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AfriGeneas Genealogy Technology Forum

An Alternative Way to Search for Ancestors

Date: Saturday, 21 April 2007, at 3:17 p.m.

This is a plea to afrigeneas users to write or call the major internet genealogy database services to request a new type of search service:

One of the major stumbling blocks I keep encountering in trying to trace back to the last slaveholder is the disappearing surname phenomenon of the Reconstruction Period, which has been discussed on various threads in this forum.

As I have posted on the genealogy technology forum, there is a sore need for a computerized search function that would allow researchers to search census data by clusters of first names within a household or in households in close proximity to one another.

Such a function would significantly enhance our ability to locate family members in cases such as:
(1) family adopted a completely different surname during Reconstruction
(2) family members had different surnames because they were held (or had been held) in slavery by slaveholders with different surnames
(3) a woman widowed or otherwise separated from her husband adopted her new husband's surname and gave the new surname to her children
(4) a woman took on her new husband's surname but continued to live with her parents and/or siblings

To my knowledge, there is currently no computerized way to do these kinds of correlative searches, although it is possible to search by parents' and spouses' given names and surnames.

To give just one example from my own experience: Over the years my family has tried to find the parents of my greatgrandfather Anderson ABERNATHY by working under the assumption that he and his parents probably shared that surname. We knew from family oral history that his mother's given name was Alabama and that he had two siblings, Louvenia (married name BROWN) and Amanda. There was also a story that my greatgrandfather had said his name "should have been Rice."

Well, I just discovered yesterday that all of our previous efforts FAILED because my ggrandfather's name was actually CARTER (1880 census) before it changed to ABERNATHY (1900 census). (Of course, it still could have been RICE before it was CARTER, but that's another issue.)

To make a long story short, I happened to find an Alabama and Anderson CARTER listed in a household 3 houses down from Louvenia BROWN in the 1900 census, then worked back (the ages correlating appropriately) to the 1880 census, which lists Alabama, Lavenia, Anderson, and Amy (ie Amanda) all together with head-of-household Thomas CARTER. And from there I believe I may(??) have tracked Thomas and Alabama back to 1870, which will be the key to getting to the last slaveholder. Interestingly, Alabama and Thomas kept their surname CARTER into the new century.

Had there been a search function that would have allowed me to look for the cluster Alabama-Lavenia/Louvenia-Anderson (or even just Alabama-Anderson), I would have found them years ago.

Perhaps if enough of us (afrigeneas users, genealogy enthusiasts, and professional genealogists) start asking for this kind of search function, one of the database providers will make it available!

(I realize that this discusses a technology issue, but I hope the moderator will allow this post to stay on the Slave Research forum because it addresses a key stumbling block for researching families during the last years of slavery, when surnames sometimes varied between parent and child and among siblings.)


18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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