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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 42: Charles Becton

This is another post for the 52 Ancestor Challenge which was put out by Amy Johnson Crow at No Story Too Small. This is my first post dedicated to my Becton Ancestors.

Charles Becton 1823 - 10/4/1889

My paternal great-great-grandfather, Charles Becton was born around 1823.  I don't know a lot about Charles except for what I've found on paper. Sadly, noone alive recalls anyone talking about him and yet, Charles accomplished a lot as a former slave.  Like a lot of my of ancestors, I have more questions than answers regarding Charles.  First, I still do not know which white Becton owned Charles. Likewise, I don't know if Charles had any brothers, sisters or who his parents were.  I also don't know where he was born. When Charles died on October 4th, 1889, he had 57 acres of land. I can't help but wonder how this former slave gain his wealth.

In 1870, 51 year old Charles, a former slave, lived with his family in the small township of Nahunta in Wayne County, North Carolina. He was described as a "black farm laborer" who could not read or write but had personal property valuing at $200. The other members in Charles house was his 33 year old wife, Hannah; his sons: 18 year old Charles Jr., 16 year old Moses, 12 year old Willy, 9 year old Zanger; his daughters: 15 year old Rachel and 14 year old Pennie. Also residing in the home was a man named Laban Ruffin. Mr. Ruffin was described as a "black 60 year old dicher" who had $100 worth of real estate.

1870 Census for Charles Becton and Family

History has society thinking that former slaves such as Charles, Hannah and Mr. Ruffin were sharecroppers or beggers who lived off of peoples charity. Charles and his family were one of those exceptions to the rule.  As I review this census, plenty of questions come to mind.  For instance, Charles is 18 years older than Hannah. Had he been previously married? If so, what became of Charles' first wife? Was she sold away during slavery? Did they have children? If Hannah is Charles Jr's mother then she had him around 15 years old.  Indeed a 33 year old man and 15 year old girl having a baby together back in the 1850s was probably not strange.  Besides the age differences, I also wondered how Charles got $200.  It's 1870; 4 years after freedom and my Charles was described as "black" not mulatto so it might be safe to say that he wasn't half black or a child of his former slaveowner.  But where did the $200 come from? $200 in 1870 currently equals $3,631.60 today and $100 that Laban Ruffin owned would be $1,815.80.

And who is Laban Ruffin? Why was he living with the family? Was he related to Charles or Hannah? Since I don't know Hannah's maiden name, maybe Laban's her brother.  I checked the North Carolina death records for Laban but he didn't live to be 103 years old and that would had been his age in 1913.  (It was 1913 when North Carolina began recording birth and death records.)  If Laban fathered any children, I did not find any reference to his name in the North Carolina death certificates.

On the 1880 census, Charles is 57 years old and not 61 while Hannah is 48, not 43.  Leave it to the census takers and their excellent math skills.  Charles and Hannah's adult children, Willie, Rachel and Zanger are still living at home and Rachel's children: Mary, Bob and Mollie are also staying in the home.

1880 Census for Charles Becton and Family

This census provides each person's birth year and if that is true, then Charles is only 9 years older than Hannah.  Laban was still living with the family and this to me, means he is someone special to the family. But I don't know how special.  I may never know.

I reviewed Charles and Hannah's' children death certificates. His son Zanger's death certificate stated that Charles and Hannah were both born in Greene County, North Carolina and Hannah's maiden name was listed as Ruffin. On William's death certificate, Charles and Hannah Ruffin were listed as being born in Wayne County, North Carolina. Charles Jr. died in 1880 before death certificates were recorded.  Rachel's death certificate state that her parents were born in Wayne county and her mother's maiden name was Ruffin. Unfortunately, I have not found Pennie and Moses death certificates. Something else interesting was that Zanger was buried at the Becton Cemetery in Wayne County. I would like to know where this cemetery is located because perhaps, Charles and Hannah are also buried there.

