Category Archives: ancestry

Why diversity matters for online genealogy service providers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Moses Williams Family Tree Project

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

The Moses Williams project is composed of a few phases:

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

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

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

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

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

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

A working example of diagramming information about enslaved people from documents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We also see Daniel’s wife and children. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Namaste

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Filed under AfAm Genealogy, AfAm History, ancestry, Black History, Edgefield, family history, genealogy, searching census records, slave census, South Carolina, virginia

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

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

A brief bit of Sheffey genealogy background context

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

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

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

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

Map of Augusta County

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

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

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

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

Back to Perry Sheffey

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

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

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

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

Freedmen’s Office Records

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

The first record is dated 7 June 1866:

silver watch cropped

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

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

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

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

The second record is dated 25 April 1867:

Land complaint cropped

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perry Sheffey in 1870

Perry Sheffey’s household in 1870

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

Perry Sheffey in 1880

Perry Sheffey’s household in 1880

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

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

Perry Sheffey complaint

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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.

fold3_page_3_eastern_cherokee_applications_of_the_us_court_of_claims_19061909

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 .

fold3_page_4_eastern_cherokee_applications_of_the_us_court_of_claims_19061909

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.

fold3_page_5_eastern_cherokee_applications_of_the_us_court_of_claims_19061909

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

fold3_page_6_eastern_cherokee_applications_of_the_us_court_of_claims_19061909

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.

fold3_page_7_eastern_cherokee_applications_of_the_us_court_of_claims_19061909

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.

fold3_page_10_eastern_cherokee_applications_of_the_us_court_of_claims_19061909fold3_page_11_eastern_cherokee_applications_of_the_us_court_of_claims_19061909

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.

leila-a-storm-sheffey

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.

leila-a-storm-sheffey-visitor-28-oct-1904

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.

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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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Transcript:

[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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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

Is there trace Iberian results in your British DNA? This might be why

I’m fast on the genealogy trail of my Welsh ancestors. This involves families like Cadwal(l)ader, Evans, Jones, Matthews, Price and Pugh.

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Map showing the geography of the northern part of the Iberian Peninsula with Cornwall and Wales in western and southwestern Britain. 

Looking at my DNA matches for others with these families, I kept seeing trace DNA from the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal). I made a mental note of this, but it certainly wasn’t anything in the forefront of my mind.

My own Iberian results are minuscule. AncestryDNA doesn’t show it all. Genebase puts it at 0.7%. FamilyTreeDNA estimates it at 0.5%. And various Gedmatch DNA analytic tools puts it between 0.3% to 0.9%. Let’s agree on one thing: it’s tiny. Really, really tiny. I wrote it off as being part of my ancient DNA. It may not be quite as ancient as I assumed.

I’ve come across some interesting articles and books about the genetic composition of the Welsh. Needless to say I learned something new about the Welsh.

I’d always thought that the Welsh were a Celtic people. That’s what I’d heard for the 30 years I’d lived in England. The story goes something like this: the Welsh were the original inhabitants of the British Isles. They were pushed back into present days Wales after a steady stream of invaders: the Anglo Saxons, followed by the Normans. However, there was an even older arrival that had a direct impact on the original Welsh. The Celts.

The first article I came across is an antiquarian piece. And I should caveat this by saying that there is some ethno-centric language and prejudices expressed within it. Long story short, the Anglo-Saxons believed themselves to be superior to the Celtic-Iberian Welsh. This superiority was used to justify their dominance over the Welsh. It’s more than a little racist when it comes to speaking about the Welsh and their Iberian forefathers. Some things never change. Nevertheless, it’s worth reading to gain a basic insight into the geographical movements of older Welsh peoples within Wales as different conquering groups came to occupy their lands: The Athenaeum: Journal of Literature, Science, the Fine Arts, Music and the Drama, Volume 2866:

https://books.google.com/books?id=dJFUAAAAcAAJ&dq=celts%20displaced%20iberians%20south%20in%20wales&pg=PA125&output=embed
https://books.google.com/books?id=dJFUAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA125&dq=celts+displaced+iberians+south+in+wales&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiGzYvw_LzRAhWDMSYKHXtxCcAQ6AEIGjAA#v=onepage&q=celts%20displaced%20iberians%20south%20in%20wales&f=false

