Ancestors born before 1900

Ancestors born before 1900
Frances Simpkins, Leah Foote, Emmaline Foote, Rosetta Foote

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Happy Birthday, Mommy!

On February 20, 2014 Mom turned 90 years old. This was an incredible blessing that could have only been topped by the physical presence of our ancestors who remain so close to us, in our hearts only a thought away. 

Mom loves being with her great grandsons:
David, Gabriel, & Christian
We actually started celebrating at church on the 16th. This was a good place to begin since 42 years ago none of us were sure that she would live another year. She was so sick with bile coursing through her jaundiced body from a bile duct sealed and damaged by adhesions, that the surgeons weren't sure that they could repair it. 

First Cousins: Inez, Dorothy, and Georgie.
1c1r Little Edward in the back.
She was so sick that she had Dad give me the womanhood talk while she sat by to help out if needed. She didn't think she'd be alive when the time came. She was so sick that it wasn't until years later that Gram, Dad, and I would admit that we cried ourselves to sleep in separate bedrooms because we were trying to be strong for each other - even as Mom did the same in her hospital bed. Our own Easter Sunday, 41 years ago Mom was brought out of intensive care following the last attempt they could make. The doctors kept the drainage tube in for over 6 months so the duct wouldn't reseal. So celebrating her 90th Birthday, we can only thank the Great Physician and his human instruments for bringing us to this time.

We don't intend to stop celebrating. We had a great time at the Soweto Gospel Choir concert and this summer she will have her Birthday Backyard Cookout. She has mentioned so often how much she misses those family gettogethers. 
As an only child, Mom's Aunt Sylvia was a second mother
and Aunt Sylvia's descendants are more like siblings and nieces.

We are blessed because Mom continues to be vibrant, on-the-go, and stubborn (Yesterday our first nice day over 50 degrees she put out the garbage and recycling), true to our Lee heritage stubborn! So, since Gram made it to 101, I've told her that I expect her to make it to 102! 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

They Were Smiling, too.

Sylvia Lee Easley
15 Feb. 1903 SC - 3 July 2004 NY
For weeks I've been asking my ancestors what they would send to me for the AAGSAR Blogfest. I kept smiling as I thought about Aunt Sylvia and Gram. Those sisters could fuss, but never really stayed mad at each other. They embodied the stubborn nature of the Lees, and that feisty nature isn't such a bad thing. I think if Gram had kept arguing with "Aunt Sivey" a bit more, it might have staved off the Alzheimer's. Throughout this Christmas season, the sisters probably have been going and back and forth over this and that up in Heaven, just to make sure their descendants down here were laughing and smiling together. I think they were smiling, too.

Lucille Lee Stokes
20 Jan. 1905 SC - 6 Dec. 2006 NY
The two sisters were just about inseparable here on earth. They both fibbed about their ages, but I'm reasonably sure of 1903 and 1905. They were the babies, the youngest of 10 known and named. Gram thought her Mom might have had a set of triplets who didn't live, but we don't have any proof. Their mom, Grandma Leah Foote Lee passed in 1908 and their Dad, Grandpa David Lee in 1911. Raised by their older siblings, Uncle General and Aunt Georgie, they were tough, proud women. Aunt Sylvia and Uncle General moved to Buffalo in 1923. Aunt Sylvia married Uncle Ernest Easley in 1924, and Gram moved up to Buffalo with Mom that same year. Of course they lived together, or down the street, or a few blocks away from each other throughout their lives. Many friends and family members have stories of coaxing 90+ year old independently stubborn Gram into the car as they found her walking up the hill on West Ferry, going to see her "little sister" in the nursing home. They spent just about one hundred years together on this earth.

Mom is Gram's only child, but her first cousins Mary, Ernest, Dorothy, Edward, Eleanor, David, and Lucille Easley were her sisters and brothers. She was living with them on the 1925 NYS census and the 1930 Federal census. After church this Christmas Eve, Mom and I ran by Cousin Dorothy's. They're the only two remaining. For three hours we sat laughing as they talked about the old times. I heard some stories for the first time, and still feel a twinge pulling at my heart strings for the stories I've missed because those who knew them best are already in Heaven.

