Friday, October 31, 2014

Testing your lineage

A great way to test your research is by preparing a lineage report for a lineage society.  Even if you have no intention of actually applying this exercise will show you if you have done good research.

See if you can trace your line from yourself to one of your ancestors.  Pick a soldier that fought in the Civil War, a soldier in the War of 1812 or a Revolutionary War solder.  If you are lucky enough to claim someone on the Mayflower as an ancestor use him/her.  These are the most popular lineage societies. 

It isn’t as easy as it sounds even if you think you have a lot of documents.  Documenting the facts of a person’s life usually isn’t too hard.  Where it gets more interesting is when you are trying to prove the familial link from parent to child.  How do you know that your Marmaduke Jowers is one and the same as Mordecai Jowers’ son who happens to be named Marmarduke? Here is an example:

Let’s say you have this family group listed on the 1850 census. 

David Merchant, age 30, farmer, born in Georgia
Ann Merchant, age 27, born in Georgia
Wesley Merchant, age 8, born in Georgia
Marion Merchant, age 5, born in Georgia
Janie Merchant, age 3, born in Georgia
Daniel Merchant, age 1, born in Georgia

It appears that this is a husband, wife, and four children but the relationships are not specifically named.  This is NOT enough to say that the listed children belong to either or both of the listed adults.  It is also not enough to say that the two adults listed are actually married.  A lot of people make this mistake.  In the above family, the man’s wife died and his unmarried younger sister moved in to help him with the kids.  It looks as though they are a married couple but they are not.  One of the four children is the son of a brother whose wife died in childbirth.  The father of that child felt ill equipped to raise a newborn so he handed the child over to his brother and sister to raise.  So, 3 of the children belong to David, none of the children belong to Ann, and one of the children belongs to David and Ann’s brother.

Using the same family above I can create another scenario.  Ann is David’s 2nd wife.  Wesley and Marion are his from his first marriage.  Janie is Ann’s from her first marriage but the census taker recorded David’s surname.   Daniel belongs to both of them.

Back to my original example.  Let’s say Mordecai Jowers left a will and in it is says “to my son Marmaduke.”  Your ancestor is Marmaduke but do you have enough to say that he is Mordecai’s son?  No, not without additional evidence.  How do you know that there weren’t two Marmadukes?  Even though this is an unusual name you still have to treat it the same as if his name was John Smith.  It depends on the time period as to what records you can use but the first thing I would be doing is checking the census records to make sure that there was only one Marmaduke in that entire area during that time period.  If there were more than one you will have to document each one of them fully.  I would also want to have an unbroken chain showing my Marmaduke back to the time period of the will.  You want to make as strong a case as possible so the more different types of records you can bring in that support this relationship the better.  This is the type of evidence you will need if you were really submitting a lineage society application. 

A lot of researchers err here.  Not only do you have to document each vital event for a person but you have to also prove the relationship between parent and child.  Many times you will not be able to do this with direct evidence and you will have to put together an indirect evidence proof argument (circumstantial case).  Even if you have direct evidence (like the will that says, “my son”) that still may not be enough evidence to prove the connection.

For more information on lineage societies click HERE.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis




Thursday, October 30, 2014

The history of the Swastika

Three of my 2nd great-grandaunts (sisters) were nurses.  In two different photos I have of two of the sisters one of them has a Swastika pinned to the waist of her nursing uniform.  These photos were taken about 1905 in Louisiana so it was pretty obvious there wasn’t a connection to Hitler’s Third Reich.   I did a little research on the history of the Swastika and it is actually quite interesting.

History of the Swastika

Here is one of the photos.  You can’t see it very well in this one but you can see it clearly in the photo I have on my wall.  I don’t want to take the photo out of the frame to get a good scan of it so you will just have to take my word for it. 


You can read more about one of the sisters, Ida (Perry) Faust, HERE.  She has an interesting story.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A DNA trick

I have always hoped that my husband and I are related in some way.  I just think it would be fun to creep the kids out.  So far I haven’t been able to prove any sort of connection.  We both had our DNA tested and FTDNA says we are not related, at least not down through 5th cousins.  

I wondered if by chance any of the people on my matches list were also on his matches list.  I downloaded my matches to Excel and Jim’s matches to a separate Excel file.  I then used XL Comparator to see if there was anyone that both of us matched.  Jim and I match 22 different people.  The closest match is 2nd-4th cousin to me and 2nd-4th cousin to Jim. 

