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[ Transcript for: African-American Genealogy: How Do I Put All the Information Together? ]

African-American Genealogy: How Do I Put All the Information Together? Video Transcript

Part Five of a Five-Part Series


MALE SPEAKER: This public affairs presentation is brought to you by the Missouri State Archives Office of the Secretary of State: Where History Begins.

This program is the fifth in a five-part series on researching African American genealogy. Your series host is Traci Wilson-Kleekamp, Family History Research Consultant.

Today's program: How Do I Put All the Information Together?, will help you explore and use the many resources available from the Internet, and local, state, and national historical repositories.

So, let's join Traci for some good advice and helpful tips on discovering our African American heritage.


:47 Putting Your Research Together: John and Harriet Lee

MS. TRACI WILSON-KLEEKAMP: Well, so far we've talked about what's out there, in terms of records and what they might look like. We've talked about what your story is, and how you're going to go about researching it based on the oral history that you have or documents that you have. We've discussed going out on the web and gathering information from the web to aid you in your research. We've talked about the Civil War. And we've talked about different resources that are out there to aid you in your research.

So, today, we're going to talk about putting it all together. How do we take all the information that we've gleaned so far in helping us do research?

So, today, I'm going to pick one person and I'm going to go through a couple that I ran across names John and Harriett Lee. I think they're a good example of using the census, of using the pension files, death records and marriage records and also a little bit of theorizing, in terms of my methodology of doing research, and that is that many times in 1870 former slaves still lived near or with their former owners. Moreover, many times when people do research they focus on just their household, just their enumeration on the census, and they forget about looking at who lives next door or down the street et cetera.

2:10 Studying the Census

So, I challenge you when you're studying census to become a student of the census. Look at who lives next door to your particular ancestor, who lives on either side of them, think about who lives on the street. Generally, families live together during these times. And, they kind of—in-laws lived there, their cousins, people lived very closely together. So, don't discount who might be living next door. There might be a reason for it. This kind of coincides also with cemetery records where you'll find family groups buried together. This is another clue that you can use.

So, today we're going to look at John and Harriett Lee. They lived in Cooper County in 1870. I actually became interested in them because I was studying the marriage records and I was interested in the Henderson name. And I was mostly interested in the Henderson name because I have other relatives with the same last name.

So, in 1870 we're looking at John and Harriett Lee and who are their neighbors? And this—we're going to start in 1870. In 1870, I became interested in Hannah Henderson. Here she is right here, the wife of Abraham Martin. I didn't know who the people were next door or next door to them or next door to them. These are all the households for which I have a red line and they have an association with each other. I discovered, after doing a little bit of research that Harriett, who lives next door, is the daughter of Martin and—Abraham Martin and Hannah Henderson. I discovered that by looking at marriage records. I also studied the census a little bit more besides this household of Abraham Martin. I looked at—they were enumerated as Mulatto, which is the "M" here or "ME" it looks like sometimes. There's also a Martin living up a couple doors away under this household with Gibson. And the person's name is B.F. Gibson. I later learned his name was Benjamin Franklin Gibson. And, at the top, just next door to Mr. Gibson is Steven Adams and his wife Fannie.

4:22 Using Death Records

After I studied the census, I also wanted to see if I could find any death records that would shed some light on tying Harriett and her parents together. A death record notes for Harriett Lee that her father was Abraham Martin. That matches the 1870 census. The informant is West Martin. The youngest child in their household is named Wesley Martin, so that appears to be her brother and her father. Her mother appears to be unknown.

In another record—and this one surprised me, because I found John Lee and Creca, it says C-r-e-c-a, Martin. And I wondered, who was that? It appears to be a child of Harriett's, but I didn't recognize this name Creca.

5:15 The Contents of a Pension File

I went a little further and I began to look at pension files and I pulled a pension file for John Lee, Harriett's husband. The pension file included a lot of witness statements from their neighbors. In this case, there was a pension—there was a witness statement from Charles Collins and Steven Adams. If you remember on the 1870 census, neighbors to John and Harriett include Steven Adams. This meant that there might have been some association beyond the fact that they were just neighbors, but I didn't know that. So, I requested the pension file to see what further I might learn.

The pension file states—the pension file had a witness statement from Charles Collins, who said essentially that Harriett also went by the name of Crece, C-r-e-c-e or Creca and that he knew that she married John Lee. And, that he also knew the name of their children that they had together. He went further to say that they were married by a minister named Grandison Roberts and they were married in the Colored Baptist Church of Boonville. This is a considerable amount of information from this statement. It confirms that Crece that I saw on the death record is still Harriett. Later, I discovered, reading a little further, that her name was Harriett L. Lee. And, "L" stood for Lucretia or Crece for short.

