Monday, September 28, 2015

Back In The Days When I Was YONGE (Part I)

I didn't follow my own rules about deciphering Old English penmanship up until a few months ago. It's the little things that really matter. I only knew my family surname was spelled YOUNG. It really didn't dawn on me that we were known as YONGE 200 years ago. I learned that from a book.

A few months ago, I found an passage in the book Black Slaveowners: Free Black Slave Masters in South Carolina, 1790 - 1860 by Larry Koger where William Simmons sold David Yonge, a free person of color, his wife Judy and son Frank for $1 each. I had recognized Frank as Frank (sometimes known as Francis) Young in the 1860 census as a free person of color. In addition, he lived near his brothers in Barnwell, SC.

I was so excited when I found this information and wrote about it in my blog "To be YOUNG and free." I knew that David and Judy were my 3x great-grandparents but that was by heart. I needed to prove it. Recently, released wills and probate records into their database. I found a lot of great information that will help expand my tree even further. Sometimes it is not straight forward as I had hoped. That's why you do not rely on just ONE source! I went to other research websites such as and the SC archives database. I discovered a goldmine. Using all those resources, I was able to go back several generations to the early 1700s.

On, I found copies of the actual bills of sale from William Simmons to David Yonge. On July 25, 1814, David purchased his son Frank for an honorary sum of $1. If the census records are correct, Frank would have been 10 years old by this date.

On December 6, 1815, David purchased his wife Judy for an honorary sum of $1.The letter also states this would include all her future issue (i.e. children).

I found a third bill of sale which was not mentioned in the book. This time, William's generosity had run out. On June 20, 1816, David purchased his sons Bob and Gabriel for $600. In 2014, this purchase would have cost David $8,235. But guess WHAT! Bob is short for Robert! This is my 2x great-grandfather Robert Young! Census records were off by at least 10 years for both brothers. I am assuming Gabriel was born in 1806 and Robert in 1810.

William Simmons lived in St. Paul's Parish, Colleton County, SC. I consider this area one of my ancestral birth places since most of David and Judy's children were born there. Another son was confirmed as Wiley Young. He was born after 1816. There might be at least three daughters that I have not confirmed yet. I have to test those theories against my DNA if I can find a match in my list of cousins.

Where did David get the money to purchase his family? In the Journal of Negro History, occupations of free persons of color in the early 19th century included such trades as barbering, carpentry, tailors, butchers and shoemakers. In the 1860 census, Frank and Gabriel both indicated that they were carpenters. Therefore, it is likely they learned that trade from their father. David probably earned enough money through that skill to purchase his own freedom. One thing I didn't find were manumissions. I may not understand all of the circumstances for keeping the family as slaves after purchasing them but I do applaud him for keeping the family together. All 4 sons were found in the 1860 census as free persons of color. As a black slave owner, David might have freed his family upon his death. I haven't found any records confirming this yet.

What I did confirm is too much for one blog post. That's why I am splitting it up into three parts. Who would have thought that one small paragraph in an obscure book published in 1985 would have such an impact on my life 30 years later? I hope that Mr. Koger is still around so I can let him know how much his work means to me and that I was able to expand on it. The Yonges are alive and well!

Monday, September 14, 2015

This was Dorcas' Last Wish

I told my mother the other day that I found the Last Will and Testament of Dorcas Livingston, her great-grandmother. I was excited but I could tell she wasn't too thrilled. Old wounds started to flare up. This discussion is a touchy subject for my mother because of how her grandparents and real father mistreated her family all those years ago. As the family historian, I have the luxury of hindsight. I know what broke the family apart. I know why many names were lost over time. I also know why no one wants to go back there anymore.

I cannot write the wrongs done to my family over time, but the least I can do is bridge the gaps in family history. My job is to reclaim lost branches by identifying the past members of my ever growing family tree and sharing it with everyone. Maybe one day it will bring us all back together.

A debate has been going on about Dorcas for years. We barely knew anything about her. How many children did she and her husband really have? Who were her parents? A lot of history has been lost over time. Luckily most of the family is buried at Mt. Zion Church cemetery. Dorcas didn't have a headstone when she died in 1913. In the early 90s, the descendants took a collection and purchased a new headstone for her. Although they spelled her first name wrong (as Darkis) I do appreciate the effort. I recommend to everyone if you discover an unmarked grave of your ancestor, PLEASE purchase a headstone for them. It is something we should all do before these plots get lost over time.

