Oh, America. The labor, sweat and blood that went into the infrastructure of this country, into its buildings and roads is a history, that for 400 years was presented as someone else’s. All of this effort, excellence, and memory can’t be crammed into the shortest month of the year– nor can it be recounted on one day.
Regardless, we need to honor those that came before us, and one way I can think of is to find those ancestors embedded in the shadows of a suppressed history. It takes time and work to find the details , but it’s so worth it.
As I write this on Juneteenth, I see it as a very different day this year because so many decided to stand over the last month, right after the lynching of George Floyd. His death was a catalyst, a wake up call for the complacency with an investment in death. On Black ProGen, we have talked about the crushing effects of structural racism on BIPOC families, which in turns shapes the documentation that we can access to research the lives of our ancestors.
I was honored to speak the names of Leoncia Lasalle, Dionicia Rodriguez Lasalle, Juan Tomas Gandulla and Tomas Gandulla yesterday on the Juneteenth Celebration held by Black ProGen Live with host Nicka Smith, True A. Lewis, Shelley Murphy, Andre Ferrell and James Morgan III, all bringing knowledge to a lively discussion on different dimensions of what gets folded into Juneteenth, the effort, the freedom and the struggle. It makes one pause how much sitting on knowledge played into this all, how much hiding of violence, how much denial, how much disregard was surmounted in pressing for equality.
Come with me as I go through various documents in search of information on ancestors of Mr. Orlando Williams– his paternal Great-Great Grandparents. Several details led to new information and complications while looking for ancestral paths across several states: South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
I began this part of my search for more information on Anderson Williams with the 1880 census. Williams was born about 1830 in South Carolina; however his wife, Nellie (Nelly) Jones Williams was in the household for a Caleb Williams, a white farmer with several workers housed at his home. Nellie Williams worked as a domestic servant in the household, just doors away from the home of her husband, Anderson Williams, who worked as a servant for Herbert Lee, his wife and sister in law Clorsey Williams, a black family.
Just a decade earlier in 1870, they lived in the same household with their recently born daughter, Henrietta Williams. By 1880, Henrietta is not at home, and whether she was still alive, living with kin or succumbed to childhood illness is unknown at present. The earliest records for him so far are the 1866 Colored Census, his 1867 voting record and the couple’s 1869 marriage record, both for Marengo County, Alabama.
Caleb Williams (b.1850): Who dat?
To find more on Caleb Williams I searched trees on ancestry.com and learned he was the son of Ashley and Elizabeth Williams; Ashley Williams was a planter born in Darlington, South Carolina. In the hopes of finding more about Anderson and Nellie Williams before 1866- when the first independent documentation of their lives as free people began, searching this family line made sense.
What one notes is the rapidity with which most of the information on the slave owner’s tree could be put together, unlike the families I’m researching. Instead, Anderson & Nelly William’s kin and community may be embedded in legal documents such as wills, inventories and writs of partition, and perhaps, newspaper advertisements, or other extant documents in courthouses or special collections.
There is no one path or one collection of documents that will answer all the questions, even the most basic. This is a process of constant cross referencing, and of developing a system to handle the archival items, be able to reference those resources. A spreadsheet becomes a key organizational tool, (especially if you use it).
Since this Caleb was too young to run his own farm in 1865, I began looking for his father’s estate papers in the Call County Courthouse in Marengo County, Alabama- these records were microfilmed on FamilySearch.org. I went through them, looking for Ashley Williams’ probate papers and inventories, however, these documents were elusive.
There were lots of delays in the process because of the Civil War- Ashley Williams served in the Confederacy and died in 1865. Whether he took one of the enslaved men as a servant in the field is unknown at this time. His wife, Elizabeth Davis Williams continued to shepherd the probate through the courts for years after the war, but the inventories that would list the people he enslaved seemed elusive with each postponement of the case .
At last, in Volume K, I found this entry dated 7 Nov 1867: on p 701, it reads: “This day RH Clarke Admin. filed inventory ordered same be reconsidered same be recorded” … But… the additional paperwork for this wasn’t present, and Emancipation was a couple of years earlier. Now what?
Strategies to go back to a different place & time
My next tactic, if those prior papers were no longer extant, was to go back a generation. Basically, find who Ashley Williams’ parents were, and then look for any probate papers for them. One possibility was that Anderson and Nellie may have been part of an estate subdivision by an inheritance from his father. Maybe they’d be mentioned somewhere in them.
This meant the search moved north from Demopolis, Jefferson, Marengo County, Alabama to the place where Ashley Williams was born, Darlington South Carolina. Both Anderson and Nellie Williams’s census records record SC (and later, incorrectly as NC) as their original place of birth, so fingers crossed.
So, I began to search for previous inventories and appraisals for enslaved people held by William Williams (1754 – 22 Mar 1829) & Selah Fort (b. 1761) of Darlington South Carolina in anticipation that some subdivision of his estate occurred after his death and that those documents are extant. This may help solve the origin of relatives who are descendants of the enslaved that were forcibly marched or transported from South Carolina to Alabama in the early nineteenth century. As the family lines for the descendants of the enslaved also extend to Jackson County, Florida, the hope is that more clusters of relatives can be connected.
Subdividing the Estate, Subdividing Families & Kin
Among the beneficiaries of the Williams estate would be his wife and children. William Williams & Selah Fort’s son Ashley C Williams (1816-1865) was their third and last child born in Darlington, SC. After 1848, Ashley Williams moved south to Marengo County, AL after the birth of his first child, Amanda Jane. In 1853 he was named Justice of the Peace for Marengo County, Alabama. He died in 1865 while serving in the Confederate troops, leaving his wife Elizabeth and 6 young children.
Another of William & Selah’s children, Catherine Harriett Williams (1787-1821) died in Montgomery AL on 21 July 1821. Their son, David Williams (1784-1850) died in Darlington on 30 Oct 1850.
By building out a basic tree for the enslavers, I could then follow the marriages to see how enslaved families were subdivided, and follow their path southwards. But it doesn’t happen on its own, just because of family ties. There are larger forces at work that enable the situation.
Underpinning this activity is national expansion and Native dispossession, as during the first decades of 1800s, the US government instituted a policy of forcible removal of Creek, Seminole, Chickasaw and their enslaved people out of the Alabama, Georgia and Florida territories, known as the Trail of Tears. Parcels were drawn up, the land subdivided and sold off. Like many families from the Middle Atlantic states of Virginia, North and South Carolina, members of the Williams family were early investors in the expansion of cotton plantations in the deep South, and arrived in Alabama in the early 1820s.
Darlington, South Carolina
I called the Call County Courthouse in Marengo, and they were surprised to learn of the films on FamilySearch. They mentioned a volume of inventories existed. From other Black ProGen members, I learned these films were not necessarily comprehensive. The clerk at the courthouse suggested I contact the Darlington County Historical & Genealogical Commission, as they had some of the older court papers there. This was a game changer.
There was indeed a packet of estate papers for William Williams, who died intestate. Ms. Anne Chapman, the Assistant Director searched and located the documents. What was interesting was the early subdivision of human and material property by Davis in-laws in the Equity Packets dated 1849. There are some 60 pages in two packets. About 4 pages includes the names of men, women and children apportioned to family members.
What I learned from one document was that the Andrew Davis of these pages with the recently widowed Martha Davis, were the parents of at least three Davis sisters– Elizabeth Davis Williams, wife of Ashley Williams being one of them. This family was not one researched broadly nor in any Ancestry trees, with Elizabeth’s 1829 birth date added without any parents listed. Also, a quick search reveals nothing about the family in local histories, making tracing them a bit more difficult. Just one probate document made these family relationships clear, showing just how important court documents can be for reconstructing family ties.
Enslavement as a Familial Affair: Understanding patterns of subdivision and generational trauma
One page I transcribed listed several people, and included was a Writ of Partition dated 13 July 1860 that names Elizabeth Davis Williams’ two sisters, Martha Davis Dalrymple and Susana Davis. There was also a separate page for “An Inventory and Appraisement of the Goods & Chattel” belonging to the Estate of Andrew Davis, dated 4 Nov 1845.
These documents show that slavery was very much a family affair, a familial process along which one family gains income from the lives of people deemed other. The valuation of the enslaved is coolly noted, and provides a trail to follow for where they wound up next.
Although you can read this document, it will not tell you of the emotional weight and profound stress of an impending split brought on by a Writ of Partition that subdivides family into Lots. There’s a contrast between the economic abstraction and what Daina Ramey Berry called ‘soul value’ that enslaved people held onto despite the dehumanizing conditions. For the sales, Walter Johnson’s Soul by Soul: Life in the Antebellum Slave Market offers a glimpse into the process of selling the enslaved at auctions.
These two Davis inventories were recorded over several years– the first taken in November 1845, the second in January 1860- fifteen years apart. It provides some key information- ages that will help in searching for them. While Anderson and Nelly do not appear here, there are the names of people who lived with Elizabeth Davis’ mother and sister. It will take time, and I’ll continue posting transcriptions as I wend my way through the documentation.
These weren’t the only persons involved. On p.42 of the Will Book vol 8-10 on Ancestry’s South Carolina, Wills and Probate Records, 1670-1980 [database on-line] , for Andrew Davis’s estate in 1848, an order for the sale of Ned, household property, animals and crop was set for that December. Ned appears first on the list for the Writ of Partition of 1845, and next the offer of sale. What happened to Ned after December 1848?
I’m still in the process of piecing together the remainder of documents that overlap, some from the Darlington County Historical and Genealogical Commission, others from the Will Books on FamilySearch and Ancestry. While I didn’t find Anderson or Nellie Williams, what was gained is a better sense of the community of people split asunder by what we can read today as another family’s sense of white privilege, economic gain and a fundamental blindness to equality.
Hey- It’s been awhile! The last three months have been full, juggling health, writing & researching several projects. Most recently, we had a great discussion on BPG’s Ep. 106: History Unscripted: Perception is Everything with Regina Jackson, thanks to hosts Nicka Smith and True Lewis, Dr Shelley Murphy & myself. The focus is on perception via three different news articles: image as representative of community, versus image as threat across different contexts- a photo project in a Southern town, the brouhaha over the recent novel, American Dirt and the definition of civil rights activists as the problem by government agencies that should be protecting them.
