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Pre-1870 research. AAAARGH! Especially if you've done any African-American family history research, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  You collect your records; birth records, marriage records, death records, census records, family letters, you trace your family's movements back to the south, you get back to 1870 Census, so far so good, and then WHAM!  Nuttin' but crickets.

I’ve been researching my husband’s ancestry for about 12 years.  At first, it was fairly easy.  He was born in New York.  Got his birth cert - simple.  His parents both died in New York.  Got their death certs, both of which indicated where they were born in North Carolina and the names of their parents - piece 'o cake.  Located relatives who still live in the area in North Carolina - a little harder, but mission accomplished.  Distant relatives, census records and other records I was able to get my hands on helped us get back further - more difficult, but achievable. Records between 1865 and 1870 - few and far between.

I've bounced off that 1870 brick wall enough times to give me a splitting headache - 'twasn't fun.  Finding any information about his family before 1870 has required much slow, painstaking, tedious and original research.  Most of the tidbits of information I've gleaned are possibilities, rather than proven fact or connection.  But in spite of all the obvious obstacles, I have to say that I’m quite proud of the progress that I’ve made so far, considering that most of my husband’s ancestors were enslaved and therefore not to be found in such official records as birth, marriage, death, census, etc.  

Where would one then find record of human beings who were considered property?  In estate, inventory, sales and deed records.  And it makes perfect sense, in a very perverse way.  Where else would they be?  After all, they were only part of the inventory.

So it probably goes without saying that in order to research my husband's ancestors, I have to research his ancestors' owners.  It's really weird cuz I'm not interested at all in them, but I've had to become very knowledgeable about the history of the slaveowners' families to get to my people.  In fact, I've come across records of the slaveowners that prove information posted as "commonly accepted fact" by their white descendants is in fact, wrong.

I have been fortunate to locate a number of my husband's ancestors in estate, probate and inventory records of the slaveowners.  Whenever I locate the record "Sale of Inventory", or "Division of the Negros", I always feel that sense of apprehension, "Oh no, what am I going to uncover here".  Mostly what I dread is finding out that the families have been split up.  That, of course, happened on a routine basis (contrary to what that flaming idiot Cliven Bundy believes).

Sometimes though, splitting the family up seemed to happen only on paper, especially when the slaves were not auctioned off to strangers, but rather were divided up (or "purchased") among slaveholding family members who resided with, or often next door to, one another. This was the case of my husband's paternal line, the Edwards of Wake, North Carolina.

My husband's father and mother were born in Wake, both in 1909.  My husband's grandfather, Fabius (Fab) Edwards, was born there about 14 Feb 1869 to Henry and Mary Edwards.  Mary died between 1871 and 1875, and Henry remarried in 1875 to Candis Yates.  Their marriage license indicates Henry's parents were York and Lettitia (also known as Lettice/Letticia) Edwards.

It's a bit hard to read, but at the top of the license the couple is named Henry Edwards and Candis Yates, but at the bottom they are named Henry Beckwith and Candis Yates.  Later I'll explain the connection.

In the 1870 census, Henry (born abt 1809-1810) and Mary (born abt 1834-1835) lived next to Seth Edwards, a white man, possibly/probably on Seth's farm.  I found Seth on the 1860 census, and I found he owned one slave, and that slave was Henry's age.  Therefore, it had always been my assumption that Henry had been the slave of Seth Edwards.  So now I had to go chasing down the family of Seth Edwards and all their family records, looking for any information about slaves named Henry, York and Lettitia.

First I noted that Henry indicates on his marriage license that both his parent's names were Edwards.  Hopefully that meant that both his parents were actually to be found with Seth Edwards' family.

Seth Edwards married Mary Jane Suggs. The parents of Seth Edwards were James Edwards (died 1835) and Sarah Woodward.  The parents of Mary Jane Suggs were Warren Sugg and Mary Wilson.

James Edwards' father was Thomas Swann Edwards, mother unknown.  Sarah Woodward's father and mother were unknown, but many family trees posted online claim her father was Corbin Woodward and Charity Jackson.

These are the families whose relations and records I sought.  One of the earlier pieces of information I came across was from this website about the Woodward family.  There was only one Woodward family in the area in the late 1700s, headed by Christopher Woodward, who died in 1785.  The inventory of Christopher Woodward includes this

320 acres in Bladen Co on S side of Cape Fear River; Negroes: York, Nan, Jupiter;
Could this York be my York, Henry Edwards' father?  The fact that York is listed first usually likely meant York was the oldest, so I estimated that that he would probably have been born before 1770, though I would really expected earlier than that.  York Woodward would have been 40-years old or older when Henry Edwards was born in 1809 - a little old but not out of the question.

