Category Archives: family history

7 years in the making: Launching our new genealogy research services

7 years. Crickey, but it doesn’t seem like Genealogy Adventures has been going that long. You know I’ve loved every minute of sharing my journey with you.

This year is all about ‘doing what you love’ for me. So, with that in mind, I’ve been slowly wrapping up my marketing, copywriting, and branding business in order to focus on genealogy full-time. ‘Excited’ doesn’t quite cover it.  I’m also pleased that this is a family affair.  I’ll be working alongside my cousin Donya Williams. She’sbeen one of my most trusted genealogy research co-pilots.

So, with that in mind, I’m pleased to share our new genealogy research service website with you:

Genealogy Adventures: Genealogy and Family History Research Cent

http://genealogyadventures.vpweb.com

And no, we won’t be plugging these services every which way from Sunday on the blog. 🙂  I just wanted to take a few minutes to share some news that me, and the team, are really excited about.

So, with that in mind, I”m putting the finishing touches on a story that I hope you’ll find as funny  and as awesome as I do.

  • Brian

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The Hale family of Virginia : Using Eastern Cherokee Applications to build family tree branches

I’ve been researching my paternal Hale family in Wythe and Grayson Counties for the past three or so years. This hasn’t been a particularly easy family to research.  They are one of the few families comprised of free people of color (fpoc) who haven’t been extensively researched. Like my Hill, Carpenter, Clark, Kenny/Kinney, and Robertson kin, who were also fpoc in the same region of southwest Virginia, very little has been written about them.

When you factor in the majority European and Native American Hale family branches…it is one enormous and sprawling family that encompasses the four corners of America.

I had a pretty good foundation for this specific ancestral line via census returns.  However, I knew there were large gaps that included plenty of missing people. Nor did I have a clue about how my direct Hale lines connected with the wider Hale family in Lancaster, Bedford, and Essex Counties in Virginia. Much less the older branches of the family in New England.

A message from ‘GingerGirl’, a Hale family relation, via Ancestry.com changed all of that. She suggested I take a look at Eastern Cherokee Applications (ECAs) on Fold3.  The existence of ECAs came as news to me. Turns out, this tip was quite the revelation.  The myriad of Hale family ECAs on Fold 3 enabled me to finally tackle my Hales. Not only tackle them…but connect the dots between different Hale family groups scattered across Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and North Carolina.

I have one suggestion, before I continue.  I recommend checking this resource out if you have ancestors who were fpoc. I have found missing fpoc ancestors and kin from the Bird/Byrd, Drew, Findley, Hathcock/Haithcock/Heathcock, and Walden families, among others, through their ECA applications.

So what kinds of genealogy information do these applications have? 

Plenty.  I’m going to use cousin Jerome Hale’s EPA as an example.

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The image above is a pretty standard application cover page.  It has the applicant’s name, as well as the application roll number assigned to their case.  In the case of Jerome, his ECA number was 41355. You can also use this number to search for any other EPA attached to an applicant’s file.  As you can probably imagine, entire families submitted individual applications. Making a note of each ECA roll number enables you to cross-reference and cross-check information.  There’s also a date stamp. I use this date when updating the then-current residency information on an individual’s page on Ancestry.com .

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The page above has a wealth of basic genealogy-related information:

  • The applicant’s full name, including any Native American name they might have had
  • Current residency information
  • Age at the time of application, and the birth date the applicant used
  • Place of birth
  • Marital status, including the name of a spouse
  • Tribal affiliation. OK, we’re talking abuot Eastern Cherokee aplications, so it’s no surprise that the tribal affililation is going to be Cherokee.  However, I have seen a handful of references to a parent who was Choctaw, Shawnee, or Powhatan
  • The names, ages, and dates of birth for the applicant’s children
  • Parents’ names, as well as their place of birth

There’s a bit of a mystery around Jerome’s father, William.  William vacillated between the surnames Clark, Hale (Haile), and Kinney (Kinney) when he was younger. Frankly, his habit of chopping and changing between 3 different surnames has made him a nightmare to research. Part of the problem is the identity of his father is unknown. His mother, Phyllis, used the surname Kenney/Kinney; whether this name was through birth or marriage is also uncertain.

I’m left wondering where these surnames came from.  And, more importantly, what these surnames meant to them. Names are a fundamental part of anyone’s identity. These surnames clearly meant something to Phyllis and William.  What they meant to them, however, remains unclear.

This also raises a question about the relationship between my Clarks who were free and my Clarks who were enslaved. Both groups have origins in Grayson County before a removal to Wythe County. Both groups share a tri-racial – European, African, and Native American – ancestry. The two groups, including descendants, also married each other in Wythe County. DNA matches suggest both Clark family groups shared a common Clark ancestor.  Who that person was remains unknown.

What this page tells me is that Jerome’s father, William, finally settled on Clark as his family name, which matches later Census returns for him. His wife, Selia/Celia, and their children also chopped and changed between using the names Kinney/Kenney and Hale; finally settling upon Hale as their family name.

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The page above also has basic, yet crucial information:

  • Parents’ place of residence in 1851. Seemingly innocuous, this is an important piece of information to have. There are times when I can’t locate ancestors or kin on the 1850 Census. It’s simply due to not knowing where a person was living, especially if they had a common name. Even more so if they moved around frequently.  and my Hales moved around quite a bit.  I couldn’t find Jerome’s parents in the 1850 Census, for instance.  Once I knew where they were in 1851, I went back and finally found them in the 1850 Census.
  • The names and residences of siblings. Again, this is pure gold dust.  With other family ECAs, I discovered the applicant had siblings that I hadn’t discovered in my other research efforts. Or, I could finally make a connection between a few different family groups. Even better, depending on the thoroughness of the applicant, I also discovered if an applicant’s mother remarried, thus having a different surname – as well as discovering the married names for sisters. Having a woman’s correct surname at a certain date point enabled me to find them in vital records, etc.
  • Last, but by no means least, you can have 3 generations’ worth of family lineages provided, as in the case above.

There are a few things to unpack regarding the dates used in the ECAs

The dates of 1834-5 and 1851 were important due to various treaties signed between the Eastern Cherokee and the US government. Basically, the US government wanted confirmation that an application has been a member of the Eastern Cherokee tribe at the time of the treaties of 1835 (Treaty of New Echota, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_New_Echota ), or 1836 (Treaty of Bowles Village with the Republic of Texas), or 1843 (Treaty of Bird’s Fort with the Republic of Texas, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Bird’s_Fort ) between the United States and the Eastern Cherokee.

These dates don’t seem to be hard and fast excluders if an ancestor wasn’t a recognized as an Eastern Cherokee tribe member at those date points. I’m still researching this to determine what tripwire/minefield these 3 date points represent for a prospective applicant. Bureaucracy is a demanding mistress.  Those year dates are far from arbitrary. They are there for a multitude of reasons.  Treaty years is but one.

The year 1851 has to do with the Drennen Roll. This roll was a post Trail of Tears. This roll logged payments made to Cherokees living to the west of the Mississippi River.  These Cherokees were removed from the eastern United States to the west of the Mississippi River as a result of an 1835.  The roll was prepared by John Drennen, and contains the name of the person to be paid, their Cherokee district, and information about their family group.

Back to the genealogy nuggets of gold

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I’ve included the image above just to illustrate the affidavit part of the process. Like any other legal matter, affidavits were part and parcel of this process.

Other Hale family ECA’s contain additional genealogy nuggets that are pure gold. Like the letter below, which is part of Silas Hale’s ECA. Silas was Jerome’s cousin.  Below is a letter written by Silas to the US Court of Claims regarding his own application.

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This is a very simple letter.  Yet, I love this for so many reasons. The first is that Silas could clearly read and write. Given that this was 1907, it’s something that can’t be take for granted. It’s also pretty cool to see an ancestor’s 100+ year old writing.  The vocabulary and penmanship tells me something about Silas. Considering this was a chasing letter, it’s pretty polite.

Transcription:

Appl. #37721 | May 15, 1908

Silas Hale,

  Jellico, Tenn.

Sir:

Relative to your application for participation in the Eastern Cherokee Fund, please state whether you, your parents, or grandparents ever resided with the Cherokee tribe. If so, state when and where. Were you, your parents, or grandparents recognized as white people, Indians or negroes in the communities in which you and they have resided?

Why was the parent through whom you claim not enrolled in 1851, and where was he or she residing in 1834-5, if living at the time? Where were your grandparents on the side through which you claim residing in 1834-5?

If your parents or grandparents were slaves, state whether slaves of Indians or white people.

Very respectfully,

Special Commissioner

By

Chief Clark  

The other thing that leaps out at me are the not-so-subtle questions about race and slave status. They seem to be filters. Again, seemingly simple questions that could be used as tripwires to invalidate a claim (Blood Quantum Laws via https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_quantum_laws; and Who’s a Native American? It’s complicated via http://inamerica.blogs.cnn.com/2012/05/14/whos-a-native-american-its-complicated are quick introductions to this topic).

The vast majority of Hale ECAs were rejected. The usual reason cited was a lack of documentary evidence to prove their Cherokee ancestry. There were other factors at play.  The letter below, from Charles Hale (another cousin), is a not so subtle hint that family members knew the forces that were at play regarding their applications.

charles-hale-apprehensive-letter

The sentence “under misapprehension in having this application filled out” speaks volumes. He clearly knew exactly what was at stake.

Silas’s response to the letter he received follows below. He too knew what was at stake. I include it to illustrate some of the key genealogical information that can be gleaned through these applications.

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I apologize for not transcribing it.  I’ll readily admit that I struggled with the cursive writing. However, the parts I could easily read again had important genealogy information:

  • Silas stated that his grandparents and parents were recognized as Cherokee, although not formally enrolled in the tribe;
  • His mother was Cherokee and European
  • He believed the reason why his father hadn’t enrolled in 1851 was due to his leaving Cherokee territory for Virginia. Which, as it turned out, was true. His mother had already died by 1851; and;
  • That his grandparents were resident in Cherokee territory in 1834-5. In fact, all of them had died in Cherokee territory.

