DNA, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Photographs

DNAnigma, no. 16: Neighbors.

A plus of growing up in the vicinity of the places your ancestors lived: every once in a while, you’ll discover that your childhood friends (or enemies, ha!) are actually your kinfolk. Just today, I noticed a match with a woman whose name sounded vaguely familiar. I checked her family tree, saw her grandfather’s name, and — bingo! — she’s the first cousin of R., one of my closest childhood friends. R.’s family lived up the street from mine, and I remember my match and her sister, who grew up in Virginia, visiting them. I zapped a message to R.’s sister on Facebook — “We’re COUSINS!” — and she is as stunned as I. I have NO IDEA what our connection is, but I’m about to put my back in this.


Me, R. and J., 1966. Cousins!

Maternal Kin, Paternal Kin

Do not be lulled.

“This place of the unrepresentable, the unknowable, and, in the language of Toni Morrison, the ‘unspeakable,’ is where the slave lives. It is where a slave woman named Doll Shoeboots lived until her old age. Unlike Harriet Jacobs, though, who told her unknowable story in her own words, Doll did not write. A record of Doll’s interior life, her ruminations and fleeting thoughts, might reveal something of her world to us. But like millions of other slave women, Doll left nothing behind that attests to her character, her strategies and ideologies, the quality of her days and years. The available sources on Doll’s life are a reflection of that life itself — limited, ambiguous, and fragmented.

To write about Doll, then, is to pay tribute to her life, a life that would otherwise be lost to history. But do not be lulled. To write about Doll is also a wholly inadequate exercise. For every scrap about her past that I have scavenged and reconstructed here might just as well have been captured by a chapter of blank, white pages. …

Thus Tiya Miles limns the dilemma that, in collusion with bone-laziness, thwarts my attempts to put written order and sense to my family’s stories. What justice do mere names and dates and scraps of record and wispy memory do to the fullness of these long lives, each lived in the same jam-packed 24-hour increments that you and I experience?

[Miles’ work, Ties That Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom, explores the relationship of Doll, her Cherokee husband, and their descendants — yes, there are a few of you who have legitimate claim to being part-Indian — and the interweaving pulls and tugs of family and race.]


I wrote this passage a couple of years ago.  I began Scuppernong: Genealogy last year as a compromise with paralysis, a way to pay small tribute rather than none at all. Along the way to 500+ posts and nearly 33,000 views, I have broken through brick walls, been a resource for other questers, met new kin, and connected with an amazing community of genealogists. My small tributes, shallow and incomplete as they may be, thus return reward beyond measure.

Enslaved People


Christmas 1976.

My father was, and is, a voracious reader and tucked under the tree was the most talked-about work of the season, especially among African-Americans — Alex Haley’s Roots. I’d read about it, I’m sure, in Ebony or Jet. “The Saga of an American Family.” I cracked open the hefty volume after Christmas dinner … and didn’t put it down until the wee hours of the 26th when I’d turned the 700th page.


Over the long course of that late night, I started wondering about my own Kizzys and Kunta Kintes. Though Roots, largely fictional, is not the miraculous straight line back to the Mother Land that most of us believed it to be when we read the book (or, better yet, sat glued to the TV eating up the mini-series — all those black folk!), it stirred in African-Americans a little anger and a lot of pride and a great desire to reclaim their people and know their pasts. Though I was still a child, Roots was that same spark for me, and I am grateful to Alex Haley for it.

Maternal Kin, Oral History

Christmas crazy.

In which my mother’s mother reminisces about Christmas with my grandfather and Santa Claus innocence lost:

How did you all celebrate Christmas? Did you get a tree and all that or what did you do?

Ohhh, Daddy was Christmas crazy. He was Christmas crazy, honey. He would buy everything in the world he could afford. And fruitcake. We would make fruitcake. He would help me stir ‘em and cook ‘em, and one time we made some and it didn’t look dark like fruitcake usually is, and I said I wonder why … He said, “Well, I tell you what, let’s put some cocoa in it to make it dark.” [Laughs.] And he used to stir ‘em for me, stir the cake for me and beat the eggs. The batter. He was a better cook than I was. He really taught me to cook.

What about Christmas when you were a child? When you were little?