There’s also The British Quarterly Review, Volumes 55-56:
https://books.google.com/books?id=67BHAQAAMAAJ&dq=celts%20displaced%20iberians%20south%20in%20wales&pg=RA1-PA250&output=embed
https://books.google.com/books?id=67BHAQAAMAAJ&pg=RA1-PA250&dq=celts+displaced+iberians+south+in+wales&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiGzYvw_LzRAhWDMSYKHXtxCcAQ6AEIOzAG#v=onepage&q=celts%20displaced%20iberians%20south%20in%20wales&f=false

The last article I’ll reference is a contemporary one: DNA of the nation revealed…and we’re not as ‘British’ as we think (Ancestry.com): https://www.ancestry.com/corporate/international/press-releases/DNA-of-the-nation-revealedand-were-not-as-British-as-we-think

There’s plenty of sound, primary sources that cover this topic. If you’re interested, Google “Iberian settlement of Wales” in either Google or Google Books.

This is one potential explanation for the trace amounts of Iberian in my own DNA. It comes via my Welsh ancestry. Another route will be via my Cornish ancestry, with a slight twist.

The indigenous Cornish are proud of their connection to the Saracens, a Semitic people, who traded goods with the Cornish for much-needed tin.

The town symbol for Penryn, the first Cornish village I lived in? A Saracen. It’s also the logo for the village rugby team, also named for the Saracens.l

The Saracens left more than just goods and currency. They left their DNA among the Cornish too – a source of pride for the indigenous Cornish to this day.

https://books.google.com/books?id=y8c2AQAAMAAJ&dq=saracens%20in%20cornwall&pg=PA55&output=embed
https://books.google.com/books?id=y8c2AQAAMAAJ&pg=PA55&dq=saracens+in+cornwall&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiXkNbv_7zRAhVGNiYKHc03D04Q6AEIHzAB#v=onepage&q=saracens%20in%20cornwall&f=false

Again, there are plenty of respected primary sources online which provide a history of the Saracens and the Cornish.

I mention this because the Saracen’s trade wasn’t limited to Cornwall or neighbouring Devon. They traded with the Welsh…and the Iberians, introducing their DNA to southwest England and to Wales. The article Genomic signals of migration and continuity in Britain before the Anglo-Saxons (via Nature Communications via http://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms10326) touches on ancient Middle Eastern DNA within the British population.

So why is there only a trace amount of DNA? I have a few hypotheses. I’m doing a fair bit of reading to see how accurate or not this theory is. My Welsh ancestors tended to marry within the same families. Yep – a whole new batch of cousin marriages. These cousin marriages go right back to the 1100’s. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that half of these ancestors carried small amounts of Iberian DNA. That DNA continued to be passed back and forth, just enough being preserved through 20 or so generations to come down to descendants as trace amounts of Iberian DNA.

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An illustrative example showing how inherited DNA segments become shorter as they are passed down from generation to generation. In this example, let’s say the pink regions in the image above are Saracen. Let the 100% Saracen segment represent a Saracen ancestor.  Working from left to right, let’s say this ancestor married a Welsh Celt (illustrated by the blue). His or her descendants would be 50% Saracen and 50% Celtic Welsh. The Saracen reduces over time within each subsequent generation.

As for the Saracen? This could explain the trace amounts of Middle Eastern DNA results that pop up in my Welsh DNA cousins’ test results. Probably for the same reason as Saracen DNA does. This too requires more reading and research.

Those trace amounts of Iberian is beginning to make sense.

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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

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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:

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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:

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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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