Oh they had me rolling. Christmas 1950 and Aunt Sylvia is cooking dinner. Cousin Mary calls Cousin Dorothy into the bathroom, exclaiming that something is definitely wrong. "See, they didn't tell us anything about babies," Cousin Dorothy tells me. "I look down and tell Mary, That's a head! Close your legs! I run out and tell Momma that she needs to take Mary to the hospital because the babies are coming." Aunt Sylvia told them that Cousin Mary couldn't have the twins because she was cooking dinner. Of course, Gram had to chime in, telling her to shut up and take Cousin Mary on to the hospital. She would finish the dinner. I'll bet that set off a fussing period between the two. Mom and Cousin Dorothy laughed about Gram's biscuits. Imagine, remembering biscuits some 60+ years later! Aunt Sylvia's kids liked flat biscuits, but Gram made big fluffy biscuits. Cousin Dorothy had to "pull out the cotton in Aunt Lucille's biscuits." Yes Mom, I, too, wish Keith and Zion's mom, Cousin Eleanor had written the stories. Gram, Aunt Sylvia, and all the rest of the Easley kids were probably smiling, too.

Lucille Easley
29 Jan. 1934 - 5 Feb. 2002
New Years Eve afternoon brought Little Edward and his daughter Megan over to sit and chat. Each time Mom sees Megan, she exclaims, "Oh you look just like your grandmother Lucille. You know she was named after my mother." So fun to sit and laugh and create new memories as Mom recalls stories of downed Christmas trees at lively family parties of days gone by - days long before Megan, Edward, or I were born!

Georgie Stokes Walker & Danica
Habari gani? Imani. Mom and I went over to Keith and Antoniette's to celebrate the last day of Kwanzaa. Faith in our God, our family's past, and in its future. There, Mom held Danica. That initial wave of tears welled up and subsided because Lee women don't often let them fall. But in that moment, I could feel her wish that they were with us, celebrating. I'm sure Cousin Eleanor was smiling down at her granddaughter, Jackie, a beautiful new mother, and her precious great granddaughter. 

Jade, Adia, Alicia,
Maya, Asma
Hope and happiness rang strong as I watched the children of our extended family teach us of the Nguzo Saba. I'm sure that Cousin Mary, Mom's closest age-mate sister-cousin, watched and smiled down on her daughter Sylvia, granddaughters Adia and Asma, and great-grands, Maya, Alicia, and Jade. I know Gram and Aunt Sylvia had to smile as Danica, and sister-cousins Jackie and Asma spoke and lit the candle for Imani.

Asma, Jackie, Danica, &

And so we usher in a New Year. Sometimes, our ancestors just may be nudging us to tell a story as it is happening, just as Luckie Daniels has nudged us to take our research to the net through blogging. 

In about a hundred years, may the family historians of our African American Genealogy and Slave Ancestral Research Community savor the juices of the sweet stories we found of the past and shared of our present. Welcome to the "New Kids on the Blog." 

If we leave them this record, I'm sure they will be smiling, too.

One Love,

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Flashback to 1997

This story jumped up at me from the coffee table where it probably has sat since 2003 or so. It was started about 2 years into my research on our family history. Clearly I was still touched by post-modern toasty anthropological brain damage, although I had escaped the university. My anger about not being able to access records and the silenced voices of my ancestors drove my writing. I don't know if I ever finished this piece. At some point I should try to turn on that MacTV that was replaced in 2000 and see if the file is more complete.

Why now?

  • I won't let the month of November leave me without a blog posting. So the original work will be typed in purple and the comments and updates will be typed in red.
  • This is a chance to echo the importance of backing up data and keeping the media current. I know that the MacTV was backed up - on an IOmega Drive. It's probably in the attic with disks, but who knows whether any of it can communicate with today's technology. (Oh, it's probably not a good idea to store that stuff in the attic either.) Mom's upright freezer died last month. It will be moved to the basement with its door intact and we'll be using it to store important papers, not fireproof, but definitely more fire retardant than just sitting on a coffee table or in the attic.
  • The National Park Service no longer has a link to the full text of In Those Days: African American Life Near the Savannah River by Sharon Kane and Richard Keeton, so those voices again are not easily accessible.
  • I have made progress with research breakthroughs and in accessing some of the material over the last 16 years.
  • Luckie Daniels, founder of the  Facebook Group African American Genealogy and Slave Ancestry Research, reminds us daily that it is our responsibility to bring our research to the public.