Check out Ep 106 here:
Regina Johnson, presently Chair of the Oakland Police Commission, talked about ongoing changes in Oakland, California (my former hometown) and her efforts in providing services for Black youth in the face of reduced services and the pressures of gentrification. Working with youth is a context that can open possibilities and facilitate resilience in the face of difficulty, so important for getting through life. History Unscripted aims to spark thought about further dialogues and point to next steps toward change that one can take, so check out past and upcoming episodes!
Another BPG activity is #CREWChat on Twitter- a fun way to share genealogícal tips on a range of films. This month was Glory (1989), on the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment of the USCT, in conjunction with the African American Civil War Museum. Coming next: Imitation of Life (1959) on March 18th, 9PM EST, join in!
I’m working on a series of short blog posts, to help Mr. Orlando Williams find family in time for his Family Reunion coming up in June. Tree Climbing With Mr Williams may help you get through some brick walls and find a connection! I’ll be talking about some of the recent finds that lead to several states: AL, GA, FL, SC & NC. There is so much history in this tree! I’ll be posting soon.
Finally… I’ve submitted my article, “Reconstructing District 3’s Missing 1872 Registro Central de Esclavos for Northwest Puerto Rico” to Hereditas: Revista de Genealogia Puertorriquena, and had the pleasure of working with Ernie Rivera and Eliud Nieves on their great grandmothers who were enslaved on the plantation of Juan Labadie and its previous owner, Pedro Pellot, in Moca, Puerto Rico. Their cedulas are among those I transcribed and sought to provide context for. Pellot (hispanicized from Peugeot) was among a cluster of emigres from the Pyrenees region- from both the French and Spanish sides of this mountain range— who eventually wound up in Puerto Rico. The article will be out in the next issue ofHereditas, complete with a transcription of the cedulas for 492 enslaved ancestors taken in 1870.
Like I said, busy! Feel free to reach out and comment if you find a connection on these pages!
It seems almost weekly, we see articles describing tone deaf and racist approaches to the teaching of slavery, on which the foundation of this country rests, and maintains today. Part of the problems rests on the disconnect between this history and how and what we learn, together with where and who delivers a particular narrative about the past. The Southern Poverty Law Center, in response to the recent spate of incidences in schools across the country, issued a report with seven common problems in teaching about slavery, which I rewrote here to apply to genealogy.
1. We understand that slavery is not a universal experience for POC, but it is the fact of how this nation was founded. We seek to research, learn and understand the roles and experiences of families and communities within these systems.
2. We acknowledge that flaws are embedded in particular understandings of American history, and that by understanding their role in impacting family history, we can also work towards change.
3. Enslavement is an American institution that crosses time and place. It existed in all colonies and states at the time of the signing of Declaration of Independence, and its principles continue to be bound with the economic fate of the nation today.
4. We speak to the ideology of white supremacy, and point to its outline and role of eugenics within the formation of genealogical practice. We also consider the perpetuation of slavery within forms of structural racism today, that connects past and present.
5. We deal with traumatic experiences as part of our history; the focus within our approach is on resilience and survival.
6. Genealogy and family history are contextual practices- we seek to incorporate the scope of POC experience by not divorcing it from the cultural currents and practices of the time.
7. Our focus on the lives of POC decenters white experience, and instead references a framework of relevant political and economic impacts in the time leading up to and beyond the Civil War. African American institutions provided structure and opportunity, thereby affording a way out of no way.
These two quotes, from a speech made by James Baldwin in 1980 still resonate today when thinking about family histories, genealogy and their use in interpreting the larger context of living and understanding the past:
“I want to suggest that history is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.”
“You got to find out the reality which surrounds you. You got to be able to describe it. You got to be able to describe your mother and your father and your uncles and your junkie cousin. If you aren’t able to describe it, you will not be able to survive it.” “Black English: A Dishonest Argument.” Randall Kenan, ed. James Baldwin, The Cross of Redemption, Uncollected Writings. 2010.
A supplement for Episode 89: Dangerous Liaisons: Jailbird Relatives and The Freaky Underside of Genealogy. Black ProGen Live! July 30, 2019
There’s no family history left untouched in some way by underground economies and prostitution. Prostitution or sex work, can be understood as a means of survival first and second, an avocation, either by choice or coercion. Beyond the economic question of support, there are questions about the nature of history that can exclude the marginalized worker, questions around ideas of gender, masculinity, power and the network of beliefs and the structure of law that declares it legal, illegal or a fusion of the two. So, if we think about family histories that deal with aspects of an underground economy, it means dealing with variables in time and place. For many this was a temporary connection or situation, a form of employment that was often unpredictable. Only for a select few, was it a situation under their direct control.
In art, prostitution is the subject of painting, literature, cinema and photography; it shapes the nature of urban, modern experience and informs the realms of tourism and the military. There are stereotypes that circulate in popular culture, in different societies, best viewed as means of defining ideas and assumptions around gender, race and various social boundaries. Looking further back, sexual slavery was also a feature of the transatlantic slave trade that used men women and children,and there’s the trafficking that continues into the present.. Columbus established a sex trade on Hispanola by 1490, with children as young as 9 years old serving as sex slaves.
Prostitution as an organized business arrived in Puerto Rico (and by extension to other colonies) with Spanish colonization in the sixteenth century. After the Spanish American War, for example, policing these boundaries of gender and race drew on discourses of eugenics and public health, so that women were subjected to moral judgements, incarceration, forced medical treatment and framed them both as a targeted category of control and as fulfillment of eugenic policies. Any behavior viewed as questionable by women living in poverty, or regarded as promiscuous, were targeted and swept up as a means of social control, even if they never worked ‘the life’.
Family, Context, Options and Motivation
Understanding how illicit businesses like prostitution, numbers running, and black market participation shapes your family history, can open up a history of different social networks, and is an opportunity to understand the various social constraints and options people faced to sell the only thing they had left to sell to survive.
Often there is an economic reason that leaves people in desperate situations, as with the women mantua makers of the 1840s whose poor pay for long hours hand sewing then-fashionable hooded outerwear. As they contended with rising expenses many were left working a sex trade in order to make ends meet. Some were persons who suddenly found themselves without other means of support; still others (a much smaller group) decide on it as a business, contending with the legal structures on the local and national level to keep business going. Employment by any means necessary was for some, key to survival. In Harlem of the 1930s, Stephanie St. Clair known as “Queenie”, “Madam Queen”, “Madam St. Clair”, and “Queen of the Policy Rackets”, ran a numbers racket that kept some 2,000 people employed during the Great Depression, despite attempts by the Mafia to take her empire over. When a young man in New York City, my paternal grandfather kept food on the table for his family by being a numbers runner, the person who brought the bets to the bookie.
Violence & social control
Depending on the age and racial designation, there may be no effort to help or investigate the murder of sex workers, denying justice as well as legal and medical support services to those who remain. Or, there is wholesale denial on offer, as with the so-called Korean ‘Comfort Women‘ forced to serve the Japanese Army during WW2, who went on the promise of factory employment and instead found themselves in harrowing conditions. Yet, acknowledgement and apologies from the Japanese government were not forthcoming. Oral histories are key to knowing and understanding what happened.
Violence, repression and incarceration are also part of the picture, adding to the complexity of understanding the past. Law enforcement was anything but consistent. Conditions vary, whether streetwalking, brothel, escort, and the legal stance per country can exacerbate or support those involved, and class made a huge difference. Military prostitution, child prostitution, trafficking and tourism are other aspects to consider when researching the past. The question of slavery, whether legal condition or condition of labor repeatedly comes up. Studies do show it’s better to have regulation and laws that protect the worker rather than have an illicit trade where it is not those who labor who gain the income.
Finding Information: Some Resources
Oral histories, photographs, police reports, newspapers, census and military records, are just some of the materials in various collections that may have information on a family member. As the essay from the Framing Resources site at GMU notes, there is no one class, cultural, religious or social perspective on prostitution, and it’s a field of study that has much to offer in terms of understanding the historical context of family histories involved with the practice, some of it very recent. Also the site provides a small area that lays out some questions helpful for working on genealogical research in terms of the nature of primary and secondary materials you’ll encounter in libraries, special collections both online and off.
Take a look at Tyler Schulze’s Black Sheep Ancestor pages “Search for your Blacksheep Ancestors in Free Genealogical Prison and Convict Records, Historical Court Records, Executions, Insane Asylum Records and Biographies of Famous Outlaws, Criminals & Pirates in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada” http://blacksheepancestors.com
The Internet Archive has over 1400 items in a search result, some of them guidebooks, others, legal statutes published during the 19th century, books and other related materials to download or borrow. See link below.
Also included are the links to special collections on Storyville, New Orleans from the Library of Congress website. Please scroll down towards the end of this post.
This list is not exhaustive, but intended to give a sense of the wide variety of materials and approaches that you can apply to your searches.
“Framing Resources Essay: Case study on prostitution” – Women in World History Website “These varied materials reflect differing class, cultural, religious, and social perspectives on prostitution, especially in the modern, Western world. They tell us what observers thought about prostitution and how their attitudes changed over time. Until recently, there were few personal accounts by prostitutes to provide clues about their varying motivations or their attitudes toward the governments, organizations, or individuals that sought to regulate the practice or abolish prostitution. Oral histories as well as the anthropological and sociological studies that document the lives of prostitutes, many of them from Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe and almost all of them poor, have begun filling this gap.” http://chnm.gmu.edu/wwh/essay/essay.php?c=resources&r=case
Andy McCarthy, “Genealogy Tips: New York City Cops in the City Record.”
