Alabama Memories: IGHR and the Kellum and McCrary Families

IGHR at Samford University June 2015

So where have I been all these weeks? In the first part of June, I was in Alabama finally attending the Institute of Genealogical and Historical Research at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. It’s been a goal to do it and I finally was able to make it happen.  My friend Kathy joined me in taking “Research in the South” taught by J. Mark Lowe, Dr. Deborah Abbott, Linda Woodward Geiger and Michael Hait. The course focused on researching in the states to first settle the South: Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. The class also spent much of the time on how to best approach your research in South e.g. migration patterns, settlement of the land, family connections and religious affiliations.  All things you would do in the North, but they take on a different tone in the South.  It really is the “soil” as Mark kept telling us. They were primarily farmers and they moved and made choices of where and how to live based on what they could grow on their land. The people who weren’t farmers were merchants and craftsman that supported the farm economy.

Picking cotton near Montgomery Alabama, 186-, Lakin, J.H. LOC

Picking cotton near Montgomery Alabama, 186-, Lakin, J.H. LOC

Dr. Abbott’s first lesson was on the records of slavery and how they can solve many genealogical problems for both the descendants of slaveholders and slaves. In fact it is the connections between the two that can help prove the ancestor.  It is the FAN principle in action. What kind of records will you find? Before 1865, most African-American people in the South were considered property.  They were bought and sold.  They were left as property in deeds and wills.  They were measured by their production and detailed records were kept about their financial worth. They were the “economy” and therefore they created records. It is a difficult and uncomfortable truth. Acknowledging it may help us all heal as we discover our relationships with one another. She also gave additional lectures on accessing manuscripts and what they can reveal that other “easier to get” to records will not.   All of the instructors gave us much to “mull and ponder” (a Lowe popular saying) and perhaps that is why it has taken me so long to sit down and write.

Holland Cemetery, Lawrence County, Alabama

Holland Cemetery, Lawrence County, Alabama

After the seminar, Kathy and I headed up to the northern part of Alabama where we could research our different lines.  We had one day to go to cemeteries together. Thank you Kathy for traipsing through who knows what in the Holland Cemetery! (Remember to wear closed shoes, long sleeve shirts and pants, a hat and insect repellent when going on cemetery excursions…luckily no ticks, snakes or chiggers were found in the search of graves!) We went to  Winston County, Alabama for Kathy’s cemetery to find graves for her Union ancestors.  Yes, in Winston County they where they were known as the “State of Winston” during the Civil War, because they fought on the side of the Union.

Lawrence County Alabama Archives

Lawrence County Archives, Alabama

And then I had one day to research at the Lawrence County Archives for documents for my Kellum, McCrary and Holland families. I have been doing a little research on and off with my southern line, but most of it was using sources I could find on line at Ancestry, Family Search etc. and some trips to Salt Lake and Washington D.C. Finally, I could look at the original records to see if they could fill in the gaps between censuses and give clues on who these people really were. What I knew:

  • Julia McCrary (1864-1895) was my 2nd great grand-mother.  She was born in Alabama and died in Texas.
  • Julia’s parents were Irvin P. McCrary and Mary Jane Kellum.
  • Irvin and Mary Jane McCrary had census records in Lawrence County, Alabama for 1850 and 1860.
  • Irvin and Mary Jane McCrary moved to Henderson County, Texas sometime after the Civil War.
  • Irvin McCrary died sometime before the 1880 census.
  • Mary Jane Kellum McCrary died sometime after 1880, but I haven’t been able to find out where/when yet.
  • Irvin’s parents were Matthew McCrary and Mary “Polly” Holland, who had also lived in Lawrence County, Alabama.
  • I had information on the McCrary and Holland Families from a book by Frances Bryant Corum that I had found at the DAR Library, but I needed to validate many of the facts.

One of my primary goals was to determine who Mary Jane Kellum’s parents were. I had a marriage record that gave her maiden name, but no records with the names of her parents. After a few hours at the archives, I did find a record that named Mary Jane Kellum’s father and everything that Dr. Abbott taught us was made crystal clear.  What did I find? The only record I could find that named Mary Jane Kellum’s father was a deed. A deed transferring ownership of the 14-year-old black slave girl Martha, from Thomas R. Kellum to his daughter Mary Jane Kellum McCrary in 1854.

Kellum and McCrary Deed 1854

Thomas R. Kellum and Mary Jane Kellum McCrary Deed 1854, Lawrence County Archives, Alabama

So, ironically the key to answering my genealogical quandary was dependent on a document of slavery, that proved my ancestors were slave owners. The Kellum’s were slave owners and the McCrary’s were slave owners.  Their prosperity and livelihood was dependent on the work and labor of the slaves they owned.  They created records because of it.  There are tax records, deeds, wills etc. all discussing their slaves.  These human beings had names – Tess, Sara, Martha, Fanny, Nancy, Lucinda, Rachael, Albert, Dave, Tilda, Jim, Noel, Ester, Charles, Maria, Matthias, Nelson, Patsy, Sophia, Terry, Rhoda, Adkins, Edmund, Peggy and Ann.

It is a strange feeling to read about something so abhorrent that it chills me. No, I am not responsible for my ancestor’s actions 150 years ago. However, I am responsible for writing about it and telling the whole story. I also want to find out what happened to these people after the Civil War.  Where did they go? What did they do?  What last names did they take?  What happened to Martha? She would have been 25 years old at the end of the Civil War. Did she go to Texas with the McCrary’s? Did she stay in Alabama? I will let you know what I find out.

