Tag Archives: black history

Why diversity matters for online genealogy service providers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Moses Williams Family Tree Project

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

The Moses Williams project is composed of a few phases:

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

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

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

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

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

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

A working example of diagramming information about enslaved people from documents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We also see Daniel’s wife and children. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Namaste

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

A peculiar inheritance: slavery and the case for reparations in the US

The draft journal paper below was produced in answer to a general call for papers on the subject of Reparations in the US. Myself, and my cousin, Donya Williams, address the subject through the lens of genealogy.

The draft version of our paper is provided in two formats: an embedded PDF document and widget that you can either read online, or download. A text version follows beneath the embedded PDF widget.

PDF Reader/Download Widget version

Text Version

Introduction

Since the beginning of man’s life on earth, the family has served as the cornerstone of society.  The integrity of the family set the standard for society from the beginning of time as the underpinning of our civilization, reflecting the beneficial differences between men and women and the complementarity of their hearts, minds, and bodies.  Aristotle argued that the natural progression of human beings flowed from the family via small communities out to the polis.  The state itself, then, as a natural extension of the family, mirrors this critical institution.”[i] [ii]

And:

The family is the entity that gives real meaning to life and to existence. The family is the cornerstone of the social system. The family is not a casual or spontaneous organization of people but a divinely ordained group. Marriage is noble and sacred, a social contract that confers mutual obligations on the couple and society. The progress and welfare of society, or its breakdown, can be traced to the strengths and unity, or the lack of it, in the family. This also applies to civilization…

The family has an important role in providing socialization and values for children and in providing social and economic security as well. Being part of a family motivates individuals, motivates us all, to work hard, sacrifice our well-being, and work for the welfare of the family.

In all faiths and religions, the family is the foundation of society. The peace and security offered by a stable family unit is greatly valued and considered central for the spiritual growth of its members, society, and humanity. The harmonious social order is created by the families and extended families in which all children are treasured, valued, and nurtured.[iii]

There are established arguments in support of, and against, descendants of enslaved Africans in the United States receiving reparations[iv]. The arguments in favor of reparations are based upon the economic advantage slavery provided the United States[v]; the brutal conditions of slavery[vi]; and the social, political, judicial, and economic disenfranchisement of African Americans. [vii]

A common argument against reparations cites the indigenous practice of slavery within the African continent. We acknowledge that the practice of slavery in Africa was ancient and well established by the Europeans began to export human beings from that continent. However, it differed greatly from the form of chattel slavery that existed with America with the arrival of Europeans.

In Africa, many societies recognized slaves merely as property, but others saw them as dependents who eventually might be integrated into the families of slave owners. Still other societies allowed slaves to attain positions of military or administrative power. Most often, both slave owners and slaves were black Africans, although they were frequently of different ethnic groups.[viii]

In the American system, slavery was a condition that was not only held for life, it was passed down through the generations via the status of the mother, codified by the laws of the individual states. It was a brutal birthright. This paper illustrates the profound and destructive force this peculiar form of slavery would have on the authors’ enslaved ancestors in Edgefield County, South Carolina. The authors will demonstrate the effects the American slavery system had upon the most fundamental aspect of the human experience – an attack on the fundamental building block of society – the family.

Lewis Matthews by Brian Sheffey

lewis-matthews

Image courtesy of Mr T. Dabney

My maternal 3x great grandfather, Lewis Matthews, was born in 1824 in the Blocker region of Edgefield County, South Carolina. He was the son of an unknown slave woman and her owner, Drury Cook Matthews (1760-1830). Born to a slave, he inherited his mother’s slave status from the moment he first drew breath. Despite being sired by his owner, he maintained the status of a slave until freed through the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863.

