Pleasant Roane Part II: An unexpected link to Thomas Jefferson and Monticello

There are times when my adventures in genealogy blow my mind.  This is one of them.

I wrote about my visit to Monticello last week (Visiting Monticello via https://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2017/08/04/visiting-monticello )  What I didn’t say in that post is that the day after my visit to Monticello, I received an email from a Steven D. Now, Steven had no idea that I had visited Monticello the day before he sent his email.  No one did.  My phone battery had died by the time we reached the estate, so I had no way of sharing that adventure on social media.

So imagine my surprise when I received the email from Steven regarding the remarkable story of Pleasant Roane (Pleasant Roane (Rowan) and the road to manumission in Lynchburg via https://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2017/01/28/pleasant-roane-rowan-and-the-road-to-manumision-in-lynchburg):

His [Pleasant’s] father was Peter. Peter was owned by [John] DePriest, but Peter, his wife and a son were purchased from Thomas Jefferson in 1791. I have copies of John Sr and Jr, wills regarding the slaves they kept and sold.

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Thomas Jefferson

Monticello and Thomas Jefferson…again.

I also now have the name of one of Pleasant’s parents, which I didn’t have previously: his father, Peter. This short email has opened a new line of research for Pleasant and his family. 

To clarify, Steven is a DePriest family descendant. I literally had goose bumps when I read Steven’s email. I was just there. I had just stood on the ground where Peter, Pleasant and their family had lived and toiled until they went to John DePriest. Take away the modern developments, and the trees that were planted by the subsequent owners of the estate…I had just seen the same vista that they would have seen. That’s some powerful mojo.

This is the perfect reason why genealogy is a powerful actor in my life. I never know what discovery is on the horizon.

Needless to say I’m in touch with the people at Monticello to see what records exists for Pleasant, his parents, and his siblings.

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Visiting Monticello

I had the opportunity to visit Monticello the other day. Considering my recent trip where I visited some of my Roane family relations on another plantation in Louisiana, I knew It was going to be a day of mixed emotions.

While I knew Monticello sat atop a mountain, it never occurred to me exactly what went into its actual construction. Enter our (amazing) tour guide, Mary. One of the first things she told our tour group was that it had taken hundreds of enslaved people to literally level the uppermost part of the mountain in order to create the flat plateau visitors to Monticello see today. It didn’t occur to me until long after our tour had finished to ask how much earth had been removed as part of that human engineering feat. It was an exceedingly hot and humid day when we visited. I couldn’t image the physical toll that endeavor must have taken. While the view from the house and the surrounding gardens and terraces are stunning…they came at a real human price.

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The land surrounding Monticello is what remains of the top of a mountain which was cleared away through the labour of enslaved people

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The image above gives you some idea of the view of the surrounding area from Monticello.  You can literally see the surrounding countryside for miles in every direction.

Thomas Jefferson, the man behind the building of Monticello, was a practical man. The tons of earth his enslaved population removed, in order to clear the land for the estate, were used to make the very bricks which built the house. It was also used to daub the gaps of the cabins built for his enslaved population. Very little, it seems, went to waste.

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The bricks used in the construction of the house and the surrounding terraces and outbuildings were made with the distinctive red soil that was removed in the creation of the flat plateau.

At the start of the tour, Mary asked people in our group where we’d come from. I mentioned that I was from London and Boston. I can’t remember the exact question that prompted my next answer. It had something to do with was I excited about being there. I laughed as I told her I was, but for a reason she probably would find very hard to believe. She countered with “Try me.” So I mentioned that Thomas Jefferson was an ancestral cousin via one set of known common ancestors – Thomas Grey, 2nd Marquess of Dorset, and his wife, Margaret Wolton. Mary didn’t blink and answered with something of a cheeky grin: “Why on earth would I find that hard to believe?” There are other common ancestors via my Randolph line, however, I need to do much more work on that family to find the relatively more recent common ancestors via that line. My sister mentioned that Sally Hemmings was also a cousin and a Sheffey family relation via her Woodson descendants.

It was at that point that I clocked her surname…and spent the rest of the tour impatiently waiting for a chance to ask her a question about some of her ancestors. Mary’s surname is one that I know very, very well from years of researching my Virginia family. Because I haven’t had an opportunity to ask her if she’d be fine with me using her full name (I’m positive she would be. However, it’s always good to have that permission), I’m not going to publish her surname.

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My brother (left) and I chatting to our newfound cousin Mary (centre). The small building in the background is where Thomas Jefferson and his family lived during the construction of Monticello.  Picture courtesy of Khoncepts

So, as we moved to one of the terraces, I asked her if she was a descendant of a famous Jamestown family. She readily answered ‘yes’. I explained how I was a descendant of the same family via a labyrinth of Ball-Mottrom marriages on my father’s maternal line through his Roane line, as well as Poythress-Strother marriages on his paternal side of his family through his Clark line. She laughed out loud. That was it. We were cousins. I had to laugh myself. I joked with her that she couldn’t have expected that as she got ready for work that morning. She couldn’t resist sharing that piece of news with the rest of the tour group.

Which just goes to prove one of the central premises behind Genealogy Adventures: Americans are connected to each other in amazing, surprising, and long forgotten ways – regardless of race, ethnicity, or other measures used to divide us from one another.

Things took a decidedly deeper, more contemplative, and spiritual turn as my siblings and I made our way to where Sally Hemmings had her rooms.

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My brother and I standing in front of Sally hemming’s rooms. Picture courtesy of Khoncepts

Where she lived is currently an active archaeological dig site, so we were not able to actually go in and see. Nevertheless, in the moments before the above snap was taken, I spent some time contemplating the life of this familial relation. The range of emotions was wide and varied.

Next came Mulberry Row.  It was here that I stood inside a cabin for enslaved people for the first time in my life. The Hemmings cabin, as it’s called, is a reproduction – and by no means your typical slave cabin. From what our second tour guide told us, it reflected the status of the Hemmings family – well, as much ‘status’ as any enslaved person could attain  Just to put that into a realistic context.

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Exterior shot of the Hemmings cabin

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Interior shot of the Hemmings cabin

Too many thoughts went through my head to share here. Everywhere I looked, I returned to the thought than an entire family would have shared this humble space. I went pretty quiet as I contemplated that existence.  Suffice to say it was a powerful and stark experience. My only comment was to my brother as I said that, while I knew there were many African-descended Americans who couldn’t make the same claim – that our family had come a long, long way from the days this cabin represented. That’s all that needed to be said.

Our final stop before we left was the cemetery for the enslaved people. That space hit me the hardest.

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There are 400 known enslaved souls who toiled at Monticello. To-date, only 40 of their burials are known. No one knows who any of these 40 individuals were. They are nameless. The area of the demarcated cemetery is small. It would take a minute to walk across its width, and about a minute to walk across its length. It’s small. As for headstones or engraved markers? There are none. Just a few rocks.

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The image above is a plaque with a list containing the names of only a fraction of the enslaved souls who died at Monticello.  It is not an indication of any of the 40 known graves in the fenced off portion of the cemetery.

To say this hit me hard would be an understatement. It was like being sucker punched. I simply wasn’t expecting it. Nor was I alone. A friendly, middle-aged European-descended couple arrived just as my siblings and I were leaving. The wife asked us if we knew where the slave cemetery was. My siblings and I pointed to the space in front of us , and said, almost in unison: “This is it.”

Both of them looked perplexed. And the wife asked us another question: “But where are the headstones?” My voice was pretty flat as I spoke. “Those handful of rocks. That’s it.” Both of them were horrified, and visibly upset. All I could offer them was, “It is what it is.”  Really, that’s all I could say.  In that instance they got it.  I knew they got it. I could see it on their faces. And, I suppose, that is the unspoken power of places like Monticello.

That’s the full circle of my experience at Monticello.  At the start, it was visiting the ancestral home of a distant cousin.  The latter, the stark reminder of why I am related to Thomas Jefferson at all….through slavery. It’s quite the thing to wrap my head around at times and face.  However, as I said to the couple at the cemetery for the enslaved, it is what it is.

The Moses Williams Project in the news: San Diego Free Press

image showing The Moses Williams Project Article: A Genealogy Adventure with Slave and Supercentenarian Moses Williams | San Diego Free Press

The Moses Williams Project Article: A Genealogy Adventure with Slave and Supercentenarian Moses Williams | San Diego Free Press

Donya Williams, the four-times great-granddaughter of a man named Moses Williams, asked me if I would help draw attention to some research she and a cousin are doing titled: Stronger Together: The Moses Williams Genetic Genealogy Project.

