Descendant of a Slave Holder

What to do when you come across evidence of Enslaved Persons

As I dig deeper into the lives of my ancestors, I find evidence that their lives and values were very different from my own. It is a fact one must accept and forgive any wrongs once done in the past, learn from them, and move forward. I will admit, sometimes you do not want to work on that ancestor any longer!

It is a hard fact to face when you find your ancestors had enslaved people. Having that slave schedule come up the first time for an ancestor had me in tears. I wasn’t so far removed from slavery as I had hoped. Being the good genealogist that I hope to be, I made note of the facts, and kept digging, hoping for something good to offset the terrible.

Here in the past few years, I have joined many Genealogy groups on Facebook to connect with other Genealogists and learn about different areas I am researching. These sites are very helpful and people are ask all kind of questions and look in records I would not have thought about. One day, a person had posted a notice from a paper listing a slave auction to be held and it listed the names of the people to be sold. This person made mention of saying their names and giving them their humanity. This stayed with me, and my hope was that I could name any of the ones I came across in my searches so others could find them. But, I was unsure where to do this, or how to ask as it is a sensitive subject.

Again with the helpful Facebook groups! There was a post all about the sensitivity of ancestors holding slaves, and how some family members would rather “sweep it under the rug” so to speak, rather than acknowledge this dark fact. There, I felt comfortable to ask about listing these persons names somewhere, and identifying them. A kind person listed Beyondkin.org

Beyond Kin is a wonderful site, with a lot of helpful information including how to research your Enslaved Person (EP) ancestors, and how descendants of Slave Holders (SH) can list the enslaved persons this ancestor held. I just began my project starting in Wayne County, Kentucky. I should make a later posts with the “family” group sheet to make it easier to find. Right now, I have started with my online Ancestry tree, but I do not currently have a paid subscription so it is tedious to add citations.

As I learn more about this site, I hope to be able to list other EPs I come across where the SH might not be related to my ancestor – or where I have not yet figured out that relationship. I can see that this is not an easy journey to take, and one that is hard emotionally as well.

Have you found evidence of EPs in your family? Where have you listed their names? How have you looked for your enslaved ancestor’s names?

Finding your Ancestors in The Newspapers

Different search options

Newspapers hold so much information on our ancestors and could potentially hold the key to help unlock mysteries about who they were and what they did. As more and more newspapers are digitized and made available online, the more we can learn.

Search options scan the computer generated text, a process called optical character recognition or OCR.

“Optical character recognition (OCR) is a fully automated process that converts the visual image of numbers and letters into computer-readable numbers and letters. Computer software can then search the OCR-generated text for words, phrases, numbers, or other characters. However, OCR is not 100 percent accurate, and, particularly if the original item has extraneous markings on the page, unusual text styles, or very small fonts, the searchable text OCR generates will contain errors that cannot be corrected by automated means. Although errors in the process are unavoidable, OCR is still a powerful tool for making text-based items accessible to searching.”

(Library of Congress)

Newer newspapers, I have noticed, have a cleaner text and thus the OCR is more accurate. Many older newspapers were first microfilmed many years ago before being digitized. This can pose a problem in the legibility of the content. Issues on the microfilm such as dust and scratches, and ink blots or inconsistencies in the newsprint paper can lead to strange outcomes. The computers pick up on all the little flecks and ink blots and generate text for these as well. I have found ‘~’s in the middle of words, * and ^ in various places, among other things. ‘e’ often is found as ‘o’ or ‘c’, and likewise the other way around for each character.

When searching for your ancestors names, try different variations of how the letters might be perceived by a computer. For example the name Smith might be generated as Srnitln or Smltln. Don’t rule out those special characters either. ‘S’ might be found as ‘$’, ‘D’ and ‘B’ can be interchanged, and ‘ri’ for an ‘n’ occurs often.

Look at the font of the newspaper you are searching and compare it to the OCR. Make some guesses as to how a computer might “see” the font and how it might be construed. Try these new terms out in the search field and see if any come up with a match.

There are times when you know the date your ancestor died, and there is newspaper coverage for that date, but nothing comes up in the searches. When this occurs, you will have to read the paper to find it on your own. I once found an obituary this way, the OCR was a series of lines and symbols, as the digitized microfilm was washed out and the text was hardly legible. The computer program had no chance figuring that one out.

Finding Sources

Accidentally finding interesting websites

Recently I came across an online article about finding your relatives in Lutheran Church records. My German ancestors were Lutheran, so I clicked the link to read more. Unfortunatly, it was a premium article that I couldn’t read without a subscription. I then decided to go searching for other articles on the topic to see what I could learn.

