DNA, Paternal Kin

DNAnigma, no. 17: Aldridge-Balkcum?

Ohhh, a thing is brewing with my Aldridge-Balkcums. A couple of days ago I got a message from a woman who administers her uncle’s 23andme account. J. told me that her uncle, M.R., matches me and R.L. on chromosome 20. R.L. is a known cousin who’s descended from Robert and Mary Eliza Balkcum via their daughter Amelia Aldridge Brewington. She and my father (who’s descended from son John W. Aldridge) are third cousins. I was mystified at first, as I didn’t see any other matches to dozen-plus other Aldridge-Balkcums at 23andme. Then, R.L.’s daughter B.J. steered me over to GEDmatch. There, in small doses, M.R. and his son J.R. match (and triangulate with) me; my father; his half-first cousin J.H.; R.L.; and A.S., who’s descended from Amanda Aldridge Artis.

M.R.’s roots are primarily in Ohio, but he has a few western North Carolina Piedmont and Virginia lines. What in the world is the connection???

at matrix

Births Deaths Marriages, Civil War, North Carolina, Paternal Kin

Confederate dead and wounded.

When the call came, Hester Balkcum‘s grandsons answered. And paid.


James Lucian Balkcum, born about 1839, son of Mariah Balkcum and William L. Robinson. Lucian was a Sampson County farmer when he enlisted as a private on 9 May 1861 in Company F, 20th North Carolina Infantry.  He was captured 20 July 1864 at Stephenson’s Depot, Virginia, and confined at Camp Chase, Columbus, Ohio, where he died of variola on 4 Jan 1865. He is buried in the Confederate Cemetery in Columbus.

Josiah Johnson, born about 1844, son of William and Mariah Balkcum Johnson of Sampson County. Josiah enlisted as a private on the same day and in the same company as his half-brother Lucian Balkcum. He received a disability discharge on 6 May 1862, but re-enlisted 2 Jan 1864. Josiah died from wounds on 9 Nov 1864 at Mount Jackson, Virginia.

Harman Balkcum, born about 1822 to Nancy Balkcum and an unknown father. A 5’6″ farmer, he enlisted 4 Jan 1862 in Duplin County as a private in  Company A, Wilmington & Weldon Railroad Guards (later Company D, 13th Battalion, North Carolina Infantry.) A month later, records note that he missed duty for five days due to parotitis. He died 8 April 1863, probably of illness.

William James Balkcum, born 1841 to Lemuel and Jemima Rackley Balkcum of Sampson County.  W.J. enlisted on 10 Sept 1862 in the same company as Lucian Balkcum and Josiah Johnson. He was wounded 1 July 1863 at Gettysburg, and his left arm amputated.  He was captured as prisoner of war on 5 July 1863 and paroled circa 25 Sept 1867.  He arrived for prisoner exchange 27 Sept 1863 at City Point, Virginia, and transferred to Company F, 20th Infantry on 16 Apr 1864. Nancy’s great-grandson was the only Balkcum to come home.

Lemuel Balkcum, born about 1823. He was named as a grandson in Hester Balkcum’s will and was probably the son of Nancy Balkcum.  In the early 1840s, Lemuel Balkcum married Jemima Rackley. They had at least eleven children — the youngest just months old — before his enlistment on 2 September 1863 as a private in Company E, 30th North Carolina Infantry at Camp Holmes, Raleigh NC.  Lemuel died of typhoid fever on 26 Dec 1863 in a Richmond, Virginia, hospital and is buried in Hollywood cemetery, Richmond.

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

The Balkcum women.

In the name of God, Amen, I Hester Balkcum of the State of North Carolina and County of Sampson, being of sound mind & memory, but of feeble health, and knowing that all must die; do make & ordain this my Last Will & Testament. And first I give my body to the dust, to be buried in a decent manner and commend my spirit to the care of God who gave it, as a being infinitely wise & good. As for my worldly goods, my will is that they be disposed of as follows – (viz):

1st. I give & devise to my daughter Nancy Balkcum, thirty acres of land, to be laid off by the direction of my executor, from the eastern extremity of a tract lying on the southside of Beaver Dam swamp, so as to include the house in which she now lives, & a part of the cleared land to her & her heirs forever, in fee simple. I also give & bequeath to my said daughter Nancy the sum of Six dollars in money to be paid her by my executor.

