I was putting together a lesson for Saturday’s genealogy class, looking over the digital record collections on FamilySearch, when I stumbled across “United States, Freedmans Bank Records, 1865-1874.” At IGHR this past June Deborah Abbott had described the wealth of information recorded about account holders, so on a whim I clicked the link and started reading.
Boy, is she right! “Lafayette Robinson… has always lived in Huntsville… father John resides corner of Gallatin and Holmes… mother Ann died 15 or 16 years ago… brothers… step-mother… sisters…” What a gold mine! I couldn’t stop reading.
Samuel Carter’s entry brought me up short. In “Remarks,” above the X that marks Samuel’s signature, is written “Was brought away from home when so small that you don’t know parents or any of his relatives.” Samuel was living in Huntsville by the time he opened his bank account on October 1, 1867, but his bank record notes that he formerly lived in Marshall County, Alabama. There are a few more details: he turned 24 on the third of last March, he is not married, he lives in an alley between Church and Mill Street in Huntsville, his complexion is black, he works on the railroad. He attends the Baptist Church. He was born in Georgia—“Don’t know place.”[i]
I want to find Samuel’s parents.
There are a few leads. The surname Carter; lived in Marshall County, now in Huntsville; railroad; age 24 in 1867, so born in Georgia around 1843. I quickly found him in the 1870 census: now 26, working in a machine shop, born in Georgia, still single. He can read, though he can’t write.[ii] Can I find him in the Alabama State census in 1866? Yes: he’s in Marshall County. Household of one male, age 20-30. And look! Right after his name is another Carter. Jim Carter. Also a single male, age 20-30. [iii] Perhaps another clue?
Hypothesis: a slaveholder in Marshall County named Carter owned at least two males slaves, one born around 1843, and another in the same age range.
Can I find such a man in the 1860 US slave census? There are four possible candidates (all incorrectly indexed on ancestry.com as Caster or Canter): Joseph M Carter in the Eastern Division of Marshall County who owned 16 slaves, including two 18-year-old boys; Charles Carter in the Western Division who owned six slaves, including one 19-year-old and one 16-year-old boy; and two other Carters enumerated on the slave schedules immediately after Charles: Martin and Thomas, who owned one slave each, both 15-year-old boys.[iv]
I don’t have an end to the story yet. This is completely new territory for me—I’ve never researched slave records, and I have a lot to learn. That’s the danger of family history, isn’t it? These names pop out at you from the images, and they take on a life of their own and then take over yours. There are so many questions I wish but know I may never be able to answer: How did Samuel come to work on the railroad? How had he learned to read, such a short time after the War? I discovered that Sam married and moved to Memphis, Tennessee, but haven’t found him in later censuses.[v] Why Memphis?
There are a lot of records out there I’ve yet to explore….
[i] “United States, Freedmans Bank Records, 1865-1874,” Huntsville, Madison County, Alabama, Record Book 1, record no. 25, Samuel Carter.
[ii] 1870 U.S. census, Marshall County, Alabama, population schedule, Township 3 Range 1 West, p. 23 (penned), p. 319A (stamped), dwelling and family 202, household of Thomas Earskin; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 13 July 2013); citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 27.
[iii] Alabama State Census, 1866, Marshall County, Schedule 2 Colored Population, p. 39, entries for Sam Carter and Jim Carter; digital image, “Alabama State Census, 1820-1866,” Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 13 July 2013).
[iv] 1860 U.S. census, Marshall County, Alabama, slave schedule, Eastern Division, p. 4 (penned), col. 1 lines 8-23, Joseph M Carter; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 13 July 2013); citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll number not listed. Also 1860 U.S. census, Marshall County, Alabama, slave schedule, Western Division, p. 7 (penned), p. 119 (stamped), col. 2 lines 27-34, Charles, Thomas and Martin Carter; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 13 July 2013); citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll number not listed.
[v] 1880 U.S. Census, Shelby County, Tennessee, population schedule, Memphis, enumeration district 148, p. 270B (stamped), dwelling 155, family 187; Samuel Carter; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 13 July 2013); citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 1280.