It is very common these days for the descendants of ancestors who held enslaved people to have a desire to know what became of the emancipated people who were connected with their family. Descendants of people of color who were enslaved have great challenges as they seek to discover their history. Often, both groups are interested in locating the burial place of formerly enslaved people and their descendants, and this is a guide to resources that can reveal the final resting place.
First, begin by locating the emancipated person on the 1870 Census. Search the households nearby to determine if a person who could have been the former owner (or descendants of the owner) is living nearby. Henry Sims, his wife Scillar and their children appear on the 1870 Census in Fishdam, Union, South Carolina. It was common knowledge among the descendants of Martha (daughter of Henry and Scillar) that their former owner was James Anderson Tucker. Martha’s mother was his cook.
Right next door to Henry on the 1870 Census is J. A. Tucker and his wife Anna. You will not always find the emancipated person using the same surname as the person who enslaved him, but sometimes you will. The reason that you want to locate the former owner and the formerly enslaved person on the 1870 Census is because this will help you locate possible burial sites used before and after emancipation.
Burial sites for formerly enslaved people could be found on university campuses, pauper cemeteries, church cemeteries, city cemeteries, owner’s land, land deeded to the newly freed people.
You may not be accustomed to thinking about looking for a death certificate for an emancipated person or their children, but many lived well past the time death certificates were first recorded. If you are fortunate, you will be able to locate a death certificate. Death certificates often mention the place of burial. You may not recognize the place mentioned. If this is the case, you will need to research historical cemeteries, local history, local maps, or deeds to discover more about the burial site and its location.
After researching all the death certificates in Greenwood County from 1915 to 1962, it was discovered that African Americans were buried but not documented in Tabernacle Cemetery. One of the death certificates were for Mack Goggins who was born about 1881. Mack’s death certificate clearly states that he was buried in Tabernacle.
This discovery led to his father, Columbus Goggins, who was the oldest living member of St. Paul AME Church before his death. Columbus, his wife, and several children are buried in Tabernacle Cemetery. Columbus was born about 1845, and he has a marker at Tabernacle. It is fortunate there is a marker for Columbus because no death certificate has been located. This was the first clue this researcher had that led to several more burials of formerly enslaved people and their descendants.
If you discover the burial ground of formerly enslaved people, do not assume it has been fully documented. Search the cemetery, obituaries, and death certificates to learn more. Be sure to share what you learn with the local library.
African Americans should search the local newspaper for obituaries for emancipated ancestors. Many believe that they will not find an ancestor mentioned because of the challenges faced in the early and mid 1900’s. This line of reasoning did not hold true for scores of obituaries found in the Index-Journal (Greenwood, South Carolina) from 1898 and beyond which helped to document hundreds of burials in Fairview Cemetery. Not many headstones remain in Fairview, so without the discovery of obituaries and death certificates many emancipated ancestors and their children would have been forever forgotten. See A Surprise Waiting Deep in Fairview. To learn more, see the next post: Part 2: Finding burials for formerly enslaved people.
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