Why diversity matters for online genealogy service providers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Moses Williams Family Tree Project

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

The Moses Williams project is composed of a few phases:

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

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

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

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

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

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

A working example of diagramming information about enslaved people from documents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We also see Daniel’s wife and children. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Namaste

UPDATE Monday, 19 June 2017

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

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

Tracing slave ownership for the Scots-Irish Roane family of Virginia

My thanks to my cousin Lewis S – who has so kindly shared slave-related documents with me from his side of the Roane family. And my thanks to another cousin, Mia F, who has spent quiet some time over the past few months visiting the Virginian archives in search of information and documents about our enslaved Roane and Price ancestors. This post wouldn’t be possible without their generosity.

I’m hoping this post will enable other African American Roanes trace their family ancestry. Or help people whose enslaved ancestors were owned by members of the earlier generations of the Scots-Irish Roane family in Virginia.

I’ve debated about how best to present the information that follows below. Should I do a series of posts? Should I put everything together in one post? In the end, to show a clear progression of ownership, I opted to put all of the information I have in one post in chronological order.

Some slaves, like Orange, have such unique names that they are easy to race from generation to generation. Most others, however, share such common names that I haven’t been able to confidently trace the transfer of ownership from one Roane to another.

I will continue to update and re-post this as I find more information about Roane family slaves.

The slaves of William Roane, Sr

William, the son of Sir Archibald Gilbert Roane, was born in 1701 (County Antrim, Northern Ireland) and died in 1757 (Bloomberg, Essex County, Virginia).

The document below shows his purchase of 3 slaves from John Seayres on 17 March 1746:
Matt;
Kingston(e); and
Richmond (Rich). (This may be the same Richmond mentioned in William Roane, Jr’s Will, in which case, he was deeded to William Roane, Jr’s son Spencer Roane. Alternatively, the Richmond mentioned in William Roane, Jr’s will may be the son of this Richmond).

1757 Will of William Roane, Sr.

William’s will was proved December 20, 1757; his wife Sarah Roane’s will was dated 1st day of August 1760, and was proved December I5th, 1760.

Will of William Roane Essex County Virginia Will proven 20 December , 1757

In the name of God Amen I William Roane of the Parish of Southampton in the County of Essex Gent. Being sick and weak of body but of Perfect Sense and memory Blessed by Almighty God therefore Calling to mind the uncertainty of this Transitory Life so make this my Last Will & Testament in manner following first I will that my body be buried in a decent manner at the discretion of my Executors hereafter named trusting through the merits of my blessed Savior Christ for the Salvation of my Soul and for the disposal of my worldly Estate with which it hath pleased God to bless me

I Give devise and bequeath the same as followeth Viz; Imprim is I give and bequeath to my son Thomas Roane the tract of land I purchased of Philip Vase whereon he now lives also the tract where his Quarter won Piscataway formerly Doctor Philip Jones’s and also the Ordinary tract with their and each of their appurtenances to him and his heirs forever

Item. I give and bequeath to my son William Roane all that tract of land that was John Haul’s (Haile) also the tract I purchased of Thos Gatewood joining it , and all the tract I purchased of Henry Crittenden with their and each of their appurtenances to him and his heirs forever

Item. I give and bequeath to my son John Roane all my land in Culpeper County Viz: one tract containing by estimation thirteen hundred and fifty acres purchased of Joseph Bloodworth also the tract of land I purchased of Charles Cavenaugh and also a tract adjoining Cavanaugh’s lately purchased of John Williams with their and each of their appurtenances to him and his heirs forever

Item. I give to my daughter Mary Ritchie as much money as will make her fortune eight hundred pounds current immediately inclusive of what she hath already received being upwards of six hundred pounds as per my ledger and at my wife’s decease I give her two hundred pounds more .

Item. I give to my daughter Sarah Roane eight hundred pounds current money to be paid her at the age of eighteen or day of marriage and two hundred pounds more at my wife’s decease

Item. I give to my daughter Lucy Roane eight hundred pounds current money and two hundred pounds more at my wife’s decease

Item. I lend my loving wife Sarah Roane all the tract of land I live on with the piece I bought of Robert Johnson and my water grist mill with all their appurtenances during her natural life and after her decease I give it to be equally divided between my three sons Thomas, William & John and their heirs forever

Item. I also lend my said wife twenty negroes , her choice, all my household furniture except half the Plate, all the stock that belongs and is on this my dwelling Plantation during her life and after her decease to be equally divided amongst all my children and heirs forever

Item. I give and bequeath all the residue of my estate to be equally divided amongst my three sons Thomas, William & John and their heirs forever

Item. My will and desire is that if either of my children die before they attain to age of marriage that their part or parts be equally divided amongst all my children & their heirs forever .

Item. I do hereby appoint my three sons Thomas, William & John Executors of this my Last Will and Testament . In Testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand ~~~ this 17th day of November Anno Dom. 1757

W Roane

Signed Published declared by the dc William Roane in & for his Last Will & Testament in presence of us

Jno Clements
John Upshaw
James Upshaw

At a Court held for Essex County at Tappahannock on the 20th day of December 1757 This Last Will and Testament of William Roane Gent. Dec’d was presented into Court by the Exors herein named who made oath thereto according to law the same being proved by the oaths of John Upshaw & James Upshaw two of the witnesses thereto , is ordered to be recorded & on the motion of the said executors and their performing what the Law in such cases require a Certificate is granted them for obtaining a Probate thereof in due form

Test John Lee Jun D Clk

Know all men by these presents that we Thomas Roane, William Roane , and John Roane and John Upshaw , James Upshaw and Thomas Waring and John Lee Senior are held and firmly bound to Francis Waring, Simon Miller, James Hibbard, Robert Brocke Gent. Justices of the Court of Essex County now sitting, in the sum of ten thousand pounds current money to the payment whereof well and truly to be made to the s’d justices and their heirs ——— we bind ourselves and each of us and each of our heirs Executors Administrators Jointly and Severally firmly by these presents Sealed with our seale this 20th day of December in the year of our Lord One thousand seven hundred and fifty seven and in the 31st year of the Reign of our Sovereign Lord George the second .