Caroline Walker, James Edward Calhoun,
and Ed Kieser: A Story about Stories and 
an Alternative Interpretation

by Sonia L Walker
History is built on stories, but we lose sight of this idea because of a fixation with the written word. In politically-dominant discourses the development of a written language is one criterion of "civilization." Benedict Anderson links the "imagining" of nation-states to the diffusion of print capital. The same western, politically-dominant discourse specifies rules for evidence and scientific inquiry. In this story, the "language of the master" shall be used toward liberatory ends.

If an event occurred 100 years ago, a recording of it within a few days, "primary evidence," weighs more heavily on an "accuracy scale" than a retelling of the event from data some 50 years later. The humor is that we are led on an otherworldly mission, a belief in historical accuracy, as if the truth is out there. Coupled with this idea is what makes history political - the silencing of other stories. A modern example of the thesis that history is interpretation is found in the beating of Rodney King by the LAPD. Although captured on video, there were many interpretations, stories of what happened. An event is far from simple. Previous experiences weigh into our sight and influence how we tell a story.

With event reporting, some voices are heard and some are silenced. The political irony is that the heard voices are most often those advocating western styles of evidence who have also controlled the paper trails. The silenced have often had their history torn from them, physically and psychologically. For the descendants of those who survived the period of enslavement, we reflect on the possibility that a mere 133 years ago our African ancestors would have been punished for attempting to create a paper trail. Yet some of the stories were passed down, perhaps a watered-down tribute to the griots of our motherland who preserve genealogies and histories.

So, this is a story from the land of unprovable stories. It is a story of "He said; She said," but it is also a story of "They know because they've been told so." A story of Abbeville County, South Carolina probably cannot be written without mentioning "Colonel" Calhoun, "the Hermit of Millwood," according to I still must access the original article about him, "The Hermit of Millwood: An Account of the Life of Mr. James Edward Calhoun " by L. Perrin which was published in The Press and Banner and Abbeville Medium on 29 June 1933. So Calhoun is woven into our tale. He was never a colonel. Though he never remarried after the death of his wife Maria Simkins in 1844, from what we've been told he wasn't a complete recluse either.

Some of Calhoun's wealth was build on the backs of enslaved Africans. In 1860 more than 200 enslaved Africans were held by him according to the Census Slave Schedule for Abbeville County, SC. Some of them are my ancestors, and though I have requested access to a Millwood Ledger dated from February 1835 to June 1847, it is held by a private individual (Orser 1988:34). It is 1997 and the voiced continue to control the printed word. I am only now discovering why I needed to write this right now. I am angry because I can't gain access to that printed word, just as my ancestors did not have access to the printed word. I was never able to locate the original documents. I did, however, track down Dr. Charles E. Orser the archaeologist who excavated Millwood prior to the construction of the Richard B. Russell Dam. He sent me a copy of his copy. I later learned that the originals were probably destroyed in a fire that killed the person holding the documents in Virginia.

Calhoun died in 1889 and only two non-relatives were listed in his will: Caroline "Calhoun" Walker, an African American formerly enslaved by Calhoun, and Ed Kieser, a German immigrant. I was hoping that my great-grandfather would have been mentioned as our story is that Edmond Simpkins was Calhoun's illegitimate son. This is a big deal for my father and brother, but I'd rather have access to the ledger since I might be able to learn the name of my great-great grandmother. My guess is that she was probably enslaved by Maria Simkins' family since Edmond used Simpkins as his surname.

A few books have speculated about the relationship between Caroline Walker and James Edward Calhoun. Orser has one of the more liberal interpretations: "Although it cannot conclusively be proven, the evidence does provide support for the idea that Caroline Walker was Calhoun's companion at Millwood Plantation during the last few decades of his life (1988:159)." This is Orser's story: Perhaps the three mulatto children, John (age 17), Letty (age 15), and Kitty (age 13) living in Caroline Walker's 1870 household, were the children of James Edward and Caroline. Orser continues with the story that perhaps Letty is the 35 year old Carrie enumerated in Caroline's household in 1900, but he points out that all were enumerated as "Black" rather than "Mulatto." I have found that the census schedules are helpful, but only as accurate as the informants and enumerators. Whether an individual was listed as Black or Mulatto was a subjective, political decision of the enumerator. I've seen individuals misnamed and mis-sexed. Not everyone completed the forms properly.

