After They Married

This is the only photograph my family has of Sarah Davis Holman

1880 Census

On June 4, 1880, Price, Sarah and their children, Theodore and Elmer, lived in Jefferson, Kanawha, West Virginia. Curiously, the fifth member of their household, Nancy Richards, appears to be the daughter of Aaron and Sarah Ann Richards, who are listed on the 1870 census record with Sarah Davis (please seethe Dec 22, 2011 post for more details on this). Nancy Richards is 13 years old and recorded as a servant. I don’t know much about Price and Sarah, but they do not appear to have had much money, so it’s unlikely they would have had a servant. Were Sarah Davis Holman and Nancy Richards related? What happened to Nancy? I have not been able to find her on later census records. It’s possible she married, and the new last name will make her difficult to find.

As for the individuals Price was living with in 1870 — Margareth, William, Sally and Benjamin — two of the four appear on the 1880 Census. William and Sally (or Sallie), along with a Millie Holman (age 9), are living with a family called Moseley. The birthplace, county of residence and age match William and Sally of the 1870 Census, so I am reasonably sure they are the same people. What’s odd is that by now William is 17 and Sally is 12, yet the head of the household and his wife, Bibb and Charlotte Moseley, both 24 years old, are listed as the Holman children’s grandparents. It’s true, back then people often had children earlier than they do today, but the math on that just doesn’t work out no matter how you add or subtract. In addition, Margareth and Benjamin seem to have disappeared. I haven’t been able to find any other records on them, not in 1880 or beyond.

More mysteries to add to my growing list.

Price Holman married Sarah Davis on June 28, 1874 in St. Albans, Kanawha, West Virginia. According to the marriage record, he was 26 years old and she was 20.* Both were born in the state of Virginia, but, piecing together data from various census records, appear to have met in West Virginia. They are the parents of my mother’s father.

What Took Them West?

Price and Sarah are variously described as Mulatto or Black on different census records. They were most likely born into slavery. In 1865, the emancipation year, she would have still been a child while he would have been on the precipice of adulthood, at 17. Was West Virginia a more desirable place to be simply because it wasn’t the place of their enslavement? Or did they leave their home state for other reasons?

West Virginia, state number 35, was admitted to the Union on June 20, 1863, having seceded from Virginia during the Civil War. In the late 1800s, the growing coal industry, railroad construction and industrialization in general brought many African-Americans into the state. My great grandparents may have been riding one of those waves.

Before They Married

The 1870 Census reveals the following information:

  • On July 5, 1870, Sarah Davis lived in Jefferson Township, Kanawha, West Virginia, in a household with 17 other people. Their last names were Richards, Hains, Read, Edminston and Jackson. She was the only Davis.
  • On August 11, 1870, Price Holman lived in Tuckahoe, Henrico, Virginia in the same household with Margareth Holman (24 years old), William Holman (7 years old), Sally Holman (4 years old) and Benjamin Holman (2 years old).
  • On September 5, 1870, Price, Margareth, William, Sally and Benjamin lived in Brookland, Henrico, Virginia in the same household.

Sarah. The 1870 census record puts Sarah at 14 years old. Her occupation is listed as Hosuekeeper. Most of the other people in her household were also born in Virginia. Did they all move as a group to West Virginia? Were any of them related to Sarah? Was she an orphan?

Price. Were Margareth, William, Sally and Benjamin, Price’s wife and children? Or was Margareth perhaps his widowed sister-in-law? The 1870 census does not record “Relationship to Head of Household” as later census records did, so it’s impossible to tell. My first assumption was that this was Price’s “first” family. But is it reasonable to assume he abandoned them, headed for West Virginia, and started a new family with my great grandmother? Assumptions are dangerous, so I’m holding out for more facts before drawing any conclusions.

More to come on Price and Sarah, and West Virginia, in future posts.

* I take ages that were recorded prior to around 1930 on cesus, marriage and death records with a grain of salt, as the same person can have a birth year that varies by as much as 10 years depending on what record it appears on. Throughout this site, ages are approximate (and will most likely be inconsistent) for those without a bonafide birth certificate.

Why Am I Here?

While trying to think of a name for this blog I remembered a poem I’d read years ago called “Accidents of Birth,” by William Meredith. I remembered it because I liked the quote at the beginning of the poem, which is taken from Wendell Berry’s work “The Long-Legged House.” The Berry quote includes the following lines:  “The approach of a man’s life out of the past is history…” and “The world is full of places. Why is it that I am here? “

I started to think about the name of the Meredith poem: “Accidents of Birth” and the Berry quote: “The approach of a man’s life…” and I realized that the last few years of my life, as well as the ancestral research I’ve done to date, have led me to this belief: One’s birth is not an accident, but the outcome of a series of events that came before. This is not a mysterious thing in a metaphysical sense, but for many of us, who do not know the facts of the past, it is a mystery, one that can be unraveled, to a large degree, through genealogical research.

In the past, for me, the “here” in the Berry quote meant on earth – why was I here in this universe at this time, why was I born?  How did I come to be? I had a lot of “big life questions” with precious few answers.  Through my study of the Bible, such questions have been satisfied.

But I still wonder, why is it I’m here? Only now, the “here” is Cleveland, Ohio? I’m not in Cleveland anymore, but I was born there. How did I come to be born there? What events (and motivations, desires, ambitions and possibly losses) led my parents from their hometowns to Cleveland, so that they could meet and produce two children? And what led their parents from their hometowns to other places? And so on, for as far back as I can research.

The Past

The past is always there, the facts don’t change, only our perception of the past changes as events become clearer. In that way, the past is always approaching, getting brighter all the time. As I research the vital statistics that give only a sketchy view of my ancestors (dates and locations of births and deaths and so on), I’ve discovered an awesome world that I never knew about. But I’ve also discovered that mere facts can be a let down.

Why did my great-grandfather move from Virginia to West Virginia? Did he leave a family behind, as census data suggests but doesn’t prove? Why did my great uncle change his name? I may never find the answers to these questions and so many more. Such answers would round out the picture of my ancestors, bring them to life in the same way my mother and father and brother are real to me, because I know the motivations behind many of their life decisions, as well as the  outcome of those decisions.

Just an Amateur

I am just an amateur genealogist. In fact, I don’t feel right calling myself that, as I’m such a novice at all of this. I like family historian, but I’m only an amateur at that also. I’ve been researching my family’s history since February 2011 – while I’ve learned a lot, there’s still so much more to learn, both about my ancestors and the process of researching the past.

And so, why is it that I am here, on this blog, recording my findings and perceptions? To unravel the mystery.

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