“…For the five boroughs, there really is no collection of historical “police records.…”
NYPL Record Requests: FOIL
Revista Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña. Carlos A Rodriguez Villanueva, “Amor licito e ilícito: un escape a los patrones amorosos establecidos [Historia socio-sexual en ella Caribe Hispanico, siglos XVIII-XIX: Cuba, Santo Domingo y Puerto Rico]”; Jose E Flores Ramos, “Vida cotidiana de la prostitutas en San Juan de Puerto Rico: 1890-1919”; Nelly Vazquez Sortillo, “La violencia dentro de la violencia: un caso de violencia domestica en una hacienda esclavista en Puerto Rico (1871).”. 2006 vol 13, 2nd series. Issue downloadable from issuu.com https://issuu.com/coleccionpuertorriquena/docs/segunda_serie_n__mero_13
348 Dra. Nieves de los Ángeles Vázquez Lazo “Historia de la prostitución en Puerto Rico, de 1876 a 1917.” Angel Collazo Schwarz, La Voz del Centro http://www.vozdelcentro.org/2009/08/23/la-historia-de-la-prostitucion-en-puerto-rico/ Podcast: http://www.vozdelcentro.org/mp3/Prog_348.mp3
“1970s New York City: The dangerous & gritty streets during a decade of decline.” NY Daily News. Photographs of NYC’s sex workers included. https://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/gritty-new-york-city-1970s-gallery-1.1318521
Timothy J Gilfoyle, City of Eros: New York City, Prostitution, and the Commercialization of Sex, 1790-1920. (1994)
Christine Stansell, City of Women: Sex and Class in New York, 1789-1860. (1987)
Shirley Stewart, The World of Stephanie St. Clair, An Entrepreneur, Race Woman and Outlaw in Early Twentieth Century Harlem. Peter Lang Publishers, 2014.
LaShawn Harris, Sex Workers, Psychics and Numbers Runners: Black Women in New York City’s Underground Economy. U Illinois Press, 2016.
Shane White, Graham White, Stephen Garton, Stephen Robertson, Playing the Numbers: Gambling in Harlem Between the Wars. Harvard UP, 2010.
Karen Abbott, Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys and the Battle for America’s Soul. [Chicago] Random House, (2008).
Laura Briggs, Reproducing Empire: Race, Sex, Science and US Imperialism in Puerto Rico, University California Press, (2002).
Eileen J Suarez Findlay, Imposing Decency: The politics of sexuality and race in Puerto Rico, 1870-1920. Duke UP (1999).
Donna J. Seifert, Elizabeth Barthold O’Brien, & Joseph Balicki, “Mary Ann’s First Class House: The Archaeology of a Capital Brothel.” Robert A Schmidt & Barbara L. Voss, Archaeologies of Sexuality. Routledge, (2000), 117-128.
Wild West Book Review: Jan McKell’s Red Light Women of the Rocky Mountains UNM Press, 2009 https://www.historynet.com/wild-west-book-review-red-light-women.htm
Heather Branstetter, A Business Doing Pleasure: Selling Sex in the Silver Valley 1884-1991. Wallace, Idaho. (author blog) https://abusinessdoingpleasure.com Race & the Houses https://abusinessdoingpleasure.com/2017/08/17/race-and-the-houses/ Files at the Shoshone County Sheriff’s Office https://abusinessdoingpleasure.com/2014/10/02/aboutthescsofiles/
“Garden of Truth: the trafficking of Native Women in Minnesota.” Minnesota Indian Women Sexual Assault Coalition. Report (2011) https://vawnet.org/material/garden-truth-prostitution-and-trafficking-native-women-minnesota
“Prostitution: A violent reality of homelessness” (2001) report https://www.issuelab.org/resource/prostitution-a-violent-reality-of-homelessness.html
Historical resource Medievalists.net list of posts on prostitution, various locations during the medieval period http://www.medievalists.net/tag/prostitution/
Hell’s Half Acre, 2017 [Victorian Los Angeles] https://la.curbed.com/2017/11/17/16654292/history-prostitution-los-angeles
Selected Items from the Internet Archive, Archive.org items
Modern Pornography & Sex Work Collection, 1960-1990. University of South Florida
CSUN, The Oldest Profession (Collections overview)
Dr Bonnie Bullough Collection, 1954-2000. CSUN, Oviatt Library, Special Collections
Reverend Wendell M Miller Collection, 1928-1988.
Citizens independent Vice Investigating Committee (CIVIC) CSUN, Oviatt Library, Special Collections
Prostitution Collection, 1834-1954., Five Colleges (MA)
Prostitution at Brigham Young University, 1997
Minnie Fischer Cunningham Papers, Standard Statistics on Prostitution Syphilis & Gonorrhea (1919)
Guide to Shelley Bristol Papers UNLV
The Real Rainbow Row, Charleston Hotel College of Charleston, Special Collections https://speccoll.cofc.edu/the-real-rainbow-row/charleston-hotel-200-meeting-street/
The Library of Congress’ page on Storyville has several special collections from New Orleans which I have included below.
Storyville: A resource guide to commercialized Vice in New Orleans. Library of Congress
Storyville: a resource guide to sources about commercialized vice in historic New Orleans.
Table of Contents
Selected Book Titles
LC Subject Headings
Archives of the City of New Orleans. New Orleans Public Library.
This includes ordinances related to prostitution.
Louisiana State Archives. Baton Rouge.
See Research Historical Records section.
Louisiana and Special Collections. Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans.
Includes the following collections: New Orleans Chamber of Commerce Records, MSS 66 and Josie Arlington Collection, MSS 270.
Louisiana Research Collection. Howard-Tilton Library, Tulane University.
Search in the following collections:
Al Rose Collection, RG 606 : Although listed as a jazz archive, Storyville was the place to hear jazz musicians. Search: Prostitution.
Master Rolls, Battalion Washington Artillery: 1861-1865.
New Orleans Travelers’ Aid Society Papers, RG 365.
New Orleans Records. New Orleans City Archives, Louisiana Division New Orleans Public Library.
This collection includes arrest records, arrest index, ‘Jewell’s Digest of the City Ordinances’, etc.
Note: this collection is also available on microfilm at the Library of Congress.
New Orleans. Ordinances, etc. Jewell’s Digest of the city ordinances, Rev. ed. New Orleans, 1887.
LC Call Number: Microfilm 21895 JS
LC Catalog record: 47035734
Williams Research Center. Historic New Orleans Collection.
Blue Books in the Williams Research Center’s collection, probably the largest extant, is available for research. View one of the digitized Blue Books here. Please contact the center for more information.
Last updated: 02/09/2018
My latest blog post, is a Guest Post: A Bonilla Family Tree, is about the reading the larger context of Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo’s life and family. This is one of my prima Teresa Vega’s ancestors, who was lynched in Yauco in 1890. Radiant Roots Boricua Branches is her blog. Appreciate this opportunity to delve into her Boricua branches!
As part of Black ProGen Live’s project, Ep. 83b Stories from the National Institute for Peace and Justice, I’m researching the family history of Claude Neal (1911-1934), who died barbarically at the hands of a white lynch mob in Marianna, Florida in October 1934. Retaliation did not end there, as the event was also an excuse to burn down the homes in the black section of town. The goal here is not to revisit how Mr. Neal left this earth, but to help find his ancestors and extend the path back in time.
There are studies of the events that surrounded his torture and murder, but what I am trying to do here is to place his family against this larger, deeper history of Jackson County to make clear the outlines of the weight of living the transition from enslavement to a relative freedom. It was their labor that made places like the grand estates of Marianna and its wealth possible. My condolences to the family, as they have had to bear so much, without seeing justice, as theFBI closed the case in 2013, thanks to decade long silences among the perpetrators and their descendants.
If you do not know who Claude Neal was, Professor Carol Anderson of Emory University provides an overview of that tragedy, called ‘the last spectacle lynching’ in America.
This blog post is focused on building a context and tracing the lines further back. Part of this work benefitted from the work of descendants with family trees on Ancestry.com, such as Orlando Williams and others, whose efforts to illuminate what happened to his uncle continues. To them I give thanks.
A backdrop for racial terror
Understanding the context of Claude Neal’s family history is to engage the history of post-Civil War Jackson County in the Florida Panhandle, so one can also honor the resilience necessary to pass through these experiences. Florida, as recent research clearly shows, ranks fifth among the states with the highest rate and largest number of terror lynchings. Part of healing from these crimes is to call their names across time and space.
And this too is the history of the state I presently call home. By the time of Claude Neal’s murder, 1934, Jim Crow laws, eugenic ideals, an unacknowledged history of enslavement, intensive cotton cultivation with extractive sharecropping arrangements, shaped the state’s legal contours, honed further still by blind followers of the ‘Lost Cause’. In 1834 Andrew Jackson authorized the displacement of the Five Slaveholding Tribes, with the Seminole concentrated in the region. Despite the evacuation of many Native people, not everyone went to Oklahoma, and some managed to remain in the area. Within the decade, white planters moved thousands into the Florida panhandle and into the peninsula.
T. Thomas Fortune’s autobiographical newspaper series, “After War Times: A Boy’s Life in Reconstruction Days” published in the Philadelphia Tribune in 1927 speaks of his childhood in Marianna. The complexity of the family history he relates defies the binary categories of black and white, and points to deeper tri-racial ancestries that also resulted within Marianna, shoehorned and hidden under the designations of ‘W’ or ‘B’ or ‘M’:
Fortune’s female ancestor, Sarah Jane was sold south from Virginia, and “Emanuel, who begat us, was never a father but always a friend and companion. He was an extraordinary man, and played a conspicuous part in the Reconstruction politics of Florida. He served as a member of the Constitutional Convention and the first four sessions of the legislature. He was born of an Indian mother and an Irish father. His mother was the wife of Osceola, who was stolen from Micanopy and taken to West Florida by Thomas Fortune… after his mysterious death she was taken as a wife by John Pope, who was also of mixed Seminole blood…. The family picture I have drawn is a familiar one produced out of the loose morality of the system of slavery. In my family there was the African, the Indian and the Jewish women and the Irish and half breed Indian men, with the Jewish father guilty of selling his daughter by a black woman into slavery in the same village where he was a judge… 
“The people responsible for the cross of the black, white and red races in this country are in very interesting and questionable business when they draw the color line on the sisters and brothers whom their fathers and brothers mulattoized…” – T. Thomas Fortune, “After War Times”, 1927
Post-Reconstruction violence: a resistance to change
“Satan has his seat; he reigns in Jackson County.”
