Thursday, December 23, 2010

African Ancestored 12 Days of Christmas

Those of us who have ancestors who were once enslaved, know that once we reach the Wall of 1870, that we will have to research our ancestors during the slavery era. For many this is challenges, for the documents that we seek are often in manuscript holdings, private collections and sometimes in obscure locations. One the last slave owner of one's ancestors has been identified, the tedious search begins. For so many this process takes years, of work. I can only encourage those who have begun slavery era research, and urge you not to be discouraged when the task seems at times, insurmountable.  

I hope that many of you this coming year, will have much success and that you will continue to tell the rich stories of your ancestors, and their resilience. This year for my yearly Christmas wish and the 12 Days of Christmas, I have included illustrations. Therefore, I offer this Christmas wish for your success as you explore these unique sources of documentation as we search for our enslaved ancestors's stories. (Most images are from my own collection, and some are from the public domain.)

© Angela Y. Walton-Raji

On the 12th day of Christmas these things I wish for thee......

12 Brand new cousins
Image of family and friends at Michigan Reunion 2009

11 Slave Ship names

Slave Ship The Wanderer

10 Birth Records

9 Land Patents
Land Patent acquired by my gr. grandfather
Louis Mitchell Bass of Sevier County, Arkansas

8 Marriage Records
Marriage record of my grandparents, Sam Walton & Ellen Bass

7 Dawes Enrollments
Dawes Enrollment Card of my ancestors
Samuel, Sallie Walton, and family

6 Query Hits

AfriGeneas Message Board for General Queries

5 USCTs.......

Image of 5 soldiers from the famous photo of Company E of
the 4th US Colored Infantry

4  Manumissions
An early manumission record

3 Bills of Sale
Sale Bill

2 Deeds of Gift

Slave Deed of Gift from Texas
(for transcription of document click here)

And Completion of Your Family Tree.

Much success to you for the coming year with your research. 

I hope as you find your ancestors at long last, you will be able to call their name.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Countdown: Our Christmas Tree

While preparing for Christmas, I cannot help but recall the many family celebrations over the years. As I recently decorated our tree this year I reflected how Christmas trees have changed over the years.

When I was young, it seems that the trees I saw in my home and that of people we knew---were always cypress. That was what we always saw sold and what everyone had.  I even found an old family photo of one. It was taken in the early 1950s, and I was only an infant. Apparently my brother had gotten his long hoped for cowboy outfit and was thrilled to pose in front of the tree.

My brother Sam posing in front of
the cypress Christmas tree 1950s

I remember that we had a cypress tree for many years, but eventually the trees changed as the years went by.
In the 1960's like lots of folks----we also had one of those silver aluminum trees.  These has rotating wheels that would change the color of the tree as the color panel changed.  

Our Aluminum Christmas Tree

As I got older I began to voice my own opinion about Christmas trees, and we eventually moved back to green trees, thankfully.  I was also determined to see that we got some kind of pine tree rather than cypress.
So pine trees of different kinds became the standard in our house.

Pines trees became the norm over the years.

We usually placed our tree in either the Living Room or the dinning room, but always near a window. But one year, we placed the tree in between the two rooms between the sliding doors. 

Tree placed between living and dining room.

During my high school years the trees became fuller and I became the one most involved in decorating the tree. I had a ritual.  I would put on Christmas music while my my and I "fixed" the tree. And the tree went back in front of a window.

The year my brother got married, I thought it was important to also get a picture of their first Christmas tree as well.

My brother Sammy's first tree in 1972

I always got myself in the mood for Christmas by decorating the tree with Christmas Music. In this photo the old stereo can be seen and one can see the old turntable that we now used even has records on top, about to drop.

I fondly remember those years, as my grandmother came to live with us, and she would share with us her tradition of greeting everyone with the proverbial "Christmas Gif" from the days of her youth.

Grandma at Christmas 1976

The joy of course came in front of the tree as we all opened our presents.  As children we loved our toys and even the adults seemed to enjoy the thrill of opening our gifts.

