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Brick Wall #4525

I’ve been actively researching my family’s history now since 1999. In the early days, every day yielded a new path, new treasure or new finding that got me up out of my seat. In the years since that time, “brick walls” spring up routinely and breakthroughs become fewer and farther between.  That’s why when something new comes along, the happy dance is twice as sweet. A few posts ago, I referenced the familyhistory.org site and the databases therein. Well, this morning it delivered again. Although I signed up for a site membership a while ago, I usually search without logging in. HUGE mistake! I logged in this morning and to my surprise, not only was the tennessee, Death Records, 1914-1955 indexed, but copies of the actual death certificates were scanned and available for download! I was able to find an actual document for dozens of my ancestors in Rutherford County
including Hillary Brown. Loads of information are contained on these pages! As for brick wall #4525…. Hillary’s certificate CONFIRMED his parents as William & Fannie Brown.  What’s the big deal you might ask?!? Well, my first real record of Hillary and Bettie is the 1870 census record.  Because they were born as slaves, they weren’t named in any government record prior to that. Family lore always suggested that Hillary was raised by his older brother Booker (well documented on this site). Maybe; but the death certificate listing of his parents tells me that Hillary and his family knew exactly who their ancestors were, even 60+ years later.

Booker S. Brown revisited

One of the moments in my research that elicited pride (there have been many) was the time that I “found” my 2nd Great Grand uncle, Booker Sampson Brown, and his connection to the Civil War.  I was recently re-watching the African American Lives 2 series and watched a similar discovery for Don Cheadle and his family.  You can see it for yourself here.   Here’s Chris Rock having the same joy:

I think a lot of the pride comes from knowing that your ancestors weren’t just victims…. weren’t just dragged along by this holocaust, but actually had the opportunity to put on a uniform, bare arms and fight for the freedom recently granted through war.  It’s not nearly enough to erase the scars, but it gives me something to talk to my kids about when the questions inevitably come.   Something personal.  something beyond Roots, Dr. King and the differences between now and then.

When I visited the African American Civil War Memorial for the first time a few years ago, it struck me that this was a story not often told.  No one ever told me until I went to find it myself.  Over the holidays, I was able to visit again, this time with my Grandmother in tow.  She is Booker’s Great-Grand niece.  She’d never heard the story I’ve been able to piece together either (beyond hearing her Grandfather Hillary speak fondly of his older brother).  Amazing how this stuff teaches the young and the old.

Slaveholder vs. Slaveowner

I haven’t posted in a bit and this is probably an interesting subject to jump back in on, but it’s my site so…..

When I started peeking into my family’s past a few years ago, I knew that (if I was lucky) much of my research would lead to a “brick wall” around 1865.  With African-American genealogy this is the case more often than not.    I’ve found the names of several whites who possibly held legal title to my relatives before the end of the civil war  (Now, just typing that last sentence bothers me greatly).  I prefer to call these people “Slaveholders” vs. “Slaveowners”.  It’s probably a semantic argument at best legally, but I view my ancestors born into slavery as people held captive and not owned; as I don’t believe one human being can “own” another human being.  The notion seems to run counter to the very definition of human being.   One of the best websites I’ve ever found to help researchers on this subject is here.

So far, using a very less than definitive process, I’ve attempted to identify the last slaveholders for all of my ancestral lines.  Less than definitive is an understatement.  Given the lack  of names or identifiers other than gender and age, I pieced through the 1860 Slave Schedules and found people (slaves) close to the attributes I know of my relatives.  If there were any duplicate matches (more than one person fitting the profile), I don’t connect them in my database.  The results of what I’ve been able to compiled are listed below.Compiled potential slaveholder data

My next step is to explore what I can to find out about these slaveholders online.  After that, trips to Murfreesboro, TN and Lake City, FL to see if I can find legal documents to validate (or invalidate) what I’ve uncovered so far.  I know I have a few visitors out there from time to time, so if anyone has other ideas, please let me know.

A Tale of Three Docks…

I think this is another example of a really interesting story that was probably a pretty taboo subject at some point in the last hundred years.  Oh well, here goes….