— Senator Rev. Charles H. Pearce, Founder of the AME church in Florida, testifying on the KKK in Florida 
The events of the Jackson County War (1869-1871) is a history untold until the 1960s, nearly a century after the events of the late 1860s. From early 1869 to the end of 1871, some one hundred to an estimated two hundred persons were killed, making Jackson County, Florida’s most violent county under Reconstruction. What was at stake was power, and the 1867 Florida Constitution aimed to repress African Americans with the Black Codes built into the document, which Congress rejected. They declared Florida had no government until they adopted the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to conform to the Constitution.
Jackson County was the second most populated county in the state, with some ten thousand inhabitants from 1851 to 1868. As the average rate of murder was two yearly, the sudden fifty-fold rise over three years meant much organizing work was needed to stem the violence.  The KKK rode hard in Florida in an attempt to maintain the old social order through racial terror after the Civil War. Even after Reconstruction, those who rallied behind the Myth of the Lost Cause were willing to do anything, including annihilating people in politics and in the field, destroying their homes and businesses in order for the defenders of the ‘Old South’ to maintain power.
In the early twentieth century, historians that retold the history of the Jackson County War diminished the focus on African American struggles by inventing details and dramatizing events that practically absolved the white conservatives who perpetrated the atmosphere of violence that permeated Reconstruction Florida. One study written from this perspective remained the authoritative text on this period for over fifty years.
By 1960s, historians finally delved into resources like the Freedmen’s Bureau Florida records, and by the 1970s a clearer picture of violence and mayhem “arising from organized white resistance determined to drive out black and white Republican leadership” finally came into view.  By the early 2000s, the role of the Klan, violence, intimidation and resistance were on the table. Curiously, a number of the books that focus on this history are not available within the Hillsborough County Library system today, but because of Henry Louis Gates’ recent documentary Reconstruction: America After the Civil War, a number of related titles are available. The Florida Freedmen’s Bureau records however, are in need of a transcription project as some 26 reels of microfilm hold the details for many families across the state before the bureau’s bank failed in 1873.
There’s a tight relationship between this past and its connections to the present- I want to bring attention to the issue of social control via voter suppression and the older history of disenfranchisement post Reconstruction. The Sentencing Project’s 2010 report noted that, “more people were disenfranchised in Florida than in any other state. All of the six states with the most disenfranchised felons are southern states with large black populations. There is a distinct relationship between race and voter disenfranchisement.” On 1 September 2016, The Miami Herald’s headline pointed to this longer history: “Florida has a History of Making it Harder for Black Citizens to Vote.”The poll tax has returned in another guise, and it’s pertinent that historically, Florida was the first state to adopt a $2 poll tax for voting in 1885 (legal until 1937) and by 1940, only 6% of blacks in Florida were registered to vote.. 
A Panhandle County
Jackson County lies near the borders of Alabama and Georgia on the panhandle, and its economy was based on short staple cotton, grown to the exclusion of other crops, worked by gangs of enslaved laborers. Before the Civil War, slaveowners comprised 38% of Jackson County households, and 16% held as many as ten enslaved people.
Non-slaveholding farmers arrived from South Carolina and Georgia and worked small pieces of land barely adequate for sustenance. Prosperous planters owned stately homes that lined the main street of Marianna and nearby Greenwood. Yet, transportation was the main disadvantage, as the county’s location on the Chipola River was unnavigable for the huge volume of cotton to transport, compounded by the lack of a railroad, which terminated a county away. This remoteness added to the difficulty of attempts by those in bondage to emancipate themselves.
Effects of the Recent War, 1863-1865
During the Civil war, many local white men served in the Confederacy, and late in the war, Jackson County was a breadbasket for the south, the Confederacy ruthlessly requisitioning livestock and crops for the war. By 1863 a military hospital opened and the following year, a Confederate military post with training grounds, storehouses and stables was established at Marianna. A blockade by the Union Navy prevented the transport of valuable cotton to European markets; Confederate troops from the area went to armies fighting in Virginia, leaving citizens at the mercy of deserters and guerrillas who preyed on the countryside. By the fall, war arrived as a column of 700 Union soldiers left Pensacola to march across the Panhandle. 
Union troops fought local men (old men and young boys) with fragments of Confederate units at Marianna, overwhelming them and suffering unexpected casualties. Before retreating to Pensacola, Union troops laid waste to the town, looting stores and setting fires, carrying off commissary and quartermaster stores and cattle. Locals blamed acts of violence on the USCT: “[u]nsubstantiated rumors spread of black soldiers from US Colored Troops units committing atrocities on Confederates found in the churchyard.” The raid also liberated some four hundred enslaved African Americans who accompanied the Union troops on their march west. Ninety-six prisoners that included 47 men and boys from Jackson County were sent north, most winding up in an infamous prison camp in Elmira, New York. 
With the announcement of the end of the war in April 1864, the Confederate supporting governor, John Milton, shot himself in the head on his Jackson County estate, and in May, came the formal surrender of all Confederate forces in Florida and the emancipation of the enslaved. Union troops were in the South, such as the fifty soldiers of the 161st NY Volunteers that occupied Marianna in July 1865. The captain of the New Yorkers, John F Little, found favor with residents of Marianna; they also established the first school for African American children in Jackson county. The Jackson County slaves that joined the Union army were in the Eighty-Second and Eighty-Sixth US Colored Troops regimen. Some departed with the withdrawing column. So far, I haven’t found a connection to the extended Neal families, however descendants may want to explore this further.
This commitment to the pursuit of rights continued after the war, with the establishment of the AME Church during the Reconstruction period, beginning in 1866. This consisted of multiple meetings to set up a constellation of parishes across the Florida panhandle. Churches were the engine of development for Black Floridians, making it possible to channel educational, political and spiritual opportunity in a community.  All of these factors- political, social and spiritual- shaped the lives of the Neals, Dickson, White and Pittman families.
Into this landscape, Claude Neal’s grandparents and great grandparents were brought as enslaved labor by planter families from Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia. As the war ended and with Reconstruction, we can see through documents how the older men gained suffrage and registered their marriages. The end of the war, and the arrival of troops that enforced Reconstruction brought a moment of possibility for the Neals and their collateral lines in Marianna, Florida.
Ancestors: Towards a History of the Neal Family
Paternal Ancestor: York Neal
Just weeks or months after the passage of the Reconstruction act of 23 March 1867, all male citizens age 21 or older. They had to swear a loyalty oath, “stating that he had never supported or participated in a rebellion against the United States government, that he had never committed a felony offense, that he had never served as an elected or appointed official of the United States and supported or participated in a rebellion against the United States government, and that he would remain loyal to the government of the United States (Ala. Code,  83-84)” Just as with the history of the Varner family in Wilcox, Alabama, after Reconstruction, newly free men went to register to vote to assert their belonging as citizens, a situation also made possible by the presence of Federal troops. .
York Neal, Claude Neal’s paternal grandfather, was born in 1830 in Alabama, as were some of other family members. In 1867 Neal registered to vote in Sumter, Alabama’s Election District 21, and part of his oath included a twelve month residency window; he was about 37 years old, This may be a clue to where he was before emancipation.  His voter registration is the earliest document for him as a free man.
The 1880 census offers more details for the life of York Neal. Precisely when he gets to Florida isn’t clear, but the census is a start. By the time he was 40 years of age, he was living in Jackson County, Florida by 1870; by 1880, now 50, he worked as a laborer in Bascom, Jackson County, and was a widower. Among the alternative spellings of his surname in records are Neal, Neel or Neele.
On 25 October 1880, Penny Bowls Dickson married York Neal in Jackson, Florida.  At 25 she was half his age, and boarded in Neal’s home along with her three young children, Lizzie 8, Ned 6 and Mattie Bowls, age 2. She worked as a servant. Earlier that year, on 15 June 1880, Jeff Neal was the first child born to York Neal and Penny Bowls and they married four months later. [ 14] Jeff Neal was Claude Neal’s father. Households combined and recombined in effort to maintain stability, with relationships extending beyond simple categories of a nuclear family.
Maternal Ancestor: Washington Dickson (bca.1815/17- aft 1885)
York Neal’s wife, Penny Bowls Dickson was the daughter of Willis Dickson (b. 1829, NC) and Caroline Barnes Dickson (b.1833); she was the first of seven children born to the couple between 1850 and 1864.
Willis and Caroline married 19 Aug 1866 in Jackson, Florida.  Willis Dickson was one of three known children of Washington Dickson (bca. 1815 North Carolina) and two unknown wives: Willis b. 1829, Jennie Dickson (b. Dec 1834) in North Carolina. Jennie Dickson married Anthony Barnes in 1856. Barnes (b.Sep 1834) was also from North Carolina, and their three daughters lived in Marianna County, Florida.  Charity Dickson b. 1873, was a late baby for Washington and his second partner. She married Jonas White (b. 1868) on 26 Oct 1892 in Jackson County, and the couple had a daughter, Emma.  I’ll return to Jonas White’s father in 1870, after discussing Washington Dickson’s time in bondage.
Before the Civil War: The Estate of James M. Long, 1858
Washington Dickson’s long life spanned pre Civil War to post-Reconstruction in Marianna; the last document he appears on is the 1885 Florida State Census. He is the individual mentioned in the estate division of planter James Madison Long of 2 January 1858. . No other Washington came up in search results and the additional 55 names included in the estate have other potential family members listed.
The slaveowners were members of the James M. Long family, who moved their business from Alabama to Washington County (also in Florida) and then to the outskirts of Marianna in Jackson County, Florida. Long, born in 1810, died in 1857 and was buried in Riverside Cemetery in Marianna. [ Briefly, Long was married twice (M1 Elizabeth Ann Russ of NC & M2 Harriet Rebecca Long) and had six children with Russ, who are named in the will. In between the lines of the will are judgements about values and subdivision of humans that denies familial ties and focuses instead on fractions of a dollar. For example, Matilda was valued at 950.50; the notation ‘Pays Oliver’ appears for three siblings, who paid their brother Oliver Long $100 on a share of a person, along with other amounts, $62.50, $37.50. Down to the half dollar.
The probate index for the Jackson County Courthouse on FamilySearch lists several entries for various family members involved in the subdivision of the property, human and material. The work of cotton production depended on a brutal enforced labor system, and Jackson County was among “the heaviest concentrations of plantations, slave populations and cotton production centered in Jackson, Gadsden, Leon and Jefferson and Madison counties” in the Panhandle.  This development of Florida’s own Black Belt for cotton cultivation began intensifying almost two decades earlier, in the 1840s. Long and his family was already in the area by 1850, as shown by the US Federal Census.