That is where I left off in 1997. While Calhoun called Caroline by the surname Calhoun, she called herself Caroline Walker. I call her my great-great grandmother. Her children are believed to be:
  • Almeta "Cooney" b. Sept. 1838; 
  • Cuff b. 29 Oct. 1840; 
  • Elouise, b. 10 Dec. 1842; and 
  • Emma. 
One branch of the family believes that Cooney was not Caroline's biological child. Their story is that she was Calhoun's illegitimate daughter by a French woman and he had Caroline raise her. I contend that no slave-holding man would list his all-white, illegitimate child in a slave ledger. This could be resolved if we locate a direct-line female descendant of Cooney's who takes a mtDNA test. 

Our story of Edmond had a kernel of truth. Edmond's first wife was Ellouise Walker, so she is probably Calhoun's daughter along with Cooney. 

If a direct-line male descendant of Cuff Walker took a y-DNA test, we would be able to compare the results to known Calhoun results. However, there hasn't been a strong oral tradition linking Cuff as the biological child of James Edward.

Orser's interpretation of the relationship is correct, but he was not privy to the family stories and known genealogy. Calhoun was fathering Caroline's children while visiting Edgefield where Maria Simkins lived. Caroline Walker's 1870 household included three grandchildren: John, Letty, and "Kitty," whose given name is Sarah Elizabeth. These are Cooney's children. In relation to DNA studies, if their descendants test, they should look for autosomal links to collateral line relatives of Bill Fleming, a Euro-American purported to be their father. 

Caroline Walker's 1900 household includes her daughter, Emma (mother of Anna, Carrie, and Thomas), Carrie, and Carrie's children: Henry, Margie, Edward, and Leo. Letty and Carrie are two different people. In fact, given names in this family are passed down so often that it is difficult to place children with their correct parents.

So, we arrive at understanding that Calhoun deeded Caroline Walker and her descendants land because he had fathered some of her children. As to Hiram Edward Kieser, he was included in the will because he was the father of Carrie's children Henry, Marjorie, Hiram Edward, and William Leo. Another problem with completing our understanding of these lines is that some have crossed over the color line. Before joining the ancestors, Cousin Arlene explained that the lawyer had located some descendants who denied their connection, which meant that they forfeited their inheritance when the land was sold.

Penultimate, I research my Walker ancestors to honor them. Biologically, I am not a Walker, but like so many African American men during and after enslavement, Charley Henry Walker, son of Cuff, and grandson of Caroline, raised my father Samuel Simpkins Walker as his own son. This is the sign of a true man, to be honored and remembered.

Finally, I present the images of James Edward Calhoun's ledger. It is critically important that these copies be available to all who search for ancestors who might have been enslaved on Millwood Plantation near what is now Calhoun Falls, Abbeville County, South Carolina. I hope that together we are able to reclaim them all and place them into their genealogies. Toward the last few pages will be the "Edgefield Gang" where I located my Simpkins and Walker ancestors. I will upload my transcription later. It is available at

With Calhoun listing "Edgefield Gang with their estimated ages in April 1839," this pointed me to look at wills for his wife's family. Maria Simkins married James Edward Calhoun in February 1839. Her ancestors died frequently in the period from 1826 - 1839, so it was possible to follow where some of my Simpkins and Walker ancestors were. 

My Simpkins ancestors are listed in the family group headed by Maria with children:  Paul, Mitchell, Emmeline, William, George, Edmond, and Susan?

My Walker ancestors are also listed in family groups. Anarchy may be Caroline's sister since she named children Amy and Letty. Caroline had a sister Anika and their mother's name was Letty. Great-great grandmother Caroline is listed with children Cooney and Cuff. Crossed out names could indicate that people had died.

Selected References: 

Calhoun, James Edward. 1835-1847. Slave Ledger.

Kane, Sharon and Richard Keeton. 1994. Beneath These Waters: Archaeological and Historical Studies of 11,500 Years Along the Savannah River. Currently found online at

Orser, Charles E. 1988. The Material Basis of the Postbellum Tenant Plantation: Historical Archaeology in the South Carolina Piedmont.