I accidentally discovered a website dedicated to the history of the Lutheran Church. The Concordia Historical Institute is dedicated to preserving the history of the Lutheran movement. It includes libraries, museums, and collections all related to the Lutheran Church.

This site has a few church records and microfilms of church records, among other items available at it’s location in St. Louis. Intrigued, I searched their archives catalog, but did not discover any items from the area I am searching in Quincy, Illinois. This site is in interesting lead non-the-less. Perhaps learning more about the church history will help me understand my ancestors a little more.

It has also given me new ideas to search for records beyond the typical historical societies, libraries, and archives. What have you discovered accidentally that has help you in your research?

When you can’t read the handwriting

Tips and tricks

Digging into the past is a fun experience and we enjoy what we can uncover about who came before us. As we find more out, we can go back further and further in time. But this can lead to frustration when we cannot read the handwriting on the documents. This could be due to the penmanship of the writer, the fading of the ink on the paper through the passage of time, or the paper itself get soiled and deteriorates with improper storage. Regardless the reason, unreadable documents are a frustraion.

Below, I have gathered some tips and tricks that I have used and come up with to help in deciphering this ancient script.

  1. The first thing you should do when the writing is hard to read is learn the writers handwriting style. Are their other words you can make out to help you understand how they wrote different letters? Read the entire document as best you can and see what you can make sense of. Use context clues to help you understand as well. Then once you can start understanding how this person wrote, it might be a little easier to understand.

2. Find a handwriting chart from the time period of the document. Believe it or not, the style of handwriting has changed over the years. Letters like P and S have changed quite a bit over time. Also, make sure to have the alphabet from the documents country of origin. German lettering was much more ornate at one time and had different S styles for where it landed on the syllable.

3. Scan the document in and adjust the contrast, brightness or even coloring in a photo editing software. This is one where you will have to play with your self to see what works for your particular document. Adjusting the sharpness might help as well on documents that might be a bit blurry.

4. Write it out yourself. This trick might help in understanding the motion of the lettering in the word. Grab a pen and paper and try to mimic the writing exactly as it appears. Your memory of how to write a letter (say a cursive b) might help you figure out what letters you are trying to write. Also seeing it in your own (though sloppy!) handwriting might help you see the letters better.

– Another idea is to print out the document and trace the writing. It works on the same principle as discovering the letters through muscle memory. Tracing the word will help you “feel” the letters and perhaps understand how the writer wrote his/her letters better.

5. Write what word you think it could be. Instead of just mimicking the handwriting, write (in the same style of cursive) the word out that you think it might be. How does the word look in your handwriting? Is it similar? You can also have someone else write it for you and compare their writing to the document’s.

6. Play “Hangman”. Just like the game we liked to play in school, we are trying to find the missing letters to figure out the mystery word. Begin with figuring out how many letters there are. It’s okay if you can’t figure out if there are two lowercase Ns, and R and a W or M and R, or other letters that look similar. That’s what this game is for. Write out the letters that you can read, and put a line for the ones you are uncertain of. Try different combinations of letters until it makes sense as a word, and in context of the document.

7. Sound it out. Try reading the text out loud and sound out the letters, just like a toddler learning how to read. It might seem a bit silly, but again, you are working on the knowledge you already have of letter sounds and sometimes hearing it can help you figure it out better. What word is it sounding like as you try to sound it out? Write it down and reread the text with those words until you can understand the context of the document.

These are just a few tricks that I have used to figure out handwriting issues in older (and newer!) documents. I hope these can help you in figuring out what your documents says.

What other tricks have you tried to understand handwriting?

Why Do They Believe That?

Following the research of others

I have been going over all my lines here and there, seeing what information I still need, and where I need to “clean up” old broken sources, add sources and just a good “house cleaning”.

Years ago, I received information on my Bruton line. I was excited to see that my 6th great grandfather was a Revolutionary War hero, George Bruton. So, over the years I began compiling information on him when I could find it. What I know about him was that he was born in 1762 South Carolina, and at some point after the war, moved to Kentucky where he died and is buried. One can find this information quite easily. What is uncertain is how exactly he is related to my Bruton line.

I can follow my Bruton line all the way to James Bruton quite easily with the records that are available. According the information I was given, he would be Geroge’s grandson. Unfortunately, the information I was given did not include the source of the information. Basically, they did not list where they found the information. So, I set out to see how others came to this conclusion and find the sources. I am still working on this.

