Log in

The 1865 wall

Most people who don't have ancestors involved in the forced African diaspora to the US know very little about the "1865 wall". But to those of us who do have these ancestors, it's something that you have to deal with all the time.

What does it mean?

In 1865, the Emancipation Proclamation nominally ended slavery in the United States. Before that, slaves in most of the US (some notable exceptions being Latin Louisiana) were never mentioned by name in the censuses, so the only way you could find out even basic information such as an ancestor's first name was through other means such as a bill of sale or a will deeding the slave to someone in the family. People kept better records of their horse breeding than they did of their slaves.

The other issue that arises is that you're never quite sure if your ancestor was slave or free, unless you find clear proof of his or her freedom (such as land ownership, tax records, marriage certificates, and other things that slaves generally weren't allowed to have). Which means you have to get extra-sleuthy. It also means you have to research a whole lot more people, because the only clues you have to find a slave is through their masters, and all you have to go on is a last name.

A third issue is that some people changed their last names after they were freed and got as far away from their former masters as they could (which you can't really blame them for), but that just makes you crazy if you think about it too long. Those people pretty much drop off the grid as far as the genealogist is concerned, unless you can find a relative that didn't change their name and find their old name that way.

So it's a challenge -- and I have it easy, not being visually coded as "black". People return my emails on Ancestry (up until I mention slave masters, of course -- then it's about 50/50), and I don't expect too much trouble when I finally get around to driving to Mississippi or Georgia to look up records. I can't imagine how difficult it must be for others who aren't so lucky.

Surname Saturday: Williams

Williams is such a common name, isn't it? I found that out when I went to school, went to sign up for things, to find a name in the phone book, and so on. But to my family, it's a good name. :)

Thomas Williams, or so the story goes, was born in 1791 in Llanspyddid, Breconshire, Wales. He married Elizabeth, who was born a bit east of there in Llangorse in 1804, and they had several children, the oldest of which was also named Thomas -- my ancestor.

For some reason, Thomas Jr. was born over a hundred miles north in Liverpool, England, in 1826. Perhaps Thomas Sr. and Elizabeth went there to work?

In any case, Thomas Jr. roamed all over England, marrying Elizabeth Jones (b. 1828 in Liverpool) in Manchester 31 Oct 1848 (I approve; Halloween is my favorite holiday) and living in Aston, Warwickshire, England before moving to Oswestry, Wales. Somewhere in there they were in Lancaster, because that is where their son Edward was born, 23 May 1867.

Edward married Miriam Prodger of Llangydwin, Montgomeryshire, Wales and had five children, the middle one being my grandfather Edward Charles Williams (b. 13 Aug 1901 in Oswestry, Shropshire, England). Miriam's mother's maiden name was Charles, which is where that name comes from.

Sometime between 1909 and 1923, the entire family immigrated to Canada. Edward, Miriam, and one of their sons lived out their days in Edmonton, while the others went to Vancouver.

But by 1925, my grandfather had made his way down to southern California, marrying my grandmother Goldie Jane Fyie in Tustin and becoming a US citizen in 1930. He loved the Los Angeles area (especially Santa Monica -- his last apartment was in sight of the pier) and only left it to visit his children and grandchildren.

The mysterious Kate

Dear Katherine Cunningham, where do you come from?

Like I mentioned before, I figured I'd better go the slave owner route first. Here's what I've come up with:

NE Mississippi Cunningham slave owners by county:

Monroe --

*J and WR Cunningham (several girls the right age in 1860) -- I'm almost certain that J and WR are Jeremiah Early Cunningham and his father William Redd Cunningham, but I can't prove it yet

*William R Cunningham (Western Division, several girls the right age in 1850 census)

Sarah Cunningham (no girls the right age in 1850 census)

William Cunningham (Western Division, no one the right age in 1850)

Wright Cunningham (no one the right age in 1850)

WC Cunningham (no one the right age in 1860)

Itawamba --

*MC Cummings (2 girls the right age on the 1850 and 1860 censuses)

Pontotoc --

Elijah Cunningham (no one the right age) -- probably son of James G

George Cunningham (no one the right age in 1850)

RC Cunningham (no one the right age in 1860)

*James G Cunningham (a few girls the right age in 1860)

Choctaw --

*James Cunningham (several girls the right age in 1850)

*Martha Cunningham (one girl the right age in 1860)

*Mary Cunningham (two girls the right age in 1860)

*W. Cunningham (one girl the right age in 1860)

Noxubee --

James A Cunningham (no one the right age in 1850)

JM Cunningham (no one the right age ... several girls a few years older than she's stating)

Kemper (south of Noxubee) --

*James M. Cunningham (several girls the right age in 1860)

Tishomingo (north of Itawamba)

AH Cunningham (no one the right age in 1860)

Thos W Cunningham (no one the right age in 1860)

The starred ones are the ones I need to investigate. So far I'm finding it slow going, as there aren't a whole lot of wills or bills of sale online (the only places it seems that people name their slaves in documents).

Wish me luck. :)

Well, looky here ...

dee_burris gave me the "One Lovely Blog Award".


Accept the award, post it on your blog together with the name of the person who granted the award and their blog link.

Pass the award on to other blogs that you've newly discovered. (it's supposed to be 7 or 15 or something, but I just don't know of that many ... you do as you wish.)

Remember to contact the bloggers to let them know they have been chosen for the award.


I have chosen:

Emily Hendrickson at More Than Names

claimingkin at Claiming Kin

More about Fanny

So I thought I would look more at Fanny Thompson, my third great-grandmother (b. about 1794), so I went to investigate John and Thomas Thompson (her slave owners) some more.