My dad opening his gifts on Christmas morning

My mother opening her gifts on Christmas morning

Christmas has always had a special place in my heart.  And now, many years later, my heart is warmed by those sweet memories that my own childhood brought me, and I was comforted by those memories and felt the presence of my mom and dad and grandmother while I decorated the tree this year. 

And this year when we open presents as Christmas music plays in the background those memories will stay in my heart.

And this year, from My home to yours, have a Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Last Chance to Cast Your Vote!

Tonight at midnight voting ends for the Family Tree Magazine top 40 blogs.  You may vote often for your favorite blog.

I was honored that this blog was nominated as well.  It is located in the Local Regional History Category.

Thanks for voting and for your support!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas Countdown: A Christmas Story by John Henry Faulk

(click on this link to hear the story)

Most of us have ancestors who came from simpler times, simpler places where Christmas was appreciated when candy canes, big bright oranges, and nuts were among the treats for children. My own grandmother as well as my mother, often spoke of the fruit, nuts and candy and simple these treats were always in our home in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

I found this old NPR Christmas story last  year and found that it was a heartwarming tale, and thought during this week before Christmas that I would share the story with you all here. The story, set in the American south speaks to a spirit of sharing and reflects a season where families of all backgrounds can come together, in friendship and understand the spirit of what this represents.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do hearing it again and again.

 May we all appreciate the spirit of this season, and may your hearts also be warmed.

Friday, December 17, 2010

"Old Tom" in Grant County. A Disappointment and an Opportunity

The recent story of Thomas "Moses" McElroy the child found in a log, was well received by  many people who read it. I have spoken to researchers from California to Virginia, and have received remarks from many who read the the remarkable story of a small child found abandoned in the woods near the Battle of Jenkins Ferry. 

Several friends and colleagues in Arkansas have also taken an interest in the story and we are close to being able to identify the descendants of Thomas, the child who lived to adulthood and who survived the terrible times of war, during the years of his infancy.  Thanks to Emilee D. Mason, the story of the child found in the war, was known.

Becoming interested in finding more about the story of Thomas and possibly locating descendants, one of my colleagues has located some possible descendants, and she has taken it upon herself to go to the historical society and museum of the county from which the families came---Grant County Arkansas.  This is also not too far from the area where the Jenkins Ferry battle was fought. Grant County is also the ancestral home of the McElroys black and white who lived in that part of the state for more than a century. 

What a surprise to see the story of Thomas McElroy reflected in the Grant County Museum.  On one level it was a nice surprise that the story of civility and humanity shown towards a small black child was remembered,  and the small anecdote of his rescue was remembered.  But oh----what a shock and what a disappointment to see how "Old Tom" was depicted.

There it stands----a caricature----a small, thin black figure dressed in a grey uniform, holding a rope!  A rope????  Yes----a rope.  And the sign in front of this figure is that this represents Thomas McElroy.

Depiction of Thomas McElroy in Museum
wearing gray Civil War uniform and with a rope in hands
Photographed by Carla Coleman

Now---revisiting the story-----Thomas McElroy was an infant found in the woods----and he was not old enough to have been a soldier on any side---he was a casualty of war---a victim  a mere child.

The depiction in the Grant County Museum of a black child wearing an over sized grey uniform, holding a rope (with all that a rope connotates in a region of sundown towns) ---is a shock, a disappointment, and sadly it is also disrespectful.  

Being so close to the battle site of Jenkins Ferry---where a good number of soldiers from the 83rd US Colored Troops lost their lives (including one of my ancestors) how saddened I am to see the only representation of African American presence in that community, being that of "Old Tom" turned into a whimsical caricature,  wearing an ill-fitting uniform of an army in which he would have never served.  

And the rope???? 

Well to me, it trivializes him, trivializes his humanity as a victim of a tragic time, it drives a subliminal message of something that did not take place during his infancy and the many horrors that took place (with a rope)  in years that followed. During the Civil War, Thomas was a a mere infant, and he wore no one's uniform.

