The following are all of my posts to the Afrigeneas forum detailing my second research trip to Loudoun County VA:
(See details of first trip here: http://www.wemba-music.org/research_trip.htm )
Well the clock is ticking, and I have only 2 days before I leave for my second research trip to Virginia's Loudoun County.
I thought I would share with you my pre-trip efforts - for those of you who are doing the same in the future and to encourage other folks who have also made similar trips to share their process and tips.
My first trip taught me a lot about what I needed to do to prepare for the next one.
As VKN suggests - Have a PLAN!
FIRST - Update all family files for the families currently known to have been in Loudoun county.
I tend to lag behind on entering data - and some of that data - once entered provides clues to other avenues of exploration
MAKE a CHECKLIST of "missing data". After files were updated, I made a list of missing marriage, birth, death information for those families I am researching.
MAKE A LIST of the names of potential slaveholding families.
Since I know the area my family lived in, and have identified 2 slaveholders already - I have mapped the county and narrowed down my list of slaveholders to those who had farms or plantations in the areas my family lived in the 1870, 1880 and 1900 census.
Since my family members seemed to intermarry with local families - the chance is that they knew each other during the slave period. I have not found that any were "sold away", and have found those family members that I know the slave holder of - living on the same or nearby census pages - as the slaveholding family.
I need more information on the slave holding families (I will be looking at their family files at Balch library) - and their marriages and relationships, and their names to review wills, tax records and Estate accounts at the court house.
PRINT out family files - I may not have access to a printer when I get down there - and don't want to carry my portable with me. The family files I have make useful sheets to take notes on.
CONTACT - I notified staff at Balch Library that I was coming, and have received updates on new information available - for example - they just received WWI draft Registration Microfilm - I amended my schedule to make time to take a look at them.
I also contacted a family members, and several other people that I have been in touch with to let them know I'm on the way - and made appointments to see several people to interview.
THINGS TO TAKE: Laptop - with updated family files - I can utliize evenings in the hotel entering data and reviewing
Camera- Digital camera is great for taking photos of folks and buildings and cemetery headstones
Tape Recorder - for interviews
Note pads, pens and paper
Reference Books - I take my reference book(S) - particularly Loudoun County Will Book Index - to speed up the process looking for documents.
Maps - I purchased local maps last time I was down there - nothing is worse than spending 3 or 4 hours getting lost on back-country roads. Some of the cemeteries I will be revisiting are in very out of the way locations.
A shovel/trowel and pruner - need a digging tool - since I plan to plant memorial perrennials at the gravesites, and a pruner to clear away any debris. Though some gravesites are lovingly tended, others are not. I like planting something that will bloom each year rather than leaving flowers.
MUDBOOTS and comfortable walking shoes - this is the country Though I will be in the city library and courthouse - journeys to the old homestead will require wading through muddy mountain areas, jumping across creeks and a lot of walking.
That's all I can think of right now - I've probably forgotten other things, but would love to hear from other folks about "how they did it".
After the success of last years trip "down home" I'm doin' it again -and I get to stay a few days longer this time.
And this time I get to meet some Afrigeneas "kin" too
I'm planning to arrive in Leesburg Loudoun County on Sat March 15 - and return to NY on the Sat 22nd. Hopefully, I'm going to get a chance to meet some SCIPIO, JACKSON, TATE and PAYNE researchers - and anyone else from here that wants to come hang out in VA.
In between I plan to hook up with Lloyd and take a trip to Meckelenburg County VA - where we hope to meet with other BASKERVILLE and ALEXANDER researchers.
So if you live near Loudoun VA, and get a kick out of dusty records and trips to old cemeteries, let's meet!
Returned and posted diary of the trip:
Well folks I'm back and glad to be home - but it was a wonderful trip overall. There is no way I can recount the entire week long trip in one post so I'll start at the beginning - and just let it flow
I drove down alone from New York to Loudoun, leaving upstate NY on Saturday the 15th at about 7:30 AM. It's a six and a half hour drive, and since I was doing it solo for the first time, I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to get there in a leisurely fashion before 3PM check in time at the Carradoc - a Holiday Inn made over from a converted plantation house.
I planned my route to avoid Washington DC and the related Beltway traffic, choosing instead a more scenic route through the Pocono mountains of PA, then through Harrisburg and on down into VA.
Passed Harper’s Ferry and said a silent prayer for the memory of the men hanged there for wanting to free slaves.
After about six hours of highway driving with only one stop – I crested a hill and the Blue Ridge mountains were there in front of me – a majestic set of softly rolling peaks, one lone hawk hovering over my car and I was almost “home”.
To be honest – my eyes filled up with tears as I drove on slowly – not really wanting the journey to end – but anticipating the discoveries that lay ahead.
A few minutes later – I crossed the Potomac River on a small bridge that crosses it along scenic route 15 which connects Point of Rocks MD to Loudoun VA. As I looked down into the swirling water - I wondered if it was from near this spot that my great aunt Annie escaped to freedom on a barge.
Route 15 meanders through the backdoor of Loudoun – past farmland and ridges, over creeks and by “hollers” - some hillsides were dotted with slow melting snow – still dressed in winter brown – no hint yet of spring.
Many of the old farmhouses and homes at a distance were places where slaves were held – but ironically they didn’t offend me the way modern “instant colonials” do – the gentrifying of Loudoun is quickly eroding the country life style and upscale suburban over-development is starting to take its toll.
Old-timer’s from the county – black and white, are fighting a losing battle to prevent the destruction of the entire eco-system by the onslaught of folks who want to “live in the county” but want a Starbucks on each corner, and want the old roads ripped up – and widened – for their shiny new SUV’s.
