Tips on African American Researching

from Sandi Gorin's SCKY Research Tips

Dealing with the emancipation of slaves - often a difficult problem for both the African American and white researcher! Here briefly is the situation again, per Bill, found in a will somewhere in KY. 

"I do wish and order that my three slaves, namely Jesse, age about 35, Rhoda, age about 29, and Dicy, age 13, and their increase, shall be freed from bondage one year after my demise, and that my widow shall have the use of them for that said year". There are two questions: 1) Is this a "family unit" of slaves and 2) Is Jesse a male or female? And - here is Bill's reply: Every person who responded picked up on the phrase, "...and their increase..." as a clue to the solution, and that is totally correct. 

Where we get into the "tricky" part of this case is how that phrase was used and what it meant in the context of the times in which it was written. Reading the text of that extract, the first logical assumption that would come to most people's minds would be that we have a family unit, with Jesse as the father, Rhoda as the mother, and Dicey as the child of these two people. Even their ages would seem to support this theory, although Rhoda would have been about 16 when Dicey was born, but that was not unusual. However, the phrase, "...and their increase...", when used in a will in which slaves are freed, can refer only to females. The "increase" of male slaves could not be freed by will (unless certain language establishing a family unit was used, which is missing here), because the male slave may have children by several different women, some - or all - of whom might belong to the testator's neighbor, or someone else. So what we have here is not a family unit and Jesse is a female. 

If the names had all been typically female, e.g., if Jesse's name had been Sally, there would have been no question about the situation. It was later found that these three females were apparently separate and distinct people, with no common ancestral background. One additional item of note can be found in the fact that the two eldest women were not shown with exact ages in years, while the youngest was so shown. One hypothesis for that could be that the testator had purchased the two older women either separately from two different former owners, and these former owners did not have any records of births, or that they both came from a single former owner who had no records on births or ages.






 The younger girl, following this same hypothesis, could well be a child of a slave women which the testator had owned at the time of the birth of Dicey (perhaps since deceased), and the testator noted her date of birth. But that is hypothesis - not fact. Sometimes words and phrases do not turn out to be logical in their interpretation in these old documents. 

This was one such case. NOTE by Sandi. Many of you noted privately to me that Jesse had to be a male because of the spelling - Jessie is the feminine. NEVER rely on spelling of the names, been there done that. Frances, female, was most often spelled Francis. George A. turns out most frequent not being George Anderson or George A anything, but the feminine George Ann(e). In certain periods of history, into the 1900's, it was the rage to give girls masculine names too! So, don't be tricked up. And, as you well know, the sex can be shown wrong on the census record. I had a Gladdin male in my Gorin pedigree for 20 years only to have a descendant write me about his ggg grandmother, Gladdie! Such is life.