Enslaved People in our Family Records: What We Can Do

This is a difficult topic and one I tend to delve into in search of my African ancestors and then pull up empty and run in another direction. But, I keep coming back again and again. For most of my life I had no idea I had any African kin. Here’s how the story goes…back in 2011 I gave my husband a YDNA kit for Valentine’s Day. After 40 years of trying to connect him with either Robert WHEATON or Thomas WHEADON I gave into DNA to solve the mystery. Then I took the dive and tested myself at 23andme.

Shortly after that, and before my results came back, I was browsing books at my library’s sales shelf. I found this title “Pearl’s Secret: A Black Man’s Search for his White Family” by Neil Henry which I purchased and read. Well wouldn’t you know it but a month later my atDNA results came back with .6% African in two substantial segments. To make a long story short I have been searching for the source ever since but have not been very successful. I did have an aunt confirm rumors of African ancestry with my grandmother. And I have narrowed down the part of the tree I suspect it is coming from. I suspect my 3rd great-grandmother Sallie WOOD had a more colorful background than her paper tree suggests. So as I often do, I had another look at DNA matches in this part of the tree, always looking for majority African Americans who might be the key. To date those matching me on the African segments are all majority white. So as it usually does this path doesn’t get me very far.

So this time I decided to revisit Sallie WOOD’s ancestors. Her grandparents are William WOOD, Martha KENDRICK, Bartlett C SMITHSON, and Martha WILLIAMS all born between 1734-1748 in Virginia and North Carolina. Both her grandfathers died in 1804. William WOOD is listed on the 1800 Randolph County, North Carolina with 1 enslaved person and Bartlett C SMITHSON in Pendelton District of South Carolina with 4 enslaved people. Call it white guilt or call it a human revulsion to what travesties man inflicts upon his fellow man—each time I come across these records I recoil. Especially knowing that one of their ancestors is (likely) my African ancestress. With more and more records especially probate records coming online more is coming to light. And the revulsion turns to responsibility. The key to may African Americans lies buried in the records of our white ancestors. So even if I personally am uncomfortable I believe what I unearth may be the key to others journeys.

So yesterday, on the 4th of July (love the synchronicity here) I turned up a probate record for William WOOD who died in 1804 which really gave me pause. It was not just one enslaved person that is mentioned in Probate file as the negro slave Chaney. It is the later documents in 1832-1834 involving Chaney’s children: Amey, Christmas, Esther, Mary, Daniel and Jack and their improper distribution. So now I have not one individual for whom I feel responsible for resurrecting but rather a whole family. Sadly this settlement that happened 28 years after William’s death meant the dissolution of this family group.

Which is evidenced in the later document that lists the settlement and where Chaney and her children went. Chaney & Jack who may be her youngest, and Esther went to Alexander HOGAN. Amey to William HARRIS, Christmas to Burrell WOOD (son of William WOOD), Mary to Henry CROSS and Daniel to Jone K WOOD (son of William WOOD).

Further documentation shows how William’s widow, Martha, was taken advantage of by Whitlock ARNOLD who had married one of their daughters. And not only do we learn about Chaney, we learn of her mother Bet. Bet is born about 1882 and her daughter Chaney about 1801.

I still need to comb through these records for more clues but already I have a family and I went searching for them. There are are 3 generations of a family that are kin to someone. I have found a possibility for Amey in 1870 and sent a message to a family member, to date I have not heard back.

I went is search of a repository for this new found information and reached out to a friend who has been successful in searching his enslaved ancestry and reuniting with his white Plantation owner descendants. He sent me to “Beyond Kin.” Beyond Kin has a protocol to enter the “found” into trees on Ancestry so others may benefit. I suspect the story will not end here and that now I know how to honor the people I have “found” I will be able to reconcile with this unhappy part of my ancestral past. I do not have confirmed parents for William WOOD but I do for Martha KENDRICK. In the testimony of her son this statement ” That the provisions made for his mother, the wife of the testator (William WOOD), were reasonable—married early in life [they] had begun poor—together they had worked for what they had accumulated and it was the fruits of their joint labor.” For all I know William may have been of mixed ancestry and Bet was kin to him…the search continues….

Copyright 2021 Kelly Wheaton All Rights Reserved.

1 Comments on “Enslaved People in our Family Records: What We Can Do”

  1. The toughest pill to swallow. I’ve just encountered this and recoil is a perfect description. It sounds hypocritical of me and I try in earnest to put judgement aside in doing my own work. But it’s still hard to grasp the idea that it was the times, it was just how it was, etc. In finding a president fairly close in my tree, John Tyler who had babies with his slaves and then auctioned the babies before they were old enough to talk about what they’d seen and young enough that his beloved wife wouldn’t notice resemblance, I still can’t forgive that. I just think no matter the era, the actions or whatever it’s called a heart back then is a heart today. There was good and there was evil. And this is just my opinion, all the habits of the day can never excuse it. Tyler makes me furious and sick. The first family member I have disowned. And I have some ruffians. None just evil.

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