By Natonne Elaine Kemp
Overcoming the brick wall of slavery is not impossible if researching ancestors from Virginia. I have developed a four step process.
Step 1: if you have ancestors living in Virginia at the time of the 1870 census who were born in the Commonwealth, look at the list of individuals in the household. Is there a mother? And are there children between the ages of approximately 5 to 17 years old (meaning they were born during the years 1853 to 1865)? The Commonwealth of Virginia mandated the recording of births as of 1853. If you answer yes to both questions, proceed to Step 2.
Step 2: logon to http://www.familysearch.org. Click the “search” button. A search page (Discover Your Family History) will appear. Scroll down to the bottom of the page. The bottom left hand corner allows one to “Browse All Published Collections.” Click the hyperlink. The next screen which appears is Historical Records Collections. There is a column on the left labeled “Place” followed by “United States” and then all states listed alphabetically. Scroll down this left hand column to reach “Virginia” and then click this hyperlink. The very first historical records collection for Virginia is Virginia, Births and Christenings, 1853-1917.
Once the Virginia, Births and Christenings, 1853-1917 page appears, type the first name only of the infant. Under “Search with a life event” select “birth” and a “birthplace” field will appear. Type the name of the county or city where your ancestor was born and the approximate year (you have an option to identify a range of years). Next, scroll down to “Search with a relationship” and select “parents.” Type the mother’s first name only and hit the search button.
To illustrate Steps 1 and 2, in 1870 in Southern District, Louisa, Virginia, by the Trevilians post office, I find my 3rd great grandmother (Maria Jackson, 15) with her father (Andrew Jackson, 45), her mother (Mildred Jackson, 35) and five siblings [Ellick (20), Elisha (12), Thomas (10), William (3) and Eliza (4/12)].(1) Coincidentally, in the same community, is another couple named Andrew Jackson (35) and Mildred Jackson (30). They also have a son Elisha (10).(2) Fortunately the other four children have given names different from my Jackson ancestors.
On the Virginia, Births and Christenings, 1853-1917 search page, I type Maria under first name and check the box next to it for an exact match. I then type Louisa next to birthplace, type 1853 – 1857 for the range of years(3) and I type Mil* under the mother’s first name. I do not know if she was identified as Mildred or as Milly. I receive one result (transcribed twice) matching my search criteria. On 19 June 1857Maria Coates, black, was born in Louisa, Virginia. The father (or slave owner) was identified as John B. Coates and the mother is Milly.(4) I believe I have found my ancestors.
I search the 1860 census for John B. Coates and learn he was a white male. His wife was Jane. In Virginia, when an enslaved child was born, the biological father was not identified. Slave births were recorded ordinarily under the name of the slave owner or an overseer. John B. Coates was likely the slave owner.
Mildred (Milly) had other children between 1853 and 1865. I search for records of their births. I select another child, Elisha, born about 1856-1860 in Louisa, to a mother named Mil*. I receive three results; two of the results are the same birth record transcribed twice. On 3 October 1858 Milley gave birth to Elisha Jackson in the household of John B. Coates.(5) The race of the baby is not identified by I am virtually certain this is my ancestor. The name of the mother is identical (minus a variation in spelling) as well as the name of the slave owner. For reasons unknown, Elisha’s surname is Jackson and not Coates.
Next, I search for Thomas born about 1858-1862 in Louisa, to a mother named “Mil*”. The result (transcribed twice) reveals Millie gave birth to a black son,Thomas Anderson, on 21 May 1860, in the household of Garland Anderson, Est.(6) This Thomas may or may not be my ancestor.
On occasions the transcription on FamilySearch.org will omit the name of the father (or slave owner). I encountered such a situation in researching a line from Caroline County. The children (twins) and their mother had the same surname at the time of birth as they did after the Civil War. Were these ancestors free persons of color? I needed to obtain a copy of the original record. When I called the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, I was referred to Rootsonomy, http://www.rootsonomy.com/, a business which provides services such as obtaining copies of records from various repositories including the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Rootsonomy retrieved the requested records. I learned my ancestors were enslaved. The slave owner, a female, had a different surname than my enslaved ancestors.
Four Steps to Identifying the Virginia Slave Owner
– continue to page 2
1 “United States Census, 1870,” index and image, FamilySearch
(https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/MFGL-ˇT3C : accessed 14 Jul 2013).
2 “United States Census, 1870,” index and images, FamilySearch
(https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/MFGL-ˇXGL : accessed 14 Jul 2013).
3 According to the 1870 census Maria Jackson was born about 1855. Because the birth year as reported on the census is not always accurate, especially for the formerly enslaved, I list a range of years.
4 “Virginia, Births and Christenings, 1853-ˇ 1917,” index, FamilySearch
(https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/X5VC-ˇNNL : accessed 14 Jul 2013), Maria Coates, 19 Jun 1857.
5 “Virginia, Births and Christenings, 1853-ˇ 1917,” index, FamilySearch
(https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/VR5F-ˇNPC : accessed 14 Jul 2013), Elisha Jackson, 03 Oct 1858.
6 “Virginia, Births and Christenings, 1853-ˇ 1917,” index, FamilySearch
(https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/X5VZ-ˇHBV : accessed 14 Jul 2013), Thomas Anderson, 21 May 1860.