Using church names and obits to find your ancestors in rural areas

When it comes to genealogical research, few places in America have challenged my grey matter like the Old Ninety-Six region of South Carolina.  I’m laughing as I write this next bit: old Ninety-Six has literally given me a few grey hairs.

South Carolina Districts 1769

There are a few simple reasons for this:

  1. Everyone with roots in Old Ninety-Six , regardless of ethnicity, are related to one another.
  2. Not only are people from this region related to one another, they are related in multiple ways. One cousin and I share no less than seven common pairs of ancestors – who were related to each other, as it so happens. This is due to entrenched endogamy. We’re talking cousin marriages that stretch back to early colonial Virginia. In some cases, generations of cousin marriages began in Great Britain. By the time my British-descended ancestors began producing children with enslaved African-descended women, they passed this inter-related mix to their mulatto children. These children, in turn, also married other mulatto and black cousins.  By the time of the Emancipation Proclamation, no one in Old Ninety-Six could move without bumping into a cousin of some sort or another.  This brings me right back to point #1 above.
  3. DNA segment triangulation is a nightmare. Try applying specific surnames to DNA segments with a fourth cousin when the two of you share an above-average amount of DNA across more segments than fourth cousins should typically share. In the case of the cousin I mentioned above, you would think we were second cousins rather than fourth cousins.
  4. While a slight exaggeration, everyone in a rather huge extended family used the same dozen or so names for their children. Everyone. I have enough Old Ninety-Six Janie Lou’s – white and black – to fill a modestly sized New York City music venue. Even a name like Hazeltine, which should be more or less unique, was commonly used.  It makes identifying records for a specific person a challenge.

So when it came to dealing with a family tree that is exploding in size due to the Moses Williams Project…I had to think of another way of finding the records I needed for specific individuals myself and the project team has been researching.

A different approach hit me out of the blue.

My Old Ninety-Six ancestors and family worshiped at specific churches.  Churches like Springfield Baptist Church, Liberty Springs Baptist Church, and Shaws Creek Baptist Church were established and built by members of my family. Their descendants still worship at these churches to this day. That was the clue that I needed. It’s one of those clues that has been under my nose the entire time.

I decided to do a general search on the terms ‘Liberty Springs Baptist Church’ and Greenwood, South Carolina’ on Newspapers.com. I struck gold immediately.

newspaperscom

There they were…dozens upon dozens of obituaries and news accounts specifically related to Liberty Springs. Surnames that I now know as well as my own – Adams, Gilchrist, Moore, Parks, Keys/Keyes, Dean, etc – leapt out at me.

I took a gamble. I decided to try and do a bit of reverse engineering.  I added a new orphan profile page on Ancestry.com for the first few individuals I found on Ancestry.com.  By ‘orphan’, I mean the individuals I added  weren’t attached to anyone else in my tree.  They were stand alone ancestral profiles. I keyed in the relevant information from the obituary I was working from:  full name, date of birth, date of death, county of birth, county of death, their parents’ names, the name of their spouse, children’s’ names (and their places of residence based on the date of the obituary), siblings’ names (and their places of residence based on the date of the obituary), and any other family members who were mentioned. And…bingo!  Ancestry produced the correct records for the person I whose obituary I had. I didn’t have to trawl through two dozen possible death records or Social Security Claims Index records for a dozen or so Willie Mae Joneses in the hopes that I could find the right record for the specific person I was researching.  Ancestry gave me the correct one immediately.

The reason is pretty simple:  I already had all of the correct, specific, vital life information. This included maiden names, which are gold dust.  Having all of this information made it far easier to locate correct census returns. I could easily place this person’s branch of the tree into my overall tree within two to three generations.

Even better…I was picking up the trail of my black family members who left the south as part of the Great Migration into the northern states. It still strikes me as nothing short of miraculous that family deaths in places like Washington DC, Newark, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Newport News, Detroit, Chicago, and Boston were being reported back home in South Carolina.

Using this approach enabled me to plug some serious gaps in the Old Ninety-Six, South Carolina part of my tree within a matter of three days.  OK, three days of rather intensive focus using this approach.

This approach works for a few simple reasons. My Old Ninety-Six family stayed in the same place between 1860 and 1890. The family members who left as part of the Great Migration stayed in contact with the family left behind in South Carolina for at least one generation afterwards. Last, but not least, those family ties to their family church remained – and continue to remain – strong.

