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.
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 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:
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:
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.
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??
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.