The one about finding George Henry Roane’s father

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the ladies in my family tree have provided some jaw dropping discoveries. One such lady unveiled my missing 4x Scots-Irish Roane grandfather. As if that wasn’t good enough, her family’s lineage has left me scarcely able to breathe.

So, I’ve written about how I’m descended from Sir Archibald Gilbert Roane (681 – 1751), born in Argyllshire, who was granted an estate in Grenshaw, Antrim Northern Ireland. He was the ancestor of my 3 x great grandfather, George Henry Roane. The question was, who connected these two men?

Using some lateral thinking and steely determination worthy of a CSI detective, I decided to revisit Archibald Gilbert Roane’s line in search of my dear old 4x great granddad. This would be the father of George Henry Roane. I decided to refine the technique I used that uncovered the identity of my missing 4x Sheffey great-grandfather…by looking at the family lines of the women who married into the family.

This is the blessing of autosomal DNA. This type of DNA is like a cocktail. It mixes and mashes DNA from your maternal and paternal lines. It does so generation after generation after generation. Autosomal DNA down the male Roane lines wouldn’t reveal anything other than I was indeed a descendant of Archibald Gilbert Roane. I would match all of his male descendants. I needed a match on a woman who married into the family – a woman whose autosomal DNA couldn’t be in any other Roane line of descent. And trying to find this match really is like looking for a needle in a haystack; especially for a family as large as the Roanes.

Sir Archibald Gilbert Roane, his wife Jennet, and their sons

Sir Archibald Gilbert Roane, his wife Jeannet, and their sons

I worked up preliminary lines of the women who married Archibald Gilbert’s sons. After careful research, and comparing my DNA results to these ladies’ ancestral trees, there was only one who provided a match: Sarah Upshaw, the wife of William Roane, Sr (1701-1757). The Upshaws weren’t the best autosomal match to have – there have been a few marriages between Upshaws and Roanes. This means more than one Roane line would have Upshaw autosomal DNA. What clinched it was Sarah’s maternal Gardener line. This is where the necessary unique DNA match confirmed and narrowed the Roane line I needed to investigate.

Next up was researching all the wives who married Sarah And William’s sons.

William Roane, Sr, his wife Sarah Upshaw and their children

William Roane, Sr, his wife Sarah Upshaw and their children

Discarding Upshaw marriages further back in the female lines, one by one, no DNA matches resulted. Except for one woman whose family provided a DNA match: Elizabeth Judith Ball 91740-1767), wife of Colonel William Roane (1740-1785). Elizabeth’s maternal Mottrom line and her father’s maternal Spencer line were two of her lines where I had a DNA match.

Now I was beginning to get excited. I started to ask myself, “Could I really do it? Could I actually, finally find the final piece of the puzzle that was frustrating the heck out of me?”

Colonel William Roane, his wife Elizabeth Judith Ball and their children

Colonel William Roane, his wife Elizabeth Judith Ball and their children

I rolled up my proverbial sleeves and got stuck into researching the women who married Sarah and William’s sons. Thankfully, with only two sons, the research at this level took a fraction of the time it had taken so far.

It soon became apparent that I only had a DNA match with one of the wives: Anne Henry (1767 – 1799), wife of Judge Spencer Ball Roane (1762-1822) – and daughter of the American Revolutionary hero, Patrick Henry. My DNA matched on her paternal Henry, Winston, Roberston and Pitcairn lines. I also matched on her maternal Sheldon line.

The Pitcairn name jumped out at me immediately. Let’s just say nearly 30 years living in the UK spent in the company of a number of friends from a certain sphere – you learn something about the really old English families. I noted the Pitcairn name, put a question mark against it, and proceeded to look at Anne and Spencer’s sons. Or, more accurately, I researched the families of the women they married.

Spencer Ball Roane, his wife Anne Henry and their children

Spencer Ball Roane, his wife Anne Henry and their children

William Henry Harrison RoaneAfter weeks tracing the descendants of Spencer Roane, there was only one line that produced matches on the maternal and paternal side that were closest to me in terms of generations than all the others: the descendants of William Henry Harrison Roane (1787-1822). I finally had him, my 4x great grandfather…the father of George Henry Roane.

