Monday, March 22, 2010

The Myth About African American Genealogy & Reparations

In a recent discussion with several genealogists about why descendants of slave owners are reluctant to share their family slave era documents, the issue of reparations for slavery was mentioned. It was explained that some descendants are fearful that if they share this information, they themselves will be held liable for the atrocities of their ancestors. Although issues of guilt, shame and embarrassment were also mentioned, the issue of reparations is what stood out to me. I found this very interesting considering the fact that reparations are not paid by individuals but by companies and/or governments.

In jurisprudence, reparations are replenishment of a previously inflicted loss by the criminal to the victim. Oxford Dictionary defines the word as the making of amends for a wrong one has done, by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged. Now whether one’s ancestor owned slaves or not, the institution was only able to survive and flourish due to the laws established by the United States government. U.S. Rep. Thaddeus Stevens understood this when in 1867 he introduced the first Reparation Bill for Slaves, H.R. 29, during the First Session of the Fortieth Congress. Although the bill did not pass in Congress, he continued to introduce several more reparation bills to no avail.

A little less than a century later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his book "Why We Can’t Wait," would make an appeal for reparations. Dr. King argues “[f]ew people consider the fact, in addition to being enslaved for two centuries, the Negro was during all those years robbed of wages of his toil. No amount of gold could provide adequate compensation for the exploitation and humiliation of the Negro in America down through the centuries…The ancient common law has always provided a remedy for the appropriation of the labor of one human being by another. This law should be made to apply for the American Negroes.”

Our passion for researching our family has nothing to do with reparations but a desire to learn about our unique family history here in the United States and beyond. Unlike other Americans, most African Americans interested in uncovering their family history must face the history of slavery. It is not an option for us, especially once we reach beyond 1865. At the point, our journey becomes the journey of the slave holding family. We must follow and trace every move they make through census, court, deed, marriage, military, probate, tax and other records - both public and private - in hopes of finding the name(s) of our ancestors. In fact, we must become expert of these families.

By working together descendants of slave owners and slaves will be able to create a much richer history as we learn about our families’ collective experience.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Civil War and Refugeeing in Texas

At the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861, Texas had nearly two hundred thousand slaves. For the next four years, the fate of the Peculiar Institute would be settled on the battlefield across the South. Of all the states in the Confederacy, Texas suffered the least from military invasion or destruction of property. Thus the institution of chattel slavery remained undisturbed.

For this reason, the state was seen as a haven for safeguarding slavery through a system called “refugeeing.” Refugeeing was the movement of slave owners and their entire enslaved population to remote places in their state, other states and even other countries. Louisiana provided most of the owners who brought or sent their slaves to Texas, followed by Arkansas and Missouri. Some slaves came from as far away as Mississippi and Tennessee. Texas became a prime location because it was assumed that slavery would continue to exist in the event of a Confederate defeat.

The victory of Ulysses S Grant’s at Shiloh in the spring of 1862 and the subsequent surrender of New Orleans, along with the ensuing movement of the Union forces up the Mississippi River, dramatically increased the number of refugees into Texas. Charles Gear and Randolph Campbell estimate that between 38,000-50,000 slaves were transported into the state during the Civil War.

This phenomenon of refugeeing, like all movements of slaves, disrupted some families. It also carried additional burdens of servitude since chattel slavery would not be abolished in Texas until 19 June 1865.

As a genealogist conducting slave era research in Texas, refugeeing pose unique challenges in trying to identify the last slave owner of my great great great grandfather Isaac Haynes. The common method of identifying the slave owner is to locate one’s ancestor(s) in the 1870 Federal Population Schedules and then try to locate all white landowners listed in close proximity to one's enslaved ancestor. The next step would be to locate the identified landowners in the 1860 Federal Population Schedules and Slave Schedules for the same county. However my ancestor arrived in Texas during the Civil War in 1862 as a part of refugeeing. In addition, I am unaware of which state he migrated from prior to arriving in Texas. Thus examining the 1860 Population and Slave Schedules will not be applicable yet.

Instead research of Leon County records in particular tax and deed records will need to be conducted. Tax records will need to be examined to identify individuals who paid taxes on slaves and show up after 1862. This will help me to identify potential individuals. This list of identified individuals will then need to be located in the 1870 Federal Census Population Schedule for Leon County. Deed records will also need to be examine as a cross reference with the information I will gather from the tax rolls and 1870 census. Only after examining these records will I be able to identify a potential slave owner and prior residence for my great great great grandfather Isaac Haynes.

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.