Old Tom's misrepresentation was not the only representation of the African American presence in the entire museum. 

There was a story of Phereby, a slave in Alabama who was hung for having attacked and killed her mistress.  The real incident took place in Alabama----and the story had nothing to do with the history of the county---but there it was a image of the enslaved woman with a rope around her neck being led to her execution. One can only ask--why is this image of a slave woman's execution in Alabama in a museum that focuses on the history of a county in Central Arkansas?

Image Depicting Execution of the slave Phereby in Alabama

And there was also the story of Harriet---a woman who was enslaved, whose only story is told by her headstone,---she lived and she died a slave. And her original headstone lies in the museum. The original stone!!  According to the caption---the descendants of the slave owning family said it was ok to remove the stone from her grave for a more "suitable" one.  Huh?  Her grave was in the slave holder's family plot, so removal of the only stone of the slaves was allowed.

Original Headstone of Harriet an enslaved woman from Grant County

Description of the story of Harriet the slave

The stone itself is a beautiful stone, and clearly during her lifetime, she was loved, and the care that went into the creation of her stone, was evident that she was a woman who was loved.  Nothing more of her story is known.

Since writing the piece about Thomas McElroy, several descendants of the McElroy's are becoming interested in this unusual story of survival and there is much discussion and a renewed interest in family history among them, and for that I am glad.  

So what can one make of all of this?  

As disappointing as the depictions of the African American people are presented on the local level---this is an opportunity. It presents a clear need for the local African American community to address the preservation and to tell those stories that need to be told from the community. My hope is that more will become inspired to tell the stories that reflect the people who lived in dignity on the soil of that county and upon the soil wherever the ancestors lived.  

To neglect one's history allows others to trivialize it, to misrepresent it, and to disrespect it.

My hope is also that the older grave sites of many people from this family (including Thomas and his wife Paralee) will also be located, and more of the family story can be told. 

This is our charge to tell our stories, document them and preserve our history! This is a tremendous opportunity.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Nomination and an Honor

I just learned that this blog has been nominated in the Local/Regional category of Family Tree Magazine's 20 Best Genealogy Blogs!  Wow---what an honor!  

A year ago, I began blogging (well almost 2 years ago if I count my podcast). But I began really blogging about my genealogy experiences and sharing them with others this past year.  

I admit that I was surprised at the responses that I got when I share the story of Finding Uncle Sephus , and heard from so many who enjoyed my blogging everyday last June, while I attended the Samford Institute of Genealogical Research.  I was also happy to meet several people recently at a Christmas party last weekend, who commented on a recent post that I made on the Jeanes Teachers, an army of early 20th century educators. I am more delighted to learn about a flurry of activity among some dedicated researchers in Arkansas who have begun searching for descendants of the McElroy's of Grant County after reading my post about The Story of Thomas "Moses" McElroy. What an honor. I am so happy to know that  people are actually reading the blog and enjoying it! 

So to those of you who have enjoyed my posts these past several months I can only say, thank you for the nomination, and if you are so inclined, feel free to vote for my blog.

Of course, being nominated is as big an honor for me, and all us do what we do because we are simply compelled to do so---we write not for the honor--but because we have stories that must be told.

In some small way as we call our ancestor's names, we continue the legacy that they  have left.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

So, What is a Jeanes Teacher?

In April of this year, I wrote an article about some African American children depicted in a series of children’s textbooks in 1938. The books were created during the height of the Jim Crow era, and the school reader gave black children images of other black children enjoying school life and enjoying learning. Instead of illustrations-----this series of books used actual photos of the children from the town of Drumright Oklahoma in 1938!

Gifts, by Emma Akin published in 1938

The book Gifts, by Emma Akin was particularly interesting, as I learned about an entire community of children and an interesting teacher who was part of an army of teachers devoted to teaching in the rural south.  These children from this text were all living in Drumright, Oklahoma. 

In this particular reader, instead of Dick and Jane, there were Johnnie Mae and Floyd and their younger sister, Clara Bell. They lived on a farm in the country instead of Maple Street, and they attended Wheatley School named for the poet Phyllis Wheatley. The stories were sweet stories, but one of the stories in the reader especially caught my eye and made me ask questions.