I had a feeling about Spencer Roane years ago, when I first started this journey. My direct Roane line is the only line to make heavy use of the name ‘Henry’ as a middle name. I’d always felt this to be a clue. George Henry Roane also named his first born Patrick Henry Roane – allowable if the mulatto George was a family member. I couldn’t imagine the Roane family ever allowing a slave, not related to the family, to name a child after so venerated a Roane family member. And there it was in the DNA, the reason why he was allowed to do so. Patrick Henry was George Henry Roane’s great-grandfather.

Having searched for so long, I can’t even begin to describe the elation of finally having a name. And, with that name, I hope to find either personal or estate, deeds or personal papers from William Henry Harrison Roane that will reveal who George Henry Roane’s enslaved mother was. Discovering her story is going to be one of my top priorities.

It so happens that the Virginia Historical Society has quite a stash of personal papers and plantation records for Spencer Roane and William Henry Harrison Roane.

I basked in the afterglow of this discovery for about half the day. The name Pitcairn popped into my head while I sat sipping on a celebratory latte. I knew that name.

So I hit Burkes Peerage. In a matter of a few hours I had gone from the Pitcairn family to the Sinclair family and there I was in 8th Century Norway and Scotland, in the form of Thebotaw (Theobotan), Duke of Sleswick and Stermace. I was firmly in Viking territory. On that journey back into time, names such as Robert Bruce, Edward I Olaus, Charles the Fat, Thorfin “Skullcleaver” Hussakliffer, Brian Biorn and Kiaval appeared along the way. And then, with further work, there I was in the 7th Century Kingdom of the Franks. I couldn’t – and still can’t – quite wrap my head around it. Never, not once, did I suspect that Patrick Henry came from a line anything like this one.

When you add my Scottish Josey/Jowsie line, the autosomal map below, from AncestryDNA, begins to finally make sense:

autosomal dna countries

The European thumbprint if my autosomal DNA. The areas with purple circles (southern Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland & Western Russia) represent trace DNAmarkers between 3% – 5% – basically, Viking territory

I sent one of my oldest British friends (I’ll call him Lord B) an email outlining my discovery. He rang within 10 minutes, barely able to speak for laughing. Turns out we’re distant cousins – both descended from Robert Bruce. He confirmed what Burke’s and an old book about Scottish peerages already had …the research leading from Robert Bruce to Patrick Henry was indeed correct. Turns out, more than a few of my dear old British chums are my distant cousins. We’ve shared some chuckles over the weekend about that. This certainly explains quite a bit about my love of certain British country pursuits and my sense of ‘home’ when I lived there. And probably explains why certain British and Irish places resonated with me while many did not: The Highlands and the Scottish Isles; Mayo, Cork and Clare in Ireland; and the West Country, Yorkshire and Northumberland in England.

As I’ve shared with my own family, the irony of all of this is not lost on me. Not one iota of it. I am a descendant of Patrick “Give me liberty or give me death” Henry…through a slave. That is one tough nut to try and wrap your noggin around. I’m a descendant of a man who, in that speech, also said:

“For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfil the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country.

And:

“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?”

I am elated to finally have an answer to a fundamental familial question. Have no doubt about that. Although that answer is not without a twist.

 

 

 

 

George Henry Roane: Ancestry.com DNA test throws me a curve ball

While Ancestry.com’s DNA test answered a fundamental question about which second generation German-American Sheffey was the father of my Sheffey family line…it threw me one heck of a curve ball regarding the Roane side of the family tree.

The Usual Suspects: The English Descended Roanes in Virginia

I’ve mentioned in previous posts how my  enslaved 3 x paternal great-grandfather George Henry Roane was acknowledged as a member of the Virginian Roane’s ‘colored family’. Ah yes, that family bible that I’m still trying to contact the current owner about!  Well, I have had a few English-descended Roanes in the frame (I’ll call them the English Roanes). For various reasons too long to go into, I focused my attention on  the English-descended Roanes associated with King & Queen, Essex and Westmoreland Counties in Virginia.

This shortlist of paternal candidates was based on simple math: the men’s year of birth along with when he would have realistically produced children.