Again, it provides a concise little genealogy covering his parents and grandparents: their names and where they were living at key dates.

Like the majority of other Hale ECAs, Silas’s was rejected.

I love these ECAs for the information they contain.  They equally frustrate me. I keep asking myself how the Court of Claims could expect people living in remote areas in the early to mid-1800s to have gathered – much less think about –legal/official proof of Cherokee affiliation. You’re busy just trying to deal with the hurly burly of everyday life and providing for your family.  Time is an issue. Do you take the one or two days necessary to ride into town to enroll as a member of a Native American tribe or do you tend to whatever your source of income and/or subsistence was? Many of my Hales were farmers.  A day or two away from the farm was simply out of the question.

Enrollment and/or documentary proof may, or may not, have required money. If so, where was that money to come from? These were not rich people. I know I probably wouldn’t have spent the money or time to prove something that my family, and others who knew my family, already knew to be true.

I also can’t take literacy for granted. Regardless of race. If multiple generations of a family were illiterate, there would be no one to write such proofs down for posterity.

These were also people who moved about. Frequently. Even if they had the inclination, time, and money, to register – it’s an easy thing to lose or misplace papers with each move you make. There’s one Hale family group who went from North Carolina, to Virginia, then on to Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas, and were ultimately removed to Oklahoma. That’s a whole lot of moving. Considering they only had access to horses and wagons, this is actually quite impressive. However, there were a whole lot of opportunities to lose important papers, should those papers have existed in the first place.

This is the other aspect of ECAs that I find interesting.  The historical context, the backdrop as it were, that impacted upon the lives of these applicants. History and genealogy do indeed go hand in hand. These applications provide us with real glimpses into both.

Image Credit:
Images via: Eastern Cherokee Applications of the U.S. Court of Claims, 1906-1909

Eastern Cherokee Applications via Fold 3:  https://www.fold3.com/title_73/eastern_cherokee_applications#overview

 

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Leila Sheffey-Taylor: A life lived in the turn of the 20th Century black press

Part of what drives my genealogy journey is putting flesh to the usual vital statistics details for my ancestors. Vital statistics are unquestionably important.  However, it’s rather dry stuff. For me, it’s about making the ancestors three-dimensional, living, breathing people with personal histories, quirks, and foibles.  You know, the things that make people, well, people. I face the same challenges in researching ancestors who didn’t move among the great and the good as any other genealogist. There is a distinct lack of anecdotal materials, letters, journals, or diaries to achieve this goal.

My Newspaper.com membership, however, is enabling me to catch glimpses of the personal lives for quite a few of my ancestors and ancestral kin.  Actually, that membership is working overtime. However, it’s a double-edge sword.  The lives of my less melinated ancestors and kin who were middle class or wealthy have been fairly well documented in old newspaper clippings, letters, journals, and diaries.  Not so for my ancestors and kin who were poor or people of colour. From my experience to-date, people of colour rarely appeared in your everyday newspapers.  If they did, it was for reasons that weren’t very happy or positive.

Enter newspapers whose audience were primarily people of colour. These papers have proven to be an information goldmine.  They chronicle the social lives and careers for their community – as well as state and national news that directly affected their readership.

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Leila A Sheffey , 1906

When it comes to Leila A “Storm” Sheffey, a cousin who descends from a different Sheffey line than mine, African American newspapers have revealed a story worthy of a Jane Austen romance: a plucky, astute, and educated heroine; solid middle class values; a trip; an illness; a society courtship; and a marriage. OK, this being an Austen story comparison…a good marriage.

The heroine of this real life version of Austen was Leila. Of course, none of the clippings I’ve read explain that ‘Storm’ nickname. Although one of them certainly commented about it. She was the daughter of a middle class NW Washington DC family. In 1899, her father, Isaac Taylor Sheffey, was a successful carpenter while her mother, Laura Ann Woodson, worked for the US Bureau of Engraving.

leila-a-storm-sheffey-visit-10-mar-1899The thing that strikes me about the 1899 article above is a sense of the seeming innocence of a bygone age. It would be inconceivable to print anyone’s full address in this day and age. Yet, there hers is.

Even better, there’s a snippet about her general demeanor: unassuming and positive in a marked degree. It just makes me think of the Parthenon of strong leading ladies amongst Austen’s heroines.  Aspects of Elizabeth Bennett, Emma Woodhouse, Anne Elliott, Catherine Morland, and Elinor Dashwood spring to mind.

The other thing that immediately sprang to mind was the sheer distance and expense of travelling from Washington DC to Des Moines, Iowa. In 1899, that would have been quite the journey by train.  It was definitely an adventure. This too tells me something about her.

The last thing that struck me about this seemingly superficial account was the strength of family connections. George Woodson was the nephew of Leila’s mother, Laura Ann Woodson. George and Leila both had deep roots in Wythe County, Virginia. While Leila’s family moved to Washington DC, George struck out for Iowa.  Both families clearly remained in contact despite the distance between them.  I can imagine the letters that passed between both households in Iowa and Washington DC: catching up on all the usual family news that fill such letters. The fondness, and the bonds between them, were clearly strong.

The article describes Leila’s cousin, attorney George Woodson, as ’distinguished’. His career certainly was.  However, and this will be touched upon in a further newspaper clipping, the paper was conveying another emphasis through the word ‘distinguished’. Leila’s mother, Laura Ann, was believed to be the 3x great-granddaughter of President Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings. This Woodson-Jefferson family link is hotly –and I do mean hotly – contested between the Woodsons and the Monticello Organization. In this instance, we have a strong oral family tradition butting heads against a DNA test showing otherwise. Nevertheless, in 1899, this is what was believed.

On her father’s side of the family, she was a great grandniece of Virginia Congressman, Daniel Henry Sheffey (1770-1830), who was quite the politician in his day.

I can only suspect it was these family associations that led to the length of the article. What strikes me is that details of their respective family backgrounds were known. I have to laugh, it took me years of research to reclaim this lost knowledge.

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From 28 Oct 1904, Iowa State Bystander

Between Oskaloosa, Des Moines, and Washington, DC, there are plenty of snippets for Leila like the one above. Whether it was singing at recitals, or fetes, family gatherings, or visits, there’s been a wealth of short print pieces that bring her to life. I’ve included an extra one below:

leila-a-storm-sheffey-visit-24-oct-1902

Her 1906 engagement announcement is simply pure gold:

leila-a-storm-sheffey-engagement-9-nov-1906

Again, there is a hint to another Presidential link.  Her future husband, Dr Charles Sumner Taylor, was believed to be either a descendant of, or cousin to, President Zachary Taylor.

Putting modern American black viewpoints about such associations to one side, as genealogists and historians, we can only view things from our ancestors’ point of view. Generations ago, such family associations clearly meant something. That would be the ‘belonging to the first families of the old dominion’ bit. No matter how we feel about such things today, you don’t get a newspaper article like the one above without such connections meaning something to the reporter who wrote the article, the publisher, and the community in general.

Honestly? There are other parts of the story I find far more insightful. She was a respected court reporter. She clearly worked, and worked hard. In doing so, she earned the respect of her peers. This was no easy feat for a woman in 1906. She was active in her community. And the couple seems to have been generally well-liked and admired.

And, of course, I can’t help but wonder if she met Dr Taylor during her earlier visit in 1899, the visit where she fell ill. Was he the doctor who tended to her? What a story to tell their children and grandchildren. Did that first meeting, and his courtship, lead to her permanent move from Washington DC to Iowa? She’d clearly been resident in the town for a few years prior to her engagement and marriage. Whether this is how their romance happened or not, the newspaper snippets and articles I found for her truly transformed her from a name on my family tree to a living and breathing person.

I heartily recommend checking out both Newspapers.com and ChroniclingAmerica.loc.gob to find your own ancestors’ stories.

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Pleasant Roane (Rowan) and the road to manumission in Lynchburg

I’ve been meaning to write about Pleasant Roane for quite a while.  I’ve always felt badly that other research and other stories commanded my attention more, and overshadowed his tale.  Well, as much of his tale as I’m aware of. It’s quite the interesting tale.

I’ve also been surprised that I see to be the only Roane family descendant researching Pleasant. Mine is the only family tree in which he appears. This, in part, probably has to do with the obscurity of his origins. Any Roane would be proud to claim him.

So what prompted my interest?  He is one of a handful of my enslaved ancestors who sued for his freedom…and then sued the State of Virginia to be allowed to remain in the state once he was freed.

Virginia had a statute on the books that slaves freed after 1806 had to leave the state or suffer re-enslavement (see http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/_An_ACT_to_amend_the_several_laws_concerning_slaves_1806).  The only means by which a person freed from slavery after 1806 had to remain in-state was to sue the state and hope the state would find in their favour.  This was by no means guaranteed. The reason why they would wish to remain is pretty simple:  while they were free, other members of their family (i.e. spouse, children, siblings, etc) remained in slavery.

Access to the court wasn’t simple and straightforward for African-descended people.  A 19th Century person of colour, by law, could not sue the state or a person of European heritage. Not at the State or Federal level. A person of colour needed a European-descended person to bring a suite on their behalf, or act as their guardian and act as a proxy in order for a suit to be heard in court.  In the eyes of the law, people of colour had a legal status similar to a minor. That’s the short form backdrop to Pleasant’s story.

I know little about Pleasant’s origins. He’s believed to have been born in Bedford County, Virginia.  An approximate year of birth remains elusive. His first child with a known birth year, Charles, was born around 1815. Estimating that Pleasant was around 20 years old when Charles was born, a plausible birth year for Pleasant would be somewhere between 1780 and 1795.

His court papers provide some of his history.  He was enslaved by John Depriest, his first verified enslaver, in Campbell, Virginia.  There will be an earlier – and as of yet undiscovered – link to the Roane family. He saved Depriest from drowning.  There’s no known indication regarding how Depriest felt about this selflessness.  However, not long afterwards, Pleasant was sold and entered Robert C Steptoe’s household.