So is there any way to connect York Woodward to Henry Edwards?  That was the hard part.

After years of searching, the connection was finally discovered only a couple of months ago in kind of a "well, DUH!" moment.  I had spent considerable time looking for Henry's origins in the online digitized will, estate, inventory and sales records at  But the actual connection was to be found on the online records at the Wake CountyNC Dept of Deeds.

Here is the link to the database where a certain tripartite indenture is to be found, Sarah (Woodward) Edwards, Mary Turner and others to Joshua Rogers, dated 14 Apr 1843.  Property and slaves were put up as collateral in exchange for cash. The names of the slaves of Mary Turner were Lettice 55, Henry 22, Clarky 22, July 12, Jani 8, Charles 6, Lydia 4, Henderson 2, and Tyler 14 months.

So, in 1843, Mary Turner was the slave owner of Lettitia/Lettice and Henry. OK, so who the hell was Mary Turner?  Part of the answer came in a deed dated 10 November 1843 (filed 16 Jan 1844) Mary Turner to Sarah Edwards  

.... in consideration of the affection that I have for my daughter Sarah Edwards ...... give and deliver unto the said Sarah Edwards the following Negros to Wit; Lettis, Clarky, Henry, July, Jiney, Charles, Liddy, Henderson and Tyler ...
This deed shows then how Lettice and Henry moved from the Turners to the Edwards.

Here is the proof that Sarah Woodward Edward's mother was Mary Turner, not  Charity Jackson (Listen up all you guys on who have Corbin Woodward and Charity Jackson listed as Sarah's parents - it's not right!).  

So, where did Mary (also known as Polly) Turner come from?  She was the widow of Augustus B. Turner.  Mary/Polly Turner's maiden name was Woodward.  She was the youngest daughter of the above mentioned Christopher Woodward, the dude who owned a slave named York.

Why was Sarah Edwards' maiden name Woodward if her mother's maiden name was Woodward?  Because Sarah was born to Mary Woodward out of wedlock on 6 Mar 1793.  Nathaniel Jones, son of Lewis, was cited on record for conceiving Mary's "bastard child" (neither the child's name nor gender were named in the document).

Mary Woodward had married widower Augustus B. Turner in 1801, and Augustus died in 1829.  In his estate inventory record is this information about his slaves that knocked me on my ass

Inventory of Slaves
Lot 1 to Mary Turner
One negro man named Dick about 40 years old, one do [ditto] boy Henry about 10 years old, 1 do Sam about 3-1/2 years old, 1 do girl Clary about 11 years old
Lot 2 to Augustine Turner [Mary's son]
1 negro woman Judah about 21 years old, one child Crudu(?) 10 months old, 1 do Lettice about 47 years old, 1 do girl Sarah 7 years old
Lot 3 to William Turner [Mary's son]
1 negro man York 70 years old, 1 do man Anthony 24 years old, 1 do boy Green about 4 years old
And there you have it.  All three of the people who were mentioned in Henry's 1875 marriage record.

If York was abt 70 years old in December 1829, he was about 26 years old in 1785, when he was listed as part of Christopher Woodward's inventory.  An elderly slave was in the household of the Turners in 1830, but not 1840.  In 1843, he's not mentioned at all in the tripartite indenture, so was most likely dead by then.

My husband had his Y-chromosome DNA testing done a few years ago, and his paternal line that goes through York traces back to the Tsonga tribe of Mozambique.  Since the slave trade from Mosambique didn't start up in earnest until the early 1700s, it's likely that either York's father, or certainly York's grandfather was the original captive who made the fateful trip across the Atlantic.

Which makes York one to two generations out of Africa.

I should mention here that I thought it was curious that the Turner household slaves were divided into three lots in 1829, yet in 1843, all the slaves who were still alive were in the sole possession of Mary Woodward Turner.  I don't know why that was unless perhaps Mary brought York and others into the Turner marriage with her. It's also worth noting that in the 1800 Census, before his marriage to Mary Woodward, Augustus Turner owned no slaves.