James is said to be the son of George Bruton Jr., son of George Bruton the Revolutionary war hero. George Bruton Sr. lived in southern Kentucky. James lived in Northern Tennessee for a bit, and then moved to Kentucky. Little is known about George Jr. It is believed that he is the George Bruton who married Susan Sallee in Mercer County Kentucky in either 1806 or 1800 depending on how you read the handwriting.

Some of the information that I received, came from a book written in 1974, that compiles family history of the Sallee family. The Bruton’s are in chapter IX, Unconnected Sallees. Here, it is mentioned there was a letter from George Jr, delivered by his son James for consent for his daughter Eliza to marry in 1828. It did not mention where the original letter can be found, or where they were married.

Searching for more information, I found a Facebook group for the Bruton family name. There are several descendants from George Bruton Sr. on there, so I figured this would be a good place to start. So far, I have only heard that these relationships are the case, but nothing to suggest why they are.

There is too much uncertainty for me right now to say that yes, this Revolutionary hero George Bruton is the grandfather of my gggg grandfather James Bruton. The information, sources, and documents have not been presented to me and I have not found them on my own. I do know that many records have been lost through the ages due to time, war, disasters, and negligence.

I am going to keep digging around and plotting what I find. I will come to my own conclusions based on the best evidence. I am open to James’ parents being someone else too. This project might have to wait until I can get to Kentucky and Tennessee in person to look through what is not available online.

What I do know: James Bruton was born about 1808 in Kentucky. In 1850 he and his family are living in Scott county, Tennessee. In 1860 and 1870, they are in Cumberland County, Kentucky. He can be found as the Postmaster for Burksville, Kentucky in 1874. He was living with his son Sandusky in 1880 in Barren County, Kentucky. He is buried in Bowls Cemetery in Barren County, Kentucky.

What I need sources for:

  • 9 Sep 1830, he married Rosanna Sandusky in Wayne County, Kentucky.
  • That he died 10 May 1882 in either Barren County or Cumberland County, Kentucky.
  • Who his father is.

Finding New Family

When you notice something on a record

Recently, I wanted to update and organize my records for my Gille family binder. I had in mind to print off all the records I had downloaded and place them with the correct families in my binder. The Gille family is one I am researching the entire family on.

I had come across birth registries in a church book in Germany. I brought up one of the children’s records to crop it in Adobe Photoshop and get it ready for printing, and noticed the name Buhmann a couple lines down. This was Marie Gille’s, the babies mother, maiden name. So, curiosity got the best of me as I wondered if this could be a child of her brother. Trouble was, I had no idea who any of her family was. So I set out to see what I could find on this Johann Christ Buhmann and his wife Dorothea Elisabeth Franche.

With a little research on Ancestry.com Library Edition (thank you pandemic for this at home access – ha!) I found that this indeed was her brother. Their parents names matched as well as location. I found his birth and marriage records, as well as other birth records for his children.

This led me to find other siblings of Marie Dorothee. I have now been trying to transcribe these old German registers and find out more about my German heritage. I still haven’t printed out the documents I was going to. But, this is so much more interesting! Ha!

Keeping up with Websites

Staying Organized

In my researching, I Google quite often. I come across many different websites in doing so. Some I may want to revisit. I was losing track of these websites, since I’d scribble down the address, or hope that it would print at the bottom of the page from the site. This was starting to become stressful as the amount of extra websites began to add up.

I needed a way to keep track of all the websites I visited or needed to reference again. So, I created a table in Google Docs to keep all of them on. It’s rather simple, and perhaps there is a better way to keep track. This way is easy for me to see location of what what the website covers, the web address with link, why I am linking it, and what surnames are associated with that area.

The location is essential. I start with the State, or country if applicable (but most of my research is in the States so far.) That is the first column. I have this one alphabetized for ease of search. The next column is a link to the site – in full. If it’s a search page, I’ll often link that one. Some state archives, you have to dig to find the links you need get to the databases. A direct link helps me find what I need quickly.

The third column is the largest. It holds the information on why I am linking this site. I include the site name or owner such as Illinois State Archives. Then I might add what holdings online I am most interested in. For the Illinois State Archives, I am most interested in the marriage and death index. These have listings for Adams County where my ancestors lived. Other indexes do not cover Adams County, so I don’t need to know about them.

In this column I will also include what time frame the database covers, how much information is included, or if there are other collections of interest. The heading I gave this column is “What’s on it”. This is a quick way for me to know why I need this link.

The last column I have for my Website List is for the surnames that are associated with this link. They might have lived in the area. It might be a link to military rosters or about the regiment they were in. It might be a link to another family website. Having this column lets me know who I might be able to find information about. Going by states, it’s interesting to see our different sides of the family living so close to each other.