The condition of this obligation is such that the above bound Thomas Roane, William Roane & John Roane Executors of the Last Will and Testament of William Roane Gent. Deceased , do make or cause to be made a true and perfect inventory of all and singular the Goods, Chattels & Credits of the said deceased which have or shall come to the hands possession or knowledge of the said Thomas , William and John or into the hands and possession of any other person or persons for them and the same so made, do exhibit into the County Court of Essex at such time as they shall be hereunto required by the said Court , and the same goods, chattels , and credits and all other goods, chattels, and credits of the said deceased which at any time after shall come to the hands possession or knowledge of the said executors or into the hands and possession of any other person or persons for them do well and truly administer according to Law and further do make a true and just account of their actings and doings therein when thereto required by the said Court and also shall —– truly Pay and deliver all the legacies contained and specified in said Testament as far as the said goods, chattels and credits will thereunto extend and the same shall charge then this Obligation to be void & of none effect or else to remain in full force and virtue

Thomas, Roane, William Roane
John Roane, John Upshaw
James Upshaw , T Waring
John Lee Junior

At a Court held for Essex County at Tapp’a the 20th day of December 1757 this bond was acknowledged by the parties and ordered to be recorded & is truly recorded

John Lee Junr Clk

1757 William Roane Sr., estate inventory (excerpts, with valuations in Pound Sterling, designated by the letter “L”)

Filed in court 1758 0321

“An Inventory with Appraisement of the Estate of William Roane Gentleman decedent in Essex County Anno Domini 1757

Slaves named:

Richmond 50L
Bought from John Seayres in 1746 – see the first record in this article.

Stafford 50L

Lancaster 50L

Sam 50L

Ben 50L
Owned by William Roane, Jr and deeded to William Jr’s son Spencer Roane in 1782

Little George 50L
Deeded either to Col Thomas Roane, Sr or William Roane There are too many George’s to be able to clearly identify who he was deeded to

Hanover 50L

Isaac 40L
Deeded to son Col Thomas Roane. Col Thomas Roane deeded Isaac to Richard Barnes, husband of his daughter Rebecca Roane

Dick 40L

George 50L
Deeded wither to Col Thomas Roane, Sr or William Roane There are too many George’s to be able to clearly identify who he was deeded to

Nero 40L

Letty 45L

Caroline 35L

Jamey 60L

Beauty 45L

Brunswick 45L

Kate 40L

Hannah 50L
Owned by William Roane, Jr and deeded to William Jr’s son Spencer Roane in 1782

Betty 32L
“Bett”owned by William Roane, Jr and deeded to William Jr’s son Spencer Roane in 1782

Lame Letty 10L

Austin a boy 40L
Deeded to William Roane, Jr.

Moll a girl 30L

Ambrose a boy 25L

Nell a girl 37L

Great Jammy & Child Ann 65L

Nan & Child Rachel 55L
This could be the same “Nan” cited in William Roane, Jr’s 1782 slave deed to son Spencer Roane in 1782

Young Philio, a girl 30L

Phil a boy 18L

Lucey a girl 30L
There are too many Lucy’s to confidently assess which child she was deeded to.

Pegg a girl 22L

January a girl 30L

Rose a Woman 50L
This could be the same “Rose” cited in William Roane, Jr’s 1782 slave deed to son Spencer Roane in 1782

Amey & Child 10L
There are too many Amy’s to confidently assess which child Amey and her child were deeded to.

Liddey a small girl 15L

Charles a boy 35L

Old Philio 8L 10s

 

At the Stafford Quarter:

Mulatto Ham (to be bound)

Negroes:

Norfolk a man 50L

Liddie a young woman 50L
This may be the same Lydia that Col Thomas Roane, Sr deeded to daughter Sarah Roane Campbell

Hannah & Child Harry 55L
This may be the same Hannah that Col Thomas Roane, Sr deeded to his daughter Patsy Hipkins Roane Ritchie

Sarah a girl 35L
Two Sarahs are mentioned in Col Thomas Roane, Sr’s will. It is likely this Sarah is one of those two.

Bulley a Boy 27L 10s

Betty a Girl 22L 10s

Norfolk a boy 12L 10s

Tom a boy 40L
This may be the same Tom McGeorge mentioned in Col Thomas Roane, Sr’s will

Jack a boy 27L 10s

Chance a boy 12L 10s

Dinah a girl 25

London a Man 15

Princess a Lame Woman 0

At Georges Quarter:

George a man 40L
This may be the same George mentioned in Col Thomas Roane. Sr’s will

Roy a man 30L

Surrey a Woman 40L

Hannah a woman 25L

Phebe (latters child) 10L

At Lancaster Quarter:

Glasgow a man 20L

Peter a man 50L

Prudence a Woman 25L

Chloe a Woman 45L
Deeded to son William Roane, Jr

At Gloucester:

Gloucester a man 50L

Orange a Woman 45L
Deeded to son William Roane, Jr

Winney a girl 45L

Frankey a girl 40L
This could be the same “Frank” cited in William Roane, Jr’s 1782 slave deed to son Spencer Roane in 1782

Alice a girl 40L
Owned by William Roane, Jr and deeded to William Jr’s son Spencer Roane in 1782

Patty a girl 22L
This could be the same “Pratt” cited in William Roane, Jr’s 1782 slave deed to son Spencer Roane in 1782

Grace a small girl 13L
Deeded to son William Roane, Jr, who deeded her to his daughter Sally Roane

Gloucester a child 15L
Owned by William Roane, Jr and deeded to William Jr’s son Spencer Roane in 1782

Total value of Estate: 5,215L 6s 10d

Note 1: Neither Kingston or Matt appears in this estate inventory list. Presumably, they were either sold or died before 1757.

