When black and white DNA cousins meet online: A tale of two very different experiences

Genealogy is an adventure. There is no two ways about it. The adventure was something I mentally and spiritually prepared myself for prior to diving in at the deep end. I’ll explain.

Approaching genealogy like it’s a Norman Rockwell painting is never a good idea.

maxresdefault

Credit: Freedom from Want | Norman Rockwell | Oil on canvas | 1943 Story Illustration for the Saturday Evening Post | SEPS Norman Rockwell Museum Collection

It isn’t. Picture perfect genealogy doesn’t exist. Our ancestors and ancestral kin were real people. They lived. They breathed. They flourished…and they made mistakes. They had their strengths. They equally had their faults and shortcomings. They were human and, as such, they were subject to the same foibles, pressures, life events, choices and decisions, and predilections as any other human being.

I knew before I began this journey that I was going to have a multitude of white relations who would be utterly unknown to me. How? From my complexion, my freckles, my hair, and just about every other external aspect of my being…there was more than enough evidence of it. If I had any doubts, all I need do is to look at the wide circle of my immediate family. The evidence of numerous cross-ethnic unions down the generations abound.

shared-cm-project-image-2

Credit: from The Genetic Genealogist via Visualizing Data From the Shared cM Project, https://thegeneticgenealogist.com/2015/05/29/visualizing-data-from-the-shared-cm-project/

So I was prepped and ready. While I didn’t have a name for a single white ancestor in my direct line before I began my journey, I knew that DNA testing would eventually uncover the identities of my unknown white forebearers. And it has, more than I could have ever imagined, much less anticipated.

On the whole, it has been a positive and affirming experience. It’s certainly underscored various family quirks. I will also admit that I was exceedingly spoiled when it came to meeting my first groups of white DNA cousins on the Sheffey and Roane sides of my father’s family, both online and in person. The words ‘warm’ and ‘welcoming’ don’t adequately describe how I was greeted. They will do for the time being. Were those initial exchanges awkward in the beginning? Yes, in all honesty, but only for a hot minute. The author of that initial feeling will always centre around the how’s and why’s of how we’re related: slavery. Yet, we immediately found common ground. And in the intervening years since we first met? We have a genuine fondness for one another. We are family. So I kind of relaxed into a mood that other white DNA cousins would be equally receptive and welcoming. However, America being America, that halcyon experience didn’t last for long.

When it came to white family members I shared deep roots with in Virginia, North Carolina, and the Quaker communities that dotted the US Eastern seaboard, my experience in meeting cousins from a different ethnic group was truly pleasant. However, cousins who came from states to the south of North Carolina, that experience was split between it being 40% positive, and 60% negative. Those numbers haven’t changed much over the past few years. Given the current zeitgeist in America around the subject or race and race identity/politics, the negative responses have verged on the outright hostile.

I’ll always remember my first negative reaction from a white DNA cousin in South Carolina. She was adamant that she wasn’t related to black people. She even went as far as to suggest that AncestryDNA had swapped my DNA test with someone else. I was far from being the first person this individual said this to. While she wasn’t directly hostile, it was clear she just wasn’t having it. I found this curious at the time. If you know you come from a long line of American chattel slavery enslavers, you ought to be prepared – especially if you do DNA testing – to discover relations who are people of color. Truly, that shouldn’t come as a scud missile to your reality. Nor should a person act like that this is the worst news they have ever heard in the entirety of their lives. As someone who has experienced four miscarriages with a partner, two of them being late term, discovering you have relations who are people of color doesn’t even register on the pain stakes. An awkward experience? Perhaps. I’ll give you that. The worst experience ever? No. Far from it.

I can’t speak from the other side of the coin. For my own part, I have always been open and receptive to white DNA cousins who introduce themselves. That’s just me. I can’t speak about negative reactions from people of color towards newly found white DNA cousins. I don’t doubt that this happens. It’s merely a situation I haven’t come across within my own family.