It's kind of strange investigating slave owners (especially Anglo ones), because the odds were quite good that some of these were also blood relations. Fanny, after all, is listed as "mulatto". Given the harshness of life for slaves of Anglo masters as well as the blatant denial you find in many of the Anglo owners' descendants ... well, the whole thing can get a bit surreal at times. But that's another post.

The Thompson family is one of those where everyone has the same names:

-James Thompson b. 1696 d. 1773 -- born in Ireland: could this be the Irish ancestry my mother claimed?

--John Thompson b 1730 d. 1787

---Thomas Thompson b. 1755 d. 1810, also brother
---John Thompson b. 1758 d. 1843

from Thomas:
----John Thompson b. 1775 d. 1853

-----Thomas Thompson b. 1796 d. 1864

This last Thomas Thompson is my first step: he sold Fanny to Hypolite Chretien 8 Jan 1817, thus bringing her into the Chretien family. All I knew of him at first was that he was listed on the bill of sale as being from Kentucky.

But seven years earlier, Fanny is sold (or was it bought?) by John Thompson (Thomas Thompson's father, or perhaps his great-uncle) 22 Nov 1810.

I'm going with "sold" here. If you notice, Thomas Thompson's grandfather and namesake died in 1810. The probate hearing happened 21 May 1810 (unfortunately, the text is not online), and if Fanny was not gifted to anyone in the family, it would have been natural for her to have been sold at that time.

So she gets sold to someone named John Gervard (who there is no other record of that I can find) and somehow Thomas has her again seven years later. A mystery.

So let's just assume that Fanny used to belong to Thomas Thompson the elder. Was she born into his house, or was she bought from someone else? Was this Thomas her father? In any case, where was her mother from?

Curiouser and curiouser. And I have to add Kentucky on my list of places to visit, or at least get someone to look up this will ...

About the Vavasseurs ...

A very nice article on the Vavasseur family (including Charles Jefferson Vavasseur, who I mentioned earlier), by my 3rd cousin Christophe Landry -- The Vavasseurs: A Family Snapshot

There are some really lovely photos there, including a redone one of the reunion photo at the top of my blog page.

More questions

My latest discovery raises as many questions as it solves:

Why did Caroline never tell her children her mother's maiden name? Not one of them seemed to remember it.

Did Caroline provide the information on this form or did someone else? While she was probably a young child when James Ivey died, the idea that she wouldn't know her own father's name is stretching it a bit.

Was Caroline born in Nettleton, MS, like it says in the paper, or was that an error? Nothing in any of her family's travels shows anything in Nettleton, or any ties to Itawamba county, MS at all. Could that have been James or Katherine's birthplace? If it was Caroline's birthplace (instead of Aberdeen, where the family had pretty solid roots), what were they doing in Nettleton?


While it's possible that Katherine was born free, a free black or mulatto woman in Anglo Mississippi in the mid-1800's would be kind of unusual, so I thought I better at least get a start on the slave side search.

I looked up the largest slaveowners list for Monroe county yesterday, and listed is J and WR Cunningham, with 113 slaves. Over on Ancestry.com I found a girl the right age in William R. Cunningham's Slave Schedules records for both 1850 and 1860, Western Division, Monroe county, MS.

I think it's time to investigate the Cunninghams a bit more and see what pops up.


I have my great-grandmother Katie's maiden name!!!

Curiouser and curiouser

Back to my brick wall again ... today I decided to go over the documentation on the Iveys again ... and found something very interesting --

There are a few families who seem to be following Robert and William Ivey (my grandmother's brothers). Here's what I discovered:

In 1900, Robert Ivey and his wife Lula were living in Beat 3, Noxubee county, MS (outside of Macon). Next door to them were Grant and Georgia Ivey, as well as Dora Ivey, her sister Mattie and her brother Willie.

By 1910, William Ivey and his wife Pinkie were living in Noxubee county also, next door to Robert. Grant and Georgia Ivey, Dora Ivey and her sister Mattie lived nearby.

In 1920, Dora and Mattie (now widowed Mattie Monroe) were living by Robert and Lula in Macon (not sure if this was an actual move or a redrawing of census lines). John and Lillie Ivey also lived near Robert Ivey in 1920.

Grant and Georgia seemed to have moved by 1920 and I can't find them after that. I can't find William either. Pinkie died in 1920 and he may not have been much for talking to census workers ... but I haven't found him in 1930 either, which is concerning.

In 1930, there's Dora and Mattie again ... along with a couple of Robert's kids who are living nearby.

So we have Dora and Mattie, Grant/Georgia, and John/Lillie. Not sure who any of these people are. Cousins perhaps? Or just a coincidence?

Image provided online by Christophe Landry

"Jeff" Vavasseur was born 15 Aug 1835 in Convent, St. James Parish, Louisiana to slaveowner Jean Vavasseur b. 20 Feb 1787 and his slave mistress Aimee Blouin b. 1820.

Jeff married Anne Lanoux in St. James Parish around 1858; she died in 1862 (not sure why; they had no children). He is listed in the 1860 census by name with his wife, mother-in-law and brother-in-law, which suggests he had been freed prior to this, most likely at his marriage, as was the custom in that area. Jean Vavasseur had died in 1850 and granted Jeff to his daughter/Jeff's 14-year older half-sister Celestine at his death.

Jeff married Josephine Rochon 4 May 1864 in St. Martin Parish, LA, and they lived there until their deaths. They had 13 children; their oldest daughter Marie Idéa Vavasseur is my great-grandmother.

Image provided online by Christophe Landry

Jeff was a tailor, and he certainly looks snazzy in this photo. :)