Regarding Henry's mother Lettitia, I found the 1796 will of Jacob Utley in which he gave unto his daughter Winifred the "Negro girl named Lettice".  Winifred Utley married Pleasants Woodward, the brother of Mary Woodward.  Was this my Lettice?  Certainly is quite a coincidence.

In 1937, as part of the effort to capture the history of former slaves who were still living in the south, U.S., Interviews with Former Slaves, 1936-1938, an 83-year old former slave of Cary, NC was interviewed.  His name was John Beckwith, the same surname that Henry Edwards occasionally used (as evidenced in Henry's 1975 marriage license).  According to the narrative, John Beckwith says he was the son of Green Beckwith.  Green Beckwith began life as Green Turner, who you see in A.B. Turner's 1829 inventory above, 4-years old at the time.  Green was given to Sarah Woodward Edwards by her mother, Mary Woodward Turner.  Sarah in turn gave Green to her son, Joseph Edwards, who died very shortly after his marriage to Martha Helen ??, who kept possession of her husband's slaves.  Martha Helen remarried a guy named Marion Gully, who also died prematurely.  Martha married once again a guy named Hilliard Beckwith.  Henry obviously had a very close relationship wth the Beckwiths.  I wonder if Henry and Green were brothers, meaning then that John Beckwith was Henry's nephew.

In any case, the narrative was very interesting, containing detail about life on with the Beckwiths as an enslaved boy.  One should keep in mind while reading what are at times John's rather "rosy" descriptions about life on the plantation, his narrative was given during the Great Depression when poverty and hunger were at its peak.  Also, John was a very young boy when enslaved and likely not subjected to the harsher treatment that other older slaves suffered.  

I'm sure I'll be researching all these various family connections for many years to come.

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Comment Preferences

  •  This is an open thread, so please feel free (20+ / 0-)

    to talk about whatever GFHC topic you want to talk about.

  •  Looking for a volunteer to host 5/9 GFHC (5+ / 0-)

    open thread

    Current schedule

    May 9 -   open for adoption
    May 16 - Zwenkau
    May 23 - klompendanser
    May 30 - open for adoption
    Jun 6 -   open for adoption
    Jun 13 - open for adoption

    Anyone interested in taking an open date?

    •  Congrats! (6+ / 0-)

      I may try to do one in June, I'm getting ready to go out of town and May is pretty busy.

      I had planned to do an earlier diary on one of my difficult to research ancestors, but he fought in the Seminole Wars and I felt it might be inappropriate given our many DKos members who are NA.

      I found some interesting stuff on one of my Plymouth Colony ancestors who was arrested for "selling wine to Indians". His son's records note that he had a bastard child as well.  Oy, those Puritans and their record keeping. Imagine that as the only fact future generations can glean about your life.

      Glad you found those records about your husband's ancestors. It's great there are so many deed and probate records online now.  It used to require a genealogy vacay to some county's archives to get that kind of information.

      I've also seen slave census records in some states (Missouri). I've tried to trace a few of the slaves that lived in my ancestors area. Though my ancestors didn't own them and opposed slavery, my gr gr grandfather tried to reach out and employ them after the Civil War.  My grandmother remembered some of them working at the farm during harvests. She said my gr gr grandfather always insisted they take meals with everyone in the work crew & family.  I suppose out of past habit, the former slaves would take their meals separately, out under a tree.  Grandad said no way, you eat with the rest of us, we're all the same.  Some of the property owners in the area have erected memorials at local slave cemeteries, I'd like to do the same, if I can find them.  My grandfather told me approx. where one is located, but it will take quite a bit of hiking up a very steep hill and will probably be difficult to locate.  I may try on my next trip home.

      Money is property, not speech. Overturn Citizens United.

      by Betty Pinson on Fri May 02, 2014 at 10:09:14 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Old slave cemeteries. (6+ / 0-)

        I have looked for where old Henry may have been buried.  He died between 1887 and 1900, and there were no vital records then to tell me where he might be buried.  But even if I found the cemetery, I doubt I'd find his gravesite, as very few African-Americans at the time could afford an engraved headstone.  If anything, he may have had a wooden marker, sure to have disintegrated long ago.

        I don't give up easily though!

        But any more intense search I do for Henry or any of my husband's ancestors will have to wait until after I retire (hopefully next year!).

        Kudos to your grandparents.  They were ahead of their time.

        •  Sometimes they used stones to mark graves (4+ / 0-)

          I've had the same problem with my anglo ancestors. They were often poor and could only erect wooden markers or large stones.  

