The Quest for Family: Politics and Blood by Angelis Robinson – Smith

Me III’ve met many people on my quest for family.  The stories of their lives have left me with varied emotions, and I’ve come to realize that they were as different and as complex as the results of my ethnicity reports.  They are people   worship places.  I rejoice with them when they rejoice over the birth of a baby or celebrate a wedding, and I grieve with them when they grieve over the loss of a loved one or the loss and destruction of property.  They are the life blood of the fabric of my being and that of my descendants, so I passionately search for them to restore honor and respect to the memory of their lives.

Those same memories flooded my mind on December 12, 2017, as I stood in my voting place to cast my choice for United States senator.   The race had received unprecedented media attention, and millions of people had watched as the last hundred years had seemed to roll back to a time of Old South Jim Crow bigotry and racism during the heated senatorial race.    After the polls closed, people across the world watched with anticipation for the final results; and the entire world was stunned when Alabamians, led by an unprecedented turn-out of African American females, had unified in electing the first democratic senator from the state since 1992.

As I had cast my vote, I had wondered how many of my ancestors, standing as emancipated citizens to cast their votes, had yearned for and anticipated change.  Later, on the eve of Martin Luther King Day, I began to contemplate the roles my ancestors might have played in civil rights, voting rights, freedom rides, and the march across Edmund Pettus Bridge.  The thought was exhilarating, and I began to search my family history for clues.  As a historian, I am familiar with post-Civil War history and the Reconstruction Act passed on March 23, 1867, requiring all male citizens 21 years and older to register to vote before September 1, 1867.    Black men across the nation had rushed to register to vote just as I had remembered my parents had done in 1966.  I imagined that my ancestors were among the excited, formerly disenfranchised citizens, eager to register and take the loyalty oath in exchange for the vote.

Sugar Shack 1966

VOTERS IN PEACHTREE, ALABAMA 1966

The caption reads, “Negroes flock to this polling place in rural, Blackbelt, Alabama 5/3, as they vote in large numbers for the first time in history. Typical of rural polling places is the “Sugar Shack” a small store in Wilcox County where Negroes outnumber whites almost 3 to 1.” National Archives, Records of the United States Information Agency Retrieved 1/27/2018

Electoral history in my family tree

Reviewing my family tree, I found a note to self to research a name on my Norwood branch. The name was Ella Norwood.  Oral history suggested that she may have married a local politician.  To my amazement, I found Ella on my research tree married to Jerry Haralson in 1870.  I had overlooked the fact that “Jerry” was the same Jeremiah Haralson who had been among the first ten African Americans to serve in the United States Senate.  His rise to political office had been as volatile as that of the recent Senate race between Doug Jones and Roy Moore.

Jeremiah Library of CongressJeremiah was born a slave in Muscogee County, Georgia on April 1, 1846.  In 1859, he was purchased by an attorney, John Haralson, from Selma, Alabama.  After Jeremiah was freed in 1865, he taught himself to read and write.  Before he married Ella Norwood on June 18, 1870, he had already entered the political arena as a controversial figure.  Instead of joining the Republican party as most black men had done, he joined the Democratic Party that was hated by freed blacks because they viewed the party as being comprised of former slave owners, Confederate soldiers, and the institution that had wanted them  to remain in bondage.  Some have suggested that Jeremiah was a double agent, acting to recruit people away from the Democratic Party into the Republican Party.  Although Haralson made his first unsuccessful bid for Congress at age 22 in 1868 as a Democrat, by 1869, he had formally switched parties.

