Tuesday, October 14, 2014

We Share The Same Surname In A Small Town? Are We Related?

Minnie Nolan Harrell
Many African-American people, whose ancestors were slaves, carry the surname of the last slaveholder or the one they chose after the emancipation proclamation ended slavery in America to this present day. 

Children were sold away from their parents, and fathers & mothers were taken away from their children. Many a times they were sold to other plantations. Sometime the children who were slaves were given to the daughter or son of the plantation owner as a wedding gift to them, often time never to be seen by their family member again.

One of the first things that some newly freed slaves did, when they received their freedom was to started searching for their lost family members. Mothers walk miles looking for their children. Some men started an all-out search hoping to find their wife and children.

Point in case; if there are several people in a small community that carries the last name Hudson, and you ask them if they’re related to the Hudson’s in the same town. They may say to you that they aren’t. The first question that I ask them is “how do you know that you aren’t related to them?” They can’t answer that question because they don’t know if they are related to them or not.

As a genealogist, I hear that quite often.  One piece of advice I can give them is that i they would conduct their family history they would be certain of their history.  I always advise them to speak with the oldest person in the family and find out what he or she knows and if they are willing to share their family history with them. Ask questions about the family and sit back & listen to the answers.

My grandfather Alexander Harrell had other siblings that no one in my family knew anything about.  His siblings were John, Anow, and Marietta, and we know nothing about them or their descendants.  So my point is John, Anow and Marietta could have had children. So if someone asked someone in my family if they are related to the Harrell’s in Roseland, Louisiana, they just might tell you no. They could be the descendants of my great grandfather’s brothers and sister.

That is why it is important to conduct a research to find out if there is any kinship involved.  Especially, if they live in the same area as that of your family. Although, slavery was abolished in 1863, effects of it can still be felt today.  Some genealogists and family historians are still searching for their long lost relatives. I am one of those genealogist’s who is still searching for my great grandfather Alexander Harrell’s sibling descendants.

My mother often said that her father Jasper told her that his father was from Clinton, Louisiana. Jasper was only two years old when his father Alexander Harrell passed away in 1914 in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana. Jasper knew very little about his father Alexander and his other siblings.

Could this be where we got another set of people that share the same surname us and our family have? Should we conduct a genealogy research to find out whether these are the long lost family members that our ancestors were looking for?

When I am conducting my family history on the Harrell’s side of the family, I know that any Harrell in Clinton, Louisiana could be a relative.  It was recently that I met a police officer in New Orleans, Louisiana by the name of Stephen Harrell who knew that his father was from Clinton, Louisiana.  Although we haven’t confirmed that we are related, we haven’t dismissed the thought either.  We are still conducting a research to find out whether there is a connection or not.

After all everyone on a plantation carried the last name of the slaveholder. I looked at the slave inventory list and at the 1870 U.S. census to answer some of the questions about our ancestors’ life after slavery.  The 1870 U.S. census is the first census to record the names, gender, and race of African-American people unless you were a free person of color, or an African-American slaveholder.

Being three generations removed from slavery, I can see why many genealogists and family historians are still searching for their missing family members. After all that is the first thing that some of the new freed slaves did, they searched for their family members who were sold off. Some walked miles and miles searching for their relatives.

Further studies using DNA testing should be used in studying African-American people, who came off the same plantations with the last surname. Some may find that they are related to each other. My grandmother Emma Mead Harrell had thirteen children by her husband Alexander.  Alexander had children by another woman who lived in the same town. The older family members didn’t say how many children he had with the other woman and this I found out at my grandfather Jasper’s funeral.

It was revealed when someone asked the lady who was sitting on a bench that was earmarked for the family to sit. The lady responded by saying that she was his sister. This is how my mother and other family member found out that my grandfather Jasper had other siblings outside of his parents, Alexander and Emma.

This wasn’t at all an uncommon situation. There are many similar situations in various small towns across America where slavery took place.