Building A Paternity Shortlist for George Henry Roane

George Henry Roane was born around 1800. I narrowed the list of potential Roane fathers down to a handful of English Roanes born between 1750 to 1780. The thinking behind this was George’s father’s age would have ranged from 50 at the top end of the viable paternity scale to around 20 years of age at the younger age range. It was – and I think it still is – a good, solid, ball-park estimate for an age range. Thankfully, it narrowed the list of possible candidates quite successfully. The English descended Roanes were a, how can I say it, prolific family. So I needed a means to whittle the candidates list down. I had a list of 8 men. I had researched their respective descendants and I was completely familiar with the surnames associated with each of their lines. There were some names each line shared in common. Thankfully, this was the exception rather than the rule.

The method above was how I learned the name of the Sheffey who sired my ancestral line. The name Susong was the breakthrough moment – a name that is associated with only one Sheffey line. I was hoping that one unusual name would pop out at me when looking at these Roane cousin DNA matches.

Ancestry’s DNA Test & Cousin Matches

Ancestry’s DNA test gave me two cousin match hits on the Roane name, specifically. The two individuals were ranked as 5th – 8th cousins. Yes, yes, I hear you shouting from the gallery like Staedler & Waldorf from the Muppets: What the heck does that mean?

A 5th cousin and I would share two 4x great grandparents. In other words, we would share George’s father in common.

A 6th cousin takes it back one generation. We would share a pair of 5 x great grandparents..and so on and so forth. Each level of cousin takes the identity of a shared ancestor back one further generation.

The Curveball

So I was pretty happy to see a likely match on a 5th cousin, give or take a generation or two. What I didn’t expect was the name of the Roane ancestor the match was returned for: The Honorable Archibald Roane. Yes, that one – the second Governor of Tennessee.  Archibald, the uncle of Arkansas governor, John Seldon Roane. The one who comes from a Scotts-Irish Roane family line.

To be clear, I’m not saying that Archibald Roane was George’s father. All I can say, at this point, is that I share a DNA connection with Archibald and his descendants. One of Archibald’s cousins could also easily be the father of George.

Now dear old Archibald’s side of the Roane family presents some formidable challenges. I have never researched their lineage – either their ancestors or their descendants. All of my efforts in researching the Roane family has been focused on the English Roane lineage. Family anecdotes strongly suggested it was the English Roanes who held the answers to our Roane paternity. That’s the sole Roane line I’ve ever focused on. In doing so, I completely ignored the Scotts-Irish Roanes.

I’ve previously written about what a mess most of the English Roane family trees  are…and my herculean efforts to get my own English Roane family tree absolutely correct and accurate.

I’m faced once again with the same herculean task. The family trees for Archibald’s Roane ancestry are just as incorrect as those for Charles Roane.

Getting Things Straight With These Two Different Roane Lineages

To kick things off, most Roane family researchers – and their family trees illustrate this – insist that Archibald Roane is a descendant of Charles “The Immigrant” Roane. He is not. Archibald descends from a Scottish-Irish family of Roanes, who may or may not be related to the English Roane family.

Let me start with the basics. Have a look at the basic family lines I’ve given in the image below:

image of An outline of the English Roane and Scotts-Irish Roane family lines between 1611 and 1811

An outline of the English Roane and Scotts-Irish Roane family lines between 1611 and 1811

 So time to debunk some myths:

  • There is a myth that Robert Roane (Charles Roane’s father) was the father of Archibald Gilbert Roane, Sr. Robert was dead for a few years before Archibald Gilbert Roane, Sr was born.
  • Archibald Roane, Jr was not the son of Charles Roane. Charles had been dead for decades before Archibald, Jr was born.
  • Neither Andrew Roane (Archibald, Jr’s father) nor Andrew’s brother William (the father of Spencer Roane), were the sons of Charles “The Immigrant” Roane. The marriage records for both William and Andrew clearly indicate that their parents were Archibald Gilbert Roane, Sr and his wife, Jeannet.

All I can say about Charles Roane and Archibald Gilbert Roane, with any certainty, is:

  • Both men bore the same surname;
  • Both men used a similar Roane family crest;
  • Both men were alive at the same time for a period of almost two decades; and
  • They were both resident in the UK before arriving in the American colonies – although they resided in two completely different parts of the United Kingdom before they did so.