So I started reading a bio she sent me of their work and can’t help but think they already know what they’re doing.

I was barely into reading other information when the names Strom Thurmond, 50 Cent, Al Sharpton, and L.L. Cool J jumped out at me – names I wouldn’t ever expect to appear in the same sentence.

I mean what could a white Southern senator who loves the KKK and a man who raps, “There’s no business like ho business” and a melodramatic Baptist preacher “Keepin’ it Real” and the creator of “Mama Said Knock You Out” possibly have in common?

Well, they’re all from Edgefield, South Carolina. And they’re all in one way or another related to the cousins. When this project is completed I want to hear that story.

Read more:  https://sandiegofreepress.org/2017/08/a-genealogy-adventure-with-slave-and-supercentenarian-moses-williams

Save these dates: We’re on the Extreme Genes radio show, 1st-3rd July 2017

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Set your alarms to listen. My cousin Donya and I will be on the Extreme Genes Genealogy show, which will be broadcast on 1st and 2nd July. The on-demand streaming version will go live on 3 July.

Donya and I talk about finding each other through DNA, genealogy…and, of course, the Moses Williams Project and what we aim to achieve through the project.

Click the link below to set a reminder:

https://www.facebook.com/events/1326973007398519/?acontext=%7B%22source%22%3A108%2C%22action_history%22%3A%22[%7B%5C%22surface%5C%22%3A%5C%22post_page%5C%22%2C%5C%22mechanism%5C%22%3A%5C%22surface%5C%22%2C%5C%22extra_data%5C%22%3A[]%7D]%22%2C%22has_source%22%3Atrue%7D&source=108&action_history=[%7B%22surface%22%3A%22post_page%22%2C%22mechanism%22%3A%22surface%22%2C%22extra_data%22%3A[]%7D]&has_source=1

Stations carrying the broadcast:
WTKI AM 1450 Huntsville AL Sun. 6-7 PM CT
WTKI FM 92.9 Huntsville AL Sun. 6-7 PM CT
WEKI AM 1490 Decatur AL Sun. 6-7 PM CT
WEKI FM 94.7 Decatur AL Sun. 6-7 PM CT
WTKI AM 1450 Huntsville AL Sat. 5-6 PM CT
WTKI FM 92.9 Huntsville AL Sat. 5-6 PM CT
WEKI AM 1490 Decatur AL Sat. 5-6 PM CT
WEKI FM 94.7 Decatur AL Sat. 5-6 PM CT
KARN FM 102.9 Little Rock AR Sat. 3-4 PM CT
KTAR FM 92.3 Phoenix AZ Sat. 6-7PM MT
KTAR FM 92.3 Phoenix AZ Sun. 6-7PM MT
KFCS AM 1580 Colorado Springs CO Sat. 11-Noon MT
KFCS AM 1580 Colorado Springs CO Sun. 3-4PM MT
WFLN AM 1480 Arcadia FL Sat. 1-2PM ET
KAOI AM 1110 Wailuku HI Sun. 6-7 AM Hawaii
KAOI FM 96.7 Wailuku HI Sun. 6-7 AM Hawaii
KSNA FM 100.7 Idaho Falls, ID Sun. 9-10AM MT
KSNA FM 100.7 Pocatello, ID Sun. 9-10AM MT
WLRT AM 1250 Lexington (Versailles), KY Sun. 11AM-Noon ET
WLRT AM 1250 Lexington (Versailles), KY Sat. 5-6 PM ET
WRKO AM 680 Boston, MA Sun. 6-7AM ET
WPKZ AM 1280 Fitchburg, MA Sun. 9-10AM ET
WPKZ FM 105.3 Fitchburg, MA Sun. 9-10AM ET
KWOC AM 930 Poplar Bluff, MO Sun. 8-9AM CT
KELE AM 1360 Mountain Grove, MO Sun. 7-8PM CT
KWOC FM 93.3 Poplar Bluff, MO Sun. 8-9AM CT
WVBG AM 1490 Vicksburg, MS Sun. 6-7 PM ET
WMXI FM 98.1 Hattiesburg, MS Sun. 8-9AM CT
WVBG FM 107.7 Vicksburg, MS Sun. 6-7 PM ET
KNNT FM 98.5 Battle Mountain, NV Sat. Noon-1PM PT
KNNT FM 98.5 Battle Mountain, NV Sun. 10-11AM PT
KZBI FM 94.5 Elko, NV Sat. 6-7AM PT
KZBI FM 94.5 Elko, NV Sun. 6-7AM PT
KELY AM 1230 Ely, NV Sat. noon-1PM PT
KELY AM 1230 Ely, NV Sun. 10-11AM PT
KXNT AM 840 Las Vegas, NV Sat. 6-7PM PT
WSDQ AM 1190 Chattanooga(Dunlap), TN Sun. 6-7AM ET
WSDT AM 1240 Chattanooga(Soddy-Daisy), TN Sun. 6-7AM ET
WEPG AM 910 Chattanooga(S. Pittsburg), TN Sun. 6-7AM ET
KAZZ FM 98.5 Cedar City UT Sat. 11-Noon MT
KVNU AM 610 Logan, UT Sun. 9-10AM MT
KZNU AM 1450 St. George, UT Sat. 11-Noon MT
KAZZ AM 1400 Cedar City, UT Sat. 11-Noon MT
KNRS AM 570 Salt Lake City, UT Sun. 6-7 PM MT
KNRS FM 105.9 Salt Lake City, UT Sun. 7-8 PM MT
KZNU FM 93.1 St. George, UT Sat. 11-Noon MT
KVNU FM 102.1 Logan, UT Sun. 9-10AM MT
KMAS AM 1030 Shelton, WA Sat. 8-9AM PT
KMAS FM 103.3 Shelton, WA Sat. 8-9AM PT

If you don’t see a station in your area you can go online listen to: http://extremegenes.com/

Lucretia “Creasy” Williams: Finding another daughter of Moses Williams, Sr

Sometimes the universe takes pity on genealogists and places a gift right in our laps. This is one of those times.

The Moses Williams project team took a short hiatus from the project to work on other parts of our respective family trees. This is an enormous and intensive project. Naturally, we’ll be taking breaks from it to catch our breath and clear our heads…and think of new ways to tackle the formidable research obstacles. So it was kind of nice landing a major find on the second day back on the project.

The message below is what led to the discovery we’ve just made today:

Christopher Williams

There was just enough information provided for me to decide to take a look. I thought I’d give it 15 or so minutes just to see what I could find.  I know, I know, every genealogist says that…and 12 hours later, you find yourself still working through your research. Not this time.

In no time at all, I was able to trace Christopher’s life journey from Greenwood County, South Carolina (which was actually still part of Edgefield County when Christopher was born) to Ohio. Working backwards in Greenwood County, I had his parents and his siblings.

Christopher was the son of Frank Williams (1883 – ?) and Eula (maiden name unknown) of Kirksey, Greenwood, South Carolina. Frank Williams. in turn, was the son of John Williams (1847 – ?) and Amanda Susanna Ross, also of Kirksey, Greenwood, South Carolina

Now Frank has been in my tree for a long time. He caused me all manner of confusion. I had two Frank Williams born abt 1847 – one married to an Amanda Ross and one married to a Susannah Ross. I treated these two Franks as two different men, even though I strongly suspected they were one in the same person.  It was the different given names for his wife or wives that threw me.  After some further digging and searching through additional records, both Franks are indeed the same man.  Now, whether Susannah Ross and Amanda Ross are the some woman, or sisters, I don’t know. For now, I’m treating them as one in the same person until more death certificates are found for their children.

Frank’s mother was Lucretia “Creasy” Williams (abt 1820 – ?). And then I truly hit a nugget of gold.  I found her in the 1880 Census with her mother, Mariah Stallworth. Lucretia, it turns out, was born and lived in apart of Edgefield that become Greenwood County when the district boundaries changed.

To see that name Stallworth was simply everything. It gives us a specific name to search on for additional children. We can also begin to identify the family who enslaved her, and trace her life through various slave deeds and probate records.

Taking a look at where Mariah and Lucretia were living in 1880, I immediately knew who Lucretia’s father was. We knew the name of his second wife already, which was Mariah (maiden name unknown). 10 minutes later and everything came together. The Mariah Stallworth who was Lucretia’s mother was one in the same as the Mariah who was Moses’s wife.

Here was another of Moses Williams’ missing 40 daughters.

There’s still a basic mystery with Lucretia. Who was the father of her mulatto son, John Williams?