I feel quite proprietary about those old roads – especially Snickersville Turnpike – because some of those old stone walls lining the winding county lanes were built by my great grandfather, Presley Roberts – a stone mason, as were the walls of some of the old farmhouses. His craft remains – but for how long?
I pulled into Leesburg at about 1:30 – too early to check into my motel room, and as I turned onto its main street, decided to pull into the Balch Library – the center for Loudoun historical and genealogical research.
Staff members I met on my first trip – and have been in touch with via email greeted me warmly – and my hour in the library was spent chatting with staff member LaVonne Markham who gave me a copy of the new teaching guide they are using to teach black history through genealogy to local students – which features a section on my Robert’s family. Left my family files with Mary Fishback, Library assistant and author of several Loudoun histories. She promised to have them copied and into a permanent file by the next morning at 10AM.
For those of you who have completed - or even partially completed a particular branch of your family – make sure that you send it to the library for that county that supports genealogical research or local historical society, to make it available to others. (and don't forget to post results here as well)
Couldn’t leave the library without buying a few new books on Loudoun (I'm a book-a-holic):
“The Essence of a People II: African Americans who made their world anew in Loudoun County Virginia and beyond”
2 volumes of the 5 volume series by Eugene Scheel – “Loudoun Discovered: Communities, Corners & Crossroads ” . In Volume 4 I was happy to find references to some of my kin in the section on “Murphy’s Corner”.
Also bought a copy of “Black Laws of Virginia” by Jane Purcell Guild, which I been meaning to buy for quite some time.
Left the library promising to return the next day and stopped off at a local
bookstore with a large VA history section and bought a hefty text (595
“ The Historian’s Guide to Loudoun county Virginia: Volume I Colonial Laws of Virginia and County Court Orders 1757-1766.
Though my research has only gotten me back with my family to 1808 – historical texts will help paint a picture of earlier VA history – which should aide me in digging deeper chinks in my brick walls.
Checked into the hotel – unpacked and then set up my files - my cousin Margo wouldn’t get in until 6PM the next day – and I had plans to go to the library on Sunday – and the courthouse on Monday – but the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. While settling into the hotel room, the phone rang and it was the Chairman of the Balch Library Advisory Committee – a Mr. James P. Roberts, who had been contacted by the staff and told I was in town. Since my maiden name is Denise Roberts Oliver, and I’m researching Loudoun Robert’s – they wondered if perhaps – we were related.
Jim Roberts said he and his wife Peggy, who is on the Board of Balch, would
come by the hotel the next morning and take me to their church. I accepted.
Spent an hour or so entering more data into my family files on the laptop – and fell asleep.
Loudoun County trip – 2003
Sunday morning I woke up early with anticipation – the Robert’s family were due to pick me up at 10:30 to go to their church. I wondered – are they relatives of “my Robert’s”?
Suddenly as I rummaged through the closet, to get dressed, I realized that I had brought no “go to church” clothes with me.
My prep list prior to leaving had included items like “mud boots” and sturdy walking/ hiking shoes – for my plans to scale the mountain to get up on the ridge where our land is and family home was – but it didn’t include “church attending” as an activity and I was worried. My memories of going to church in the south (or north for that matter) were of relatives in their Sunday best – hats and sometimes gloves – children starched and pressed.
A note to all who plan to do these trips - bring "Sunday go-to-meeting clothes" with you!
I unearthed a jumper in the closet from amongst my normal attire of blue jeans, and ironed a blouse. Thankfully I had brought one pair of decent looking shoes and some stockings. I had no idea what denomination of church this was – though thinking over my Loudoun history I guessed that it had to be either Baptist or Methodist. Remembered to tuck money in my purse for the offering plate.
The phone rang – they were here.
Went down to the hotel lobby, and waiting there was a tall gentleman in a Stetson hat and suit, who looked like a twin of my uncle Donald Roberts.
I was taken aback. I went over to shake his hand and he gave me a big hug!
He escorted me out to his waiting inside – where his wife was waiting and he introduced me to Peggy – a petite and vivacious woman, who greeted me warmly.
On the way to church we recited family trees – when he said his grandfather was a William Henry Roberts – my heart thumped. I had a great uncle by that name on my tree. But the dates were off by 10 years – and the wife’s name was wrong – and though we struggled to “make a match” it wasn’t happening. He told me his Robert’s were originally from Clark county – before coming to Loudoun in the late 1800’s, adding there were lots of Robert’s in Clark. Since I have no idea where “my Roberts” were from prior to 1808 – I filed that fact away for future research – still marveling at the resemblance to my deceased Uncle Donald.
His wife Peggy then asked me “who are your kin?” and I started reciting surnames – Carter’s, Jackson’s, Weaver’s, Scipio’s, Payne’s, Tate’s…Perry, Nickens – and she replied delightedly – “we’ve got Perry’s and Jackson’s in our church…” her husband adding that the cemetery in the town of Lincoln had some Tate’s.
When I said Scipio –Jim asked if I was kin to Miss Beatrice Scipio – the legendary black school teacher of Loudoun. I said yes …adding that I was also related by marriage to a Miss Rosalie Carter – who also taught school in Loudoun. Peggy replied delightedly that Rosalee had been her first teacher in school – and her Sunday school teacher as well!
They looked at me again – and commented that “I favored Miss Rosalee” and thinking about her pictures – I realized that I do resemble her a bit - though I'm not blood related (that I know of - yet).
We pulled up in front of a church in downtown historic Leesburg – and I when I looked up at the name – “Mount Zion United Methodist Church”. I was amazed. Before leaving I had received an email from Afrigeneas member Hal Jackson asking that if I got time, on the trip – could I locate a Mount Zion cemetery.
We entered the church – the service had not started yet – but there were a number of congregants already assembled and I was introduced to everyone – as “a Robert’s from New York, but family originally from Loudoun”, and everyone gave me big hugs.