 

Apart from an oral tradition among the Matthews (including Mathis family members) still residing in Edgefield, little is known about Lewis’s life. What kind of man was he? What was his nature? What were the quirks and foibles that made him individual? These questions are part and parcel for any genealogist. When it comes to researching ancestors who were born into a lifetime of bondage and servitude, forbidden from learning how to read and write, each discovery made is akin to finding a sacred precious object. Each discovery for an enslaved ancestor is a hard fought for success. Something as basic as discovering even a first name for an enslaved ancestor is cause for celebration. This dynamic makes African American genealogy something unique. A people stripped of history, customs, traditions, family and ancestry have precious few clues to find their ancestors. This was by design. American slavery was designed and developed with this in mind to better control a people who chaffed at the slavery system. It also laid the foundations for the American expression of white supremacy.

Lewis Matthews was illiterate, born in a time when it was illegal for slaves to learn how to read and write. He was incapable of leaving any words to his descendants. Nor were his children capable of leaving a written account.  All of his known 22 children were illiterate. What I have gleaned of his life has largely come from vital records and slave records. He was human property. He was first owned by his father, and then by his half-sister, Susannah Pope Matthews. Like a chair, a horse, a parcel of land, or a table; he had a dollar value. US$ 450 in 1831 ($US 12,500.00 in 2016 currency) and US$ 500 in 1847 (US$ 14,705.88 in 2016 currency). Where there is property, there are accounts.

There are no words that can describe first seeing a Dollar value placed against an ancestor’s name on a Deed of Sale. No matter how prepared I was to see such a thing, it nevertheless broke my heart.  It was a visceral and raw experience. One I will never forget.

I cannot visit, much less share, Lewis’s history without touching upon the history of the place where he was enslaved. The history of Edgefield, South Carolina.

An overview of Edgefield’s history, including ITS founding families

Prior to its formation in 1785, Edgefield County was a part of Ninety-Six District.

Ninety-Six was divided into new counties, afterwards called districts, which included:  Edgefield, Abbeville, Newberry, Laurens, Union, and Spartanburg. Augusta, now in Georgia, also formed part of this county.

Old Ninety-Six, as it’s now called, was an active and critical trading post since the 1690s. The trade was mainly in furs. Prior to the arrival of European settlers and African-descended slaves, these lands were part of the dominion of the Cherokee Nation and the Creek. It was, and remains, an isolated, rural, and wild part of South Carolina.

Families such as Abney, Brooks, Cloud, Park, Sim(p)kins, and Stuart/Stewart, all slave owning families, were among the earliest settlers. DNA tests taken by the authors reveal a genetic connection to these families.  A latter wave of 18th Century arrivals from Virginia to Edgefield would include additional slave owning families such as Adams, Brunson, Dorn, Harlan/Harling, Ma(t)thews/Mathis, Ouzts, Peterson, Settles, Timmerman, Thurman, Utterback, Yeldell and White – all of whom are the authors’ ancestors. The link between their African American descendants and their white descendants has been confirmed through DNA.

A shattered family tree through 300 years of Matthews family enslavement

Traditional genealogy enabled me to glimpse key moments in Lewis Matthews’ history.

Researching post-Emancipation marriage and death certificates identified thirteen children born to Lewis and the woman he would come to marry once freed, Martha Bottom, also of Blocker, Edgefield, South Carolina. It is worth remembering that prior to Emancipation, the births, deaths and marriages of slaves were rarely recorded. This is one of the most fundamental voids in African American genealogical research.

An additional death record produced another child, a daughter, born to Lewis and a woman only identified as Janie.

Social Security Application records and death records produced a further eight children born to Lewis during the period of his enslavement. The mother, or mothers, of these children were cited as ‘not known’ by the respective informants.  DNA testing through AncestryDNA, along with DNA matching through Gedmatch, strongly suggests he fathered at least a further nine children prior to the end of the Civil War. All of his known and suspected children resided throughout the area formerly known as Ninety-Six.