In 1870, the Republican Party selected Haralson to preside over the district convention.  Benjamin S. Turner, also from Selma, Alabama, was nominated and became the first African American from Alabama to serve in Congress.  By 1872, Jeremiah Haralson had been elected as a Republican member of the Alabama State Senate after serving in the Alabama House of Representatives from 1870 until 1872.  He navigated a civil rights bill through the state senate that was ignored by the Alabama State House of Representatives. Nevertheless, Haralson was on solid ground for the United States senate race and was described by a local newspaper as “…perhaps feared more than any other colored man in the legislature in Alabama.” 1

In 1874, campaigning on a civil rights platform, Haralson won the Republican nomination in the district formerly represented by Representative Turner, which stretched across western Alabama including Selma and a large portion of central Alabama’s Black Belt.  Haralson became a member of the Forty-Fourth Congress and the third African American Republican congressman from Alabama.  However, Haralson lost the 1876 campaign upon the expectation of violence, federal troops at the polling places, gerrymandering, and a split Republican ticket between Haralson and another former black Representative, James Rapier from Montgomery, Alabama.

First Black Senators and Reps with caption

In 1878, Haralson returned to favor and won the nomination of the Republican Party.  However, according to the Chicago Daily Tribune, the racial prejudices in the district were so extreme, white Democrats preferred “to see the Devil himself in Congress rather than Haralson.”2.   Consequently, Haralson lost the election to Democrat Charles M. Shelley.  Shelley was a former Confederate general and the sheriff of Selma, Alabama.  When Haralson complained that his ballots had been thrown out, Shelley supporters jailed Haralson’s witnesses, falsified charges, and attempted to imprison Haralson and his lawyer.  Haralson fled for his life to Washington, D.C. after he was attacked on the road between Selma and Montgomery.  Eventually, Haralson returned to Alabama around 1912, but later moved westward to Colorado where he died in 1916 as a result of being attacked by wild animals.  No death certificate was ever filed.

Although the struggle has been difficult, black men and women continue to register to vote.   Many of these brave people are my ancestors. They have established themselves as strong leaders leaving a legacy for generations to come.

Footnotes:

  • Schweninger and Fitts, “Haralson, Jeremiah,” ANB. Quoted in Christopher, Black Americans in Congress: 134, and Middleton, ed., Black Congressmen During Reconstruction:116.
  • “Alabama,” 14 October 1878, Chicago Tribune: 2.

References:

http://time.com/5062625/doug-jones-alabama-senate-results-upset/(January 27, 2018)

History, Art & Archives, U.S. House of Representatives, “HARALSON, Jeremiah,” http://history.house.gov/People/Detail/14507 (January 25, 2018)

http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-3270 (January 25, 2018)

History, Art & Archives, U.S. House of Representatives, “Black Americans in Congress,” http://history.house.gov/Exhibitions-and-Publications/BAIC/Black-Americans-in-Congress/ (January 27, 2018)

Alabama, Select Marriages, 1816-1957, Jerry Haralson and Elen Norwood, https://search.ancestry.com/

Alabama, Voter Registration, 1867, https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/63917452/person/34347159726/facts

1870 United States Census, Dallas County, Orville, p.31.

Image of Jeremiah Haralson courtesy Library of Congress (January 25, 2018)

Following the Governors with Ben Ogle Part 1

Family trees on Ancestry.com are the best when it comes to researching family history.  However, it’s like batting flies in the wind if you haven’t taken a DNA test. DNA results are the footprints in the genealogical sand of self discovery. For African Americans, that’s very important because most of us have no documented history past our grandparents or great grand parents, if we are lucky.  Again, that’s true for most of us. There are some African Americans who can rattle off family history back five or six generations. Now, that’s what I’m trying to do for my family.

In my last blog, I presented my DNA results from two companies, AncestryDNA and 23andMe.  It may have appeared that I was unsatisfied with my results; however, nothing could be further from the truth. I am the cheer leader of DNA  testing. As a matter of fact, without DNA testing, I would still be trying to figure out who I am. Therefore, I am proud and over joyed with my African ancestry as well as the other parts of me.

DNA testing has led me to discover many of my ancestors, so follow me on my journey to find out the identity of Ben Ogle. Is it possible that he’s my great, great, great grandfather? At this point, I can’t say that he is grandfather’s ancestor or that of my grandmother. He may be connected to both. Let’s find out.