2nd.  I give & devise to my grandson, James Lucien Balkcum, son of my daughter Mariah, the residue of said tract of land, lying on Beaver Dam Swamp, after thirty acres as aforesaid shall have been given to my daughter Nancy, the said residue supposed to contain one hundred acres more or less with all the appurtenances thereunto belonging to said James L. Balkcum & his heirs forever in fee simple  and I hereby revoke all gifts, grants and deeds of whatsoever nature or kind coming within the meaning & purview of these devises & declare them utterly void as having been done for temporary purposes & having had their effect  I also give & bequeath unto said James Lucien Balkcum, one bed, bed-stead & furniture and one pot & skillet.

3rd. I give & bequeath unto my grand daughter Mary Ellen Johnson, daughter of my daughter Mariah, one bed and its necessary furniture and all my household & kitchen furniture not heretofore disposed of, with all clothes & cloths of every description, which I may leave at my decease.

4th.  I give & bequeath unto my grand son, John Balkcum, one common Bible, or its equivalent in money

5th.  I give & bequeath unto my two grand sons, Harman & Lemuel Balkcum, one common Bible each, or money sufficient to purchase the same

6th.  It is my will that my Executor pay all my legal debts, and the above legacies, with the Expense of Administration out of such money or notes as may be left by me at my death and the overplus (if any) be given to my daughter Mariah for her own proper use or benefit.

7th.  I hereby constitute & appoint my friend William L. Robinson Executor of this my last Will & Testament, hereby revoking all former Wills, Deeds, gifts or grants of what name or kind soever.

March the 9th day 1843          Hester X Balkcum

Signed, seal’d, publish’d & declared by the Testatrix to be her last Will & Testament in the presence of us, who were present at the signing of the same /s/ Isaiah Robinson /s/ Abner Robinson

State of North Carolina, Sampson County  } Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, May Term 1843

There was the foregoing will duly proven in open court by the oath of Isaiah Robinson a subscribing witness & ordered to be recorded.  /s/ Thomas J. Faison Clk


About 1799, John Balkcum, a widower with two young children, married a woman named Hester in Duplin County NC. Her maiden name is unknown. John died in 1803, leaving as heirs only Hester and his children by his first wife, Tomsin and William.  In 1804, Hester received a widow’s allotment and two years later is listed in a Duplin County tax digest with 450 acres.

In the next few years, Hester Balkcum gave birth to two daughters, Nancy and Mariah. She gave them the last name Balkcum, though neither was John’s child. It was the beginning of an unconventional family, with both Nancy and Mariah giving birth out of wedlock, and one or two of Nancy’s children fathered by a black or mixed-race man. (This last circumstance was unconventional, but not nearly as uncommon in antebellum America as one might imagine.) Hester appears only sporadically in census enumerations, but in 1830 “Hester Baucom” is listed in Duplin County heading a household that consisted of a female aged 50-59; one male under 5; two males 5-9; one male 10-14; one male 20-29; one female under 5; one female 15-19; one female 20-29; one female 30-39; all described as white. Ten years later, in the 1840 census of Sampson County, Hester does not appear, but her daughter Nancy Balkcom, aged 30-40, is listed, heading a household of two females aged 5-10 and one female aged 10-14, all white, and one slave.


When Hester died in the spring or early summer of 1843, her executor W.L. Robinson listed the debts owed her estate — all to family members — and her meager belongings. Her real property had dwindled considerably since the early days of her widowhood, and I catch a bit of feeling that the family was struggling.

BALKCUM -- H Balkcum Inventory 1843


Ten years later, Hester’s daughter Nancy felt poorly enough to dictate her own last will and testament:

In the name of God Amen, I Nancy Balkcum of the State of North Carolina & County of Sampson being of sound & perfect mind & memory but feeble in body & feeling that the sentence if Death which has been passed upon all will probably ere long be executed upon me think fit to make this my last will & testament as follows.

First I give my body to be buried in a decent manner without parade or vain shew & commend my spirit to him who gave it as a being infinitely wise & good.