To-date, the team has found 8 of Moses Williams 45 enslaved children:

  1. Ellick/Aleck Williams, born abt. 1780, and living in Laurens County by 1870;
  2. An unknown daughter, born in Edgefield County around 1790, who had at least one child by an unknown McKie.  that child was Moses McKie, Sr, born abt 1825 in Edgefield County. He is living in the midst of his extended Williams family in Edgefield in the 1870 Census;
  3. Moses Williams, Jr, born abt. 1791 in Edgefield, and died in the 1880s in Barnwell County;
  4. Violet Williams, born abt. 1809 in Edgefield County. She was the wife of Peter Peterson of Edgefield County (my 4x great grandparents);
  5. Lewis Williams, born abt. 1815 in Edgefield County. Presumed to have died in Edgefield County before 1880;
  6. Henry Williams, born abt. 1818 in Edgefield County. Presumed to have died in Edgefield or Greenwood Counties by 1880;
  7. Elizabeth Williams, born abt. 1840 in Edgefield County, and living in Barnwell County by 1880; and
  8. Lucretia Williams, born abt. 1820 and living in Greenwood County by 1880.

At present, we’re missing 1 son and 33 daughters – as well as the name of his first wife, who was the mother of 21 of his 45 children.

 

Media Appeal: The Moses Williams Project

Hello

In an atmosphere of division and rising tensions, especially around the issue of race, Stronger Together: The Moses Williams Project is a project that encourages people to talk to another. More importantly, it’s aim is getting people who wouldn’t normally talk to one another, namely people from different races, to talk. And to realize that there is more to unite Americans from different backgrounds than divides us. You never know who you’re related to.  Chances are, unknown cousins will look very different from the family you already know.

We are bringing this topic to you in the hopes that we can get a platform discussing how important this research is, and the impact that it has on America today.  The Genealogy Adventures team believes this research – and bringing Americans from different cultural/ethnic backgrounds together through genetic genealogy – has the makings of a riveting show segment.

Genealogy challenge: Researching the 45 enslaved children of Moses Williams

https://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2017/03/24/genealogy-challenge-researching-the-43-enslaved-children-of-moses-williams-old-ninety-six-sc

Knowledge is power.   It’s through that concept that the Genealogy Adventures team presents to you a project worth getting behind. The Stronger Together: The Moses Williams Genetic Genealogy Project began with two strangers who found each other through genealogical research…and discovered they were cousins via DNA. In fact, these two cousins share several common ancestors. It was in that find we realized that the place our ancestors came from (Edgefield, South Carolina) was not just another small town, but a place when, in its hay-day, had an enormous impact on American history.

Edgefield, South Carolina connects to well-known people such as Strom Thurmond, Senator Andrew Butler, the infamous Preston Brooks, 50 Cent and L.L. Cool J.

Our research has shown that in one way or another we are related to all of them. More than this, we’re related to pretty much everyone in the greater Edgefield area: white, black, and native Americans. When we learned that our 4x great-grandfather Moses Williams, who lived to be 115 years old, in his lifetime had 45 children it all started to make sense. Having that many children connects his descendants to a staggering number of Americans – white, black, and native Americans. Moses children were born in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, with the majority of them being born in Edgefield and its surrounding counties.  When we first found him, he was listed as a slave of an American Revolutionary Patriot John Williams. It was through a series of legal deeds we learned that Moses was passed to his son Daniel. DNA analysis points to Daniel Williams II as the father of Moses.

Myself and Donya Papoose Williams set out to uncover this historic story along with four of our black and white DNA cousins: Loretta Bellamy, Sharon Rowe, Hammad Settles Asad and Sheila Hightower-Allen. The task this research group set itself was to find these 45 children, born in the depths of the slavery era, as well as Moses’s siblings, extended family, as well as the descendants from this family. It is a task that will connect millions of Americans to one another at the most basic level – genetic.

The challenge in finding these kids?

  • They are estimated as being born between 1786 and 1836. That is deep into the colonial days and the heart of slavery;
  • 40 of them are girls – This makes them even tougher to find due to marriage at an early age and the changing of the last name after marriage;
  • Moses Williams was having children at the same time as his eldest children were also having children, adding a multi-gernatoinal challenge in identifying correct parents for the descendants we find; and
  • Records for African Americans are extremely difficult to find

These six cousins have not only found the various enslavers of Moses (who were also his blood relations), we have found 7 of his 45 children, and a host of grandchildren, from deeds, probate records, census records, newspaper articles, and DNA triangulation.

We are hoping that having a discussion with you, and sharing that discussion with your audience, will provide a controlled question and answer period on the largest elephant in the room slavery and its effect on the American People. It is time to address this problem and Stronger Together: The Moses Williams Project is the way to get started to do it.

We are currently in the process of booking interviews. We’d like to extend our thanks to Scott Fisher, host of the nationally syndicated Extreme Genealogy Show (http://www.wrko.com/shows/show-schedule/extreme-genes-family-history-radio) for being the first to invite us to share our project with his audience.

These interviews are to shed light on this project and the importance of tracing your ancestors, discovering American history through genealogy research, and building bridges through conversation.

We would love to include you as part of our line-up.

This project is historic – in scope as well as subject. Thank you in advance for your support!

Thank you so much for your kind consideration.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards

The Genealogy Adventures Team

Impact Goals

  • America is more than a country of immigrants. Tens of millions of us are connected at the most fundamental level there is – genetics.  Tens of millions of Americans are family, regardless of race/ethnicity/culture, religious beliefs, sociology-econonic and education attainment, or any other construct that serves to divide. we’re about connecting people from different backgrounds and breaking down perception barriers;
  • Leading people to think of people who are different from themselves as an important part of society;
  • Increasing understanding of ourselves and American history;
  • Helping people see the value in a myriad of life stories and experiences; and
  • To recognize and celebrate the commonality we share through the wonder of an enormous, extended family.

Go Fund Me Fundraising Campaign

Our Go Fund Me fund raising link is https://www.gofundme.com/stronger-together-dna-project

Team Biographies

Below are bios for both Brian and Donya and where to donate to this cause. We are constantly updating our progress on our Genealogy Adventures Facebook  page and we appreciate your time and look forward to speaking with you both privately and publicly on this issue.

Brian Sheffey (Boston, MA)

briansheffey@gmail.com

My genealogy adventures began in 2010. My father was turning 78 and I wanted to give him a more personal birthday gift. I mean, what do you give a 78 year who literally has everything, right? We knew very little about his family history… Genealogy Adventures was born. My own genealogy primarily encompasses trans-African, European, Jewish, and Native American ancestry.  Each requires a different skill set, which I have focused on and developed over the years.

My adventure has had its ups and downs with each ancestral story that I have discovered. What I can say, with my hand on my heart, is that the adventure and the journey has been one of the most profoundly empowering, awakening, and grounding experiences of my life. I have learned more about myself, my people, and American history through genealogy than I have through any other means.

I discovered my American identity through genealogy. That sounds odd for an American who was born on a large Naval base in Groton, with a father who was career Navy, and plenty of uncles who served in the armed forces. Yet, as a person of color, I was made to feel that America was my not country. Discovering that I am the direct descendant of American Presidents (and related to many other presidents), the authors of the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the US Constitution – as well as a whole host of governors, congressmen, and senators – changed all that.

Donya Williams (Washington DC)

donya20746@gmail.com

-I can honestly say that Genealogy has been requesting my attention since a little girl, but it wasn’t until 1996 that I finally began to answer the call. Since then I have been placed on a journey that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

My genealogical make up is African, European, East Asian and Native American. Researching has opened my eyes to what I didn’t learn in school. I learn something new every day and it is the best thing I have ever done in my life outside of having my children.

Because of Genealogy I have submitted articles to the oldest running newspaper in South Carolina. I have been the leader for bringing all branches of my family together. But the most important thing that Genealogy has done for me is the ability to educate those on who they are and where they come from.

Sharon Rowe

I have been doing genealogy since 1976. While I learned of enslaving ancestors almost at once, it was many years before I realized how many of my family were involved. Through the Internet, I have been able to find some descendants of those people my family enslaved. DNA testing has linked me to more African-American cousins, though the actual connections remain murky for the most part. But more profoundly, I have found out I have trace African ancestry.

We are all cousins under the skin and I am excited to help with more discoveries.