Now, as always, there is a caveat.  Obituaries were not the preserve of everyone prior to 1940.  Not in South Carolina at any rate.  If your family was poor, regardless of race, the chances are slim there will be an obituary.  In terms of this part of South Carolina, prior to 1940, the handful of obituaries I’ve seen for people of colour fall into two categories:  1) either the ancestor was classed as an ‘exceptional negro’; or 2) he or she did something remarkable (like live to be 115 years old and have over 40 children).  If your family was poor and white, well, your ancestor had to do something extraordinary and/or heroic to warrant an obituary.  After 190 is different – blacks, and whites of modest means, begin to have obituaries in the local papers in this part of South Carolina.

Basically, there are three things you need to have in order to make this research approach work:

  1. A family tree that has more than your immediate family line (in other words, it also has the siblings of your ancestors, and their extended family and descendants;
  2. Familiarity with all the families your ancestors married into (allied families); and
  3. The name of the church where your ancestors and their family worshiped.

I’ve only used this approach for family who lived in a very rural area.  I haven’t applied it to those who lived in cities.

I hope it’s an approach that works for you.  Let me know!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Namaste

UPDATE Monday, 19 June 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

matilda

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

A preliminary to Phase I

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

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

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

This is a prelim into Phase I.

Phase I: The Futrell family tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phase IIa: Eliminating and shortlisting paternity candidates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work continues in investigating these three family groups.

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

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

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

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

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

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

elliott-futrell-1elliott-futrell-2

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

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

mitchell-futrell

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

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

Phase IIc: Identifying Futrell DNA segements

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

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

Phase III: Working with online DNA cousin matches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jemimah Sheffey – figuring out family relationships via census records

Map of Virginia - showing Wythe County

Map of Virginia, Showing Fort Chiswell & Speedwell Counties

Map of Fort Chiswell & Speedwell Counties in Wyth, Virginia

Map with close ups of Fort Chiswell & Speedwell Counties

Sometimes, unexplained inspirations are sometimes the sources of great breakthroughs. If I’ve learned anything through this genealogy journey, I’ve learned to respect my hunches.

I’ve mentioned previously my habit of making notes about family groups that crop up in censes returns.  I do this even if the family group’s relationship to my family tree isn’t apparent.  Chances are favourable that their relationship to my ancestors will become apparent at some point.

I’ve made notes of countless ‘orphan’ Sheffey family groups.  These family groups span from 1800 to 1900.  The other day I was relaxing with a cup of coffee and a pretty simple idea occurred to me.  Why not focus on the 1870 census returns for Wythe, Virginia by printing them out.  I thought it would be a good idea to see how many Sheffeys there were in this county, and if they lived anywhere near each other.  I hoped that having papers laid out on the floor next to each other might unveil something that viewing digitized records on the computer wouldn’t.

My Green credentials cried foul at the amount of paper needed, but this was an idea I was going to run with.

Quite a few print outs later, I duly laid out the censuses returns, in their proper order by house number.  I highlighted all the Sheffeys cited. The table below is a simplified version of the information that I gathered.

Family Group Names Year of Birth Age
(on 1870 Census)
County Name,
Virginia
Daniel Sheffey 1820 50 Fort Chiswell, Wythe
1. Margaret Sheffey (née Clarke) 1822 48 Fort Chiswell, Wythe
Wade Sheffey 1857 13 Fort Chiswell, Wythe
Daniel Sheffey 1844 26 Fort Chiswell, Wythe
2. Mary Sheffey  (née Drew) 1854 16 Fort Chiswell, Wythe
Margaret S. Sheffey 1868 2 Fort Chiswell, Wythe
3. Jacob Sheffey 1825 45 Fort Chiswell, Wythe
Giles Sheffey 1831 39 Speedwell Township, Wythe
Ann Sheffey 1830 40 Speedwell Township, Wythe
Maria Sheffey 1848 22 Speedwell Township, Wythe
4. James K. Sheffey 1852 18 Speedwell Township, Wythe
Riley Sheffey 1855 15 Speedwell Township, Wythe
William Sheffey 1857 13 Speedwell Township, Wythe
John Sheffey 1865 5 Speedwell Township, Wythe
Mitchell Sheffey 1832 38 Speedwell Township, Wythe
Dicy Sheffey 1841 29 Speedwell Township, Wythe
Edmond E. Sheffey 1858 12 Speedwell Township, Wythe
5. Harris C. Sheffey 1858 12 Speedwell Township, Wythe
William Sheffey 1864 6 Speedwell Township, Wythe
Darthoula N. Sheffey 1865 5 Speedwell Township, Wythe
Amelia J. Sheffey 1869 1 Speedwell Township, Wythe
6. Tazewell Sheffey 1835 35 Speedwell Township, Wythe
Jemimah Sheffey 1770 100 Speedwell Township, Wythe
7 Betty Sheffey 1866 4 Speedwell Township, Wythe
8 Joseph B. Sheffey 1868 2 Speedwell Township, Wythe
Alelia Sheffey 1869 1 Speedwell Township, Wythe