Note 2: I don’t know what the word “Quarters” signifies. At present, Quarters seem to indicate the different properties and tracts of land owned by William Roane, Sr..

 

The slaves of Sarah Upshaw Roane

Sarah Upshaw was the widow of William Roane, Sr. Upon William’s death, she inherited his slaves.

No slaves are cited in either her will or her inventory. However, I include both below for transparency – and to save people the time and effort of trying to track them down. Presumably, the slaves she owned were divided between her children as per William Roane’s will of 1757.

I would suggest looking at the wills and estate inventories of William & Sarah’s children to trace the slaves cited in William Roane’s estate inventory. Their children were: Col Thomas Roane (died 1799 in Fairfax, VA. His will follows further below in this post), Mary “Molly” Roane (died 1800 in King & Queen County, VA. She married Andrew Archibald Ritchie, hence the name Mary “Molly” Roane Ricthie), John Roane (died Oct 1805, Uppowoc, King William County, VA), Lucy Roane (died 1801 in Richmond, Wise, VA. She married Richard Barnes, hence the name Lucy Roane Barnes), Sarah Upshaw Roane (died 1810 in Richmond, Wise, VA. She married Dr John Brockenbrough, hence the name Sarah Upshaw Roane Brockenbrough). William Roane (his estate information follows below).

Will of Sarah Roane
Essex County, Va. Will proven 15 Dec 1760 Will Book 11 Page 287

In the name of God Amen I Sarah Roane of the County of Essex being sick & weak of body but of sound & perfect mind & memory & considering the uncertainty of this transitory life do make and ordain this my last will & testament in manner & form following viz.

Imprimis I give to my daughters Sarah & Lucy each of them two gold rings.

Item. I give to my granddaughter Margaret Ritchie one stone ring of about fifteen shillings sterling price and to my niece Hannah Hipkins I give ten pounds currency.

Item. I give & bequeath all the residue of my estate to be equally divided between my three sons Thomas, William and John Roane to defray the expenses of bringing up and educating their two sisters and I do constitute and appoint them my said three sons, executors of this my last will & testament. In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this 11th day of August 1760.

Sarah Roane

Signed sealed and acknowledged to be her last will & testament in the presence of us
John Upshaw
Daniel Sullivan Junr.

At a Court held for Essex County at Tapp’a the 15th day of December 1760, this last will & testament of Sarah Roane dec’d was this day produced in Court by Thomas Roane one of the executors therein named who made oath thereto according to law and was also proved by the oaths of the witnesses thereto and admitted to record and is recorded.

Test. John Lee Jun. D.C.E.C.

Know all men by these presents that we Thomas Roane and John Upshaw Gentlemen are held and firmly bound to John Clements, William Mountague, Charles Mortimer and William Brooke Gent. Justices of the Court of Essex County now sitting in the sum of five hundred pounds to the payment whereof well and truly to be made to the said Justices and their Successors, we bind ourselves and each of us and each of our heirs, executors and administrators jointly and severally, firmly by these presents, sealed with our seals this 15th day of December in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and sixty and on the 34th year of the reign of our sovereign Lord George II.

The condition of this obligation is such that if the above bound Thomas Roane Executor of the last will and testament of Sarah Roane deceased do make or cause to be made a true and perfect inventory of all and singular the goods, chattels and credits of said deceased which have or shall come to the hands, possession or knowledge of the said Thomas or to the hands or possession of any other person or persons for him and the same so made do exhibit into the County Court of Essex at such time as he shall be thereunto required by the said court; and the same goods, chattels and credits and all the other goods, chattels and credits of the said deceased which at any time after shall come to the hands, possession or knowledge of the said Thomas or the hands or possession of any other person or persons for him do well and truly administer according to law and first do make a just and true account of his actings and doings therein when thereto required by the said Court and also well and truly pay and deliver all the legacies contained and specified in the said testament as far as the said goods, chattels and credits will thereunto extend and the law shall charge; then their obligation to be void and of none effect or else to remain in full force and virtue.

Thomas Roane
John Upshaw

At a Court held for Essex County at Tapp’a the 15th day of December 1760, this bond was acknowledge by the parties hereto admitted to record and was recorded.

Test John Lee Jun. D.C.E.C.

Note:  I have not been able to find an inventory for Sarah Upshaw Roane

The slaves of Col Thomas Roane

There is quite a bit of information about Thomas Roane’s properties and plantations. These might indicate why certain ancestors lived where they did at the close of the Civil War.

WILL OF COL. THOMAS ROANE.

Note: I haven’t found an estate inventory for Thomas Roane upon his death. I have compiled a list of his slaves cited in his will below.