Charles Becton died in 1889. He left all his belongings to his family including 57 acres of land and $500 worth of personal property. According to the Inflation Calculator, $500 in 1889 would equal to $12,770.42 today; that's not "chump change," well done Charles! Amongst the papers in Charles estate was a document where the probate court listed his wife and his children: Moses, Rachel, Willie, Peny and Zanger as reciepients of his estate. But the Court also listed James, John and Eddie Becton as reciepients. I do not know who these men are. Could they be his brothers or his nephews? These men must be special for Charles to include them in his Will.

See Will at  NC. Wayne County Courthouse. Will Book 1. pp. 484-485.

On the 1900 census, Hannah is living with her son William and his family in Wayne County. Also living with William is his nephew, Charlie Becton who is 13 years old. I believe this is Charles Jr.'s son.  In fact, by 1910 Hannah is living with the same Charlie and his family, unfortunately, Hannah and Charlie III all seem to disappear after 1910.

1900 Census for William Becton and Family

If anyone who reads this post can answer any of my questions, please feel free to contact me. Thanks for stopping by.

1870 Census: Nahunta, Wayne, North Carolina; Roll: M593_1165; Page: 159A.
1880 Census: Nahunta, Wayne, North Carolina; Roll: 986; Page: 655B; Enumeration District: 301.
1900 Census: Nahunta, Wayne, North Carolina; Roll: 1223; Page: 3B; Enumeration District: 0107.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Finding Your Roots! Episode #3 Gifted Storytellers Connecting With the Past

Finding Your Roots!

Episode 3

Someone once said that a storyteller tries to capture and share their most important stories.

Photo from Finding Your Roots website

Anderson Cooper
CNN Investigative Journalist

Anderson Cooper comes from the famous wealthy Vanderbilt family and I had a hard time believing that he did not know anything about his family history. But it wasn't the Vanderbilt side (the side that Anderson said came with baggage) that he was curious about; it was the Cooper side.  The Coopers were his paternal side who were from Mississippi and were poor. These ancestors fought for the confederacy and a few of them owned slaves. In fact, one of Anderson's relative was beaten to death with a garden hoe by his slave.  Unfortunately, all we were told on this segment was that the slave was hanged without a trial.

Professor Gates asked Cooper if he could meet an ancestor who would it be? Anderson wanted to meet his Dad again and find out what he thought of him now.  In the beginning of my research, I would ask myself that very same question and from time to time the answer would change.  Lately, I have one relative that I would like to meet; my maternal great-grandfather, John P. Pate. John P. Pate has always been an enigma because he died when my grandmother was around 3 years old and we have lots of "tales" about him but I have yet to confirm some of these "tales."

Anna Deavere Smith
Playwright, Actress

This segment concentrated on the Maryland native's ancestor Basil Biggs who Anna did not know about.  Biggs was a free Black man who was prosperous before the Civil War and became the wealthiest Black man in Gettysburg, PA.  His wealth came from his veterinarian business and probably his contract work with disinterring the bodies after the Gettysburg battle. Biggs received a contract to disinter the dead bodies from their temporary graves and rebury them. This took Biggs and his crew which was less than 10 men about 5-8 months to complete.  In addition, Biggs home was also a stop on the Underground Railroad.  How Anna did not know about this great man; I don't know.  But I loved it when Smith was told she came from a long line of free Blacks. Ann's response was "Boy, I have no excuse not to make something of myself!  Even if Anna did not descended from a long line of free Blacks, with Basil Biggs as an ancestor, she certainly had no excuse not to be successful.

Sadly a lot of African Americans do not know anything about their ancestor and how their ancestors helped build this country.  If I found a successful ancestor in my tree, I would certainly spread the word among his or her descendants and later contact the local historical society where my ancestor lived because every community needs to know about its "unsung" heros and sheros.

Ken Burns
Documentary Filmmaker

Ken Burns and Anderson Cooper both lost family members at an early age. Ken lost his mom and Anderson lost his father and only brother.  Burns said that someone once told him that he missed his mom and probably want her back because in his work, he wakes up the dead.  Burns agreed that he wanted to do well; "really well" to make his mom proud. I agree that we all want to do well to make our ancestors proud so if they ever wake up they would have to say "well done."