Apparently, Long did not die insolvent, as everyone they owned apparently were subdivided among the children rather than sold at market. Still, what this future meant for the persons in the document after January 1858 is unclear without additional details— at the moment the age of the Long children, from ages 20-9, and their locations in the census, show that they remained in Marianna, and while an overseer continued to manage the plantation in Jackson County.
Subdividing people in Marianna, January 1858
A summary of the petition appears in the Race and Slavery Petitions Project, transcribed in 1996 from documents in the Jackson County Courthouse, Marianna, Florida, Book D Record of Estates.  The abstract reads:
John P. Lockey, guardian of the children of James M. Long, deceased, asks the court to appoint commissioners to divide the slaves of the estate equally among the heirs. The plaintiff states that the deceased, during his lifetime, deeded his slaves and land to his children, reserving “the right of possession & enjoyment” but desired upon his death to have his estate “equally divided between his children share & share alike.”
I’ve transcribed the estate subdivision in full below:
To the Honorable Robert S Dickson Judge of Probate of Jackson County
The undersigned commissioner appointed to divide certain slaves between the children of James M Long by leave to expert That they appraised said slaves & having ascertained what each child was entitled, they placed them in lots which were Drawn with the following result
Lot one by Edwin Long, the following slaves viz Sara 600.00, William 800.00, Walter 675.00, London 625.00, Letitia 375, Daniel 325.00 [F72] Emily 200.00, Matilda 950.50 & pays Oliver 139.50
Lot two by Oscar Long the following slaves viz Letty 225.00, Louisa 850.00, Ben 700.00, Amanda 325.00 Susan & child Peter 950.00, Annette 325.00, Prince 200.00, Oscar 1000.00, Pays Oliver 100.00 & Laura 62.50
Lot three by Mary Long the following slaves viz Polly 350.00, Lewis 475.00, Mahala 300.00, Walker 225.00, Eliza & child Patsey 1100.00, Solomon 400.00 Josephine 250.00, Sally & child Palmyra 1050.00, Pays Oliver 100.00 & John 37.50
Lot four by John Long the following slaves viz Robin 500.00, Binkey 375.00, Charlotte 950.00, George 700.00, Harriet 375.00, Madison 500.00, Isaac 550.00, Rinah 200.00, Receives of Mary 37.50
Lot five by Laura Long the following slaves viz Argent & child June 1000.00, Vandy 225.00, Warren 500.00, Redding 1000.00, Levi 675.00 & Julia 950.00, and Receives of Oscar 62.50
Lot Six by Oliver Long the following slaves viz Washington 350.00, Mary Ann & child Beckey 850.00, William 900.00, Amy 550.00, Frank 375.00, Charity 300.00, Rose 250.00, Levi 675.00, Receives of Edwin 137.50, of Oscar 100.00 and of Mary 100.00
Respectfully submitted Jan’y 2/58
Jos B Roulhac
Florida Probate Records, 1784-1990 Jackson County Florida, Estates 1857-1860.
The total value of human beings was $26,025. The total comparative value of 26,025 has a relative value today of $819,000.00. In terms of a relative wage or income, an equivalent in unskilled wage is 5.840,000 or in terms of Production Worker Compensation, the number jumps to $11,100,000.00.  This one number for this group of people should give pause when considering the transformation of blood and sweat into the wealth of planters; it is the fulcrum of inequality in this country.
The three men who provided the values in 1858 listed above, later appear as agents of the Confederate Army. Isaac Widgeon served as the commissary Agent for the District of Florida, with Joseph Roulhac and John J White as sub-agents working for Widgeon.  At least one of the Long sons served in the Confederate Army.
Long’s second wife, Harriet R. Long eventually left Marianna and moved to Atlanta; her ancestry was registered with the DAR. Researching the group of people they sold to each other however, is not revealed so easily. From 1858 to the 1870s, we see the Dicksons, Pittmans, Whites and Barnes live in proximity as they go from numeric counts under enslavement in 1860 to named farmers and farm laborers in 1870 and after. Yet their value tied to their labor sits like a rock in my craw. One son, John Long, for instance, holds some $6,000 in Personal Estate, while the head of household has over $16K listed. To what can we ascribe the increase in value from $4150 to $6000? Compare this to Jonas White, who had a mere $50 in Personal Estate in 1870; we can’t find him before that because he himself was property.
A cursory look at the census shows that two years after the estate division in 1860, each of the Long siblings are living in different households, apart from their stepmother. Precisely how the arrangements impacted the families involved is unclear; Washington Dickson for example, who was in the lot assigned to Oliver Long, did not live in close proximity to the family by 1870. More questions remain.
The AME Church: a different space of possibility
The years after the war saw the expansion of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the Florida Panhandle, with the establishment of the Marianna Station giving a foothold in the new political environment. This was a move towards self determination, as the church became a guiding force for civil rights and political activity in the state. Unlike the Methodist Church, the AME church offered opportunities unbridled by white control, along with the opportunity for education and literacy.
This excerpt from Jerold Shofner’s Jackson County Florida — A History offers a view of what the African Americans had to contend with to practice religion in nearby Greenwood. The church was itself a staging ground for various punishments. This was no space of refuge for Black people:
“The records of the Union Academy Church, which became Greenwood Baptist in 1855, have frequent references to its black membership, including punishments meted out for misbehavior on the plantation. Blacks were admitted to membership as soon as the church was organized in 1845. Winnie, belonging to Richard Long was the first slave to join the church. During the next nine years, however, at least 22 other blacks became members. Typical of them were Mary, the servant of Elijah Bryan, Charles, the servant of Nicholas Long, Austin, servant of Martha Pittman, and Sarah, the servant of Ethelred Philips, all of whom were “received by experience.” Apparently the blacks simply joined the whites in their Sunday worship until July, 1854. Then, M.T. Embry, “with as many white males as present, was authorized to hold conferences regularly for the benefit of the black members.” The blacks had church on the third Sunday of each month after that. Whether they were still allowed to attend other services is not clear, but the third Sundays were reserved for them with the supervision of Embry and the other “white males.”…. [ 21]
Jonas White, (Charity Dickson’s father in law) appears as James White in the 1870 census, with the occupation of AME Preacher. This meant White was a regarded member of the community, someone who was an important resource in the area. By the time of the next census however, times had become more difficult. In 1873, the Freedmen’s Bank failed, and by 1880, Jonas White Sr.’s occupation is listed as Laborer. Note that White’s value of his Personal Estate is only $50. Still, the occupation represents a link to many people and possibly the rise of black fraternal organizations in the region that would support local efforts.
Perhaps more light can be shed on the networks of connections across community that made survival possible. Despite the constant threat of erasure, family members knew that even though faced with threats and the need to suddenly flee their homes, they too seek justice. Neal’s death was not in vain, as the NAACP deployed his image as a fundamental moral and political question about the right to live in America, versus the postcards of his lynching sold in Greenwood & Marianna as a souvenir for 50 cents apiece.
In 1939, John and Ruby Lomax traveled the South recording songs and folklore. Tt the Women’s Dormitory of Raiford, Florida, Gussie Slater and Clifford Reed sang ‘Trouble is Hard.’ Listen to the unspoken pain that slips between words, a creation that comes from love, pain and survival of so many troubled times, that can lead to a way out of no way .
The struggle for equality continues. Listen to Bryan Stevenson’s observations on identity and the implications of a society with mass incarceration and its connection to the past. As he has said, “the opposite of poverty is justice.” May this country keep walking ahead towards this goal. Speak their names.
 T Thomas Fortune, After War Times: A Boy’s Life in Reconstruction Days. Philadelphia Tribune, 14 Jul 1927, 9. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Black Newspaper Collection.
 Daniel R. Weinfeld, The Jackson County War: Reconstruction and Resistance in Post-Civil War Florida. University of Alabama Press, 2012.
 Seth Weitz. “Defending the Old South: The Myth of the Lost Cause and Political Immorality in Florida, 1885-1968,” 82-83.
 The recent changes to Amendment 4 is considered a modern version of the poll tax as a result of the Florida Senate’s changes to Amendment 4, in which Floridians voted to restore voting rights to 1.4 million felons, a group disproportionately POC. “Florida has a history of making it harder for black citizens to vote” Miami Herald, 1 Sept 2016. https://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/election/article95105602.html
 Weinfeld, The Jackson County War.
 Weinfeld, The Jackson County War.
 Larry E Rivers and Canter Brown, Jr., Introduction, Laborers in the Vineyards of the Lord: The Beginnings of the AME Church in Florida, 1865-1895. University of Florida Press, 2001
 York Neal. Ancestry.com. Alabama, Voter Registration, 1867 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. Original data: Alabama 1867 Voter Registration Records Database. Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.
 York Neal. Ancestry.com. 1880 US Federal Census, Jackson, FL.
 Ancestry.com. Florida, County Marriage Records, 1823-1982 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016.
 “Florida Marriages, 1830-1993,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:23H6-3SG : 7 December 2017), Willis Dickson and Caroline Barnes, 19 Aug 1866; citing Marriage, Jackson, Florida, United States, Liberty County Clerk of Courts, Florida; FHL microfilm 931,954.; “Florida Marriages, 1837-1974,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:V5CB-591 : 10 February 2018), Willis Dickson and Caroline Barnes, 19 Aug 1866; citing Jackson,Florida; FHL microfilm 0931954 V. A-C.
 Ancestry.com. Florida, County Marriage Records, 1823-1982 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016. Original data: Marriage Records. Florida Marriages. Various Florida County Courthouses and State Archive, Tallahassee, Florida.
 Year: 1900; Census Place: Precinct 13, Jackson, Florida; Page: 2; Enumeration District: 0060; FHL microfilm: 1240171 Source Information Ancestry.com. 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004. Ancestry.com. Florida, County Marriage Records, 1823-1982 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016. Original data: Marriage Records. Florida Marriages. Various Florida County Courthouses and State Archive, Tallahassee, Florida.
