a tree-rific journey into family history

Archive for the month “December, 2012”

Watch Night: reflections on 150 years of freedom

Tomorrow night, December 31, 2012, marks 150 years since Freedom’s Eve was celebrated throughout the American South. Although the last night of 1862 was not the first time someone held a church service until midnight, that particular New Year’s Eve marked a special moment for some 3 million slaves. President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation would go into effect January 1, 1863 and free the enslaved black families of the rebelling Confederate states. Many African-American churches hold Watch Night Services on the last night of the year to worship God and commemorate the New Year’s Eve night their ancestors waited up to see if freedom would come. Although it would be a couple of years until all American slaves were free and more than a century until the black American realized true equality (particularly in the South), January 1, 1863 still stands as perhaps the single most notable day in the African descendants’ struggle for liberty.

As a genealogy hobbyist, I study the records our ancestors left in order to learn their story. For the American slave, few documents exist prior to emancipation. My wife’s relatives – the ancestors of my future children and grandchildren – were held as slaves in Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. Some may have attended Watch Night services similar to those still held in our community today. As I reflect on 150 years of freedom for African-Americans, I try to envision those families on Freedom’s Eve. On a long night of great uncertainty and anticipation, these men and women turned to their faith for strength and hope. As with all of our ancestors, I am grateful for the obstacles they endured to provide us with the opportunities of today. I find comfort in hoping that the life we will live in 2013 is the answer to those prayers 150 years ago.


Deadend: stuck on Mamie Rice

Mamie Rice Hawkins Hammons was born in South Carolina in 1876 and died in Conway County, Arkansas in 1947.

Mamie Rice Hawkins Hammons, my wife’s great grandmother, was born in South Carolina in 1876 and died in Conway County, Arkansas in 1947.

I’m stuck. I can’t get past my wife’s great grandmother. Consider this blog post a cry for help or for a fresh set of eyes. Some dead ends in genealogy are understandable. Once we go back far enough or into a different language and country, we expect locating records to become more difficult. In researching my wife’s heritage, I have become stuck on a more recent branch- her great grandmother, Mamie Rice.


Mamie’s hand-written grave is more than either of her husbands received.

There is much that I do know about Mamie Rice. In a previous post, Matthew Hawkins: the man, the multitude, the mystery, I discussed her husband and twelve children. The puzzle for me is Mamie’s parents and childhood.   The earliest record I have for her is the February 25, 1893 marriage to Rev. Matthew Hawkins in Conway County, Arkansas. Her residence is listed as Center Ridge, Arkansas. The family should appear in the same county in the Birdtown/Springfield community in the 1900 census, but they seem to have been missed. Mamie does appear in the 1910, 1920, 1930, and 1940 censuses. I also have a marriage record with her second husband, Elford Hammons, in 1924. Mamie died in 1947, and I have a grave and an Arkansas death certificate to back this up. I even have a note from Pence Funeral Home that her casket came from Pine Bluff, but where did she come from?

The oldest record for Mamie is her marriage at age 18.

The earliest record for Mamie is her marriage at age 18.

Mamie consistently lists South Carolina as her birthplace. Her youngest son filled out her death certificate, and he listed unknown for parents’ names. That speaks volumes. Did she not know their names? Or was he simply uninformed? I am confident her maiden name is Rice. She used it on the marriage record, and her kids used it later for delayed birth certificates.  She was born in December of 1876, but I cannot find her on the 1880 census. There is a Mamie Rice around the right age in South Carolina living with Robert and Sarah Rice, but she remains in the area into the 1900s. The 1890 census no longer exists so my next step in 1900. Are there in Rices in Conway County she could be related to? There is a set of African-American Rices in Plumerville, but they are from Tennessee. The only Rice in Lick Mountain Township (Center Ridge, her reported residence at marriage) during this time is Daisy Rice. Born in Arkansas, Daisy lives with her aunt Sophia Rome (a South Carolina native).  Daisy ultimately marries Wade Shell and moves to the Blackwell community. I have done some research on Sophia (1867-1932) and Daisy (born about 1888), but I have not yet found anything tying them back to Mamie Rice. My next step may be to order a death certificate for Sophia and hope her parents’ names will lead me back to some Rices. What say you, seasoned researchers? Anything I may be overlooking? Could her husband have simply created her in 1893 to be his wife?

It takes 4-6 weeks to receive a death certificate from the Arkansas Department of Health. Imagine my disappointment...

It takes 4-6 weeks to receive a death certificate from the Arkansas Department of Health. Imagine my disappointment…

Death and the Family Tree: vital records for irreplaceable people

Genealogy research is usually framed around facts from basic life events such as birth, marriage, childbirth, migration, death, burial, and such.  Lately, I have updated my tree with the worst kind of information: recent death dates. Today, my wife and I attended the funeral service of one of her maternal uncles. A couple of weeks ago, we unexpectedly lost a 22-year-old first cousin to a brain aneurysm  Death is a common theme in genealogy. Our family histories hold numerous soldiers taken in war, women lost in childbearing, and children wiped out by epidemics. Like all deaths, these events drastically affected the lives of those involved and shaped the narrative of our story. Your ancestors died, and as someone supposedly remarked at President Lincoln’s death, they “now belong to the ages.” There is much speculation and discussion regarding what exactly happens after death. For family historians, one thing is certain about death: you need to update your tree.

The good news is that death creates a great paper trail. For example, obituaries are valuable sources for research. They usually list parents, maiden names, children, occupation, religious beliefs, and specific dates in the life of the deceased. Funeral programs serve the same purpose. Death certificates are also great sources for research. A significant part of my work involves Arkansas, which did not begin keeping death certificates until 1914. Although an index is available to the public, the actual certificates are $10 and must be obtained through the Department of Vital Records. Death certificates are usually filled out by someone acquainted with the deceased and include information such as parents, birthplace, birth date, residence, occupation, cause of death, and burial. These answers are subject to the witness’s account but still make a great resource. Social Security Administration also has some detailed records for the deceased.  If an ancestor was a remarkable member of the community or died in some intriguing manner, newspaper accounts will provide valuable information. As I have mentioned before, cemeteries are also rich in history.

After the deaths of kings in the Old Testament, it was often written that he “slept with his fathers.” We will all go the way of our forefathers and mothers some day. Until then, let us learn their stories and share them with future generations.

Lucy Clinkscale Death Certificate

My wife’s first-cousin, twice removed, Lucy Clinkscale, died of consumption (tuberculosis). She was 14 years old and working as a house servant in 1920. She is buried in an unmarked grave in Friendship Cemetery atop Morris Mountain. Without her death certificate, none of this information would be available.

Feeney Death

This card in remembrance of my 4x-great grandfather, Robert Feeney (1812-1895), may have been from his funeral.

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