I first met Ben Ogle while searching for my Horn and Poole family connections, but they had his last name as Odom. I knew that I was related to the Odom,  so I made a mental note of his name ( I have since learned to write everything down,). however, at this point, I had no knowledge of him or that he may be an ancestor.  There was a story about him attached to the tree of one of our Ely cousins. I was intrigued by the story, but at the time I didn’t see how it was applicable to me. Then, in the dark musty research room within the Clarke County Courthouse, I finally found the records of enslavement of my Horn and Robinson family.  It was a dark, cloudy day, but the room suddenly brightened. I had been looking for these records for almost a year, and here they were in the will of John Russell Robertson (Robinson) of South Carolina.  I must detour here to explain how finding these records led me to Ben Ogle.

John Russell Robertson had left certain slaves to his children. One of his daughters, Sarah Robinson, married Josiah Horn.  Among slaves willed to Sarah were Edy, Gabe, Lottie, Nancy, and Spencer.  There were others, but these are the ones that are significant to this post. Nancy was only six months old when she was taken from her mother, Edy, and sent to the Horn Plantation.  Spencer was about six years old as was Lottie. Spencer went to the Horn Plantation while Lottie was sent with Gabe to the plantation of another of Russell Robinson’s daughter, Martha Adeline Moseley. It’s possible that Mose Robinson’s mother, Catheryn Moseley, was also on that plantation, and it’s possible that Mose Robinson was conceived there between 1863 – 1865.

Edy later married Daniel Robinson who later changed his name to Daniel Banks. Edy and Daniel are the progenitors of the Robinson, Banks, and Allen families of Clarke County.  Nancy later married Henry Love1 and became the progenitor of Love, Harris, McCall, Carmichael, and McCants as well as the Horn families of Clarke and Wilcox Counties.  It appears that Henry Love1 left Clarke and Wilcox Counties with the Robinsons sometime around 1880, for Texas.

Now, back to the discovery of Ben. When Nancy was sent to the Horn plantation, she was only six months old. A six month old baby has not yet been weaned, so there had to be someone there to take care of the baby and to continue to nurse her. As I followed the path of Nancy, I found Betsy Horn (more about her later). As I followed Betsy, I found Ben Ogle, not Odom, living with his daughter and her husband, Granville Foreman. Granville later changed his surname (last) name to Lynum.

By now, I had received my DNA results from AncestryDNA. Recall that I was overwhelmed with all of the trees with names that I had never heard. Well, I had been invited by a cousin, Regina, to a Facebook group, DNA Tested African Americans. It was here that I learned to use valuable tools and information like DNA trees. Two years ago, I had about twenty fourth cousin matches on Ancestry, and hundreds of cousins beyond the fourth cousin match.  I found Regina in the later. I found my connection to Ben Ogle in the former group. One set each of my thirty-two great, great, great grand parents were there in the trees of my twenty plus cousins. By the way, at this time, my fourth cousin matches were all white. It was another year, testing with 23andMe, and meeting Stephanie Renee before I would totally understand the importance of the trees of my fourth cousins. I now have over forty fourth cousins with only five of them being of African American descent.

While searching the Addison surname from my tree, in an attempt to match Stephanie’s tree, I kept running into the same trees and families, so I decided to Google the names. To my amazement, the names Ogle, Tasker, and Addison were all connected to governors of the State of Maryland. In addition,  they were the same names found in the family trees of my cousins on Ancestry.

Next, I started to research these families to find out if their stories would lead me to my Ben Ogle and Alabama. Yes! I found several stories that seem to document part of the oral history for Ben Ogle. As a matter of fact, the factual story matches my DNA! In addition, I found relatives that match me on several chromosomes that further document the heredity. DNA is awesome and it provides a documented, genealogical footprint that leads to an identity that is not just one – hundred or even five – hundred years ago. It leads all the way back to the Garden of Eden.

Follow me to found out what I find! It’s simply amazing!