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18 Responses to Alabama Memories: IGHR and the Kellum and McCrary Families

  1. Val Sanford says:

    Great to read this, Rachelle. Fun to see you finding your Southern roots. I have one loose connection to slave owners and it makes me feel terrible. But as you say, your responsibility now is to tell the stories as fair as you can. And I want to know what happened, too. Understanding how the south reconstructed is something we in the North/West know so little about.

    Is this part of the Turner /Hollingsworth line?

    • Rachelle says:

      Yes, this is part of my Turner/Hollingsworth line. Julia McCrary married Alford Hollingsworth (2nd great-grandparents). I have so much more information on these families now…I really need to go back to Texas again!

  2. Laura says:

    Great post. So hard to have history book history become our history! But so important for the story to be told. Thanks for contributing to it and sharing it with all of us.

  3. Cameron Parker says:

    Wow, momma. Very interesting to hear details of your trip to Alabama and some of the uncomfortable truths you uncovered. I suppose it’s bound to be true with most southern ancestors, but we never knew as much about them as we did the English side who settled in the northeast.

    • Rachelle says:

      Yes, it has been a real eye opener! Though, I have to admit it is very interesting and is taking me in to some directions of research that I wouldn’t have pursued if we didn’t have this branch of ancestors. For example, looking at the Freedman Records for slaves my ancestors might have owned. It becomes very personal.

  4. Pingback: The McCrary Slaves – Who Were They? | Ascending the Stairs

  5. Carolyn Kellum Colson says:

    Do you know if Mary Jane Kellum had brother? I’m descended from Kellum’s in Alabama but my cousins and I hit a brick wall 3 years ago. We have no information on my paternal grandfather’s parents other than their names. Unfortunately, those names do not appear together on any census or tax records we have examined.

    • Rachelle says:

      No, I don’t know if Mary had a brother. All I was able to find were her many sisters that were born in Alabama and who all moved to Texas. I was not able to find Mary’s father Thomas Kellum in the 1830 or 1840 census in Alabama, nor have I been able to find his marriage record to Catherine (who was from Tennessee). It is completely possible that there was a son, but don’t know if there are records to prove it yet. I am working on other lines now and won’t be back to Alabama to research for a while. If you find something please let me know. Good luck!

  6. Elithea Heard says:

    Hi Rachelle,
    I’ve been researching my family and I have a person who was a McCray. Her name is somewhat similar to one of the name listed in this article for one of the slaves, Lucinda . I can only find my family members name, and no other information at all. Her son was listed as being born in Alabama, in the late 1800’s, which gives me a frame of time for her life. I’ve tried very hard to find any other info on her but have always hit a wall. She was my Great-Great Grandmother, and her name has been shown as “Luerania” McCray. She would have been childbearing age in roughly 1884, when her son was born. This article has made me very curious as to if there is a connection here.

    • Rachelle says:

      I haven’t run across Luerania’s name in my research. This line was all gone from Alabama by 1880 and had gone to Texas and Arkansas. I am assuming you haven’t found her in the 1870 or 1880 census? I would check all McCrary’s in Alabama in the 1860 census (there are quite a few in multiple counties) and then check the 1860 slave schedules to see how they line up by age/gender and the county she was in. Also maybe look at some of the suggestions on the Legal Genealogist she posted just a few days ago on Finding Your Black Roots And of course the Freedmen’s Bureau if you haven’t done that yet. After you get it narrowed down it will be necessary to go to the county to get the records in person for all those deed records. Not easy searching and a lot of work, but it would be wonderful if you could get further up the line. There is always DNA too. Good luck!!!!

      • Rachelle says:

        I also wanted to mention that Lucinda is not in the 1870 census living with the McCrary’s so she was not still with the family.

  7. Elithea Heard says:

    Thank you so very much Rachelle. I will take follow the directions you have given. I have thus far been unable to find her in any Census. Only info is that her son was born in Henry County Alabama. Not even a birth year for her can be found. It’s frustrating, but too important to me to give up. Again, THANK YOU for your help.

  8. Brittany says:

    Is this connected to the McCrary’s of New Market Alabam near Huntinville?

  9. Briitany says:

    I’m asking because I am a descendant of Thomas McCrary. I am also researching my Southern roots and have come to terms with the wrongs my ancestors have done playing a role as slave owners. However, I feel obligated to help the slave defendants find there ancestors and tell there stories too.

    • Rachelle says:

      My McCrary family was from Lawrence County, AL. The father Matthew McCrary (1798-1855) did have a son Thomas McCrary (1826-1906) who moved to Arkansas before the Civil War and then to North Carolina after the war. I understand that there were a few different McCrary families in Alabama but I am not sure if they were related or not, if so it would have been through Matthew’s father Thomas McCrary Jr. from Laurens County, South Carolina. Hope that helps! Good luck on your research.

  10. Tisha says:

    Rachelle, your post may help me get past a wall I’ve hit in my research. I am a descendant of a slave named Henry Kellum born 1830s-1840s. His mother’s name is listed as Lucy born 1775 in Georgia. I think he may have been owned by Thomas R Kellum, but I can’t find anything to confirm this. If you have any tips please let me know.

    • Rachelle says:

      I haven’t been able to get Thomas Kellum back to his state and family of origin. I first find him up in Lawrence, Alabama in 1850 and then he moves to Navarro, Texas where he dies in 1873. He identifies his birth state as Virginia on the census records. Where did you find Henry Kellum and what type of document is his mother listed as Lucy? In the slave schedule in 1860, there is a male of the right age to fit Henry, but I don’t know where you first located Henry living? Here is a link to the slave schedule:

      If you think that this could be him, I will try to do some more research. I haven’t worked on this family in a long time…I have been working on completing ProGen during Covid since research on location has been difficult. Hopefully, it’s getting easier!

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