Numerous conversations with African American Matthews-descended family members in the Old Ninety-Six area boiled down to one hypothesis when it came to the sheer number of children Lewis sired. He was used by his owner-father and owner-half-sister as a breeding stud.  In short, he sired a steady stream of slave children for the benefit of their slave owners either to increase that owner’s workforce or as the human equivalent of a cash crop. A young, healthy, handsome young man with a light complexion, and seemingly potent when it came to impregnating women, Lewis had the perfect attributes to produce a steady stream of children with a fair complexion and robust health – attributes which would have made these children valuable property with a significant dollar value.

While Lewis had what we, in this day and age, would class as a paternal relationship with the children he had with Martha Bottom, he had no involvement with the children he fathered with other enslaved women. Those other children were either formally or informally adopted by the men those other women married when they were freed at the close of the Civil War. To date, until they heard from me, the descendants of those unions had no idea of their Matthews origins. The reason for this is telling. This second group of children took the names of their step fathers, bar two who took the name Mathes, a seemingly deliberate corruption of the original Matthews/Mathis name.

A broken family tree

edgefield-slaves

The arrows in the image above mark entries for my 3x great grandfather, Lewis Matthews. The peculiarities of how male slaves were classed as an adult or ‘boy’ varied widely. Although both entries are for my 3x great grandfather. The asterisks mark confirmed members of Lewis’s enslaved African American family. Sampson, Primus and Matthew were Lewis’s brothers. The stars in the image above note how Primus and Sampson were deeded to other white Matthews family members, who were also their relations. DNA testing will confirm how many others from the same image will prove to be members of Lewis’s immediate and extended family. Click for larger image

As you read Drury Cook Matthews’s Last Will and Testament below, remember that this is my 4x great grandfather discussing the disposal of his property, which included his son, my 3x great grandfather, Lewis Matthews.  I include the disposal of his other enslaved sons, Lewis’s brothers, who were my great uncles. Many of the ‘negroes’ cited in this Will were members of Lewis’s immediate family.  All of the whites who inherited these black human beings were also their blood relations. American slavery was indeed a singularly peculiar institution.

Please click each image below for the larger image version.

drury-matthews-will-1drury-matthews-will-2drury-matthews-will-3drury-matthews-will-4drury-matthews-will-5drury-matthews-will-6

My prevailing question is a fairly simple one. If Drury Matthews didn’t overtly recognize his own bi-racial flesh and blood as a human being, as a man, what impact did that have on Lewis’s sense of self and his sense of worth as a human being? What did this teach him about the duties of a father for his children? For certainly some of the other slaves referenced in this Will were Lewis’s siblings and equally children of Drury Cook Matthews. And how would this dynamic play out and echo down the generations on the African American side of the Matthews/Mathis family?

That Lewis was a loving and dutiful father to the children he raised with Martha Bottom is not in doubt. There are a handful of family stories to testify to this. What of his other thirteen known children? Did their step-fathers make up for Lewis’s absence? And how did Lewis reconcile himself with their existence? My hypothesis is that he learned a fundamental lesson from his father, Drury. Perhaps he compartmentalized his life in a manner many men can relate to. There were his children by Martha who he had a duty of care to provide for. Just like his father-owner did with his white children. And then there were those he merely sired for other’s benefit – much like Drury’s actions towards his mulatto children borne by enslaved women: they were not his concern and, as such, were of no concern.

Magnify the ramifications of this dynamic by working back through time. The story, the legacy, and the history between my mulatto Matthews ancestors and their white owners-family members stretches back in time to my 9th great grandfather, Anthony Matthews (1611-1682), a slave owning immigrant from Kent, England who settled in Isle of Wight, Virginia. Anthony was the founding father, the scion, of a large slave owning family who passed slaves and enslaved family members down its various lines into the Carolinas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas.

240 years of one family splitting its slave family apart generation after generation after generation; to the extent that their African American family had no notion of who they were as a people, they had no knowledge of their history, no knowledge of their kin or their kin’s whereabouts. It was the annihilation of their family. My family. It was a form of brutal ethnic cleansing at its most fundamental level.