Let’s fast forward to the past four weeks. I have had two starkly different reactions from white Holloway DNA cousins. The first ran along the lines of my Sheffey, Price, and Roane cousins. She wasn’t fazed in the least. So much so that she felt comfortable enough to send a Facebook invite, which I accepted. I’m certainly looking forward to chatting more in depth about our mutual Holloways. That’s the way it ought to go.

Then there was my second experience with a Holloway family descendant from a different Holloway family line. Ms K sent a fairly passive-aggressive message to me in Ancestry. I can only guess that she felt the message she sent me was perfectly normal and acceptable. You can decide for yourself. Her request was absolutely unambiguous: “Please remove all details of my family’s line from your tree. I don’t want anyone to know I’m related to black people.” I had to re-write my response a few times before I sent it. My first reaction veered towards the “Hell no” variety of response. I was offended and outraged. This was my family too. Thorough research on the Holloways will enable me and the GA team to do some overdue DNA segmenting analysis in order to break through some very stubborn Holloway family brick walls. The more lines you have to work with, the better able you are to do the genetic work needed to tackle this monumental task.

Instead, I counted to ten, took a few deep breaths, and merely responded with: “Sorry, love, but this is my family too. I can’t help how you feel about having black relations. You’re just going to have to wrap your head around it.”

If I could be bothered to do so, I’d try to wrap my head around what the fear factor is with this brand of knee-jerk reaction. I am not looking to be added to Christmas card lists. I don’t expect birthday presents. Nor am I going to hit anyone up about paying my student loan. There is nothing that Ms K, nor those like her, has that I want or need…apart from information. Information is the only thing of value that individuals like Ms K might have. Items like slavery-era probate records that a family member might still have. Or slave deeds. Or old family pictures with black household members who might be my ancestors, or ancestral kin, who were enslaved by their family during slavery, or worked for them after Emancipation. Or information about members of the enslaved families held by their ancestors. You know, fairly basic things that would make my genealogical research a far easier process. That’s pretty much it.

Even better is finding out about family quirks and characteristics. For instance, I can say beyond a shadow of doubt that I get my sense of determination, entrepreneurialism, pioneering spirit, drive to succeed, and hard graft from my Quaker ancestors. I’d say the same thing for my sister and a whole host of first cousins I’ve known all of my life. I probably inherited my sense of humanitarianism from my Quaker ancestors too. My political views are absolutely Sheffey in nature. I’m going to embarrass them, but my Sheffeys re-affirm my belief in decency and basic goodness. I also couldn’t imagine life without my cousin Bill Sheffey. There isn’t a day that he doesn’t crack me up with laughter online. I simply couldn’t imagine life without them.

tennessee-mountains-wallpaper-wallpaper-1

I would have never imagined myself chatting on the phone with an elderly Roane cousin from Tennessee who describes himself as a mountain man redneck. I look forward to our monthly chats on the phone. He too is an endless source of good-natured humor and running commentary on day-to-day affairs in the US.

Where did I get my eye for finely made things and my sociability? That’s pure and undiluted Roane. My belief in humanism? That probably comes from so many of the American founding fathers I am either directly descended from or related to (and yes, I openly acknowledge the cognitive dissonance between those founding fathers who were enslavers and their belief in humanism during The Enlightenment). Where did my quick-fire temper come from? Ohh, that’s definitely and undeniably Edgefield County, South Carolina…which I’m guessing sits next to my Scottish and Irish side. That last one has actually spawned a new saying: ‘Don’t make me go Edgefield. You won’t like me if I go Edgefield’. If you don’t know what that means, do a little reading on my ancestor Representative Preston Brooks (D, SC).

I can’t neglect my African-descended ancestors. From those I have researched, studied, and come to know, I inherited an endless resilience, mental fortitude and strength, as well as a dedication towards striving for a better future. You don’t survive 245 years of chattel slavery without these characteristics.

Learning about, and understanding, the various traits I’ve inherited enables me to better understand myself. That’s always a cool thing.

Perhaps, just perhaps, acknowledging you have relations from an ethnicity other than yours will be one way America can demolish a seemingly insurmountable wall of difference and “othering”.

