52 Ancestors: #2 Thomas Jefferson Parker

Thomas Jefferson Parker was born around April, 1878 in Harris County, Georgia, the son of Isaiah Parker Jr. and Anne, a former slave. Isaiah and Anne, or “Charity Ann” as our older relatives used to refer to her, were a common law marriage because mixed race marriage was illegal then in Georgia. Thomas was one of the youngest of Isaiah and Anne’s 16 children together and my paternal great grandfather.

Thomas Jefferson Parker - My Paternal Great Grandfather
Thomas Jefferson Parker – My Paternal Great Grandfather

The first reference I found to Great Grandpa Thomas was in the 1880 US census for Harris County, Georgia. He’s listed as 4 years old there, which would mean he was born in 1876 –

My great grandfather in the 1880 US census.
My great grandfather in the 1880 US census.

My great-grandfather in the 1880 US censusThe next time I can locate my great-grandfather is when he married my great-grandmother, Modesta Lockhart. I was thrilled to find this copy of their marriage license dated 2 March 1898:

1898 Marriage License for Thomas J. Parker and Modesta Lockhart

After their marriage, I found Thomas and Modesta in the 1900 US census for Nance, Muscogee County, Georgia. Thomas is 22 years old and according to this record, was born April 1878 – two years later than what’s shown in the 1880 census. But I’ve been doing genealogy long enough to know that people just didn’t seem to age a consistent 10 years between each census. Often they got younger which made the census like a fountain of youth for some people – like Great-Grandpa Thomas.

Thomas’s family in the 1900 census also includes his mother, my great great grandmother, Ann Parker and for the first time – her birth year of 1825 and birthplace of Virginia. Ann died before the next census in 1910 so having this information about her as a former slave is an important nugget of history for me.

Last but not least, Thomas Parker’s daughter, Beatrice is listed in the 1900 census as a one-year old child. She was my grandmother and I remember her telling me that because she didn’t have an official birth certificate, this census record was used years later as proof of her birth:

My grandmother in the 1900 US census.

After 1900, I can’t find my great-grandfather in any official records. It’s like he fell off a cliff! What I do know about him from this point on is from our oral family history. Here’s what I learned –

  • Great Grandpa Thomas supposedly left his wife and family and went off to Oklahoma for the oil rush. That kicked off in 1905, which was also around the time his mother Ann died. I don’t know anymore about the circumstances of Thomas leaving but I don’t think my grandmother ever quite forgave him and she talked about that from time to time.
  • After my grandmother got married, she and my grandfather moved to Detroit so he could find work in the auto factories. Grandma brought a trunk with her that she said her father gave her. Years later, she would show me the trunk and laugh that she didn’t have anything to put in it for that trip to Detroit. It struck me that while she might have been angry with her father over his leaving the family, she hung on to that old trunk until she was in her nineties because it reminded her of him.
  • My great-grandfather became a traveling minister in his later years and went to preach in different towns throughout Alabama. Interesting because his slaveowner grandfather, Reverend Isaiah Parker did the same thing in Georgia many years earlier before the Civil War.
  • Thomas Jefferson Parker died in 1963 in Anniston, Calhoun County, Alabama.
  • Oh – and Thomas became a family name with both my father and brother being named after him.
Maybe my favorite of the few stories about Great Grandpa Thomas was the one my grandmother told about his only visit to Michigan. When he arrived, she showed him around her little house. At one point he went into the bathroom. Grandma said when he came out he was smiling. He looked at her and said –
Bea, that’s a mighty fine spring well you have in there. Mighty fine.

Grandma never said but, OMG – do you think he took a drink??

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2 responses to 52 Ancestors: #2 Thomas Jefferson Parker

  1. Sharman says:

    Wow…Thanks for sharing. I love genealogy and history, especially black history. My mother-in-law is the registrar for Daughter’s of the American Revolution (DAR) for the Southeast region. She was able to find information on my mother’s family that has been very helpful, since we had zero knowledge. Learning about yours must have been very intriguing for you, and interesting for those of us you shared it with. Again, thanks!

    • Karen says:

      Sharman – are you in DAR now too? My journey doing family history has indeed been interesting – and it’s ongoing. I’ll have to live until I’m 95 years old just to make a dent in all of it!


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