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Pulling the Most Out of Your Records

 

The records we have located thus far provide both direct and indirect evidence that Robert S. Tarleton’s parents were Joseph and Sarah Tarleton. They were identified as such in the 1871 Freedman’s Bank record (see this earlier post for a full discussion) and lived next door to Robert in the 1870 census (see this earlier post for a full discussion).

Our tendency may be to jump back to this earlier generation and start working on Joseph and Sarah. However, this is the surest way to build ourselves an impassible brick wall.

We would first continue to gather information concerning Robert S. Tarleton. In this column, we have used only those sources available online. If this were your project, you would continue your research into Robert by consulting microfilmed and original records.

Microfilmed records are often available to be rented from the Family History Library through your local Family History Center. Information on these services is available at http://www.familysearch.org. Click on the “Catalog” link, then search by “Place Name” for “South Carolina, Colleton” to see what county records are available, but don’t forget to also search for “South Carolina” itself, to catch all those state records. To find a Family History Center near you, click on the “FamilySearch Centers” link at the top of the FamilySearch homepage.

You can find original records in many locations, but you will want to check the records collections of the South Carolina Archives, the South Carolina Historical Society, and state universities around the state.

For the purposes of this example, though, we will not continue with the full research, but use the records we have already located.

One of the most difficult aspects of researching enslaved African American families is the use of indirect evidence. As defined in an earlier post, a record contains indirect evidence when its information implies the solution to your research problem, rather than providing the solution explicitly. Because freedmen and women appear in so few of the most common record groups in the period immediately following emancipation, it becomes necessary to glean as much information as possible from these records. This especially includes the identification and use of indirect evidence as clues to your ancestry.

To illustrate this process, we will define our research problem as the identification of Robert S. Tarleton’s former slave owner. None of the records that we have located provide this detail outright, but we can find clues in these records.

The two most useful records for this purpose are the 1870 federal census and the 1871 Freedman’s Bank deposit register entry. To see these records, with a detailed analysis, read the posts, “Evaluating A Record By Itself,” (for the Bank record), and “Corroborating Evidence” (for the census record).

So what evidence can we use from these records to help us identify Robert’s slave owner?

1. In 1870, Robert’s family was enumerated near Green Pond, in Blake Township, Colleton County, South Carolina. In 1871, his Bank record states his residence as Combahee, near Green Pond. The other records located agree nearly universally that he resided in this area (see the post “Gathering More Information – Researching from Your Research Plan” for details). This could be a clue as to the location of the plantation where Robert and his family were enslaved. The following modern map from the South Carolina Department of Transportation depicts the general area of Robert’s residence (you can click on the map to view a larger version).

Map of Colleton County, SC

2. It cannot be determined whether Robert’s father Joseph was possessed by the same owner as Robert. Under South Carolina law, enslaved children were considered the property of the mother’s owner. The father may have lived on a separate plantation, with the parents being involved in a cross-plantation, or “abroad,” marriage. Unfortunately, there is no way to know this for certain yet, so we must assume that Robert did not live with his wife and children (and perhaps we will be pleasantly surprised). The census record and Bank record do provide the names of Robert’s mother and siblings: Sarah, b. ca. 1807; Robert, b. ca. 1835; and Betsy [“Scott”], b. ca. 1842. Another brother, “Dandy,” is noted as having been “sold away.” Not only does this prompt us to look for bills of sale once we have identified the owner, but this note also implies that Robert and Betsy were not “sold away.” So we should be able to locate Sarah, Robert, and Betsy living together.

The next step would of course be to take the evidence we have, including the indirect evidence, and attempt to identify Robert’s slave owner. To do this, we may have to complete a survey of records. This will be explored in a future article.

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