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Finding Evidence of Slavery in the Family

August 29, 2014

By Robin Foster

Photograph taken by Robin Foster

 

Have you ever wondered how to determine if there was an enslaved person or a slaveholder in your family history? You may lack the understanding of how to do that type of investigating. Whether your ancestor was enslaved or owned slaves , in a series of posts I will share the first resources that you should check: 

 

  • oral history

  • census records

  • wills

  • vital records

  • records on hand

 

Oral history

 

Does anyone recall your family having or being servants? Did ancestors seem to have close ties with people of the opposite color?   If your ancestor had or was a servant, was your family acquainted with other members of their family? How did you come to know them?

 

Is there a servant’s quarters or dilapidated house on the premises of your ancestor’s property?  Does anyone in the family remember ancestor’s having any ties or interaction to people that could have been forged during slavery?

 

Record the information that you remember or discover about people and events. Remember that details can get distorted over time.  Not all oral history is factual, but it can be a help to lead you to actual records where it can be proven or disproved.

 

The census

 

The census can help you identify relationships going back to the point just after slavery ended, and it will  help you to identify most members in the family group.  If no one in your family remembers these early ancestors, you will need to use the census to find clues. 

 

As you step back further in time, you will understand more clearly the relationships between the people listed next door on the census.  I will use two people I am related to   (Pettus Chick and Anderson Chick) to demonstrate how the census can reveal clues about relationships.  

 

For example, the only census where Anderson Chick (d. 1903) appears in the 1900’s is on the 1900 US Census in Goshen Hill, Union County, South Carolina.  I was given his name in an interview with one of his granddaughters who is now deceased. He is listed with his wife, Elenia, and children. 

 

I always check the families living next door at least a page before and a page after the census page where I find my family.  You never know who intermarried.  They did not travel that far back then.  Neither person living nearby was known to be directly related at first.  Next door to Anderson (person of color) is Sarah E. Chick (white) living with her nephew, John Henderson and family.

 

1900 US Census "United States Census, 1900," index and images, FamilySearch 

(https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-267-12342-41116-96?cc=1325221&wc=M94B-Q7N:704303751 : accessed 30 Nov 2013), South Carolina > Union > ED 69 Goshen Hill Township; citing NARA microfilm

 

A search of the 1880 US Census did not result  in locating an Anderson Chick, however a  search for Sarah Chick led to the discovery of  an Anderson Eigner living with his mother,  Eliza, and siblings next door to Sarah and her  nephew, John Henderson in Goshen Hill,  Union, South Carolina.

 

Anderson appearing with a different last name than Chick could have thrown me off the trail had it not  been for Sarah Chick living next door.  No family oral history existed which mentioned any other surname used other than Chick, and I found no one who could tell me anything about the parents of Anderson.

 

1880 US Census "United States Census, 1880," index and images, FamilySearch 

(https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-267-12877-14330-53?cc=1417683&wc=MMB9-8CS:1547083871 : accessed 30 Nov 2013), 004244531; citing NARA microfilm publication T9.

 

Yet again, a search of the 1870 US Census  did not result in locating an  Anderson Chick, however a  search for Sarah Chick led to the  discovery of an Anderson Maybin  living with his mother, Eliza, and  siblings next door to Sarah and  her nephew, John Henderson in  Goshen Hill, Union, South  Carolina. Anderson appears with a different last name than Eigner. They had used at least three different names over the course of 30 years.  I hope you can see the importance of searching the whole family at once.  That was the only way I knew this was my family because they used different last names.  I actually discovered them by searching the database for Sarah Chick.  I could not find them any other way.

 

1870 US Census "United States Census, 1870," index and images, FamilySearch 

(https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-267-11771-43676-86?cc=1438024&wc=M94H-TDH:971780602 : accessed 30 Nov 2013), South Carolina > Union > Goshen Hill; citing NARA microfilm publication M5

 

I contacted a great nephew of Pettus Chick who actually told me that Pettus Chick and Sarah never had any children; he supposedly had a child by an enslaved woman. Pettus and Anderson appear on both the 1870 and 1880 US Censuses living in Goshen Hill, Union County, South Carolina. Pettus did not appear in 1900.  Sarah was widowed.

 

So far we have not really proven a connection between Anderson (and Eliza) and Pettus (and Sarah). We have only shown how the census has helped us to see that they lived in close proximity for 30 years.  So what records would you turn to next to learn more?

 

Stay tuned to my next post in this series to find out more records that I found.

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