What I was looking at more or less spoke for itself.  And to use a cliché, it was one of those jaw dropping moments.

Family group #1 shows my great-great-grandfather Daniel Sheffey with his wife Margaret Clark Sheffey and their youngest child Wade.

Family Group #2 referenced my great-grandfather Daniel Sheffey and his first wife, Mary Drew Sheffey. Mary’s age varies wildly in various census returns and her marriage record. However, I knew immediately who this group were.  My previous research had indicated that Crockett Sheffey (the Buffalo soldier in my previous post) was their firstborn. However, it would appear that their firstborn was daughter Margaret. As she wasn’t cited in the 1880 Census, I can only presume that Margaret died in infancy.

The houses for Family Groups 1, 2 and 3 are all on the same road.  While I knew the relationships between Family Groups 1 and 2, their relationship to Jacob Sheffey was unclear.  It still remains unclear.  Based on Jacob’s age, my guess is that he is either Daniel Sheffey, Sr’s brother or cousin. Jacob lives in a shared household with people bearing different surnames.  Without another Sheffey residing in that household, it’s difficult to ascertain his kinship to Daniel Sheffey Sr.

My attention turned to Family Groups 4 and 5. These families lived next door to one another. I immediately felt that Giles Sheffey and Mitchell Sheffey were brothers.  I researched marriage records on Familysearch.org and this confirmed what I suspected.  Elsi (also spelt Elsey) Sheffey was cited as mother to both on their respective marriage records.  Jacob Sheffey, Sr was cited as father to both on the same records.  So I had my brothers.

Noting counties is an important aspect of family research.  I noted that Speedwell Township and Fort Chiswell Township are neighbouring counties in Wythe.  Looking at distance and ages, I began to suspect that Daniel Sheffey, Sr was Giles and Mitchell Sheffey’s brother.

I returned to Familysearch.org and did a marriage records search filtering on all marriages that referenced Elsi or Elsey Sheffey as mother.  Giles and Mitchell came up again in the results, as expected, with some additional results:  Daniel Sheffey, Sr and Tazwell (also spelt Iazwell, Fazewell and Fazwell) Sheffey.  And again, Jacob Sheffey was cited as the father.

I was pretty excited.  Three previously ‘orphaned’ family groups were now bona fide branches of the family tree.

As for wee Elizabeth “Betty” Sheffey, I have yet to find her connection to the family.  She was living with the Gannaway family, a few houses away from Tazwell and Jemimah.  Presumably, her father was a Sheffey and her mother a Gannaway.

Joseph B. Sheffey and his sister Alelia, were the children of Tazwell Sheffey, who lived a few houses away.  At the time of the census, these children lived with their Hill family relations on the mother’s side of the family.  Further research showed their mother was Tazwell’s wife, Mary Ellen Hill, a free born woman of colour.

My remaining question, apart from Jacob Sheffey in Family Group 3, was Jememiah’s relationship to Daniel, Giles, Mitchell and Tazwell.  Aged 100, it was unlikely she was their mother.  She and Tazwell were living in a communal household with no other Sheffey’s in residence – although they did live next door to Mitchell Sheffey and his family. It didn’t seem likely that she could be an aunt. The idiom “all things being equal…” sprang to mind.  And the answer seems straightforward:  Jemimah is their grandmother.

If this hunch is correct, this would make Jemimah the African-American “mother” of many African-American Sheffeys living in the United States today. There are further hunches which require investigation.  If the census information is correct, there is only one Sheffey who could have been her master: Maj. Henry Lawrence Sheffey (1776 – 1824).  An 1820 Property List shows Henry with 7 slaves.  Unfortunately, only their ages and genders are cited.  However, he is the only Sheffey in Virginia at this early date to own slaves.  Given his moderate wealth, my guess is the slaves in his household came via his marriage to Margaret White. Margaret’s father, Captain James White, was a large scale slave owner…one of the rivhedt men in the country. I believe Jemimah’s story begins with this man.