DATE:  Aug 1823 (proved 25 Aug 1823)

PARTIES:  Pleasant HAYTHE, Cornelius CRENSHAW and RandolphDEPRIEST, of Campbell County to Robert C. STEPTOE of Bedford County

DOCUMENT TYPE:  Bill of Sale

SOURCE:  Bedford County Courthouse, Bedford VA, Deed Book 18, p363

SLAVES NAMED IN DOCUMENT:    “a male slave named Pleasant,otherwise Pleasant Rowan”

COMMENTS:  Pleasant Rowan was sold to Robert C. Steptoe for $390.

Steptoe was resident in Bedford County, and closely allied with the slave owning Roane family, which provides some initial and interesting indications of how Pleasant was related to the Roane family.

I don’t know whether it was Pleasant or Steptoe who had the idea of freeing Pleasant from slavery. What is known is that a suit for Pleasant’s freedom was filed in Campbell County, the county where Lynchburg is situated, in 1824.

DATE:  1 April 1824

PARTIES:  Robert C. STEPTOE to Pleasant ROWAN

DOCUMENT TYPE:  Deed of Emancipation

SOURCE:  Bedford County Courthouse, Bedford VA, Deed Book 19, p43

SLAVES NAMED IN DOCUMENT: Pleasant ROWAN

COMMENTS:  “for and in consideration of the general good character and conduct of Pleasant alias Pleasant Rowan now my slave and especially for and in consideration of an act of extraordinary merit done and performed by the said Pleasant alias Pleasant Rowan in the life-time of his former master and owner John Depriest, late of the County of Campbell, in endeavoring to secure and save the life of the said John Depriest at the imminent peril and hazard of his own:

Wherefore I the said Robert C. Steptoe for and in consideration of the premises & especially the act last mentioned:  Have liberated, emancipated & from the shackles of slavery set free, and by these presents do liberate, emancipate and from the shackles of slavery forever set free the said Pleasant Roane alias Pleasant Rowan.”

James Hendrick and Nathan Read were witness to this deed.

Lynchburg

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An image of the  view of the Old Marketplace in Lynchburg, dated 1875. Image from King’s The Great South, published in 1875.

It appears that Pleasant, a skilled carpenter, was already resident in Lynchburg shortly before he was freed in 1824. Reviewing records, he seemed to have a great deal of liberty within the confines of enslavement under Stepoe. He hired himself out, an arrangement that Steptoe seems to have encouraged. He also appears to have had his own household, again, apparently with the blessing of Steptoe. While not free, he certainly moved with a great deal of freedom within Lynchburg.

Another suite was brought in 1826 for Pleasant to remain in Virginia, near his wife, Nancy Stewart, and the four children who were born prior to 1826.  Nancy and Pleasant’s 4 children remained enslaved. His wife and children were free by 1830 census.  I’m assuming at this point that, he had saved enough money, through his hard work and industry, to buy their freedom. His children who were born after 1830 were all born free.

There are a few things that stand out in his 1826 suit to remain in Virginia. The first is the number of European-descended people who vouched for his good character and industry. It’s a slight exaggeration, yet, it seems as though half the European-descended population of Lynchburg came out in defense of Pleasant to remain as part of their community. Beloved may be over-egging the pudding.  Nonetheless, their testimony paints a picture of a man who was indeed respected, admired, and valued by many within his community.

I don’t know what prompted Robert Steptoe from taking this course of action. Perhaps, one day, one of his descendants can fill in this part of the story.  I, for one, thank the cosmos that he did. It was far, far from being a straightforward endeavour.

Pleasant’s children and descendants would become part of the African American bourgeoisie, as well as leaders within the religious and Civic spheres of Lynchburg.

As you read through the court records (with transcripts) that follow below, I’d ask you to keep this thought at the back of your mind:  this is what a African-descended person of good, sober, and unblemished conduct had to endure in order to remain in the state of his or her birth once freed from slavery.

Manumission document

I haven’t been able to access the original records in order to make better copies than those which appear below. You will find the original filings and court papers along with an accompanying transcriptions for each image. The original images are small and difficult to read (hence the transcriptions). However, I am mightily indebted to the Library of Virginia for digitizing these records and making them available for free online via http://www.virginiamemory.com/transcribe/scripto/transcribe/13404/40948.

pleasant-roane-manumission-suit-1

Robert Steptoe’s Manumission Petition for Pleasant Roane

Transcription:

To the Honorable the Speakers and members of the Senate and House of Delegates of Virginia – The petition of Pleasant Rowan a freeman of Color respectfully sheweth [sic] – That on the first day of April in the year 1825, your petitioner was in due form of law emancipated by Robert E. [Steploe?] Esqr of the county of Bedford (in Virginia). As will fully appear by reference to the original deed of emancipation herewith exhibited and marked – From an inspection of that document, it will be found that in addition to his general good character and conduct an act of extraordinary merit was likewise one of the inducements to his emancipation, and from this Your Honorable bodies might with some plausibility conclude that his present application should in strict [propriety?] have been addressed to the court of the county in which he was emancipated, and not to the Legislature. Upon this point your petitioner begs leave to be indulged with a few words of explanation. Your petitioner in common with a majority of the people of his condition has never been blessed with the [lights?] and advantages of learning and education, and savoring the little information he has picked up in his unequal intercourse with the enlightened part of society, he is yet in the condition of native ignorance. In such circumstances prudence seems to dictate the propriety of relying upon the counsels of the better informed. By these he had been advised that the provisions of the law which conferd [sic] on the county courts power & jurisdiction to hear and determine applications like the present are so [illegible] limited & restricted as to promise nothing but defeat and [discon?], results which are rendered infinitely more intolerable by the reflection, that the same law especially inhibits a second application, no matter from what cause the first failure may have proceeded – For the [illegible] of these remarks your petitioner begs leave to refer generally to the 62nd Section of the act” concerning Slaves, free negroes [sic] and mulattoes” 1.Vol.Rev:Code of 1819.h43b, but more especially
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Leave to remain in Virginia Court affidavits

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Transcript:

[written on left side of page]
to that part of the section quoted which requires the presence of a majority of the acting magistrates of the county whenever such application shall be acted upon – Your petitioner is advised that in almost every other instance in which the laws require the presence of a majority of the justices to act upon a specified subject, they at the same time provide for the contingency of their failure to [illegible], by declaring that a summons duly executed requiring their attendance for the contemplated [illegible], shall be held to be a [illegible] compliance with the law, and that the justices attending the [illegible] that a majority may proceed in the discharge of the prescribed duty – But in a case like the present, when an application is made in behalf of a manumitted slave for leave of residence; no matter how [illegible] all the forms of law may [illegible] been complied with, no matter what [illegible] may have been made to procure their attendance, yet if the required majority be not actually present, the court have no authority to proceed – Your petitioner need I [casualy?] remind your honorable body of the degraded condition of most of that unfortunate race of people with which it is his misfortune to be connected – Denied the use and enjoyment of many of the most valuable rights and priveleges [sic] of free men: Subjected in all cases of offences to the most [illegible] as actions of penal law; and sunk by long settled and inveterate opinion into a state of contempt & degradation the most deplorable, their personal influence, unaided by legal coercion, [illegible] hope to do but like towards convencing [sic] a majority of the justices of a county, even when the most interesting publick [sic] sessions, much less where such convention concerned their own personal interest – Yet not withstanding these appalling difficulties your petitioner was prompted in order to afford a more complete foundation for his present application, to attempt the [illegible] prescribed by law of applying to the county court for relief, he accordingly at the last March [illegible] of the county court of Campbell applied to the said court for an
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[written on right side of page]
order directing the magistrates of said county to be summoned to take into consideration his petition for leave to reside in said county – as well fully appear by reference to a copy of said order herewith exhibited [illegible]
they were accordingly summoned but failed to attend and thus the anticipation of your petitioners advisers were fully [illegible] – From hence if evidently appears that all hope of bringing his application before the county court is utterly vain unless [illegible] some occasion of publick [sic] interest should call together majority of the justices, a contingency not to be relied upon [illegible] any safety, especially by one whose liberty is every moment [illegible] to for future under the existing laws – Your petitioner trusts that in the considerations thus suggested our honorable body discern a reasonable excuse for his present application – He is well aware of the strong prejudices, almost universally prevalent against people of his condition, insomuch that they are generally regarded as a nuisance rather than a benefit to society. Yet he [illegible] that however [illegible] this opinion may [illegible] in General. The respectable testimonials herewith exhibited [illegible] be sufficient in your minds to make him an Honorable [illegible].
Your petitioner in conclusion would respectfully state that many years prior to his emancipation, he intermarried with a slave the property of Mr. Richard Walker of Bedford, by and with the consent of her master, that he has by her four small children for whom he cherishes a fond & [illegible] affection and this connection it is hoped will have its due weight in and of the present application; should it fail, he will be reduced to one of two dire alternatives, either he must forfeit his freedom [continued in the next image and transcription below].
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Transcript:

so likely acquired or preserve it by removeing [sic] to a distant state and at once burst [assunder?] those tender ties of affection & feelings which are most deeply implanted in the Human heart –

In [illegible] consideration of the premises your petitioner prays that a law may be passed by the legislature authoriseing [sic] him to reside in the county of Campbell, Virginia, under such conditions the [illegible] [at?] to the legislature may seem [illegible] And as in duly bound your petitioner will ever pray [illegible]
Pleasant Rowan [his mark]

]written in meddle of page]
Petition of Pleasant Rowan for Leave to reside in the County of Campbell
Decr[sic] 28th 1826 ref’d to Ct of J
Wm M Rives
1827 Jany [sic] 2. Reasonable
Bill drawn
[written on right side of page]
[Pleasant] on P Rowan [illegible][illegible] for several years [illegible][illegible] of [illegible][illegible] by whom he had several children. The [illegible] has [illegible] [illegible] to [illegible] [illegible] [illegible] attention to his conduct, with [illegible] him to be [illegible] [illegible] as a likable carpenter. I have [illegible] [illegible] [illegible] [illegible] of a [illegible]. Rich’d Walker [illegible]
I add my testimony to that of Mr. Walker in stating that the character of Pleasant stands uncommonly fair as a peaceable, sober, industrious and honest man – His [illegible] in [receiving?] matters is as good as that of any white person of moderate circumstances. He is entirely humble in his deportment nor have I ever heard a vice of any kind alleged against him. He has a wife, the slave of Mr. Richard Walker, in my immediate neighbourhood [sic], and I believe five young children from whom he will be separated unless he be permitted to remain in the State of Virginia.
Wm Radford