Harriett also makes a declaration in her—the pension application for her deceased husband's benefits who was a Civil War veteran—she also notes that she was married; her and her husband were married by Grandison Roberts; that they were married in the Gospel—the Church of Boonville, which is a little bit different than—no, it says the Colored Church of Boonville. But, it's hard to tell on some of the writing if they're saying the same thing or not, but I believe it essentially is.

She also notes the names of her children and when they were born. These are all minor children at the time of her husband's death.

Harriett had additional information to give to the military investigators when they were coming to verify by speaking to her neighbors and family members whether she was indeed the wife of John Lee. She provided a page from their family Bible of their children, which noted their names—their full names and their births as proof that they were heirs of John Lee. She also was able to provide them with her original marriage record. It was issued by Cooper County, Missouri. Again, the minister of the gospel was Grandison Roberts. It has the day that they were married. It also lists the names of the two children that they had that were born prior to 1870.

In a related pension file, which was not in the pension application of John Lee, I found another statement that made a reference to the Martin family. In this case, this is the—this is a child of Abraham Martin. This would be Harriett's sister making a statement for another Civil War veteran. But, it gives insight into making sure that I have the right people connected to each other.

In this case, this Mary Nelson makes a statement for a veteran named Calvin Johnson. She mentions her brothers Isaac Martin and Daniel, and her sisters Eliza Martin and Dollie. These children are all listed in the marriage record of John Lee and Harriett Lee when they were married in 1866. And, so, there's a match. The other thing that's new information is that she says that she was living with her parents who were then living near what's known as the Gibson Farm, which may have relationship to the—the name Mr. Gibson who lives in between Steven Adams and the Lee family and the Martins.

The marriage record for Abraham Martin and Hannah Henderson, the parents of Harriett, listed these following children: Missouri, Alan, Lucretia, Isaac, Hiram, Anna Elizabeth, Daniel Webster—Daniel Webster, Melia, Dolly and Wesley. Wesley, we saw, was the informant on—for his mother's death record. Isaac and Daniel, we saw, were mentioned in the pension record for Calvin Johnson by their sister, Mary. And, Lucretia is the name for Harriett, who goes by Harriett L. Martin.

Another connection, again, pulls Steven Adams into play. In the pension file for John Lee, there is a statement by two gentlemen: a George McMann and Calvin Johnson. I have a relative who noted that Calvin Johnson was the son of a man named Frank Gibson. Although we did not know for sure if this was true, it was the oral history that was passed down in his family. As it turns out, Frank Gibson is the man on the census who lives in between Steven Adams, John Lee, and Abraham Martin. Calvin Johnson is a witness in the pension file of John Lee. He gives some extraordinary detail about his knowledge of Mr. Lee.

Mr. Johnson notes in his statement that about 17 or 18 years ago he was employed on the farm of Frank Gibson as a laborer and in chopping wood accidentally cut off his left foot by a blow of the axe with the blade, splitting his foot clear through from the toe several inches from the foot. The applicant Johnson was a laborer with him at the time and saw this event.

This places Mr. Johnson, Calvin Johnson, on the Frank Gibson Farm with John Lee and their neighbor Steven Adams, showing that they have an association with each other, living near each other.

Another interesting part of the application—of the pension application where Calvin Johnson and George McMann testify is that both George McMann and Calvin Johnson signed their name with an x, which demonstrates that they were unable to write.

13:11 Other Records: Land, Military, Marriage & WPA Narratives

I went a little further to see what more I could find about Calvin Johnson, and I found a land record for him and his wife in 1889. This matched the wife that he had in his pension application. I also used the Internet to check the—the descriptive recruitment list for colored recruits for Calvin Johnson. And, it notes that his owner was Frank Gibson.

So, from 1870 I looked at the census for Martin—Abraham Martin and his wife Hannah Henderson. Next door to them lives John and Harriett Lee, Abraham's son-in-law and daughter. Then, there is Frank Gibson and then next door is Steven Adams. Oral history from another relative was that Calvin Johnson was the son of Frank Gibson. Two statements put Calvin Johnson on the property of the Gibson Farm and he is able to testify on behalf of John Lee, his neighbor; also able to support their relationship and marriage and the children of John Lee was Steven Adams, who also worked on the farm.

Last, but not least, is the neighbor Steven Adams. In consulting the Cooper County black marriage records I discovered that Steven and Fannie, his wife, were married November 25, 1865. Their children are listed as you see here. John, William and Ellis Smith, Ann, Harriett, Mary, Lizza, Margaret, Amy, Julia, Michael and Benjamin with their names listed. Ellis Smith was a slave of Maria Muir. It was not uncommon for children to be slaves of other local owners. And, the families still maintained contact, but their children could be owned by different people with the adjoining properties to their—where their parents were slaves.