Only now, through advances in DNA testing, can we, their descendants, begin the task of finding the broken branches from a slavery shattered family tree. Finding these lost branches is the easy part. Determining their rightful and correct place in the family tree is a painstaking process with no guarantee of success. It is a painstaking process. Each familial line has varying degrees of knowledge about their immediate ancestral line. Some can trace their ancestry back only 4 generations while others have traced their line of descent through 5 or more generations. Progress has largely been steered by the tireless efforts of a dozen or so dedicated family genealogists who have made it their life’s work to reunite a family dispersed through, and torn apart by, slavery. Their efforts require a combination of traditional genealogy alongside genetic genealogy and DNA triangulation. The task is herculean.

That is the legacy of slavery. This is the reason why the argument around reparations is a valid one.

In terms of non-Native American peoples who arrived in America, no other people in the history of the continental United States has ever experienced anything remotely like this. Not in scale. Not in duration.

Implications and reparations

Nienstedt makes the argument that “The State itself, then, as a natural extension of the family, mirrors this critical institution”. If the State was the cause of the destruction of enslaved African American families during the slavery epoch, does it not have a duty, a duty of care, to redress the wrongs done to enslaved families through restitution?

If, in Nienstedt’s argument, the progress and welfare of society, or its breakdown, can be traced to the strengths and unity, or the lack of it, in the family – should we not argue that the State has a moral imperative to recompense African Americans for the lack of progress; the lack of physical, mental and spiritual welfare; and the lack of unity wrought upon the descendants of slaves?

Reparations has the capacity to not only acknowledge the impact that slavery has had on the African American descendants of slavery, it can inform how best the State can serve those that slavery harmed. It addresses the legacies of slavery in the aftermath of slavery cemented in the Jim Crow Era, and the forms of socio-economic subjugation used against African Americans which followed the Jim Crow Era up to, and including, the present day. This latter point forms the central part of Ms William’s argument.

The civil unrest that smolders in modern America doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Its roots lay in slavery. Its roots lay in Andrew Johnson’s refusal to provide reparations when the America of Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party was ready to provide it.

Any conversation on the subject of reparations requires a national conversation. However, by the very nature of the subject, it must be directed and led by those most affected by slavery – African Americans. For me, reparations would take a multitude of forms:

  • Financial: A national, minority-owned and managed, banking system with branches in urban areas as well as rural areas with large minority populations. Such a banking network would supply micro loans to support entrepreneurship and innovation, land ownership, and subsidized home ownership (e.g. housing co-ownership); and
  • Education: A national history curriculum would include truthful and accurate teaching about slavery as well as its impact – tracing the effects of the slavery to the presents day. Recent news commentary shows a complete ignorance about America and its history of slavery, as well as its’ aftermath that resonates to the present day[ix]; and
  • Land theft compensation: Where land was stolen from African Americans by coercion, threats of violence or actual violence (as was the case in Edgefield[x] [xi] in the 1920s, of which my own Matthews family was a victim) – there should be financial restitution in line with established precedents with Native American tribes;
  • Remembrance: A day with an official moment of silence in remembrance of the victims of slavery, and its legacy.

Martha Brooks by Donya Williams

The topic of this paper is to give our point of view on why African Americans should receive reparations from slavery. As an African American myself, of course my first initial thought is yes I should receive reparations for what my ancestors endured. I should because it is the only right thing to do. That is the short answer for one who is not fully educated on the topic of slavery.

For example, history didn’t teach me that those who were enslaved had the option to 1) keep the surnames of those that enslaved them after Emancipation; or 2) simply choose another surname if they wanted to. In fact, the only thing that history taught me was that whites enslaved blacks and that it was bad. It wasn’t until I started to research my family that I understood the magnitude of this question which, in turn, allowed me to give a more informed answer.