It all begins by conversing.

Advertisements

Will the real parents of Reuben Holloway (1740-1806) please stand up?

I have a gentleman in my family’s ancestry who is causing myself, and the whole Genealogy Adventures team, one enormous headache. He is my 6x great grandfather, Reuben Holloway. He falls on my mother’s maternal side of the family tree. His story is typical. While we know quite a bit about his life in Edgefield, we know little about his life before he arrived in that county. We know nothing about his childhood.

The problem with Reuben has everything to do with correctly identifying his parents.

Years and years ago, when I first discovered I was a direct descendant of Reuben and his wife, Peninah Jordan, I came across a Holloway family lineage book which claimed that Reuben was the son of a David Holloway (1664-1732) and Elizabeth Frances Matthews (1671-1736).

David Holloway

Click for larger image

David and Elizabeth were born and died in Charles River, York County, Virginia. Like any genealogy newbie, I was naïve. I figured every lineage book had been vetted and was correct. And, yes, that dozens upon dozens of family trees couldn’t possibly be wrong. So I duly added David and Elizabeth as Reuben’s parents and didn’t think anything more about it.

Then I took an autosomal DNA test. Yep, Pandora’s box got opened!

Pandoras-Box.jpg

Reuben was one of the first people I wanted to check to see if I shared DNA matches with his other descendants. I did. Around two dozen of his descendants appeared as distant DNA cousins. With cMs in the 3.5 to 3.9 range, the match, in terms of generational time, these DNA cousin matches lined up perfectly. Triangulating DNA segments with some of these descendants who were kind enough to let the team work with their DNA results, as well as my own results, sealed the deal. However, all of these DNA matches ended with Reuben and Peninah. I had zero matches for descendants of David Holloway. I did, however, share DNA with David’s descendants through his wife, France Elizabeth Matthews. The reason was simple. Elizabeth Frances was an ancestral cousin via my mother’s Matthews/Mathis family. The lack of matches via David really made the whole team scratch its head. There were questions after questions after questions.

Further DNA work, which required us to drop matching cMs down to 3.0 cMs, revealed that David was indeed a cousin. However, the matching cMs were small with regards to his Holloway descendants. Tiny, actually – ranging from 3.0 to 3.3 cMs. Dropping cMs this low is contentious; and rightfully so. When you drop cMs this low, you run a very high risk of getting false positive DNA match results. However, when you are looking at common ancestors who lived in the early-to-mid 1600’s, you have to work with small DNA segments. Nevertheless, you really need to understand what you are looking at in terms of tiny DNA segments in order to gauge if that small matching segment is correct and/or relevant. This is what I (heavily) rely on my genetic genealogists to determine.

The common ancestral link between myself and David goes back at least another two generations. One thing became immediately apparent: David and Elizabeth Frances couldn’t be the parents of Reuben. Instead, David Holloway would have been Reuben Holloway’s cousin. In all probability, they were second cousins. That is where things seem to stand at the moment

So…once we ruled David and Elizabeth Frances out as the parents of Reuben, there was one question left. Who were the actual parents of Reuben?

In the course of doing deep research on Reuben’s origins, we stumbled across an old Holloway lineage book Genealogy of the Holloway Families written by Dr Olin E Holloway which was published in 1927. This book is available for research via Ancestry.com. Naturally, we eagerly dove into the book in the hopes of finding Reuben. We found plenty of Reubens…but not my 6x great grandfather. However, what we did find was highly illuminating. With regards to the Holloways detailed in this book, Reuben was far from being an uncommon name for this Holloway family group. Which was telling. It was telling for a simple reason: there weren’t known Reubens in the David and Elizabeth Frances Holloway line.

I have a quick caveat. While there are small errors in the book regarding the spellings of some names, and other small errors, the lineages covered in this book are correct. At least so far – and we’re two-thirds of the way working through this book. Countless records support the information Dr Olin Holloway uncovered in the course of his research.