Front of the Wheatley School

To summarize the story from the reader----A woman walked onto the playground one day while the school children were on the swing set. She went over towards them and introduced herself. “My name is Miss Willa Green. I am the Jeanes teacher.”

Miss Willa Green meets the children on the playground.
Image from Gifts, by Emma Akin

One of the children takes Miss Green inside of the school to meet his own teacher.  “Mrs. Johnson, this is Miss Green, the Jeanes teacher.”

The Jeanes teacher is introduced.

Ok----now up till that time I was following the story until Miss Green told the children that she was a what?  

A Jeanes teacher?  So----what is a Jeanes teacher?

The story continued---the two teachers talked and the school based teacher told the Jeanes teacher about the school's need for books, pictures, and money to purchase things. They discussed making a fall garden and the Jeanes teacher would return the following week to meet the parents of the children.

Ok----so what was a Jeanes teacher?

The following chapter in the book addressed the same question.

The school reader told the story of a woman a century ago, who saw a need to help black children in the rural south to get a better education. The woman was Miss Anna T. Jeanes.

Miss Anna  T. Jeanes

The goals of Miss Jeanes teachers were spelled out in the reader:

So it appears that a foundation was developed to train teachers and to bring services to the classroom and to the families of rural children as well.  

Now prior to learning about the history of the Jeanes teachers, I had heard of the Rosenwald Fund, but the Jeanes Foundation was not known to me.  I was curious to learn more. After Anna Jeanes donated her funds, a suitable "first teacher" was sought and found. Miss Virginia Randoph was selected as the very first Jeanes teacher. She began teaching in 1908.  By 1939 there were over 500 Jeanes teachers in the rural south.

Miss Virginia Randolph, the first Jeanes Teacher

I became more curious about these teachers, especially since I had never met anyone else who had ever heard of them.  I asked some whom I knew who had worked in the school system, in Arkansas and in Oklahoma, but none were familiar with Jeanes teachers.

This school system from which the book was created (see my blog post from April) came out of Oklahoma. But I had questions---

Did they teach in every southern state? 
How were they assigned? 
How did they relate to the community?

I would later learn that in many places the Jeanes teachers were referred to as “supervisors”, for they brought more than just classroom instruction, they worked with the communities as well. But my basic questions would remain unanswered for years.

Then, in the 1990s while attending a used book sale, I was browsing through a number of old books discarded from some libraries, and I found it----a book whose title I could not overlook---“The Jeanes Teacher in the United States”!

The Jeanes Teacher in the United State
by Lance Jones 1939

What a find! This book actually provided detailed information on the history of  the Jeanes teachers and their training, as well as their work in multiple states.  And---the book had photos of teachers and some of the schools where they worked. Apparently this copy was a discarded book from an old library and here it was showing up for sale.

This was amazing!!  I learned that the Jeanes "supervisors",  were fully trained and integrated into small rural communities, training both local teachers and parents of the school children in methods of making their lives better, especially during the harsh years of the depression.

Jeannes Supervisor Making Home Visit - Charles City VA
Source: The Jeanes Teacher in the United States by Lance Jones 1937

I learned that there was cooperation often between Jeanes teachers, and representatives of the Rosenwald Fund, and the Slater fund as well.

The Randolph Training School 1930
Source: The Jeanes Teacher in the United States by Lance Jones 1937

I learned that though most were female, some of the Jeannes supervisors were men.

Fast Forward----In the early 1990s after relocating to Maryland,  I attended a local genealogy meeting and one of the members of the group indicated that she was beginning graduate school in history, and a "treasure chest" was found that once belonged to a deceased cousin. The treasures inside of that old trunk would lead to her master's thesis. You see, it turns out that her deceased relative had been a Jeannes supervisor for several decades.