This was the “huggingist” (is that a word?) church I’d ever been in. Before I could even comment, Jim would add that I was “kin to Miss Rosalee Carter” and I’d get another hug. There was a wood and glass cabinet in the downstairs foyer of the church containing a book of early church records, a marriage registry and several church anniversary publications. I looked through the glass doors with hunger – itching to get a peek, and Jim saw my interest and promised me that he would get me a copy of one – detailing the history of the church. I asked – who had been the original founder? He replied “Reverend William O. Robey” and a light bulb went off in my head! My great grandparents – Presley Robert’s and Amelia Weaver had been married in 1865 by a Revered William O. Robey!
The ancestors had guided me to the right place.
The church service was about 2 hours long – with lots of great singing and a service for the children included – taught by Mr. Robert’s – a great sermon by the female pastor – Reverend Thompson, and during the service there was a lot more hugging. Afterwards we went downstairs to a full Sunday dinner – mmm…fried chicken and candied yams and lots of other goodies and as I sat at a table with the Robert’s I met other members – and Jim brought me a booklet entitled “130th Anniversary – We’ve come this far by faith – Mt. Zion United Methodist Church, Leesburg VA 1867 – 1997”.
I wondered then how my great grandparents could have been married there, if the church wasn’t built until 1867 – and they were married in 1865 – but a peek into the “History” section of the booklet gave me my answer.
I will quote here:
“Mt Zion United Methodist Church is the oldest continuing Black congregation in Loudoun County and the Sate of Virginia. Its roots can be traced to the Old Stone Church which was established in 1776. Blacks attended the services but were not classified as members until 1766. Although they were made members, there were separate membership rolls and separate seating. In those day, classes were held once a week and everyone had to attend. These classes were led by white members. Each person was on probation until the leader felt that they were ready to become a member of the church. They could be expelled for not attending classes, disorderly conduct and immorality. One such person whose name was found in the records of Old Stone Church was Soloman Bolton, who in 1830 was carried before the committee for two years and finally expelled for holding church meetings contrary to church rule. Soloman wanted to preach, but Blacks were not allowed to preach unless a white minister was present.
At one point, there were more Blacks than Whites in attendance at the Old Stone Church. Before the Civil War, the church split over the slave issue, and the Southern Methodists stopped holding services in the Old Stone Church, and held their services in the church yard. Finally, the issue of slavery gained momentum and the church was left to the slaves.
By the end of the Civil War in 1865, the ownership of the Old Stone Church was still undecided, so the Blacks started to think about building their own church. In need of a leader, the Trustees, who at that time were Brothers John W. Waters, William Jones, Charles Gray, John Johnson, and Thompson Watson, asked Rev. Robey, a man of God, to help start Mt. Zion. Reverend Robey, a Black member of the Leesburg Presbyterian Church, had been called to the ministry in 1850. He was respected by many Blacks because he was an educated person, which was unusual for that day and time.”
The booklet goes on to detail more church history and contains a list of the early slave members of the Old Stone Church, which I remember seeing published on the Afrigeneas mailing list – as well as a list of all the ministers – leading up to the present.
George – if you are reading this – a recent one was a “Jeter” – the Reverend Kent L. Jeter – 1995.
The booklet has a wealth of genealogical data – photos of church clubs and members – and scanning the list of surnames – many are familiar to me.
Thinking this over now – I realize that my great grandparents may have been married by Reverend Robey – before he became a certified minister – and of course prior to the founding of Mt. Zion – but I felt close to this church which I’m sure many of my family members had attended through the years.
Ww left the church after I snapped some photos, and I was returned to the Carradoc – the Roberts were worried about me “staying alone in the hotel” and asked if I wanted to come stay with them. I was floored by their love and concern but assured them my cousin was arriving that evening and I would be safe – we made arrangements to meet later in the week – Jim would be taking me to the cemetery, and Peggy invited me to a Balch Library Board meeting.
I went back to my room to change and head out to the library – which opens at 2PM on Sunday – and to look forward to the arrival of my cousin Margo from Philly that evening.
My cousin Margo had arrived the night before, and we hit the sack early since she had had a long drive and she’s even older than I am (grin) but before we fell asleep we went over our strategies for day 3 – Monday. Monday would be a Balch library day. We had several specific objectives – to go through their family files – looking for information not just on our surnames – but also for the family files of identified slave holding families – one’s we already knew owned our ancestors and some of the neighbors as well – since slaves got bought and sold locally a lot. I also wanted to dig into WWI draft registrations.
Monday morning we arrived at the library as soon as the doors opened. Equipped with my laptop, files, notepads and my own copies of Loudoun county resource books – the library has them too – but mine are all highlighted, and have notes scrawled in the margins, so it’s easier for me to bring my own.
Mary gave me back my files I had dropped off – and proudly showed me my very own family genealogy files at the library. I have a number – and every reference to other surnames in my files will be indexed. This will save me from having to lug my files with me on the next trip – they are right there in Loudoun for me, and anyone else who wants to use them. This is a free service provided by the library staff.
The family files there are not identified as black or white – they are indexed by surname only – so you never know who you are going to bump into when looking for a particular surname – but given the fact that Loudoun county made lots of mistakes listing peoples races in a variety of records – it’s probably the best system.
Both Margo and I had a printed “surname list” to keep us on track looking for our lines – and I also had a list of prospective slave holders – so the morning and early afternoon were spent busily reading and photocopying papers of interest.
To save money – I had gone to a supermarket and bought fresh fruit, juice, bagels and cans of potted roast beef and ham - so we ate lunch in the car – the library allows no food or drink in the facility. Eating out can be a big expense on a research trip – our motel had no in-room fridge but Margo brought her cooler – so we loaded it with ice each morning and evening and did just fine.
