Maternal Kin, Virginia

Hiding in plain sight.

I don’t understand how I have missed this:

Screen Shot 2019-04-16 at 8.10.42 PM.png

Almost exactly four years ago, with help from my late uncle Charles C. Allen and my new DNA cousin A.B., I identified Edward C. Harrison as the biological father of my great-grandfather John C. Allen Sr.

The screenshot above shows a portion of the 1880 census of Harrison township, Charles City County, Virginia. Household number 73: Wm. L. Harrison, 32; his mother C.R., 64; and siblings J.C., 24, and E.C., 31. That’s Edward C. Harrison, his brother William Lambert Harrison, his mother Caroline R. Lambert Harrison, and his sister Jane Cary Harrison. (His father William Mortimer Harrison died in 1865.) Household number 74, right next door: Gram Allen, 26; wife Mary; and children Namie, 5, John, 3, and Emma, 1. That’s my great-grandfather John, his mother Mary Brown Allen, his adoptive father Graham Allen, and his half-sisters Namie (Naomi? Nannie?) and Emma. I repeat: living next door.

Were the Allens tenants on the Harrisons’ farm? Graham Allen and Mary Brown married 22 June 1876, when she was just a few months pregnant by Edward Harrison. Were both of them already living on the farm? Why remain under the gaze (and, presumably, control) of the father of Mary’s oldest son? What relationship, if any, did John have his biological father? With other Harrisons?

Before recognizing this census entry, I had no evidence of how Mary Brown and Edward Harrison met or whether John Allen knew his father’s identity.

William Lambert Harrison (1845-1919), John C. Allen Sr.’s uncle.

Free People of Color, North Carolina, Paternal Kin

Friend or family?

I was reminded of this cohabitation:

Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 12.27.30 PM

In the 1850 census of South Side of Neuse, Wayne County, North Carolina: farmer Calvin Simmons, 42, wife Hepsey, 46, and children Harriet, 13, Susan, 11, Montrival, 9, Jno. R., 7, Margaret, 5, Dixon, 3, and Geo. W., 1, plus Robt. Aldridge, 26, who worked as a hireling.  Calvin was born in Sampson County, Robert in Duplin; the others in Wayne.

This, of course, is the family of Montraville Simmons, recorded in the last census before they emigrated to Kent County, Ontario. Who was my great-great-great-grandfather Robert Aldridge to John Calvin Simmons and his wife Hepsie Dixon Simmons? A farmhand? A boarder? A poor relative? At this point, I know nothing of Robert’s parents, so I am intrigued.

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.

Births Deaths Marriages, North Carolina, Other Documents, Paternal Kin

Misinformation Monday, no. 9: the census edition.

Census records are the gateway to genealogical research for most people, and I am no exception. I can still remember hunkering over a microfilm reader in a dark corner of Davis Library in Chapel Hill, gaping at my great-great-great-grandparents’ names revealed in crabbed script in the 1910 federal population schedule. Like so many others, I squirmed impatiently for the release of the 1930 and 1940 censuses, anxious to determine what whos and wheres could be answered by the fresh infusion of data. As much as I have relied upon census data, however, I am acutely conscious of its limits. The census schedules are imperfect documents that qualify only barely as a primary resource. This is not to discount their usefulness for genealogical purposes. I’m just saying that — based as they are on a mishmash of personal knowledge, second-hand information, hearsay and rank speculation — they don’t prove much of anything about a person’s name, age, ethnicity, relationships, or occupation.

Here’s an example, courtesy of the 1920 census of Wilson, Wilson County, North Carolina:

1920 real

A husband and wife with two daughters, no? If you didn’t have reason to know better, you might accept this at face value. “Hattie May” happens to be my paternal grandmother, however, so I do know better. (She was Hattie Mae, by the way.) Let’s take each person one-by-one:

“Jessie Jacobs” was Jesse A. Jacobs Jr. He was actually born in 1856, so was 63 or 64 years old, not 60, when the census taker stopped by. He is described as “B,” which is a designation he never would have provided. I am fairly certain that his wife gave information for the household, and I am equally certain that she described everyone in it as “colored.” Jesse himself might have offered “Croatan,” as the multi-racial, ethnically Native American members of the Coharie tribe were then called.

