told similar stories about how some of these men died. Many of them seemed to be haunted by [Raymond].

Haunted. In its rightful context, it’s a powerful word. And apt. The more I learn about this part of my family’s history, the more the facts reveal themselves, the more I realize that no one came out of this unscathed.

While a social and legal justice did not serve Raymond or his family, another form of justice seems to have prevailed on those who killed him.  That’s where I’m going to leave this post.

Note: I expect there will be a number of comments for this post. Please note that I read and approve every comment before it’s published. I also check each and every backlink to Genealogy Adventures posts. There will be a short time lag (usually an hour or two) before comments are published and/or backlinks approved. It’s a very sad commentary of our times that just because something can be said – no matter how incorrect, faulty or just plain nasty – doesn’t mean that it should be. So I take these measures to ensure that this blog remains respectful and, well, a safe place for conversations to be had and viewpoints shared.

I’ve provided clips below to indicate the scale of this story in Virginia and the rest of the country. The clippings are courtesy of https://www.newspapers.com. Please click on each to see a larger image. Raymond’s surname was changed from Byrd to Bird. It’s a guess, but I’m of the mind that this was done to disassociate Raymond from then Virginia Governor, Harry F Byrd, who may or may not have been a distant relation.


The first article below shows how quickly misinformation spread. The 3 children mentioned in this article were most likely the daughters he had with his wife, Tennie Hawkins. He only had one child with Minnie Grubb, also a daughter. Despite claims made at the time, Minnie was the only other woman Raymond had relations with.


Filed under AfAm Genealogy, AfAm History, ancestry, Black History, family history, genealogy, virginia, wythe

The New York Public Library Released 180,000 Free Images

The New York Public Library just digitized 180,000 high-resolution items. The public can download them…for free!

The images, which are in the pubic domain (in other words, no longer subject to copyright), come from the library’s collection. The image repository includes botanical illustrations, ancient texts, historical maps—including the incredible Green Book collection of travel guides for African American travelers in the mid-1900s.

Image of male Jewish Ellis Island Imigrant, 1926, courtesy of NYPL Digital Collections

Image courtesy of NYPL Digital Collections

The Library has also released more than 40,000 stereoscopes, Berenice Abbott’s amazing documentation of New York City in the 1930s, and Lewis Hines’ photos of Ellis Island immigrants, as well as the letters of Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, among other political figures – which is cool for me on a personal level since I’m related to many of these historical figures.

The phrase “treasure trove” springs to mind. Considering the huge number of my ancestors and relations who moved from the southern states to New York City from the 1880s onwards, these images give me a glimpse into the lost world they lived in.

So, while US presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz may feel some sort of way about New Yorkers and their values,  these images made me fall in love with New York and its history all over again.

You can access this image repository via http://digitalcollections.nypl.org

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Filed under ancestry, family history, genealogy

Thousands of 1890 US Census Records Still Exist

Like many genealogists and family historians, I’ve found the lack of 1890 Census records to be somewhere between unfortunate and annoying. A twenty year gap between the 1880 Census and the 1900 Census has played merry havoc with more than a handful of my research.

So I was really excited when I came across a blog post I’m going to share with you. You’ll find a link at the bottom of this post.


1890 Census fragment.

Many family historians are fully aware of the fact that the 1890 census, which contained more than 60 million individuals, was destroyed in the early 20th century and is therefore not available for genealogical research. The lack of this valuable resource, one from such an important time in America’s history, has left a huge gap for many of us.

Despite the common belief that these precious records were simply destroyed by fire in 1921, the actual story of what happened is quite surprising and somewhat disturbing. You can read all about it in this article on Family History Daily. But there is another twist to this story — some of these records DO still exist and they can be accessed online for free. – Family History Daily

You can find out more about the 1890 Census information that still exists by visiting:

Family History Daily: http://familyhistorydaily.com/free-genealogy-resources/thousands-of-1890-census-records-do-still-exist-heres-how-to-find-them-for-free

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Filed under family history, genealogy, searching census records, Uncategorized

FamilySearch’s Free Online Research Courses


FamilySearch.org, the free online genealogy service, has a staggering library of free online genealogy courses. The courses are in the form of videos.

There doesn’t seem to be a topic that these videos don’t cover. From understanding Swedish and German birth records, to interpreting the information on Scottish, Irish and English census records to how to organize your research…there are very, very few topics that haven’t been covered.