Loretta Bellamy

My genealogy research began 29 years ago when I decided to locate my biological mother. Fortunately, my research ended successfully without the aid of online searching. Even then, I knew I had the gift of research. I’m a “Needle in The Haystack” type of person. When I joined Ancestry.com in 2004, I never could have imagined the profound and fulfilling journey I would take. The ability to research my own family history as well as help so many others who may not have the resources is so fulling to me. The education I have gained since this journey began is immense. The old saying is so true, “You’ll never now where you are going unless you know where you come from.” It’s about helping people make those connections. The more research I do, the more I find the world is getting smaller and smaller, thus making people more biologically related than we ever thought possible.

The Moses Williams Family Tree Project: Update #1

The Moses Williams Family Tree Project has been going full steam ahead since I last wrote about it Genealogy challenge: Researching the 43 enslaved children of Moses Williams (Old Ninety-Six, SC) https://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2017/03/24/genealogy-challenge-researching-the-43-enslaved-children-of-moses-williams-old-ninety-six-sc ). Some 500 enslaved souls in North Carolina and South Carolina have been added to this unique family tree on Ancestry.com.

Reconstructing a full, slavery-era family tree

The project team has already struck gold. We have traced a handful of the enslaved people’s lines to the 1870 Census. These lines are connected to Edgefield, Newberry, Barnwell, and Laurens Counties in South Carolina. In one instance, we have traced an enslaved Williams line from 1750 to 1910. We are still in the midst of identifying members of this one line’s extended family in South Carolina.  Words fail to describe the feeling of following one direct line of enslaved Williams from its oldest known enslaved ancestor down through subsequent generations past the Civil War and into the turn of the 20th Century. It’s been hard work. It’s worked that has taxed our patience at times. We persisted – and found that this approach to documenting and researching enslaved families, as developed by the Beyond Kin Project, does work. The approach that Beyond Kin developed, the one which we’ve adapted for our purposes, isn’t easy. Nor is it straightforward (Why diversity matters for online genealogy service providers via https://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2017/04/25/why-diversity-matters-for-online-genealogy-service-providers). However, the effort is absolutely worth it.

This approach is reveling something beyond the nature of kinship between enslaved people. Our project group has gained insight into how the Williams family approached the enslavement of African-descended people from about 1720, in York County, Virginia, to the dawn of the Civil War in South Carolina.

The first 3 generations of the family, which spanned Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, had a markedly different sense of slavery than the following generations (at least the latter generations in South Carolina). Earlier generations of the Williams seem to have had two groups of enslaved people. The first group was held within the family. We know that one individual, my 4x great grandfather Moses Williams, Sr, was a blood relation through the DNA test results of his descendants. We suspect there was also a blood connection between other enslaved people who were continuously held within the family, or freed. Effort was taken not to break immediate family members apart.  By this, I mean parents were not separated from young children. In a handful of instances, elderly enslaved people were given the choice of which Williams family member they wished to live the remainder of their days with.

The second group of enslaved people was treated in a more historically familiar manner when it comes to American chattel slavery. They were sold to enslavers outside of the family.

Great care too was taken in the first three generations of the family over the provisions for those they enslaved in preparation for the handling of their estate once they died. For instance, before he fought in the Revolutionary War battle of Kings Mountain in South Carolina, Maj. James Henderson Williams instituted a series of provisional Deeds which stipulated how his enslaved population was to be dispersed amongst his heirs. Nor did these early Williams men want their wives to keep whatever property, including enslaved people, from their husband’s estate, if they remarried. Williams men wanted their wealth and property to remain within the family. If one of their widows remarried, she forfeited everything.

The recording keeping among the earlier generations of the family were meticulous and thorough.

Things begin to change with the fourth generation of the family in South Carolina. Suddenly, Williams begin dying intestate.  In other words, they died without a Will. More often than not, an estate sale followed. I can only imagine that news of an estate sale must have terrified those who were enslaved. They would have known all too well what that could mean for them and their loved ones. Anyone could buy them and take them away from everyone and everything they had ever known. Worse still, slave traders, who would resell them to the highest bidder without care or consideration, always attended such sales. Slaver traders were one of the means by which enslaved families were split apart and sent to all points throughout the south.

Estate Sale

We have  noticed one dynamic with these estate sales. Older members of the members seem to have gone out of their way to purchase specific enslaved people and/or specific enslaved family groups. These were individuals and family groups with known, or strongly suspected, kinship ties to the Williams family. Others, who we know were purchased from outside of the family, shared a different fate. They were simply sold to whoever had the inclination to purchase them.

We are also beginning to see the wider connections between the black and white Williams families and their inter-connectedness to the wider Edgefield community. When two children from slave owning families married, the groom would have his slaves, and the bride hers, in the form of a dowry. Thus two different slave populations were brought together through such a union. Unless, of course, two cousins married. In this latter scenario, they could very well be bringing two groups of related enslaved people together, with the addition of whatever new slaves they would buy over time. Sticking with the first scenario, imagine the enslaved who had been part of the groom’s family identified themselves as Williams, Henderson, Richardson, Griffins, and Martins. And then the enslaved families who were part of the bride’s family who would identify themselves as Jones, Peterson, Sibley, Mobley, Sheppard, and Sims. One enslaved group would marry into the other group. Over time, their descendants would form one exceedingly large family with a myriad of different surnames.  Add the fact that their white enslaving family members were connected to a myriad of white Edgefield families –  you have an extensive county-level interconnectedness between the white side of the family, the black side of the family – and then again between the black and white population within the county. Basically, everyone is related to everyone else. This is how it happens. At least this is how it happened in Edgefield.

The project’s research team has always known this. This project, however, is showing the proof of it. It’s the subject of some pretty interesting conversations.

Finding Moses’s Lost Children

The team believes it has found two of Moses William, Sr’s enslaved daughters. The first discovery, Elizabeth, we found her living next door to him in Red Oak Township in Barnwell County, South Carolina in the 1870 Census.

Moses Williams and daughter Elizabeth

The first box, in red, shows Moses Williams, Sr with his second wife, Maria. The exciting piece of information for him is this Census record proves he was born in Virginia, most likely York County, Virginia if he was born into the Colonial Era Williams household.  The blue box shows his daughter, Elizabeth Williams, and her children. Please click the picture for a larger image.

We see her here with one son named for his grandfather.

It was the second daughter who turned out to be a remarkable discovery. My 4x great grandmother, Violet, has been a decade-long mystery. We knew she was born around 1809 in Edgefield, South Carolina. She was the wife of Peter Peterson. The main mystery about Violet was her maiden name. Simply put, there are no documents to provided her maiden name. We had some thoughts about which of the large Edgefield families she would have been a daughter of. However, this was merely conjecture.

I had spent a good part of one day researching Williams’ family Wills and probate records in Edgefield and Newberry when the names Peter and Violet (Vilet) appeared out of nowhere. The document that cited her name was the 1829 Will of Washington Williams of Newberyy, South Carolina.

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This page is exciting for a few reasons. However, you have to understand how the Will was written to ferret out the key points. The enslaved in this Will are in family groups. Not only do we have Violet, we have members of her family: from Humphrey (Umphrey) to Jacob. I believe the majority of the names grouped with hers were her siblings. Secondly, there’s a man named Ceasar. He too is a Williams. Along with Violet, Ceasar and his family are found in Edgefield in the 1870 Census. At present, it is unclear whether Ceasar was Moses William, Sr’s son or nephew. Presumably Ceasar, his family, as well as Violet and Peter, left Newberry for Edgefield to live among their Williams family relations.

007649570_00583

we believe Peter Peterson above is listed with his siblings on this page. Squire Peterson appears in Edgefield, along with Peter, in the 1870 Census. 

007649570_00584

007649570_00585I should mention that Violet was a very rare name in Edgefield at the time. It wasn’t a common name among the enslaved population (using the Gloria Lucas book, The Slave Deeds of Edgefield County as a guide). We verified the rarity of this name among the white population in the county in the census records and genealogy/family history books  for Edgefield spanning from 1790 to 1880. Seeing a Violet in a slave-related record was enough to pique my interest.  In and of itself, it was not enough to provide her with a maiden name. Paired with a Peter, this was an entirely different deal. Returning to the 1870 Census ,in order to see who her neighbours were, and re-examining  the names of the children she and Peter had, the pieces began to fall into place. There was every indication that Violet was a Williams. And, not just any Williams, she was very likely a daughter of Moses Williams, Sr.  We’re still doing DNA work to finally clinch this.

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Considering we made this discovery in the midst of working on the Moses Williams Family Tree project, this discovery seems almost providential. We were meant to make this discovery. However, there is more to it than that. We were meant to make this discovery during the course of this very specific research project.