Now the Scots-Irish Roanes and the English Roanes very well may have a shared ancestor somewhere in the mist of medieval English history. The English Roane’s ancestral heartlands appear to be Yorkshire and Northumberland – two quite northerly parts of England. In other words, spitting distance from the Scottish borderlands. It’s not unfathomable that one branch of the family went south (to London and Surrey) while another went north to Scotland, and then on to Ireland.

So The Research on Archibald Roane Begins…

So the joys of researching Archibald Roane’s line has now begun. This means researching every single descendant line stemming from Archibald Gilbert Roane. It’s the only way I can discover the unique surname matches within one specific descendant line that will indicate who, exactly, the shared common ancestor is between me and the Scots-Irish side of the family. It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack – but the payoff is always worth it. I like to think of it as CSI Genealogy. It just takes a lot of diligence, time and patience.

I am ignoring all family trees in the process. I’ve learned from painful experience when it comes to researching the Roanes. This time, I’m tracing the family lines solely through the official records.

While I’m on the topic of his descendants, it’s worth noting that the celebrated Virginian judge, Spencer Roane, belongs to the Scots-Irish Roane family…and not the English descended Roane family. Spencer and Archibald were first cousins.

I get the confusion between the English Roanes and the Scots-Irish Roanes. It doesn’t help that some of the Scots-Irish Roanes not only settled in Virginia – they settled in the same counties as the English Roanes. Essex County is a primary example.

So…while I don’t have a definitive name for the man who fathered my 3x great-grandfather George Henry Roane – I at least know I’m now looking within the right Roane lineage. I’m on the right path. Time, as they say, will indeed tell.

Yet again, I’m glad to say that a simple DNA test was worth every single penny.

Digging deeper with Census Records: Part 3

A question solved – many other questions raised.

Finding my great-great-great Grandfather George Henry Roane’s lost relations answered one question: their whereabouts in 1870. However, scanning the census records for Essex Count, VA raised even more questions.

There are quite a number of African-American Roane family groups. And their relationship to one another is anything but clear. I’ll share some of my hypotheses as a glimpse into how this noggin works.  Ascertaining how these individuals might be related to George hinges upon his date of birth (1805) to theirs.

In Line 1 we have a George Roane born 1810 with his wife and son. Is he George Henry Roane’s cousin? During this period it’s not uncommon for siblings to use the same name for their children at the same time. Nicknames and middle names were used to distinguish between them. So for two brothers to both use the name George for their sons within the same generation wouldn’t be unusual. And George was a very popular name in this period. I did note this Roane family group is living quite a distance from other black Roane family groups, which may or may may not be a factor in determining kinship.

Jane Roane in Line 44 is a mystery. She’s either a Roane through birth or marriage. Born in 1840, she belongs to the younger generation of the family, a contemporary of George Henry Roane’s own children. Should marriage records for her children surface, hopefully they will cite the name of their father and this family group’s relationship to other Roanes might become clear.

We have a Toby Roane in Line 61 who could be either be George’s brother or cousin. Born in 1805, he is of George Henry Roane’s generation. Another cousin perhaps?

In Line 86 we have a Susan Roane. Susan is more than likely a Roane through marriage. Born around 1800, she belongs to the same generation of George Henry Roane. Given that she is probably living with her niece, a Waring through marriage, it’s not possible to guess Susan’s maiden name or understand how she and her children are related to neighbouring Roanes.

Randall Roane’s (Line 133) family group follows next. He is Sumer Roane’s (Line 61) uncle (Sumer is living with his brothers and sister/sister-in-law). Marriage and death records indicate these two men are definitely uncle and nephew. Randall Roane (Line 167) and Jerry Roane (1869) are Randall Sr’s sons. Given Randall Sr’s year of birth in 1815, could he be George Henry Roane’s cousin? That’s my hunch at the moment.

Rostlin Roane (Line 217) is listed as the head of her household. At first I thought she was the sister of Campbell Roane (his wife is Catherine). However, that didn’t ring true to me. It just seemed odd for a younger sister to be the head of a household that elder brother was resident in with his wife. So I’ve come to the conclusion that Rostlin is Campbell’s sister-in-law; the widow of some yet unknown brother. While I’m still trying to figure out how this group is related to Randall Roane Sr’s family and George Henry Roane, I believe there is a close kinship with Absalom Roane (Line 235), a hunch based on proximity. Given their respective years of birth, Campbell and Absalom could be siblings or cousins.