It’s a goldmine of information for seasoned and newbie genealogy researchers.

You can access the videos here: https://familysearch.org/learningcenter/home.html

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Filed under ancestry, family history, genealogy, Uncategorized

Finding cousins through social media

Ancestry.com has published a helpful video series outlining how to use the power of social media to find cousins.

Just like Ancestry.com says: Social media is not just for cat videos and boring vacation photos. Many family historians post what they know about their ancestors in hopes of finding a long lost cousin or two.

With this in mind, the video explores what you might find on Facebook and Twitter as well as some places you might not have thought of like email lists and message boards.

While the video is Ancestry.com focussed, you can use the same approaches for any genealogy service provider.

You can catch the video via the link below:

Cousin Bait: Make Social Media Work for You



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Mapping my father’s mtDNA to African tribes

It probably comes as no surprise that I’m a conceptual thinker. And few things aid my understanding of concepts better than visuals. Especially when I create visual materials. As I create things I begin to see inter-relationships in a tangible way. It’s the way my mind rolls, and I’ve learned to embrace it.

It’s like baking a cake. Ok, I get what a cake is. However, when I combine the different ingredients, and know their individual properties and how they interact with each another, I get how a cake is actually made. You don’t see the egg or the butter or the milk in the final product, but you know they’re there and how they contributed to the overall cake.

With this in mind, I’ve been making maps of the African tribes my father and I are descended from.

I’ve made 3 maps that cover:

  1. My Y-DNA (haplogroup subclade  E1b1a1a1f1a1) – the DNA that is passed down from fathers to sonsdna-reunion-y
  2. My mtDNA (haplogroup subclade L2a1c4a) – the DNA that is passed down from mothers to daughters. Mothers also pass this on to their sons. Sons, however, do not pass this on to their children.dna-reunion-m
  3. My father’s mtDNA (Haplogroup L3). I am so grateful that he took this test. He is the only living link I directly had to his mother’s mtDNA.dna-reunion-m

This project helped me to better understand:

  1. How each of these 3 sets of African DNA travelled within the African Continent; and
  2. Which tribes I’m directly descended from, and which tribes are genetic cousins.

The second point will have a role to play when the time comes to start pinpointing specific African ancestors who were captured and sent to the American colonies as slaves. In other words, it saves me from trying to look for a needle in a haystack. Instead, I can look for that needed in a specific part of the haystack.

Some interesting possibilities revealed

MY Y-DNA and the 2 mtDNA tests were done via Genebase and form the basis of this mapping project.

My Y-DNA and mtDNA tests connect me to a staggering number of African tribes. Thinking logically, I knew I couldn’t be a direct descendant of all of them. As I mentioned above, only a handful were going to be the tribes of my direct ancestors. All of the others would be like second or third cousins, etc.

It turns out that once I made a map, some interesting possibilities presented themselves. I’m going to do an individual post for each of the 3 maps. It makes it easier to convey the story each map is beginning to reveal.

My father’ maternal mtDNA mapping results

I’m going to start with my father’s maternal mtDNA, the mtDNA he inherited from his mother, Susan Julia Roane (remember, I didn’t inherit any of this mtDNA):

Susan Roane mtDNA outlined

Plotting the direct female mtDNA African lineage of my grandmother, Susan Roane. This map illustrates how her mtDNA was carried from east to west within Africa (Organe-brown arrow). The blue and green arrows show how this mtDNA was carried into southern Africa through her female DNA cousins. Click for larger image.


A few things to keep in mind before I delve into how I’ve interpreted this map:

  1. The number of African tribes that have been tested is relatively small compared to non-African populations; and
  2. For the tribes that have had their DNA tested and sequenced, the number of people tested can be quite small (like the 27 Somalians who were tested and whose results from part of Genebase’s research and indigenous peoples’ results).

So what does this map tell me?

Well, like every human being on the plant, the journey begins in the Horn of Africa. So no surprises there.

Susan Roane’s direct maternal ancestor’s DNA travelled into the heart of the African continent. I’ve illustrated this with the big orange-brown arrow. Her ancient female cousins (e.g. not her direct ancestral line), carried the same mtDNA into southern Africa – both along the east and west coasts.

Her direct, African female ancestors appear to have settled in and around the Greater Lake Chad region, including northern Cameroon. You can see this in the cluster of tribes formed by the Fali, Fulbe, Kanuri, Kotoko, Mafa and Masa.

