After all that research in Alabama, I had to take a breather, but I’m easing back into organizing and writing things up. If you read my last post, you know that the greatest find of my trip was actual living family members, but I also found some pretty neat documents. Here’s one of them:
This is the marriage record for my paternal great-great-grandparents, Solomon Harris and Ardenia Jackson (written here as Adelia). They are the parents of my dad’s mom’s mom, Beatrice Harris. If their names sound familiar, it’s because last August I posted that a basic record about their marriage had been placed online at FamilySearch.org. Well, I used that information on my trip to find their marriage application, license and return at the Montgomery County Probate Office in Alabama. That’s what you see above.
After I visited the Probate Court, I spent some time at the Alabama Department of Archives and History, also in Montgomery, and something told me to look up marriage records there, too. Thank goodness for that feeling, because look what they had that the Probate Office didn't!
This beautiful baby right here is a copy of the certificate that apparently would have been given directly to the couple to take to their pastor of choice, who would sign and return it to them upon completing the ceremony. They would then have taken it back to the courthouse to be officially registered.
Solomon and Ardenia were married on the 3rd of December in 1914. While the first record above states Solomon was 21 and Ardenia was 18 when they married, other records that state that both Solomon and Ardenia were born in the summer of 1897, making them each actually just 17. The ceremony took place in Madison Park, in Montgomery, AL and was conducted by a Reverend P.J Minefield. According to the marriage license application (in the first document above), Ardenia was Baptist, while Solomon has no religion listed, so it’s likely Rev. Minefield was a Baptist minister. However, I haven’t yet been able to find anything on him.
Something did come up when I looked up Madison Park in Montgomery County, Alabama: the History page for the Madison Park Community Reunion. If this is in fact the Madison Park where they were married, then they celebrated their union in a town that had been founded about 30 years earlier by former slaves in order to “have a future for themselves and their families.” According to the website,
“They worked their own land; built houses, established a school and houses of worship…. [T]he community established farms and produces row crops and table vegetables. They built grist mills, saw mills, two syrup mills, a cotton gin, grocery stores, a park and a gravel pit. The community for all practical purposes was a self-sufficient community.”
You can read more here.
This was a place designed so that African Americans, so recently out of slavery and facing hostility and abuse from a region not willing to give up the racism or economics of slavery, could feel safe and make their own way in the world. I don’t know if Solomon and Ardenia actually lived in this community or had some other tie that led them to be married there, or if this is even the same Madison Park (though I couldn’t find any others) but if they did live there, how cool! (And yes, I sent the group an email to see if I can find anything more!)
Solomon and Ardenia brought two daughters into the world together, Beatrice in 1915 and Lillian in 1917. In fact, another of my cool finds from the trip to Alabama were Beatrice and Lillian’s listings in the Montgomery County Register of Births. (This was a real case of serendipity, because there are only 2 registers and 10 years worth of birth records available at the Probate Office, 1908-1912 and 1913-1917. I found 4 people!)
And here’s Lillian:
Among other things, these records tell us that this was the first marriage for both Ardenia and Solomon, that they are living in Beat 18 of Montgomery County in 1915, and that both are working as farm laborers in 1915 and 1917. But by 1918, Solomon is working for the Winter Loeb Grocery Company, and it looks like they are living in the city of Montgomery itself, instead of on the farmland surrounding it. This may have been due to a devastating infestation of boll weevils that hit Alabama's cotton crops starting in 1892 and covering the entire state by 1916. Crops were destroyed year after year, farmers were forced to sell land, and sharecroppers and tenant farmers were pushed off or left the land in search of better opportunities. But through that challenge, or whatever caused them to move, Solomon and Ardenia were still together.
|Solomon Harris' World War I Draft Registration Card, 1918|
Unfortunately, this is the last record that I have been able to find for Solomon. We know from Ardenia’s obituary that Solomon passes away before her, and we know that by 1930 Ardenia and her teenage daughters are living together in Jefferson County, where Ardenia makes her living operating a boarding house. Finally, we know that she remarries in 1935 and moves north to Kewanee, Illinois in the 1940s. I can’t find anyone in this family in the 1920 census, so that gap between 1918 and 1930 unfortunately can’t be filled right now.
But at least we're able to capture a few snapshots of their life together - their union, hard work, children, change. Perhaps with time, luck, and more research, we'll be able to flesh this out further.
Do you know something I don't about Solomon and Ardenia? Please share!