Another of my 2nd Great Grandfathers was a gentleman by the name of Dock Ross (b. 1859).  Dock was married to the former Bettie Coleman (b. 1863) in Murfreesboro, TN in 1879.  I’ve located Dock and Bettie (by the way, that’s Dock up there in the banner behind the word ‘journey’ and that’s Bettie between the words ‘My’ and ‘family’) in a combination of census and tax records from 1880 to 1891.  Prior to 1880, I haven’t been able to find either.  While I generally believe Dock was born a slave, I don’t believe he (unlike the majority of others in my maternal line) was born in Tennessee; more on that in a minute.

Dock and Bettie had 5 children including my Great Grandmother, Tennie Ross (b. 1897?).  She was quite a woman and, although this post isn’t about her, there is no doubt that a few later ones will be.  Dock and Bettie also had a son named after his father, Dock Jr. (1887).

Well, it seems that my Great Grand Uncle…. I’ll let the public record speak for itself:

Your petitioner, Sallie Ross (col.), would show the Court, that she, and the defendant, Dock Ross (col.), were married in Rutherford County in, or about the year 1909…. The petitioner, before the marriage, and under the promise of marriage, allowed the defendant certain privileges which resulted in her being with child and in the defendant being forced, by her parents to marry her…

This is an excerpt from a divorce petition presented to the Hon. Walter S. Bearden on the third Monday of January in 1916.  Once Dock participated in the shot-gun affair described in the document, he left town for parts unknown leaving behind his new wife and soon to be born daughter; Cressy.  Later in the document we find that Dock Ross cannot be found anywhere in the county and did not appear in front of the court to defend himself.  It seems certain that Sallie nor Cressy ever saw Dock again….

That would be the end of the tale were it not for the miracle of the internet and online access to priceless records (and a little supposition and detective-work on the part of yours truly).  I BELIEVE Dock relocated to his grandfather’s farm down in Plaquemines, Louisiana.  Why do I believe that you might ask.  Well a couple of pieces of evidence to lay my hypothesis on:

1) An older Dock Ross (b. 1825) lived in Plaquemines, Louisiana.  Clearly, not a definitive tie by itself.

2) Although his father disappears by the 1900 census (Bettie lists herself a widow), Dock II is in the household at about 13 years of age (ancestry.com lists him as “Doe” born May 1886, but given the rest of the household this is an almost certain conclusion).  I have not been able to find him in Tennessee after 1900.

3) A World War I draft card from Vernon Parrish Louisiana documents a Dock Ross, born in Murfreesboro, TN registering for the draft roughly a year after the divorce petition was filed in Rutherford County.  This Dock’s birth date was listed as June 1887.  He does list himself as a single man with no dependents, but that would certainly be expected given the circumstances.

4) Finally, Dock Ross died in Caddo Parrish (d. 1945) according to the Louisiana Statewide Death Index, 1900-49.  The birth date given in the index is estimated as 1884.

None of this, even in combination, could be held as conclusive.   It does make for some fun CSI-style investigative work during my research.

Eye of the Beholder

Its always fascinating for me to read or learn about an historical account of the times in which my ancestors lived.  As you might imagine, the Slave Narratives are a treasure for me; as is the story book account of my own family history.

However, its rare to get a glimpse into the mind of southerners on the other side of the line.  I’m speaking, of course, of the slaveholders.  Today, I was reading one of the other Gen-Blogs I frequent and came across an excerpt of The Diaries of James Henry Hammond, A Southern Slaveholder. I’m sure Mr. Hammond would be surprised at the world we live in today.  But I found it eye opening to read his thoughts and worries as the world he knew began to crumble around him.

Joseph Ceasar Bynum

The eldest Bynum I’ve been able to find so far is Joseph Ceasar Bynum Sr. Joseph was born in 1830 somewhere in South Carolina. Probably born as a slave, Joseph’s first documented record is in 1870. Joseph is married to Phyllis (maiden name unknown) and has two male children; Ceasar and Smart. Joseph is a farm laborer who can neither read nor write. The family is in Columbia County, FL. Joseph lived to at least 65 and eventually owned farm land in Columbia County.

