It’s easy to get caught off-guard when trolling through old archive. Irrelevant record after irrelevant record. When you do find what you are looking for, it often just confirms what you know. So much time in research, when done correctly, is spent collecting corroborating documents. Occasionally it is through this process that you actually learn something new, or are forced to unlearn what you were calling fact.
But somethings the humanity of these dusty records is unavoidable.
The story of a five year-old girl who lost her mother and was immediately shipped off to family so that her father could immediately remarry. Divorce papers citing “insufferable cruelty” that uncover the story of a stepfather’s abuse of a seventeen year-old girl. A civil war veteran who returns home, but dies of what are called “natural causes” before his fiftieth birthday.
Sometimes even the stories told by the records of strangers pull on our heart long enough to cause us to pause. The follow record makes me wonder if the decedents of these people know their storied history and its complexity.*
From the South Carolina Department of Archives & History
Description: MARTIN, DAVID, PETITION ASKING PERMISSION TO EMANCIPATE TWO FEMALE SLAVE CHILDREN SO THAT HE CAN GIVE THEM HIS PROPERTY, SINCE HE IS THEIR FATHER. (4 PAGES)
Names indexed: MARTIN, DAVID; MARTIN, ELIZA (SLAVE); MARTIN, MARTHA (SLAVE)
Locations: BARNWELL DISTRICT
Document type: PETITION
Topics: MISCEGENATION; SLAVE MANUMISSIONS; SLAVES, NAMED
From the Digital Library of American Slavery (The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Abstract: David Martin represents “that from causes unnecessary to detail, he is the Father of two colored female children, to whom he wishes to give his property both Real and personal, for them and their issue to enjoy.” He therefore prays that an act be passed “manumitting his said two children, viz Eliza Martin, born 1812 and Martha Martin born 1817.”
Available through Google Books (or at least the piece reverent to this), page 137 of Fathers of Conscience: Mixed-Race Inheritance in the Antebellum South by Bernie D. Jones offers an even more personal picture, including how David was successful in securing at the least the financial future of his family.
*As a postscript: As they were members of the Martin family, born in Albemarle, Virginia and residing South Carolina in the first half of the nineteenth century, I cannot say that these people are not fruit on the family tree but I certainly wouldn’t claim it without connecting many more dots.