Looking for me in the spit: DNA Testing

It’s been a little more than two years since I took my first DNA test with AncestryDNA™, and I still remember the headaches that I got, trying to sort through the matches and what they meant to me. Now, two years later, I’m still a little confused, and I’ve taken another test with 23andMe, Inc. This past year both my mother and my sister have also tested with 23andMe. I can say that things have gotten a lot better. I can now identify some of my mothers relatives, and I have become friends with relatives that I call the two Stephanie’s and another one that I call Gina. They are like bloodhound on this trip. If a relative is to be found they will find him/her. What I like about the three of them is that they are like me. We are not pretentious, and we don’t have to put ourselves out there to be noticed. We just quietly do what we do and the ancestors show up! We have all learned a lot from the DNA spit that we sent to the labs. I want to expose some specific lessons about my ancestors that I’ve learned these past two years.

What I Know

I still don’t have proof of my biological grandfathers, but I know my grandmothers.  Therefore, I learned that it’s best to start with what you know. My paternal grandmother was Bertha Foreman. She was from Indian Ridge, Alabama. From oral history, I was told that she was part Native American.  I remember that my dad had a photograph of her when she was about fifteen years old. She was dressed in Native American apparel with a native head band around her head.  Her hair had been braided in two plaits, one on each side.  From the photograph, it appeared that she was attending some type of celebration.  The odd thing was that the photograph was hidden underneath some things. When I asked my father about why it was hidden, he wouldn’t answer. I got the impression, after asking my grandfather about the portrait, that it was better not to let people know that you were Native American.

My grandfather gave me a bag of Indian coins once to take to school for show and tell. After school, the kids and one of the teachers, snatched the bag from me and took almost all of the coins.  I was of the first group of African American children to attend the all white elementary school. I had mixed emotions of anger, hurt, and disbelief over this episode.  To this day, I can’t believe what happened and that this would happen to me, a sixth grader, at a public school.  I was so afraid to tell grand daddy, but when I did, he just laughed and said he knew that would happen. He was not angry at all, and said he had more coins put away, and he showed me some other native artifacts.  I knew at that point that we were descendants of Native Americans. However, when I received my first DNA results from AncestryDNA™, there was not a hint of Native American DNA reported. I was more than a little disturbed. I was irate!  Why would they withhold my true results. The feelings from sixth grade came flooding back. I felt as if something had been stolen from me again.  They only reported that I was sub Saharan African and Scandinavian.   This told me nothing, so I decided to test with another company.

My test results with 23andMe were a little better, but not as much as I thought.  Below are my ethnicity results from 23andMe.

My 23andme snip2

So, what happened to the “Indian” in me? As of December 2013, 23andMe started to report only .7% NA and 1.2% total East Asian and Native. Several months ago the percentages were higher.  I could give you a genetics lesson on recombination, but I would rather like to provide a word to express my true feelings; thus, allowing you to read between the lines. That word is poppycock!  Suddenly, 23andMe was reporting my ethnicity as Non- specific sub Saharan African, European, and Asian.  At least 30% of me couldn’t be accounted for, which left me feeling a little bewildered. What happened?

I still longed for more. Why couldn’t at least one company tell me to which tribes I belonged? Why were there suddenly major blank pages in my story?  In the meantime, Ancestry was working on their revisions. They had promised to show a breakdown of African American ethnicity, and they were true to their promise as shown below. As a matter of fact, it appeared to me, and is of my own opinion, that the two companies had a meeting of the minds on the Native American issue.  Their results were similar, but still questionable.

Ancestrydna NA Asian Europe Results African Ancestrydna Results

Although I am not totally satisfied with these results, I am definitively closer to discovering family than I was. As a matter of fact, some of my cousins and I have already connected some dots and confirmed our kinship. You will hear more about that in the days to come.  First, I want to fill some gaps for my cousins who may be reading this blog here or in our Facebook group.  I hope to encourage some of you to take a DNA test to see how you match with me or other DNA test family members. If you want to know more, just contact me. I’m here to help.