Martha Brooks was born into slavery in or about 1834 in South Carolina. The 1880 census says her parents were born in Virginia, however, who they were and where they originated from remains unknown. Before I started my research, my uncle researched the family in the 1950s. All that I know of his research is by word of mouth. His research found that we were from Haiti and that we were direct descendants of Alexandre Dumas. I have yet to prove his theories. This prompted me to look at other options for researching and DNA testing was at the top of my list. When I decided to do DNA testing I did so because I was stalled at where I was with regular researching and I felt DNA testing would give me more. I already knew other researchers who had tested and were getting results. Because my mother was the baby of 14 children, and her parents were born in the late 1890s, she was just one generation removed from slavery. This made her a prime person to test even though I wouldn’t be able to get much DNA pertaining to her father.

That is where Autosomal DNA testing stepped in. Autosomal DNA is a term used in genetic genealogy to describe DNA which is inherited from the autosomal chromosomes. An autosome is any of the numbered chromosomes, as opposed to the sex chromosomes. Humans have 22 pairs of autosomes and one pair of sex chromosomes (the X chromosome and the Y chromosome). Autosomes are numbered roughly in relation to their sizes. That is, Chromosome 1 has approximately 2,800 genes, while chromosome 22 has approximately 750 genes.[xii] This meant that taking this test for my mom would get info from her mother and father. DNA taken from my mother has shown that in short she is 86.6% Sub-Saharan African, 11.9% European, .6% East Asian & Native American, .3% Middle Eastern & North African, .1% South Asian and .5% Unassigned. The picture below gives a bigger breakdown:

I uploaded my mother’s raw data to Gedmatch, a company that allows you to compare your DNA with other people who have tested with other companies such as AncestryDNA.com and FTDNA.com, and found there were even larger breakdowns. Those breakdowns connected her to the Mediterranean, North-AmerIndian and several other demographics (see picture below):

donya-dna

This DNA analysis result from Gedmatch is just one of many different DNA analysis tools that can be used to learn one’s DNA breakdown. These analytical tools enable a person to understand how he or she is connected to several different demographics. Testing my mother felt like I had just tested Eve herself. My mother’s DNA was extremely revealing. She was genetically connected to every well-known name in the Edgefield area.

Martha was enslaved by one of the first families of Edgefield, South Carolina. The Brooks family. Like those that take DNA test to prove paternity, or find birth parents, DNA for genealogical research does the same thing. My mother’s results proved she was related to the Brooks family. This family was not just active in the settling of Edgefield; they were also active in the settling of America. Zachariah, Whitfield, and Preston Brooks (respectively Grandfather, Son, and Grandson) were involved in at least two American wars prior to the Civil War.

The American Revolutionary War and the Mexican War both seemed to have family members of the Brooks involved. Zachariah was enlisted in Newberry District, S.C. shortly after the evacuation of Cambridge by Gen. Greene, and served six months as a private in Capt. John Wallace’s Company of S.C. Troops. He fought in several skirmishes against the British. He served in 1781 and 1782 in Capt. Joseph Towles, company, Col. Samuel Hammond’s S.C. regiment, was in a skirmish on the Edisto River, and was stationed about six weeks on the frontier guarding the incursions of the Indians. He was also enlisted as one of a corps called the Life Guard of Pickens, serving a six month’s term of service. He was afterwards appointed Col. of State Calvary, and was always known as Col. Brooks[xiii].  Whitfield and Preston were both lawyers, and involved in both state as well as national politics. Preston fought in the Mexican War with his brother Whitfield, Jr.

Both men were a part of the Palmetto Regiment of the South Carolina Volunteers where Preston served as Captain. Whitfield Brooks, Sr. carried the title of Colonel however, I don’t see what service branch he fought with or what war he fought in. My research shows that he may have been mistaken as his son. However, Both Whitfield and Preston were planters and strong supporters of slavery. Preston Brooks was probably the most outspoken of the three – he is certainly the most well-known – when it came to slavery. It is he who committed the horrendous crime against the abolitionist Charles Sumner; what historians know as ‘the caning’. Simply put, Senator Brooks walked up to Mr. Sumner, who was sitting at his desk on the senate floor, and said “You’ve libeled my state and slandered my white-haired old relative, Senator Butler, and I’ve come to punish you for it.[xiv]  This to Mr. Preston was a legitimate reason to beat a man so badly that it took three years for Senator Sumner to return to some semblance of physical normalcy.