After many years, I not only ran into someone who had not only heard of the Jeanes teachers---she had a relative who was one of them.  The treasure chest was indeed that--- several decades’ worth of letters, memorandums, reports about her years as a Jeanes supervisor, and her experiences throughout the country. Incredible!!

To shorten a long story, my friend Dr. Donna T. Hollie, continued her graduate studies and ended up writing her doctoral dissertation about the Jeanne's teachers and earned a Ph.D. in History from Morgan State University being one of the first (if not only) scholar so well versed in the history of the Jeanes teachers! (Her dissertation title is: I Consecrate Myself to the Service of Teaching: The Jeanes Teachers, A Case Study in Fauquier County Virginia. )

Another footnote---about a year ago, I was watching a small clip from the movie Sounder. This was the movie about the black share cropping family having to survive on their own when dad was taken away to prison after being unjustly accused of theft. Well, there is a scene in the movie where the young boy comes upon a small rural school, miles away from his home. It is a country school, and he enters the classroom while class was in session, as he had cut his hand and needed some help. The teacher pauses the lesson and helps the young boy, and she introduces herself, to him and says, "My name is Camille Johnson. I am the supervisor at this school."  The supervisor---she was--- the character  in the movie was a Jeanes teacher!!!
This scene from Sounder the teacher introduces herself
as the "supervisor" of the school.
Sounder  1972 : Director Martin Ritt
Writers: William H. Armstrong (book), &  Lonnie Elder, III

I have learned a great deal over the years about the dedication of these devoted teachers to the schools and the communities where they served. They became an integral component of the communities and brought enlightenment to so many in need, in the rural south.

For me----this introduction to the Jeanes teachers and the Jeanes Foundation, was a wonderful lesson about this widely unknown history.

I often talk about my “discovery” of the Jeanes teachers that I found, in a small Oklahoma elementary school reader. But this is not just an interesting story to be stashed away with other interesting tidbits----my awareness has been sharpened.

I still keep my eyes open and I wonder if I will find remnants of more Jeanes teachers.

When I visit small southern communities, I always am drawn to the landmarks---the older black churches the cemeteries, and the Rosenwald Schools. These old schools interest me, because it was often the Rosenwald Schools where so many Jeanes teachers worked!  

My introduction to this small but significant army of teachers, has opened my eyes again to another fascinating chapter in American history.  It is the story of the will to survive to persevere and to grow and to educate those in need---which all people share, regardless of all backgrounds.  

The story of the Jeanes teachers is an American story.

So, my quest to learn even more, continues. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Story of Thomas "Moses" McElroy - A Arkansas Tale of Civility in the Civil War

Cover Image of the book Moses McElroy, by Emilee Mason
Book cover shown with permission of the author.

Recently a book was sent to me by a good friend who lives in Virginia.  She had purchased the book several  years earlier and thought I would enjoy reading it, because it was about the Civil War era in Arkansas, one of the states that I research.  While clearning out old papers, recently, she found the book and mailed it to me.

It was a children's book,  called Moses McElroy, a  short story written for children in 1997, by author Emilee D. Mason, of Virginia. It was based on an incident that was said to have happened, and before I tell my part of the story, I can summarize it here.

The book tells a heart warming story of a child who almost died during the heat of battle in central Arkansas, in the Civil War. It begins with two young boys, who lived in Grant County Arkansas, who had strayed away from the family farm, and away from their usual chores to go and wander into the woods.  Unknowingly, they had wandered into an area near the Saline River, and they did not realize how far away they were. Their wanderings took them to an area near the Saline River, where they came upon to a major skirmish in the Western theatre of the Civil War----the Battle of Jenkins Ferry.

While exploring the woods, one of the boys remarked that he had heard cannons, and they climbed up over a ridge overlooking the Saline River, and realized that the cannon sounds were coming from a battle unfolding, and the battle was at Jenkins Ferry.  As the cannons got louder they realized that were too close and needed to leave, fast!  They crept carefully back down the ridge, praying that no stray bullets would come towards them.  Walking quickly through the brush, they heard a noise---that sounded like a wounded animal. Was it a cat, or another small creature? They heard it again---and then realized---it was a baby! A baby was crying close by.

