Recently I was on hot on the trail of my great grandfather, Francis Walton Batchelor. This is my father’s father’s line and goes back through Harris County, Georgia. I have to admit, I’ve procrastinated on researching the Batchelors, in part because of the challenges of researching Black family genealogy back through slavery.
I was blessed to have known my great grandfather. To my childhood eyes, he was a frail but handsome old man who loved to sit in the front room of my aunt’s house and regale us with stories from the old days. Great Grandpa died in 1961 at the age of 91 years old. Here’s a picture of him back in the day with four of his daughters:
In my research, I found Great Grandpa as an infant in the 1870 census. His race was listed as “Mu” which was the abbreviation for “mulatto”. The term mulatto was officially used as a racial designation on the United States census from 1850 to 1930. By definition, at least in this country, a mulatto is a person who has a White and a Black parent. There are good discussions of mulatto at Blended People of America and Afrigeneas – helpful if you want to better understand the historic nuances of race that have an impact on African American genealogy.
As I reviewed the census records, though, they showed both Great Grandpa and his father, Luke Bachelor (sic) listed as mulatto. But Great Grandpa’s mother was listed in the same 1870 census as Black. Later in the 1900 census and beyond, Great Grandpa’s race was listed as Black. Hmmm…
Could Luke actually have been mulatto? Yes – if he had a White father, although I have no documentation of that yet in my research. But could Great Grandpa be officially designated as mulatto if he had a mulatto father and Black mother. No – and that’s where the disconnect comes into play.
What I’ve come to realize from this and research on other family lines is that sometimes my ancestors were listed as mulatto because of the census-taker’s subjective view based on their appearance. This is why when I see the term mulatto, it raises a red flag for me to be extra-vigilant to make sure I don’t get side-tracked in my research because a census taker made a mistake more than 100 years ago.
To date in my family research, I have identified only two ancestors who are technically mulatto because they have one Black parent and one White parent. They are:
1. My other paternal great-grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Parker, was born in Harris County, Georgia in 1878. His father was Isaiah Parker, a White man and my great great grandfather. Isaiah was son of Isaiah Parker, the senior, a slave-owner and also my ancestor. Thomas’s mother was Ann or known in our Black family history as “Charity Ann”. She was a slave on the Parker cotton farm.
Charity Ann and Isaiah had 17 children together during and after slavery. My great-grandfather was the youngest. The story of Charity Ann and Isaiah is a fascinating one but that’s a post for another day. My great grandfather Thomas died in 1963 but I don’t recall ever meeting him. Here’s a picture of him that I have at home in one of those old-fashioned frames with the “bubble” glass:
2. My maternal grandmother, Hazel Edna Dickinson (Weaver) who was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1891. Her father, Prince Albert Weaver was African American, born in Pittsburgh and raised in Washington D.C. Her mother was Jennie Daisy Hood was a White woman from Waterford, PA. Prince Albert and Jennie married in 1889 in Cleveland. It is my great grandmother’s line that I’ve traced back to the American Revolution and the early days of colonial America. Here’s a picture of my Grandmother Hazel, who died in 1946 – five years before I was born:
One of the big lessons I’ve learned in 36 years of researching my family history is not to let subjective information like, what I call, “the mulatto factor” stand in the way of getting the real facts about who my African American ancestors really were. And that’s the challenge if you’re doing Black family genealogy – take the records you find as clues and do further research to determine if you’re headed down the right path looking for the next generation.
History will thank you.
I haven’t gotten into the DNA side of my genealogy yet but it is a way to discover more detail about my African American family history that’s often hard to document, my European roots and maybe even the Native American ancestors Great Aunt Clara said we have.
As I get closer to the ordering that little kit that’s supposed to map out my genetic DNA, I wanted a little more info. So researcher that I am, I started poking around and found a great series of videos that explains a complicated scientific principle in a user-friendly (and kind of cute way). Here they are for you to watch at your leisure.
If you liked this first videos, here are the links to the rest in the series:
Genetics 101, Part 2 – What are SNPs?
Genetics 101, Part 3 – Where do your genes come from?
Genetics 101, Part 4 – What is phenotype?
Are you planning to add genetic DNA testing to your genealogy toolkit?
One of the problems I’ve had over the years is that it is sometimes impossible to uncover details about my female ancestors. This isn’t just a problem in doing African American family history. It comes with the territory when you do genealogy. So I was really excited when I discovered that I can identify my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s and, well – you get the drift.
What this means is that on my mother’s line, I’ve found my women ancestors 10 generations back. In their honor, I’ve listed them here so they will never ever be lost in time.
You’ll notice that I introduce my female ancestors by their maiden names and that’s a tip for you. Always identify women in your family tree by their maiden, not married names. If you don’t have that maiden name for a particular ancestor, put her first name and then “unknown” for the last name. You can always add the maiden name later .
Now, meet the strong women who made it possible for me to be here:
- I am the daughter of Alice Vivian Dickinson who was born on June 18, 1919 in New York, NY. She married my father, Thomas Melvin Batchelor in 1945. Mom was the 2nd generation of women in our family who went to college (my sister and I are the 3rd). Mom earned her BA in Spanish Literature at Howard University and later received her Master’s degree. Mom is still living and is 92 years old – God Bless.