The next blog will discuss the possible connections of Ben Ogle to at least three Maryland governors.  See you on the next quest for family!

Incognito Needles

Equipped with certain tools that I deemed necessary for success in my quest to find granddaddy, I set off with enthusiasm. Then, I ran into my first haystack. This haystack was full of needles disguised as names.  You heard me, names. As I mentioned, I thought I had the proper equipment to begin a successful dig; however, when I got to the site, I found that I was ill equipped.

Let me explain. My equipment included the names of my paternal grandparents, Sandy and Bertha Foreman Robinson; and my paternal great grandparents, Mose and Luvenia Poole Robinson.  However, none, absolutely none, of these names were spelled the way I had imagined. I didn’t know who I was looking for, and if you don’t know who, you don’t know how!

You see, it was November 2003, five years after the death of my father and only days before his birthday. I had promised myself that I would know his family, so I sat at my computer and typed each name. Nothing happened.  Numerous and various names appeared but none familiar to me. Then, slowly the name Bertha appeared, but nothing significant or related to my Bertha. Defeated, I gave up with the promise to return when I could devote more time to the endeavor.

Thus, in August of 2011, I retired. My first priority after getting my baby girl off to the University of Alabama was to start my search again. This time my search was better. There in black and white were the names of my grandmother, Bertha and her family, but there It was again, that haystack of needle, incognito names. I never knew my grandmother’s mother’s name, and I’m not sure that I  know it now, but one thing’s for sure, I didn’t recognize this name at all.  The penmanship was, to say the least, different.  I don’t even want to discuss the other names in this blog – too much!  This was my first painful needle experience, but years of teaching English and reading thousands of essays had prepared me. I was determined to decipher the code before me; at least I needed to know the name of my grandmother’s mother.  To do this I needed something to compare. I searched each page of the 1900 Census for Indian Ridge (Anderson), Clarke County, Alabama to determine letter styles and patterns until  I was certain that the name before me was Emma! My great grandmother’s name was Emma Foreman.

Emma Foreman, head of Household
Emma Foreman, Head of Household

Feeling brave I entered Mose Robinson into the search box. There were no 1870 records nor 1880 records for Mose Robinson, but there he was in 1900, with a number of spellings for Mose and Robinson – Moses, Robertson (stick, stick).  I would not have been able to find that record had it not been for some family explorer who had braved the journey before me looking for Mary Robinson, the sister of my granddaddy. Therefore, the needles were not too painful until I started to look closely at the record. Who was Sovanus? That couldn’t possibly be my granddaddy! Then, I looked further, and at the end of the record I saw the name, Cathern Mosley, Mother. Whoa!!! Where did Mosley come from? I had never heard that name connected with my family before, and I  grew up with a town full of Mosley’s.  Who was Silva Pool? Where was the Olivia Pool that I had heard about all of my life?  Needles were flying everywhere. As a matter of fact, they were more like minute missiles, and I had to duck if I were going to make it through this trip. Oh well, time to call in reinforcements.