The afternoon time was devoted to the microfilm machines – I went through the WWI draft registrations.
I have never seen so many Jackson’s in my whole life! Not only were the prolific Loudoun Jackson’s represented – but it seems tons of other Jackson’s from MD and NC were also working in Loudoun at the time and lined up to register.
Copying down information takes too much valuable time – to maximize our day – I just sat there and hit the print button anytime a familiar surname popped up. Thankfully – the microfilm copies of the registration cards for Loudoun are in alphabetical order. However – not all of the microfilm reading machines they have there enable you to enlarge the image very much – so once I got to the best machine – I didn’t get up. I think I pushed the “print” button over 100 times for Jackson’s. There were very few of our other surnames listed – most had either left Loudoun, or were too young or too old – or female. Copies are 10 cents a page. So I spent about 10 bucks on Jackson's.
What is time consuming is finding the “race” listed on the cards – some have a box that is checked off – other’s have a little area where they cross out the race that you are not – and still others have a line where the race is written in.
It became interesting reading different folks “races”. Quite a few AA’s
in Loudoun at that time listed themselves as “Ethiopian”. Not because they
were born in Ethiopia – this had to be a political statement – and I made a
note to look this up.
Other’s listed themselves as African, and then there were Blacks, Negroes and Coloreds too. Quite a collection.
After wearing out my index finger out pushing the print button – and squinting at microfilm for hours – I finally completed both reels. (I haven’t even looked at this folder yet – when I do – I’ll transcribe all the names and info and upload to Afrigeneas and my web site.)
The next task in the library was the map drawers. The library has several
large maps of different districts in the county – for different time periods
– some detailing early land grants – others listing the names of various
estates and farms.
Comparing these with WPA architectural survey files – I have been drawing my own map of the two towns I am focusing on for the slave period – Snickersville and Purcellville – and identifying the names of the owners of homes like “Oatlands” and “White Hall”.
While I did time at the microfilm reader – Margo was pouring over cemetery headstone photos and listings. Since numerous birth records are missing from Loudoun – she took careful notes on any related surnames in African American cemeteries and in a few of the Quaker ones as well.
While we were working away – so was the library staff – it was not a busy day – and actually the rainy week was a blessing for us – it kept most of the tourists away – so staffers kept feeding us other tantalizing bits of info – showing us biographies, photographs – and new databases of information.
By the time closing time rolled around we were deliriously stuffed with new data and headed back to the hotel – picking up some pre-roasted chicken and salad stuff at a local supermarket, and we ate in the room as I carefully filed all of the new information into folders. I made sure to bring some empty folders too- and started some new ones for information I had not expected to find – not necessarily surname based – for example – photos of “colored schools” (one of which three of my ancestors taught in)
This saves me from having to have stacks of stuff to re-file when I got home – everything is in neat little folders waiting to be popped back into a file drawer. I also updated my Family Tree Maker with new info as well.
Called Lloyd to see about our side trip to Mecklenburg County scheduled for Tuesday – didn’t reach him, left a message. Then I passed out.
Finally got to talk to Lloyd, Tuesday morning. We got our signals crossed – and other commitments were already made so the Mecklenburg side trip got postponed till the next visit.
Margo and I re-arranged our plans and Tuesday became courthouse day – from 8:30 AM to 4PM.
The archive room for the Loudoun county courthouse is in the basement thankfully – which bypasses much of the extremely heavy security in the rest of the building – which is all new since my last trip. Margo and I settled in and I went upstairs to attempt to get some current land records – because I may have a boundary dispute to settle about our mountain land – and have to hire a surveyor. Last year to get present day land and tax records you just signed in with a security guard and went to the second floor via elevator.
This time it was a nightmare of metal detectors, wands and up against the wall spread your legs and put your arms out. I wear metal bracelets on my left arm which are religious in nature. They asked me to take them off – I refused, and explained why – they backed down. Then they had me walk through the metal detector four times – holding my hands and arms in different positions. The alarms kept going off. Then they had me against the wall. They finally figured out that the snap on my blue jeans was causing the problems. I finally escaped to the upper floor but decided that I would forgo current records – because I couldn’t deal with going through security 5 or six times that day – all my books and bags were parked with Margo in the basement archive room.
I appreciate the need for security – and the guards had a large jar filed with confiscated pocket knives and can openers next to their station – but I wish they could figure out a way to separate the courtroom traffic from the records room visitors. For those of you who may not have visited courthouses recently , I suggest you prepare for security and don’t wear pants with metal buttons
I headed back downstairs to the records room. Margo had already started her task of looking through marriage registers. Though marriage record indexes for the county are published up to 1880 - in a book we could now look at more recent dates. We had two objectives. To get actual copies of the marriage certificates for as many relatives as possible and to scour the index book for new additions to our family files.
Let me explain how the archives are run in Loudoun – I’ve found it varies from place to place. In Loudoun there are large shelves around the room, and several large worktables for researchers – the lighting is good and the climate is controlled. It is a comfortable and quiet place to work all day. The head clerks are quite knowledgeable and very helpful – and have a genuine interest in genealogical research. They are also experts at deciphering ancient script handwriting (which is a true blessing).
