What Does It Mean For Blacks?
A couple of decades ago, I
was bitten by the genealogy bug, and I’ve been pursuing
that interest for years. I have, pretty much, a lifetime
subscription to Ancestry.com, and I’ve watched as more
and more information becomes available online.
Recently, Ancestry expanded its collection of wills and
probate records, and I’ve been able to find information
that helps to “flesh out” the story of my ancestors.
And, actually, I enjoy filling in the “side branches” of
my family tree, not just the trunk! When it comes to
wills, however, I’m used to looking at dusty old
documents of wealthy White farmers, merchants, and
business owners who leave massive legacies to their
The entries usually run something like this... “To my
daughter Prudence and her husband James, I leave the sum
of £1,500 pounds sterling silver, 14 cows, 16 pigs, my
negro boy Lem, 27 chickens, my old nanny goat, and 500
acres.” The entry then goes on for pages describing
exactly where the 500 acres begin, where they end, the
names and locations of every stream that runs through
all 500 acres, natural rock formations, bordering towns,
and so on.
The only words of any interest to me, of course, are
“... my negro boy Lem,” who happens to be my 65-year-old
great-great-great grandfather, Lemuel; who couldn’t
expect “retirement”... even in his old age and even upon
the death of his “owner,” and who...even in his old age
was still being called “boy.” Every now and then,
though, I stumble upon a will of a relative, and it
provides a wealth of information. Through it, I learn
the names and relationships of people who were either
recipients of goods or were appointed the executor, or
who were witnesses to the will.
One great-uncle, in 1884, was able to leave $100 to each
of his children, $25 to a niece and nephew, and his
house free and clear to the orphaned nephew he raised.
That was a lot of money in those days. But recently, I
came upon an entry that started me thinking. It was
actually not a will, it was the proceedings of a probate
to open the whole issue to Read More...