This is my great-grandmother, Effie Blanche Fendricks, who was born in Hardin County, TN, ca. 1891. She was one of 13 children (8 who survived).
Effie married Walter Springer and birthed 9 children, 7 of whom survived to adulthood. When I interviewed my grandmother Mattie, she shared many fond memories of her mother.
Effie’s husband Walter farmed, worked on Tennessee steamboats, and eventually landed what would have been considered a good “government” job at a factory making munitions for the war.
My grandmother Mattie migrated to Dayton, Ohio when she married in the mid-1940s.
Later, her widowed mother Effie joined them as well as several other siblings. Sadly, Effie suffered a stroke and died in 1959, likely about 67 years old.
I am thinking about Effie today because of Luckie’s discussion going on over at Our Georgia Roots in search of one of her ancestor’s slaveowners. Luckie, you are such an inspiration!
I’m also finally also getting some traction this year on Effie’s family after a 12-year brick wall. These brick walls really do bother me on an emotional level…just the thought that the memory of someone’s life is LOST, just makes me sad.
I think that’s why I have such a passion to try to reclaim that lost memory.
Effie’s “Fendricks” line has been a challenge; the surname has been rendered in every way imaginable (and unimaginable). Her parents, Mike and Jane Eliza, migrated to Hardin County, Tennessee by 1880 and all I knew was that they were from Alabama.
My journey to find out what county in Alabama was very similar to Luckies–it was more about using my skills now to reassess information I’ve had for years.
I’ve tentatively finally traced back to Effie’s grandfather, John Mike Fendricks living in Lawrence Co., AL in 1870.
Once there, I put together a chart of neighbors and potential slaveowners. I ordered 6 rolls of Lawrence Co. Probate records and deeds and I’ve been spending the last 2 weeks pouring over them.
It’s slow work as I’m tracking 3 families (Sherrod, Shackelford and Bynum) who intermarried and had large amounts of land and enslaved persons. I place each probate entry into a table for analysis, and I made census trackers for each family from 1860 back.
I know I’m hot on the trail, but there is always the chance that that “smoking gun” we want can’t be found. There are missing records for Lawrence County, and the slave distribution for one of my research families is in one of those missing books.
What are some of the ways that we can make the case connecting our ancestors to a slaveowner when the ideal documents might be missing? Here are a few thoughts:
- Proximity is always a clue. Most slaves in 1870 still lived near their former slaveowner. Not all, but proximity is a good clue. Some may be living on a former slaveowner’s land.
- Use of slaveowner’s surname. We all know all slaves did not take the last name of the most recent slaveowner, but many did. Check those slaveowner’s wives maiden names, because some have that surname if they came from her family.
- First names in the enslaved family matching first names in the slaveowner’s family.
- Interactions with the slaveowner’s family. I’ve seen slaveowner’s act as witnesses for marriages as well as posting bond/acting as sureties.
- Another big clue is found in deeds. Many slaves purchased their first land from a former slaveowner so always find that first land record. Check the slaveowner’s probate records even if they died after 1865–your ancestor may be purchasing items from the estate indicating a connection.
- Interactions of generations of both families into the early 20th century. It is not uncommon to have descendants of the slave/slaveowner still interacting or living in close proximity even in the 1900, 1910, 1920 census.
- Freedmen’s Bureau labor contracts between your ancestor and an individual is another good clue. Most of these aren’t indexed and don’t exist for every locality, but be sure to check.
Remember, I am talking about when you can’t find that document that directly names your ancestor. There are still ways to build a strong case from circumstantial evidence that your ancestor was owned by an individual.
Of course, you may still be more comfortable adding a caveat to your family history with the word “likely” or “probable”, and then presenting your reasoning.
I think that’s the way we should approach this quest. For some of our lines, we’ll find the definitive evidence, but for others we won’t.
My search for Effie’s enslaved roots continues. And if I don’t find that bill of sale or inventory that lists her grandfather (or any of the things where a slave names his ex-owner), I’ll still be working on building my case.
Let me hear your thoughts, family.
I am an engineer by day, but my true passion lies in genealogy. I have been a researcher, writer, lecturer and teacher for over twenty years. This blog is where I share family history methods, resources, tips and advice, with an emphasis on slave research, slavery and its aftermath. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my family’s past. I’ve taken back– reclaimed– some of that lost memory, especially that of my enslaved ancestors. I hope you’ll sign up to receive my posts—if you do, you’ll get a free PDF with some of my favorite tips! And please do share posts that interest you.