Bedford County
November 15th 1825
I have been acquainted with the above named Pleasant for several years and have employed at [illegible] times to [illegible] work for me in his line of business, and always considered him an honest respectable man, and have never heard anything to his prejudice and thinks he deserves the character given him by the Gentlemen above named. Given under my hand this [illegible] of November 1825. John Waltz
The above [illegible] on P Rowan, (some years ago) did some Carpentry work for me and he appear’d while doing it, a very Sober, Industrious, honest man. Given this 16th Nov. 1825. Harlan Reid
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[written on left side of page]
Pleasant or Pleasant Rowan, a free Man of Colour [sic], has worked for me for some years past as a Carpenter – I consider him a Man of uncommon worth. Js. Steploe Nov. 17. 1825
Pleasant or Pleasant Roan a free man of Colour [sic] I have known from his Infancy first as a slave and him as a free man in both capacitys [sic] he has always supported a good character. I have even considered him a remarkable well behaved honest Industrious sober man. I believe him to be a valuable carpenter. I know of no coloured [sic] man more deserving a residence in the State – William Clements Campbell County November 21st 1823
Certificates J. Steploe & others

[written on right side of page]
Pleasant is a colour’d [sic] man that I have long known, first as a slave & hence, as free man in both capacitys [sic] he has at all times supported a good character as a well behaved, honest, Industrious Man, he is a good mechanic as a Carpenter, & presume he whould [sic] be a loss to the neighbourhood [sic] in which he resides if remov’d [sic] therefrom – given in Campbell County – 12 Novr 1825 M Lambeth ~ Jacob White
I have been acquainted with Pleasant [illegible] numbers of years and think he deserves the characters given him by the gentlemen above named. John [illegible] 15. Nov. 1825
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Transcript:

[written on right side of page]
Campbell County Va November 2nd 1825
I have Rec’d the [illegible] Certificates obtained by Pleasant a free man of colour [sic] and I can only add that he is deserving the character given him by the Gentlemen that [has?] given him their certificates of his character and have long known him both as a slave and [since?] he has been emancipated and never knew or heard anything to his prejudice. Given November 1825 John [Alexander?]
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leave-to-remain-3

Transcript:

[written on left side of page]
Certificates
M Lambeth [illegible]
[written on right side of page]
Campbell April Court 1826
On the petition of Pleasant Rowan It is ordered that the Justices of this County be summoned to appear at the next Term of this court to take into consideration the petition of said Rowan for leave to reside within this commonwealth it appearing to the Court that such notice of his petition has been given as the law required. Teste John Alexander Clk [sic]
Upon which order the Sheriff made the following return “Executed on William C. McAllister, Edward B Withers, John E Woodson, Adam Clement, Thomas Harvey, Richard Harvey, Richard Perkins, James Bullock, Meredith Lambert, Thomas Callaway, Henry T Early, Joseph McAllister, Alexander Austin, Samuel Pannill – Rich’d Morgan DS for [illegible] West Shff” [illegible] Teste Jno Alexander Clk
I James Hendrick to hereby certify that I was the counsel of Pleasant Rowan in his application to the county court for leave to reside in the State of Virginia – I do further state that I was present at Campbell May Court 1826 & that a majority of the court did not attend at that term according to the summons as annexed & furthermore I do certify that from my experience in such matters it is exclusively difficult if not impossible to get a competent court in such cases – J. Hendrick 13 Decem. 1836
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Transcript:

[written on left side of page]
Order for Pleasant Rowan ~~
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[written on right side of page]
I have know Pleasant alias Pleasant Rowan a free man of color for several years, which times, I have had many opportunities to observe his general conduct and deportment. The result of my observation is a belief that he is an honest, industrious, sober, and discreet man – I know him to be a useful mechanic – and as far as concerns myself I should regret his being compelled to leave the neighborhood – Given under my hand this 26th Novr 1825 J. Hendrick
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Transcript:

[written on left side of page]
J. Hendricks Certificate
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[written on right side of page]
To all & singular persons to whom these [illegible] shall [illegible] by [illegible] – Know ye That I Robert C Steploe of the County of Bedford & State of Virginia for & in consideration of the general good conduct and character of Pleasant alias Pleasant Rowan now my slave, and especially for and in consideration of an act of extraordinary merit done and performed by the said Pleasant alias Pleasant Rowan in the life time of his former master and [illegible] John Depriest late of the county of Campbell, in endeavoring to reserve and save the life of the said John Depriest at the imminent peril & hazard of his own, Therefore, I the said Robert C Steploe for and in consideration of the promise especially the act last mentioned have Liberated, Emancipated from the shackles of Slavery forever set free the said Slave, Pleasant alias Pleasant Rowan – In testimony whereof I the said Robert C Steploe have hereunto set my hand & seal this the first day of April in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred & twenty four Signed, sealed & delivered In presence of J. Hendrick
Robt C Steploe seal
N. Reid
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Transcript:

[written on left side of page at bottom]
At a Court held for Bedford County at the Courthouse the 27th day of December 1824. This [illegible] [illegible] [illegible] was exhibited in Court proved by the oaths of James Hendrick and Nathan Read subscribing witnesses & ordered to be recorded – Teste [illegible] Steploe C.B.C.
Robert C. Steploe to Pleasant Rowan
Disp of Emancipation
1824 December 27th
Rec’d & Ord to be rec’d
Recorded Page 43 Book L & Ex’d

[written on right side of page]
I hereby certify that I have been acquainted with Pleasant Roan free man of colour [sic] and a carpenter by trade for several years and do now consider him an honest, industrious, and good conditioned man and have heard many persons speak highly of him and never heard any thing otherwise. Rich’d [illegible] Bedford [illegible] Nov 1825
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Court ruling on Pleasant’s leave to remain in Virginia

court-ruling

Excerpt from Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia
By Virginia. General Assembly. Published by House of Delegates. Courtesy of Google Books https://books.google.com/books?id=HVhNAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA87&lpg=PA87&dq=%22pleasant+rowan%22,+petition&source=bl&ots=BvHIV0znuv&sig=Jk23k-MV5Z1b-OFTP3ot2kqfICA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiuu7vAoOXRAhVF5YMKHYIpCusQ6AEIOzAG#v=onepage&q&f=false

Transcript:

Resolved, as the opinion of this committee, That the petition of Pleasant Rowan, a man of colour, of the county of Campbell, who has been lately emancipated, praying that he may be allowed by law to remain as a free man in the said county, where he has a wife and children who are slaves, is reasonable.

 

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

Obituaries matter when it comes to genealogy research

I am blessed to have a small army of genealogy foot soldiers when it comes to researching my Edgefield County, South Carolina ancestry. This army of researchers are all cousins spanning the melanin range. I’m grateful to have their enthusiasm and expertise. Edgefield is the Mount Everest of genealogy.  Hands down, it has given me the most challenges and barriers.  Oh yeah, it’s given me plenty of grey hairs and headaches over the years. It’s also made me grow and develop my working practice as a genealogist.

Edgefield is challenging for quite a few reasons. The first reason is everyone in Edgefield and the Old Ninety-Six region of South Carolina are related.  Cousins married cousins over and over again down the generations. The second reason is the use of family names. Pretty much every branch of these big, inter-connected families, had a fondness for the same handful of family names when it came to naming their children.  Take the name Willie, for example. It was (and is) widely used for both males and females in my Edgefield family. I’m not kidding when I say I can easily come across dozens of Willie Petersons or dozens of Willie Holloways when I’m trying to find details for a specific individual by that name.

When it comes to the African American branches of my Edgefield family, we can add 3 big pulses of migration out of Edgefield to the mix.  The first pulse came at the close of the Civil War and the Reconstruction Era.  The second pulse was the between 1920 and 1930 as the Jim Crow laws really bit down hard. The third was between the 1940s and 1950s – partly due to Jim Crow and partly due to new job opportunities in the northern states during, and immediately after, World War II

These migration pulses provide some of the most challenging barriers when it comes to researching the descendants of Edgefield.  For instance, if I’m researching a Willie Mae Peterson, born in Blocker, Edgefield, South Carolina in 1919…is this the same Willie Mae (Peterson) Gilchrist who was born around 1920 and living in Greenwood, South Carolina? Or is she the same Willie Mae (Peterson) Blocker who was born about 1917 and living in North Augusta, Georgia?  Or the same Willie Mae Peterson, born about 1919, living in Washington, DC. Or the same Willie Mae (Peterson) Settles, born around 1916, living in Baltimore, Maryland?  Or one of a dozen other Willie Mae Petersons living in Boston, Newark, Detroit, Philadelphia, New York City, Dayton, or a dozen other places where southern migrants settled?

Add to the mix that all of these women will more than likely be part of the same extended family.  However, in and amongst this myriad of Willie Mae Petersons, I’m trying to research a single individual.

Enter obituaries. Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that reading through hundreds of obituaries is more than a little morbid.  But hey, we’re researching people who are no longer among us.  So it’s part and parcel of the research that genealogists do. Believe it or not, obituaries are also a goldmine of information.

When it comes to my Edgefield ancestors and kin born after 1870, it’s become my practice to start researching and finding obituaries for the males in a family first.  I do this simply because their surname doesn’t change.  Well, not usually, at any rate. It’s easier for me to find obituaries for them.  From there, I can find crucial information – the names of parents, where they born and raised, details about their spouses and children….and details about their siblings. This leads me to other obituaries which plug further information gaps.

Let’s take a look at this in practice with the obituary below.

susie-anna-holloway-obit

click for larger image

Susie is my second cousin, three times removed.  Her husband, A P Scott, is also my cousin. Her parents are my cousins.  Both of A P Holloway’s parents are also my cousins. That’s classic Edgefield.