The Clerk's office has the following records:
• Wills: 1757 to present
• Marriages: 1793 to present
• Deeds: indexes for 1757 to present
• Birth records: 1853-1859; 1864-1866; 1869-1879 (incomplete)
• Death records: 1853-1866 (Birth and death records after 1911 must be obtained from Bureau of Vital Statistics in Richmond, VA)
• Roster of Confederate Soldiers for Loudoun Co., VA
• Land (Tax) Books: 1851 to present (missing some years in the 1800s)
• Partially proven deeds: 1700s and 1800s
• Chancery Suits: 1757 to 1874; 1875 to present (Indexed by Willow Bend Books)
• Court Order Books: 1757 to present
• Register of Free Negroes
• Court Minute Books
• Tithables - Tax Records: late 1700s only (Indexed by Marty Hiatt of Willow Bend Books)
So if you are looking for the will of a William Tate – you pull out an enormous book – the master index – and look for Tate’s, then look for William (or Wm) - It will list all recorded wills, estate accounts, codicils and estate sales in the index – most of which are in different volumes. Take a pad with you and write down all the index numbers. Then lug the books they are in over to the table and try to read what you find. The books are really heavy and bending and stooping to pull them off of shelves will definitely wear you out – but the wonderful thing is that they are not locked away – I’ve been to archives here in New York – you look at an index – give a slip of paper to a clerk – and wait for them to come back with a copy – which you pay for in advance. No browsing allowed.
Just opening up those big old musty tomes gives me a rush. Something about the smell of old books – and the spidery pen-and ink quill writing – laboriously recorded by generations of clerks is really wonderful. Even if you do go crazy trying to read it – it’s getting easier for me with practice.
You then read through a few paragraphs of flowery language and get to the meat of things – are there slaves mentioned – or if this is a family member – who did they leave things to? Estate sale records are quite interesting too – a good way to see who the neighbors were – they were like today’s yard sales – except they list who bought what…all manner of items –from spoons to horseshoes.
If slaves were sold they are usually listed separately along with an appraisal of their value – and what they sold for will be in the estate accounts.
I was actually looking for a William Tate – my ancestor – and stumbled upon another completely different one – a Quaker who in his will established a trust to found a school for “coloured children”. Fascinated with this discovery – I checked later to see if anyone at the Balch knew about this – but the answer was no – I will be transcribing this an posting it some day soon (I hope)
Found my ancestor too and then kept on digging. Started on my slave holder list and the first one I looked up – I struck pay dirt. I already knew that a slave holder named Beavers owned my Tate’s. But when reading through a will of the Beavers which I had previously highlighted in my own index book – I read – completely to my surprise of a slave named Maria – given to Beaver’s daughter and this slave was referred to as “Maria, commonly known as Maria Weaver”.
I screamed and did a little dance in the record room and everyone there (a group of fanatical genealogists) crowded around to see what I had found and congratulated me. This is the sister of my great great grandfather, born about 1820 – and it names her children, and their ages.
“4th day of May in the year 1844…the following slaves to wit Maria commonly called Maria Weaver and her three children Martha Ann aged about seven years Lucinda aged about four years and Thomas aged about two years…”
I immediately copied all wills – estate accounts and other documents of
these Beavers. Haven’t had time to even read them all yet – just happy that
I’ve found Maria and confirmed her son was Thomas – a link I couldn’t
prove before but suspected. Who the father is I may never know – her children
took her surname.
I did not know of Martha Ann, another discovery – so need to find out what happened to her.
One will of Beaver's that I glanced at had some very interesting information from him about his slaves deciding not to be freed to go to Liberia – and what to do about it.
While I was doing my “found something dance” Margo was persistently wading through tons of marriage registers. And getting them to look up the certificates as fast as she could. Some unfortunately have been lost – and only the copy of the index book could be made but found lots of others up into the 1900’s and after she exhausted marriages – she started on births and deaths.
After reading through numerous wills for possible slaveholders – and other already identified ones – I switched to another area –which was suggested by vkn and Art Thomas – before I left. Land books.
I wanted to find my great grandmother’s sister’s property in Loudoun – am trying to figure out when her husband got the property. Was directed to a large book – that is so big they will not photocopy it. Got ready to write down the info and then remembered I had my digital camera in my bag so I hand recorded the info and also photographed it.
I didn’t find what I was looking for at first – I knew she had property in Loudoun which wasn’t sold till about 1930. But where was she? Looked through page after page – and none of the families I knew were in the neighborhood were listed. Then I realized what I was doing wrong. At the top of the page it said “Whites”. In the back of the book is a separate section for “Coloreds”. All of the black folks who owned any land and were taxed for it are right there together in one nice section. Segregated – but convenient for me who needed to find them.
After exhausting most of these records I turned to the Tithables – and earlier property tax records – but these proved to be more difficult – and I will need to spend several days working with them on the next trip. They are listed by tax district – but the district is not any known neighborhood – it is listed/indexed under the name of the tax collector – so you have to first figure out who was collecting the taxes in a particular year – for the neighborhood your family (or their slaveholders) were located in.
Once you find the correct tax collector – you then find the page where the family you are seeking is listed and on the far right side of the page is an inventory of the slaves they owned and what tax they paid on each of them.
My time was up – the place was closing – they kicked me and Margo out (grin) and we went merrily back to the hotel.
I forgot to mention that we did actually leave the courthouse to eat our brown bag lunch. For our lunch break Jim Roberts met us at 1 o’clock and he walked us over to old Mt Zion cemetery, which is near the courthouse to look at headstones.
Saw a few likely headstones and snapped some pics – but it was cold and damp and we didn’t stay long.
Went through our regular routine back at the hotel – filing and entering data and then I made some phone calls to surveyors and other contact people to set up our drive to Bluemont (the town we are from) the next day. We planned to hook up with our cousin who is the last black person living on the old homestead. We had found some information for her about her Jackson’s, Scott’s, and Scipio’s and looked forward to seeing her again – we met for the first time on our last trip down.
Conked out at about 10PM – the TV was watching us as we fell asleep.
Bad weather took a toll on plans to visit local cemeteries – pouring rains predicted and thunderstorms – off and on for Wednesday and Thursday.
I have to point out that though it is good to "have a plan" you need to also have back-up plans, and be flexible enough to change. I had allocated quite a bit of time to go mountain climbing - to get up to our land in the Blue Ridge - but melting snow, and flooding had made that trip impossible - and rural cemeteries become almost unreachable unless you have a jeep under these conditions.