A few things became clear. The Holloways in the book arrived in the American colonies as Quakers, which is what we expected. So that was some good information to confirm. These Holloways married into the same Quaker families who figure so largely in my family’s ancestry, families such as: Heald, Harlan, Ewing, Poole, Hollingsworth, Hoopes, and Mendenhall. While this was good to confirm, the genetic genealogists groaned. This line too had centuries of heavy endogamy, or generations of cousin marriages within the Quaker community stretching all the way back to northern Ireland, and then further back in the western shires of England and Wales. With all of this shared DNA going back centuries, DNA segment work was going to be far, far, far from easy. To give you an idea, I match one descendant of Reuben and Peninah on 11 different chromosomes. This means we share more than one set of common ancestors. Most, if not all, of these matches will be the Quaker families we share in common. Applying ancestral family names to each match segment is going to require a herculean amount of painstaking work.

The other thing that became instantly clear was the first names used by the Holloways in this book. Certain names leapt out. I had seen them widely and commonly used in my own Edgefield Holloway family on both the black and white sides of the family. The work began in earnest to uncover who Reuben’s parents might be.

While the rest of the team tackled reading through the lineage book, I began to dig into my Holloway matches on AncestryDNA, Genebase, Gedmatch, and FamilyTreeDNA. One gentleman continued to surface among many of my confirmed Holloway DNA matches: George Holloway I, who was born in Burlington County, New Jersey at some time around 1710, and who died in Brunswick, York, Virginia in 1778. Now for the tricky bit. There are as many George Holloways who were born around 1710 living in Virginia as there are grains of sand on the beach. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. However, there are times where that’s exactly how the team feels. This makes it a hard name to research.

George Holloway

Click for larger image

The second issue we have faced is the wife of this George Holloway, Ruth Woods, who was also born around 1710 in Little Compton, Newport, Rhode Island, USA, and died in 1776 in Burlington, New Jersey. The problem with Ruth is straightforward. Some of my DNA matches, including my sister, have DNA cousin matches with Ruth’s Woods family. Others do not. At present, it’s 50/50 between those who match her descendants and extended family, and those who do not. I fall into the category of those who do not show any matches with her family. It’s the ole autosomal DNA inheritance lottery. Which is why you should test as many family members as possible. At the moment, I’m hoping my maternal aunt’s DNA results (which I am impatiently waiting for) will seal the deal. Just a note: everyone matches Ruth’s husband, George.

So, while we await the results of my aunt’s DNA test, the team is also investigating George’s brothers as the possible father of Reuben…just to be thorough. There should be a classic genealogy hashtag, something like #NoStoneUnturned!

At the moment, we know we are looking at the correct family group where Reuben is concerned. There are two misgivings. The first is that Reuben is never mentioned in any of the probate records found to-date for Ruth or George. The second? We can’t find a baptism record for him in York or Brunswick Counties in Virginia. Basic things like these always makes me uneasy.

Let’s back up for a minute. We know that Reuben arrived in Edgefield County, South Carolina from Virginia. We know he married Peninah Jordan in Brunswick County, Virginia in 1764 via their marriage records. Their three eldest children were born in Virginia, which we confirmed through baptismal records. They were in Edgefield County by 1773, where their daughter, Keziah, was born.

Reuben didn’t arrive in Edgefield alone. He removed himself from Virginia with a whole host of Holloway cousins from Virginia just before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. If George and Peninah are truly his parents, Reuben would have also arrived in Edgefield with some of his siblings. Again, this all initially points to this specific group of Holloways as being Reuben’s immediate and close kin.

On the up-side, my sister and I, as well as other DNA cousins, are matching descendants of George Holloway’s parents (John Holloway and Mary Pharo), as well as John Holloway’s parents (Thomas Holloway and Anne Gartery), and Mary Pharo’s parents ( James Farra/Pharo and Mary Ann Murfin). As we dig more deeply into this branch, another picture is coming into focus. As much as this family group married into known and confirmed ancestral Quaker families – it also married into Quaker families neither I nor my researchers have ever come across before in the course of our research. Tracing these new Quaker family lines back anywhere from 5 to 8 generations show no known connection with the Quaker families my Harlans and Holloways married. In short, these new Quaker lines are stand-alone lines with no known links to any other families in my tree. We hope these stand-alone ancestral lines will help in the DNA segment matching work that needs to be done.

