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Finding Enslaved Ancestors

Edna Vance by Emory Wallace Vance, Sr.

This is a picture of my mom, Edna Vance Foster, when she was playing on her parent’s farmland in Gadsden, South Carolina back in the early 1940’s. My grandfather always took a lot of photos, but we do not have any of them because a family member took them. Because of my research, I have been able to recover some photos he sent to his cousins. This particular photo was given to us by William Louis Johnson of Asheville, North Carolina before he died. I would have never even seen it, but I met him. He shared this and several others before he died.

It is so important for me to be able to tell my daughter, Adrianne, about her grandparents, great grandparents, and great, great grandparents. I now have grandchildren who I also feel that same responsibility. I stand before them with my experiences, my mother’s experiences, my grandparent’s experiences, and even my great grandparent’s and great, great grandparent’s experiences through their eyes, through photos, and through historical records.

In my genealogy are people of different colors. No stone is left unturned. Nothing that happened is left out; no person is avoided. For me to tell the truth about the past I might have to take breaks when I make a hard discovery, but I will always carry on.

I want to be able to tell where they lived, where they worked, the struggles they had, the families that they raised, accomplishments they had, and so much more.

Over the years I have learned so much about my family. I started just like everybody else with oral history, but I have incorporated my love of history with my genealogy research. This is the first time I am teaching it on this scale.

So, you will see interspersed within this story of my ancestor’s modules numbered 1-5. They are historical periods that our families lived through. In studying the historical periods, you will find laws were created. Where there are laws created you can find people documented. The historical periods that I focus on are the following: Jim Crow, Black Reconstruction, Enslavement and Freedmen, Free People of Color, and African or Black Maroons. Taking these historical periods in conjunction with oral history, and regular genealogical information breathes life into who your ancestors were. The next thing you will need to have is the ability to research outside of yourself. Either take a brief hiatus or make friends within the Genealogy Just Ask Groups that you will work with. If this is your first visit to Genealogy Just Ask then here are all of our groups: Genealogy Just Ask Groups. Let’s begin!

My maternal line who I have photos for are pictured here. When I think of stories that my grandchildren will need to learn about, I think of the stories of enslavement and how my family survived.

The first story was told to me by my grandmother, Otis E. Tucker Vance (1905-1996). I had asked about who she remembered that used to be enslaved. She told me about her grandmother, Martha Sims Talley (1855-1936). This was the mother-in-law of Daisy B. Chick Tucker (1883-1941). I will explain how I discovered over seven formerly enslaved ancestors from seeking out the story of how Otis Edna Vance, my grandma, came to be.

Martha had spent the first few years of her life in the house of the enslaver, my 4th great grandfather, James Anderson Tucker (1801-1885). Enslavement ended. She grew up and married John Talley (1844-1922). They had sons, but one child she had was not the son of John Talley. His name was George Anderson Tucker (1882-1932).

My grandmother gave me these details easily. She loved both of her parents. She could remember George Epps Tucker, her grandfather, bringing fruit to the farm and visiting where they lived in Buffalo, Union County, South Carolina. The photo of the enslaver’s grandson hung next to her grandmother in their home. That same grandmother, Martha, lived in a home on that same farm. That was as much as I could digest before the ability to ask questions of Grandma or her sisters slipped away with their passing.

Oral history for now ended until I could meet someone else who knew them. I would next turn to basic historical documentation. I promised myself that even though my family had given me the names that I would later search out I would also record the names on the public documentation.

Otis E. Vance by Robin Foster

Find A Grave Memorial

Ohio Death Index, 1908-1932, 1938-1944, and 1958-2007, Ohio Department of Health in Columbus

All my life I knew my grandma lived in Yellow Springs, Greene County, Ohio. That’s where she is buried. It was while listening to the family do much reminiscing after grandpa, Emory W. Vance, Sr. (1901-1973), died that I learned of this faraway place called Gadsden, South Carolina where they used to stay long ago. I could look up Greene County, Ohio Genealogy and find Grandma on a few records to document her dad, George Anderson Tucker.

The Ohio Death Index from 1996 was just one record that had Tucker for the father’s name. It also listed her birth as being in South Carolina. I could order the original record and receive more information.


1. Jim Crow: Jim Crow Era Genealogy! Just Ask!

Failure to follow racial rules led to being jailed, whipped, or lynched. African-Americans fled the South in unprecedented numbers rather than tolerate this racism. Some stayed.

Today because of Jim Crow African-Americans have a wealth of history that identifies them. Here are just three examples:

Grandma Otis Edna Tucker Vance’s Business is in Green Book

Finding My Grandfather, Emory Wallace Vance, Sr., in 1942

Ads from Columbia Newspapers Mention Green Leaf Café 1939-1940


Otis and Edna Vance in Gadsden, SC. Taken by Emory Wallace Vance, Sr.

Grandma told me she lived in Gadsden, South Carolina. Gadsden is in Richland County, SC. So I could look into what records can be found there at Richland County, South Carolina Genealogy. This is another of the photos that Granddaddy sent to Cousin Bill and he gave them back to us. This is one of two houses Granddaddy built on the farm. On the steps is Grandma Otis with my Mom, Edna, out in front. I found my family on census records and on death certificates.

Death of Daisy B. Chick Tucker (1883-1941)

Meanwhile, in Buffalo, Union County, South Carolina, I found the death certificate of my great grandmother, the mother of Otis, my grandmother. Her daughter, my aunt Cat, had told me she walked from a store in town where she was selling eggs, and she just fell to the ground dead. Her mother and father were Anderson and Elenia Coleman Chick. I will have to tell you their story another time. The informant was the oldest son of George Anderson Tucker and Daisy B. Chick, James Tucker. Remember I told you about an enslaver named James Anderson Tucker? That would be George’s great grandfather.

"South Carolina Deaths, 1915-1965," database with images, FamilySearch ( : 18 April 2016), 004181100 > image 216 of 1642; Department of Archives and History, State Records Center, Columbia.

Otis E. Tucker Vance and family on 1940 US Census

"United States Census, 1940," database with images, FamilySearch ( : 14 February 2020), Otis Vance in household of Emory W Vance, Ward 9, Columbia, School District 1 Columbia, Richland, South Carolina, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 40-40, sheet 5A, line 38, family 88, Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940, NARA digital publication T627. Records of the Bureau of the Census, 1790 - 2007, RG 29. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2012, roll 3833.

Before living on the farm, they stayed downtown on 1501 Manning Ave. in Columbia, SC. My grandfather, Emory, my grandmother, Otis, my mom, Edna, and my aunt, Cat, my grandmother’s youngest sister were staying together. She stayed with them and went to Booker T. Washington High School then Benedict College. Then she taught at Booker T. Washington High School. My great grandfather, Rev. Lafayette Franklin Vance, my granddaddy’s father, and his wife who was a teacher, Martha Vance lived nearby. It really felt good to see so many of my ancestors together.

Daisy B. Chick Tucker on 1940 US Census