Seeing nothing, but hearing the cry of an infant they started towards the sound, and came upon an old hollowed out log in the brush, and looked inside---and there it was---an infant! A baby, lightly wrapped and inside the hollowed out log.  And there he was, a small crying little black baby, just a toddler. They were quite surprised at their discovery of the little black child.

Images drawn by Patrice Mason, daughter of the author, 
and  used with author's permission.

Oh yes I forgot to mention----in this particular incident, the two boys Will and George were white.

Both were quite shocked to see a small infant in the fallen oak tree, they picked up the child and found their way back to the trail to lead them home.

They wondered---was this a child of runaway slaves?
Where were his parents?
Did they get caught by slave catchers, or bushwhacked by soldiers?
Were the baby's parents nearby?

Still in danger, the boys quickly worked their way through the woods and back towards their farm.
Their mother, Charity, was furious that the boys had been gone most of the day, but she was suddenly shocked into silence when they placed the infant in her arms. Essie, a black woman working in the McElroy household, was called, and immediately embraced the child and was as astonished as Charity, and they both wondered how and where the boys had found this black infant.

Essie immediately took to the child, preparing to bathe him, and the boys' mother found cloth to use for diapers. And both of  the boys, were relieved to discover that they were not going to be punished for their wanderings so close to danger. Essie nurtured and coddled the baby, while the boys were also intrigued by the discovery of the child, hoping that their parents would let them "keep" the child. It would be reported in town when it was safe to go in to town, and it was decided right then, that if nobody was looking for the child, then Essie, who was immediately attached to the baby, could take care of this baby.

Illustration from "Mose McElroy" by Patrice Mason
Image used with permission of author.

Essie, remembering her father, a slave long gone, asked if the baby could be named Thomas. Will and George thought that since he was found near the river like Moses in the Bible, then that, Moses, should be his name. Though Thomas McElroy would become his official name, the boys would call always call him Moses.

That child remained in the McElroy household for several years. Being a black child reared in a white household brought it stresses though, as this was Arkansas. Though the war brought freedom for the slaves, and Thomas would not be raised in bondage, his relationship with neighbors black and white would not be without its challenges. In addition, there were no schools for the child Thomas to attend, as there were no schools for former slave children in that area.

 But the McElroy boys Will and George who did attend school committed themselves to teaching Thomas Moses,  how to count and how to read, themselves. Local black children were not comfortable around the black boy being raised by white folks and the local white population did not accept him as a suitable companion for their children. So for many years, Will and George were his world.  And there, he lived, in the McElroy household, until he was old enough to go out into the world and make his own way.

A few years later in 1880 a stranger came to town.  He was on his way to Jenkins Ferry, to visit the battle site.  He appeared at the McElroy home, looking for lodging.  No hotel or inn was close by, but the McElroys invited this distinguished man to stay in their extra room.  He mentioned that he had been there during the Jenkins Ferry battle, and shared with them a unique story. His name was John Wakefield.

Image from "Moses McElroy". Illustration by Patrice Mason
and used with permission of the author

His name was John Wakefield, and he was from an army regiment in the midwest, that had joined forces with Gen. Steele's Amry.  As he told the story, that while there, that  there was a contingent of black soldiers who were also at Jenkins Ferry. In addition to the soldiers, there were also some refugee slaves that had followed some of the troops when they came into the area.  The battle was fierce and one of the first black soldiers killed, was a black soldier who left behind a wife and small baby boy.

Wakefield, and his friend Wesley Brooks tried to assist her, the mother, but by morning on the day after the battle they found her dead, with the baby still alive, alongside of her body.  They took the baby and knew that they could not carry an infant to the battlefield, and decided to hide the child. They found a hollowed out log, and placed the child there. They had planned to come back---but they never got a chance to return.  The old soldier Wakefield, had himself been wounded and his companion Wesley Brooks had been killed that day.  He rubbed his own leg continually, as he told the story, but his saddest lament was that the little colored baby they had found  that had probably died alone on that hill.