1900 Census Mose Robinson
Mose Robinson, Head; Catherine Moseley; Silvia Pool, Lodger

Looking for the Needles

I knew that to understand Granddaddy, I had start looking for those needles, and I knew there were going to be a lot of  haystacks to look through.  However, the option of not searching was not an option. I had to start the process. It was like a strong pull by some force that I couldn’t control.  I was both excited and fearful. I didn’t know what to expect, but I had to know. What if I discovered that I was not a Robinson? What if found out that I was really adopted? All kinds of crazy thoughts filled my mind. It didn’t matter; I had to know. When I was ten, I started to make my own clothes. I didn’t use a sewing machine. I used sewing needles to make them.  I quickly discovered that needles hurt. I would have tiny needle pricks on my fingers, and they would bleed on some occasions. What does this have to do with Granddaddy? Well, the process of finding Granddaddy has been just as painful, but I finally started the search. Why painful? I discovered that when you start to search your family history, you may discover things that are uncomfortable, information  in contrast to what you were taught, or new information unknown to anyone.  However, what has caused the most pain has been the refusal of family to accept the truth.  They would rather live a lie and  in darkness than to be free by knowing the truth.  Then, there are those who don’t want to know because it’s not coming from them.  It’s important that we know who we are and where we came from. We make the same mistakes over and over; our child fall in the same pattern, and they make the same mistakes that we tried to shield them from. Why, because none of us know who we are. Well, I’m on this journey, and I have decided that I am going to keep looking even if it causes some to be uncomfortable or angry.  I’ve accepted the fact that I may lose some family and friends along the way, but I’ve already found so many more – family that I never knew I had. I invite all of my family along for the ride. You may become a little shaken along the way, but I promise this is going to be a trip that you will never  forget!

Neddle In A Haystack

Finding out about granddaddy  is like finding a needle in a haystack. Hmmm. Why is it so difficult? He always had a mysterious air about him. Although a quiet man, he also could become quite agitated, especially about death, calling it trouble in the family. My parents told me stories of how he sold the family property because he thought that he was dying. Thousands, well maybe hundreds, of acres gone. He called all of the family together to see him off. Sisters, brothers, aunts,uncles, and cousins hastily arrived by train, bus, horse, and foot to see Granddaddy off to a better place. Hours passed, and Granddaddy lingered on. Into the midnight hours of the next day, it was obvious that Granddaddy was here to stay a little while longer. So, what really happened? Why did Granddaddy sell his land, leaving his children with nothing? The search continues.

Who Was Granddaddy?

My granddaddy was Sandy C. Robinson, Sr. He was born Sovannus C. Robinson, but he didn’t like his name, so he changed it.

I was six years old when I discovered that my grandfather was special. That was when I found out that he had the power to heal.  When I was six, I found out that bedwetting was not acceptable. Every night I would say the prayer that my mother taught me. “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the lord, my soul to take”. Then I would pray extra hard, “Lord please don’t let me pee in the bed tonight”. I prayed that prayer every night, and every night, I wet the bed. I just didn’t know how God could save my soul when I was suffering from peeing in the bed. But I prayed and believed that He was going to help me, so I lay down to sleep and dreamed that I was using the bathroom and not wetting the bed. Then, my sweet dreams would turn to cold and wet and I would awake to find myself lying in a puddle pee. While I was somewhat ashamed and didn’t like the feel of lying in a wet bed, I resolved to continue to pray until Sweet Jesus answered my prayers, but my mother decided that she had to do something to remedy the problem. Her remedy was the horror that made me pray harder but pee more. You see, she felt that if she told me that she would hang my wet sheets out for the world to see, I would miraculous stop. Well, she was wrong. This threw me in such a tizzy until my demure grandfather sought me out to determine the cause of my sudden nervousness and agitation. Stunned that Granddaddy asked, I blurted out my troubles. That night he came to my bedside with a foul smelling concoction that de demanded that I drink. The taste was worse than the smell, but I drank. He then said, “You won’t pee in the bed again.”

Really? Did my granddaddy really have the power to make me stop wetting the bed? This is what I asked as I drifted off to sleep, without saying my prayers, without praying extra hard to stop wetting the bed and as I thought, “I hope I don’t die before I wake.”  I awoke the next morning to dry sheets. I jumped out of the bed and ran to Granddaddy’s house. “Granddaddy, I didn’t wet the bed”. He looked at me with that sly smile on his face. “Grand Daddy, what did you give me?” He had mentioned the name the night before but now I was interested. “Swamp Root”, he said.  He even told me where it came from.

I didn’t really care where it came from. I was just happy that I had been cured. Who was granddaddy? How did he cure me? To me, my granddaddy held some secrets that no one else knew about. He was magical. He was probably even a prince from a faraway land. Yes, Uncle Zan, as he was known, was somebody special, and I was determined to find out who he was!