Slaves named:

Billy “The Blacksmith” – deeded to widow Mary Ann Hipkins Roane

James – deeded to daughter Sarah Roane Campbell

Jerry Bland – deeded to daughter Sarah Roane Campbell

Winney – deeded to daughter Sarah Roane Campbell

Lydia – deeded to daughter Sarah Roane Campbell

Suckey – deeded to daughter Sarah Roane Campbell

Pitt – lent to Hugh Campbell, Sarah Roane Campbell’s husband. Hugh Campbell sold to unnamed person

Jenny – lent to Hugh Campbell, Sarah Roane Campbell’s husband. Hugh Campbell sold to unnamed person

Dixon – lent to Hugh Campbell, Sarah Roane Campbell’s husband. Died prior to Col Thomas Roane’s death.

Amey (Amy) + her 2 unnamed children – deeded to daughter Margaret Roane Garrett

Peter – deeded to Sterling Clack Ruffin, husband of Thomas’s daughter Alice Roane.

Sam – deeded to Sterling Clack Ruffin, husband of Thomas’s daughter Alice Roane.

Anthony – deeded to Sterling Clack Ruffin, husband of Thomas’s daughter Alice Roane.

Charles – deeded to Sterling Clack Ruffin, husband of Thomas’s daughter Alice Roane.

Violet – deeded to Sterling Clack Ruffin, husband of Thomas’s daughter Alice Roane.

Judy – deeded to Sterling Clack Ruffin, husband of Thomas’s daughter Alice Roane.

Sarah – deeded to Sterling Clack Ruffin, husband of Thomas’s daughter Alice Roane.

Young Sarah – deeded to Sterling Clack Ruffin, husband of Thomas’s daughter Alice Roane.

Sally Pickles – deeded to Sterling Clack Ruffin, husband of Thomas’s daughter Alice Roane.

Isaac – deeded to Richard Barnes, husband of Thomas’s daughter Rebecca Roane.

Gilbert – deeded to Richard Barnes, husband of Thomas’s daughter Rebecca Roane.

Robin – deeded to Richard Barnes, husband of Thomas’s daughter Rebecca Roane.

Amy – deeded to Richard Barnes, husband of Thomas’s daughter Rebecca Roane.

Jany – deeded to Richard Barnes, husband of Thomas’s daughter Rebecca Roane.

Judy – deeded to Richard Barnes, husband of Thomas’s daughter Rebecca Roane.

Nancy – deeded to Richard Barnes, husband of Thomas’s daughter Rebecca Roane.

Phillip (Phill)- deeded to Richard Barnes, husband of Thomas’s daughter Rebecca Roane.

Pegy – deeded to Richard Barnes, husband of Thomas’s daughter Rebecca Roane.

George – deeded to son Thomas Roane, Jr

Dick – deeded to son Thomas Roane, Jr

Billy – deeded to son Thomas Roane, Jr

Jany – deeded to son Thomas Roane, Jr

Kate – deeded to son Thomas Roane, Jr

Janet – deeded to son Thomas Roane, Jr

Easther – deeded to son Thomas Roane, Jr

Mary – deeded to son Thomas Roane, Jr

Robin – deeded to son Thomas Roane, Jr

George – deeded to son Samuel Roane

Nelson – deeded to son Samuel Roane

Tom McGeorge – deeded to son Samuel Roane

Charles – deeded to son Samuel Roane

Nancy – deeded to son Samuel Roane

Tilloh – deeded to son Samuel Roane

Lydia – deeded to son Samuel Roane

Sarah – deeded to son Samuel Roane

Charles – deeded to daughter Patsy Hipkins Roane Ritchie, wife of Archibald Ritchie

Godfrey – deeded to daughter Patsy Hipkins Roane Ritchie, wife of Archibald Ritchie

Hancock – deeded to daughter Patsy Hipkins Roane Ritchie, wife of Archibald Ritchie

Aggy – deeded to daughter Patsy Hipkins Roane Ritchie, wife of Archibald Ritchie

Hannah – deeded to daughter Patsy Hipkins Roane Ritchie, wife of Archibald Ritchie

Patience – deeded to daughter Patsy Hipkins Roane Ritchie, wife of Archibald Ritchie

Venus- deeded to daughter Patsy Hipkins Roane Ritchie, wife of Archibald Ritchie
His widow, Mary Ann Hipkins Roane – rec’d 39 unnamed slaves

Archibald Harwood – Margaret Roane Garrett’s son. Would receive share from Amy and her children’s increase upon his mother’s death + 1 boy and 1 girl of his own age

Thomas Harwood – Margaret Roane Garrett’s son. Would receive share from Amy and her children’s increase upon his mother’s death + 1 boy and 1 girl of his own age

Patsy Hipkins Roane Ritchie – 2 unnamed slaves

Lucy Roane Upshaw (wife of Edwin Upshaw) – unknown number of unnamed slaves

Catherine Roane Ruffin (wife of Archibald Ruffin) – unknown number of unnamed slaves

John Roane – unknown number of unnamed slaves

The slaves of William Roane, Jr

William Roane, Jr gifts slaves to son Spencer Roane in 1782

1782 11 08 Roane, William gifts Spencer Roane some 20 Negro slaves

Deed of Gift.

William Roane of South Farnham Parish, Essex County, gent. for natural love and affection gave to his son Spencer Roane of same place all the Negro slaves following, to wit:

Frank

Patt & her children

Nan

Gloucester (Gloster)

Jude

Cork

Ben

Alice & her children

Will

Luce

Rose

Bett

Hannah

Richard

Yorah

together with their future increase and all other emoluments to them belonging….

Witnesses:

Henry Clements

John Gardner

Ralph Mitchell

Ackn 21 April 1783 & recorded

Attest: Hancock Lee, Clerk

(page 138, Essex Co. records)

William Roane, Jr’s Will dated 1785

Slaves named:

Richmond – Deeded to son Spencer Roane

Joe – Deeded to son Spencer Roane

Grace (the daughter of Frances) – Deeded to daughter Judy Roane

Rachel (the daughter of Chloe) – Deeded to daughter Sally Roane

Sons Thomas and Spencer Roane received unknown number of unnamed slaves.

