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.


  1. I love this! You have found out so much an have a much better picture of your family now. I have not even looked for wills for my family. Now I have to hope I can find some!

    1. Never give up hope. I actually stumbled across this will. I never knew she had one. It was a pleasant surprise.

    2. That's what I call "Amazing Grace"! Your earnest efforts are being generously rewarded!

  2. Interesting. You've done a lot of work.


  3. Oh Wayne this is remarkable! A major accomplishment finding that Will. I think J.S. was his name but people probably just phonetically spread it out to make an actual name, so J.S. became Jay-så (Jace) ? My thoughts, those days a lot of people were giving their children initials as names like my grand Uncle J.W. Booker, which frustrated many of the family members, so they would make a real name out of it. For instance my Uncle J.W. became Jaydubya.

    1. Victori i am beginning to think he was Johnson Sr but now after what you just said I could believe he was just J.S.

    2. Wayne, hold off on your conclusion just a little while longer...It still Coulee either. My grand father was C.L. Livingston. C.L. was Charles Lawrence. His father was C.L. And, he named one of his 13 children Charles Lawrence who was also known own as C.L.

  4. Great job with the detailing the story. Isn't it wonderful when a brick wall comes tumbling down?

    1. Wayne, your research is such a gift and blessing to so many!

    2. Wayne, your research is such a gift and blessing to so many!

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. I loved all the documents. I can see where JC was probably used like a soundex work or the enumerator was messing up. I'm glad someone thought to get a headstone. We should all keep that tradition up or let the cemeteries know of their records when a headstone isn't there. I just read Addie Mae Collins body wasn't where her headstone was. Poole Funeral claimed the records were lost in a fire. My family used them a lot in most of the obits I have for my own family. So Proud of Dorcas to have a Will. That seemed uncommon to me for that time period. Strong Women. I have one and I gleam when I see it. I hope I can go back with you when you got to your LAND. Generational Wealth. Glad your Mom knew it had to be you to look after it and she fought for her piece. Great Piece Wayne.

    1. i found it by accident! I never thought she had a will.

  7. Hello Wayne, I am a member of the Livingston-Wilkinson Family. I would like to link this story to the website. Jace and Dorcas (Darkis) are great-great grandparents. I have a photo that looks like you as a youngster...but I only see the side view of you. Lorraine Thompson is my cousin and Christine Wilkinson is my mother.

    1. Hi Joy,
      I am a member of that family reunion website as well. Yes you can link it to the site. send me the photo at