Next we come to Divie Roane (Line 254) and his brother William Roane (Line 255). They are live in servants and, at this point, there are no clues to indicate who they are related to. Marriage and death records are proving elusive to find for them online.

There’s Baylor Roane in Line 268. Again, he is either the brother or cousin of Absalom Roane (Line 235) and Charles Roane (Line 290). That would make these three men either the brothers or nephews of George Henry Roane (my hunch is that they are George’s nephews and subsequently cousins to one another).

A fair distance away lives Horace Roane (Line 293) who is probably George Henry Roane’s nephew. He’s certainly a cousin of Absalom, Charles, and Baylor – and perhaps a cousin of Sumer and Randall Roane Jr as well. All of them belong to the same generation.

We find Spencer Roane (Line 317) a small distance from Horance Roane – and a greater distance away from the central Essex Roane group (Randall, Sumer, Charles, Baylor, etc). Marriage and death records show that Spencer and Horace are brothers. Dicey Roane (Line 318) is their mother. Edy is Spencer’s wife and mother of his children Mary and Franklin (Baby John is apparently Nelly Roane’s son). Nelly, Francis and Lindsey are Spencer and Horace’s siblings. While it eventually became clear how this household were related to each other – their relationship to other Roane family groups remains a matter of speculation.

Catherine Roane (Line 349), like Divie and William Roane) is a live-in servant. Her relationship to neighbouring Roanes is unknown.

Sally Roane (Line 366) lives at a great distance from the majority of African American Roanes. She is a contemporary, in terms of age, of Randall Jr, Absalom, Baylor and Charles Roane. In all likelihood she is a Roane by marriage and not birth. Marriage and death records haven’t surfaced for her children. So, at this point, without her husband’s name, their kinship to other Roane’s is impossible to determine.

James Roane (Line 395) and William Roane (Line 399) are living with their respective grandparents. In the case of James, all that can be determined is that his mother was a Sale. William’s mother was a Gardiner. Like Sally and Catherine, they live at a great distance from the core Roane family group. Their relationship to this group, and to George Henry Roane, is unknown. Perhaps they are the children of some unknown first cousins of George Henry Roane.

Further away still is Nelson Roane (Line 495). Born in 1810, he would be of George Henry Roane’s generation. Is he a first cousin or a lost brother?

The last African American Roane family group in Essex County, VA is that of Philip Roane (Line 510) with his son, General Roane (Line 509). Philip is contemporary with Absalom, Baylor, Campbell, Randall Jr and Charles Roane, etc. That’s all that can be said of his for the time being.

Plenty of names…so what does it all mean?

So I’m left with an older generation of Roanes, which includes Toby, George, Spencer, Nelson and Randall Sr whose relationship to one another is unclear. Are they brothers or cousins? And how do they relate to my great-great-great Grandfather George Henry Roane? Some may be George Henry Roane’s brothers while others might be cousins. These are questions that hopefully the Richard A Roane family bible can answer (if the original can ever be located), or a yet-to-be accessed death record or Plain View plantation records (wherever they are!).

The temptation is to force a connection. That is something I try very hard not to do. Every time I have forced a family connection where there’s been an information vacuum…an official record eventually turns up to show that forced connection was wrong. So I’ve learned to be patient – although that isn’t easy sometimes! The simple fact remains that until the names of the parents for this older generation become known, my hypotheses have to remain educated guesses.

One of the exciting aspects of this genealogy adventure is slowly –and at times, painstakingly – putting the pieces to the jigsaw together. I have hypothesis a-plenty. But the chance discovery of a marriage record, a birth record or a death record online can be enough of a piece to put quite a few fragmented bits of information into context.  Somewhere out there is a piece of the jigsaw which will bit a few of these family groups into an overall context. Relationships to each other will be made clear. In the meantime, I have my habit of returning to the information again and again in the hope that some spark of inspiration will give me some new insight into the family groups and the means by which they share kinship.