1785 estate inventory for William Roane, Jr, dated 1785

1785 12 26 Roane, William – Estate Appraisal after death

[note: 55 named slaves, across the three different plantations owned by William Roane and included in his estate]

In Obediance to an order of the Worshipful Court of Essex County made in December 1785 We the Subscibers, being first duly sworn, have appraised as of the negroes & personal Estate of William Roane Esq. dec’d this 26th Dec. 1785, the following

———

[Note: I’ve omitted all other property items except for the names of the slaves]

Austin 50L

Hanover L20

Moses L80

Reuben L60

Bristoll 65L

James L60

Will L60

Jerry L50

Joe L50

Peter L35

Betty L80

Bob L20

Jenny L40

Lydia & Child 30L

Lewis L12

Chloe L40

Jenny L70

Beck L15

Maysy L50

Charlotte L50

Lotta L70

Billy L60

Winney L80

Phillis & Child Caesar L90

Amey L80

Frank L40

Fanny L15

Lucy L60.

At King & Queen Quarter:

negroes:

Gawin 20L

Rachel 35L

At Meadow Quarter:

negroes:

Will L70

Harry L50

Bob L30

Charles L30

Nell L50

Daphne L15

Grace L45

Cyrus L0

Roy L0

Orange L0

At the Mill:

negroes:

Richmond and Joe L50 (deeded to Spencer Roane)

Mrs. Ann Roanes negroes (Widow of William  Roane dec’d):

George L80

James L80

Caty L50

Betty L45

Lucy L75

Moses L60

Jacob L55

Bristol L25

China L75

Giles L15

(Molly dead since W. Roane)

 

Thomas Dix

Ambrose Greenhill

Jno. Haile

At a Court held for Essex County at Tappahannock on the 21st day of February in 1791, This appraisement of the Estate of William Roane esquire deceased being returned to Court, the same was ordered to be recorded. Test, John S. Lee, Clerk

To-date, a Will for Spencer Roane has yet to surface. This, along with his probate tax inventory, is a key document to find. Indeed, there are many missing Roane family Wills among Spencer Roane’s siblings and cousins.

Hugh White Sheffey: a study in Northern ideals & Southern sensibilities

Hugh White Sheffey in the Sheffey family tree

Hugh White Sheffey in the Sheffey family tree – click for larger image

Hugh White Sheffey was a name I already knew and had become somewhat familiar with in the course of doing the usual family history research thing. That is to say I knew where he fell on the greater family tree. I knew he was a judge. I also knew he served in Virginia’s State Congress. I also knew that, like many of his Sheffey contemporaries, he was an educated and deeply religious man. That being said, I’d put him on the proverbial back burner – yet another Virginia-born Sheffey who was respected legal practitioner and a political servant as well as steadfast American Constitutionalist. I shouldn’t have been so quick to by-pass his story.

As with my more interesting finds, Hugh White Sheffey re-emerged on my radar due to an unexpected research result. I had spent an afternoon doing some casual research trying to track down portraits of 18th and early 19th Century Sheffeys in Virginia. Google gave me an intriguing result for dear old Hugh in an obscure book entitled Twelve Virginia Counties: Where the Western Migration Began written in 1937 by John Hastings Gwathmey: http://books.google.com/books?id=K4DAJq2MF80C&pg=PA397&lpg=PA397&dq=hugh+white+sheffey+portrait+picture&source=bl&ots=q6tqTwejVx&sig=B6r-15sn8U2YfuBti840KWnb788&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Y_w7U56jB7jLsATAx4KIAg&ved=0CCoQ6AEwADgK#v=onepage&q=hugh%20white%20sheffey%20portrait%20picture&f=false

There’s an entry for Hugh Sheffey. In writing about the various portraits of judges which hang in the Staunton Court House in Augusta County, Virginia, which reads: “The other portraits in the courtroom are likenesses of the following men, all judges and lawyers who practiced at the Augusta bar: …Hugh W. Sheffey (1815-1889)…”

This was pretty cool to find. As far as I know – and as far as many of my extended family members know – there were no known images or photos of this man. There wasn’t a single image of him online. No one on Ancestry.com had one. And a flurry of conversations on Facebook yielded no results. Simply put, no one in the length and breadth of the Sheffey family knew what this man looked like.  So I sent an exceedingly polite email to the Clerk of the Staunton Court House asking, if at all possible, could he or she take a photo of the portrait of Hugh and email it to me. The Clerk not only took a picture of Hugh’s portrait…he emailed it to me the very next day (again, a huge thank you for that!) And here it is:

Portrait of Judge Hugh White Sheffey

The portrait of Judge Hugh White Sheffey which hangs in the courtroom of the Staunton Courthouse in Virginia. Image courtesy of the Court Clerk, who kindly took a picture of the portrait for me.

This image of him sent me down the rabbit hole. I wanted to find out more about the man behind the portrait. To say I hit pay-dirt is an understatement. I came across a self-penned biography he provided for his Alma Mater, Yale University.

