Monday, May 24, 2010

In Search of Betsy (Ransom) Harris Part 2

My search for Betsy Ransom continues. After tracing a Betsy Harris from Brazil, Clay County, Indiana to Dover District, Goochland County, Virginia using federal census records (1870-1900), I decided my next step would be to examine vital records and the cohabitation register for Goochland County, VA.

The cohabitation registers, or as it is properly titled, Register of Colored Persons...cohabiting together as Husband and Wife on 27th February 1866, was the legal vehicle by which former slaves legitimized both their marriages and their children. For many former slaves this was often the first time that they appeared officially in public records with a surname.

Since the Commonwealth of Virginia had vital records for 1853-1896 and the Library of Virginia (LVA) possessed them on microfilm as well as cohabitation registers, I decided to spend a day there.


I decided to examine the cohabitation register first, since I made the assumption that Isham (Isom) and Elizabeth (Betsy) were the parents of the minors enumerated with them in the 1870 census. This would mean that they had a slave marriage which occurred sometime between 1852 and 1853 assuming that Matilda was their daughter. After examining the register, I discovered an Isam Harris and Elizabeth Ranson who registered their union in Goochland County, Virginia. Isam was listed as being 45 years old with the occupation of a boatman. Elizabeth was ten years his junior at age 35.

At this point in my discovery, I was overwhelmed. Now most of my family and friends know that I am not an emotional person but at this moment I started to cry as I ran my finger over the name Elizabeth Ranson. I sat there for about three minutes staring at the image. Could this be? Had I found my great great great grandfather sister?

I was now determined to locate the names of all of the children. The birth registry provided the date and place of birth; name of child; color; free or slave; sex; whether born dead or alive; name of father or owner; father's occupation; father's residence; mother's name; name of informant; and the relation of the informant to the person born.

In the 1900 census, Betsy was listed as having 18 children but only 8 were living. Since six of the minors listed with Isham and Elizabeth in 1870 were born during slavery (1853-1862), I started my search in 1853. I wrote down the information pertaining to every Elizabeth or Betsy who was listed as a mother until I was able to locate the names of the children listed in the 1870 household. In addition, to discovering the name of the children, I was also able to discover the name of the slave owner - Edwin J. Duval.

I continued to examine the birth register and located three more births that occured after slavery.

After completing my search of the birth registers, I decided to examine the death register. The death registers provides similar information as the birth registers in addition to the cause of death.

I was also able to locate another daughter named Matilda Harris in the marriage records. She married Scott Pleasant, son of Riley and Doreus Pleasant on 21 March 1875.

By examining the vital records and the cohabitation register, I was able to confirm the madien name of Betsy (Ranson) Harris and locate the names of all of her children. In addition, I was able to identify her slave owner. Not bad for a day of researching.

Although, I had a very rewarding day, I realized that my search was not complete. I still needed to figure out the connection between this Betsy Ransom and my great great great grandfather Joseph Ransom. I believe the answer(s) lies in figuring out how, where, and when Edwin J. Duval acquired her.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tombstone Tuesday

                                                    Nannie Simpson
                                          2 March 1869 - 10 Jan 1892
                                                   Moore Cemetery
                                            Jewett, Leon County, Texas

Nannie Simpson was the daughter of Essex and Amanda (Henry) Simpson. She is the younger sister of my great great grandfather W. L. Simpson (1868-1916).

The picture was acquired by Patricia Marburger of the Leon County Genealogical Society, Centerville, Leon County, Texas.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

In Search of Betsy (Ransom) Harris Part 1

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my great great uncle Paul Ransom who wrote the “History of the Ransom Family.” The pamphlet was based on the stories he heard from his parents, paternal grandfather (Joseph Ransom, Sr.) and maternal grandmother’s (Jane King) experiences during slavery and post-emancipation. I have read the pamphlet numerous times since I first received it in the early 1990s. However, upon reading it again about a month ago this passage regarding my great great great grandfather’s sister being sold caught my attention “His sister Betsy was sold during slavery to a family in Clay County, Indiana. She was last heard of by the name Betsy Harris.” I began to wonder what happened to Aunt Betsy. Who was the Indiana Family who purchased her? Did she ever reconnect with her family?