Through her, we could also begin to answer some basic questions about her husband, Peter Peterson.  There have been all manner of conflicting family stories where he is concerned. First, there’s the uncertainty about his surname. Was he Peter Peterson or Peter Bagley/Bangley? Where did those two surnames associated with him come from? Was one parent a Peterson and the other a Bagley/Bangley? Family lore stated that Peter was either a white man, or a mulatto man who was born free in West Virginia. I, and the other members of the team, have spent years going down the proverbial genealogy rabbit hole chasing all of these family stories about Peter; all to no avail. Over the years,  Peter refused to give up his secrets.

The above record confirms what I have long suspected:  Peter Peterson was enslaved. He was a part of the slave-owning Peterson clan who were residents of Newberry, South Carolina. It would appear that Peter and Violet met one another in Newberry, both of them part of Washington Williams’ household.

The final find to-date has been the discovery of another of Moses’s five sons:  Ellick (or Aleck) Williams.

As it stands, we have found two of Moses’s five sons: Moses Williams, Jr and Ellick/Aleck Williams. We have also found one daughter, Elizabeth, with Violet increasingly looking like a second daughter.

So… only three more sons and thirty-eight more daughters to find!

UPDATE Monday, 19 June 2017

The time has come for us to hit the road and begin to research undigitized documents in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina that are related to this project. Part of this project’s output will be making these newly digitized documents publicly available…and buy around 200 or so DNA test kits. Towards that end, we’ve set up a Go Fund Me campaign to the raise the $10,000 we need: Stronger Together:  The Moses Williams Family Project https://www.gofundme.com/stronger-together-dna-project

All donations will be gratefully received. And your support, no matter what form it takes (likes and shares on social media), will mean so much to the team.

Why diversity matters for online genealogy service providers

Diversity. It’s a word that packs one heck of a punch. It has the power to evoke passionate reactions across the conservative to progressive spectrum of thought. For clarity, in the course of this article, when I refer to diversity I speak of the diversity of experiences in ancestral and family history research. 

I began my ancestry journey around a decade ago. Like any novice, back then, I made some basic assumptions about that journey. I expected to have a magnificent tree composed of distinctly different family branches. Then I discovered my Quaker, Puritan, and Scots-Irish frontier ancestors…ancestors who married their cousins over and over and over again due to reasons of religion and/or isolation. 

I still have a magnificent family tree. It’s just a tree with many, many inter-locking, deeply entwined, and linked branches. It’s not a unique tree by any means. It’s the kind of tree that is actually fairly common for Americans with deep colonial era roots. However, the big online genealogy services have a product in the form of online family tree building which doesn’t reflect this. It’s a dissonance that can be exceedingly frustrating for reasons I’ll cover in a bit. This is one example of genealogical diversity based on cultural differences.

A number of my colonial female ancestors married young. They were far from unique. I know that 14 or 15 was a very young age for an ancestor to begin having children. However, for a Scots-Irish girl in the Appalachian Mountain region, that was just part and parcel of every day life: marry young and starting a family. Automated error messages from family tree building sites informing me that these girls in my family were having children ‘before their child bearing age’ aren’t really helpful. That was the world they lived in back in the 17th and 18th Centuries.  My 20-something times great-grandmother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry Tudor (Henry VII of England), was 12 years old when she married Edmund Tudor. She was a mother by 13 years old. 

Now, I’m happy this is no longer the case. Today, girls and young women have options a 17th Century girl could have never dreamt of, less imagined. This is another form of diversity within genealogy: the diversity of basic life experiences, societal customs, and gender.

When I touch on the topic of diversity within genealogy it’s not about political correctness. It’s about a true, honest, and candid recognition of history – without prejudice, air brushing, or white washing the bits of history we don’t like; or would much rather forget. The only way I can truly glimpse my ancestors and ancestral kin is through seeing them in-situ, residents of the society and distinct cultures their lives played out within.

I hope these examples illustrate that I won’t be tackling the subject of diversity within genealogy along the lines some might have assumed I would.

The Moses Williams Family Tree Project

Following on from my previous article, Genealogy Challenge: Researching the 43 enslaved children of Moses Williams  (Old Ninety-Six, South Carolina (https://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2017/03/24/genealogy-challenge-researching-the-43-enslaved-children-of-moses-williams-old-ninety-six-sc), this research project is well under way.  And again, my apologies for future gaps in publishing articles in the near future. Every time I sit down to outline an article, one of this project’s researchers finds a record that sends the whole team down the genealogical version of a rabbit hole. Writing tends to take a back seat. When it comes to genealogy, you have to ride whatever line of discovery which presents itself when it presents itself. You never know if you can ever return to a specific set of circumstances which led to a discovery trail should you decide to stop and return to the research later. When the ancestors point the way…we follow.

The Moses Williams project is composed of a few phases:

Phase 1: Finding the enslaved children of my 4x great-grandfather, Moses Williams (1756, York, Virginia-1884, Barnwell, South Carolina) in North Carolina and South Carolina, and tracing their lines of descent;

Phase 2: Identifying Moses’s siblings and extended family in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina;

Phase 3: Tracing his extended enslaved family’s line from Texas up through Tennessee and Kentucky, over to Virginia in the east, then south through Georgia. 

The probate records, tax records, and deeds of their Williams family enslavers (who were also their kin), form the bedrock of this research. We’re talking building a family tree of enslaved people within the depths of the American chattel slavery period. There will be no marriage records to consult. Other than a few mid-19th Century Mortality Schedule entries, there won’t be death records. Nor will there be Antebellum newspaper articles, unless one of these ancestors ran away; or committed some deed, usually negative, to warrant appearing in print. Nor will they have surnames. The rules of what we consider traditional genealogy do not, and will not, apply. 

The major family tree/ancestry services need to not only be transparent about this – they need to address this within their respective services, and the very coding that drives their respective platforms.

In the very early days of this project, I went the old school pen and paper route

A working example of diagramming information about enslaved people from documents

I diagramed  the movement of enslaved people from one Williams family member to another. Every deed, every Will, every estate inventory, and every tax record citing enslaved people received it’s own diagramed work-up. I would make notes linking individual enslaved people from transaction to transaction. I had dozens of sheets of paper in no time at all. Which was fine for me. However, I needed to share this information with an entire research team. Creating a PDF document from dozens of scanned pages wasn’t going to cut it. 

This project needed to go online. It also needed to be accessed, added to, edited/corrected by all of the researchers in real time. Everyone needed access to add vital research records, leave notes, or comments for the other researchers to see. The team also needed to post queries for the other researchers to follow up on. We also needed to see Moses’s family members within a family or group context to better enable us to make important connections.

Enter Ancestry.com. It made sense to build this very unconventional tree using Ancestry:

  • All of the research team were Ancestry.com members;
  • The majority of records we would need were on Ancestry; and
  • Having a public project tree would mean it would be easily discoverable by Williams family descendants who might have missing puzzle pieces to contribute.

I knew this would be an unusual family tree from the beginning. Typically, genealogists work from the present backwards through time. This tree works from the past to the present. On the majority- European side of the family, the tree starts with the family’s immigrant ancestor, John Williams, Sr, who arrived in Virginia during the early years of that colony. He is the anchor ancestor. From him, we can trace the movement of enslaved people from one generation to the next within the family. Well, we can once my contact in London can find a copy of John’s colonial York County, Virginia Will in the American Colonial Records Archive in the British National Archives. Sadly, the original in Virginia was either destroyed or lost.

I will readily admit I was stuck on how I wanted to add enslaved people to this tree. Ancestry.com wasn’t built with this in mind. I made all manner of outlines on paper. I wasn’t happy with any of them. Three very long phone conversations with Ancestry.com didn’t shed any light on how I could tackle this either. While the people I spoke to at Ancestry were pleasant and curious about the project, none could offer any suggestions as to how I could accomplish it. Basically, they thought it was impossible.  

Present me with ‘impossible’ and I’ll take that as a personal challenge to find a work-around solution. My solution might not be elegant or pretty…but it will get the job done. It’s what I do.

Providentially, I received an invite to join a Facebook group called The Beyond Kin Project (https://www.facebook.com/beyondkin). This ingenious project encourages and facilitates the genealogical documentation of enslaved populations. It has growing participation from descendants of enslavers, people who want to share vital information that will assist descendants of enslaved people, to support their descendants’ genealogy research. Descendants of enslaved people also share the documents they have found during the course of their research. By the way, I would like to give a shout out to Donna Cox Baker, one of this project’s co-founders. Donna has a brilliant genealogy blog that is well worth checking out: The Golden Egg Genealogist via http://gegbound.com.

