Saturday, April 26, 2014

Secrets and Lies: The Easterling Connection

One of my favorite films was Secrets and Lies. It was a lovely English film made in 1996 about a woman who gave her daughter up for adoption. Years later the daughter comes looking for her mother. The twist is that the daughter is black and the mother is white. So how does a white woman incorporate a bi-racial daughter into her new family and explain it to everyone?

I have sort of the same problem. This is part of the family THAT WE DON'T TALK ABOUT.

On my mother's side I have a missing branch. The entire Easterling family has been a thorn in my side since I have been doing research. Most of them are dead and the others are virtually unknown. No one wants to talk about it. This secret remained dead for decades. But I REFUSE to let it die. I need to know. As far as I know, I am the only one that has a theory to what is the actual TRUTH. And it is not pretty.

My great-grandmother Maude Easterling was born in June 1893 in the Hamlet of Union, Township of Cope, Orangeburg, South Carolina. By 1914, Maude married William Livingston Sr. in Cope Town. They had six children together including my grandfather William Livingston Jr. For some reason Maude suffered from mental illness. She died on January 21, 1942 in the state Lunatic Asylum in Columbia. There was no death record found for her in the State Archives or Department of Health. Maud is buried with her husband at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Cope. In addition, another son, Earl Livingston, also went insane after he returned from serving in World War II.

My mother told me that her grandmother was a mean person but she was always nice to her. That was because of her light skin. Maude was born a Mulatto. My mother is also very light skinned. But Maude treated my grandmother and her other children differently based on their darker skin color. That is a story for another day.

Rumor has it that Maude's mother was working as a maid and was seduced by a white man. She was either 15 or 16 when she first got pregnant so it might have been rape. I was told she ran off with several white men. She had six Mulatto children. The problem I have is that Maude's mother died before 1900 and the children were abandoned by their father. I cannot find a proper record of who this woman was, but I do know her surname. She was a BUSBY (BUZBY/BUSBEE). What I was told was that the alleged father was an EASTERLING. This was the old South, interracial relationships were taboo and being an unwed mother was also brought shame to the entire family. It is possible that this young woman suffered in her short life and died broken hearted. This might be where the mental illness began in that branch of family.

Once I started doing real research, this is what I found:
In the 1900 Union Township, Cope, Orangeburg, SC census, the orphans used the surname BUSBY and lived alone. In 1910, the orphans changed their surnames to EASTERLING and lived with their uncle Webster Busby b. 1881 and his wife.  By 1920, they were adults with their own families and gone their separate ways.

Luckily for me, I was able to purchase Webster's 1962 death certificate. He was the youngest of 13 children. His parents were William Busby b. 1832 and Margaret Lewis-Busby b. October 1845.
Their children were Webster, William, Queen, Harriett, Harriett Ann, Idella, Benjamin, Doci C., James Franklin, Cornelia, Ada and Effie. The Busby family were recorded as Black/Negro in the censuses from 1870 on up. I have saving a Busby ancestor story for another day!!

The orphan Mulatto grand-children were named:
·         Rosa Lee Busby Easterling, born August 1885 in Cope, Union, Orangeburg, SC. She was head of the household of her siblings in 1900 Union, Orangeburg, SC census. Rosa married a Black man named James Easterling b. 1878 in 1907. Rosa had a son named Robert Tremble b. 1911 in Georgia by another man. She may be the same Rosa Easterling that died in May 1975 in Elloree, Orangeburg, SC. I have to buy her death certificate to see if she is really a Busby.
·         Augustus Busby Easterling, born February 1888 in Cope, Union, Orangeburg, SC. He served in WWI. He married Jessie May Easterling b. 1894 and had a son William Roy Easterling on January 16, 1912 Orangeburg, SC. Augustus and his family relocated to 2355 N. Orkney Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania after the war. William died in February 1989 in Philadelphia.
·         Maude Busby Easterling, born June 1893 in Cope, Union, Orangeburg, SC. My great-grandmother on my mother's side of the family.
·         Vivian Easterling, a male, born June 1890 in Cope, Union, Orangeburg, SC. I couldn't find anything on him.
·         William David Easterling, born January 1897 in Cope, Union, Orangeburg, SC. He moved to Durham, NC by the 1920 census. He was incarcerated in a NC prison.

·         Ollie Busby Easterling, born September 1892 in Cope, Union, Orangeburg, SC. She married Lawyer Johnson b. 1888 in 1911 District 46, Union, Orangeburg. Their children were Marion b. 1913, Vernon b. 1914, Lawyer Jr. b. 1916, Nancy b. 1920, Lucille b. 1921, Ollie M. b. 1923, Rosalie b. 1925, Walter b. 1927 and Lillian b. 1929. In 1910, Lawyer, his mother and siblings lived near the Busby and Easterling households. Ollie johnson died on April 29, 1931 in Orangeburg, SC of high blood pressure, a weak heart and bad kidneys. Her age was 41 (born 1890). Her death certificate listed parents as David Franklin and Leiza Busby.

Here is the problem. Margaret Busby's 1900 census stated she had 13 children which I named above. None of those kids was named  Leiza. Leiza might have been pronounced either Eliza or Louisa. None of that matches what I have. If this girl was 16 by time Rosa Lee was born, then her actual birth year was around 1869. That means she could have been Queen Busby who was born in 1869 Union, Orangeburg, SC as reported in the 1880 census. An interesting note is that Webster named one of his sons McQueen. So I am prone to believe that Queen and Leiza are one in the same. I do not know how or when she died. All I know is that her children were orphans in the 1900 census.

I really needed that 1890 census that was destroyed! It would have answered so many questions.

I also believe that Rosa adopted her siblings after she got married to James Easterling. That is why they took on the Easterling surname. Interestingly enough, James' father was named William Easterling b. 1842.

The only David Franklin I found was a black man born in 1861. He had a wife named Henrietta and a son David Jr b. 1879 in Union, Orangeburg, SC. So he might have been the father of the youngest Easterling child but I doubt if he was father to them all. I haven't been able to find another death certificate for any of the remaining siblings.

After I took my DNA test, I was still unable to determine who this missing father could have been. I have not found a descendant of the Black Easterlings that matches with me.

I had assumed that Leiza was a maid with the White Easterling family from that area. However I do not match with their known descendants.

It pisses me off that we believed this lie so long and went with it. A lot of people took this secret to their graves. I can understand the circumstances during that time and the strain it put on my family. I wish there was some way that they could have been spared the emotional trauma. I know it costed several people their lives, their freedom and their sanity. I just hope one day I can put their souls at rest when I find out the truth.

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