Got up early to assess what we were still missing, and to shift our plans around. We decided to do quite a few things; go to the courthouse early morning and pursue new avenues of research at the library. We’d spend the afternoon visiting Bluemont to see our cousin Marie Scott, and the Plaster family, who are descendants of the Doctor who sold the land we own to our great grandparents right after the civil war.
Morning saw us back at the courthouse – I went back to land records and Margo had a list of people who we hadn’t yet found any record of to re-check. She also decided that since we have never clarified our Payne family relationships to extract records for all the local Payne’s listed as black or mulatto – concluding (correctly) that at some point these might clearly be identifiable as family members.
I pulled down the free Negro Registry off of a shelf – because I wanted a copy of the free paper or registration for ancestor James Fields and noticed a small folder wedged above it. Was curious about the folder so took it back to the table to read. Hadn’t seen it the last time I was in the archives.
Struck gold again! The folder was a typewritten set of lists (transcribed from early records) prepared by tax collectors each year. They took a “census” of the “free Negroes” in their local districts – listing everyone over the age of twelve in each household! These were for the years leading up to the civil war only – but what a find! It fills in many gaps between 1850 and 1860 census – and contains much more useable information than the register – because not all members of families went in to register each year. Am making arrangements for the entire book to be photocopied and mailed out to me. And since tax collectors did the listings – it groups families by geographic location – which the register does not.
Found a listing for a Hannah Carter – who could potentially be the mother of my great grandfather. Made a note to pursue this when I got home – had no time to puzzle it out there – was too busy looking through other folders.
Looked up at the clock – our time was up – we dashed out to the car, stopped at the libray briefly, then and headed off to Bluemont – about a 20 minute drive from Leesburg. Arrived for our appointment with the Plaster family and spent several hours updating them on our land difficulties and research finds. The Plaster's have been in Loudoun for a long time, and are active in preservation and conservation efforts in the community. Henry jokingly refers to his wife as a Yankee - Ann is from the north. Henry Plaster pointed out that on an early deed land had been sold by his grandfather in 1871 to a Robert Weaver – who he believed was the brother of our great uncle. I realized that I hadn’t noticed this – and took notes.
Showed the Plaster's a large aerial photo of the town of Bluemont – which had been given us by Mary Fishback at the Balch library. Asked him to identify the time period.
On the back of the photo was the name of the company which took the photos – though they have gone out of business in Leesburg their headquarters were now in WVA. Mr. Plaster found a toll free phone number for them – and I later contacted them. This is something I had never thought of before. How interesting to be able to get aerial photographs of small rural communities. They are so clear you can locate actual buildings, creeks, streams and even see cars and trucks.
After leaving the Plaster’s dropped in to see cousin Marie and presented her with the family tree data we had collected so far on her branch of the family. This prompted her memory and she was able to not only verify the research we had done so far but also added additional names she remembered from childhood. While Margo asked questions, I took notes. We were all delighted to have expanded our family connections and promised to bring Marie a copy of her grandparent’s marriage certificate, which she didn’t know existed.
Night was approaching and Marie goes to bed early. We said our goodbyes and dashed back to Leesburg – we had another important appointment. Mary Fishback – the historian at Balch had invited us to visit her at home. Her husband John Cooper works at the courthouse – and his “hobby” (read obsession) is attempting to put black family groups together in a data base working forward from the early 1700’s – using chancery suit data as well as information from land books, and wills.
I have to stop here to say that you have to understand how extraordinary this all is – how often could you go to a library to do research – meet a staff person – who happens to be white – and be invited to her home – to meet a husband – also white, who has become totally absorbed in the history of all the local families of color in the area. John was delightful, and our meeting immediately convened in their basement rec room – where his computer is – and we delightedly traded information for the next few hours. He’s been working forward and I’ve been working backward and we had an orgy of information sharing on lines and households. John explained that his interest was awakened several years ago when he happened upon an early chancery court record of a free black man who had successfully been able to purchase his wife’s freedom, and later sued for the release from slavery of his son – but then the court ruling was reversed and the son dragged back into slavery. John became obsessed with finding out what happened to this family and in the process started to recognize the difficulties of doing research pre-1865 for any of the black families of the county – slave or free.
Soon – he was looking for everyone in records – using his lunch breaks to wade through old records – meticulously constructing databases and building up family unit files. Both Mary and John are local Loudouners whose family histories go way back in time – John’s roots are from the hard working German small farmers who settled the town of Lovettsville – who held no slaves and despised slaveholding.
I could have stayed there all night! Both John and Mary are extremely knowledgeable about all the families surnames in Loudoun and Mary constantly referred to the families as one – as she rightly pointed out, though many folks don’t like to admit the familial relationships between blacks and whites they are real – and though not always acknowledged openly – local folks know about them.
John pointed to early records listing the births of mulatto children to white women in court records and the subsequent fostering out of some of these children. This is one of the “taboos” rarely mentioned – we all know of white masters and overseer relationships – rape, coercion or consensual - to women of color – but rarely do we read of early records of white women, during the slave period who had were partnered with black men.
Had an interesting discussion about the impact of reconstruction and segregation on local black famiies in Loudoun. Our previous converstaions with Jim and Peggy Roberts had opened our eyes to a number of things Margo and I hadn't considered. Though I spent a part of my childhood in the deep south, it was in a fairly sheltered environment on the campuses of black colleges where my dad was teaching. Later on I spent time in DC in the early sixties, at Howard University - but was not aware of the fact that right next door in VA the schools were not integrated until 1968. I was focused on voter registration in Mississippi, and not paying attention to neighboring VA.