Will, one of the McElory boys listened and then called Moses from his chores, over to the conversation at hand. To the gentleman he softly said,  "I want to introduce you to Thomas Moses McElroy."

Illustration of a young Thomas "Moses" McElroy
Illustration by Patrice Mason, and used with permission of the author.

This was the same child, the child that they had left in the log, and there they met face to face---Thomas met the very man who had saved his life.

I am sharing this story for two reasons:

1) The story is a true story that took place in my home state.
2) I have an ancestor who died in the Battle of Jenkins Ferry. My ancestor John Talkington (aka Tuckington) served in the black unit (the 83rd US Colored Infantry) that fought in that battle. John Talkington was severely wounded in that battle on the same battlefield described in the story. He died from those wounds.

For me, this story put a human face on a painful day in history when so many lost their lives.
Now, the storybook ended as Thomas meets the soldier who placed him in the hollow log.

But for me---it opened more questions.

A small notation was made at the end of the book, that in the 1870 census, there was a McElroy family found in Grant County Arkansas, and living in that household was a young boy, a black child, in the white family--whose name was Thomas McElroy. It was said that for many years, throughout Grant County in Central Arkansas many in the black community would often speak about "Old Tom" who told the story of his life and how he was found in a hollow log after the battle of Jenkins Ferry.

I studied this small book that took only a few minutes to read---and the genealogist inside of me came alive!

So if this was a true story---what could I learn myself?

Could I find Thomas the child in census records, and could I possibly follow him into his adult years?

I would love to speak to the author.  Could I find the author as well?

Well, it took me several hours, but after locating the publisher, and making several phone calls, I did located the author living in Virginia! This was near the city where Selma, my friend who sent me the book, lives!

I had a wonderful conversation with Emilee Mason, who shared with me how she first learned of the McElroy story. She had a good friend and neighbor who used to live nearby. The neighbor shared with her an old story that she had often heard as a child in Arkansas--about the black child found in the hollow log. Ms. Mason the author was enthralled by the story and later spoke with her friend's mother and elderly aunt who also told her the same story of Thomas Moses McElroy. They referred to him, as Old Tom.

While writing the story down, the author spoke to the director of the Grant County Museum where this story took place.  He assisted her in verifying more about the battle of Jenkins Ferry, and also confirmed from local resources that there had been a McElroy family that lived near the old Jenkins Ferry battlefield.  He confirmed also that census records did reflect that family and that there was a black child enumerated in that same household with the white McElroy family.

That is all I needed----I had something to go on, and the search was on! I wanted to find Thomas Moses McElory, or "Old Tom" in the census.

The Search to Find Thomas McElroy

Well, in 1870---I was able to find the McElroy family. The father Chapley & wife Charity  were there with their children:  Thomas, Virginia, William (Will), George W, (George), Lafayette, Alva, and one black male child, Thomas McElroy, also living with them.

McElroy Household, 1870, Grant County, Davis Township, Arkansas

Ten years later, in 1880, as a  young man, Thomas worked on the farm of a farmer Logan Holbert.  He was a farm hand and was now earning his own way. The farmer was an African American, and Thomas was now working for them.
Thomas McElroy was enumerated with the Holbert familiy in 1880, in the same
community where he had been raised with the McElroys.

While looking at resources on, I noticed that in 1881, a Thomas McElroy married a young woman Paralee Cobb, in Grant Count Arkansas. If this was my Thomas, he had now taken  a wife.

From, info on the 1881 marriage of Thomas
McElroy to Paralee Cobb, in Grant County Arkansas.

Was this the same Thomas?  I would have to see if I could find him married, hopefully to the same person in 1900. So, since there was no 1890 census to use, jumping ahead  20 years later in 1900, there he was----Thomas McElroy was there, and yes still married, and still living in Grant County, with his wife Parlee and their children.

Thomas McElroy in 1900 census is shown living 
now with his wife Parlee, and their children, in Grant County, Arkansas

By 1910, Thomas McElroy and wife Parlee were living alone in their own household. Their children were now adults, and on their own.  They still resided in Grant county and were enumerated in Fenter Township.