Under the table, I list other important Genealogy websites that have a broader reach. These include subscription sites (there are many of them!), book sites, and places that have webinars and other learning materials.

Having this table has helped me keep my websites organized and at a quick reference on my web browser.

What ways do you use to keep up with the web links you compile?

Taking Inventory

Recording Sources and Records on Hand

Since we’ve been stuck at home these last few weeks, I have started taking inventory of what sources and documents I have saved on my computer and printed in my binder for our ancestors. I don’t have the time I would like to completely dedicate to getting organized better since we also have school work to accomplish during the day. But, I am doing what I can.

Eventually I want to compile a document tracker spreadsheet for all the information I have gathered and saved per individual. Along with that, I want to print out a chart for each binder that includes the people in that binder. I got the idea for the document tracker off a blog post I found on Pinterest.

It is very time consuming to go through each folder for each family and compare that to my Family Tree software. Now that I have RootsMagic program, I can save a note for each event/fact that I have for a person, and there I can record if I have a physical copy, digital copy, or just an index listing of the record. I can also add a picture, but I can’t seem to figure how to have it attach to the event. Since I began my journey with PAF and that program did not have the individual note section for each fact, I still will need a lot of time to record what I have either way.

I am also working on keeping better notes on where I have researched, how I have researched and where I would like to research. Saving the notes on RootsMagic in more specific areas, rather than just one general note, is making this easier. I can look at each event and see what I have done, add to it as needed, and not keep looking at the same places.

One other thing I want to eventually do, is have a master list for towns and county sources and books that I have looked at, since those can include many families and individuals.

There is a lot to keep up with in family history!

How do you keep up with all your information?

Finding a Death Date

When Death Records can’t be found

Lately, I have been researching my husband’s side of the family, a side I am unfamiliar with. We recently discovered that he is related to Mathew Caldwell, a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence. Since then, I have set out to prove this with as much evidence as I can.

The research has taken me to Grimes County in Texas to the Davis family. Mathew’s daughter, Martha married Isham Davis. Their first child was Frances Ann Davis born about August 1849 as per the 1900 census. In 1866 she married Robert Breland. He died in 1888 and since he was a confederate solider in the Civil War, has a confederate headstone. There is no mention of a Frances Breland being buried in that cemetery though.

I did find a marriage record for Mrs. F A Breland and Edward Howard in 1913. I did not find a death record or headstone mention on Find A Grave for a Frances Howard either.

In researching the Grimes County Deed records covering over a century of records, we see that Edward and Frances Howard purchased land together in 1913 on the SR Marshal survey, not long after they were married. Knowing who Robert and Frances’ children were and who they married, helped me find a Deed record listing these children selling this land to Edward Howard in 1915. Upon reading the Deed record, they were selling the portion that they had inherited from their mother after her passing back to their step-father. Unfortunately, it did not mention when she died. I also did not find any records for her in the Probate Record books. But now I have a time-frame of when she died.

A search on the Ancestry boards found mention of Frances having been buried with her first husband, but was never followed up on.

I hope to one day make a trip to Grimes County to search in person for her headstone, and maybe visit some of the old family property.

Where are some unusual places you have found a death date?

Giving Back

Indexing and Transcribing documents and records

The vast number of records and documents available on line is growing everyday. Some of these records are not searchable, as in there is not an index or means to see who is listed on these documents. This means scrolling through a vast array of scanned images reading every name to see if your ancestor might be included. This is very time consuming.

On FamilySearch.org, they have the option to help index several different projects that currently have no index. They have them arranged from beginner to advanced for you to choose your comfort level. These projects come from all over the globe. Since I am missing a few marriage records from Indiana, I choose to help index the Indiana marriage records. Helping index these records has helped me learn the different styles of handwriting over the ages. Also, most of these marriage records in the batch you receive (usually three images) were written by the same person, the court recorder, or someone similar. This helped distinguish the lettering in that particular batch.

I also recently found that the National Archives is looking for people to help tag and transcribe their record holdings. This is something I am looking forward to helping with as well. Their goal is to help make their records more discoverable.

Helping index these records, even though they do not help my own research, has been a wonderful addition to my genealogy research. Not only will it help another researcher, it helps me understand different handwriting, different types of records, and get a glimpse into the past. It helps give a sense of time and space. As in the marriage records, I wonder what their day was like? Were they giddy with excitement, nervous, or maybe it was against their will?

I recommend trying a project or two. It is a wonderful way to give back to the genealogy community. Plus, you never know what you might discover!

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