While we have answered some questions where George is concerned, much remains to be done. Hence the caveats we have put in George’s Ancestry.com profile.

Reben comments

The Genealogy Adventures team puts alerts like **See Comment** in profiles where a person’s ancestry is subject of speculation, or requires additional research. It really is best practice. It alerts other researchers that there is either an issue, or that more work needs to be done. People will still blindly copy what we have in our tree. However, we do all we can to place such alerts on the Genealogy Adventures public tree.

reuben's comments 2

The above is an example of the information we provide for other researchers to let them know the conclusions we have drawn, why/how we have drawn them, and to open up dialogue from other people researching the same families. Doing this – and being 100% transparent – has led to remarkable finds, clarification, and missing documentation being discovered.

This is a practice I wish more online genealogy service users would do. Yes, others will blindly add people with question marks into their tree. However, as genealogists, all we can do is be transparent and state that there are questions around a person’s parentage.

Using maps in your genealogy research

There are times I wish I could clone myself. This is one of those times. My apologies for slowing down on the writing front. I’m in the midst of promoting a new book from my cousin Donya Williams, Comes to the Light.  It’s a creatively written Non-Fiction/Social History book about some of our Edgefield County, South Carolina ancestors. You can find out more about the book here https://www.facebook.com/comestothelight

So it’s been an “all hands to the pump” period. This hasn’t left me much time for my own research. Or for writing.  Of course, I made an intriguing discovery about my Edgefield, South Carolina Quaker-descended Holloway family just before starting the book’s promotional campaign . I’d definitely have one clone carry on that with. It will have to wait.  Still, I can’t wait to share my findings about that discovery.

In the meantime, I thought I would share a quick article about maps…and how you can use them as part of your genealogical research practice.

I spent a hot minute or three chatting about how I use maps during my keynote talk at the Le Comité des Archives de la Louisian hosted genealogy conference in Lafayette, Louisiana.

My first stop during this part of my talk was introducing how I used maps to research my different enslaved Sheffey ancestral groups in southwest Virginia:

Slide1

Map illustrating where different African American Sheffey groups were located in southwest Virginia between 1790 and 1865.  Click for larger image.

Plotting where each group of enslaved Sheffeys lived prior to 1865 better enabled me to understand the relationships between these different groups within the extended family. These relationships were reflected in the 1870 and 1880 Census returns. I could see marriages between these different groups. Marriage and death records showed how these various Sheffey groups married one another. The family bond was strong, largely due to remaining in place for such a long period of time.

I also tend to be a very visual person in terms of engaging and understanding data and information.  The map above was the perfect visualization tool. Plus, in terms of public speaking, maps are just a great tool tool for conveying information.

The map below was also part of the same talk. This map outlines Moses William’s journey from Virginia, to North Carolina, to South Carolina from the time of his birth in 1765 in Virginia to his death in 1884 in South Carolina.

Slide6

The story of Moses’ journey in slavery from Virginia to North and South Carolina illustrated in a simple map.

Each point on the map represents a know period in Moses’ life – a story that’s still being researched.  It’s one thing to simply rattle of a quick list of places where he lived. It’s quite another to see the distances his journey covered during his lifetime.

The Sheffey and Moses Williams maps were pretty easy to do using Google Maps (https://www.google.com/maps) This article steps you through the process: How To Pin Point Multiple Locations On Google Maps via https://www.create.net/support/218-how-to-pin-point-multiple-locations-on-google-maps.html

The last set of maps I used in my talk were related to genetic genealogy:

Slide2

A map illustrating the journey the African portion of my YDNA underwent within Africa. Click for a larger image

Slide3

A map illustrating the journey the African portion of my mtDNA underwent within Africa. Click for a larger image

Slide4

A map illustrating the journey the African portion of my father’s mtDNA underwent within Africa. Click for a larger image

It’s one thing to recite a list of countries that formed each one of these epic DNA journies. It’s quite another to throw an image on the screen that brings that story to life.

