A mystery solved: How Black Roanes came to be in Iowa

An unexpected find has lead to a bit of an exciting discovery.  I literally stumbled across some 1915 Iowa Statue census returns which answered my question about how and why a group of African-American Roanes left Virginia to live in Des Moines, Iowa.

The 1915 records show the white William M Roane residing in Des Moines, Iowa with his sons Walker and Samuel and their families. The census records also show that this white Roane family group had been living in Des Moines since 1904. Living next door to them are members of the black Roane family – Charles Henry Roane and his family. Charles Henry Roane and his family were also resident in Des Moines since 1904. Whilst it’s not definitive proof, I can only hazard a guess that this isn’t coincide. The black and white family members moved as a full group.

However, as one mystery is solved another comes to light. The white Roane family has connections with North Carolina. While William M Roane’s birthplace is cited as Missouri, his sons were born in North Carolina.

Charles Henry Roane and his wife Maria were born in Virginia. Their children were born in Maryland, indicating a move from Virginia to Maryland. The birth of their son, Samuel Roberts Roane in Maryland in 1894, would indicate a move from Virginia to Maryland in the early 1890s, leaving his siblings and his father Robert Roane behind in Virginia. Although it’s worth noting that around the same time Charles Henry Roane moved with his family, and William M Roane’s family, to Des Moines, his brother Eugene moved to Philadelphia – another indication of the diaspora that was occurring at the turn of the 20th Century with so many members of the Virginia family moving to other states.

So while the exact nature of the family relationship between these black and white family members of William M Roane and Charles Henry Roane remains elusive and is another mystery to be solved – there was one.  It was a bond of trust, as well as blood, strong enough for Charles to throw his lot in with William and move to Des Moines.

Seemingly “dry” census records once again shed some light on, and give a voice to, family history. And this set of records again illustrates the generally close ties that existed between black and white Roane family groups from the end of slavery through to the early decades of the 20th Century.

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