And we’re not quite finished with this census record just yet. In Part 1 of this post series, I mentioned the aspect of community. Take another look at the Census return for Essex County…and then take a look at the census return for Henrico County (click this link to access the post which contains that census return). See any last names that are similar?

The last post in this series will go over how to recognise relationships between extended family members united through marriage within a community.

Digging deeper with Census Records: Part 2

Scanning the Census Records: The Roanes of Essex County, VA (1870)

So picking up where I left off regarding George Henry Roane and his origins in Virginia…

The slave owning Roane’s tended to keep their African-American family members close to them. While we don’t know how George Henry Roane is related to the white Roane family, he is cited as a ‘colored family member’ in their family bible. So it seems odd that he and his sons should be sold away from both the black and white Roane family. I’ve tried researching the assumption that John Warren, the man he was sold to, was related to the Roanes, perhaps through marriage. This has yet to be proven.

Putting the reasons of why he sold to John Warren to one side, where did George Henry Roane come from? The best starting point was to search for his siblings in the 1870 Census records for Virginia. To make an educated determination there were a few criteria than any county would have to match. It would need to cite the names of George Henry Roane’s siblings: Absalom, Mary, Braxton, Baylor and Charles – or have their descendants residing there. It would also more than likely have Richard Roane living there too – or his descendants if he had died.

It’s come to be accepted that my great-great-great grandfather George was born in Williamsburg, Virginia. His death certificate seems to confirms this. A scan of Williamsburg in the 1870 census didn’t show any of the names I was searching for that are associated with him. Indeed, there were only a handful of African-American Roanes living in Williamsburg in 1870.

So if his adoptive Varina, Henrico county, VA couldn’t provide clues about his missing family, and his birthplace of Williamsburg, VA couldn’t provide any clues – I’d have to check other Roane family strongholds in Virginia to find them.

I believe I have found his lost siblings in Essex County, VA.

The Essex census return for 1870 follows below:


Line 235 shows an Absalom Roane. A Baylor Roane appears in Line 268 with a Mary Roane residing in the same household (given their respective dates of birth, I believe this is a nephew and aunt). A Charles Roane appears in Line 290. Thusfar, only Braxton hasn’t been located. Given their proximity to one another, there is definite a close family relation between Absalom, Baylor, Charles and Mary. Dates of birth may provide some basic clues about the exact nature of those relationships.

Bearing in mind that George Henry Roane was born around 1805, Absalom, Baylor and Charles could either be George’s (much) younger brothers or his nephews. I’m hedging a bet that they are George’s nephews – each one named for a father who was George Henry Roane’s brother. In other words, Absalom, Baylor and Charles were cousins. Mary, born in 1815, would be George’s sister.

This census return is the only census return in 1870 Virginia that has the names Absalom, Charles, Baylor and Mary not only living in the same county…but quite close to one another. The same census also cites Richard A Roane’s children. While not definitive proof, the evidence is pretty compelling that this is the county George Henry Roane left behind when he was sold to John D Warren in Varino, Henrico County, VA…who literally lived on the other side of the state.

However, I’m not quite finished with this census return just yet. This census return raises as many questions as it potentially answers. More about that in my next post…

Digging deeper with Census Records: Part 1

Regardless of your race, if your ancestors arrived in the US and settled in a rural region before the 1900s, census records can give you new leads in researching tangent branches of your family. Why’s that? Rural areas of the pre-industrialised US were distinct communities. In some instances, they were isolated from other areas and regions. People tended to marry others from within the same community or from neighbouring communities.

A community, usually composed of a network of relations through marriage or shared experience, was a vital support system. On the whole, people rarely left – not until the early decades of the 1900s when industrialisation and manufacturing meant jobs and pay. Whether the jobs and pay were better than those offered by rural areas is arguable. Like anything, it was probably a matter of perception. Work from dawn to dusk farming and risk being prey to the weather and being one drought away from financial ruin, or work long hours for low but secure pay.

I digress!

RECOGNISING COMMUNITIES IN GENEALOGY RESEARCH

19th Century rural communities gave individuals a sense of place and a source of identity. Life in a community was a shared experience which bound the people within it together in any number of ways. For post Civil War African-Americans in the South that shared experience was slavery. Not all southern African-Americans were slaves. There was a thriving population of free blacks in America from the very early Colonial times. However, they were in the minority. For those who were slaves and remained in the communities where they had been slaves, there were tight bonds of community which were established long before their emancipation. And these ties existed and were sustained in the decades immediately following the Civil War. And this can be seen quite clearly in the Census records (more on this later).