 James M Long, 6 Oct 1810-16 Feb 1857. Ancestry.com. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012. According to the 1891 Atlanta City Directory, his widow was living on 57 Marietta Street, Atlanta.
 Julia Floyd Smith, Slavery and Plantation Growth in Antebellum Florida. University of Florida Press, 2017, 10-11.
“All that I know of my ancestors was told to me by my people.“
The words of William J. Edwards, educator and founder of the Snow Hill Normal and Industrial Institute in Wilcox Alabama, are from his autobiography, Twenty-Five Years in the Black Belt (1919). The book both explains how he received knowledge of his ancestors, and shows what they, and by extension, the Varner and McDuffie families were up against in the nineteenth to twentieth century.
Born in 1869, Edwards was born on the cusp of Reconstruction, and his perspective is firmly turned towards a brighter future of uplift. Given the centrality of oral history to this experience, it is worth reading the opening pages of Chapter 1. Childhood Days, as the Varners and McDuffies shared a similar history:
All that I know of my ancestors was told to me by my people. I learned from my grandfather on my mother’s side that the family came to Alabama from South Carolina. He told me that his mother was owned by the Wrumphs who lived in South Carolina, but his father belonged to another family. For some cause, the Wrumphs decided to move from South Carolina to Alabama; this caused his mother and father to be separated, as his father remained in South Carolina. The new home was near the village of Snow Hill. This must have been in the Thirties when my grandfather was quite a little child. He had no hope of ever seeing his father again, but his father worked at nights and in that way earned enough money to purchase his freedom from his master. So after four or five years he succeeded in buying his own freedom from his master and started out for Alabama. When he arrived at Snow Hill, he found his family, and Mr. Wrumphs at once hired him as a driver. He remained with his family until his death, which occurred during the war. At his death one of his sons, George, was appointed to take his place as driver
As I now remember, my grandfather told me that his mother’s name was Phoebe and that she lived until the close of the war. My grandfather married a woman by the name of Rachael and she belonged to a family by the name of Sigh. His wife’s mother came directly from Africa and spoke the African language. It is said that when she became angry no one could understand what she said. Her owner allowed her to do much as she pleased.
My grandfather had ten children, my mother being the oldest girl. She married my father during the war and, as nearly as I can remember, he told me that it was in 1864. Three children were born to them and I was the youngest; there was a girl and another boy.
I know little of my father’s people, excepting that he repeatedly told me that they came from South Carolina. So it is, that while I can trace my ancestry back to my great-grandparents on my mother’s side, I can learn nothing beyond my grandparents on my father’s side. My grandfather was a local preacher and could read quite well. Just how he obtained this knowledge, I have never been able to learn. He had the confidence and respect of the best white and colored people in the community and sometimes he would journey eight or ten miles to preach. Many times at these meetings there were nearly as many whites as colored people in the audience. He was indeed a grand old man. His name was James and his father’s name was Michael. So after freedom he took the name of James Carmichael.
One of the saddest things about slavery was the separation of families. Very often I come across men who tell me that they were sold from Virginia, South Carolina or North Carolina, and that they had large families in those states. Since their emancipation, many of these have returned to their former states in search of their families, and while some have succeeded in finding them, there are those who have not been able to find any trace of their families and have come back again to die. 
Edward’s account traces the movement of families, their sale and separation across states, the role of faith that was a path for his grandfather becaming a preacher, those who heard the voice of his African great grandmother who spoke an African language and through these traces, he makes the outlines of his community visible. All of these details were handed down via oral history, and made a document through the pages of his 1919 book.
The photo of Uncle Charles Lee standing before his home, supported by two canes, begins to tell of the conditions that Edwards sought to address after attending Tuskeegee and returning to Snow Hill to establish the first institute for Black education in Wilcox. The powers that be had little interest in seeing those who labored in bondage literate, educated and successful. And when they did gain it, threats intensified.
Violence &The Social Landscape of Wilcox County
A barometer of the low regard that people of African descent were held in is evident in this article “Extension of Slavery” from the 1862 issue of The Southern Cultivator, originally published in the Wilmington Journal. It evinces a line of white supremacist readership stretching from the middle to southern states, and the intent to keep the enslaved as a permanent unfree eternally laboring underclass.
What is telling is the absence of a name for the author, which speaks to fears about the power and potential of those fighting for their freedom from bondage. It is also an example of a proto-eugenic logic of an inherent, biological inferiority circulated via print media by the descendants of enslavers and their cohorts that later blossomed in the early twentieth century as eugenics. This reductionism still circulates in the present, as we struggle with 21st century issues of prison abolition and the returning semblance of debt peonage.
In case you can’t read the image:
A correspondent of the Wilmington Journal makes the following prediction: “I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet, but I now predict that one of the consequences of this war will be, that in three years from the end thereof there will not be a free negro in America; that our institution of slavery will be established on a more firm basis than ever; that the Northern States Rights party will get into power as soon as the elections roll round; the abolitionists will be hunted down like mad dogs, and the whole civilized world will become satisfied the our slaves are in the very condition for which nature designed them. Mark the prediction.”
In 1860, Wilcox County held only 26 ‘free colored’ and 17,797 enslaved people, with 6,795 whites, proportions that cast light on the nature of social and political life before the Civil War. By 1870, the ‘colored’ population increased to 21,610, a 21% increase, yet the white population remained at 6.795. 
Benson Seller’s Slavery in Alabama (1950) while remaining the main study of enslavement in that state, never addresses the humanity or “soul value” of Blacks held in bondage. Instead, the emphasis reflects the concerns with production, so that there are entries such as the following regarding planter James Asbury Tait’s management of overseers and their counsel to them. Violence and terror are the means of control, yet the text is in denial; we know that details of mangled, murdered and lynched bodies are omitted from this volume, instead we hear about ‘efficiency’:
First glimpse: 1866 Alabama State Census of Colored People
Only three generations back, the story of the Varner family that Della McDuffie Varner descends from has its first outlines in the documents issued during Reconstruction. On the Alabama Black Belt, Wilcox County borders Marengo County, and it is there in the 1866 Alabama State Colored Census for Marengo County that three Varners appear: King Varner, Matilde Varner, Haig Varner.
Making it official: Haig Varner & Fannie Varner
Haig Varner (b.ca 1820) and Fannie Varner (b.ca 1825) are Della Varner McDuffie’s great grandparents, the furthest back in the tree we can go at present. What we can’t tell from the data in the 1866 AL state census is how close these Varner families lived, and whether they were family or kin, as this is not spelled out. What is evident is that one to three generations lived across these households, and as this remains stubbornly opaque when compared to later census, now further documentation is needed to flesh out the details as to where exactly they lived in Marengo, who they were enslaved by, and how long they were in Alabama. Information from later census can vary as to origins of parents noted across the Federal census.
The Civil War ended, and the passage of The Civil Rights Bill of 1866 and the ratification of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments offered up citizenship and the start of Reconstruction offered hope for change. Alabama Voter Registration records were created as a result of the Reconstruction Act passed on 23 March 1867. 
Just months later, as a free man, Haig Varner registered to vote in Marengo County in 1867, an arrangement made possible by the presence of Federal troops; King Varner also appears in Volume 13. Other Varners appear in another volume of Alabama voter registrations, with Henry Varner in Volume 11, Alfred Varner and Anthony Varner in Volume 7 .
Beyond the census, the total search results yield 16 Varners in Marengo County Alabama for the 1866 AL Register of Voters on Ancestry.com. The results are actually 8, as the page was shot twice on the microfilm:
Haig and Fannie Varner’s son, Richard ‘Dick’ Varner (1847-1920) took the opportunity to officiate his marriage vows, and have them recognized by the state on 25 March 1867. That they could marry and have their union officially recognized was also made possible by the Federal, rather than state government.
The Will of Samuel Varner, Marengo County, 1848
The names of some of these head of households—, Matilda Varner, Benton Varner also appear in the 1848 will of Samuel Varner, which I transcribed below. 22 enslaved people are listed. I found no appraisal documents online to determine age, but perhaps this post can help descendants locate further information. Another earlier will for John Varner contains the names of a smaller number of those he enslaved. Tharin’s Marengo County Directory for 1861 has three white Varner men living on M’Kinley: Benton Varner, mechanic, Ransom Varner, planter and James Varner “(deaf and dumb)” planter.
Note how the young girl Emely is selected to be an enslaved assistant for Varner’s mute children, so disability is yet another permanently assigned duty. Or were there additional services intended, given Varner’s words at the end of his will: “Should there be an increase in property before my death…”?
Will Record A, F291 Will of Samuel Varner 
Will of Samuel Varner, Decd
In the name of God [ ] I Samuel Varner of the county of Cahaba and the State of Mississippi, considering the certainly of life yet being of sound and perfect mind and memory do make and publish this my last will and testament making all others heretofore made no manner and form following (that is today). First I do give and bequeath to my two daughters Sara Bevel formerly Sarah Varner and Martha Lassater formerly Martha Varner the Sum of $2 each — Second I do give and bequeath to my Sons Joseph Varner, James Varner, John Varner also my said daughter Mahala Varner and Minerva Jane Whitley formerly Minerva Jane Varner the following and all Estate to wit one tract of land [Selnato?] lying and being in the County of Marengo in the State of Alabama, Consisting of one hundred and twenty acres, to wit — adjoining the now named Bevel tract of land which Said land the [Datoso?] road sent through the East corner of the same Also twenty two negroes to wit four negro men Nat. Ransom, Dave and Alfred & the following negro women and children, Emily and her six children to wit: Candis, Caroline, Norton, Emeline, Adaline and Mary Frances Courtney. Matilda and her two children, Levi and an infant girl[;] Fanny and her four children: Allen, Fairchild and Mariah and an infant and Mary and her child Spenser together with all my stock of every manner and description whatsoever with all my farming tools waggons carts plows and every manner of implement or thing needful and necessary for the carrying on the same and all my household and kitchen furniture Saving the beds and furniture with all monies, debts due to me owning in any manner or description whatsoever to have and to hold to my Said Children of the Second Bequest mention to them and items forever Subject to the following hereafter restrictions. I desire that when I depart this life that my remains be buried in a decent and Christian like manner and that all my just debts be paid before a division of my estate, and it is my desire that at my death the negro girl Emely shall belong to my daughter Mahala at her appraised value and shall answer So much to her portions of Said Estate in a final division, and it is my desire ^that Mahala have one bed and furniture and also James and Minerva Jane Whitely take the Same as Specific legacies and not come with a general division— and as my Sons Joseph Varner, James Varner, Mahala Varner are unfortunate being deaf and dumb and it being somewhat doubtful that no law whether they can take by the will. I do hereby constitute, nominate and appoint my son John Varner and my son in law Decator Whitely trustees for them and on their behalf to receive their intended portions of my estate for them & their use and benefit and in case one or both of said trustees should die or refuse to act then it wish that a proper count should be applied to competent to protect them and their property. – It is further my will and request that often deducting Specific Legacies and paying off funeral expenses & debts on a division of said Estate. Should any one depart this life without heirs the portions of said child it is my will should lapse in common to the equally divided will contained in the Second – bequest and it is further my will and request Should my life be Spared by providence and should there be an increase of property before my death, My desire is that it lapse in common to the equally divided with those contained in the Second bequest and in case of one’s death his share to his or her children — And I do lastly appoint John Varner and Decator Whitely Executors of my Estate in this my last will and Testament. Witness my hand and seal the 18 day of July 1848
Signed Samuel (his X) Varner, Seal, Signed Sealed and delivered
The Estate of James Varner, 1827
The earlier 1827 subdivision of “The Estate of James Varner” includes mention of a son also named Benton Varner and several minors. There was a writ for Letters of Administration and Lorian Tibbs, Elizabeth Moon with Wright Moor and Matilda Varner appear as heirs; Martha Lindsay was named as James Varner’s wife.
