Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Time Traveling Along the Whaley Family Tree

Well, you know the first thing I did after visiting with my paternal grandfather was spend a few days researching my Whaley family roots. I'm actually surprised by how far back I was able to go in such a short amount of time! Armed with his memories, birth certificates that connect me to his dad (my great-grandfather), and the census and vital records available on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org, I have a pretty credible chain that takes me back to a man named Joe Whaley, who was born about 1823! This makes him - my 3x Great-Grandfather - one of the earliest relatives on my family tree!

Here's a quick and dirty climb up the family tree, starting with my Great-Grandfather, Morris Lee Whaley. (Note: Because my grandfather is still alive, I'm not posting his personal information here. This is my general rule on this blog, for privacy's sake.)

This is the 1920 Census for Morris, living in Baker County, Georgia. He's barely a teenager - 13 years old - and living with his parents, my 2x Great-Grandparents, Kit and Grace Whaley:

He can also be found in Kit and Grace's household in 1910, though his name is written as "Moise," "Maise" or something similar. Given his age and the presence of siblings he would be close to, and even follow out of state, once they set off as adults, I have little doubt that this is him. His death certificate also gives Kit and Grace as his parents.

So, let's jump back a generation. And this is a 40-year jump. Here's Kit Whaley (sometimes listed as Kip or Kib. Or Kirt or Kitt, because, well, you know how it is!). It's 1880 and he's 23 years old, helping out his parents Joe and Sue Whaley as a farm laborer. And if Kit's age here is correct (other documents suggest it is), he was born about 1856, making him a pre-Civil War ancestor. He - and his parents and older siblings - were probably born enslaved.

1880 Census, Baker County, Georgia

Now let's take a smaller jump back in time, to the earliest census record I have for the Whaleys: 1870. It's definitely the earliest one I have for Joe and Sue, my 3x Great-Grandparents. And it's probably also the earliest for my 2x Great-grandfather, Kit. But if you look closely, you'll see why I say "probably".

1870 Census, Baker County, Georgia

Yeah, instead of a male Kit, there's a female Kittie listed. (Oh Census gods, why do you do this to me??) The age is right. I guess it's possible that Kit had a twin sister, though there's no other evidence of that anywhere (although if you look again at 1880, you'll see there does appear to be a set of twins). More likely, the census taker simply got his or her info wrong, or perhaps the family was hesitant to provide information about their oldest son residing in the house at a time when tensions in the country were still running high. (1870 is during the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era. It was a time of great promise for African Americans, but also great hostility towards them, especially in the South.)

A few other things to note:
  • As with Morris' connection to Kit, Kit's death certificate is an additional piece of evidence naming Joe Whaley as his father.

  • If you look at the 1870 Census, you'll see that Joe, Sue and their older children are listed as having been born in South Carolina. While this isn't repeated on most other records I've found to date, the 1910 Census does list Kit and his mother as being born in SC. It's a possibility I'll have to explore. 

  • Looking at the ages of Joe and Sue's children, some were born during slavery and others after. Assuming Sue was enslaved, can you imagine, bringing free children into the world after having born children during slavery?

  • As with other branches of my family - and so many other African American families as well - it seems the Whaley story is one of moving north for a chance at a better, safer future. As my grandfather tells it, when his father Morris was a young man, the family actively worked to get its young men out of the south. Racial violence was heating up - including lynchings - and they wanted their sons out of such clear danger. Between 1920 and 1924, two of Morris' brothers had moved to Steubenville, Ohio, and Morris himself arrived by 1930. My grandfather says as each family member moved north, they worked to pave the way for someone else to join them. By 1934 at least one sister had it to Ohio, and by 1940, two more of Morris' brothers had joined them, meaning at least 6 Whaley siblings made the move north from Georgia in a little over a decade.

Obviously there's a lot more to learn about my Whaley ancestors. And I haven't even touched on my grandfather's mother's family yet! We'll see what else I find; as usual, stay tuned for more documents, and hopefully the stories behind them!

1 comment:

  1. Please contact me at pierreserot@aol.com I have some interesting information to share concerning the Whaley family