In this case, I went a little further about Ellis Smith to see what more I could find and discovered that his owner Maria Muir was the widow of Douglas Muir. They are a family that came from Virginia to Cooper County in the early and late—early 1850s. The Muir family was interrelated to the Gibson family; in other words, these families had intermarried, and as such, lived near each other and their slaves and their families had relationships and were related to each other as well.

Another slave of Ms. Muir named Jack Wiley had a daughter named Delicia Patterson, and her story is captured via a Works Progress [Works Progress Administration] Slave Narrative. It's very interesting reading and it's on the web if you would like to click on this link and read further.

As it turns out, Ellis Smith is also interviewed in John Lee's pension application. But, I would not have discovered anything about Ellis if I hadn't studied all the people that were living adjacent to John Lee in 1870, and continued to live near each other and have a relationship with each other throughout their lifetime. This is demonstrated on land deeds and other records that demonstrate that they remained neighbors and lived near each other.

Benjamin Franklin Gibson's first wife was named Emeline Adams. Her father William Adams owned slaves in 1850 and 1860. It's very likely that Steven Adams and perhaps his wife got their surname via slavery and perhaps were owned by Mr. Gibson's wife’s family. As we discussed in the past, slaves went from family-to-family, so if Mr. Adams’ father died or brother or any other relative passed on, it’s most likely that slaves were passed on to siblings and other relatives. This cycle is repeated over and over again. It's also possible that slaves were mortgaged or hired out to provide income for the family. Still, slaves tended to go to family groups where the families had an associational relationship with each other.

18:22 Following Slave-Owning Families

This is the most critical part of doing African American research is following the patterns of the slave owning families via their relationships via marriage. Slaves could be given as dowry gifts for wives. They could be mortgaged or hired to provide income for families after a death of a family member. In some cases, slaves were rented out for as long as 17 to 20 years before the estate was finally settled. During that time, the slaves were hired out from year to year and continued to bring income into the estate, which was later divided up amongst the heirs.

Sometimes the heirs themselves hired the slaves in their family and would not allow them to be hired out to other people in the community or sold. Some owners made stipulations that their slaves had to stay within the family and could not be subject to private hire.

There are all kinds of situations and reasons for slaves to have been sold or hired or mortgaged depending on what was happening in the life of the slave owning families. Therefore, the lives of slaves was very much dictated by what was happening to their slave owning families.

All of these type of details take time to unravel. But, you have to remain focused at all times on who the players are. Once you discover who this owner of your family is, you need to know the genealogy of their family, where they lived, what they did and who they associated with in their business dealings or family dealings. In some instances, you may find that part of the family lives in Missouri and the rest of the family lives in another state and they still continue to give slaves to each other across state lines. This all adds a degree of difficulty in following slaves. But it's important to remember that these were all transactions that would be recorded in a courthouse through a deed of trust. Any kind of sale that required that they go to court or via probate would be recorded in county records. This is not limited to litigation and/or mortgages and other such transactions that required legal oversight.

I believe there are probably cases where slaves were sold for cash and there is no record. There are lots of transactions related to slaves that we may never uncover. But, for the most part there's a pretty good trail if you're following deeds of trust, estate records, and land records related to various families who owned slaves.

Don't forget that special collections and libraries and some books and other resources may have histories and additional information about these slave owning families that will give you some insight into their slave ownership. And, in some cases even discuss the slaves that were a part of your family.

21:27 Conclusion

Again, all of these little pieces, from using the Internet, from using your library to using your oral history, all the resources together build a story. A little piece can make a big story.

Putting the pieces together can take some time to do, but in this age of Internet technology it's very easy to communicate with a library that's on the other side of the world or across the country or in the county next door.

Be sure to take advantage in using your resources in your local library. If you don't have a computer please work with your local librarians and let them know what you're working on, so that you may be apprised of the documents that are available to you and what you can do to get them.

The Church of Latter-day Saints has many family history research centers across the country. They are always willing to work and help researchers with whatever projects that they have.

Just remember when you're doing this type of research where you are following enslaved ancestors who are property that you must keep track of the slave owning families, who they married, and their relationships with the community and how and who they did business with. These are clues that can take you a long way.

Putting the pieces together can give you some extraordinary results. One little piece can tell a big part of the story. Have fun putting it all together.

23:05 Finale

MALE SPEAKER: Thank you for watching How Do I Put All the Information Together?, the fifth program in a five-part series hosted by Family History Research Consultant Traci Wilson-Kleekamp.

This series provides helpful techniques in researching African American genealogy through the Internet, and local, state and national historical repositories.

This public affairs presentation is brought to you by the Missouri State Archives Office of the Secretary of State: Where History Begins.

Thank you for watching.