The Hidden Half of the Family: A Sourcebook for Women’s Genealogy by Christina Kassabian Schaefer is actually not new (1999) but it is new to us. Over half of the population are women so it doesn’t require too much of a leap in thinking to know that they have played an important part in the social history of the United States, yet their identities, throughout most of our history, have been subjugated by their husbands. This makes it harder to find out where they came from on many of the primary records used by historians and genealogists.
The author’s supposition is that the best ways to find a feme covert is through the various means that women were allowed to interact with the government and the legal system. In these records all parties are required to identify themselves and are therefore invaluable resources for tracking the lives of the wives, sisters and daughters residing in the US through time.
The records that she singles out for their power in revealing the hidden women of the past are:
- Land Records
- Guardianship Records
- Probate and Will Records
- Affidavits of witnesses, all types of records.
- Public Welfare Records
- License Applications
- Sheriff’s Records
North Carolina has its own section in the book and she lists important dates in the history of the state and a useful bibliography of publications which I have listed a few:
- Clemens, William M. North and South Carolina Marriage Records: From the Earliest Colonial Days to the Civil War (1927. Reprint. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1981).
- White, Barnetta M. Somebody Knows my Name: Marriages of Freed Slaves in North Carolina, County by County. 3 vols. (Athens, GA: Iberian Publishing Co., 1995).
- Anderson, Lucy L. North Carolina Women of the Confederacy (Charlotte: The United Daughters of the Confederacy, 1926).
- Coates, Albert. By Her Own Bootstraps: A Saga of Women in North Carolina (n.p.: The Author, 1975).
- Leary, Helen F.M. “The Better Half: North Carolina Women’s Genealogy.” On to Richmond! FGS/VGS Conference, 1994.
- “Marriage, Divorce a, and Widowhood: A Study of North Carolina Law Governing the Property and Person of Married Women, 1663-1869.” North Carolina Genealogical Society Journal 16 (August 1990).
Last week a local man brimming over with knowledge and curiosity about Wilson County history came into the library looking for information on Benjamin Farmer, a man who lived on a farm in what is now downtown Wilson and served in the in the Edgecombe County Militia in the Revolutionary War. The local man is named Louis Neal and it turns out he has a rather famous collection of Wilson County artifacts and memorabilia (Louis is also the proud grandfather of an LSU football player).
Mr. Neal had been investigating a vacant lot downtown on the corner of Keenan and Tarboro streets. He had always heard that there was an Indian graveyard on the property and during the course of his investigation he came upon a bronze marker with name of the aforementioned Benjamin Farmer on it. This marker was placed by the DAR at some unknown point in the past and listed that Benjamin served in Captain Lytle’s Company during the Revolution.
Mr. Neal didn’t really need my help because he knew to turn to the writings of the Herodotus of Wilson County, the Bede of Nash County, the Tacitus of Edgecombe County, yes the venerable Hugh Johnston. And this is what Hugh had to say about Ben Farmer:
Benjamin Farmer, son of Isaac and Elizabeth Farmer, was born in the present Halifax County, North Carolina in 1756 and died in Edgecombe County in 1837. He married in 1779 to Elizabeth “Bettie” Dew, daughter of Arthur and Mary Dew of Edgecombe County. She was born in 1766 and died after 1852 in Edgecombe County. She and her husband were buried in their old family graveyard on Kenan Street near the corner of Tarboro Street in Wilson, North Carolina. Considerably diminished in size, it is the only family graveyard that has survived within the growing boundaries of this city. Their home formerly stood on a hill N.W. of Tarboro Street, about where the City Water Tank now stands, and it is said that they owned at one time all the land N.W. of the present Atlantic Coast Line Railroad within the City limits. This may very well have been true, before the rapid growth of recent years.
Some years ago the DAR erected a boulder of native stone and a bronze tablet over the grave of Benjamin Farmer to commemorate his supposed service in Captain Lytle’s Company, Tenth North Carolina Regiment, during the Revolutionary War. Actually, Benjamin Farmer of Edgecombe County was a first-cousin to Benjamin Farmer and brother William Farmer of Johnston County who both served in Lytle’s Company, but there is no question that the first Benjamin was a Patriot and served in the Edecombe County Militia. There is an interesting tradition handed down in the family that, when the British under Lord Cornwallis passed through this area in 1731, they could not be convinced that Benjamin Farmer was away at war and not hiding near by in the woods until they went into the fields and actually saw his wife’s little footprints everywhere in the newly ploughed land.
This is just part of what Hugh has to say about Mr. Farmer and it is too bad that the lot doesn’t have a historical marker next to it because it could be an important point of interest for residents and visitors to the city if they knew where to look.
For a while people were complaining that the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park had only one whirligig. Well complain no more because there are now eleven. Thirty-one whirligigs are slated to grace the park at its completion. But they have a long way to go, for there are no pathways, landscaping, fountains, amphitheater, etc. However, the main attractions (whirligigs) are well on their way to completion thanks to the ingenious workers at Conservation Headquarters who are doing an extraordinary job getting these long neglected, singular examples of folk art preserved and back in working order.
The Library of Congress Prints & Photographs divisions has announced that their two ambrotypes of Wilson County native, Civil War soldier and namesake of a local SCV chapter, Captain Jesse Sharpe Barnes, was mislabeled and the portraits are actually of his cousin (or maybe his wife’s cousin), Major Thomas Alston Martin.
This was all made possible by the tireless work of Katharina Schlichtherle, historian, teacher and friend of the Wilson County Local History and Genealogy Library. Katharina is a resident of Germany but last summer she visited Wilson County for her ongoing investigation of the local Barnes family in the 19th century and performed some research at our library.
During her research online, she came upon an image in the book, Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina, in the Great War 1861-’65 (digitized and online at the Internet Archive) that was labeled Jesse S. Barnes, Capt., Co F. This portrait was not the same person labeled as JS Barnes in the LOC collection. This image was in the LOC Collection but it was labeled only as “South Carolina Militiaman” because of his SC uniform. It turned out that Jesse had joined up in South Carolina before North Carolina had seceded as many North Carolinians did at the time (North Carolina was the last state to secede).
As to how they figured out that the other portraits was of Major Thomas A. Martin, Katharina told me that during a curator’s examination of the portraits, a piece of paper serendipitously fell out of one of them that read “Friend Tom Martin”.
I stay in touch with Katharina and try to help keep her Wilson County and Civil War obsession fed. And it has worked! She is coming back next summer.
The news about the name correction was in an article that Katharina sent me in this month’s Military Images Magazine.