Let's revisit my favorite place, Liberty Township, Orangeburg County, SC during the 1880 census. As usual, this is the only decade I have of my family's existence in the 1800s. I have more confidence in my research abilities now so this fact can't upset me anymore!

Here we have 6 kids including a set of twins, Adaline and Emeline (remember that name for later!). Afterwards, I knew of 2 more children, my great-grandfather William Livingston Sr. and George Livingston. Were there more than 8 children? I had no information to prove it.

George died of a stroke (apoplexy) in 1946 while traveling on a horse-drawn wagon to Cope, Orangeburg. My uncle Melvin Livingston was about 8 years old and the only one with him when he died. It was traumatic for a young boy to watch someone die in front of him. I can only imagine him as he ran back home 3 miles to tell his mom and the rest of the family that he was dead. Uncle Melvin was so spooked that he would never ride that horse again.

William provided their mother's maiden name as Dorcas Williams. I was never able to find her in the 1900 or 1910 census records. Her headstone at Mt. Hope cemetery only read that she died in 1913. That was all I knew of her until 2 weeks ago when I found her Last Will and Testament on the website. It was in the Charleston Probate Court Records! If I kept looking for Orangeburg Court Records I would have never found it.

This Will, dated March 18, 1908, provided a lot of clues into my family. I didn't know that she (or her husband Jace) owned land. It was her wish that the land and all property be split among her children. This document provided me with the answers I have been looking for. The children mentioned in the will included:

  • Doctor Livingston - given 2 acres of land adjoining siblings
  • Wesley Livingston - given 2 acres of land adjoining siblings
  • Mamie Livingston - given 1 acre of land adjoining siblings
  • Anna Livingston - given 1 acre of land adjoining siblings 
  • William Livingston Sr. - executor and given an equal share of remaining land
  • Johnson Livingston - granted personal property and given an equal share of remaining land 
  • George Livingston - granted personal property and given an equal share of remaining land
  • Adaline Curry - granted $1 
  • Emaline Jenkins - granted $1
  • Nette (Neetsy) Evans - granted $1
  • Samuel Livingston - granted $1
  • Grant Livingston - granted $1
  • Doctor Livingston - granted $1
  • Hattie Livingston - granted $1
  • Cornelia Jones - granted $1

Jace and Dorcas (my 2x great-grandparents) had at least 15 children. It was a pleasant surprise to know that all of their known children survived between 1870 to 1906. I was also able to trace some of the kids and their descendants. Some of which I already blogged about that you can read in the links throughout this article. It's good to know the family name won't die out anytime soon.

I located my great-granduncle Johnson's WWI draft documents. He was 21 when he reported to the Army at Camp Jackson (Fort Jackson in Columbia) in 1918. This means he was born in 1896. Now I have an estimated 10 year window (1896-1906) of when his father Jace died. Johnson returned home from WWI with PTSD. He was confined to the asylum for a few years before he died.

One thing I did discover was that on Emaline's 1920 death certificate, her father was called J. S. Livingston. That was new to me. I thought his name was Jace all along. Could J. S. stand for JohnSon or John Samuel? When they called him Jace were they really saying Jase or J. S. all along? Another mystery to keep me up at night.

I also figured out who Dorcas' parents were. Morris and Frances Williams (my 3x great-grandparents) lived near their daughter in the 1880 census. Next door to them was Emaline Jennings, Dorcas' maternal grandmother (my 4x great-grandmother). Now I know where the name Emaline comes from! They were literally 3 houses away (on another page) and I didn't put it together until now. I hope to discover more about them in the near future and blog about it!

As Executor of the Estate, William returned to the probate judge 5 years later and documented his mother's death as May 24, 1913. All of Dorcas' debts were paid soon afterwards. Based on inflation, each of the older siblings that received $1 in 1913 would have been given $24.11 in 2015. It may not seem like much now but the dollar went a long way before the Great Depression. The real value is in the land. It was not specified on how much remaining land was split between the 3 siblings, however in 1961, my grandfather William Livingston Jr., was given 3 acres by his mother Maude Easterling-Livingston. We still have the land in our family to this day in the area known as Cope Town. Years ago my mother had to fight to get half of that land that she rightfully deserved. In fact, my mom passed her share to me a few years back. She knows it is in good hands. I am gladly keeping it in the family to honor the sacrifices made by my ancestors.