We had nice Christmases. Walker and Golar and Mat were older than we were, and they used to have to pass through our room some kind of way to get to the front. When they’d come home, when they’d come in the back porch, they would have to pass through that room. And I was a big girl and should have had more sense. But they passed through there, and — I thought Santa Claus brought oranges and apples and everything else. And they thought that we were asleep. They came through our room for something, and they thought that we were asleep, and my brother said, “Did you bring the oranges out the car?” And I mean it just upset me so bad, I didn’t know what in the world to do because I thought Santa Claus was in the morning and everything else. “Did you get the oranges out the car?” Boy, that took care of my Christmas. I don’t know how old I was either, but it never excited me anymore after that. And we used to give gifts – everybody got a gift. I mean, it wouldn’t be anything. A pair of socks or something, but we would wrap all the gifts and things. And our bedroom had a grate in it. You know what a grate is?

Like in the floor?

No, no, no. In the fireplace. It had a grate and invariably we would fire this grate for New Year’s during the holidays, you know. And when Mama and Golar would go – why they had to go all the way to town at the last, you know. Now, it gets dark now. They didn’t stay all that long, but I would be so frightened. I would just be so frightened while they were gone. And we used to have to always have oyster stew on New Year’s night, and that’s what we used to be waiting for. For Mama to come back and bring the oysters for the stew, and the oysters were clean before we went to bed.


No photos or other artifacts exist from my mother’s or grandmother’s childhood Christmases. Plenty do from mine, however, including these fine verses:


Merry Christmas!

Interviews of Margaret C. Allen by Lisa Y. Henderson; all rights reserved.

Maternal Kin, Photographs, Virginia

Remembering Julia Allen Maclin.

I found this photo on the Newport News Public Library’s website. Posted in material related to the Virginiana Collection, the picture is captioned: “Junior Class of 1923 stands before the renovated Huntington High School on 18th Street.”


I am fairly certain that the woman I encircled is my great-aunt Julia Allen Maclin, who was born 109 years ago today. I know that this terribly grainy side shot is her:


Happy birthday, Aunt Julia.

Business, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Vocation

The leading colored funeral director.


Goldsboro Daily Argus, 27 July 1920.

 The esteemed James N. Guess was married to Annie Smith, daughter of Isham and Nancy Henderson Smith. [Small world moment: His nephew Kennon Guess married Esther Edwards of Greene County. I knew Mrs. Guess (later, Askew) as a first grade teacher at elementary school and as a neighbor in Wilson.]

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

Misinformation Monday, no. 10.

Another example of the pitfalls of unquestioning acceptance of federal population schedules at face value. What you see (1) may not be what it seems and (2) is not all there is. Here, I follow my great-great-great-grandfather Adam T. Artis over the arc of his life, as recorded in census records.

Adam Artis was born in 1831 to a free woman, Vicey Artis, and her enslaved husband, Solomon Williams, most likely in Wayne or Greene Counties, North Carolina. In the 1840 census of one of those counties, he, his mother and siblings are anonymous hashmarks under the heading “free colored people” alongside the name of a white head of household.

The 1850 census of Greene County is the first record of Adam’s existence:

AArtis 1850 Greene

White farmer Silas Bryant is the head of household. The other Bryants are presumably his wife and children. The significance of Adam Artess, Jane Artess and Charity Artess’ names listed below requires knowledge outside the four corners of the page. As I learned via subsequent research, Jane and Charity were Adam’s sisters. (Their mother and remaining siblings were listed next door at #429.) Though no bonds or other indenture documents survive, it is most likely that the Artis children were involuntarily apprenticed to Bryant until age 21 by the Greene County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions. Adam’s age is correct, so I assume that Jane’s and Charity’s are, too. The censustaker evinced some hesitation in describing Adam’s color, appearing to superimpose a B (black) over an M (mulatto.) This is a matter of some concern to descendants who deny that he was of African descent. No photographs of Adam survive, but his great-granddaughter D.B. told me she recalls seeing one in her childhood. It was later stored in a barn and ruined by rainwater. Adam, she said, was brown-skinned. Mulattohood was in the eye of the beholder, but I think it is safe to say that Adam had considerable African ancestry.