Hugh Sheffey’s Autobiography

Hugh White Sheffey autobiographyin Yale Alumnus Magazine http://books.google.com/books?id=1JEDAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA141&dq=hugh+white+sheffey&hl=en&sa=X&ei=cz47U6XMDOHQsQTV2YDwCg&ved=0CEkQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=hugh%20white%20sheffey&f=false

The impression which struck me as I read the history that he relayed was one of a humble, modest and diligent man. Hugh was the grandson of German immigrants Johann Adam Scheffe (John Adam Sheffey) and Maria Magdalena Loehr (Madeleine Lohr Sheffey). Born in 1815, he was one of five children born to Henry Lawrence Sheffey and Margaret White. He was orphaned at a young age and, went to live with one of his uncles, Major Daniel Henry Sheffey and his wife, Maria Hanson at Kalorama, the name of Daniel Sheffey’s home in Staunton, Virginia. His siblings were sent to live with other aunts and uncles.

Kalorama - Daniel Henry Sheff's home

Kalorama (upper left in the picture) – Daniel Henry Sheffey’s home in Satunton, Virginia. This was Hugh’s adopted childhood home. Maria Hanson Sheffey, Daniel’s widow, founded The Virginia Female Institute here in 1831. The property was destroyed in 1870.

What emerges is a story of a loving and profoundly nurturing childhood household reflected in the terms of endearment he uses for his father-uncle and mother-aunt. The parents of daughters, Daniel and Maria treated Hugh literally like the son they never had.

This was a deeply political household. Daniel Sheffey was an old fashioned Federalist and had served in Congress from 1816 to 1817. He’d been an outspoken opponent of the War of 1812. Roughly speaking, as a federalist Daniel believed in a decentralized form of central government which he felt was necessary in order to safeguard the liberty and independence that the American Revolution had created and the American Constitution would enshrine (an interesting historical factoid: it took YEARS for the American Constitution to be ratified. It was largely ratified due to the ceaseless campaigning efforts of the Federalist Party). For more information about Federalism, see http://www.ushistory.org/us/16a.asp

Daniel was also a highly respected lawyer.

I believe the measure of regard Hugh had his for his Uncle Daniel is easily witnessed throughout his life; how he conducted it, his ideals and the concepts he fought for. He too became a legal practitioner, eventually becoming a respected Judge. He too became a politician. By his time, the Federalist political party had dissolved. Hugh was an American Whig. Let’s think of the Whig party as the son of the former Federalist Party. They fundamentally shared the same concerns, goals, causes and philosophies. Both parties tended to support protectionist tariffs, development of infrastructure, particularly canals, and tended to favor northern business interests over farming interests. William Blair’s book Virginia’s Private War: Feeding Body and Soul in the Confederacy, 1861-1865 gives a small insight into Hugh’s Whig beliefs:

William Blair’s book Virginia's Private War: Feeding Body and Soul in the Confederacy, 1861-1865http://books.google.com/books?id=kYcI5nuza2EC&pg=PA115&lpg=PA115&dq=hugh+sheffey,+slave+schedule&source=bl&ots=wSbMWBHZug&sig=3xg_tl5jZlEqI9zofJJsBVRsGKU&hl=en&sa=X&ei=s1A7U4qXG_DgsATRo4BI&ved=0CD4Q6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=sheffey&f=false

New England & The Civil War

Daniel attended Yale University where, by all accounts, he excelled academically. Indeed, he returned to lecture in law for a number of years. And here lays the basis of a fundamental question I would love to go back in time to ask Hugh.

Hugh was a southerner – and not just any old southerner but a Virginian – living in the New England heartland. He came from a family of modest wealth…but a slave owning family nonetheless. Now New England was never the bastion of freedom for free blacks that we’ve been led to believe from American history classes. Far from it. Slavery persisted in New England far longer than I was ever led to believe. And a system of apartheid existed between the end of the Revolutionary War and the commencement of the American Civil War. Yet, when Hugh attended Yale, there was a slow-growing abolitionist movement. There isn’t anything in his writing to indicate the subject of slavery troubled his mind while a student at Yale. What I do find interesting is there is no mention of slavery, or his own ownership of slaves in his short autobiography. It is a glaring omission and, I believe, hints at his own unease.

Hugh White Sheffey 1860 Slave Schedule

Hugh White Sheffey 1860 Slave Schedule – click for larger image

New England left an indelible mark on Hugh. When Civil war eventually broke out he was torn between his Old Dominion roots and his own family’s standing within that society, and his loyalty to the Union. I have no doubt that he understood and appreciated the southern complaint and perhaps supported parts of that complaint. He did not, however, agree or support succession. He was an outspoken opponent against southern succession. He went so far as to move from his beloved Virginia to West Virginia (Wakelyn, Jon L. 2002. Confederates Against the Confederacy: Essays on Leadership and Loyalty http://books.google.com/books?id=6fbOpB21OvYC&pg=PA39&dq=hugh+white+sheffey&hl=en&sa=X&ei=6kA7U527K47MsQS16oLgDQ&ved=0CCwQ6AEwADgK#v=onepage&q=sheffey&f=false ) to illustrate his belief in the ideal of Union, which his grandfather and his uncles had fought to establish in the American Revolution. I don’t envy his predicament.

This doesn’t appear to have gone against him within Virginian society when the Civil war ended. Indeed, he fashioned himself something of a diplomat between the old Commonwealth of Virginia and the Union. He remained a resident of Staunton and Wythe in Virginia and was a prominent Virginian. He covers this with candour in his autobiography.

I keep coming back to the issue of slavery and how the institution of slavery was at odds with many of his fundamental beliefs and life experiences. I don’t know how he came by his slaves. My gut instinct – which, of course, requires verification – is that he inherited them. Given how much of his history I’ve read, I am surprised he didn’t free them before the close of the Civil War. I’d love to ask him why he didn’t– not in an accusatory way. This was a highly intelligent man of conscience, sense and sensibility. He possessed those classic Sheffey family traits: a free thinker who wasn’t afraid to swim against the populist tide. No, I’d much rather ask to understand his thinking. He had a reason.