This process of a community bound through shared experience isn’t unique. The pioneering families of the Mid West were bound by the hardships and challenges they faced on the prairie. Immigrants to New York were bound by the harrowing experiences they faced in the early slums of that city. Fishing villages and towns all along the New England coastline shared a similar bonding experience based on the hardships and loss of deep sea fishing (and previously, whaling).

There are other glues besides collectively faced hardships which bind communities together: faith/religion, beliefs and ideals.

SCANNING CENSUS RECORDS FOR AN ENTIRE COUNTY

When I first began researching my family, I was just excited to actually find specific people in the official records. It seemed amazing that I could actually sit at my desk and see a name in a census record from 150 years ago. It never occurred to me to scan a whole town’s census returns to see if they had kin nearby. That idea wouldn’t come until later. It was just exciting to find the person I was seeking and their immediate family members.

The idea to scan a town or county’s full census returns didn’t occur to me until I reached a point where I had a large number of different family groups…and no idea about whether they were related to each other or not. When I started to scan the records for an entire county  – literally starting with the first record in the series and then scanning all the way through to the last record – I noticed two things:

    1. Family groups tended to live near to one another: brother lived near to brother, sons lived near their fathers and cousins lived near to cousins. If they married, their wife’s family also tended to live nearby…which brings me to observation #2
    2. Different family groups tended to live near the same family groups. For example, the Smith, Green, Blogg and Jones families tended to live near one another decade after decade after decade. If I wanted to hazard a guess about a wife’s maiden name, I could draw from a relatively short list of neighbouring families. These were groups bound not only by shared experiences but through marriage as well.

Looking back on this now, this seems pretty obvious. But it was a thunderbolt moment for me. In the search for individuals, I had completely overlooked the context of community and the simple yet powerful ties that bound people to one another and to a place.

So let’s start with a simple example:

EXAMPLE: GEORGE HENRY ROANE (1806-?)
Through correspondence with a newly found Roane family member, we worked out that George Henry Roane had been sold to a John D Warren in Varina, Henrico County, Virginia. George wasn’t a native of Varina, he had come from elsewhere in Virginia. The question was where. But I’ll put that question aside just for a moment.

So what did we know about George? We knew he had at least 5 siblings: Absalom, Mary, Braxton, Baylor and Charles. We also knew he had at least two children: Patrick Henry Roane and Anthony Roane. We also knew that he was mentioned in the Richard A Roane family bible as being part of the “Roane colored family”. So he was associated with Richard A Roane, owner of the Plain View Plantation, and his father, Charles Roane.

Take a look at the document below. It’s an 1870 Census return for Varina, Henrico, VA:

This return shows George and his sons Patrick and Anthony living pretty much next door to one another. There’s George Henry Roane at Line 23. His son Patrick Henry Roane (Line 24) is living with him. Patrick’s wife and children are also in residence. Anthony Roane (Line 33), George’s son and Patrick’s brother, lives two door down. Living in between these two households is the Price family. Wyatt and Rose Price are the parents of Susan Price, Patrick Henry Roane’s wife.

This is a classic example of a family group living within a community.

This particular census return is interesting for a few reasons:

    • George Henry Roane’s family are the only African-American Roanes living in Varina, Henrico, VA at this time. This means, in all likelihood, that subsequent generations of Varina-based Roanes are descendants of this branch of the family. If I come across a Varina-based Roane in the official records, and can’t immediately place them within the family tree, I know he or she shares kinship with this particular family group.
    • There are family names I would come to recognise as sharing kinship with these Varina Roanes through marriage: Wyatt, Price, Braxton and Baylor.

Subsequent census returns showed that George and his sons – and their descendants – chose to remain in Varina and Henrico County. After the end of slavery, George did not return to his native county and didn’t rejoin his siblings. It’s unclear if he restored the bonds with his siblings or if there was any communication between his family and the larger family group George was separated from when he and his sons were sold.

So where did George Henry Roane come from? More on that in the next post…