Burns research led him to ancestors on both sides of the American Revolution and a slave owning ancestor.  Through DNA, Burns discovered that he was related to Scottish poet Robert Burns and his hero Abraham Lincoln. It certainly would put me on "Cloud 9" if I was related to my American Idol or favorite entertainer, Prince.

To my disappointment, Mr. Burns was more ashamed of having a Loyalist ancestor who was loyal to England and the King instead of an ancestor who owned slaves.  But in fairness, at least he was honest.  There are a few things that would make me ashamed of my ancestors but I would try to rationalize what my ancestor was facing for him or her to make a choice that perhaps was a necessity.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Finding Your Roots - Ancestry of Champions

In the second episode of the Finding Your Roots series, we get to explore the Ancestry of Sports Champions: Billie Jean King, Rebecca Lobo and Derek Jeter.

Billie Jean King is a legend in the Tennis world. She won 39 Grand Slam Titles including 20 Wimbledon Championship titles (singles, mixed and doubles) and became the first tennis player to be named by Sports Illustrated as Sportsman of the Year. For someone so accomplish, Ms. King did not know much about her family history, specifically, her paternal grandmother.  She knew her grandmother was adopted but that was it and Ms. King also thought she had Seminole Indian heritage.

Through Dr. Gates research, we find the family bible which Ms. King didn't know existed.  The clues in the bible led to her adopted grandmother's birth record which told us that Ms. King grandmother was born in a girls home for unmarried young ladies.  Another surprise was that Ms. King is 100% European and not a drop of Native American blood.  Dr. Gates also found a picture of King's great-grandmother, the mother of her adopted grandmother.

Like Ms. King, there's a large number of African Americans who believe they have Native American ancestors. Sadly, DNA has proven that theory wrong.  For me, my Ancestry DNA results stated that I have 2% Asian ancestry and 1% Melanesia ancestry. In fact, my Mom has the same results. According to 23andme, Mom and I both have 1.4% Asian and Native American ancestry and less than 1% Oceanian ancestry. These results made my Mom "giddy" that she has Native American ancestry but not as much as she had hoped.

Another athletic champion on this episode was Rebecca Lobo.  Ms. Lobo is currently a basketball analyst who has an Olympic gold medal and has won a WNBA championship. When I first heard of Rebecca it was many years ago when she was featured on another series about cancer.  At the time, Lobo's mother was battling breast cancer, sadly her mom lost the fight with this disease and I was hoping that Rebecca's segment was going to talk about her medical history but that wasn't the case.

Dr. Gates provided Rebecca with a copy of her great-grandmother's handwritting.  Rebecca was amazed at seeing her ancestor's handwritting.  I know how that feels. A relative gave me a copy of my paternal great-grandmother, Fannie Sherrod Powell's letter to her mother.  I cherish that letter.

The third athlete featured in this series was baseball legend Derek Jeter.  Derek's mother is Irish American and his father is African American. The researchers trace Derek's father's roots to a former slave name Green W. Jeter who lived in Alabama. On the 1870 census, Green W. Jeter had $250 in personal property. Dr. Gates stated that Green Jeter's wealth suggested that Green's father could had been white and perhaps Green's former owner.  Because Derek is a male and the male DNA doesn't change, Derek's DNA would be the exact DNA as Green Jeter and Green Jeter's father whomever that might had been. Well, Dr. Gates was able to get DNA from a descendant of Green Jeter's owner, James W. Jeter. The DNA results confirm Derek and the descendant shared the same DNA, thus Green Jeter's father was James W. Jeter.

I unfortunately have yet to have a male relative to confirm specific ancestor origin such as my Mom's paternal grandfather who was supposed to be Native American.  Meanwhile, on the 1870 Wayne County, North Carolina census, my great-great grandfather, Charles Becton, was listed as having $200 worth of personal property but no one has ever said that Charles was a a child of his slave owner. I just thought that grandpa Charles got his money through hard work but perhaps some way or somehow he got his money through an inheritance.

As Billie Jean King stated on the show, "Champions adjust!" Well the ancestors featured in this episode are examples of individuals who through struggle were able to adjust. Maybe that's why their descendants are all Champions.