My thoughts on this are pretty simple. I think that understanding Hugh’s conundrum will help me finally understand the reason behind the depths of the bonds which linked the African and European descended sides of this family over the two generations of its slave owning history. What was the bond which saw African descended and mulatto Sheffeys risk their lives to save European descended Sheffey family members and their property? And what was behind the custom of so many within the extended European descended Sheffey family bending over backwards to ensure that the slaves they owned (kinsmen or not) were kept together as a family generation after generation? What was the nature of that bond that would tie these two family groups together well into the 1940s?

I can’t help but feel that Hugh White Sheffey is a key to this enigma.

In the meantime, Hugh has introduced me to facets of American history I previously didn’t know anything about. I’m currently doing some extensive reading on the Federalist and Whig parties, as well as other American political parties that existed in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Did you know that at the close of the American Revolution there were over 100 political parties in the thirteen states? No? Me neither. Even more interesting is understanding that the issues, challenges, problems and ideals which were fought over amongst this myriad of parties at the dawn of the birth of the USA were never resolved and echoes down to us in the here and now.

What a rabbit hole.

More information about Hugh White Sheffey:

Waddell, Joseph Addison. 1866. Annals of Augusta County, Virginia: With Reminiscences Illustrative of the Vicissitudes of Its Pioneer Settlers ; Biographical Sketches of Citizens Locally Prominent, and of Those who Have Founded Families in the Southern and Western States ; a Diary of the War, 1861-‘5, and a Chapter on Reconstruction http://books.google.com/books?id=3CGsmBhZr3cC&pg=PA184&dq=hugh+white+sheffey&hl=en&sa=X&ei=cz47U6XMDOHQsQTV2YDwCg&ved=0CDwQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=hugh%20white%20sheffey&f=false

Pushing the clock back for your slave ancestors

Your search for African American ancestors needn’t end at 1860 or 1850.  Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org have marriage records you can access.  And these can be a goldmine of information.  After the Civil War, marriage records for freed slaves and their children were registered.  When I accessed these records, I found the names of ancestors I’d been searching for but couldn’t find any other way.  For instance, the mother of  my great-grandfather Daniel Sheffey.

I couldn’t find his mother’s Christian Name, much less her Surname.  She didn’t live with him or his family in the 1870, 1880 or 1900 Census returns. Therefore, her name wasn’t recorded with theirs.  I didn’t have a name to search for and couldn’t find any information about her in any of the census records.  I only found her when I searched for Daniel’s marriage records.

https://www.familysearch.org/s/recordDetails/show?uri=http%3A%2F%2Fpilot.familysearch.org%2Frecords%2Ftrk%3A%2Ffsrs%2Frr_798499745%2Fp1&hash=HloWXpZgU9zB10k5M56iYku8TUc%253D

This record produced a goldmine of information.  It gave the name of Daniel’s mother, Margaret Clark.  It also gave his wife’s maiden name (before this, I only knew her as Jane A. without a Surname) – and it gave the names of Jane’s parents (born in the 1820s – so I’d taken this slave ancestry journey well beyond 1850).  This meant I could do a family search on Mr & Mrs White in the 1870’s census in order to find Jane’s siblings.  I did a quick search on the White family and found them and their children in the 1860 and 1850 Slave Schedules too!

Last, but not least, the marriage record confirmed the name of Daniel’s father (which I knew already but was happy to have verified by another source – more about this in another post).

So one marriage record filled in quite a few blanks…and opened up new avenues.

The last interesting bit of information was that Daniel is listed as being ‘divorced’ in this record. Out of curiosity, I spelt Daniel’s name a slightly different way (using Daniel Sheffy instead of Daniel Sheffey) and discovered he had indeed been married before. Which answered a question I’d had about why there was such a large gap between his firstborn child and subsequent children with Jane White.

This research also proved another thing for me.  My paternal grandfather’s family had deep roots in Wythe County, Virginia.

Another source of ancestral information is Freedman’s Bank records. Just like it sounds, Freedman’s Bank was established at the end of the Civil War for freed slaves.  Why is it important?  Freed slaves typically listed other family members when they opened up accounts.  It sounds  a bit like ‘Big Brother’.  However, in terms of genealogy, it’s another great source of family information.

You can find out more about it and its records here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedman%27s_Savings_Bank

Getting to grips with the 1850 & 1860 Slave Schedule census – Part 2

What’s the detective work when searching for your ancestors in the Slave Schedules?

A bit of background is needed:  Joe Blogs got his surname in one of two ways: he (or one of his ancestors) was a direct blood descendant of a white farmer or plantation owner. So he (or his ancestor) took that family’s name as their own.  Alternatively, Joe Bloggs just assumed the name upon being freed.

The next step is to look for white slave owning Bloggs in Wythe, Virginia.  You can do this on FamilySearch.org or Ancestry.com – both have 1850 & 1860 Slave Schedules.  If you’re lucky, there will only be one or two Blogg families in Wythe who owned slaves. For this example, there was only one.

In the list of slaves on the 1860 Slave Census, you will be looking for a black male aged 33 (or close to this age). With luck he’ll be there.  If not, look at other slave holding families who lived near or around the white Mr (or Ms – because women owned slaves too!) Bloggs. If you haven’t found your ancestor via this route, there is a link at the bottom of this post with information about other routes you can try.  So don’t give up!

In this instance, we’re going to say that you did find a black male aged 33 listed as a slave of a Mr Daniel Bloggs.  That slave now has a name – the ancestor you were looking for.