Preston believed, supported, and encouraged the succession of South Carolina. On 1 November 1856, the Meeting of the Secessionists of South Carolina at Ninety-Six held an event to honor Mr. Brooks for what he did to Mr. Sumner. The south supported his choice to brutally beat Mr. Sumner. This event was not the only event held in his honor.  Directly after the beating, Mr. Brooks resigned his position from the Senate. In response to this, his fellow countrymen voted him back into his seat and sent him over 300 canes to show their support. This particular event presented the Honorable Preston S. Brooks with goblets of silver and gold, and replicas of the same cane he used to beat Mr. Charles Sumner.  As a part of his acceptance speech he wrote the following:

I tell you, fellow citizens, from the bottom of my heart, that the only mode, which I think available for meeting it is just to tear the Constitution of the United States, trample it under foot, and form a southern confederacy, every state of which will be a slaveholding State. I believe it, as I stand in the face of my maker—I believe it on my responsibility you as your honored representative that the only available means of making that hope effective is to cut asunder the bonds that tie us together, and take our separate positions in the family of nations. These are my opinions. They have always been my opinions. I have been a disunionist from the time I could think.[xv]

Martha was sold for $1,205 dollars in 1857 when Preston died. This information was found in the Edgefield Archives as well as in the book Slave Records of Edgefield County by Gloria Lucas.[xvi] I found a chart explaining the worth of a slave during 1857, the same year Martha was sold to Lemuel Brooks. This chart compared the cost of a slave in 1857 to what a slave would cost if slavery still existed in 1998:[xvii]

Class Value in Dollars, 1857 Value in Dollars, 1998
Number 1 men 1250-1450 20,800-24,100
Fair/Ordinary Men 1000-1150 16,700-19,200
Best Boys (Age 15-18) 1100-1200 18,300-20,000
Best Boys (Age 10-14) 500-575 8,300-17,900
Number 1 Women 1050-1225 17,500-20,400
Fair/Ordinary Women 1050-1225 14,200-17,100
Best Girls 500-1000 8,300-16,700
Families “Sell in their usual proportions”

Being sold for that amount, and finding the chart above, gave proof that Martha was in fact considered a prime breeding woman. Martha went through every atrocity that was heard of when it came to slavery for black women.

  • miscegenation – The interbreeding of individuals considered to be of different racial backgrounds;
  • fancy trade – Female slaves called “fancy maids” were sold at auction into concubinage or prostitution, which was termed the “fancy trade”; and
  • slave breeding – Slave breeding in the United States was a practice of slave ownership that aimed to encourage the reproduction of slaves in order to increase a slaveholder’s property and wealth.[xviii]

With my mother’s DNA showing that she was related to the Brooks family, I began to get a better understanding of things. I am politically knowledgeable and acutely aware of the things that are still happening to African Americans today. In some moments I can, and have, recited speeches similar to friends and family similar to the one you read above by Mr. Brooks himself. By reading and understanding his stance when it came to slavery, as well as finding the chart above, it was clear to me who I was. My mindset, my attitude and even how I can sometimes be hot-headed. It was like a light bulb was turned on and who I really am became clear to me. I was the product of my family; all of my family white and black and its surroundings. I am an American to the fullest extent of that word.

Defending the Case of Reparations

Genealogy has become very popular and the case of reparation is becoming more and more prevalent. Due to the use of DNA being added to genealogical research, it is becoming known that 151 years later, the descendants of slaves are still looking for their families.