As for my worldly goods my will is that they disposed of as follows

First. I give & bequeath unto my daughter Margaret Balkcum one bed bedstead & furniture (the bed on which I have usuly lain) one wheel & cards one table one sow & pigs & twenty dollars to be paid by my executors. This is for her services in waiting on me in my last sickness to her & her heirs forever

Secondly, I give & bequeath unto my two daughters Eliza & Mary one bed & furniture to them & their heirs forever

Thirdly I desire that my Son Harman be paid back all expence that he may incur in providing for me by my Executor

Fourthly, All the residue of my property both real & personal ( desire to be sold by my executor to the best advantage & after paying all my just debts & funeral expences that the proceeds of said sale be equally divided among all my children

Lastly I hereby make constitute & appoint my friend William L. Robinson Executor of this my last will & testament with full powers to execute the same according to the true intent & meaning thereof & I hereby revoke all former will  this the 20th day of August 1853

Signed sealed published & declared by the Testatrix to be her last will & testament hereby revoking all former wills in the presents of us who witnessed the in the presents of the testatrix & of each oth  /s/ Nathan Johnson, Joshua X Rackley                         Nancy X Balkcum

Nancy was dead within six months. The same William L. Robinson who had administered her mother’s estate handled hers, and his inventory reveals Nancy’s slightly better-furnished life.


Inventory of Nancy Balkcum’s estate, 1854.

The account of sale of the property is even more detailed. With the exception of two or three neighbors, all the buyers were Nancy’s children or other close family and they seem to have gotten bargain basement prices. Subtracting the $200 that Harmon Balkcum paid for Nancy’s 32 acres, the remainder of her worldly goods netted only $12.86.

NBalkcum Sale 1854

BALKCUM -- N Balkcum Inv 1854 p 2

Account of sale of Nancy Balkcum’s estate, 1854.

Documents found in estate files of Hester Balkcum and Nancy Balkcum, Estates Records, Sampson County Records, North Carolina State Archives.

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.


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.

Free People of Color, Letters, North Carolina, Paternal Kin

The case for Eliza Balkcum Aldridge.


She is obviously a very old woman, stooped and twisted, but with a full head of silvery hair pulled into a loose bun. Her daughter-in-law stands to one side, hand resting protectively on the back of her chair. The only known photographs of Mary Eliza Balkcum Aldridge, two of them, were taken the same day near the end of her long life.

The basic outline of Eliza’s life is established. According to her death certificate, she was born 29 February 1829 in Duplin County. She married Robert Aldridge around 1850, but no marriage license has been found for them. Eleven of her children lived to adulthood. She ran the domestic side of a farmer’s household and slipped out to deliver babies when called upon. She inherited 53 acres from her husband’s estate, but spent her last years in the households of her youngest sons, Robert and Joseph.

The details of her early life are less clear, but I believe she was born to an unorthodox white woman named Nancy Balkcum. Here’s the case:

  • About 30 years ago, a cousin prepared an unannotated family history (apparently based on oral tradition) that notes “Robert [Aldridge] married Eliza Bayscin in 1850.  Eliza was born in Johnson [sic] County, North Carolina in 1830.  She had two sisters, Mary and Maggie.”  Everything in this document must be taken with a grain of salt — it borders on the hagiographic and is very romantic — but the basic story seems to be rooted in fact.
  • In the 1850 census of Sampson County, a 21 year-old named Elizabeth Balkcum appears in the household of Lemuel Balkcum.  Elizabeth does not appear to be his spouse. She is listed last in the household, after minor children. As I’ll explain in another post, Lemuel Balkcum was the grandson of Hester Balkcum, and most likely the son of Nancy Balkcum. Though her name is slightly off, I believe “Elizabeth” is Eliza.
  • In 1854, Nancy Balkcum’s will was probated in Sampson County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions. Her legatees were “daughter Margaret Balkcum,” “two daughters Eliza and Mary,” and “son Harman.” (This matches the Mary and Maggie in the family history above, and I am certain its writer never saw Nancy’s will.)
  • In the 1860 census of Newton Grove, Sampson County, Mary E. Aldridge appears with her husband Robert and children. This is the only reference to her as “Mary E.” In subsequent censuses — 1870 and 1880 in Brogden township, Wayne County; 1900 in Providence township, Wayne County; and again in 1910 and 1920 in Brogden township — she is called Eliza Aldridge.
  • Eliza’s son Matthew Aldridge died in 1920 in Goldsboro, Wayne County.  His death certificate lists his mother as “Lizzie Borkem.”
  • Eliza Aldridge died 29 January 1924 of influenza.  She was just short of 95 years old. Eliza’s son Joseph did not know Eliza’s father, but gave her mother’s name as “Nancy.”
  • Son Joseph Aldridge died in 1934 in Wayne County. His death certificate lists his mother as “Eliza Barkin” of Sampson County.
  • Son Robert Aldridge died in 1940 in Wayne County. His death certificate lists his mother as “Eliza Baucom” of Wayne County.
Free People of Color, North Carolina, Paternal Kin, Photographs

The case for Margaret Henderson as daughter of Nancy Balkcum.