So we do the same thing for the 1850 Census Slave Schedule; this time bearing in mind that Joe Bloggs would be 23.

Now if your ancestor Joe Bloggs was married to Jane, aged 42, in the 1870 census with children (say he had a son aged 11, a daughter aged 14 and another son aged 20) you can probably find them on the same census records.

So here goes:

You found Joe Bloggs in the 1860 census.  He was the 33 year old Black male.  There is a female slave with an age of 32, a 1 year old male, a 4 year old female and a 10 year old male – you have probably found Joe Blogg’s wife and children.

Going back to 1850, you found a 23 year old male (Joe Bloggs).  Along with him, there is a 22 year old female, and a 5 month old infant.  Again, you have probably found his wife and eldest son.  So it’s safe to give them names.

The above examples work very well with farms and plantations with a small number of slaves – anything up to 10 or 12.  It’s not impossible to do with larger plantations – just more time consuming.

Have a look at a 1860 Slave Census from 1860:

a blank Slave Schedule

An example of a Slave Schedule

So what happens if you want to go further back than 1850?  Catch the next post for some tips and tricks.

Here’s a link to a great article with more tips on how to use the 1850 & 1860 Slave Schedules:  http://www.webarchaeology.com/html/slavschd.htm

Getting to grips with the 1850 & 1860 Slave Schedule census – Part 1

If you’re an African American, the chances are you will come up against Slave Schedule census records for 1850 and 1860.  Precious few African Americans can avoid them.  While these census records offer some challenges, it needn’t mean your ancestral search has to end with them.  If you can trace your ancestors to 1870, depending on their age, there is a very strong likelihood that you can find them in one or both of these Slave Schedules.

For instance, let’s say that your ancestor Joe Bloggs appears on the 1870 census (let’s use census returns for Wythe County, Virginia  as an example) as a 43 year old black male. There are some good clues here for you to work with:

  1. Year of birth:  If Joe Bloggs is 33 in 1870, that would make his birth year around 1837/36.  Age and birth years aren’t always recorded accurately in census records, but they do give you a ball park.  If you have to choose two people with the same name in the same county, Joe Bloggs with a birth year of 1820 won’t be the person you’re looking for.
  2. His age:  he would be 33 years old in 1860 and 23 years old in 1850
  3. His race: he is cited as ‘black’ and not ‘mulatto’.  While this factor isn’t always consistent across census years, it’s still a good clue to keep in mind.  You will come across people sharing the same name.  Any difference between them will help you eliminate people in your search.
  4. The county: If you find that your ancestors were living in the same country between 1920 back through to 1870, then that county is more than likely where your earlier ancestors came from too.  While there were those in the South who left their birth counties after the Civil War, many stayed.  And oftentimes, they stayed in the area where they were born.

So let’s say your Blogg ancestors lived in Whythe County, Virginia from 1920 through to 1870.  So given a choice between two Joe Blogs with similar ages but one lives in Wythe Country and the other one lives in King William County –  the chances are the one in King William County is not the person you’re looking for.

So these are clues worth bearing in mind when we reach the year 1860. The census for 1860 was the last of its kind.  Your ancestor will appear in what’s called a Slave Schedule.   Slave censuses listed slave owners by name – and slaves by gender, colour (Black or Mulatto are the only two signifiers) and age. Slave name very, very rarely appear.

Here’s an example of a Slave Schedule: http://c.mfcreative.com/pdf/trees/charts/1860Slave.pdf

If the names of slaves aren’t given on the census, then how do you find your ancestor?  You use the four clues given above, some simple math to calculate ages, and a bit of detective work.

More on the detective work bit in the next post!

Taking those first few steps

Every adventure begins with the first step.  I’d taken mine when I’d started tinkering around with Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. My next step was also a pretty simple one.  Two parents meant four different families to research.  Which one first?  I’d already decided to limit my search to just one family.  I had a feeling that keeping track of potentially hundreds of names from one family would be enough of a challenge.  I didn’t feel up to the task of keeping tracks of names and dates for more than one family at a time.

My decision was an easy one.  I already had two generations of Sheffey’s.  It made sense to limit myself to the Sheffey family tree. Two generations had already yielded 11 people: my paternal grandfather, his seven brothers and sisters and his father, Daniel Sheffey. This quick search had already taken me back to 1844, the year Daniel Sheffey was born.  This information came from the 1880 Census for Wythe, Virginia.

Census returns can be a blessing and a source of frustration. It is the proverbial double edge sword.  However, they can provide essential clues. The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries had a rigid classification system for blacks. While inconsistently applied, the word ‘Mulatto’ did have significance, especially on census returns.  The word ‘Mulatto’ appeared against the entries for Daniel Henry Sheffey and his children.  This signified that at some point I would come across White ancestors. I’ll explain in a future post about how you can use citations of ‘Black’ and ‘Mulatto’ to assess whether or not two family groups sharing the same surname are directly related – or not.

The spelling of Christian names and surnames can be equally funny and frustrating.  I don’t know what talents or experience a Nineteenth Century census taker needed to get the job.  Spelling doesn’t seem to have been a requirement. And they don’t seem to have been inclined to ask how names were spelled  So a name like Absolom can appear as Absalam, Absolam or Abslam.  So across a number of census returns, the same person can have his or her name spelled in many different ways.  I’ll share some tips about this too in the future.

There are other clues to help you as you take your first steps in searching your family’s roots:  date of birth, county of birth, county of residence to name a few.  I’ll do a few posts to explain how and why each of these are important.

So my first steps started with Daniel Sheffey, a Mulatto born 1844 in Wytheville, Virginia, and his children. Finding details about his parents was the first priority.