- Mom is the daughter of Hazel Edna Weaver who was born in Cleveland, Ohio on January 8, 1891. Grandmother was a pioneer in our family – the first woman who went to college. She graduated from Howard University in 1917 with a Bachelor of Science in Math. She married my grandfather, Frederick William James Dickinson who was originally from Bermuda.
- Grandmother was the daughter of Jennie Daisy Hood who was born in Waterford, PA on March 12, 1867. She married Prince Albert Weaver in Cleveland in 1880. They were an interracial couple and her father never spoke to her again because of that.
- My great grandmother Jennie was the daughter of Clarissa A. Scribner who was born on September 27, 1837 in Ballston Spa, NY. Her husband was Andrew Coover Hood whose grandfather and great grandfather served in the American Revolution.
- My great great grandmother Clarissa was the daughter of Luransey (or Luransa) Frazier who was born February 27, 1796 in Leyden, MA. Luransey was the wife of Alexander Scribner of Ballston Spa, NY. Alexander’s father and grandfather were also Revolutionary War soldiers.
- My 3rd great grandmother Luransey was the daughter of Sally Page who was born in 1768 in Bernardson, MA. Sally was the wife of Michael Frazier of Franklin County, MA. Michael’s family name was originally Frizzell (or one of the 9 variations of spelling I found), but he changed the name back to the original Scottish spelling. Michael’s father was a Revolutionary War veteran.
- My 4th great grandmother Sally Page was the daughter of Sally (aka Sarah) Cunnabell who was born about 1753 in Boston, MA. The name Sally was sometimes used as a nickname for Sarah. Sally Cunnabell became the wife of David Page, also of Boston.
- My 5th great grandmother, Sally Cunnabell was the daughter of Sarah Crafts who was born on June 17, 1729 in Boston, MA. Sarah married John Cunnabell and they left the comfort of Boston to become early settlers in Western Massachusetts.
- My 6th great grandmother, Sarah Crafts was the daughter of Anne White who was born on January 24, 1711 in Boston, MA. Anne was the wife of Revolutionary War patriot Thomas Crafts and mother of their son, also Thomas Crafts, who was one of the original Sons of Liberty and a member of the real Tea Party.
- My 7th great grandmother, Anne White was the daughter of Sarah Wilson who was born in 1688. I don’t know where Sarah Wilson was born but she married my 7th great grandfather, Edward White in 1709. Obviously I’ve got some more research to do to figure out where she came from originally. With a little luck and a lot of patience, maybe I can actually discover who this particular Sarah’s mother was and add another generation of strong women to my family tree.
Who are the strong women in your family history?
Everyone needs a mentor. I’ve been blessed to have several amazing ones including the late James Dent Walker from the National Archives.
I was introduced to “Jimmy”, as he was known to friends, in 1977 when I wasn’t having any luck with my application to DAR – the National Society of the Daughters of the Revolution. No local chapter in my neck of the woods would invite me to become a member even though I had documented my eligibility. That may sound strange these days but that was back where there weren’t any African American members in DAR.
So many times, Jimmy and his wonderful wife, Barbara opened up their home in Washington, D.C. to me when I came in town to do research. That little bedroom on their third floor became my official home away from home. By day, I’d hop the 16th Street bus and ride down to the National Archives for hours of family research where Jimmy would check on me from time to time.
Then loaded down a whole new batch of notes, I’d take the bus back for an evening with my hosts – always a combo of great food, great company, research tips and stories of days gone by from both Barbara and Jimmy. More than a few times over the years, I’ve paused to remember how generous they were with their hospitality, time and wisdom.
I quickly learned that Jimmy was the genealogist’s genealogist. Over the years, many a researcher at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. was the beneficiary of Jimmy’s absolute mind-blowing knowledge of where to find that exact piece of information that would finally connect a weary researcher with their ancestor.
But Black family genealogy was his passion and his efforts created a strong support network for people, like me, doing African American family history. In fact, Jimmy helped author Alex Haley document his family history which was later immortalized in the bestseller, Roots.
During his 30 year career at the National Archives, Jimmy became a noted expert on pension and military records. After he retired as director of local history and genealogical programs, Jimmy was hired by DAR to help document the service of more than 5000 African Americans who fought in or gave civil service during the American Revolution.
In 1977, I received an invitation to join the Daughters of the American Revolution from the Ezra Parker Chapter DAR in Royal Oak near my hometown of Detroit, Michigan. Later that year, I became a member. Jimmy never said so, but I know he had a hand in encouraging DAR to welcome me as their first African American member. And even though he’s gone now, the wisdom I got from the genealogist’s genealogist is always part of my family history toolkit.
Tonight on the season premiere of NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are?, Grammy award-winning singer Lionel Ritchie searches his African American family history. If you’re into genealogy like I am, you don’t want to miss this program at 9pm EST. Here’s a preview:
Have you started tracing your family history yet?