I’m thinking that the Fulbe in Niger, Nigeria, Mali and Senegal are genetic Fulbe cousin lines. Too much of her mtDNA is clustered in northwest Cameroon and southwestern Chad. It’s here that I think the woman who was the mother of Susan Roane’s American female line came from. My father shares only a small number of mtDNA markers with the Fulbe outside of this Lake Chad zone.  His strongest Fulbe mtDNA results specifically point to Lake Chad and its environs.

So what’s the story with the Fulbe?

I’m doing quite a bit of research on these tribes. However, an interesting picture has begun to emerge.

While they are rarely discussed, Africa had ancient kingdoms. The central African kingdom that encompassed my grandmother’s mtDNA was the Fulani Empire. You can see this empire in the picture below:


Fulani Empire in western  Africa

There’s quite a bit of Fulbe in my grandmother’s mtDNA. The Fulbe were part of the Fulani tribe. It turns out that the Fulani have quite the history.

The Fulani are an ancient tribe. By ‘ancient’ I mean the ancient Greeks (Herodotus, to be specific), Egyptians and Assyrians wrote about them. I’m finding it difficult to get a handle about the origins of the Fulani. There’s quite a bit of positive and negative propaganda about them. Depending on the author, there’s a vested interest in saying that the Fulani either came from this place, or that place or some other place. So I’m taking what I’ve read so far with a pinch of salt. I’m still searching for a respected, credible source with verifiable information.

Some sources say they came from India. Others claim they came from northern Africa. Yet others claim the Fulani came from eastern Africa. There is one point pretty much all the authors I’ve read so far agree on: the Fulani were not indigenous to the Lake Chad and western African region.  Anthropology has shown that this region had been previously settled by tribes with a far older history in the region.

There are claims that the Fulani introduced Islam to Africa. I don’t know if this is true or not. I do believe, however, they were early adopters of the Islamic faith. In turn, they made it the official religion of their empire. You can read a bit about the Fulani and Islam here: The Spread of Islam in West Africa: Containment, Mixing, and Reform from the Eighth to the Twentieth Century,  http://spice.fsi.stanford.edu/docs/the_spread_of_islam_in_west_africa_containment_mixing_and_reform_from_the_eighth_to_the_twentieth_century

The other tribes I’ve pinpointed in the Fulani-controlled area in map above were also largely Muslim. Like other Fulani-related tribes, they were active traders and I can easily imagine marriages between them. Which would explain their genetic markers in my paternal grandmother’s mtDNA.

The Fulani were also slavers. Large scale slavers – selling Africans into slavery within Africa and to Europeans. This is covered in the Wikipedia article below.

Some articles about the Fulani:

  1. Wikipedia (It’s Wikipedia – so by no means a definitive authority on the subject):  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fula_people#Timeline_of_Fulani_history
  2. Who are the Fulani People & Their Origins:  https://tariganter.wordpress.com/2011/09/17/who-are-the-fulani-people-their-origins/

Back to the Fulbe

The Fulbe were also largely Muslim. They had the designation of being free men within the Fulani. I need to do a lot more reading about this to understand what that term actually meant. I’m wondering if the Fulani had a caste system with various designations between free men and slaves. I’m definitely curious. I’m curious because I’m willing to bet, based on the map I’ve created, that my paternal grandmother’s enslaved mtDNA ancestor was Fulbe. And, if she was Fulbe, she would have been a free woman within this society. In all likelihood she would have also been Muslim. So how did her story end as a slave in the American colonies (presumably colonial Virginia)?

Looking at my father’s mtDNA connections in America, 85% are at an 8th generation level. That means the common female ancestor he shares with them lived centuries ago. Generational computation is a tricky thing. Lifespans vary from century to century and from region to region. Nor do I have any idea what the average lifespan of an African slave in America was. It’s always worth remembering this.

This being said, at an 8th generation level, I’m going to take an educated guess that the female Fulbe ancestor he shares with this 85% would have arrived in America sometime between the 1680s and the 1710s.

Genealogy – you get some definitive and probable answers…and a bunch of new questions.

The answer that’s emerging from this map project is that one of the ancestors who made that voyage from Africa to the American colonies was a woman from the Fulbe people. While this doesn’t tell me her name, or exactly when she was abducted and sold, it narrows my search. For instance, I can narrow down the number of African ports from which Fulbes were shipped to America between 1680 and 1720. From there, I can gather a list of slave ships that left western African slave ports for Virginia. And from there, I can see if any have Fulbe women were listed.