I found Susie (Holloway) Scott’s obituary via an obituary for her father.  In his obituary, she appeared with her married name. Using Newspapers.com, and searching for her under her married name, I found her.

From there I could update my tree with information about her children and her surviving sibling.

Obituaries have some pretty basic information which is sometimes overlooked:

Death dates

An obituary provides a date of death – or at least a month and a year – and town and/or county of death. Plugging this information into Susie’s page on my Ancestry.com tree resulted in finding the correct death certificate for her, as well as relevant census, social security, and other records.

Last known place of residence

The places where her children were residing at the time of her death. I’d spent an age trying to research her son, Lawrence.  I’d been searching for him in Edgefield, Greenwood, Abbeville, and Newberry in South Carolina.  I couldn’t find him.  And there was a very simple reason why.  He wasn’t in South Carolina.  He was in the Bronx in New York City. When I added his residence as the Bronx in 2008, I found him and information about him (notably New York City directory listings).

Married names for daughters, sisters, and mothers

When it came to her daughters, I found their married names – enabling me to research them and their families.

It’s not unusual for me to discover that the women in the family married more than once due to the premature death of a husband. Which explains why I struggled to find them in additional records after a certain date. There was an additional  marriage to the one I already knew about.  I had no reason to suspect that she had re-married. This meant I was looking for these women under the wrong name. In just about every case, I found the additional records for them that I was seeking once I had a new married name.

Clearing up how people wanted their names spelt

Last, but by no means least, I can confirm how my kin preferred to spell their name. For instance, that Ocie Peterson used ‘Ocie’ and not Ossie or Osie. It may seem like a small, seemingly insignificant thing.  I like to honor the ancestors by using the form of their name they preferred and used.

Turning names into people

I can also learn a little something about them: what their interests or hobbies were or their various occupations and achievements. This lifts their story above the usual dates of residence, birth, marriage, or death. It makes them 3 dimension people. In Susie’s case, that she was a member of the Springfield Baptist Church, which is a church founded by the ancestors. I’ve heard quite a bit about this church and its community from various Edgefield cousins.  That she was a member of one of the committees of this church tells me a little something about her standing in the community.  And, of course, her picture is priceless. Her features reminds me of people from my immediate family with roots in Edgefield. It’s a connection to a person I’d never met nor heard of until I began researching the family.

Thankfully, I have 3 Edgefield cousins who are super sleuths when it comes to finding obituaries for our very extensive and complicated family.  If I ever become stuck, I know I can call on them to find an obituary when I struggle to do so.  They do so, and we all share them on Facebook when we find them, because we all know just how important they are in our research.

So if you’re not using obituaries as part of your own family research…I heartily recommend that you do. They are worth the effort it takes to find them.

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Filed under AfAm Genealogy, ancestry, Edgefield, family history, genealogy, South Carolina

New genealogy leads with the We’re Related App

With over 10K downloads under it’s belt to-date, it’s safe to say that the We’re Related app is gaining traction amongst the modern genealogy set. Now that it’s fixed a glitch which prevented people with big trees from using the app, I can now join in the fun.

The app has the potential for being a provider of new genealogy leads.  I’ve already discovered new lines of research through it already.  I only have one big caveat.  The matches We’re Related provides are generated by family trees hosted by Ancestry.   The lines of descent the app displays in order to illustrate how two people are related come from Ancestry.com family trees created by other people.  These trees are only as accurate and reliable as the information put into them.  That’s a nice way to say you still need to vet each and every generational link in the genealogy chain.

I can say that of the 50 or so individuals the app claims I’m related to, 90% have been 100% correct.  That’s not bad going. I’d also say that another 5% were close – close enough for me to quickly work out where the correct ancestral connections lays.

Here’s an overview of some of my favourite new cousin matches:

Senator John McCain

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My match with Senator John McCain was bang on the money. I already knew I was related to Sen. McCain already, so this came as no surprise.  However, I was impressed to see it pop u in my app matches. This is yet another match in a staggering myriad of matches from my colonial Pennsylvania Quaker ancestors.

Jimi Hendrix

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As a decades-long veteran of the music industry, I was ALL kinds of excited when Jimi showed up as a match.  He is amongst my all time favourite guitarists and recording artists. Sadly, once I looked the line of descent, as shown above, it all quickly fell to pieces. Isaac Winston is my 10x great grandfather. Mary Ann, his daughter, is my 9x great aunt. However, while she did marry, I cannot find any record which shows she married a Chiles. Not for love nor money.  Which means I’ve discounted this match.  I do have Chiles relations, so I may return back to Jimi to see if there is indeed a connection…or not.

George Washington

screenshot_2017-01-08-14-08-55-1

Again, this one came as no surprise.  I’ve had President George Washington in my family tree for a long time.  Still, it was nice to see him appear…with a correct line of descent.

Zachary Taylor

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As with George Washington, I’ve long known about my connection to President Zachary Taylor via the Lee family of Virginia. Again, it was great to see his line of descent matched with those provided by antiquarian genealogy books I’d consulted when I researched when building this branch of my family tree.

Henry David Thoreau

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This match simply blew me away. With a dual degree in Philosophy and Comparative Western Literature, I read plenty of Thoreau while at university.  Discovering I was related to one of America’s towering 19th Century writers was quite a thing to behold.  And it didn’t hurt that Thoreau opened up an entirely new line of inquiry for my Cary ancestry…one that has taken me deep into 16th Century England.

Winston Churchill

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Sir Winston Churchill, the venerated British Prime Minister – better remembered for his term in office during WWII rather than his second run at Prime Minister in the early days of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign – was also a known connection to me. However, that our supposed link came via a Jane Patrick came as a thunderbolt.  I have no idea who she is.

Looking at my side of the shared equation, the problem with this match quickly became apparent:

jane

Charity Young is my 9x great grandmother via my Fugate ancestry. Which makes her mother, Mary Ann Montgomery, my 10x great grandmother. However, the wrong Thomas Montgomery is showing.  This isn’t the Thomas Montgomery that’s in my own tree (see the image below, which shows the correct Thomas).  The one shown in the image above  is some other unknown Thomas Montgomery.

Here’s the Thomas Montgomery in my tree. He is the father of Mary Ann:

mary-ann

Somehow, this other person’s Thomas has taken priority over my 10x great grandfather, Thomas Montgomery. That’s where this particular error lays – which is why I couldn’t figure out where this Jane Patrick fits into the story.  She doesn’t, and shouldn’t be there.

The ancestor I share in common with Winston Churchill is actually  Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster  (1350- 1403).  This connection makes Winston my 15th Cousin, 3x removed.  Yep, that is one VERY distant connection 😉

I can thank Google Books and the British antiquarian Visitations of series (via https://www.google.com/search?tbm=bks&q=vistitations+of#tbm=bks&q=visitations+of ) for the correct Montgomery family lineage. This ancestry resources is invaluable. It’s old.  The pedigrees and lineages contained within this series of books have been vetted, argued over, and researched for centuries. It’s my ‘go to’ resource when picking up ancestral trails for my English, Welsh, Scottish and northern Irish family lines.

Kanye West

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A quick peek at the family line that connected me to Kanye was 100% correct.  The gem of this discovery has been a new line of Wests in Delaware and Maryland who were free people of colour. Looking at the names of his earliest known West ancestors is even more exciting. Old Quaker names, with Quaker spellings, like Rebeckah, Susanna, Ezekiel, and Hezekiah among his colonial West ancestors suggests a connection between his fpoc West ancestors and my Quaker West ancestors, some of whom left southern Pennsylvania for Maryland and Delaware early in the 1700s. It’s something I will be researching in 2017.

Christina Aguilera

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My Scotts-Irish Roanes and Henry family seem to have produced a staggering number of performers for descendants.  Christina is one among many.  Other performers from the Roane-Henry family include:  Willie Nelson, Ron Howard, and Dakota Fanning.

Overall, the app is just plain good fun.  However, it can open up new doors of discovery too. Take my advice though and do some digging and research before getting too excited.

It’s available to download via https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.ancestry.notables&hl=en

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From Northampton County, NC to Roberts Settlement, Indiana: the hidden history of fpoc

Timing seems to be everything when it comes to genealogy. You can search and search for clues to mysteries for ages.  And then *BOOM*, out of the blue, something amazing can happen.

I’ve been engaged in deep research on ancestors who lived in early 19th Century Northampton, Warren, and Halifax Counties in North Carolina. Out of the blue, Fontaine, a Sheffey cousin, forwarded a video to me. He’d had no idea I’d returned to researching these North Carolina counties. He’d forwarded it to me in the hopes it might have some answers when it came to his father’s maternal lineage. At that point, we had no idea that we were related in any other way besides the Sheffey family of Wythe County, Virginia. It turns out, we share some North Carolina lineages too.

The video below is the one he brought to my attention. The video didn’t specifically, help me in my research with his father’s maternal line.  However, it certainly answered some questions about what became of some of my own maternal ancestors who had seemingly vanished into the ether. The families involved were: Bass, Byrd, Scott, Stuart/Stewart, and Walden/Waldron.

The answer to what happened to them was pretty simple in the end. They had removed themselves from North Carolina to settle in Indiana. I won’t spoil the video. Their journey is a remarkable story.

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

Ann St. Clair of Wytheville, VA: Finding my lost connection to the St. Clair / Sinclair family

Actually, the title of this post should have been finding my father’s and my sister’s connection to the St. Clair / Sinclair / Sinkler family. Their DNA tests have proved a long-held suspicion of mine. It doesn’t look like I inherited enough St. Clair DNA from my DNA test to prove it. That’s the autosomal DNA inheritance roll of the dice for you. If you’re also using DNA tests to confirm and/or discovery family connections, this is another reason to have a number of people from your immediate family do the old spit or swab in tube thing.

In my decade-plus long ancestral journey, DNA testing has unlocked some surprising discoveries. It’s confirmed some things my family knew. It’s also disproved other theories. One thing it’s proven so far is that my African-descended family didn’t take the names of enslavers they liked or who may have treated them ‘well’ within the American chattel slavery system.  Nope, they took the surnames that were theirs through birthright. All of them.