I am a direct descendant of Martha Brooks. This topic raises the question of do I deserve reparations for everything that my 2nd great-grandmother, and her parents before her, went through? Answering honestly, I will say that reparations doesn’t entirely address the history of slavery and its aftermath in the United States.

I believe that I should have reparations on top of the acknowledgment of slavery. I believe that just like those who survived the Holocaust received monetary payments, and the recognition of an act that didn’t even happen on American soil, I should receive the same thing. European Jewry endured the horrific and the unimaginable during a 12-year period. Enslaved Africans, and their enslaved descendants, endured the horrific and the unimaginable for approximately 20 generations; nearly 400 years. In 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act to compensate more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent who were incarcerated in internment camps during World War II. The legislation offered a formal apology and paid out $20,000 in compensation to each surviving victim. The law won congressional approval only after a decade-long campaign by the Japanese-American community.[xix]

David Horowitz makes the claim that those asked to pay reparations have no liability because they didn’t do the enslaving, that their ancestors did. When truth be told, there were several different genocidal crimes committed against African Americans that could be attributed to the suppression of African Americans after slavery:

  • The bombing and burning of “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa, Oklahoma 1921;
  • The burning and lynching of Rosewood, FL 1923;
  • Moore’s Ford Bridge Massacre 1947;
  • Church burnings that took place from 1954-2015;
  • Illegal and unconstitutional arrests of Blacks during the Civil Rights movement;
  • Jim Crow laws enacted at the state and local levels and ignored at the federal level;
  • The implications of the CIA linked crack epidemic in Black communities; and
  • Disenfranchised Hurricane Katrina victims living below the poverty line.

I cite these examples to address an argument often used against the American government making reparations to the descendants of enslaved Africans: the people who committed the crimes against the enslaved, and those who immediately survived the crime of slavery, are no longer alive, therefore, money being paid out is unnecessary. Boiled down, it is a statute of limitations argument. At its heart lays the profound denial that the cumulative psychological trauma of slavery had an end date. That the trauma that affected those who were enslaved wasn’t passed down the generations. An inheritance of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. [xx]

A disorder further heightened during the Jim Crow Era and the trauma endured during the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement. It is also said that federally funded programs such as affirmative action, the welfare program, and similar initiatives were ways that reparations have been paid.

To state that the federally funded programs are the way reparations have been paid is a slap in the face. Why? Because not all African Americans have accessed, or utilized, the welfare program. It is a proven fact that more Caucasian Americans have utilized this program than African Americans. According to Statistics Brain, 38.8% of welfare recipients are white, while 39.8% of recipients are black. The remaining 21.4% is a combination of Hispanics, Asians and other nationalities.  But when you look at the percentage of those receiving food stamps, White Americans receive a whopping 40.2% while African Americans are 25.7% the remaining makes up the other nationalities.

The bottom line is, however, the fact that a promise was made 151 years ago to give over 400,000 acres of land stretching from South Carolina to Florida to the freed slaves. This was a promise retracted by the then President of the United States, Andrew Johnson. Honoring this promise should make America at least want to keep its word. National honor should be reason enough.

End Notes

[i] Thomas Aquinas, In Libros Ethicorum Aristotelis Expositio, Lib. I, lect. 1. “Man is by nature a social animal, since he stands in need of many vital things which he cannot come by through his own unaided effort (Avicenna). Hence he is naturally part of a group by which assistance is given him that he may live well. He needs this assistance with a view to life as well as to the good life.”

[ii] Rev. John Nienstedt. “Family as the foundation of culture,” Legatus. 2 September 2013. Last accessed 17 June 2016 via http://legatus.org/family-as-the-foundation-of-culture/#_ftn1.

[iii] A.A. Mohamad. “Address to Symposium Commemorating the International Day of Families,” United Nations, New York, 18 May 2009.

[iv] “Reparations for Slavery”, Constitutional Rights Foundation. Last accessed 21 June 2016 via http://www.crf-usa.org/brown-v-board-50th-anniversary/reparations-for-slavery-reading.html.