Though the Friends of the Balch library now has a Black history committee, and there are African American board members and members of the advisory board - only a short time ago - black people could not go into that library, unless it was as cleaning staff.
Driving through Leesburg Peggy and Jim Roberts had pointed out the local movie theatres where our folks had to sit in the balcony. There were almost no black owned restaurants in Loudoun, and most white eating establishments had a window around back where blacks could get take-out food. Mary remembered one place in her village where blacks could come in a back door and eat at a table in the kitchen.
This legacy is still in place in the minds of older folks, and many AA senior residents of Loudoun have still never set foot in a restaurant where they used to be barred from entering. Outreach efforts by library staff and friends - black and white, are still often met with suspicion - folks have long memories. A history of self-protective behavior makes them suspicious of answering any questions and prevents them from joining in activities established to document the AA contributions to Loudoun history.
As a result - few local AA families have contributed family files to the library. This is changing - slowly - due to concerted efforts by library staff and board. A beautiful mural depicting the contributions of all the people of Loudoun has been installed in the library. Members of the Black History committee visit senior centers and do presentations - and the new books published by the Library - "The Essence of a People" are being widely circulated.
To some of you younger folks here at Afrigeneas 30 years may seem like a long
time, but for the older residents of the county who grew up under the yoke of
segregation - those days seem like yesterday.
I have to keep this in mind when I revisit Loudoun, and go slowly - even with family members.
Regretfully, we had to let John and Mary get some sleep, and Margo and I were tired from a long busy day – so we left – promising to stay in touch via phone and email on a regular basis.
Got back to the hotel around 10:30PM. Another successful day had ended and I went to sleep counting surnames instead of sheep.
Rain and more rain forecasted.
Scratched plans again for cemetery visits and decided to go back to the courthouse and then to actually relax for a few hours and do some shopping.
I forgot to mention earlier that we took advantage of a "package deal" offered by the hotel - we got the cheapest rate available by booking a "shop-till-you-drop package". When making a decision to go "home" to do research - some of you will have family or friends to stay with and defray costs but we had to "pay-to-stay". I spent time before going to Loudoun researching alternatives - bed and breakfasts (too pricey) time shares (too much work) and discovered the package through using trusty google.com. Many areas that have outlet malls want to encourage visitors and offer heavily discounted local accommodations as a result. And the prices are even cheaper during certain times of the year.
So for $69.00 a night (and that's not per-person) Margo and I had a nice room and free breakfast each morning.
Peggy Roberts had invited us to attend a Board meeting of the Friends of the Balch Library that evening (I am an official "Friend" since I have made a sustaining contribution)
I want to digress here for a bit and repeat something that gets mentioned here over and over - the importance of joining either an historical or genealogical society or library group - in the county (or counties) that are your main focus.
For many years - the pursuit of genealogical research has been deemed the purview of elderly white ladies trying to make connections to the Mayflower or European royalty. This is slowly changing - thanks to efforts like the one here at Afrigeneas - but we can't whine and complain about there being no African-American resources available in certain areas if we are not in there pushing for change.
Now that there seems to be a market for Black family history - the powers that be are beginning to see that there is a thirsty public out here - and responding to demand - but it helps to have real live humans in place guiding and keeping the pressure on.
I raise this because I'm thinking about the Board meeting we attended on Thursday, which I'll get back to later.
The clerk at the courthouse had become very interested in our efforts in researching the family history, and had asked me if I had been in touch with Bronwen Souders from the Waterford Foundation. I replied that I had been in contact with her via e-mail but had not yet visited Waterford or met her in person. Waterford is the township in Loudoun founded by the Society of Friends (known as Quakers). I had been in touch with Mrs. Souders about the story of my great Aunt Annie who had escaped from Loudoun on a barge according to my familys oral history, and I knew that Bronwen was researching an African American bargeman suspected of being an Underground Railroad conductor.
While I had been looking up wills the clerk decided (on his own) to call Mrs. Souders and had put me on the phone with her. She unfortunately was leaving town and we couldn't meet but she had promised to drop off some information for me. We agreed to hook up on my next trip down.
She did as promised - and to my surprise the clerk handed me a copy of the Waterford Foundation's newest book which she had left as a gift for us:
"A Rock in a Weary Land. A Shelter in a Time of Storm: African American Experience in Waterford, Virginia"
If you think your family might be from this part of Loudoun - I'd suggest you get your hands on this booklet - which includes photographs, and over 120 different surnames.
We spent a few hours more at the courthouse getting more copies of wills, and reading Chancery court minutes. These are records of all the local court activities and decisions. Buried in between documents detailing farmers disputes over land boundaries and civil suits for debts owed, are often records of slaves efforts for emancipation. I wish I had time to devote to just wade through these documents - but time was short and the trip was winding down and I put these records on my "continue to do list" for the next visit.
After leaving the courthouse we went shopping for gifts to take home, returned to the hotel, changed clothes, and the Roberts family picked us up to bring us to the Library an hour early. A tour of the Library and its facilities had been scheduled for new Board members, conducted by Mary Fishback. It was quite a lesson for me - and though I've spent a number of hours in the library - I realized I wasn't using all of its rich resources.
The Thomas Balch Library in Leesburg VA is not a normal library - its sole purpose is historical and genealogical. Check to see if there is a similar facility in your state or county of interest. Here's a list of what they have to offer (borrowed from their website):
Archival Materials: Letters, diaries and account books, including the collection of the former Loudoun Historical Society.
CD-ROM Collection: The "Official Records of the War of Rebellion," selected marriage and census indexes.
Cemetery Records: Nearly 27,000 entries, 200 cemeteries, including ethnic ones and many with photos of tombstones.