My link to the St. Clair family is via my father’s paternal grandmother, Jane Ann White.

ann-st-clair

I was confident that my paternal St. Clair ancestors from Wytheville, Virginia were somehow connected to the European-descended St. Clair family who were spread throughout Virginia.  This family also includes the Sinclairs and Sinklers.  I will collectively refer to them as the St. Clair family.

The challenge was finding the European-descended man who fathered my ancestral line.

The St. Clair family was fairly straight-forward to research. It’s a well-documented family. It all begins with Alexander “The Immigrant” St. Clair. Alexander was born in 1666 in Glasgow, Scotland. That’s the one thing genealogists and St. Clair family historians can agree upon. Some claim he was related to the St. Clair family of Rosslyn – you know, the family made famous in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.  The family who owns that marvelous and one-of-a-kind chapel.   I’m a bit doubtful about that connection.  However, I’m keeping an open mind. Some of Alexander’s direct male descendants have formed a DNA project to prove or disprove this claim (for more information about this project, please visit the St Clair family DNA Research project via http://www.stclairresearch.com)

What is known is that Alexander arrived in Virginia from Scotland in 1698.  He sailed aboard the ship The Loyalty. He arrived as an indentured servant, serving a term of 4 years.

Alexander married Mary Wyman in 1706 in Stafford County, Virginia. Together, they raised a family of 10 children in Stafford County. The detective work would begin with tracing the male descendants of their 4 sons: Wayman, John, Robert and George.

Around two-thirds of the Virginia St. Clair family had moved to Ohio, Missouri and Kentucky by the time Ann St. Clair, my 2x great grandmother, was born in 1830.  I had a drastically reduced pool of candidates to research. In the end, I had a baker’s dozen of St. Clair men who could have been Ann’s father.  This was based on their ages. There was a problem.  All of these men lived in the wrong part of Virginia. When it came to triangulation, they were a match. However, the team felt they were a generation or two distant from where Ann’s St. Clair father ought to have been in terms of shared DNA with my father and sister.

We began researching St. Clairs who lived a reasonable distance away from Wythe County. This search encompassed Grayson, Roanoke, and Augusta. I struck gold in the form of Alexander Robert St. Clair who was a resident of Staunton, Virginia. His children and their descendants were residents of Staunton and Roanoke. His sons were born within a few years of Ann, which automatically ruled them out. We struck pay dirt when the team triangulated the DNA tests from me, my father and my sister against Alexander Robert St. Clair. When it came to my father’s and sister’s DNA tests, there was no doubt that he was Ann’s father. Shared St. Clair DNA matches began to pop up all over the place for my father and my sister (see the screen grabs at the end of this article).  In terms of generational distance and shared DNA, they were as close to a perfect match as we could have wished for. That was one mystery solved.

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Now, because this is me and my direct line, there were bound to be some wrinkles. When it comes to my genealogy, few things are 100% straightforward. It’s a good thing I thrive on puzzles, mysteries, and challenges.

The mystery of Alexander Robert St. Clair

Alexander Robert St. Clair has been a longstanding mystery for St. Clair family researchers. It didn’t help that he switched it up between using the names Alexander/Alex and Robert. It took us a while to confirm that Robert St. Clair of Staunton and Alexander/Alex St. Clair of Staunton were the same man. While there has been a general consensus that he was a direct descendant of Alexander “The Immigrant” St. Clair from Glasgow, no one had any idea of how these two men were related. Alexander and Robert were very popular names in the family, which was one clue. However, this was far from being a definitive clue. Nor was it the best clue.

So it was back to the drawing board to determine who his father was. The team had accounted for 98% of the St. Clair men of Virginia and their descendants. Through a process of elimination, we arrived at George St. Clair I (1775-1831) of Botetourt County, Virginia. Triangulation and research pointed to George as the most likely man to be Alexander Robert St. Clair’s father.

alexander-robert-st-clair

Again, once the connection was made, shared DNA hints began to pop up for my father and my sister with other members of George’s family. His immediate family had connections with Botetourt and Smyth Counties (St. Clair Bottom) in Virginia.  This group of St. Clairs in southwestern Virginia were displaced as a result of fierce engagements with Native Americans.  Later incursions with Native Americans could explain why Alexander Robert resided at such a distance from so many of his family. Most of his brothers removed themselves to Jackson County, Missouri as well as Kanawha County, West Virginia. Two of his brothers left for Roanoke with Alexander Robert.

While I would still love to discover a paper document to confirm Alexander Robert’s connection to George, DNA will have to do for now. Too many documents have been lost or destroyed over time for us to ever be certain that any written document will ever be found.

Solving the conundrum of where Ann St. Clair was born

Another wrinkle was my 2x great-grandmother Ann’s cited place or birth.  Her daughter, Jane (White) Sheffey (my great-grandmother ), cited Tennessee as her mother’s place of birth in the 1870, 1880, and 1900 Census returns. Now, there is a St. Clair County in Tennessee.  However, extensive research didn’t provide any connections between St. Clairs/Sinclairs who lived in that county and the St. Clairs of Virginia.  To date, we haven’t found any St. Clairs who left Virginia for Tennessee between 1690 and 1820. To be honest, we’re not sure who that county was named for.

In the end, the team believes that Ann was born in Virginia, either in Staunton, Roanoke, or St. Clair Bottom in Smyth County. Perhaps St. Clair Bottom became confused with St. Clair County in Tennessee when it came to Ann’s birthplace.  Closer inspection of the same information provided by Ann’s siblings (Robert and Phoebe) cite Virginia as their birthplace.  To add an extra wrinkle, I can’t find Ann or her husband Cornelius in the 1870 Census. Ann had passed by 1880.  There are no known death or marriage certificates for her. Her name only appears on her children’s marriage and death certificates. Why Tennessee was cited as her place of birth will remain a mystery.

Determining how I’m connected to the St. Clair family solved the mystery of why I was matching European and African descended members of the Snodgrass, Feazel(l), Shirley, and Patterson families. These families were intertwined the St. Clair family.

alexander-robert-st-clair

My sister’s St. Clair shared DNA hints on Ancestry

There is one caveat with Ancesty’s Shared DNA hints. The accuracy / usefulness / reliability of these hints lay in how well researched online family trees are.  In the instances provided below, I will say that I’ve only used screen grabs from matches with well-documented source materials and citations. On the whole, these individuals and my research team, used the same historical texts and published family history materials that have been scoured over for decades. The St. Clair branches of our family trees are perfectly aligned.

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My father’s St. Clair shared DNA hints on Ancestry

Ann St. Clair was my father’s great grandmother.  As such, he is one generation closer to her than me or my siblings. So it doesn’t come as a surprise that he would have a far greater number of St. Clair-related DNA cousin matches than either me or my sister.

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The screen grab below is an important one. It not only illustrates Ann St. Clair’s connection to Alexander Robert St. Clair, it also illustrates Alexander Robert’s connection to George St. Clair I, and George’s connection back to Alexander “The Immigrant” St. Clair via Alexander “The Immigrant”‘s son, Wayman (Mary Shirley was Wayman’s wife)..

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

Ethnic diversity and the politicization of genealogy in America

o-diversity-facebookSocial media channels, and Facebook in particular, have been a huge boon for a new generation of genealogists. Whether you’re a novice or a professional genealogist – or fall somewhere in-between – social media and blogging easily allow genealogy enthusiasts to make contact with others researching the same families online. The sharing of information, research findings, and discussing these finds, is part and parcel of the new genealogy experience. You can post a query or some research findings within a Facebook genealogy group and receive responses almost immediately.

I know I’ve made some important breakthroughs via this route. For instance, I might be uncertain if I found the correct records for someone I’m researching, or if the records I’m reviewing actually belong to someone else with the same name. Typically, a direct descendant from that line will provide the information and evidence I need. For me, this is one of the strengths of using social media channels as part of my research.  The other, of course, is meeting distant relations who are also working on the same family or families that I am.

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Today’s genealogy isn’t the same genealogy of your grandparents’ day.  The basics still are.  You know, the best practice, day-to-day aspects of genealogy. However, gone are the days of having to entirely work on your own. Today’s genealogy is a very social affair. It’s one of the other things I love about it. Social media can provide a much needed support group when things get frustrating, challenging, or downright difficult. It’s kind of like having an online cheer-leading squad cheering you on.

Over the past few years I’ve begun to notice a dark side to online genealogy when it comes to Americans in particular. This dark side comes in the form of internet trolls, the bane of any social media platform. Actually, I’ve done more than notice.  I’ve had to deal directly with my own online trolls. As America grapples with the issues of race, criminal justice, the deaths of unarmed civilians, and a toxic presidential election cycle, online trolls have become active. Online genealogy groups and forums are not immune.

The trolls I’ve seen online, and have dealt with myself, cover the melanination spectrum: from the least melaninated Americans (e.g. people with a predominantly or exclusively European ancestral identity), to the more melaninated Americans (e.g. people of colour and/or African-American). Interestingly, both sides of this tedious trolling coin have mirror arguments, which I’ll get to in a bit.

A few months ago, a Facebook post popped up on my timeline from an African-American genealogy Facebook group I joined. One of the members had taken an autosomal DNA test and, as a result, discovered she was a direct descendant of Augustine Washington, the half-brother of George Washington. She was surprised. She was excited by certain implications.  And she wanted to know how she could use this knowledge to connect to other descendants from the same line. At no point was she boastful. She posted what she had discovered. In doing so, she and I (as well as some others within the group), were able to work out how, exactly, we were related to one another.

Then came what I can only describe as a highly charged, angry, politicized comment which soured the whole thread of conversation that had occurred. Boiled down, his contribution ranged from: “You know your ancestor was raped”, to “why you people gonna glorify that your ancestors were raped”, to “his white family won’t want to know you”, to “that make you better than black people?, to “Ya’ll aint woke”.

I will give the administrator of this particular group credit.  She took him task for his comments and the tone of voice used. Other group members piled in too, turning it into a teaching experience.

I wish I could say that experience was rare or a one-off.  Far from it.