          Link to a slave cemetery project in MO

          One possibility is to check with local funeral homes.  Many of them maintain records of local cemeteries.  If an old mortuary goes out of business or is bought out, the other owners will take their books.  It helps them to  know available spaces in the old country and family cemeteries. I heard this in a genealogy class and finally checked it out in my parents hometown.  Sure enough, the local funeral home director pulled out the old books and helped me find a bunch of old grave locations.  IIRC, he even knew where some of the slave cemeteries were located.  

          Money is property, not speech. Overturn Citizens United.

          by Betty Pinson on Fri May 02, 2014 at 10:33:28 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  For what it's worth (5+ / 0-)
        I had planned to do an earlier diary on one of my difficult to research ancestors, but he fought in the Seminole Wars and I felt it might be inappropriate given our many DKos members who are NA.
        I don't think it would be inappropriate at all. It could offer a great opportunity to shed light on what happened then and for reflection on how your values differ from this ancestor's.

        “Republicans...think American standard of living is a fine thing--so long as it doesn't spread to all the people... And they admire of Government of the United States so much that they would like to buy it.” Harry S. Truman

        by fenway49 on Fri May 02, 2014 at 11:25:01 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I'm not sure why he did it (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          edwardssl, fenway49, klompendanser

          He probably enlisted in the military because of poverty. His father died when he was very young and his mother didn't remarry. They were German immigrants who didn't speak English very well. It could be that it was just the military action that happened when he was enlisted.

          He raised children who were good people. His son was the one mentioned in my other post who reached out to local former slaves to give them work.  Hard to figure this stuff out sometimes. I believe he was also very connected to the Lutheran Church, as he always moved and lived with other members of the Missouri Synod.

          Money is property, not speech. Overturn Citizens United.

          by Betty Pinson on Fri May 02, 2014 at 11:41:21 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  That's often the case (3+ / 0-)

            On the one hand, people had different ideas then about clearing folks off of land they wanted. On the other hand, a lot of people enlisted because they needed the pay and free food. I think it would be an interesting story and you could highlight all the economic causes that would lead someone to sign up. That's an issue that, in a way, is still with us.

            “Republicans...think American standard of living is a fine thing--so long as it doesn't spread to all the people... And they admire of Government of the United States so much that they would like to buy it.” Harry S. Truman

            by fenway49 on Fri May 02, 2014 at 12:28:56 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Another possibility (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              edwardssl, klompendanser

              Family lore (from people who didn't know he was in the Seminole Wars) said there was some kind of horrible tragedy in the family where they were attacked by Indians and most of the family killed.  I haven't been able to document it yet, but I ran into a distant, distant cousin genealogist researching him who told the same story.

              Money is property, not speech. Overturn Citizens United.

              by Betty Pinson on Fri May 02, 2014 at 12:54:46 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

    •  I could take May 9 if you need it (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      edwardssl, klompendanser

      People might be getting sick of me though!

      I might do something that's not a story, something a little easier and different. One of these days I'll have to revisit weird boys' names and my pop sociology as concerns Vermont in the 1890s vs. life today, etc.

      “Republicans...think American standard of living is a fine thing--so long as it doesn't spread to all the people... And they admire of Government of the United States so much that they would like to buy it.” Harry S. Truman

      by fenway49 on Fri May 02, 2014 at 01:24:15 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  will be back but ? (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    edwardssl, raina, fenway49, klompendanser

    was it valued in # L = pounds ?

    o the things we do to our eyes without remuneration.

    TRAILHEAD of accountability for Bush-2 Crimes? -- Addington's Perpwalk.

    by greenbird on Fri May 02, 2014 at 09:51:51 AM PDT

  •  period: (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    edwardssl, raina, fenway49, klompendanser

    treat carefully in and around TX colony and its many changes, and the colonists and where there records, if any, are located -- which COUNTRY was TX, let alone which County.

    the fun-house-floor of fact and fallacy.
    but potentially the KEY to many loose ends.

    beans, beans the wonderful fruit ...
    they give life and take life by their color.
    it is, so i hear, that is, today is friday. caballero. cowboy. ♥

    TRAILHEAD of accountability for Bush-2 Crimes? -- Addington's Perpwalk.

    by greenbird on Fri May 02, 2014 at 09:56:37 AM PDT

    •  I found that to be true in NC as well during (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      fenway49, greenbird, klompendanser

      this early period because the county lines, not to mention county existence, were changing so much.  