Walker, Sonia L. 1996. Abbeville County, South Carolina: A Compilation of Data from the 1860 Slave Schedule and a List of Free African Americans on the 1860 Census.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Ancestral Echoes

As I was working on my second, still unpublished entry, I was doing a little bit of online research on the history of Calhoun Falls. At the same time, I felt drawn to revisit some census records I have been accumulating for the ancestors of two of my DNA cousins. Virgil popped up matching us on 23andMe like we should have been running into him at the Foote Family Reunions all these years. In researching his ancestral Boyds living in Tippah Co, Mississippi, I happened to meet Karmella, also a Boyd descendant. We're all DNA cousins. Their Boyds were listed as born in 1840s South Carolina according to the 1880 census in MS. My great-great grandmother was Jamima Boyd, born about 1840 SC. She married Isaac Foote Jr. and she died way too young, just like her middle daughter, my great grandmother Leah Foote Lee. 

I feel our Boyd ancestors are sending this echo. That's how I describe it when I'm drawn. In 1870 I like to think of my ancestors living in a family compound. Sons are listed with their parents and the wives and children of Isaac Jr and the first Wade in homes next door. By 1880 "Mima" appears to have died. Her maiden name was found on the Death Certificate of her daughter, Emeline Foote Rollinson.

1870 SC - Foote Family

1880 SC Isaac Foote Jr's Household
It is as if in those quiet moments that someone whispers in my ear to go check. I'm supposed to be staying focused as I take a few minutes away from school work. No, I am called to check in on my ancestors who are ever with me. I greet them on the 1880 census. Bena Kale, people of old, my ancestors. In one household I greet Ancestor Andy, his wife, and children. Are you Grandma Jamima's brother? I know Virgil is your descendant. 

1880 MS Households of Franklin Boyd and Van and Ivey Boyd Rogan
Just as I know Karmella descends from the household above him, with Ancestor Ivey Boyd and her husband and children. Above them I wonder if I am greeting my possible great great great grandfather, Franklin Boyd, aged 73.

1880 MS Andy Boyd's Household

My ancestors, I really should be planning for school tomorrow. Let me leave you and find that tiny bit of information on when Calhoun Falls was incorporated. As I depart, I see that I'm still being called when Sharon Morgan posts a link on OBA about Educable Children Records for Mississippi. I take that path for just a second and note that I will need to return...

Google: "Calhoun Falls" history. There it is, 1891, right in this article: The first street was Cox Avenue? It was named after Judge WF Cox of Anderson. Where did I just see the name Cox?

1880 MS Household Leonard and Fibie Boyd Cox

Two houses down on the 1880 census page from Ancestor Andy is the household of Leonard Cox, born ca 1855 MS to South Carolina-born parents, and his wife Fibie, born ca 1856 South Carolina. A quick look over on and the ancestral echo rings loudly, telling me that I must keep looking.

This Ancestral Echo is telling me that I must clarify what is in front of me so that I can find and reclaim our connections for Andy, Ivey, Fibie, and Jamima; for Virgil Karmella, and me.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Welcome to Lukasa!

Most of you know that I work to honor our ancestors' memories by reclaiming our knowledge of them and documenting our family history. This is the beginning of our lukasa. We borrow this tradition, no we reclaim this tradition from Central Africa. A lukasa is a memory board used by members of the Bambudye secret society of the Luba to help remember and retell their history.

I wish I could say that I actually learned about lukasa first hand when I lived in Zaire (now DRC), but I can't. I learned about them when I went to an African Art Exhibit sometime after my return. I wish I had started researching our family history in 1986 when I first returned from Zaire. Better still, just imagine what I would have learned from our then elders, now our ancestors, if I had kept the pursuit going when Cousin Shaw (Floree Simpkins Shaw, 1892 Calhoun Falls, SC - 1987 Buffalo, NY) sat down and helped 13 year old me write my first paternal line tree.

I don't know what will come of this - perhaps ramblings, thoughts, research ideas, roadblocks, shared efforts of each of us, and our breakthroughs. For now, I'm just going to stop and thank our Ancestors, starting with Cousin Shaw who took the time to show me how we were related as first cousins once removed. I thank our Ancestors, those known and unknown, for their great courage and the strength they had to have to survive the Maafa. I know that you are not far from us. I feel you with us in this journey. We call your names and remember. We work to reconnect with our family from whom we were separated during the period of enslavement. We work to learn more about our ancestral homes and people in the Motherland. We ask your guidance as we build our lukasa.

Tuasakadila bua kutupesha moyo!

Thank you for giving us life.

Nsoni Nnenna Abena