AArtis 1860 NNeuse Wayne

The 1860 census of the North Side of the Neuse River, Wayne County, tells a nuanced story. This entry contains the sole census reference to Adam’s skills as a carpenter, probably gained during his apprenticeship to Bryant. The $200 in personal property probably consisted mostly of the tools of his trade, and the $100 value of real property reflects his early land purchases. (I found a deed in Wayne County for Adam’s sale of ten acres to his brother-in-law John Wilson in 1855. The sale was a buyback, but Adam never recorded a deed for the original purchase.) Adam was a widower in 1860, and Kerney, Noah and Mary Jane were his children by deceased wife Lucinda Jones Artis. They were not his only children, however. His oldest two, Cain and Caroline, were enslaved alongside their mother Winnie Coley, and are not named in any census prior to 1870.) Jane Artis was Adam’s sister. Her age is about right, though his is off by a year or so. Her one month-old infant may have been daughter Cornelia, who is listed in the 1870 census as born in 1860. I’ve included two lines of the next household to highlight a common pitfall — making assumptions about relationships based on shared surnames. Though they were Artises and lived next door, Celia and Simon were not related to Adam Artis. At least, not in any immediate way. (Ultimately, nearly all Artises trace their lineage to a common ancestor in 17th-century Tidewater Virginia.) Adam’s son Jesse Artis testified directly to the matter in the trial in Coley v. Artis: “I don’t know that Tom and I are any kin. Just by marriage.”

So far, we’ve found basically accurate, if deceptively simple, census entries. 1870 is where the trouble starts. There’s this:

AArtis 1870 holden 1

But wait. There’s this, too:

AArtis 1870 holden 2

The first entry is found in the enumeration of Holden township, Wayne County. The second is in Nahunta. The first was taken 18 August by William R. Perkins. The second, 23 September. By William R. Perkins.


I can’t begin to explain why Perkins rode the backlanes of northeast Wayne County twice and — in two different handwritings — recorded the same people living in the same houses as residents of different townships. Substantively, though, with a couple of exceptions, the two households attributed to Adam Artis are quite consistent. Adam and his wife Frances (Seaberry, whom he married in 1861) are shown with nine children whose ages are identical in both listings. The last six children were born to Frances, and some of their names take a gentle mauling between records. The oldest child was Ida, which is close to “Idar,” but not at all to the very modern-sounding “Jaden.” And who was Octavia/Tavious, a seven year-old male? Process of comparison and elimination identifies him as Napoleon Artis, often called Dock. Was Octavius his middle name? I’ve ever seen it used in any other place.

Fast forward ten years to 1880:

AArtis 1880 Nahunta 1880

Adam is again a widower, as wife Frances died shortly after the birth of son Jesse. Daughter Eliza is helping care for her eight siblings, plus grandbaby Frank, whose mother or father I have never been able to identify. (I have not even found clear evidence of Frank in any later record.) This living situation was not tenable, and Adam married again that very year to Amanda Aldridge, his son-in-law’s sister. Tragically, Adam and Amanda’s marriage was never recorded in a census record as she died days after the birth of her last child, Amanda Alberta, in 1899. Thus, Adam is a widower once more in 1900:

AArtis 1900

“Artice” is an alternate spelling of Artis seldom used by Artises themselves, but occasionally adopted by those recording them. In this record, two of Adam’s children with Frances, Walter and William, were still unmarried and living at home, but the remaining children are Amanda’s. Don’t be fooled by the absence of the infant Alberta. She survived her mother’s untimely death and was taken in by her half-sister Louvicey Artis Aldridge, who, presumably, nursed her along her own babies.

Adam remarried in 1903. The 1910 census accurately reflects his four legal marriages. (His informal relationship with Winnie Coley is omitted.) His latest (and last) bride, Katie Pettiford,  was 50+ years his junior. All of his older children have left (or fled) the nest except 12 year-old Annie Deliah Artis, whose status as “husband’s daughter” is carefully noted. Alphonzo Pinkney Artis was Adam’s last surviving child, though Katie reported giving birth to two others. Alberta was still with John and Vicey Aldridge — listed as “Elberta,” a “granddaughter,” speaking of misinformation — in their household at the other end of Wayne County in Brogden township. (Family stories say that this arrangement ended unhappily when Alberta learned, in her early teens, that she was not, in fact, Vicey and John Aldridge‘s child.)

1910 AArtis Nahunta Wayne

There is no 1920 census entry for Adam T. Artis. This father of nearly 30 children (23 of whom are listed with him in census records) and husband or partner of five (only two of whom show up in the census) died the 11th day of February, 1919.