US Federal Census Bureau, 1870 Census – Lake City, Columbia County, Florida, USA,Rec. Date: 25 June 1870, Farm Lot 306. Cit. Date: 16 Feb 2006 page 1 (lines 39-40), 2 (lines 1-2)

US Federal Census Bureau, 1880 Census – Lake City, Columbia County, Florida, USA,Rec. Date: June 1880, Cit. Date: 21 Feb 2006  (lines 4-8)

US Federal Census Bureau, 1900 Census – Lake City, Columbia County, Florida, USA, Rec. Date: 1 June 1900, Cit. Date: 16 Feb 2006  (lines 4-8)

D’King – “You no ‘oman less you kin.”

Based on my research, most of my maternal line can be found in or around Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  One of the earliest ancestors I’ve found so far actually migrated (at some point) from Texas.  I believe this because I actually have a document which is almost as good a the slave narratives.  Ed Bell, the editor of The Rutherford Courier, penned a book in 1948 called, The Lonely People and their strange ways.  The book was about people living in Murfreesboro that Ed met during his time there.  My 3rd Great Grand-parents, George & Alice Kimbro (Kimbrough) were the subjects of one of his chapters, particularly Alice.  A copy of the text has been passed down for a couple of generations and I’m re-printing it here….

An afternoon in February with yellow winter sunshine coming down the small hill on South Walnut and reflecting across the shanties of Blackbottom…

A great bony Negro woman rocking on the porch of a house at the bottom of the hill, a dingy poodle dog at her feet, its belly turned up to the friendly sun… Aunt Alice Kimbrough, who had been living ninety years, talked about her youth, about when she was known as D’King, the champion wrestler of anywhere there is.

She was the most wrestling fool that ever wore a shoe polish skin, and no man nor woman could throw her down…  Except one man and she married him…The folks came from 500 and sometimes 5,000 miles to see D’King…They would flock on the fences like blackbirds to watch her grab them up and lay them on the cold, cold ground… When a nigger man or nigger woman got mean and talked to much, they said, “We get D’King to han’le you” and the bragger ran away and never come back again…

On D’King’s wedding day, when they were fixing her up with fine clothes to marry the only man in the whole world who could throw her down, a bigmouth yellow woman from the north country come along….The yellow said she never been throwed by anybody…”We get D’King to han’le you,” And the wedding guests said…But D’King was a busy woman…The barbecue was cooked, George and the preacher waiting…George was her true love…

D’King told them to go tell that fool ‘oman she had no crow to pick with anybody anymore except George…She was not wrestling again until she was a married woman…but her father said, “You no ‘oman less you kin.”…Which made her courage rise up till she laid by her bridal veil and went out to throw the bigmouth yellow from the north country…She made one pass at her middle and threw her so hard she hit the ground like a shook apple…Before the woman could get up D’King was back in the house ready to marry the only man.

D’King and her good friend who was name Cassie Ann were the strongest niggers anywhere there is…They could stand in a half-bushel measure and shoulder three bushels of wheat…If D’King hestitated, her father said, “You no ‘oman less you kin.”…Then she lifted it without one word more.

She was the healthiest pickaninny slave down in Texas…It was because she got so much sugar to eat…And the way she got all the sugar was by busting her bare big toe against a rock and running to the Missus to medicine it with turpentine and sugar…D’King ate the sugar off the toe and got fat.

After her marriage to George Kimbrough, she settled down because George done her good…He never called her fool or liar like all the other nigger’s husbands who called their women everything but a cedar bush…The night of the wedding there was happy doings at the white folks’ house and D’King and George got so many chickens for presents they had to get two somebodies to help carry them home…They lived together many years doing good and having seven children… Of these she was proudest of a double-jointed nigger named Iz… Iz hit a Kentucky mule in the head with his fist once and the mule didn’t live any more.

That was the tale Aunt Alice told me on a yellow winter afternoon a long time ago—I saved it to tell when she died.

George and Alice also had a daughter named Jennie.  Jennie’s son, Iss William Brown is likely Iz’ namesake.

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