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.
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.
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.
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.
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.