Monday, March 15, 2010
Restore My Name
My good friend at Reclaiming Kin, suggested that I participate in the first Carnival of African-American Genealogy (CoAAG) hosted by Luckie Daniels of Our Georgia Roots. The subject is Slave Records and Genealogy Research. Ms. Daniels has posed several questions to those participating. I have chosen the following question - As a descendant of slaves, have you been able to work with or even meet other researchers who are descendants of slave owners?
After identifying Robert Franklin Whitaker of Red River County, Texas as the potential slave owner of my great great grandmother Julia Whitaker, I began to try to learn as much as I could about him and his family. I wanted to prove that he was in fact the slave owner of Julia. Unfortunately the only information I discovered about him was from census and county tax records. In addition, none of the records provided names of slaves or any information about Robert and his family.
I then started searching various genealogical websites and posted queries on various genealogy message boards in hope of locating descendants. As a result, I was able to correspond with several descendants. The initial set of descendants, I contacted were very helpful until I mentioned slavery. After I mentioned the “s” word all communication stopped and records promised were never received. Although I was disappointed I figured this might happen. It would be many years later before I attempted to try and reach out to other descendants.
In the meantime, I continued researching the Whitaker Family. I also started debating whether or not I should mention the “s” word or just pretend that I was descendant of another family who lived near the Whitakers when contacting descendants.
After hitting a brick wall on this line, I started reaching out to Whitaker descendants from various message boards. After sending out several emails, I received a reply from Randall Whitaker who eventually provided me with a written history of the Whitaker Family. The history was written by the granddaughters of Robert F. Whitaker II. Randall was disappointed to learn that his ancestors were involved in slavery but was glad that he was able to help me in my research. Randall told other family members about my research that in turn provided me with additional information. The other family members and I shared a love for genealogy and began sharing our research. Unfortunately they had little information on the family enslaved property. However the information they did provide helped me to connect Robert F. Whitaker to the other Whitakers in Red River County, Texas. It also revealed that Robert’s father was named Robert F. Whitaker, his mother was Anna and his brother was James Washington Whitaker. With the new information, I was able to locate the Whitaker family in the 1820 to 1880 census reports.
A search of the Red River County probate records found that in 1849 Anna Whiteaker wrote her last will and testament. In her will she wrote “I give and bequeaths to my son Robert F. Whiteaker a Negro girl Julia now about four years old.”
The remainder of the property was divided between her sons, James and Robert. Anna died in the fall of 1853 and the inventory and appraisement of Anna’s estate listed the name of Julia's mother Jane.
Very few individuals have been able to talk candidly about this dark chapter (slavery) in American history especially when their own ancestors have been active participants. Usually they shy away from it or discontinue all communication which was the case in the beginning. It said a lot about the character of those descendants who did and for that I am greatly appreciative.