The case for Margaret Henderson as the daughter of Nancy Balkcum (and sister of Mary Eliza Balkcum Aldridge) —

1. Margaret was born 1833-1836, probably in Sampson County NC. Mary Eliza was born in 1829 in Duplin or Sampson County.

2. Her photo clearly indicates that she was mixed race, as was Mary Eliza. Mary Eliza Balkcum’s mother Nancy Balkcum was white.

3. Margaret is not listed in the 1850 census, and neither is Nancy Balkcum.

4. Nancy Balkcum’s will makes reference to a daughter Margaret Balkcum, as well as a daughter Eliza Balkcum.  The will was probated in 1854 in Sampson County, prior to Margaret Balkcum Henderson’s marriage circa 1855. Margaret Balkcum purchased a number of small items from her mother’s estate.

5. Margaret named her second son James Lucian Henderson in 1857.  Compare: James Lucien Balkcum, born 1838, son of Nancy Balkcum’s daughter Mariah Balkcum Johnston.

6. Margaret named her first daughter Isabella circa 1860.  Compare: Isabella Johnson, born 1858, daughter of Mariah Balkcum Johnson.

7. Margaret named her second daughter Ann Elizabeth circa 1866.  Compare: Ann Eliza Balkcum, born circa 1840, daughter of Nancy Balkcum’s son John Balkcum.

8. Margaret named her third daughter Mary Susan circa 1868.  Compare: Mary Susan Balkcum, born 1844 to John Balkcum, and Susan Johnson, born 1844 to Mariah Balkcum Johnson.

9. Between 1860 and 1870, Margaret and her husband Lewis Henderson and Eliza and her husband Robert Aldridge migrated to the Dudley area of southern Wayne County.  The families are listed side by side in the 1870 census.

10. Caswell C. Henderson’s November 1907 marriage license, issued in New York City, reports his mother’s name as Margaret Balkcum.

11. Matrilineal descendants of Margaret Henderson have mtDNA haplotype H3. Descendants of Mary Eliza Aldridge have mtDNA haplotype H3.

12. Certain descendants of Margaret Henderson share significant autosomal cM totals with descendants of Mary Eliza Aldridge, but have no other known lines of common descent.

Problematic points:

1. Margaret’s death certificate lists her mother as Margaret Bowkin, not Nancy.  Informant was her son Lucian Henderson.  (I have seen instances in which an informant listed his own mother’s name, instead of the decedent’s mother’s name. Is this the case here?)

2. Margaret’s son Lucian’s June 1934 death certificate lists his mother’s maiden name as Hill.

3. Margaret’s daughter Sarah’s January 1938 death certificate lists her mother’s maiden name as Carter.  Informant was Hattie Mae Henderson, Sarah’s great-niece, who told me 60 years later that she did not recall giving this information and did not believe it was correct.

4.  Perhaps most puzzlingly, there is absolutely no tradition of kinship between the two families. Hattie Mae Henderson was reared by her great-aunt (Lewis and Margaret’s daughter) Sarah Henderson Jacobs. If Sarah had been first cousin to Robert and Eliza Aldridge’s children, it seems that there would have been some acknowledgement of the relationship passed down — not only to Hattie (my grandmother), but to others descended from the free colored families in this small community. They (Simmonses, Winns, Jacobses, Hendersons, Aldridges, etc.) intermarried freely, so consanguinity would not have been shameful. The one exception: Hattie Henderson reported visiting with Sarah a “Cousin Tilithia” in Norfolk as a child. This was Tilithia Brewington King Godbolt Dabney, daughter of Robert and Eliza’s daughter Amelia Aldridge Brewington. Did Sarah call Tilithia “cousin” because they themselves were related, or because Hattie was related to Tilithia (through J. Thomas Aldridge, her father and Tilithia’s first cousin)?  A point to consider: all but one of Lewis and Margaret’s children (son Lucian, who himself had no children who lived to adulthood) had died or migrated from Dudley by about 1905. The “lack of tradition” I perceive may simply be a function of a gap in familiarity between those people who knew Lewis and Mag’s family and those I was able to interview 80-90 years later.


 Photo of Margaret Henderson in collection of Lisa Y. Henderson.