Births Deaths Marriages, Free People of Color, North Carolina, Paternal Kin

Misinformation Monday, no. 4.

The fourth in a series of posts revealing the fallability of records, even “official” ones.

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Margaret Henderson‘s maiden name was Balkcum. I think. I wouldn’t go so far as to describe this as a “true fact,” but I stand by my theory about it. Getting to it, however, means reconciling a tilting plane of evidence (and lack thereof):

1. Margaret does not appear in the 1850 census under any name.

2. Nancy Balkcum of Sampson County NC lists a daughter Margaret Balkcum in her will. For reasons set forth here, I believe this was my Margaret.

2. No marriage license for Lewis and Margaret Henderson has been found.

3. Son Caswell Henderson‘s marriage license, issued in New York City in 1907, reports his mother’s name as Margaret Balkcum.

4. Margaret’s own 1915 death certificate, issued in Wayne County NC, lists her mother as Margaret Bowkin and her birthplace as Sampson County. Son Lucian Henderson was the informant, and I suspect he gave his own mother’s name in response to a query, rather than his mother’s mother’s. It’s a mistake I’ve seen before. But “Bowkin” is nicely evocative of “Balkcum,” and I believe that’s what he meant.

5. Lucian Henderson died in 1934 in Wayne County NC. His death cert lists his mother as Margaret Hill.  Hill???  Johnny Carter was the informant. Johnny was not a blood relative, though his maternal uncle Jesse Jacobs married Lucian’s sister Sarah Henderson. Lucian’s only child died young, and Johnny cared for him in his dotage. He left his estate to Johnny Carter, but I have no reason to believe that Johnny had any certain knowledge of Lucian’s mother’s maiden name.

6. Daughter Sarah Henderson Jacobs Silver, the last surviving child, died in 1938 while traveling from Wilson to Greensboro NC. Her death certificate names her mother as Margaret Carter. My grandmother Hattie Henderson Jacobs is listed as the informant. When I asked her about it, she had no independent recollection of being asked anything. She averred that she didn’t know Grandma Mag’s maiden name and certainly would not have told anyone that it was “Carter.” (She knew Johnny Carter’s family very well, but regarded them as Papa Jesse’s people.)

Margaret Henderson is a case in point.  One should regard early death certificates with skepticism. They are no stronger — or more accurate — than the informant’s personal knowledge, and the source of the informant’s knowledge was not questioned.  The two bits of evidence from Mag’s own sons, Caswell and Lucian, are fairly consistent, but reports originating beyond their generation diverge widely. The death certs of Mag and her children reflect what people thought they knew, or had heard, or maybe even made up, about Mag’s early life. They are useful — but flawed.

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