Four persons enslaved by this Varner family were:
.”.that there are slaves name by Nancy, Ben, Isom and Peter cannot legally be divided and on motion of the Administration it is therefore ordered, by the Court that an order of sale do to sell” 
As additional papers were not included in the court records, and as it is a collection which is not complete, additional documents may exist, dispersed across the Special Collections of colleges and universities. There are two collections that feature Varner family papers, one at James Madison University, and the other, Campbell and Varner family papers at Virginia Military Institute . From the overview and information provided here, perhaps an interested descendant can take it back further through a combination of research and DNA testing.
A call to the libraries can confirm if there is relevant material. For the Varners of VA, while it is said there was no ownership of enslaved people at Stony Man Creek, unlike the remaining areas of the district in 1860. Robert H Moore’s post “Page County’s Appleberry/ Applebury men in the USCT.” notes some 30 men who served in the United States Colored Troops were born in Page County. 
Click on the bold link to see the Finding Aids for each collection:
Varner Family Papers -1774-1933 SC 0129 – Page County, VA James Madison University:
“The Varner family of Page County, Virginia was of German descent, and their name appears as early as 1801 on records of the Antioch Christian Church near Stony Man Creek, Virginia… Despite wide-spread anti-liquor sentiment in the Shenandoah Valley in the nineteenth century, the Varners operated a distillery.”
Campbell and Varner Family papers MS-0282 – Lexington, VA Virginia Military Institute 
“Robert Henry Campbell of Lexington, VA; shoemaker; served with Rockbridge Rifles during Civil War (1861 only); discharged due to illness (tuberculosis); Clerk, Quartermaster and Treasurer at the Virginia Military Institute, 1864-1870; d. 1870, age 28, Lexington, VA.
Charles Van Buren Varner, b. Lexington, VA. 1838; served with Rockbridge Rifles during Civil War; cabinetmaker; carpenter at VMI; d. 1907, Lexington.
The families were related through the marriage of R. Henry’s sister, Augusta, to Charles V. Varner.”
Emanuel Montee McDuffie: from AL to NC
Mrs Della McDuffie’s husband, William ‘Snowball’ McDuffie’s uncle– Emanuel Montee McDuffie — was among the people that left Snow Hill, precisely because of the efforts of William J. Edwards. After graduating from Snow Hill Normal and Industrial Institute, like his mentor, he became Principal of the Normal and Industrial Institute in Laurinberg, North Carolina, where he lived the rest of his life, until his death in 1953. This is not to say he escaped experiencing or knowing the potential violence of Jim Crow. His photo is on the upper left of the group, and appears in William J. Edwards’ Twenty-Five Years in the Black Belt. (1919)
A Change is Gonna Come
I can think of no better way to end than to leave you with Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come. These posts were written to honor the resilience and the survival of these ancestors, and to help write them back into history. “The arc of history is long but it bends towards justice.”
“…There been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long But now I think I’m able to carry on
It’s been a long, a long time coming But I know a change gon’ come, oh yes it will”
William J. Edwards. Twenty-Five Years in the Black Belt. Electronic Edition, Documenting the American South.
“History”. Alabama 1867 Voter Registration Records Database. http://archives.alabama.gov/voterreg/index.cfm
These last eight weeks, Black ProGen Live panelists are researching the genealogies of people who died by lynching. Among the cases is that ofMrs Della McDuffie, who died almost 66 years to the day on 23 April 1953. Witnesses state that this resulted after being beaten to death with a length of industrial hose by Sheriff Percy Columbus ‘Lummie’ Jenkins and his staff during a raid of the small cafe she owned with her husband William McDuffie in Wilcox County, Alabama. She died within the hour. The supposed crime was playing music after midnight on the Sabbath.
The Trouble I’ve Seen
The Trouble I’ve Seen is a film produced at Northeastern University that includes interviews on three cold cases, the first, being that of Mrs. Della McDuffie.
In the film, Mrs. McDuffie’s nephew, JC Varner’s gives an account of the event:
“J.C. VARNER, Nephew: So he walked in and hit her told her get up old lady, go to bed. So she told him she couldn’t get up so he hit her across her arm on her knees, then he hit her on the head. And he shot down by her feet a couple of times, at her feet.
“WILLIAM MCDUFFIE: Doctor seen him striking at one person and another with a hose-like weapon. I saw a number hit with the weapon in Sheriff Jenkins hand. BOND: But Dr. Robert E. Dixon’s statement reads… DR. DIXON: I can definitely state that the cause of death was not brought on by any injury to the head, such as a blow. FIDDIMAN: This case essentially was a cover up and it never went to court. BOND: A year into the investigation, her husband William was found dead by his 2 grandchildren. WILLIAMS: I found my grandfather and it had appeared that he had been killed by way of drowning. They killed him because of the intensity of this investigation. They tried to get him to change his mind and change his statements like everyone else did. He refused to do that. And they took care of it. “T
The High Cost of Inequality
Wilcox County is one of the poorest counties in the country, beset by “high unemployment, poor access to education and medical care, substandard housing and high rates of crime.”  Despite a population comprised of African Americans in the majority, voter suppression tactics facilitated a continued disenfranchisement. That is not to say there is no strength and beauty in the resilient lives there. The spaces for these ancestors opens as their stories are written back into history.
It’s a largely rural county, with cotton farming shaping its history within the state’s Black Belt. Rather than state or interstate highways, a network of county roads connect the county to other areas. You may have heard of Wilcox County, as it’s also home to Gee’s Bend, home of the women’s quilting collective.  Its legacy of slavery, sharecropping and tenant farming is a testament to extractive economies that leaves next to nothing for the majority of the population that made its fortunes. That same dynamic bleeds into the present.
Today, Alabama’s Black Belt is home to toxic landfill sites that dot these predominantly African American counties, continuing the disregard for the descendants of those who tilled that land in cotton cultivation before and after the Civil War.
The Why: Restorative Justice
Beyond the civil rights stolen from Mrs. McDuffie, there is a need to see more than this moment, and so we bring our skills to expand their family trees and tell other stories about those who came before them. I’ll bring together some of what I learned about her ancestors, before turning to contemporary issues involving the threat of erasure.
An issue with lynching is the potential for the carnage to occlude recognition of this violence as not only systemic, but ingrained into a community’s institutions. Is there a recognition that there’s a parallel between this past and the people who were accounted for under Congress’ Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2013? 
Is there a recognition of the parallels between now and Reconstruction in the sweeping attempts at voter suppression across several states? Can laws that disproportionately affect those living in poverty help rather than set people up for prison in a system that is the 21st century version of a debt peonage system? How do we heal from this— on a familial, interpersonal, social and institutional levels? With 2.4 million prisoners in the US means a high chance this is part of your family history too. These accounts are part of the process of restorative justice.
Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project
One important way to do this work is through newspaper research, seeking coverage that can supply details for the initial steps of genealogical records search. Thankfully, there are the case files by Northeastern University School of Law’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project led by Professor Margaret Durham. The video, The Trouble I’ve Seen, includes the law student, Bayliss Fiddiman, who worked on the McDuffie case and family members speaking to their experiences.
These cases, available on the Northeastern University website, are basically the cold case files that law students research and compile to begin a process of restoration and recognition. Through them, the families are contacted, files requested from Federal and state agencies and a review of the material conducted towards a process of restorative justice. How this outcome manifests depends on the community’s needs and resources marshaled for address and memorialization.
Ultimately this recognition serves to confirm and establish the events of racial terror that happened, a counter to the silence and denial that surrounds acts of lynching. What happened to the McDuffie family happened to almost five thousand people in this country who died at the hands of white lynch mobs.
The denial of events was buttressed by the denial of civil rights and the ability to vote. A decade after Mrs. McDuffie’s death in 1953, not a single African American was registered to vote in Wilcox County Alabama, despite being in the majority of the population there. When Civil Rights groups peacefully marched over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Sheriff Lummie Jenkins was there to turn the marchers back as police attacked with dogs, tear gas and smoke bombs. 
An Active Erasure: 1953-2019
A search on Newspapers .com gives 184 results for Sheriff or PC Lummie Jenkins, yet there are no search results for Mrs. Della McDuffie, the woman he allegedly beat to death in 1953, or her husband, William McDuffie. According to the article’s prominent headline in The New York Age, the FBI was investigating the case.
Yet the divide that splits into acknowledgement and disregard during those years also has its resonance in the failure to index her name into their database. Perhaps this is most starkly illustrated by screenshots of the article shown here.