My contribution to that particular comment was straightforward.  Not all African Americans or people of colour will share a common African-descended ancestor. I used an example from my own experience. I’d spent around six months or so working with a group of 5 Roane DNA cousins on Ancestry.com, Gedmatch, and Family Tree DNA. All of us identify as either people of colour (due to a very mixed ancestry) or African American. In the end, it turned out that we didn’t share a single common black or mulatto ancestor between us.  What we did share were different Scots-Irish Roane men, who were enslavers, from different branches of the same Scots-Irish Roane family tree. I’m going to repeat that.  None of us had a common African-descended ancestor.  Instead, we were all descendants of six men who were descendants of Archibald Gilbert Roane of northern Ireland.

Counting the number of our own family members who were also direct descendants of Archibald Gilbert Roane, we’d worked out that there were a couple of thousand other people of colour and African Americans who are also direct descendants of Archibald Gilbert Roane. That’s just from six people. Now scale this number up for all the thousands of other African Americans and people of colour who have no idea that they connect to this family.  Thousands of Americans who have no idea they are related through this one family alone.

Further research of the African-descended women who were the mothers of these mixed race lines may yet show that we do share common African-descended ancestors.  For now, we know we connect on the Scots-Irish side of the family.

Had we never researched the Scots-Irish side of our family, we would have never been able to make the connection as to how we were all related.

There is also a practical side to researching this side of my ancestry. It’s the only way I can trace the movement of my enslaved ancestors as they passed from one family member to another down the centuries. In order to trace them, I have to know who enslaved them. This is done through researching the enslavers’ probate and tax records as well as any journals, bills of sale, and correspondence that mentions them. It’s how you build a family tree for those ancestors who were enslaved.  There is no getting around it.

I raised a second point in response to this trolling comment.  I have around a thousand different African-descended ancestral lines in my tree at the time of writing this. There is a mulatto at the end of every single one of these familial lines that I’ve researched. Every. Single. One.

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DNA triangulation has enabled to me identify a growing number of European forefathers and foremothers. Yes, I said ‘foremothers’.  Two of my mixed family lines, the Byrds/Birds and the Buggs, are the documented descendants of English women who were indentured servants who had relationships with African or African-descended men. European DNA accounts for 45% of my autosomal genome (with an additional 20% European Jewish DNA). I have as much European DNA as someone who has one African-descended parent and one European-descended parent. Only my results are an accumulation of 400 years of European, African, and Native American descended people producing children together. Regardless of how those unions happened. So what am I, and genealogy researchers like me, supposed to do? Ignore an entire part of our ancestry?

The chap who trolled that Facebook post didn’t really have a response. To be fair, he’d been taken to task by so many that he probably couldn’t bring himself to comment on any further.

Now for the other side of the coin.

I’ve been spoiled when it comes to meeting my less- melaninated cousins from the Sheffey and Roane sides of my family. It has been a pleasure getting to know them. I’m laughing as I write this next bit: it’s also been fun discovering that the family quirks which run within my family are universal, regardless of melanin levels.  We Sheffeys, for instance, are a political tribe. You’d think we ate politics for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There’s also a real “live and let live” commonality among the wider family. And we aren’t backwards at coming forwards either. The Roanes?  Well, that side of the family is a unique combination of being statesmanlike and fun-loving. The Roanes seems to have been that way for as far back as the first Roane to land on these shores back in the early 18th Century. The Roanes are  very convivial bunch.

My less-melaninated DNA cousins who share the same Quaker ancestry as myself have also, by and large, been great people to get to know. Not a day goes by when one or another of us post something on Facebook, whether it’s just to say hello or “hey, do you know anything about this Mendenhall family group I’ve just stumbled across in Chester County, Pennsylvania?”

That’s the way online genealogy ought to be. And, by and large, it is. 

Sure, I have a number of less-melaninated DNA cousins in the southern United States who don’t want to know they are related to anyone who isn’t from a majority European background. I have more than enough southern cousins who are happy and excited to work together for me to spend any time dwelling on those who don’t, merely because we have different amounts of melanin. Life, as the saying goes, is just too short.

The trolls, on the other hand, are something quite different.

Yesterday, I received a comment (now deleted) from a self-described white nationalist about an article I’d written ages ago when I’d discovered that I was related to former US Governors, Presidents, and the framers of the US Constitution. His comment was simple and straightforward: “You’ll go for a good price when President Trump puts you on the [slave] block. That’s all that [blood] is good for.”

That’s mild compared to other expletive-laced, n-bomb-laced, vitriolic comments I’ve read via my blog. I’m still mystified about what trolls like these hope to achieve. If they expect such comments will stop me in my tracks, they are sadly mistaken. I’m made of far tougher stuff that that.

As many of you know, I’ve lived most of my life in the UK. My early years there coincided with the counter-culture and counter-class movement of the late 1980s through the 1990s. This is when the rave culture, that great social class leveler, exploded across Britain. To say I met a wide-range of people from every walk of life would be an understatement. Many of my raving acquaintances became life-long friends, including the ‘blue blooded’ sons and daughters of aristos. I’ll tell you, it’s something of a shock when someone invites a group of tired and weary revelers back to their house only to discover that where they live is a manor house that’s been in their family pretty much forever.

You couldn’t guess that the scruffy tree hugger you shared a ciggie with was the son of an Earl. Or that the flower power girl with the mala beads and flowers in her hair, the one  you shared a bottle of water with and some laughs, was the daughter of a Duke.  Now imagine 20 odd years later you discover you’re (very) distantly related to some of the very same people you hung out with, partied with, and became friends with. When I rang them up to tell them the news, and went over exactly who our common ancestors were, and how we connected, they loved it. Some of these friends were even more excited about the news than I was.

I wonder how British aristocrats can be so accepting, nonplussed, and utterly chilled about being related to a person of colour…yet there are Americans who act like they have received the worst news ever in the entirety of their life. Or they find such a thing disgusting, something to be reviled.

So, far from being cowed, I’m working on a new project: The American Family Tree. The aim of the project is to show how Americans – regardless of ‘race’, religion, socio-economic background, geography, culture or any other ‘divisive’ factor – are related to one another; even if they have only a single Colonial-era family line.

There’s an interesting twist to both sides of this coin.  I’m a naturally inquisitive person. I also try to turn contentious situations into learning opportunities – as much for myself as anyone else. I want to know what makes people, and particularly Americans, tick.  So I asked some of the trolls I’ve come across a simple question: have you researched your own family or taken a DNA test. Of the 20 or so people I asked, the answer didn’t come as a surprise. 90% said they had not. Roughly half of those who said no went on to say they didn’t need to take a DNA test or research their own family; in short, they said they knew who they were and where they came from.

As for those who engaged in the form of trolling I’ve written about, and were also engaged in genealogy and DNA testing? Two-thirds had no interest in exploring any part of their genetic inheritance or history that came from any other ethnicity other than the one they identified with.

I’m fine with these two stances. To each his or her own. You’re free to choose as best suits you. However, don’t attack those who also choose for themselves, and wish to delve into the parts of their genetic and genealogical inheritance from all of their ancestors, whoever those ancestors might be and from whatever ethnic group they happen to come from. This blog amply demonstrates that I write about all of my known ancestry. I do my best to give each ethnicity equal time and weighting. Your right to choose not to explore your full heritage does not trump my right to explore and discuss my own. Our choices in this regard don’t make one or the other of us better than the other. Just different. Our journeys, and what we want to achieve for ourselves through our respective journeys, are different. You do you. And I’ll do me.

Genealogy is challenging enough without the added distraction and unpleasantness of trolling.

Genealogy can be, and perhaps should be, a unifying force. It can be a powerful and positive bridge to span the gap of discord as well as opening a powerful and productive channel of conversation.  That’s my aim at any rate. We’ll see.

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Filed under ancestry, family history, genealogy, Genetics, Race & Diversity, Uncategorized

Genetic genealogy, DNA triangulation, and the search for my missing Futrell ancestor

When it comes to my genealogy adventures, more often than not, I feel like Sherlock Holmes or Poirot when it comes to uncovering the identity of missing ancestors who lived in the 17th, 18th and early 19th Century. Paper trails invariably run out, especially when it comes to my ancestors who were either working class whites, blacks, mulattos, Native American, or free people of colour. There are various reasons for this. Either records were lost, destroyed during times of upheaval (i.e. Revolutionary War, Civil War, Bacon’s Rebellion, etc) or were lost due to things like courthouses burning down. Given the remote areas some of ancestors lived, records may have never been produced at all. Or, if enslaved, full names weren’t provided. Or, due to ethnicity, they weren’t seen as people.

DNA testing is one key to uncovering the identities for ancestors where paper documents never existed, or no longer exist…or have yet to be digitized.  The process of DNA triangulation is key to this process:

Triangulation for autosomal DNA is kind of a chicken and egg thing.  The goal is to associate and identify specific DNA segments to specific ancestors.  The easiest way to do this, or to begin the process, is with known relatives.  This gets you started identifying “family segments.”  From that point, you can use the known family segments, along with some common sense tools, to identify other people that are related through those common ancestors.  Through those matches with other people, you can continue to break down your DNA into more and more granular family lines. (DNAeXplained, “Triangulation for Autosomal DNA” via https://dna-explained.com/2013/06/21/triangulation-for-autosomal-dna)

Regular readers will know I’ve developed a talent for triangulation over the years. In truth, much credit goes to my team of genetic genealogists who spent long and patient hours explaining how genetic genealogy and triangulation work; and mentoring me through my first forays into triangulating with my own DNA.

I’ve saved one of the most challenging triangulation tasks for last: discovering the father of my 2x great grandmother, Selinda Futrell, born about 1842 in Rich Square, Northampton County, North Carolina. This falls on my mother’s side of the family tree.

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There are a couple of phases when it comes to organizing how I approach working with DNA and vital documents identifying a parent, or parents, for an ancestor. I’m still very much in the early phases with Selinda.

A preliminary to Phase I

Let’s start with her mother, Melinda, whose name appears as Melinda Futrell in official documents. Melinda was born around 1824 in Northampton County, North Carolina.  The first question I had to tackle was whether or not Melinda was a Futrell by birth, or was it a name she assumed after Emancipation.  In short, what was her connection to the Futrell name?