Beyond Kin had an ingenious methodology for tackling adding enslaved people into an overall family tree format on Ancestry. My synapses were fired up. Once I understood the project’s approach, I was able to easily adapt it for the Moses Williams Project.

I’m not going to get into the step-by-step approach on how to build a tree like this one. You can see the Beyond Kin methodology on their website and Facebook group. Suffice to say it shares the same basic challenges as the Moses Williams Project. There is no straightforward way of tackling these problems. Both projects do the best they can will the tools available at the moment.

I will do a “how to” guide for our project once I work out some of the technical foibles, glitches, and eccentricities of creating a tree like this on a service like Ancestry. Suffice to say it’s a long, labour-intensive, time-consuming, and complicated process. For now, the current project team is getting the research job done.

Let’s look at two working examples from our tree below:

Here we have Daniel Williams, a man (and a direct ancestor) whose descendants in South Carolina figure so largely in the story of my 4x great-grandfather Moses Williams and his family. The first part of Daniel’s page looks like any other ancestor’s page on Ancestry. There are his vital details. His parents are there (one note: his father shouldn’t be cited as “The Wealthy Welshman”. This is an historic Williams family error. We’ve left this mistake in the project tree for the simple reason that this is how he’s referred to by many of his descendants. While an error, it makes him easy to identify among a staggering number of John Williams in the family).

We also see Daniel’s wife and children. 

It’s the second half of his page where things become unconventional. Key records like Wills, estate inventories, and Deeds are added as spouses. We then change the relationship between the record and the enslaver it’s attached to from ‘spouse’ to’friend’. This removes any biological connection between the record/document and the person it’s attached to. The enslaved individuals associated with each record are attached to the relevant records they appear within as ‘children’. We then change the ‘childrens’ relationship to the document and the enslaver to a non-biological category, ‘guardian’. Creating duplicates, and then merging them, allows me to have a single page for each enslaved individual – and add them, again and again, for each and every Williams family member who held them in slavery. 

This approach allows the team to see each individual in context, see all of the Williams family members they were associated with…and the other enslaved people who they left behind as well as those who went with them to their new destination. 

Seeing them in this way enables us, and will continue to enable us, to identify who were part of their family; as well as identify those enslaved people who were not a part of their family.

For instance, a few things have already become apparent. There were two distinct groups of enslaved people who were kept within the Williams family. 

The first group were enslaved people who were always kept within the Williams family. Their descendants, and their descendants, were also held within the Williams family.  DNA strongly suggests the enslaved who continued to be held by the family were its blood relations.

The second group were enslaved people who were sold to people outside of the family. The team surmises these were not blood kin to the Williams family.  Deeds of sale are beginning to support this hypothesis. The enslaved people who were bought by the Williams from outside the extended family are tending to be the same enslaved people who were sold to people outside of this family.

The exception are the instances where a Williams died intestate, without a Will. Estate sales in this instance seemed to have been something of a free-for-all. However, we’ve noticed members of the immediate and extended family acquired specific groups of enslaved people when such an estate sale happened. They were buying enslaved people we either know, or strongly suspect, were their black relations. 

We wouldn’t be able to make these connections and associations without a family tree like this project’s tree. 

Daniel is a pretty straightforward example to illustrate. He has only one known document to work with thusfar: his Will.

Things become substantially more complex with his grandson, Maj. John Williams:

For starters, there are all manner of enslaved – related documents associated with John. Some of his Deeds were provisional – meaning they were never enacted – while others were finalized. It’s taking quite a bit of time working out which of his deeds were enacted and which ones were not. This is important in determing where enslaved people were at a given point in time. 

We can also see he seems to have held far more enslaved people than his father, Daniel. Working out which of these enslaved were originally held by the family in previous generations, and which were brought in from outside of the family, is going to take time. 

We also need to determine how the different groups of the enslaved would have identified themselves. Not all of them were Williams. I already suspect other family groups in the above image will include Caldwell, Martin, Griffin, Deloa(t)ch, Hightower, Higgins, and Smith family members.

Here’s another example, this time using an enslaved person’s Ancestry page:

One of the key pieces of information we add to an enslaved person’s page are the documents in which their names appear. We treat records like these like a census record. These documents usually have dates and locations.   For Cuba, for instance, her name first appears (for now) in 1833 as part of John W. Williams household. John, as it turns out, died intestate in Edgefield County, South Carolina. His widow, Ann Freeman Martin-Williams bought Cuba, and Cuba’s children, during the sale of her husband’s estate. 

We know that Cuba and her children were in Edgefield, South Carolina in 1833. And again in 1847, when Ann Freeman Martin-Williams died. And again in 1858, when Ann’s estate sold Cuba and her children to Ann and John’s three daughters. Knowing where each enslaver – family member lived pinpoints the precise location where Cuba and her children were living. It makes things easier when searching for Cuba’s children in the 1870 Census, the first census where formerly enslaved people are recorded in their own right.

Using a tree like this facilitates this kind of research like nothing else I can think of.

It’s why understanding, accepting, and supporting diversity in genealogy matters. There’s no getting around it. Online genealogy services are actively marketing to the descendants of enslaved people without really offering a more streamlined way for those descendants to grapple with building research trees. That’s just for starters. Like Native American genealogy, black American genealogy is distinctly different from European-American genealogy the further back in time we go. In many ways, when it comes to enslaved ancestors, each and every one is like researching an adoptee, or an orphan with no known ancestry. That’s another aspect of diversity within genealogy.

This is especially true in a time when such services are specifically advertising their genealogy services to Americans with ancestors who were enslaved

https://www.ispot.tv/share/7cq8

https://www.ispot.tv/share/AZf4

https://www.ispot.tv/share/Am2o

https://www.ispot.tv/share/AHvt

The only advert we’ve seen that mentions that awkward “S” word is this advert:

https://www.ispot.tv/share/7drx

There is another reason for these services to truly address diversity. These are the category choices the team is faced with when adding enslaved people to our project tree:

The standard relationship definitions used by genealogy service providers don’t adequately address researching enslaved ancestors

None of the classifications in the image above are appropriate in defining the link between an enslaver and the enslaved. Doing the best we can with the tools we have via Ancestry, we use ‘Guardian’. It’s part of eliminating any biological links between an enslaved person and the enslaving family when no such connection exists. It’s the best classification to use in order for this project tree to work properly. However, it isn’t appropriate. Not by any stretch of the imagination. It’s not just Ancestry. Every online family tree building site is like this. 

With a growing number of descendants of enslavers wanting to share information from records they have, for every project like the Beyond Kin Project and the Moses Williams Family Tree Project, and for every descendant of enslaved people who join a family tree building site due to marketing/advertising…this issue needs to be addressed. This is especially true when marketing ancestry services to specific groups of people. 

The question should always be, do we have a service that meets a specific demographic’s ancestral research needs? In other words, looking at your genealogy service through their eyes, and honestly assessing what their experience of such a service will be.

Diversity, in this instance, is about recognizing difference in genealogical experiences.  Plus looking at, and experiencing, the genealogy journey not from the service provider’s lens of its genealogy experience – but through the lenses of its diverse customer base. In this instance, I feel certain there are black genealogists, and black genealogy project founders, who would be only too pleased to act as consultants for the big genealogy services.   All these companies need do is reach out, and ask.

Genealogy challenge: Researching the 43 enslaved children of Moses Williams (Old Ninety-Six, SC)

My cousin and research business partner, Donya, hit me me with a small newspaper clipping packed with some major family history implications for our Edgefield County/Old Ninety-Six County, South Carolina family:

Edgefieldians already know we’re connecting to one another in a myriad of ways from 1800 onwards. Whether our Old Ninety-Six  ancestors were white, Native American, or black…everyone in the Old Ninety-Six region is related. With a long history of cousin marriages,  most of us are related to one another at least three or four ways.

My 4x great-grandfather Moses, and his 43 children, connects many of us at a much earlier date than any of us could have imagined. This one man pushes our combined ancestry back to around 1769, the year Moses was born. We reckon this one man is going to connect around two-thirds of the black and mulatto residents of 19th Century Edgefield/Old Ninety-Six.

Two. Thirds. I’m still wrapping my noggin ’round that one.

This journey of discovery will be far from straightforward.  Honestly, though? It has the makings of a brilliant documentary.