[v] Edward E. Baptist. “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism,” Basic Books, New York. 2014.

[vi] Octavia Victoria Rogers. “The house of bondage, or, Charlotte Brooks and other slaves, original and life like, as they appeared in their old plantation and city slave life: together with pen-pictures of the peculiar institution, with sights and insights into their new relations as freedmen, freemen, and citizens,” Hunt & Eaton, New York. 1890. Last accessed 17 June 2016 via http://digital.cincinnatilibrary.org/cdm/ref/collection/p16998coll17/id/9976.

[vii] “United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner Reports”. Last accessed 17 June 2016 via http://ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Racism/WGAfricanDescent/Pages/CountryVisits.aspx ;

The Freedmen’s Bureau Bank Records via https://familysearch.org/search/collection/1417695 ; and

The Freedmen’s Bureau Office Reports https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/African_American_Freedmen’s_Bureau_Records .

[viii] Dr Donald R. Wright. “Slavery in Africa,” Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia. 2000. Last accessed 17 Jun2 2016 via http://autocww.colorado.edu/~toldy3/E64ContentFiles/AfricanHistory/SlaveryInAfrica.html.

[ix] James Wilkinson. “Michigan high schoolers caught on video wanting to bring back slavery,” The Daily Mail. 2 June 2016. Last accessed 21 June 2016 via http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3622080/Appalling-moment-white-Michigan-high-school-students-talk-bringing-slavery-BRANDING-worthless-black-people-2040-presidential-campaign.html.

[x] J. D. Allen-Taylor. “Tracking the ghosts of Edgefield County,” South Carolina Progressive Network. 1996. Last accessed 21 June 2016 via
. http://www.scpronet.com/point/9606/p10.html.

[xi] Todd Lewan, Dolores Barclay and Allen G. Breed. “Land ownership made blacks targets of violence and murder,” Authentic Voice. 2001. Last accessed 21 June 2016 via

http://theauthenticvoice.org/mainstories/tornfromtheland/torn_part2 .

[xii] International Society of Genetic Genealogy Wiki, Last accessed 26 June 2016 http://isogg.org/wiki/Autosomal_DNA .

[xiii] Rootsweb, Last accessed 26 June 2016 via http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=wgbrooks&id=I6325 .

[xiv] “Canefight! Preston Brooks and Charles Sumner,” U.S. Online History Textbook.  Last accessed 7 August 2013 via http://www.ushistory.org/us/31a.asp.

[xv] Marius R. Robinson. Anti-Slavery Bugle. 1 Nov. 1856 (via Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers). Last accessed 25 January 2014 via http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83035487/1856-11-01/ed-1/seq-1/ .

[xvi] Gloria R. Lucas. “Slave Records of Edgefield County, South Carolina. Edgefield County Historical Society, Edgefield County, South Carolina. 2010, p. 55-56.

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] Boundless. “Women and Slavery.” Boundless U.S. History. Boundless, 26 May. 2016. Retrieved 21 June 2016 from https://www.boundless.com/u-s-history/textbooks/boundless-u-s-history-textbook/slavery-in-the-antebellum-u-s-1820-1840-16/slavery-in-the-u-s-122/women-and-slavery-657-9221/

 

[xix] NPR, http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2013/08/09/210138278/japanese-internment-redress last accessed 26 June 2016

[xx] Joy Angela DeGruy.  “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome”, Joy DeGruy Publications, Inc. 2009.

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Filed under AfAm Genealogy, AfAm History, ancestry, Black History, Edgefield, family history, genealogy, Matthews/Mathis family, South Carolina

Jemimah Sheffey – figuring out family relationships via census records

Map of Virginia - showing Wythe County

Map of Virginia, Showing Fort Chiswell & Speedwell Counties

Map of Fort Chiswell & Speedwell Counties in Wyth, Virginia

Map with close ups of Fort Chiswell & Speedwell Counties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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