Agriculture, Newspaper Articles, North Carolina, Paternal Kin

A burned barn, an old well, and Officer Smith.


Goldsboro Daily Argus, 11 June 1904.

Beyond the story of Officer Smith’s swift comeuppance, there is “Will Hagans’ barn, in the northern part of the city.” William S. Hagans and his family lived in Goldsboro at this point, and his landholdings were 15 miles north in the area of Fremont and Eureka, near the Wilson County line. For what, then, did he use a barn in town?

Maternal Kin, North Carolina, Oral History, Photographs

Remembering Launie Mae Colvert Jones.

My maternal grandmother’s youngest sister, Launie Mae, would have turned 104 today.

Here she is, not long, I think, after she moved to Bayonne, New Jersey, around 1930. She met Georgia-born Isaiah James Jones, married, and reared seven children in Jersey City.

Launie Colvert 002

And here, a photo taken at the first Colvert-McNeely family reunion in 1978. Sweet and funny, this is how I best remember her.

Launie Colvert 001

Launie Colvert Jones (20 December 1910-2 August 1997)

Agriculture, Land, North Carolina, Other Documents, Paternal Kin

Maybe he might redeem it.

The fifth in an occasional series excerpting testimony from the transcript of the trial in J.F. Coley v. Tom Artis, Wayne County Superior Court, November 1908. 

Defendant introduces T.F. Jones, who being duly sworn, testifies:

I had a conversation with Napoleon Hagans about this land, the 30 acre piece. (Plaintiff objects to question and answer.) I got after Uncle ‘Pole to see me the land. I told him if he would give me a deed for both places, the Calv Pig, that is the 24 acre piece, and the Tom Pig place, the 30 acre piece, I would take them. He told me he would sell me the Calv Pig place, but the Tom Pig place he had promised to let Tom stay on that as long as he lived, that maybe he might redeem it. That about ended the conversation with us. I bought some timber off this land from Tom. Off of the 30 acre piece. I suppose Hagans knew about it. (Plaintiff objects.) I couldn’t say that Hagans saw me hauling the timber, I guess he saw me. (Plaintiff objects.) Hagans never made any objection. I had a conversation with Tom about this land along during that time, when Uncle ‘Pole Hagans first got rid of that Calv Pig place, about 15 years ago. I asked him if he wouldn’t sell his part, and what would he ask for it, (Plaintiff objects). He said he didn’t want to sell it, he expected to redeem it sometime. Last Fall I told him if he expected to get that mortgage he had better attend to it. He said he had boys in Norfolk, who would take it up; that he had confidence in Will Hagans. That if his boys let it slip out after he died, they could. (Plaintiff objects.)


Mr. W.J. Exum died about 1885. Tom is known as Pig. I don’t know why he was called Pig. I think they got “Pig” from “Diggs”. Some of his people ‘way back there, were named “Diggs”, and they got to calling it “Pig” for short. I remember when Napoleon Hagans died. I was down the Country. I left here in ’94, and came back in 1900. He died during that time. I got this timber 20 years ago. I was buying all I could, I don’t know how much I got. I got it by the tree. I went in 1881 and milled ’till 1890. Either ’81 or ’82. I bought the timber about that time. I didn’t know that the deed from Mrs. Exum to Hagans was executed before 1892.


Jones’ explanation of Tom Artis’ nickname is unsatisfying. “Pig” from “Diggs”? In fact, Thomas and Calvin Artis took their name from their father, an enslaved man, who was called “Simon Pig.” Artis was the surname of their mother Celia, a free woman of color. Though I have found no other record that he was manumitted prior to Emancipation, Simon Pig Artis is listed as the head of his household in the 1860 census of Davis township, Wayne County. He reported (or was attributed with) $800 of real property and $430 of personal property. The land was almost surely his wife Celia’s; she is one of the earliest free colored property owners appearing in Wayne County deed books.

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 9.32.43 PM

Diggs, on the other hand, while a family surname, was that of Frances Artis Diggs, daughter of Tom and Calv’s oldest sister, Eliza Artis. Frances married Wilson (or William) Diggs in 1868 in Wayne County. (Two of Frances and Wilson’s granddaughters, Etta and Minnie Diggs, married a son, William M., and a grandson, Leslie, of Adam T. Artis. As discussed here, Adam and Celia Artis were not meaningfully related.)