Free People of Color, North Carolina, Other Documents, Paternal Kin

Draft prospectus.


Twenty-five years ago today, I submitted the first draft of my master’s essay prospectus to Professor Barbara J. Fields of Columbia University. The thesis itself took another year-and-a-half to complete. In between, I submerged myself in the North Carolina State Archives and the literature of free people of color and forged an unwavering fascination with their time and place in Southern antebellum history. Though I found frustratingly little direct evidence of my own ancestors’ apprenticeship, I gained a depth of understanding of their circumstances and community that has served my genealogical research well.

DNA, North Carolina, Paternal Kin

DNAnigma, no. 13: high-school classmates?

Over the weekend, I did one of my infrequent checks for matches at Ancestry DNA. I found a new match to C.B., an estimated 5th-8th cousin. Heaving a sigh, I idly checked his family tree — and immediately recognized many of his surnames as common to Wilson County, my birthplace. I looked a little more closely at his profile, and … I’ll be damned. His daughter was my high school classmate! How in the world are we connected?

M.W. is the second Beddingfield High School grad that I’ve matched in Ancestry or 23andme. The other was a classmate of my sister. I have no clue how we match M.R. either.

I can assume the C.B. match is on my father’s side, as is M.R. I also assume that it is through an Anglo ancestor. What throws me is that I don’t know of any white ancestors from Wilson County or northern Wayne or southern Edgecombe Counties, from which Wilson was created. Clearly, I have one, or some, though, as these and a couple of other Wilson County matches attest. The most likely conduit is through my Artis-Seaberry-Hagans, who had obvious Euro ancestry about which I know nothing and who lived in northern Wayne County.

An initial exchange of messages with M.R. has fallen silent, but I’m hoping a collabo with M.W. will get me somewhere.

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.

Maternal Kin, North Carolina, Oral History

She would always bring him something.

My grandmother: My grandmother used to always bring him something down, she’d come down sometimes Sunday afternoon or Saturday night.

My aunt: Grandma Allen?

My grandmother: No, no, no, no, no. My daddy.

Me: Harriet.

My grandmother: She would always bring him something. In the springtime, when there’d be strawberries and rhubarb, she used to make strawberry pie with rhubarb in ’em. And she would make three or four and stack ’em like that. And cut all the way down. And she would always bring that to Papa.

Margaret C. Allen on this family’s stack pie legacy.


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

Births Deaths Marriages, Maternal Kin, Other Documents

She is now with child.


During a recent trip to the North Carolina State Archives, I discovered documents related to an Iredell County bastardy action — State v. John Colvert, colored. Harriet Nicholson had been examined by county officials and found to be pregnant. She named John Colvert as the child’s father and, on 26 January 1874, a warrant was issued to force him into court. In May, John Colvert, with Alfred Dalton and Peter Allison giving bond, agreed to “maintain” the child, i.e. pay child support.

I was aware that Harriet and John were not married when their son Lon was born. Indeed, they never married. In an unusual turn for the era, the child was given his father’s last name and was reared by John’s father and stepmother, Walker and Rebecca Colvert. However, the date of the bastardy action struck me. First, in January 1874, Harriet was only 13 years old. (John was 23.) Second, Lon always gave his birth year as 1875. (June 10, to be exact. Belated shout-out.) Was he in fact born a year earlier in 1874? Could Harriet’s condition have been detected early enough for her to been hauled into court in January? Or was Lon Harriet’s second pregnancy, the first having resulted in a stillbirth or infant death?

My grandmother never mentioned an older child. Perhaps she never knew of one. Harriet married Abner Tomlin a couple of years after Lon’s birth and of their several children only one, Harvey Golar Tomlin, lived long enough for my grandmother to know. Her last child, Bertha Mae Hart, was born in 1904 of her second marriage.