NOTE: I accepted the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge headed by fellow genealogy blogger Amy Johnson Crow in January 2019. The idea behind this challenge is that you will receive email prompts, a word or phrase, every week, and you find something about your research or family history to write about. I write in a journal about all the prompts, but I blog about at least one prompt a month. Click HERE to read about how I have incorporated this challenge in my blogging.
From the very beginning, I always thought of my research as a challenge for many reasons. My family had no real oral history that I could start with. All of my grandparents were deceased. I lived in the south, and because of the Civil War, many records from the 19th century had been destroyed. But my biggest challenge would be breaking through the brick wall of the 1870 census. The 1870 census was the first census to include the names of African Americans. Prior to this census, only free people of color were documented by name. Enslaved people were only documented by age and gender. In 1860 there were an estimated 3,953,761 enslaved people in America. That means that the 1860 census didn’t include vital information for almost 4 million people because they were considered property.
I always thought researching past my great grandparents would be impossible because there were probably no records because of slavery, the Civil War, and reconstruction. I remember watching some of the first episodes of Finding Your Roots that included John Lewis, Samuel L. Jackson, and Wanda Sykes in 2012. Dr. Gates and his team were able to find records from the mid to late 1800s and early 1900s for everyone including the African American guests. This show gave me hope that breaking through the brick wall of the 1870 census was possible. I just had to know where to look.
I learned that I could use plantation records, wills, probate records, estate inventories, the Freedman Bureau records, historical newspapers, and books about their community history. I also learned that to find my enslaved ancestors, I would have to find their slaveholder and learn about them as well. I have only been able to find information on one branch of my family, the Hatchett’s, prior to the Civil War. But I’m no longer intimated by the brick wall of 1870. I embrace it because that is a part of my story, my ancestor’s story, and America’s story. And this is why my journey continues…