Census Records: Federal census returns on microfilm, include the following: Loudoun County from 1810-1930 (earlier ones were burned), All Virginia Counties 1810-1880, Maryland Counties (limited)
Church File: Contains brief histories of many local congregations. A few have information about specific members.
Deeds: Indexes to deeds are available. Originals are at the Courthouse.
Family File: This is a collection of genealogies and other information about various families. The emphasis is on Loudoun County families. Contributions are welcome.
Family Search: A computer program containing the International Genealogical Index, Ancestral File, the catalog of the LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, plus a Social Security Death Index and a Military Death Index, listing those who died in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
Genealogies: These are books about various families. The emphasis is on Loudoun families.
Historic House File and Lewis Landmark File: Contains information on many historic sites in the county.
Map File: Contains historical and current maps of Loudoun County, its towns, and other nearby counties.
Military Collection: Information on the colonial period, the Revolution, The War of 1812 and the Civil War.
Newspapers: Loudoun County newspapers on microfilm, dating from 1800. Some are indexed.
Obituary Indexes: We have an index from 1817-1841 and 1858-1898.
Online Subscriptions: Internet genealogy sites.
Photographs: The Winslow Williams photograph collection: Loudoun County in the 1940's and 1950's. Also a small selection of other photographs.
Resource Books: Basic information for genealogy research in other states and counties.
Tax Rolls for Loudoun: Tithables: 1758-1786, Personal Property: 1782-1850, Land Tax Rolls: 1782-1870
Vertical File: Contains articles, clippings and photos about various aspects of county history.
Vital Records: Births: 1853-1896, Deaths: 1853-1896, Marriages: 1757-1935
They have so many different materials on the county - that I could spend the next 5 years there each day and not get through even a third of their collections. If you think you might have an ancestor who died in Loudoun County, check this link to the library - which now has an online index of burials in Loudoun cemeteries.
The staff and Black History Committee of the Friends have made efforts to index and include African American burials and I have already located several family member gravesites as a result.
After the tour the Board meeting convened - and Margo and I were introduced - as the descendants of the Robert's family that the library is now using as part of its education campaign.
I found the Friends Board meeting interesting, and the Board members were warm and welcoming. There are currently two African-American members of the Board, and Jim Roberts is now the Chair of the Library Advisory Committee. Attending their meeting made me resolve to join my local area library Friends group because I realized that my local library in NY contains almost no information about the African-American experience in upstate New York. For further information about the activities of the Friends of the Balch Library see the link below.
The Roberts brought us back to the hotel - I can't stress enough how wonderful they were to "adopt" us while we were visiting. Margo started packing - she was scheduled to leave for Philly the next morning so I would spend my last day of research in Loudoun alone - and would be leaving at 7:30 Saturday morning to head back to the hills of my home in the Catskills of New York.
I’ve been meaning to get back to completing the chronicle of my journey – and am still sorting through all of the materials I brought back with me. I will probably spend the rest of the spring and summer reading, scanning and transcribing what I’ve found and updating my family files. The trip doesn’t end on the last day – it is the start of another phase of the process.
My last day of full research was on a Friday – and I knew I had to make the long drive back early Saturday morning – which meant packing the night before and getting a good nights sleep. I was torn between going back to the courthouse, and going back to Balch Library – which is where I started on the first day.
I decided to go back to Balch. I wanted to spend some time just chatting with library staff and browsing through other collections at the library that I had not yet looked into.
It was a wise decision. When I got there, staffer LaVonne Markham had a number of things to show me. She had phone numbers for people I should contact, like the name of a local undertaking firm in Purcellville, and more importantly showed me a project she is involved in which will be of benefit for all of us. The library now has back issues of the Afro-American newspaper on microfilm, and LaVonne is building a database of information extracted from it – since the microfilm is not indexed.
I can’t stress how important some of these early newspapers are for
genealogists. The Afro-American published news and information for AA
communities up and down the East Coast. Many of the sections of the paper were
devoted to “social events” – and it is just these type of items that can
provide many of us with clues to family activities. She looked at her entries
and searched for some of my surnames – and we got a few hits. I wish I had
more time to browse – there are items like “Mrs. Williams nephew has come
home for a visit from Washington where he is attending college at Howard”
(this is made up – not an actual quote)
There are marriage, and death notices as well – but what I found much more interesting were the items detailing the comings and goings and weekly events in the lives of people in numerous communities along the eastern seaboard.
I’d already had success in the past with items from a local newspaper in Kansas, like “Mrs. Oliver’s nephew has the croup” or “Mrs. Oliver received a visit from her sister-in –law from Topeka this week”, so I was delighted to find out that in the next year there will be a possibility to access this database online.
After spending time exploring the database with LaVonne, I headed to the bookshelves – and made notes of reference works that would be useful for me to read in the future.
I also discussed with staff – the possible whereabouts of information that I hadn’t been able to obtain in Loudoun. It is just as important to be clear about what you can’t find – as what you can. I realized that though Loudoun County and Balch library still have many pockets of information as yet uncovered by me, that my next trip will have to be to Richmond – to the Library of Virginia and the state courthouse. Many records no longer available in Loudoun are held by the state – so even before taking my leave of Loudoun, I was already making plans for my next steps – hopefully in the fall or in the spring of next year.
Close to closing time, I did one more look-through of family files for family tree data on slaveholders I’m interested in – said my thank-you’s and goodbyes to the staff who had assisted me, and drove slowly back to my hotel, after stopping to pick up take out food. I spent the evening contentedly reading Loudoun histories - and fell asleep dreaming of my great great grandmother Payne, whose first name I have still not found. Somehow I know she knows I'm looking for her - and that's all that counts.
I thank all of you who have encouraged me to write this up - and
I hope you'll all drop by my website when I finally get this whole thing up - with pictures and data. I'll keep ya' posted.
return to Denise's Ancestor Page