Thomas and Paralee McElroy in 1910,in Grant County Arkansas

Thomas McElroy no longer appeared in the census after that time.  In 1920, his widow Parilee McElroy was found, living in Benton township, in Saline County Arkansas. So quietly, Thomas McElroy had died, as quietly as he lived, between 1910 and 1920.  She was enumerated as having been a widow, and her 15 year old granddaughter Stella Hawkins (Hankins) was living with her.

Parlee McElroy, Thomas's widow was listed with her granddaughter 
Stella Hankins (Hawkins) in Saline County, Benton township, in 1920

In 1930, Paralee McElroy was still living, and she was still in Saline County, in the township of Benton, Arkansas.  This time she lived with a great granddaughter Desma J. McElroy.

Parlee McElory, Thomas McElroy's widow was living with gr. granddaughter Desma in 1930.

 Not much was known about their lives beyond these few documents and the story of Thomas McElroy's infancy, and how he was found.

As an adult, he made his living as a farmer, but he was not an illiterate farmer. It was noted in the same 1900 census, that he was a literate man and could read and write, a skill taught to him, by the McElroy boys.

Occupation shown for Thomas McElory in 1900.
Also the 3 yes notations indicated that he could read, write & speak English

The story, however, is one of civility shown during a time of war. This black child could have been ignored by the white family that eventually took him in.  This was a time in which the lines in society were clearly drawn by race---yet, this family defied those odds and saw the humanity in a hungry abandoned parentless child, regardless of color.

Though there were no schools for the child Thomas, Will and George took it upon themselves to show the young Thomas how to read and write, and early census records do indicate that Thomas was a literate man.
Thankfully he lived to adulthood, found a young woman, took her as a wife, and he was able to raise his children, and his name did live on, into the 20th century.

My hope is that, the story of Thomas, a baby boy found in a hollow log, will be told.  

He was born during a time of hostility and could have become a casualty of war---but a family that could have looked away, did not,  and they showed him some civility, and compassion, and the result was that this young black boy, who had the odds stacked against him, in a hostile south, was given a chance at life.  
He thrived, and lived to tell his story.  

Those who grew  up in the same community around him, also told the story. And the story made it to a woman in Virginia, to Emilee Mason, who heard it, and wrote it down, and now the story of Thomas McElroy lives on.


The story was remembered by the Lybrand family of Central Arkansas. One of their descendants who had moved to Virginia, told that same story to a friend, who saw the value of writing it down.

There are more parts to the story to follow and I shall continue the quest in the future:
1) Find some descendants of Thomas and Parlee McElroy today.
2) Find some descendants of Chapley and Charity McElroy  the family who took in the child, and of Will and/or George who found the child.
3) Identify the soldier Wakefield, who with his companion Wesley Brooks, saved the infant whose mother had died by placing him in the log.

I don't know why I am so captivated by this story--- but perhaps because Thomas Moses's father died in the battle where my own ancestor died, is part of the story.  My ancestor John Talkington probably  knew the father of this child, and they died around the same time.

This story at least puts a human face on the suffering in time of war, on those refugee slaves, running for freedom, and it reflects some of the confusion that they had probably felt in their own dash for freedom that rested in their bosom---that basic desire to be free!

This story for me, illustrates that nothing---no matter how insignificant a gesture---is without meaning nor not without consequence.  In this case---a child's life was saved, and the lineage continued. The story was repeated---and made it's way to Virginia to a lady who wrote it down ---Emilee D. Mason.  And it has now found its way back home.

I hope some day to meet the descendants of that child.

And perhaps this story reminds me of why I was inspired (by fellow genealogists no less) to start to blog and to tell the story.

There is an African proverb that says---"an ancestor never dies till there is no one left to call their name."  If this is so, then that small boy crying in that hollowed out log lives!!  And we can continue to tell the story of Thomas McElroy, for he has not died!

By doing so, I, like others can also call my ancestor's name.