“Sara Jacobs” was Sarah Henderson Jacobs. She was, indeed, Jesse’s wife. She was born in 1872, so her age is a little off, too. She was 47 or 48, not 42.

Mamie Jacobs” was born in 1907, so her age is basically correct. She was not, however, the daughter of either Jesse or Sarah Jacobs. Nor was she a Jacobs. She was the daughter of Bessie Henderson, who was the niece of Sarah H. Jacobs. In other words, Sarah was her great-aunt. Her mother died when she was three, and she was reared for her first eight years by her great-grandparents, Lewis and Margaret Balkcum Henderson. See:

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 5.35.21 PM

Here, in the 1910 census of Brogden township, Wayne County, North Carolina, is a correctly described family unit. (This, by the way, is the census entry that dropped my jaw so many years ago and got me hooked.) My great-great-great-grandfather Lewis Henderson, great-great-great-grandmother Margaret, great-grandmother Bessie, and great-aunt Mamie. (Bessie was more than seven months pregnant with my grandmother when the census taker showed up on April 18. And look at how many children Margaret had lost. Only three of nine surviving. It breaks your heart.)

Back to 1920: “Hattie May Jacobs” was born in 1910, so her age is basically correct, too. She spent her first eight months or so in her great-grandparents house, but when Bessie died in the late winter of 1911, Sarah and Jesse Jacobs took her to Wilson to live with them. Mamie remained in Wayne County until her great-grandparents died, then she, too, went to Wilson. She and Hattie were known as Jacobses as a result, and for years my grandmother believed she had been formally adopted. Well into adulthood, when she learned that she had not, she reverted to her birth mother’s surname, Henderson.

Fast forward twenty years to the 1930 census of Wilson, Wilson County. Have things gotten better?

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 7.18.54 PM

No. Sarah Jacobs was 58 years old, not 49. That was likely deliberate deception. Hattie, of course, was her great-niece, but their relationship was essentially mother-daughter and undoubtedly so reported to the census taker. Their occupations are not shown here, but Sarah was described as a laundress “at home” and my grandmother as a servant for a private family. The former accords with what I was told about Sarah’s work, but I have never heard that my grandmother worked as a maid. Most curious, however, is not what’s in this entry, but what is not. Namely, my two uncles. They were three and one in 1930, and I’ve found them listed nowhere else in the census either. A deliberate omission? A mistranscription? I don’t know, but it’s another stark example of the unreliability of census records.

So, three consecutive census schedules for one family and only the first reasonably accurate. As I’ll demonstrate in coming weeks, this was not the exception. Caveat emptor.

North Carolina, Other Documents, Paternal Kin

Eureka! … Not.

I was flipping through an old notebook and came across this abstract of entries in the 1912-1913 city directory of Wilson, North Carolina:

Taylor, Bertha, laundress, h 114 w Lee

Taylor, Greenman, h Stantonsburg rd nr Rountree av

Taylor, Hennie, dom, h 114 w Lee

Taylor, Jordan, lab, h Stantonsburg rd nr Rountree av

Taylor, Mack, driver, h 114 w Lee

Taylor, Mattie, laundress, h 114 w Lee

Taylor, Robert, barber, h 114 w Lee

Taylor, Roderick, barber Paragon Shaving Parlor, h 114 w Lee

The house at 114 West Lee Street belonged to my great-grandfather Michael (“Mike,” not “Mack”) Taylor. Bertha, Hennie, and Mattie were his younger daughters. Roderick was his only son. Jordan and Greeman, over on Stantonsburg Road, were Mike’s niece Eliza’s husband and son. But who in the world was Robert Taylor?