To answer these questions, I began examining the U.S. Population Census for Clay County, Indiana in search of a Betsy Harris with a birthplace in Virginia. I examined the 1870 and 1880 censuses but I was unable to locate anyone named Betsy Harris. However, in 1900, I did locate a Betsey Harris enumerated with her son Edward Harris in Brazil, Clay County, Indiana. Betsey birth date was estimated to be about 1847 and her son was listed as 1873. Both were listed as being born in Virginia. Betsey was listed as having 18 children but only 8 were alive in 1900. This discovery was a possible lead, so I decided to try and locate this Betsey Harris and her son Edward in the 1880 census in Virginia. In the 1880 Census, I located sixteen Betsy Harris  and there was only one who was enumerated in a household with an Edward. Because the 1880—1930 censuses only shows relationship to the head of household, I am unable to determine if Betsy is the mother of Edward. They were located in Dover, Goochland County, Virginia. The household consisted of the following:

1. Isham Harris, age 50, born in Virginia, as were his parents
2. Betsy, wife, age 36, born in Virginia, as were her parents
3. Emily J, daughter, age 12, born in Virginia
4. Lea Anna, daughter, age 10, born in Virginia
5. Lucy Gay, daughter, age 9, born in Virginia
6. Edward, son, age 5, born in Virginia
7. Jearry, son, age 3, born in Virginia

In the 1870 Census, I located a family in Dover, Goochland County, Virginia who I believe is the same family due to the variations of the name Isom for Isham; the usage of Elizabeth instead of the nickname Betsy; and the listing of an Emily who is listed in both censuses.

1. Isom Harris, age 48, born in Virginia
2. Elizabeth, age 45, born in Virginia
3. Matilda, age 17, born in Virginia
4. Fannie, age15, born in Virginia
5. Isom, age 14, born in Virginia
6. Josephine, age 12, born in Virginia
7. Delia, age 10, born in Virginia
8. George W., age 8, born in Virginia
9. Emely J., age 2, born in Virginia
10. Lenah, age 4/12, born in Virginia

My gut instinct is telling me that this is the right Betsy that I initially found in Clay County, Indiana, however I would need to conduct additional research to determine if she is my great great great grandfather’s sister.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mothers' Day

A tribute to all mothers but especially my mother and grandmother. Happy Mothers' Day

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Using Census Records to Prove A Name Change

The season finale of "Who Do you Think You Are," featured Spike Lee tracing his maternal line in Dublin, Georgia. During the journey, it was discovered that his great great grandfather, Mars Jackson, was listed as Mars Woodall in the 1880 Census. The researcher assisting Mr. Lee suggested that this was an indication that Mars initially took the slave holding family surname but later changed it to Jackson. The researcher also concluded that Mars’ slave owner was James Woodall.
The discovery of Mars listed as a Woodall in the 1880 census is evidence but it is not enough to prove that he ever went under that name. Additional research would be required to substantiate the assertion of an actual name change.

For example, my great great great grandfather Essex Simpson (1841-1916) was listed as E. Platt in the 1870 U.S. Census for Leon County, Texas. In addition, he and his family were the only Platts listed in the county. I initially thought this was a case of a name changed, especially since he was listed as Simpson in every census from 1880-1910. However after doing additional research and examining county records (i.e. court, deed, tax rolls and voter registration) from 1866-1916, I found he was consistently listed as Essex Simpson. I have concluded that the 1870 census listing was not a case of a name changed.

Now the appearance of the surname Platt does raise several questions:

a) Is this the name of a previous slave owner?
b) Who was the informant?
c) Was Platt the maiden name of his mother and wife or just an alias?

Although, the federal censuses are wonderful sources for family researchers they are full of errors ranging from names, ages, race/color, etc. Common reasons for the errors are with the informant or with the census taker. Unlike birth or death certificate which list the informant, censuses do not list the informant so it is virtually impossible to know who provided the information to the census taker. The informant could have been the head of the household, the wife, child or even a neighbor. In addition, the informant could have given incorrect information or used an alias.

Therefore, censuses alone are not enough to substantiate a name change. The census record must be used in conjunction with others sources to prove or disprove a name change.