Jemimah was born in Virginia, and not Africa (accoridng to the census record). Born in 1770, I’m probably 1 or 2 generations away from finding her African ancestry. ‘Exciting’ doesn’t begin to describe how it feels to be on the cusp of that kind of discovery.

The family connections I outlined in the table above could be made mainly because this family didn’t leave the area it was familiar with after the Civil War.  The family stayed.  And more importantly, family members stayed close to each other. It was only through this proximity that I could question their relationship to each other. For me, this is one of the reasons why the 1870 Census is so important for African Americans researching their family.

And to think a cup of coffee and an inspiration could bring to light a potentially marvellous family discovery.

The younger generations of the family still ask why I embark on this journey.  Will we ever know what our ancestors were like, what they thought or what their day-to-day lives were like?  Probably not.  Our journey is part of a much larger journey.  To go from a 100 year old slave woman named Jemimiah to 2011 is a journey the magnitude of which I can only grasp glimpses. The stories that emerge, and are yet to be shared here, are a part of us.  With every name and every tale I learn a bit more about myself as well as my family.

Thousands of 1890 US Census Records Still Exist

Like many genealogists and family historians, I’ve found the lack of 1890 Census records to be somewhere between unfortunate and annoying. A twenty year gap between the 1880 Census and the 1900 Census has played merry havoc with more than a handful of my research.

So I was really excited when I came across a blog post I’m going to share with you. You’ll find a link at the bottom of this post.

record-image_33s7-9ybs-9lrc-758x1024

1890 Census fragment.

Many family historians are fully aware of the fact that the 1890 census, which contained more than 60 million individuals, was destroyed in the early 20th century and is therefore not available for genealogical research. The lack of this valuable resource, one from such an important time in America’s history, has left a huge gap for many of us.

Despite the common belief that these precious records were simply destroyed by fire in 1921, the actual story of what happened is quite surprising and somewhat disturbing. You can read all about it in this article on Family History Daily. But there is another twist to this story — some of these records DO still exist and they can be accessed online for free. – Family History Daily

You can find out more about the 1890 Census information that still exists by visiting:

Family History Daily: http://familyhistorydaily.com/free-genealogy-resources/thousands-of-1890-census-records-do-still-exist-heres-how-to-find-them-for-free

In search of Leonard Wilson Roane (1874 –1912): death in the shipyard

image of Leonard Wilson Roane

Leonard Wilson Roane, circa 1900

I’ve been pretty fortunate tracing Leonard Wilson Roane, my paternal great grandfather’s, life through a rich array of digitized records. His brothers’ and sister’s descendants have also kindly provided snippets of information about his parents and his siblings. I have been blessed in that regard. Until I began this journey, I knew nothing about the Roane side of my father’s family. I’m glad to say that’s not the case any more!

So, I’ve been fortunate to uncover knowledge about my great-grandfather in a wider context. What I have found next to impossible to uncover are the circumstances of how he died.

But first thing first.

Life in Varina, Henrico County, VA

image of the Immediate family tree for Leonard Wilson Roane

Immediate family tree for Leonard Wilson Roane

Leonard was the youngest child born to Patrick Henry Roane, Sr (1833 – 1907) and Susan Price (1832 – 1892). He came from a very close and respected family who lived in in Varina, Henrico County, VA. This respected part was no mean feat considering his parents were freed slaves and his family were ‘coloreds’ living in Virginia in the Jim Crow Era. All the same, his family were respected members of the community.

His family were educated (i.e. could read and write) in a time when, regardless of ethnicity, not everyone was. By all accounts, the family lived up to the ideals the Roane surname instilled in them.

image of 1880 census return for Patrick Henry Roane

Caption: Patrick Henry Roane, Sr’s household in Varina, 1880 (Group 194) with Leonard, aged 6. Patrick’s brothers Anthony and Edmund Roane are living on the same property shared by their Smith, Allen and Waring relations. Citation: Census Year: 1880; Census Place: Varina, Henrico, Virginia; Archive Collection Number: T1132; Roll: 24; Line: 17; Schedule Type: Agriculture.