Robert … Robert … An epiphany! Of course! This was Robert Perry, son of Mike’s wife Rachel‘s sister Centha Barnes Perry! The boy grew up in Mike and Rachel’s household and quite naturally he was sometimes known as Robert Taylor! … Right?

Well, perhaps, but this is not him. Robert Perry was only 9 years old in 1912. Not only would a child not have been plying a trade at that age, he would not be counted among the adults included in a city directory. (Even Rachel was omitted, as “dependent” homemakers did not make the cut either.)

So, who was this Robert Taylor who both lived in Mike Taylor’s house and worked in the same trade as Mike’s son Roderick?

Census records do not show an African-American Robert Taylor in all of Wilson County in the 1900 or 1910 censuses. In 1920, however, there is Robert Taylor, age 36, a laborer, with wife Mary G., age 29, living at 611 Green Street. Now this is really puzzling.

Two years earlier, when Roderick Taylor registered for the World War I draft, he stated his birth year as 1883, his occupation as barber, and his address as 611 East Green Street. There is no “Roderick Taylor” listed in the 1920 census, but in 1930, at 610 [sic, house numbers shifted in the early 1920s] Green Street, there is barber Roderick Taylor, 45, wife Mary J., 39, and three children.

While it is conceivable that there were both a Robert Taylor and Roderick Taylor of the same age, living in the same houses, with wives of the same name and age, and working in the same profession, it seems unlikely. Rather, in an era in which “Roderick” was rare name, an inattentive census taker or canvasser might easily have heard “Robert” when making his inquiries. Absent further independent evidence that a Robert Taylor existed, I conclude that Roderick’s doppelgänger is a figment of error.

Other Documents

Passed over. (Or laying low.)

A running list of people missing from census enumerations (and the places I expected them to be):

Margaret Balkcum Henderson — 1850 Sampson County NC.

Nancy Balkcum — 1850 Sampson County NC.

Lucinda Nicholson — 1870 Iredell County NC.

Harriet Nicholson — 1870 Iredell County NC.

Walker Colvert — 1870 Iredell County NC.

John W. Colvert — 1870 Iredell County NC.

Daniel Artis — 1870 Greene County NC.

Mollie Henderson Hall Holt — 1900 Wayne, Randolph or Alamance County NC.

Louella Henderson King Wilson — 1900, 1910, 1920 Wayne County NC.

Adaline Hampton Colvert and daughters Selma, Henrietta and Ida Colvert — 1900 Statesville NC.

Hillary Simmons and children Minnie, Daniel and Dollie Simmons — 1900 Wayne County NC.

Minnie Simmons Budd — 1900 Wayne County NC; 1910 Wayne County NC or Philadelphia PA.

Alfonzo Pinkney Artis — 1910 Wayne County NC; 1920, 1930, 1940 Baltimore MD.

Ardeanur Smith Hart — 1910, 1920 Iredell County NC.

James G. Smith, alias McNeely — 1910, 1920 Iredell County NC; 1940 Guilford County NC.

Augustus Artis — 1920 Pulaski County AR.

J. Thomas Aldridge, alias Aldrich — 1920, 1930, 1940 Saint Louis MO.

Brothers Lucian and Jesse Henderson, alias Jacobs — 1930 Wilson NC.

Julia Holmes Jones — 1930 census, Orange NJ.

Janie McNeely Taylor — 1940 Statesville NC or Columbus OH.

Minnie McNeely — 1940 Columbus OH.

Frances McNeely Green — 1920 Statesville NC; 1940 Statesville NC or Columbus OH.

Sarah M. McNeely — 1920 Statesville NC.

Charles E. McNeely — 1920 Statesville NC; 1940 New York NY.

William M. McNeely — 1920 Statesville NC; 1940 New York NY.

Irving McNeely Weaver — 1920 Statesville NC.

Elethea McNeely Weaver — 1920 Statesville NC. [Seriously. What was with the McNeelys and the 1920 census? Were they all living in one uncounted household?]