Filed under AfAm Genealogy, AfAm History, ancestry, Black History, family history, genealogy, Genetics, Roane family

George Murdock’s map of the Ethnolinguistic groups of Africa

This post about ethnic diversity in Africa is a companion piece to my previous post.

The renowned American anthropologist, George Murdock (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Murdock), published Africa: Its peoples and their culture history in 1959 (http://www.amazon.com/Africa-Peoples-their-Culture-History/dp/0070440522).  Despite having little experience in Africa, Murdock used resources available at the time to create a comprehensive picture of how ethnic groups were distribution throughout Africa.

Ethnicity is fluid process. This makes the study of ethnicity difficult. Various factors come into play in defining, and re-defining, ethnicity. Personal, economic and cultural factors influences how members of ethnic groups define and redefine themselves. Marriages too can alter ethnic definitions.  In short, ethnicity is a human construct. It’s worth bearing this in mind when viewing ethnic-centric maps.

The map below, like the map in my previous post, is based on linguistic categorizations:

George Murdock's Ethnolinguistic groups of Africa map, 1996

Ethnolinguistic groups of Africa, 1996 publication by the Library of Congress Geography and Map Division. Principal source: Africa, its peoples and their cultural history, G.P. Murdock, 1959. Tribal or ethnic names may vary, depending on source. Only large ethnolinguistic areas of intrusiveness are shown. Ethnolinguistic boundaries are generalized. Sparsely populated or uninhabited areas are shown by the absence of color.

Part of my fascination with maps like this one, and the one in my previous post, is allowing me to see my genetic connections visually.

I’m fortunate. My Genebase DNA test answered the question about how my father’s paternal DNA travelled across the African continent – from the Horn of Africa, up through Egypt, and then across the north African Mediterranean coast until it reached Morocco and then dropped down to the Western Sahara region. I can trace how this DNA later travelled into parts of Western Africa and entered into a handful of Bantu speaking populations. And, from here, how it was carried further still into the Caribbean, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay – places where I have living genetic cousins.

I can see how my mother’s maternal DNA travelled from the Horn of Africa right through the heart of central Africa, and then on to western and southern Africa. Like my father’s paternal DNA, my mother’s maternal DNA travelled from western and central Africa to the Caribbean and eastern Latin America.

Scientists are testing and sequencing more African tribal DNA. This is helping me build a picture of how my ancient African ancestors’  DNA travelled across Africa. It looks like my ancient African ancestors passed through some places quickly. These places act as small blips in my overall genetic makeup (which could also be a case that not enough people from that area just haven’t been tested yet). For instance, where my mother’s maternal DNA is concerned, I only have trace amounts of genetic links to modern Sudan.  In this scenario, Sudan looks like it was a quick pit-stop for her maternal genetic line.

Other places seem to have been long-term staging posts. Places where my parents’ ancestors settled for a considerable period of time before moving on. I have more genetic connections with modern African tribes in these places.  Staying with my mother’ s maternal DNA, I have a very significant genetic connection to the Arab population around Lake Chad and within Chad itself.  It’s only an educated guess, but this seems to indicate that her ancient ancestors remained in the Lake Chad area for generations. The Central African Republic and Nigeria also appear to have been other long-term staging posts for her maternal DNA. Cameroon looks like it was a quick pit-stop.

It’s relatively easy for me to see and understand how my Asian and European DNA moved from east to west in the Eurasian region. I have a whole family tree and documented family history that illustrates how this happened. Not so for my African ancestors. DNA is my sole resource for comprehending and understanding my African genetics. And, like other descendants of the African diaspora, I am reliant on genetics and anthropology to interpret my ancient African legacy – to catch a glimpse of the series of ancient peoples who carried that DNA from eastern Africa throughout the continent.

Who were the ancient African equivalents of my Euro-Asian Ostrogoth, Visigoth, Lombardian and Vandal ancestors? Who were the ancient African forbearers of the Fulani, the Taureg, the Berber, the Dinka, the Hausa and the Songhai?

Maps like the on above can’t answer that. However, this map pinpoints the modern descendants of these ancient tribes. Which, for the moment, provides some glimpses into that unrecorded ancient past…and the monumental journey of African DNA across that continent.

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Filed under AfAm Genealogy, AfAm History, ancestry, Black History, family history, genealogy, Genetics, Race & Diversity