The first challenge is the fact that Moses, his children, and their respective mothers, were enslaved. So it’s not going to be a matter of diving into census records between 1790 and 1870. Moses and his descendants won’t appear in their own right until the 1870 census. If we’re lucky, some of them may appear in the Freedmen Bank Records between 1865 and 1870…if we’re lucky. Most of our formerly enslaved ancestors from Old Ninety-Six didn’t open Freedmen Bank accounts unless they lived near to a city or large town.

At this stage of our research, we have identified the family who held them in slavery. Not unsurprisingly, this was the Welsh – descended Williams family of Hanover County, Virginia; Caswell, Granville, and Pasquotank Counties in North Carolina; and Laurens, Newberry, and Old Ninety-Six /Edgefield Counties in South Carolina.

The relationship between Moses and the Welsh – American Williams family wasn’t just one based on enslavement. DNA is already giving us an insight into which Williams family member fathered Moses. However, that reveal is planned for a forthcoming book.

In the meantime, I thought this would be an opportunity to outline the various stages we’re preparing to tackle this behemoth of a genealogical conundrum.

First up is creating a family tree for the Welsh-descended Williamses:

I’ve adapted our Ancestry.com tree to an old school pen and paper format, concentrating on the specific line of Williams who held Moses and his children in bondage. Millennials will be horrified. However, sometimes, the pen and paper approach is necessary. This step came after a week of reading countless Williams family Wills, estate probate records, tax records, and deeds of sale and/ or deeds of transfer.

The next step was literally sketching out the enslavement of our ancestors within this family, one generation at a time. The image above gives an overview of our ancestors enslavement within the second generation of the Williams family.

The next step was mapping out enslavement based on Wills and Deeds. In the image above, I’ve made a special note regarding the date and location of the Deed. In a way, I’m treating Deeds like they were a census. We know exactly where these ancestors were in 1795 based on this record.We also know exactly where they were going at this date.

While this deed doesn’t offer clues about the family relationships between these people, it does tell us these souls left Pasquotank, NC for Newberry, SC at this date in one large group. We know who went to South Carolina, and who remained behind in North Carolina.

The image above explores our kinsmen and women’s fate within the third generation of the Williams family.

These series of Deeds have been an invaluable information gold mine. Almost all of them gave our enslaved ancestors and kin’s ages (all of those numbers in parentheses). In other words, we could extrapolate birth years. I can’t begin to convey how rare this information is when it comes to enslaved people’s history.

The superscript numbers are tracking numbers that allow us to follow a person through a series of inter-family deed transactions and transfers through subsequent Wills.

The images marked ‘4’ and ‘5’ mark what I refer to as ‘outlier deeds’ within the Williams family. At this stage, were not entirely certain who the enslaved individuals are, or how they fit into the overall history or narrative of our Old Ninety-Six family. It’s my practice to always record, and make notes, even if the information – or its impact – is unknown. You never, ever know if you can re-find such information. From my experience, I know nothing is ever wasted. There will come a point and time in the research process where I will be mighty pleased I took the time to record this information.

The above is a pretty straightforward representation of the dispersal of our enslaved kin by their owner-relative. I’ll admit my heart went out to poor Rose. Her life was spent going back and forth between various Williams family members.

So, at this point, we’re still tracking down Wills, estate inventories, land records, tax records, and deeds for a handful of Williams family members…as well as sketching out more Generation 3 transfers. Then, it will be time to sketch an outline of the same for Generation 4.

Once Generation 4 is complete,  that will bring us to the 1870 Census. Then? Well, we’ll know where our newly freed kin were from the last set of Wills and deeds. We can map their known last location from such Wills and Deeds, along with ages, to individuals and family groups in South Carolina in the 1870 Census for the Old Ninety-Six region.

And then start the whole process over again for our kin who remained in North Carolina from 1795 onwards.

Yep. This is an enormous undertaking. Which, in its own way, is historic.

If researching an enslaved man and his 43 children wasn’t challenging enough, good ole 4x grandad Moses has provided us with even more challenges:

  • We’re seeking Moses, his 2 wives, and 43 children in at least 6 different known counties in two states;
  • There’s an even earlier generation of this family. Their story begins in Hanover County, Virginia;
  • Born about 1769, we know Moses had at least one child named Moses, Jr by 1791. We estimate Moses, Sr began having children from 1784 onwards;
  • The birth of 43 children covers quite a span of time. If our Edgefield family trait of 1 child every 18 months holds true for Moses, were talking nearly an 80 year time period. This means no one white Williams held all of them. These children would have gone to various members of the Williams family over a few generations. And could have been relocated as far afield as Texas, Arkansas,  and Missouri;
  • 40 girls means 40 different surnames, if each one married. Their daughters would also go on to have different last names due to marriage…and their daughters. You get the general idea;
  • Moses, Sr was definitely fathering children when he was a grandfather. We have reason to believe he was also having children when he was a great-grandfather. In other words, some of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be older than his youngest children. Yeah, I’ll let that one sink in for a moment. Heck, the man lived to the august age of 115 after all! Basically? We have to be extra careful when looking at the birth years on census returns; and
  • This is a big swathe of time to cover for 1 person.

So please bear with me. There are going to be quiet spells in terms of my publishing. Our Twitter feed and Facebook page are always busy. You’re always free to keep in touch with us via those routes.

In the meantime, please do wish us well. We can certainly use the positivity.

Namaste

UPDATE Monday, 19 June 2017

The time has come for us to hit the road and begin to research undigitized documents in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina that are related to this project. Part of this project’s output will be making these newly digitized documents publicly available…and buy around 200 or so DNA test kits. Towards that end, we’ve set up a Go Fund Me campaign to the raise the $10,000 we need: Stronger Together:  The Moses Williams Family Project https://www.gofundme.com/stronger-together-dna-project

All donations will be gratefully received. And your support, no matter what form it takes (likes and shares on social media), will mean so much to the team.

Perry Sheffey: snippets of a life played out in the early years of Reconstruction

The Virginia, Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records (1865-1872) has come up trumps again.  Okay, so I was looking for records for a Perry Commodore Sheffey in Wythe County, Virginia. And, of course, came across story snippets for a Perry Benjamin Sheffey in neighboring Augusta County, Virginia. Yes, both were cousin. Genealogy works that way sometimes. You want to focus on one person in particular…and another person jumps to the front of the queue. I’ve learned to roll with it.

A brief bit of Sheffey genealogy background context

My early Sheffey ancestors in Virginia have been relatively easy to research and trace. First, there were so few Sheffeys to research. Second, my Virginia Sheffey ancestors primarily resided in one place: southwestern Virginia.

On the less-melanated side of the family tree, there were 3 brothers who were the children of German immigrants: Congressman Daniel Henry Sheffey, Maj. Henry Lawrence Sheffey, and John Adam Sheffey. Only two of these brothers – Daniel and Henry – would go on to have enslaved people. This made researching my melanated Sheffeys a more straightforward task. I knew where to look for them.

Genealogy always has exceptions. My 4x great grandfather, John Adam Sheffey, is one. Typically, my melanated ancestors who were enslaved were the results of European descended slave owners fathering children with African-descended women.  My Sheffey ancestry is an exception.  John Adam Sheffey never had slaves.  Yet, of the three brothers, he is the one who had children with an enslaved woman, Jemima. Indications suggest Jemima was part of his brother Henry Sheffey’s household. While I continue to search for records to verify this, I believe she entered Henry’s household with his bride, who was Jemima’s mistress. John eventually left Wythe County, Virginia for Greene County, Tennessee.  Jemima and their children remained enslaved in Wythe.

Having only three Sheffey brothers to work with, and understanding which of them owned slaves – and knowing where they were resident between 1790 and 1840 – made my research far easier than other families I’ve researched.

Map of Augusta County

To the left is a standard map of Virginia. Staunton and Augusta County are just beneath the blue arrow. To the right is an enlarged image featuring Staunton, marked with key places where Sheffeys lived within Augusta County.

Daniel Sheffey, the eldest brother, established himself in Staunton, Virginia (see ‘A’ in the above map). Henry, the middle brother, established himself in Wythe County and neighboring Smyth County.

The geographic location for Daniel and Henry made it easier to understand why African-descended Sheffeys lived in specific parts of southwest Virginia. For instance, African descended Sheffeys in Staunton, and the surrounding area, were strongly associated with Congressman Daniel Sheffey. Those in Wythe and Smyth Counties were associated with Major Henry Sheffey. Henry, whose wife pre-deceased him, died prematurely young himself in 1824. His own children were parceled out among his family. His enslaved nieces and nephews, who are part of my direct Sheffey line, were also parceled out among the wider family. However, without a Will, I have no idea to whom they went, nor the provisions he made for them. This remains a stubborn and frustrating mystery I would dearly love to solve.