It’s only when Leonard left the family fold between 1896 and 1899 that he became somewhat tricky to find in the records. This is partly due to there being another Leonard Roane, on the white side of the family, who was born a few days before my great-grandfather – and who died a few days after my great-grandfather (bizarre or what?!).

Tricky though it may have been keeping records for these two men straight, I’ve been able to piece together a fairly straightforward narrative for Leonard.

Leonard’s Adult Life

Leonard married Julia Ella Bates, also a native of Varina, on 1 April 1896. They married in their hometown.

This part of Leonard and Julia’s story ignites my writer’s imagination. Had they been childhood sweethearts?You know, that young couple who had always known one another, grew up together, with a growing fondness for each other and deepening of feeling as they grew older. Did they exchange secret glances every Sunday at church? Did they blush when those looks were noticed by others? Were they teased by their siblings? I mention this because I can’t recall ever hearing stories of – or reading about – romantic accounts for African Americans in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. It’s very rarely broached in television shows or in Hollywood films. It’s just not part of the 19th and early 20th Century African American iconography. To be fair, it’s not an idea or ideal associated to any working class peoples, regardless of ethnicity.  Such sensibilities have more been associated with the wealthy and the elite.

I know, from the descendants of his brothers and sister, that Leonard’s parents had been childhood sweethearts. The marriages of his brothers and sisters indicate the same. I digress..

Not long after Leonard and Julia married, they moved to Newport News, VA. In the 1900 Census, Leonard is shown working at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newport_News_Shipbuilding_and_Dry_Dock_Company as a general laborer. His elder brother, Bacchus Roane, was already employed there, as were a number of their Essex County and King & Queen County Roane cousins.

The image below is a pretty fair representation of a large shipyard in the early 1900s. It certainly was a far cry from Leonard’s rural roots:

image of US shipbuilding yard, circa 1900

US shipbuilding yard, circa 1900

One of Leonard’s brothers, Wyatt Roane,  was a carrier for the Daily Press newspaper in Newport News and and didn’t live all that far from Leonard and Julia. Another brother, Patrick Henry Roane, Jr., was a nearby grocer. Leonard and Julia were pretty much surrounded by both immediate and extended family members. Again, the Roanes were a close-knit bunch.

These Roanes were part of that great early 20th Century migration which saw huge numbers of people trade their rural farming way of life for work in the industrial cities. Just like their cousins who left Virginia behind for cities in the north.

Leonard and Julia set up house at 2312 Jefferson Avenue:

image of 2312 Jefferson Ave  Newport News VA today

Sadly, the original house at 2312 Jefferson Avenue doesn’t exist any longer. The old properties were pulled down and replaced with a condominium community.

This would remain their home for the next decade. This is one of the great befits of using City Directories in your research. Here’s one of many that I’ve found for the period of 1902 – 1911 which shows Leonard and his Roane relations in Newport News:

Image of the Roane family in Newport News, VA in 1903 via City Directory

Roane family in Newport News, VA in 1903. Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.

Directories like the above, when matched to census records, can be a great help in family research and genealogy – especially when there are popular names used within a family over many generations.

My grandmother, Susan Julia Roane, arrived in 1896. She was followed by her sister Ella Bates Roane in 1899.

image of 1900 Census return for Leonard Roane's houshold

Leonard’s name misspelled and given as Lemuel on the 1900 Census. Citation: Year: 1900; Census Place: Newport News Ward 2, Newport News City, Virginia; Roll: 1735; Page: 29A; Enumeration District: 0077; FHL microfilm: 1241735.

Julia Bates Roane passed on 16 December 1901. I haven’t located a death certificate to learn the cause of her untimely death at the age of 25. Given the family dynamic of the Roanes, I am certain that Leonard and his young daughters had plenty of support from their surrounding family members.

In 1906, Leonard married Abigail “Abbie” Smith of Varina, VA. I can almost image the family conversation: ‘You need a wife and your daughters need a mother. You remember little Abbie Smith, Pleasant’s daughter? Well, …’ The 1880 Agricultural census shows Abbie and her family lived next door to Julia’s family. Talk about a small world!

Image for 1880 census return showing Ella Bates householed

Ella [maiden name unknown] Bates’s household in 1880. Citation: Census Year: 1880; Census Place: Varina, Henrico, Virginia; Archive Collection Number: T1132; Roll: 24; Page: 36; Line: 29; Schedule Type: Agriculture.

