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, 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 children.

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 court case.

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August 2016

What Does It Mean For Blacks?


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