The three documents I have for Melinda, including the 1870 Census, cite that she is black.  All three documents are consist in this fact. There is nothing to-date to indicate that she was of mixed race. Now this could be for one of two reasons: either she was born of mixed parentage and simply didn’t appear to be.  Or, as I strongly suspect, she wasn’t born of mixed parentage. I am satisfied on the score that she was not a Futrell by birth.

Melinda’s children, on the other hand, are consistently cited as being mulattos. All of them. Which indicates that, unlike Melinda, her children had a white father. Given some 20+ DNA matches with white Futrells and Futrell descendants with roots in Northampton County, North Carolina, the team and I are very confident that man was a Futrell. This would explain Melinda’s adoption of the Futrell name, which she passed on to her children.

This is a prelim into Phase I.

Phase I: The Futrell family tree

So, the preliminary to Phase I was all about determining if Selinda Futrell was indeed a blood relation to the Quaker-descended Futrells in Northampton, NC.

Phase I, which is still ongoing, requires me to do a full and thorough work-up on the Quaker-descended Futrell family tree. This is easier said than done.  I’m not going the lie. The Futrells are a nightmare to research.

Let’s just start with the surname. When it comes to misspellings and variants of the name, it’s in a league of its own: Fewtrell (the old English spelling of the name), Futral, Futrill, Fetral, Tutrill, Titrill, Futrelle…the list goes on and on.

Then there are the beloved family names that were commonly used among numerous branches: Shadrach, William, Charity, Daniel, John, Nathaniel, and Mary, just to cite a few. Online family trees are aren’t an option – too many have confused or merged individuals who borne the same first name and were born within a few years of each other.

The one book I hoped to get a hold of, 12 Northampton County, North Carolina Families
Bridgers, Daughtry, Futrell, Jenkins, Joyner, Lassiter, Martin, Odom, Parker, Stephenson, Sumner, and Woodard by Rebecca L. Dozier is no longer in print.

But then, as luck or providence would have it, I discovered a second book: The Futrell Family Revised by Roger H. Futrell (available to read and/or download via: https://dcms.lds.org/delivery/DeliveryManagerServlet?dps_pid=IE99258)  This book has been an absolute godsend. I’m not exaggerating when I say that we couldn’t have done an accurate family tree without it.

The book allowed us to ramp up Phase I, and begin Phase II.

Phase IIa: Eliminating and shortlisting paternity candidates

The 18th and early 19th Century Futrell family is huge. The family was not only prolific, it produced an unusual number of male children generation after generation.

At the moment, we’re just shy of 60 Futrell men born between 1650 and 1820. In order to have the fullest list of possible paternity candidates, we’re required to try and trace as many descendant lines for Thomas “The Immigrant” Futrell (born 1659 in Shropshire, England, lied for a period in Surry County, Virginia –  and died in 1693 in Bertie County, North Carolina). Once this has been done, we can begin to specifically look at Futrell men who were old enough, and resident in Northampton County, NC prior to Selinda Futrell’s birth in 1842.

I don’t know if ‘luck’ is the right word, but I’m going to use it anyway.  As luck would have it, around two-thirds of the Futrells who were in North Carolina had moved to Trigg and Christian Counties in Kentucky by 1814. Why is this lucky?  These Futrell men are automatically eliminated as possible descendant lines who could have fathered Selinda and her siblings. These Futrells didn’t moved back and forth between Kentucky and North Carolina.  Once they arrived in Kentucky, that was it.

We next looked into the proximity of Futrell men to Melinda and her family in Rich Square.  There were a dozen or so men of the right age either living in Rich Square. Another 8 Futrell men lived within a day’s horse ride away from Rich Square. Then there was the extended family group of Futrells who lived in Onslow County, NC.

Next we looked at which Futrells owned slaves.  This ruled the Onslow County group of Futrells out almost immediately. None of them had enslaved people.

This, again, helps us narrow the field of identifying the best, most likely paternity candidates on paper before we begin using DNA to triangulate.

After eliminating so many Futrells from consideration, we are left with a few family lines to investigate more closely:

  1. Male Futrell descendants of John W Futrell (1715-1788) and Martha “Polly” Daughtry;
  2. Male Futrell descendants of Benjamin Futrell (1720-1790) and Mourning Smith; and
  3. Male Futrell descendants of Thomas Futrell III (1713-1770) and Elizabeth Dickinson.

Work continues in investigating these three family groups.

Phase IIb: Wills and probate…and more Wills and probate

Wills and probate records are a vital – and rich – source of ancestral information. On the one hand, they provide the names of surviving family members, including grandchildren (e.g. I bequeath to my grand-daughter Hezekiah Heathcock, the daughter of Anne,…)

Next, Wills and probate are important for my Futrell ancestry for another reason. Wills and probate tells me who held enslaved people and who did not. This isn’t always a hard and fast rule.  My formerly missing German-American Sheffey 4x grandfather, John Adam Sheffey, was the only 18th Century Sheffey to not own slaves.  However, his brothers did. Yet, as far as DNA is showing, only John Adam Sheffey seems to have fathered children with Jemimah, an enslaved woman in the household of his brother Maj Henry Lawrence Sheffey. Slave ownership isn’t always a reliable factor when it comes to determining paternity.

For the Futrells who held enslaved people, the names of the enslaved are cited in their Wills.  It is actually possible to follow the trail of the enslaved from generation to generation through subsequent Futrell family Wills.

Using an example, let’s say Futrell #1 had an enslaved woman by the name of Amey. She goes from him to his son, Futrell #2.  Next, we might see in Futrell #2’s Will that Amey and her children, Patsy and Shadrach, pass to his son, Futrell #3.  Not only can I track Amey, I can now see that she has two children. Further Wills will provide further clues and information about Patsy and Shadrach.

The above is an illustrative example.  The Will of Elliot Futrell below, is a real-world working example:

elliott-futrell-1elliott-futrell-2

I’ll go ahead and say.  Creating family trees from Wills is a strange and unsettling business. I don’t think I’ll ever reconcile myself to it. With that said, it is a critical skillset to acquire when it comes to genealogy.

As part of my genealogy practice, I add this information my Ancestry.com family tree for the respective individuals who held and inherited enslaved people.  I do this in the hopes that it helps other African Americans  researching their own family trees. I include the names of the enslaved and how that individual came by them (i.e. inheritance or purchase) with links back to the original course. The two images below show my working practice using the Will above:

mitchell-futrell

The image above shows notes I add to respective Ancestry.com pages to track the movement of enslaved ancestors from generation to generation.

Now, in the instance above, I don’t know if any of the enslaved people cited are part of my Futrell family’s story. However, they will be part of someone’s family story. So many have helped me along my way in my adventure, it would be churlish for me to not pay it forward.

Phase IIc: Identifying Futrell DNA segements

While I grapple with the traditional genealogy required in Phases IIa and IIb, the team is working on identifying my Futrell DNA segments and the Chromosome(s) associated with this segment or segments. While I’ve become adept at this part of the process, it is time consuming. And, in this instance, exceedingly tricky due to endogamy (cousin marriages, in short). I’m going to say it: the professionals are far quicker at this than I am!

This article from DNAeXplained gives you a glimpse into what’s involved: Concepts: Match Groups and Triangulation https://dna-explained.com/category/triangulation.

Phase III: Working with online DNA cousin matches

This final phase will do one of two things.  It will either identify the father of Selinda Futrell and her siblings. Or, it will narrow the search down to a single family group, a father and his sons, in other words. Most of the time, we get a solid hit and there’s no doubt about it.  Other times – and this is largely due to endogamy – we can only narrow it down to a father and/or his sons.

For example, it’s not unusual in my family tree for two brothers from one family to marry sisters from another family – and both sets of couples were cousins. Add the fact that the parents of the 2 brothers and 2 sisters were 2nd or 3rd cousins. Nothing skews DNA triangulating quite like this. It’s a bit of a nightmare. Less frequent is a father and a son marrying a mother and a daughter from another family, who may or may not be related to them.

Part of Phase III includes me relaying any possible DNA overlaps back to the genetic genealogists. For instance, the Quaker descended Futrells married Outlands, Exums, Vinsons and Lassiters quite often In Northampton, NC. I know already that I have Lassiters and Exums in Virginia on my father’s side of the family. I also have Outlands from Pennsylvania and Virginia on both my parents’ ancestral lines. Regardless of which colonial territory or State they lived in, these Outlands, Lassiters and Exums are part of the same family. Add in the Quaker White family, which links all of these families and more…and you have some tricky triangulation to do.

This information is crucial for the genetic genealogy team to reduce the risk of them arriving at a false positive. They need to find ‘pure’ lines – lines that don’t share common DNA with any other, in order to successfully identify Selinda Futrell’s father.  We use this as a benchmark against which we compare every other line.

Each Futrell line will be examined individually to see which one matches me closer, in terms of generation, than any other. For instance, if all of my DNA matches are at the 5th, 6th and 7th cousin level, save one that matches me at the 4th generational level or less – the most recent shared match is the one we need to investigate more closely. The identity of her father rests on Futrells who match me more closely in terms of generational distance than any other Futrell descendant line.

Normally, we’d also rely on the length of DNA segments shared, and the number of segments shared, between me and my Futrell DNA matches.  However, because of cousin marriages, I already know we’ll share more DNA in common than is typical for 4th to 8th cousins.  As an example, I have a Quaker cousin in Pennsylvania who Ancestry.com suggests is a 3rd cousin. We know a number of the ways we’re related, which makes us 5th, 6th, and 7th cousins respectively (due to endogamy within the colonial Quaker communities, we share at least 6 sets of common ancestors). We share a crazy amount of DNA segments for two people whose common ancestors lived between 1660 and 1770. It’s not Ancestry.com’s fault, it can only go by what the genetic numbers are telling it.

Yep, I know, it sounds like a whole lot of work to identify one ancestor. It’s what you do when the paper trail runs out.

And why spend so much time and effort to identify a father-owner ancestor?  I’ll touch on that in the next article.

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