Taking another look at the 1880 Census for Leonard’s family, Abbie Smith may have also been a Roane family relation. In other words, Leonard and his family had known Abbie for years.

There were two accounts, one by my grandmother and another by my great aunt Ella, that the relationship between them and their step-mother were strained and far from cordial.

image for Leonard Roane's household on the 1910 Census.

Leonard Roane’s household on the 1910 Census. Citation: Year: 1910; Census Place: Newport News Ward 2, Newport News (Independent City), Virginia; Roll: T624_1637; Page: 4B; Enumeration District: 0081; FHL microfilm: 1375650.

Leonard made advancements at the shipyard where he became an outdoor ship machinist at some point around 1908. I was a bit curious about what, exactly, this entailed. While it required skill and acumen, it was also dirty, sweaty and very dangerous work. If you’re interested in such things, here’s a training manual I found online: http://hnsa.org/doc/machinist/index.htm . While the manual is dated 1942, I can’t imagine the trade had changed much from Leonard’s day. Reading through it was a great way to connect with my great grandfather.

image for Leonard Roane's burial

On or about 20 December 1912, Leonard died. This would have a profound effect on his two daughters.

Whether she was incapable of looking after her step-daughters, or simply didn’t want to, my grandmother and her sister were split up. My grandmother, it would seem, went into service with a prominent white family in Richmond, VA at the age of 14. Her sister Ella, aged 11, was sent to Henrico County to live with Roane relations. Evidence would suggest Ella grew up in Harrison. Five years later, Ella married into the Christian family of Harrison, Charles County, VA.

Abbie would go on to marry widower Richard Lacy, a Harrison town resident, on 15 April 1917. They married in Harrison and that is where she seems to have remained. Yes, this is the same town where her former step-daughter Ella Roane, who by this time had married Thomas Matthew Christian, also lived. I can only imagine that must have been awkward for both. It was (and remains) a small place. They were bound to have seen one another more regularly than not when in public.

Search for a death record & accident report

Naturally, I’ve asked my father how his grandfather died. All he could say is that it was a shipyard accident. It was something his mother just couldn’t bring herself to talk about.

So I decided to do some sleuthing. Three years later and I have zilch. I’ve thrown everything I could think of at solving this one and have come up empty handed. But I can tell you just about everything about how the other Leonard Roane died. Family research does that sometimes.

I’ve put Ancestry.com and FamilySearch through their paces using all manner of esoteric search tricks….and nothing.

I’ve searched using every online news archive service available…and nothing. I figured a shipyard death would get at least a few lines in the local press. And then, when I thought about how many men died at shipyards at the turn of the 20th Century, I did feel kind of naïve.

I’ve used every combination of:  his name (including variations) + machinist death(s) + shipyard death(s), December 1912 +Newport news + Virginia + Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company that you could think of…and nothing.

Google Books…nothing.

And nothing on the online vital records service sites.

So I’ve had two last rolls of the dice. Both of them longshots. I’ve emailed the Clerks Office in Newport News enquiring if his death certificate exists, and, if does, how to obtain a copy. This is the most likely of the two options to return a result.

As a backup, I’ve emailed the Newport News Shipyard enquiring whether there is an accident report and/or company account of Leonard’s death. OK, so the likelihood that 1) a report/enquiry was done, and 2) that a 102 account or record still exists in the company archive is remote. Very remote. But I’m a big believer in ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’.

So we’ll see if either of these avenues provides any answers.

This information vacuum is all the more interesting in light of the obituaries for his brothers, which follow below. Again, it’s worth bearing in mind that obituaries for African Americans at this time were rare:

Patrick Henry Roane, Jr

image of Patrick Henry Roane Jr obituary

7 February 1907 obituary for Patrick Henry Roane, Jr.in the Daily Press. Courtesy of The Library of Virginia http://www.virginiachronicle.com Original available via http://virginiachronicle.com/cgi-bin/virginia?a=d&d=DP19070215.1.3&srpos=1&e=——190-en-20-DP-1–txt-IN-roane—-1907

Wyatt Roane

image for Wyatt Roane's obituary

22 March 1907 obituary in the Daily Press. Courtesy of The Library of Virginia @ http://virginiachronicle.com Original available via http://virginiachronicle.com/cgi-bin/virginia?a=d&d=DP19070322.1.3&e=——-en-20–1–txt-IN—–