The results are starkly different when searching for “Della McDuffie”:
In these articles, the Sheriff’s name appears just one line above hers, yet there is not a single search result for Della McDuffie- despite the headline “FBI Probe Murder of Ala. Woman” — which specifically references McDuffie’s murder. As these two images show, a page search brings up one name, yet not the other. A year later, her husband was drowned and left lying across the doorway of their home, having refused to change his story about how his wife died from the beating given during the raid. The indignity is compounded by their death certificates, which read that they died from cerebral hemorrhage.
How exactly are newspapers indexed? Is this an algorithm, and if so, what are the parameters?
If we have ancestors who suffered injustice, how then, is one supposed to find that information on this site?
It seems much like the US itself, Newspapers.com is in need of revisiting such events and address how they are indexed, especially as we are tasked to find and write our ancestors and families back into history.
Sheriff Jenkins has a long history in Wilcox County, serving as Sheriff from 1939-1971, using racial terror as power. One memory of Jenkins suggests what kind of person he was: “When I ask Lola Pettway, 77, if she remembers Lummie Jenkins, she recoils and shudders. She shares a memory of Sheriff Lummie standing at the edge of a field, watching her family pick cotton. Nancy Pettway, 83, tells me about how, just before she was married, her fiancé shot a dog that had attacked him. Mr. Lummie, she said, came to the Bend, arrested her fiancé, and threw him in jail for killing the dog….he was not an anomaly in the Jim Crow South, where sheriffs were considered more powerful than the American president. ” See Alexandra Marvar’s “The Two Faces of Lummie Jenkins”. Topic Magazine, https://www.topic.com/the-two-faces-of-lummie-jenkins
“The Trouble I’ve Seen” Campus Perspectives, New York, NY: NBC Universal, 01/22/2013. Accessed Sat May 30 2015 from NBC Learn: https://archives.nbclearn.com/portal/site/k-12/browse/?cuecard=65676
“Gee’s Bend residents also remember Dr. King’s visits in 1965, the rallies in Camden, and the march on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge. They remember marching to Camden as children and teenagers, being blockaded by Lummie and Mayor F. R. Albritton at the town’s edge, being pummeled with tear gas and smoke bombs, getting arrested, reaching the courthouse, kneeling in the street, and refusing to leave. They remember the songs they sang. Some remember what happened to David Colston, what happened to Della McDuffie. Some would rather not remember that time at all.” Marvar, “The Two Faces of Lummie Jenkins.” Topic Magazine, https://www.topic.com/the-two-faces-of-lummie-jenkins
While in Puerto Rico over a decade ago, I bought copies of old photographs at Tienda Cesto in Aguadilla. Part of the store was given over to tables with sets of binders, each containing photographs from different municipalities. There were a small number of images of Moca that I bought. Looking for items for the next Black ProGen Live (Ep.72 – join us!), I pulled my small binder of photographs as I remembered an image with a coffin. As I’d soon learn, my connections were closer than I could’ve imagined.
Near the end of September 1929, a group of men and children stood in the midday sun before a coffin for a photographer, in Moca. According to the notation on the photograph, it was Balbino Gonzalez’ father and the location was in Barrio Plata, a rural location some 5 miles away from the center of town.. Recently finished, the shiny coffin, painted a dark enamel color and embellished with stamped metal decorations sat on a frame that was to shortly transport Gonzalez to his final resting place in the Viejo Cementerio Municipal de Moca in what was popularly known as Calle Salsipuedes . Given that the son’s name appeared with a date, I used that as a guideline to find Balbino Gonzalez’s father in the Registro Civil. The death actually occurred ten days later.
Acta de defuncion: 29 September 1929
Balbino Gonzalez Jimenez was one of five children of Jose Manuel Gonzalez Perez (1863-1929) and Juana Bautista Jimenez Soto (1868-1926). He is the young man in the suit at the center of the photograph. He was single at the time of his father’s death on 27 September 1929. He came from Santurce where he was a teacher, to report his father’s death to the Registro Demográfico. His suit, tie and hair speak to fashion in the metropolis of the San Juan metropolitan area, a self awareness already honed by his profession. The other men in the photo wear looser fitting shirts, and the straw boatera hat is a respectful nod to artesanos and locals that decades later became part of the dress of Los Enchaquetaos, a fraternal group founded by Pedro Mendez Valentin. Here the stiff hat functions much like the formal top hats used by funeral staff.
Jose Manuel Gonzalez Perez, was an 82 year old widower, who worked as a professor. He lived on Calle Nemesio Gonzalez, and died the morning of 27 September 1929 of cardiac insufficiency. It’s likely that as his condition worsened, family was contacted as his time neared. His son Balbino Gonzalez Jimenez was summoned home, and he was the informant for his father’s death record above. While he was unable to report the names of his father’s paternal and maternal grandparents, he gave the names of Jose Manuel’s parents: Jose M. Gonzalez (ca 1814-bef 1899) and Juana Perez Guevara (1819-1899)  Jose Manuel was one of three siblings from Barrio Plata, a long narrow municipality that borders San Sebastián on its eastern border.
La ultima parada: from workshop to cemetery
A 1947 map of Moca shows the former location of the cemetery at the end of the street that leads from the Plaza in front of the church to the Cementerio Municipal.
Among the group standing in the photograph on the right, is a tall pale man, who may in fact be Alicides Babilonia Talavera, my great grandfather. Later, his son, Alcides Babilonia López also made coffins in a nearby workshop.
Calle Nemesio González in Moca ran through Barrio Pueblo, and this is the street that Jose Manuel Gonzalez Perez lived on; my great-grandfather Alcides Babilonia Talavera and grandfather Alcides ‘Alcidito’ Babilonia Lopez lived in homes next door to each other on Calle Juan B. Huyke. This is the backdrop of the 1929 photograph. As this was before the establishment of a funeral home, many people had a wake at home, and the Gonzalez family probably did the same. Given the heat, it lasted a day, with ice piled beneath the coffin and a plate piled with salt placed on the chest of the deceased. The lid may or may not have a glass window, so that the case can stay closed and the deceased could still be seen.
The man on the far right
Among the group standing in the photograph there on the right, is a tall pale man, who may in fact be Alicides Babilonia Talavera, my great grandfather. Later, his son, Alcides Babilonia López also made coffins in a nearby workshop.
According to my cousin Diany, Alcides was known for his coffins. When he was younger, he had a room with samples where people could choose fabrics for the inside of their coffins. There were always stories with a touch of the supernatural about them. He had an order from a man who needed a coffin, and worked on making it with a hammer. after midnight, he couldn’t find the coffin. Another coffin was tossed through the window, so he picked it up and finished the job.
Finish & detail: 1929
The details in the photo give an idea of decorative funerary practices in rural areas, which ran from the simplest unadorned box to a highly finished coffin with stamped metal cherubs holding a garland inscribed with ‘Que en paz descanse’. Clearly then, this was top of the line and the maker stands at the head, arms folded behind him, separating him from the family next to him.
Center Left: identifying Lorenzo Caban Lopez, Sepulturero de Moca
The identity of the man in the flat top hat is Lorenzo Caban Lopez, who was married to Lucia Alonso Font (1874-1956).  In 1901 he was appointed by the municipal government as a Sepulturero y conservador (Gravedigger and caretaker) and as a Celador (Maker of grave markers and crypts) for the old Cementerio Municipal, which he did for 23 years until August 1936. after his death, his son Feliciano ‘Chano’ Caban, who stands to the left, became Sepulturero.  He and his family lived on the edge of Barrio Pueblo, on Calle de la habana. As it happens, I share many connections with this Caban line.
Lorenzo was the father of Domitila Caban Lopez (1902-1982), my grandfather’s last partner before his death in 1948. She was a tejedora, a lacemaker and I exhibited some of her lace work at UPR Mayaguez along with that by other tejedoras, some who are no longer with us. Like lace, weaving these details together give us a recognizable pattern as we work through the questions.
By the 1940s
In the 1940 census, Alcides Babilonia Talavera was a divorced widower, and it is not until then that his occupation is listed as a maker of coffins. in the 1910-1930 census his occupation is Agricultor- finca de cafe (Farmer- coffee farm). By 1920, his ex-wife, Concepcion Lopez Ramirez (1863-1925) lived next door to him and had a business as a ‘modista’ a dressmaker, living with several of her children while Alicides lived next door with children as well. In January 1925, Concepcion died suddenly. His reaction was to call a photographer for one last image, altered to evoke the life of a portrait. It merely succeeded at lending an uncanny gaze emanating from her painted in eyes. I am not sure how much this experience shaped his funeral avocation, but he was likely well acquainted with the steps of caring for the dead, as people still arrived and departed from their homes.
My grandfather, also named Alcides, made coffins, and in 1940 appears as a “ carpintero – propio taller” a carpenter with his own workshop. It was the year he married my grandmother Felicita, who later died that year of tuberculosis, which took many family members. By 1948, knowing he was going to die, he made a simple pine box for himself, but that’s another story. He worked making coffins with his friend Rito Vargas, husband of Maria Lassalle, the lacemaker of Moca. Out of death comes a refashioning of self, family and the ways we decide (and are able to) to honor their lives.
Unexpectedly, a photograph brings me closer to the past and to even more relatives, as I learn more about the work of Lorenzo Caban Lopez and Alcides Babilonia Talavera. QEPD.
Acta Defunción, “Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJD-J3PV : 17 July 2017), Jose Manuel Gonzalez Y Pérez, 26 Sep 1929; citing Moca, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).
 Acta Defunción, “Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJD-FTL3 : 17 July 2017), Juana Perez Guebara, 17 Oct 1899; citing Moca, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).
 Lorenzo Caban Lopez’ death certificate lists his occupation: Celador- cementerio, Gob Municipal hasta Ago 1936, 23 anos; Acta Defunción “Puerto Rico, Registro Civil, 1805-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJD-NJMT : 17 July 2017), Lorenzo Caban Lopez, 14 Nov 1936; citing Moca, Puerto Rico, oficinas del ciudad, Puerto Rico (city offices, Puerto Rico).
 Antonio Nieves Mendez, Historia de un pueblo: Moca . Lulu.com 2008, 49.
 Victor Gonzalez, “Los Cuentos de Chano Caban” Mi niñez Mocana y algo más…. Segundo edición, Impresos Ideales, 1990, 19-21.