Slave Era Insurance Policy

In 2000, the state of California passed legislation which required all insurance companies conducting business in the state to provide the slave insurance records of their predecessors. The deadline for submitting these records was set for October 2001. Although some companies stated that they could not find any records or that the records were destroyed, other companies were able to locate such records. By August 2000, the California legislature report that "[I]nsurance policies from the slavery era have been discovered in the archives of several insurance companies, documenting insurance coverage for slaveholders for damage to or death of their slaves, issued by a predecessor insurance firm."

Information was found by the following companies ACE USA; Aetna Life Insurance Company; AIG (United States Life Insurance Company of New York); Manhattan Life; New York Life Insurance; Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company; Providence Washington Insurance Company; and Royal & Alliance. From the information gathered a Slave Era Insurance Registry was created. The registry included the name of slaves, location/residence of the slaves, name of slaveholders, location/residence of slaveholders), and companies submitting the information.

New York Life Insurance Company’s reported that its predecessor the Nautilus (Mutual Life) Insurance Company of New York sold 485 slaveholders life insurance policies during a two-year period in the 1840s. There were three death claims with a total of $1,050.00 paid.

They also reported that the policies were generally written for under $500.00 and were for one-year terms.

A significant number of these policies were written for enslaved Africans working in the Clover Hill Pits and Mid Lothian Coal Mines located in Chesterfield County, Virginia.

The enslaved were usually leased or hired out by their owners. Due to the danger involved in mining, slave owners sought out insurance companies to protect their valuable property from loss. Nancy C. Frantel states "These policies provided a risk-free opportunity for the owners to lease slaves; but it was far from risk-free for the slaves who were forced to work in the extremely hazardous conditions of the mines." Insurance companies even wrote policies on 12-year-old slaves who labored underground in the mines.

In 1846, the heirs of Jameson Moody (1783-1842) would take out policies on their male slaves before hiring them out to work as miners in the Clover Hill Pits. They would take out policies for two consecutive years on Sam Jones (40), Harry Montague (25), Phill (50), Robert (20), Henry (16), and my great great great great grandfather Joe (35).

After the two year period, the Moody family would moved to Fairfield, Freestone County, Texas after being encouraged to relocate by their brother William Moody (1828-1920) who migrated there in 1852. My ancestors would be a part of this migration west to the Lone Star State.

The discovery of the insurance policies provided me with a broader perspective of the lives as well as the complexity of slave labor. There is an assumption that all enslaved Africans worked on the plantation in fields. Enslaved labor was used in factories, mines, railroad construction, waterways, and other areas.

The original ledger detailing these policies was donated to the Schomburg Center for Black Research and Culture in New York.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Texas Scholastic Census

Vital records in Texas started in 1903 but did not become mandatory statewide until the 1930s. As a result birth certificates are very sporadic during this time period. Texas Scholastic Census, which is underutilized, is a great substitute for birth records. I discovered the value of these records during my first trip to the Cass County Clerk’s Office in Linden, Texas. While looking for birth records for my maternal grandmother and her siblings, I was unable to locate any records for my grand-aunt Agnes Stanley (1925-2002) who was born in 1925. After spending a couple of hours examining the birth registry, the clerk suggested that I look at the scholastic census. And to my surprise the census provided me with the names and birth dates of all the school-age children of my great grandparents as well as the name of the school district. The census was signed by my great grandfather (R. Matthew Stanley, 1878-1932) in 1931. This was the first time I saw his signature.

As with most records the information collected on them varies from county to county and over time. For example, the census for 1936 Leon County, Texas collected information on nationality and length of stay within the county.

The origin and development of the scholastic census was outlined in an article by W. E Marshall, Executive Secretary of the Texas State Department of Education. The article titled “Our Public Schools" was published in The Victoria Advocate on 13 June 1939. According to Mr. Marshall, it began in 1854 with an act to establish a system of schools and annual scholastic censuses, to be taken by each county assessor-collector. The law required that a list of the free white population between the age of six and eighteen years be made each year in every county. The age was lowered to six and sixteen in 1870. It was not until 1884, that the census would include all children in the county between the ages of eight and sixteen. In 1895, it was ordered that the scholastic census would be conducted between the first day of May and the first day of June for all children over eight and under seventeen on the first day of the following September. Once again in 1925 the age requirement was changed. This time the required age was between seven and eighteen. And finally in 1929, the law changed the age to six through eighteen, which remained in effect until 1975 when the scholastic census was abolished.

