Genealogy challenges: Part 2 – The Turners of Charles County, Maryland

My Turner lineage has been one of the most difficult and troublesome to trace. Of the eight families my research has primarily concentrated on, I’ve gained the least ground with this one.  Common names and scant citation in official documents have all played a part in making this a difficult family to research.

My great-grandfather, Daniel Patrick Turner (1879 – 1929), was a harbinger for what was to come. I naively believed that there couldn’t be very Maryland-born, African-American men with the name Daniel Patrick Turner during my great-grandfather’s lifetime. Had I been searching for an Irishman with that name it would have been a different story.  An African-American?  It had to be a cinch.   Wrong! A search on Familysearch.org and Ancestry.com returned an impressive list of African American men bearing the names Daniel Turner and Daniel Patrick Turner.

An inspired moment led me to search for his marriage record to Beatrice Josey.  Hers was a more distinctive name and that hunched paid off. I found Daniel and, more importantly, I found his year of birth, his parents’ names and his place of birth. I also found his death certificate which again listed his year of birth, Maryland as the place of his birth and his parents’ names.  At this point I believed I had enough information to sink my teeth into some deeper research.

Census data could only be found if I searched for both Daniel Turner and his wife Beatrice. The result of this meant I could only find him via his wife Beatrice.  To-date, I have been unable to find him in census records prior to his marriage – with one exception. There are simply too many Maryland-born, African-American Daniel Turner’s born in or reasonably around 1879 to be certain that I’m looking at the correct one in the records.

The exception is the 1910 Census where he’s living with his sister Matilda (Turner) Jackson. And this I found when doing a Census search for his sister.  Matilda Turner, being a relatively distinctive name, was easy to trace.

Born in 1879, it should be possible to find Daniel in the 1880 and 1900 Census records.  So far, he’s proven elusive.

I also haven’t been able to determine Daniel’s county of birth, which is another issue.  Knowing the county of his birth would provide a narrower parameter in which to search. His son, my maternal grandfather, is recorded as being born in La Plata, Maryland. Daniel, however, doesn’t appear to have any association with La Plata. So this, it appears, would be a dead end in terms of this line of enquiry.

Daniel’s father, Patrick Turner (b. 1842), would prove to be even more elusive. Patrick Turner appears in the 1870 Census with a wife, Caroline, and not my great-grandfather’s mother, Amelia Burch.  He was resident in Charles County, Maryland. A search of 1880 records unearthed nothing. He simply wasn’t in the records.  I’ve had all manner of enlightened moments in terms of searching for him in the official records. Thinking Daniel Patrick Turner might have been named for his father, I tried searching for a Daniel Patrick Turner born in Maryland in 1842 – with no results. I’ve tried every variation of ‘Patrick Turner’ I could think of: Patrick, Paddy, Pad, Pat, etc – and again, nothing.  He simply vanishes by the time of the 1880 Census.  He may have died before the 1880 Census.  However, his death ought to have been recorded.  African-American deaths were officially recorded at this time so I couldn’t imagine why his wouldn’t.

A search for marriage records to either Amelia Burch or second wife Caroline also drew blanks. I couldn’t find a marriage record for either wife.

The last role of the dice with regards to Patrick Turner was a possible relocation.  At some point between 1910 and 1920, Daniel Turner and his family moved from Maryland to Washington D.C.  My rationale was the son may have followed the father to Washington D.C. – or vice versa.  However, again, a search of Washington D.C. census returns turned up nothing for Patrick Turner.

Every avenue of research continues to draw a blank.

I’ve done some preliminary research on African-American Turners in Charles County, Maryland. Generally, the Turners of Charles County fall into a few camps.  These are family groups who lived in Nanjemoy, Port Tobacco, Bryantown and Newtown.

Map of Charles County, Maryland

Map of Charles County, Maryland

Interestingly, La Plata is located between Bryantown and Nanjemoy.  Newtown is just to the south of La Plata. So while it would appear that my grandfather and his family were amongst a handful of African-American Turners in La Plata, they weren’t too far from the extended Turner family.   This at least is something. It places my grandfather, his sisters and his mother into a (very, very) general Turner family context in Maryland. However, it doesn’t answer the questions around Daniel Turner or Patrick Turner and who, exactly, they were related to in Charles County.

I haven’t raised the white flag of surrender on the African-American Turners of Charles County, Maryland just yet. I’ve left this to simmer quietly on a back burner.  My hope is that a Turner researching the same family line will get in touch with at least one or two missing pieces to aide in the research.  If the information can’t be found in official records, I hope it will become available in someone else’s family tree.

This is one reason – and an important one in my book – why more African Americans should take the leap and begin tracing their ancestral history. Online family trees can, and do, provide invaluable information.  They are an important resource, especially when there are gaps in the official records.

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