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Learning About the Nelms Family at Anson County Historical Society

Robin Foster researching at Anson County Historical Society in North Carolina. Photo taken by Ellis McClure on April 26, 2021©

Hopefully, you have been following me and you have understood how hard it has been for me to find my paternal great great grandparents before 1841. I had a stroke in the middle of researching for them in 2016. I had traveled to Virginia and Mississippi. All that had to be put aside. Now, I am ready to once again to step away from the internet and travel to the place and investigate.

My great great grandparents, Buck and Mary Nelms, were enslaved in DeSoto County, Mississippi until emancipation. Here they are in 1870:

"United States Census, 1870," database with images, FamilySearch ( : 13 June 2019), Mississippi > De Soto > Township 1 Range 10 > image 3 of 4; citing NARA microfilm publication M593 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

My Uncle Buddy who is the grandson of Lucy told me how they had been brought to Mississippi by the Nelms brothers. They had traveled from North Carolina. They were split up between the Nelms brothers. During the Civil War, one brother, Charles G. Nelms was killed in the war. The other brother, Eben Nelms, took the enslaved that Charles had.

Where in North Carolina?

Uncle Buddy also said that Lucy had married Hence Nelms, and they both were named Nelms because they both were formerly owned by the two brothers. I never could figure out exactly where in North Carolina they were from. Back in 2016, I went to the Library of Virginia where I researched the Nelms family all the way back to 1652. I figured I would have to trace every line that lived in North Carolina.

I eventually found this at Presley Nelms, Jr., his ancestors and descendants in America from Nov. 25, 1652 to the present - Viewer ( On page 32, I found the three Nelms brothers, the sons of Presley Nelms Jr. of Anson County, North Carolina. He had given them the property that they migrated to upon his death. I now know they had come from Anson County, North Carolina.

The Nelms Family Can Lead Me to Discovering More About My Own Family

It took too many years for me to get to this point. Yes, life gets in the way, but there was also something that I could stop doing. When I feel fear or anger, I should stop and pray. There are a couple of verses in the hymn, "God Moves in a Mysterious Way."

2. Ye fearful Saints, fresh courage take;

The clouds ye so much dread

Are big with mercy and shall break

In blessings on your head.

3. His purposes will ripen fast,

Unfolding ev’ry hour;

The bud may have a bitter taste,

But sweet will be the flower.

This hymn gives someone like me with formerly enslaved ancestors the courage I need to handle the bad feelings, the fear, and the anger. I feel the Savior strengthening me.

My approach has become different in that I can think about how the Nelms family can lead me to learning about my family. In other words, what things did the Nelms family do that also involved my family?

The more you learn about the former owner the more questions you can think of. Here are just a few:

1. Where were they buried? Were the enslaved buried nearby?

2. What professions did the family have? How were the enslaved involved?

3. What church did the family attend? Did the enslaved go?

4. Where did the family travel to? Did the enslaved go or stay?

How Do I Find the Answers to My Questions? Anson County Historical Society

Steve Bailey coping documents for Robin Foster. Photo taken by Ellis McClure on April 26, 2021©

I made an appointment to go to the Anson County Historical Society, and I met with Steve Bailey. He knew a little about who I had been researching. The most important thing that he did happened before I even arrived. He had placed two folders out where I would be sitting.

One folder held all the black Nelms. The other folder was of the white Nelms. When I saw that, I knew he understood. African Americans need to research the former slave owner and their family not just their ancestor. I spent time having him copy most of the documents in both folders.

I was impressed that he had added a note about who I was researching. He had put that note in the black Nelms folder. I had brought a few documents that he added as well.

Next, I looked through "The Smith Family Tree Book" that included Presley Jr.(father), Charles, and Eben Nelms. I had seen it the day before at, but seeing the actual book with the ornate metal cover tells you a lot about the family. Here is the cover:

The Smith Family Tree Book by W. Thomas Smith

The Nelms family that is in this book by W. Thomas Smith has a huge narrative for each person. I had all my questions that I brought with me answered. Now, I must read about each person who may have known about my Nelms family and formulate a new set of questions.

An Example of a Question

On page 115, I noticed that Presley Nelms Jr. has attended Olivet M. E. Church. They also mentioned he had been generous. I asked Steve if they had any history of Olivet M. E. Church.

He went straight to this history:

The history about Olivet Church starts in1843. It does make reference to Presley Nelms Jr., but he died in 1841, so I am searching for history of Olivet in Lilesville, NC going back before 1842. In my original question, I had asked about the history of Olivet. I had not considered the time period. (Going back to the hymn, "God Moves in a Mysterious Way," I had remembered the place, but time period was important too.)

Presley Nelms Jr. served in the American Revolutionary War, so I am confident that I can form the right questions and find the answers which will lead me to discovering more about my own family.

1 Comment

Hi Robyn, Great to see how your years of research are coming together and you are finding the answers to your questions and learning so much about your families history. Thanks for sharing. Your success and strategies motivate me to keep researching my family. Have a Blessed weekend. Ethel

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