These records are kept and maintained by the county clerk and sometimes the county judge. They can also be examined through inter-library loan. Also check the Texas State Library and Archives’ website to see if the scholastic census for your county has been microfilmed.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Limitation of Conducting Slave Era Research Online

There is a current trend that I am seeing on many forums related to slave era research that by only examining vital records, U.S. census and slave schedules that one will be able to identify the slave holding family. Sites like ancestry, footnote, heritage quest, familysearch and others have greatly assisted researchers in having access to various federal and vital records. However, census and vital records can only provide an outline to the lives of our ancestors. Census records are secondary sources, so one must be cautious in taking them as proof regarding age, relationship, place of birth etc. And since the slave schedules only provide age/sex description it is an unreliable document to verify ownership or the identity of individuals. Dee Parmer-Woodtor suggested that the slave schedules may not be entirely accurate as they relate to the number of enslaved individuals a owner may have as well as to their description.

Whereas other records - deeds, court, military service, church and other records can provide a much more in-depth view into the lives of our ancestors. These records should be examined in the post-slavery period first before conducting slave era research. Often they will provide clues to the last slave holding families. For example, a good friend of mine, Reclaiming Kin, discovered a court case in which her ancestors gave a disposition in 1870. The case involved the daughter and brother of the slave owner in which both parties were fighting over the estate. This case began in 1854. The court case included the will, inventory of the personal property (slaves), description of the plantation, etc. This provided my friend with an wealth of information about her enslaved ancestors during slavery and the first few years after slavery.

County records can also provide clues to the surname of the last slave holding family. In 1873, my ggg grandfather Andrew (Andy) Perkins was charged with assault with the intent to murder in Leon County, Texas. Two individuals Joseph A. Evans and Alexander Reed, post a $350.00 surety bond on his behalf. These two individuals also accompanied his to the trial. After researching these two individuals to determine their relationship to Andy Perkins, I discovered that Joseph Evans was the son of Edward Evans, the last slave owner of Andy Perkins. Without examining this record and then doing research on the individuals, I would have never been able to discover the surname of the last slave owner.

Vital records such as marriage records, sometime list witnesses. Usually these witnesses are either family members or friends of the family. And in some cases, they are members of the slave holding family. This was the case when Lucy Dashiell married William Logwood in San Antonio, Texas in 1867. The daughters of a prominent businessman and former slave owner Jeremiah Dashiell, were listed as witnesses on Lucy and William's marriage certificate.

The above examples show that relationships between the former enslaved and the slave holding families continued after slavery. And by examining county records in the post slavery period clues were provided in assisting to identifying the last documented slave holding family.

And once you have completed the post-slavery research and start slave era research, the vast majority of records you will consult will not be online or indexed. These records are usually housed at the county courthouses, state archives and libraries, national archives and other repositories including private collections. Some of the essential records are as followed:

1) Conveyance or deed records
2) Church affiliation records
3) Military service
4) Tax entries
5) Freedman Bureau Records
6) Land ownership (plat map and/or legal description)
7) Personal papers (account books, slave list, diaries, etc.)
8) Estate papers

Some of these records (although very few) may be transcribed and placed online but how does one know if the transcription is correct? Or where the information was acquired? Relying solely on online sources for conducting slave era research will limit one's ability to truly identify and confirm the last slave holding family of one's ancestor.

The internet must be used only as a tool to assist us toward locating and narrowing our search at the state and county levels. It should never be used as a primary vehicle for doing genealogy or slave era research.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Getting Started

When I was growing up I knew very little about my family outside of my maternal grandmother. And what little information I did know came from an old black and white picture in my mother photo album and the stories my mother told me about a family vacation to Naples, Texas
when she was ten years old. The photo was dated 1954 and was taken in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco when my great grandmother left Texas to visit her three children who migrated to the San Francisco Bay Area during World War II. The photograph showed my mother being held by my grand aunt, with my grandmother, great grandmother and others standing by her side. This photo would be the inspiration that would lead me on a journey of self-discovery to uncovering my family heritage.

My journey began when I was a sophomore in college, after reading Margaret Walker's Jubilee for an African American's literature course. The professor informed the class that the novel was based on oral history. The professor went on to talk about conducting genealogy research and the unique location of the college since it was so close to various repositories - Sutro California State Library, National Archives and Records Administration, and a family history center. After the class ended, I ran to the college library and checked every book I could find on doing genealogy. After reading a few books, I felt I was ready to start researching. I figured I would learn everything I needed to know about my family by the end of summer.

Little did I realize, the project I was attempting to do would require more than a couple of months. My summer adventure has turned into a life long journey full of documenting the challenges and successes of my ancestors and their descendants.