The only fly in the ointment has been a distinct lack of probate records for either Daniel or Henry. If either of these men made Wills, they haven’t been digitized, and remain in some dusty and unexplored corner…or they were lost/destroyed. Finding these Wills, and related probate records, will answer a multitude of questions.  An important genealogical question is how their African descended kin became dispersed among the European-descended Sheffey descendants and allied families in Wythe, Smyth, Staunton, and Augusta Counties between 1815 and 1850.

Back to Perry Sheffey

Perry Benjamin Sheffey was born in 1837 in Mint Spring, Augusta, Virginia (see ‘D’ in the map above) to Robert Sheffey and Esther Bates (possibly Harper – her children cited different maiden names for her on their marriage certificates). I call his family group the Mint Spring Sheffeys. They were the only Sheffeys to reside in this part of Augusta County. And, given where they lived, I presume their story began with Congressman Daniel Sheffey.

My first port of call was the 1865 Cohabitation Register for Augusta County. I found Perry, who was living on his own.  This still strikes me as strange.  He had 2 children by this point. His children and wife’s whereabouts in 1865 remain unknown. I also found his parents along with his siblings. However, unlike the cohabitation registers for Wythe and Smyth Counties, no last owner was cited for Perry or his parents. There are no further clues to be gleaned from this source.

My other go-to resource, the Freedmen’s Bank Records, also had nothing for this family.

So, as you can see, there remains quite a bit of work to do on Perry Sheffey and his family.

Freedmen’s Office Records

Perry’s story really picks up in the early days of Reconstruction in Virginia. The Freedmen’s Bureau Archives has three records for him. Each record is insightful, providing a glimpse into everyday life for freedmen and women played out against the backdrop of Reconstruction

The first record is dated 7 June 1866:

silver watch cropped

Transcript: Patrick Corbin (F) vs. Wyatt Smith (F) claims $10 is due him for which friend of Smith’s, Perry Sheffey (F), wishes to leave as security a silver watch to be forfeited if the debt is not paid in ten days from June 7, 1866 – Rec’d the watch [CB] 63323-7 (incident/Claim number).
June 19 – Watch delivered to Pat Carter – Witness O. Morris

Perry strikes me as a likable chap. He’s just the kind of mate you’d like to have if you’re in a tight spot. Here he is putting up a presumably prized possession as collateral for a friend’s debt. It’s not important whether or not the watch was expensive. Nor is it really important whether or not it held sentimental or practical value to Perry.  At the end of the day, it was his watch.

Naturally, I was curious about historical backdrop this small event played itself out against. A short article, Staunton a mixed bag of progress, problems in 1865 (http://www.newsleader.com/story/news/history/2015/12/04/staunton-mixed-bag-progress-problems/76801420/ ), provides an excellent overview of Staunton, Virginia in 1865. Suffice to say Staunton, and Augusta County, were in a bad way in 1865. Swathes of Augusta County had been destroyed during the Civil War. Economic hardship was keenly felt. And, according to the article, there was a degree of lawlessness that made me think of the old Wild West. These were challenging times – and few were immune from deprevation.

$10 was quite a bit of money in 1865.  Adjusting this for 2017, $10 in 1865 would be worth around $140.00 in 2017. That puts the debt of Perry’s friend, and the value of Perry’s watch, into perspective. While it cost him in the end, Perry went out of his way to help a mate. I have to wonder how he felt about Wyatt Smith afterwards.

The second record is dated 25 April 1867:

Land complaint cropped

“Virginia, Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1865-1872,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-DRQG-R4?cc=1596147&wc=9LMK-923%3A1078522902%2C1078525001 : 25 June 2014), Staunton (assistant subassistant commissioner) > image 58 of 195; citing NARA microfilm publication M1913 (College Park, Maryland: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

Transcript:  Perry Sheffey (c) lives at Stuart’s Drift, Augusta Co., complains that he rented by verbal agreement from Zachariah McChenney, a house and about 25 acres  of land then occupied by Thomas Parnell at an annual rent of $25 at 1/3 of the part possession of house to be given in March 1867 at the latest. That Parnell has not removed and says he shall not move out until the coming Fall and that meantime Perry Sheffey has been compelled at great inconvenience and loss to live in a room in Z McCherney . [Signed by McChenney] 

Note at the bottom: Directed Sheffey to notify McChenney that he required place vacated by Parnell and to report all of this office result.

I was curious about who this Parnell was. Why was he causing Perry a bit of a headache? A search in the 1860 and 1870 Census didn’t place a Parnell in Stuart’s Drift, or Augusta County. He remains a mystery.

I can appreciate Perry’s frustration.  You are freed from the bondage of slavery. You have a family you want to provide for. And, you want your slice of the American Dream – a slice you never thought you would live to see. He was free…and he planned on making the most of it. Whatever the situation was between Zachariah McChenney and Parnell, it had nothing to do with Perry. Putting myself in his shoes, I would have felt pretty salty about the situation.

It appears that Perry and McChenney knew each other very well. McChenney’s name appears in more than one of these accounts about Perry.

There is something that isn’t very obvious in this account. Yet, it’s important.  Zachariah McChenney filed this complaint on the behalf of Perry. There’s an easy answer why. Virginia’s Black Codesof 1705 and 1866 forbade people of color from filing complaints or law suits against European-descended people (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Codes_(United_States ). You were free…but with some fundamental limitations.

Freedmen Bureau records meticulously recorded racial designations. An ‘F’ appearing next to a person’s name designated them as a Freedman or Freedwoman (i.e. a formerly enslaved person). In other words, they were black/mulatto. So too the letter ‘C’ next to someone’s name to designate ‘colored’ – which also included free people of color. An absence of any letter, or the letter ‘W’ designated someone who was white. From my experience, ‘white’ was a default setting, hence it not appearing very often. Using the record above, the absence of any code letter indicates that Parnell and McChenney were both white. While Perry has a ‘C’ for colored.

Perry was a fighter. Farming was his livelihood and he didn’t seem inclined to just let things work out for themselves.  I was liking him already. I don’t know how this matter was resolved.  However, I do know that Perry can be found in South River Township in Augusta County in the 1870 Census. He’s listed as a farm laborer. That census told me a little bit more about Perry. He couldn’t read or write.

Perry Sheffey in 1870

Perry Sheffey’s household in 1870

By 1880, Perry is still a farm laborer.  However, by this Census, he can read and write.

Perry Sheffey in 1880

Perry Sheffey’s household in 1880

I have to admire his tenacity. Somehow, some way, after a day of physically grueling work, he learned how to read and write. I picture him rising before sunset to face a day of farming and all that entailed. Anyone familiar with farming knows it’s a long and grueling work day. I know I, for one, would be inclined to go home, eat, and put my feet up. Not Perry.  Bit by bit, hour by hour, he became literate. That determination is something I admire.

It’s the last Freedmen’s Bureau record that I found for him, dated 9 June 1866, that had me laughing out loud:

Perry Sheffey complaint

“Virginia, Freedmen’s Bureau Field Office Records, 1865-1872,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FPGR-7WY : 24 December 2014), Perry Sheffy, ; citing NARA microfilm publication M1913 (College Park, Maryland: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 2,414,653.

Transcript: Elick Johnson (F) vs. Perry Sheffey (F) lives near Bardy Brook – complains that Sheffey has two wives and one is a white woman, the other is in the County – is a public nuisance as they often live together – Mr Adam McChenney told him to mention the case.

Oh to have been a fly on the wall while this conversation was happening. It’s the writer in me. I can just imagine the hushed, scandalized, urgent tone of the person’s voice relaying this complaint to the Union officer.

Perry, it seems, was going to live his life the way he wanted to without apology. In fairness to him, the basis of this wasn’t exactly unheard of. The 1850, 1860, and 1870 Censuses for the area show quite a few households headed by women of color with multi-racial children. These were the second, “hidden” families of the European descended men in the area. I can only surmises that Perry thought if it was good enough for them, then it was good enough for him. At least he was open and honest about it. If they were all living together, as the complaint states, then it was probably a harmonious arrangement. I get it though.  It was not the done thing. And it certainly wasn’t the done thing for a man of color. Still, the cheekiness of it makes me smile.

Three tiny snippets of bureaucratic record keeping provided some depth to someone who was previously just a name among many names. Story snippets like these are worth their weight I gold precisely for that reason.