      In this case, Wake County was established in 1771 from Cumberland,  Johnston, and Orange Counties.  The area I'm researching is in southern Wake, so to try and go back further with my husband's paternal line, I'll have to review (probably) Cumberland's pre-1771 records.

  •  Great research! (6+ / 0-)

    Isn't it always a thrill to get answers, even if they're heinous as you suspected they might be? This post does such a service in reminding readers today that, only a few generations ago, human beings were considered by some property to be given to relatives as a Christmas gift. It still gives me chills.

    I'm happy my ancestors, Irish included, did their part to end that miserable chapter. And sorry there are still people who actually believe they were "better off" or that it was a tragedy the hateful and backward Confederacy lost.

    “Republicans...think American standard of living is a fine thing--so long as it doesn't spread to all the people... And they admire of Government of the United States so much that they would like to buy it.” Harry S. Truman

    by fenway49 on Fri May 02, 2014 at 10:12:37 AM PDT

    •  Yes, it's actually kind of surprising (6+ / 0-)

      I've read a hundred or more slave narratives, and yes you do run across those "we were better off ...".  But as I mentioned, we have to remember the times when the narratives were written down - middle of the depression, the elderly gave the narratives were in horrible condition, living in terrible poverty, often no one helping take care of them.  Plus, as often happens when people remember their childhood days as "a happier time", they hadn't experienced the worst of what enslavement had to offer.  John Beckwith was lucky because Martha Helen was not the worst of the slaveowners.  But what would have happened to the Turner/Edwards/Gully/Beckwith slaves if she had died?  Chances are excellent that they would have been auctioned off, since her husbands kept dying and it doesn't appear that she had children.  I'm sure John's childhood memories would have been entirely different.

      I surely sympathize with John's plight though.  At the end of the interview, he was asking the interviewer to help with apply for an "old-age pension".  I'm not sure if he was referring to the newly-instituted social security program, but my understanding is that he may not have qualified for it at that time.

      •  I wasn't thinking of John Beckwith (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        edwardssl, Ahianne, klompendanser

        so much as the Cliven Bundys of the world. As Lincoln said, "Whenever I hear a man arguing for slavery I have a strong impulse to see it tried on him."

        John certainly would have been in dire straits during the Depression years.

        “Republicans...think American standard of living is a fine thing--so long as it doesn't spread to all the people... And they admire of Government of the United States so much that they would like to buy it.” Harry S. Truman

        by fenway49 on Fri May 02, 2014 at 11:04:47 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I imagine it's rewarding (5+ / 0-)

    to finally get some information after struggling for so long. I admire your stamina and resolve.

    When two frat boys have a kerfuffle, it's a brohaha. Bubbanomics

    by raina on Fri May 02, 2014 at 10:14:21 AM PDT

    •  It is rewarding. (4+ / 0-)

      Especially when I show my husband the things I'm finding on this family, since he knew utterly nothing about them for most of his life.

      We're sharing what we find with other relatives that we've come into contact with recently.  They're also mostly pleased - but not entirely.  There are some of the older folks that don't like bringing up the distant past.  Enslavement was something many don't want to talk about.  In fact, one of the books I have, a collection of slave narratives from North Carolina is called, My Folks Don't Want Me to Talk About Slavery.  It's why it's so difficult sometimes getting information from some of the relatives who were old enough to have been children when some of the oldest of the people formerly of enslavement were still alive.  Often the answer to inquiries about slave days was, "What do you want to know about that for?"  And then silence.

  •  this is fascinating (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    edwardssl, fenway49

    And it is such a rewarding thing, after all the persistant and diligent digging that you really have a many layered picture of the society, with the pieces of paper to prove and support your theories. Meanwhile, lazier trees online just repeat the same mistakes.

    It is an interesting side story about the woman bearing a child out of wedlock in that time period and still owning property in her maiden name ... the fact that said "property" was human is simply horrifying.

    "If you are sure you understand everything that is going on around you, you are hopelessly confused." Walter Mondale

    by klompendanser on Fri May 02, 2014 at 06:11:01 PM PDT

    •  And the minute she married, everything (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      fenway49, klompendanser

      that's hers is now her husband's.

      Which leads me to the question about how Mary ended up in full possession of those enslaved.  If they were "hers" to begin with, why were they divided up after Turner's 1829 death?  Only for all to be with her again by 1843?

      Laws, especially about slavery, were weird back then.  I supposed it would help me to learn more about the subject.

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