Josephine Roane (sister-in-law, wife of Bacchus Roane)

image for Josephine Roane's obituary18 February 1909 obituary for Josephine Roane in the Daily Press. Courtesy of The Library of Virginia @ http://virginiachronicle.com Original available via http://virginiachronicle.com/cgi-bin/virginia?a=d&d=DP19090218.1.3&e=——190-en-20–1–txt-IN-josephine+roane—-#

In closing, I can’t help but note that Leonard, Wyatt and Patrick, Jr. all died tragically premature deaths. Leonard was dead at 38, Patrick at 44 and Wyatt at 38. Bacchus was 50 when he died – by Roane standards that was still quite young. Like their relations in Baltimore and Philadelphia, Leonard and his brothers life expectancy was cut by a third when compared to other male Roane relations who remained in the countryside.

However, to leave on a positive note, the obituaries above illustrate just how well thought of my Roane ancestors were.

Why anglicizing immigrant ancestors’ names isn’t such a good idea.

If you live in a country that has been a popular destination for immigrants around the world – say, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, Argentina, Brazil, etc – tracing your ancestors’ roots back to their native lands is an exciting journey.

The question is, how best to record those ancestors’ names?  Chances are, the name they were known by in their adopted country wasn’t the name they were known by in their homeland. Specifically speaking, what’s the best way to record an immigrant ancestor’s name on services like Ancestry.com or FamilyTree? There really isn’t any guidance on this one. I haven’t seen any best practice.  What I have seen, in my own European family research, are countless non-English names that have been anglicized (translated into English, in other words).

I get it. On the one hand, this makes some unknown foreign ancestor seem more like us. And chances are, either our immigrant ancestors, or some Customs official, anglicized the name. This, however, causes problems when it comes to tracking down records and information about our immigrant ancestors in their native land. Why? The official records in their native country will only refer to them by the name they were born with.

I created a system where I use both names for what I call my gateway immigrant ancestors. I hope this practice also helps others researching the same lines in the same countries. Indeed, it’s already helped the German descendant a long-lost distantly related German kinsman reach out and say ‘halo!’.

So here’s how I record these names on Ancestry.com.

Hans Frederick Geyer who immigrated to Philadelphia from Germany, and then settled in Frederick County, MD, is recorded as:  Frederick (Hans Friedrich) Geyer (Geier).  I put the original German names in parentheses.

I record Anna Catharina Scheffe as: Catherine (Anna Catharina) Sheffey (Scheffe).

I record Vincenzo Scarlatti as: Vincent “Vinnie” (Vincenzo) Scarlatti.

By doing this, I’m letting anyone who comes across one of my gateway ancestors know that they have found a person who immigrated to the US and whose name was changed as a result. They ought to be able to figure out what name to use in a US-specific search. They should also be able to work out which name to use when searching for records in that ancestor’s native country.

Why go to the bother? Again, if you are trying to research Frederick Geyer in Germany, he doesn’t exist. He wouldn’t exist as his birth, baptism and departure records wouldn’t have recorded him as Frederick Geyer. Search for Hans Friedrich Geier and, well, there are records a-plenty to peruse for your research.

From my own experience, the difference between Jacob and Jakob, Carl and Karl and Joanna and Johanna makes all the difference between finding records for a gateway ancestor in their homeland – or not.

If you’ve inherited a family tree filled with anglicized names of immigrant ancestors, what can you do to translate these names back into their native, original form? I honesty wish I had a convenient website to point you towards. I don’t. My best advice is to do a search using your preferred search engine (eg “What is the German version of the name Thomas”?)

Fazewell / Fazwell / Tazwell Sheffey’s correct name

Census records can be a real bugbear for anyone researching their family tree.  It’s even more daunting if someone in your tree has an unusual name which census takers and local officials just could grapple with.  One gentleman in the Sheffey family tree is a perfect example.

Fazewell, Fazwell and Tazwell  are the names associated with one Marion, Virginia ancestor.  Trying to determine his correct name has been a task that myself and a handful of newly found distant relations have been grappling with for over a year.  Well, I’m pleased to say that a newly re-discovered Sheffey cousin has put us straight.  Vanessa Williams emailed me to say that his proper name is Iazwell Sheffey.  Many thanks go to Vanessa and her grandmother, Margaret Sheffey, for providing the information.  I look forward to finding out more about your branch of the family!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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