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Saturday, January 23, 2010

African American Genealogy - Finding that elusive ancestor

Tracey asked this question:
I am researching my Mackey family(african american) from Lancaster, South Carolina. I have located my great grandfather- Alex Mackey- which led me to his father- Peter Mackey( b. 1852) and Mother Charlotte Truesdale( b. 1854)I am having great difficulty locating birth/death information on either of them nor am I having success locating information on some of their children- I have located them in the 1880 and 1900 census. I have located their son Jack Mackey( b. 1874) and his children in the 1910 and 1920 census but can't find individual information n the children.

1874 Jack - m. Roselle(11 children and 1 grandchild))
1877 George
1881 Cally- m. Jon Steward(4 children)
1881 Lottie
1883 Cora
1885 Maggie
1887 Alexander( this is my great grandfather)
1888 Laura- m. burl Blackmon(5 children)
1890 Hester
1982 Jessie

I want to know who the slave owners were as well as who Peters father and mother were as well as Charlotte

Olive Tree Answer: Dear Tracey - I had so much fun with your query! This is the kind of challenge I enjoy. African-American research can be difficult, and once you reach the point where an ancestor was a slave, it is very frustrating to trace back further.

I did some searching on your behalf, which is not really the purpose of this blog, but being fascinated by your question, I could not help myself! I believe I have found Charlotte's parents and siblings, her year of death, and your ancestor Peter after 1900.

But first let me walk you through my suggestions:

Sometimes when faced with a stumbling block, it is a good idea to go back to what you have already found. For instance, you found your family in the 1880 and 1900 census records. You should go back to the 1880 census and see who was living nearby. I like to check at least one page before and after the page where my ancestors were living (as well as the page they are on). Look for others with the same surname. They may be related because often families lived near each other.

Also note the children's names and ages (which you have done) so that you can search in the previous census (in this case it would be 1870) under the children's names if you are unable to find the family using the parents' names.

Another suggestion is that you make full use of the new Ancestry.com wild card search capabilities if you are searching the Ancestry.com genealogy records. . Using this method you will be able to search for TR*D* for example, which will pick up Truesdale and variant spellings such as Trusdell, Truesdel, Truesdell, Trusdale.

The example I gave will not pick up misindexed spellings such as Truswell or Fransdale which are two actual examples of how I found some of the family indexed in later census years. To find those badly mistranscribed or misindexed spellings you may have to leave the surname out of your search and only search under a first name and an approximate year of birth. You will have to play around and try different techiques.

Remember too that often our ancestors had no idea how old they were or when their birthday was. So don't put too much weight on discrepancies in ages given in records such as census or marriage. Be sure you allow several years on either side of an estimated birth year, when searching for your ancestors.

Keeping all this in mind, I went to the 1880 census on Ancestry.com. I know it is free on FamilySearch but I like to use Ancestry. Checking the image for the page that Peter and Charlotte Mackey are on, I saw that a few doors away was the family of Robert Truesdale, age 55, a farm labourer born in South Carolina. With him was his wife Ann age 60 and several children ranging in age from 3 to 40. It is unlikely that the 3 year old is Ann's but we must remember that her age may be incorrect. In any case, my immediate thought was that Robert and Ann are strong candidates to be Charlotte's parents.

I call this a working theory. So my next step is to prove or disprove my theory! I want to find Robert and Ann in the 1870 census. With any luck your Charlotte will still be living with her parents and may be found with them.

This is where another little tip comes in handy - if you are unable to find an individual using the search engine, remove some of your fields (first name, surname, age, etc). Allow for such things as first name badly misindexed or only an initial being used, by not putting in a first name. Or search for a child instead of a parent. Since I know from the 1880 census that there are 4 children of Robert and Ann who were alive in that 1870 census, I can search under their names if my search for Robert fails. Which it does. Why? Because he is noted only with his initial (R) and surname.

Long story short, I found Robert and Ann and 6 children ranging in age from 4 to 24 living in Pleasant Hill, Lancaster County South Carolina. With them was their 11 year old daughter CHARLOTTE There are many Truesdale families living nearby including one that is white. Since black slaves often took the surname of their owners, you may want to start noting all the white Truesdale families in the area where your Charlotte or her parents lived.

As an aside, I also found some Mackey individuals who were black and one who was white, living in Gills Creek in 1870. I'd start looking at some of those Mackey families with your Peter in mind.

Next, have a look in the 1860 slave census records. The slaves' names are not listed but they do give gender and ages, so you can start making a list of possibilities for your Charlotte and Peter. For instance, a check of the 1860 slave schedule for Lancaster County South Carolina shows 3 slave owners named Truesdel - James R., Rebecca and Mary A. You could see if the ages and genders of their listed slaves fits with Robert, his wife Ann and the children found in the 1870 and 1880 census. It would not be proof positive that one of those listed was the slave owner of your Charlotte but it may turn into another working theory.

Because I was having so much fun working on your query, I had a look in census records after 1900. I found a man I believe is your Peter Mackey in 1910. He is living in Pleasant Hill which fits with the locations your ancestors lived in. He is 54, a black farmer and has been married twice. He is married to Julia and says he has been married 9 years. If he is your Peter, this means that your Charlotte, his first wife, died after the 1900 census was taken and before 1901. Another working theory for you to prove or disprove.

A Peter Mackey of the right age and race is found as a widower in the 1920 census. For this one I used the FamilySearch pilot site It may not be your Peter but you should take a close look at this record. Lending some validity to this being your Peter is the 1916 death record I found for a Julia Mackey living in Gills Creek with informant Peter Mackey

The FamilySearch website has some South Carolina death records which you may want to search. Ancestry.com also has South Carolina death records. Look for Peter, Charlotte, Robert, Ann and all the children of Robert and Ann, as well as the children of Peter and Charlotte.You may find for example that Ann Truesdale's maiden name is given on a death record of one her children.

There's an intiguing death of a Peter Mackey in 1933 in Gills Creek with a Jack Mackey as informant. Given that your Peter's eldest child was a son Jack, I find this quite interesting! The age given at death is 72 which gives an estimated year of birth of 1861 but I would not eliminate him as your Peter. Remember that the information on a death record is only as reliable as the informant providing it! Peter's father's name is given on this record so you might want to investigate further.

I also found some other convincing evidence that this is your Peter's death. In the 1930 census for Gills Creek, there is a Peter Mackey (misindexed as Markey, do you see why those wildcards are so important? A search under MACKEY would not find him. A search under M*K*Y will find him!) age 70 living with his grandson James Stewart. You stated that Peter's daughter callie married a Jon Stewart. Also, one of Peter's neighbours is none other than Limus (or Linus) Truesdale, who was one of the sons of Robert and Ann (and thus quite likely the brother of Peter's wife Charlotte).

So, I think I've given you lots to think about and hopefully lots more to research and find! Don't give up, just check every detail of every person in the families you seek - siblings, aunts, uncles and so on. Don't overlook anyone, you never know what hidden clue will be waiting for you!

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