Tonight, former NFL star, Emmitt Smith will find his slave ancestor with the help of a team of genealogists at NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are. Tonight is also the deadline to submit to the Carnival of African-American Genealogy designed to gather together bloggers that focus on finding their African-American roots.
In the short time that I’ve expanded my family research to include the world-wide web, you all have become my team of genealogists, from friends who read this blog encouraging me to press on to fellow searchers like the ones hosting the carnival who shout out to me with hints and finds.
I’m not a hermit, but reaching out to people I don’t know or am not related to brings me out of my comfort zone. Yet, it’s something I need to do repeatedly if I want to have any success reclaiming lost branches of my family tree.
With that in mind, I sent an email yesterday introducing myself to Francis Howcutt.
My cousin, Monique found him. She had the brilliant idea to expand our search to include names on the periphery of it like Howcott and McCauley, people we aren’t connected to through blood but rather through slavery.
Sometime in the mid 1800s in Madison County, Mississippi, John Howcott married Elizabeth Jones gaining a bride and all of her property including her slaves. My great, great-grandmother Temple Burton was one of the slaves passed down through the Jones family, beginning with the death of Hill Jones when he bequeathed Temple to his wife. It’s believed that ultimately, Temple was given to Hill Jones’s granddaughter, Elizabeth McCauley as a wedding present upon her marriage to Col. W. R. Stuart, my great great-grandfather.
It might seem like a long shot researching these tangental strands, but if we’re to discover any more about Temple Burton and her family, then we can’t leave any stone unturned. Under this stone, we found a piece of gold.
Francis Howcutt of London, England is as much of a genealogy freak as Monique and I are. His website has pictures of both black and white Howcutts (and Howcotts) spanning both sides of the Atlantic. Pictured last on his homepage is William Hill Howcott of Mississippi, son of John Howcott and Elizabeth Jones – our (non blood related) people.
By the end of the day, Francis had returned my email, confirmed that he indeed had heard of my great great-grandmother, Temple Burton and alerted me to a book that included information on her as well as a picture. I let him know about the Stuart Papers, the collection of letters, poems, and obituaries that belonged to my third great-grandfather which is sprinkled with mentions of Howcotts. He let me know that he was happy to help with any other questions and solidified the deal by friending me on facebook:) His warm gesture erased the disappointment of the many unanswered emails I’ve sent and, I hope will quell my anxiety about the many shout outs I’ll continue to need to make. It hasn’t been easy confronting my great great-grandmother’s reality. Temple was property listed along with farm animals and equipment and I can’t begin to understand what her life was like. In order to find out more about here, I’ll have to research the people who owned her. So, it’s inspiring to me that Francis Howcutt shares information about both his blood relatives and the ones acquired through slavery. He seems to understand that ultimately, our stories are inextricably entwined, that one illuminates the other. Blood relatives or not, in this community, we’re all related.
Francis’s generosity of spirit is not the only one I’ve benefitted from since joining this researching community. Ghita Johnson provided me with Hill Jones’s will, the earliest documentation of my great-great grandmother’s existence and Antoinette Lee alerted me to the Stuart Papers that belonged to my third great-grandfather, William R. Stuart of Maryland and New Orleans. I’ve never even met these women and yet, they connected me with information that is helping to shape my family history into a tangible dimension, something so real I can almost touch it.
I have no professional experience or aspirations as a genealogist. I just want to know about my family tree. But all these gifts from the genealogy community make me want to do the self- subscribed genealogist badge proud. So, I try to remember to share what I find whether it’s my story or something that helps you uncover yours.
Thanks Luckie at ourgeorgiaroots for hosting this 1st edition of the Carnival of African-American Genealogy.