Another kind of map that is very useful in our research work are property and state/county boundary maps. The Carolina’s are a perfect example.  As genealogists, we have to remember the boundaries we recognize today aren’t anything like the boundaries our ancestors from a hundred years ago – or more – would have recognized.

1696s32

Map displaying the Carolinas as a single territory. Click for larger image

34393

An early map displaying a nascent North and South Carolina. Click for larger image

sc-districts

This map gives you an idea of how dramatically South Carolina’s county boundaries changed from their first iteration. The original boundaries are illustrated by the thick, black lines.  The modern counties are shown with the thin lines.  Click for larger image

State and county boundary lines have undergone enormous changes throughout the course of the Carolinas’ history.  From the earliest existence of the Carolina territory, to its being split between North and South Carolina – to the formation of the North and South Carolina state and county boundaries we recognize today – boundaries roamed around quite a bit.

To put this into context, there were times when I thought some of my Carolinian ancestors had extreme wanderlust. Between 1790 and 1830, they seemed to bounce back and forth between North and South Carolina (or South Carolina and northern Georgia) – or bounced around different counties within the same state.  Not a bit of it. They actually stayed on the same patch of land they always had.  It was the state and/or county boundaries that changed dramatically over time. Referring back to state and county boundary maps enables me to make sense of this.

This is a perfect example: I frequently come across death certificates for my Edgefield-born ancestors who were born in the 1870s and 1880s and died in neighboring Greenwood County, South Carolina in the 1900s. The informant for the death certificate typically put Greenwood as the county of the deceased person’s county of birth. However Greenwood, as a county, didn’t exist until 1897.  Part of it was carved out of Edgefield County. In fact, the deceased was born in Greenwood, Edgefield County, South Carolina. It just so happened that the Greenwood section of Edgefield where they lived would go on to form Greenwood County proper in 1897. It seems like a tiny and inconsequential detail.  However, it can cause merry havoc trying to find the location of where an ancestor was born if you’re looking in the wrong county. I’m hip to this now. Now, when I see Greenwood County for anyone born before 1897, I know I need to look at property maps for the Greenwood section of Edgefield County.

Maps…the subject may not be as sexy as genetic genealogy among researchers and genealogy enthusiasts. Nevertheless, maps have an important role to play in understanding and uncovering critical information about your family’s history.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christopher Williams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here was another of Moses Williams’ missing 40 daughters.

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

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

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

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

 

Media Appeal: The Moses Williams Project

Hello

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

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

Genealogy challenge: Researching the 45 enslaved children of Moses Williams

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

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

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

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

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

The challenge in finding these kids?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kind regards

The Genealogy Adventures Team

Impact Goals

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

Go Fund Me Fundraising Campaign

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

Team Biographies

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

Brian Sheffey (Boston, MA)

briansheffey@gmail.com

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

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

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

Donya Williams (Washington DC)

donya20746@gmail.com

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

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

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

Sharon Rowe

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

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

Loretta Bellamy

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

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!

 

The Moses Williams Family Tree Project: Update #1

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

Reconstructing a full, slavery-era family tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Estate Sale

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

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

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

Finding Moses’s Lost Children

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

Moses Williams and daughter Elizabeth

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

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

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

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

007649570_00582

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

007649570_00583

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

007649570_00584

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

capture-20170516-113210capture-20170516-113040

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE Monday, 19 June 2017

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

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

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.

Obituaries matter when it comes to genealogy research

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

susie-anna-holloway-obit

click for larger image

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

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

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

Obituaries have some pretty basic information which is sometimes overlooked:

Death dates

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

Last known place of residence

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

Married names for daughters, sisters, and mothers

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

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

Clearing up how people wanted their names spelt

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

Turning names into people

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

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

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