I now have a renewed hope.  I have emailed the closest match and he is digging around in his file to see what he can find.  We already know where the two of us match but we haven’t found his connection to Jim yet.  This one is very promising so I haven’t even emailed anyone else.

Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Do you think you can crack this one?

James Simmons was born on 14 Aug 1764.1 He married Ellenor Lee about 1787.2 It is unknown where James was born only that two of his known children were born in South Carolina about 1794 and 04 June 1797.3 James and his family migrated to the Mississippi Territory sometime after that. The earliest record of James in the Mississippi Territory is the 1805 Washington County Mississippi territorial tax roll,4 HOWEVER, there is a gap between the 1811 and the 1816 tax rolls. It is possible that the 1805-1811 entries refer to another man names James Simmons and the 1816 and later is my James Simmons. The first land deal that I can attribute to my James is dated 13 June 1816.5 Knowing WHEN James actually came to Mississippi might be crucial.

Research question: Where in South Carolina did James and Ellenor migrate from?

I need to know where they came from before I try and find James’ parents.

James was old enough to have been listed as head of household in 1790. He was also, most likely, already married. More on that in a bit.

I did a yDNA test on my uncle to get James’ DNA profile. The matches are interesting. He has two 66/67 marker matches. Here are the matches, the information about each person is being taken at face value at this point. I have not done any research to verify the dates or locations. I am currently talking with the two people that submitted this DNA.

William Simmons born about 1780 of North Carolina
Joseph Simmons born 22 December 1755 in Richmond, Virginia

Migrations from Virginia to North and South Carolina were common so this is something that has to be considered.

Back to the 1790 census. There were five James Simmons’ (with name variations) in South Carolina. Since only very basic information is given it is hard to rule people in and out using just that. Doing a comparison between the 1790, 1800, 1810 and 1820 census is more helpful in ruling people in and out. This is where WHEN James migrated comes into play. If the tax records refer to TWO James Simmons then the most likely candidate for James is one that shows up in the Old Pendleton District in 1800 and 1810. If the tax records refer to one James then out of the five that are in South Carolina in 1790 only two can be ruled out. I am ruling those two out merely on the basis that those two men had 39 and 110 slaves which would be unlikely at James’ age at that time. James did have slaves in Mississippi but only two.6

To throw in another date wrench, James’ wife Ellenor died 20 May 1801.  Did she died in South Carolina or Mississippi?  Two unsourced written genealogies have her dying in Mississippi and all of the online trees I looked at also have this.  No one has a source for this information.7

I am not giving you more information about the census (I have a big table that has all of this information in it) because I would love someone to go behind me and do a comparison of the 1790, 1800, 1810, 1820 census records in South Carolina for James Simmons (with name variations) to see if I have made any mistakes with who I ruled in and who I ruled out based on ages and who carried over to the next census.

You have this information to work with:
James born in 1764
Ellenor born in 1769
William born between 1788 and 1792 in ?
Silas born about 1794 in South Carolina
James Jr. born 1797 in South Carolina

[I have an entire indirect case study showing the linkage between the 3 sons and the parents. If you would like to see it just let me know and I will send it to you]

We know the family was still in South Carolina in 1794 and 1795 and was in Mississippi by either 1805 OR 1816.

Here are a few other tidbits. James does not show up in the Passports Issued by Governors of Georgia, 1785-1820. This would have told us exactly when they migrated.

South Carolina does not have county level marriage records until the 20th century. If James and Ellenor married in South Carolina, finding that marriage record would have been a major clue.

I have consulted a plethora of index and abstract books for South Carolina (deeds, newspapers, church records etc.) with no results. I have checked everything I can think to check that is available online. The one thing that I haven’t done is made a trip to the South Carolina Archives. An archivist there could possible point to me to a records group I not aware of.

There is an unsourced genealogy written in the 1970’s that says

“Historical records consulted indicate that the Simmons Family lived in Ullesthrope, county Leicester, England.  The Arms was first granted to William Simmons of that place.  Early American records indicate that a member of the Simmons family came to America and settled in Boston, Massachusetts about 1679.  Another descendant of the Simmons family settled on a large grant of land in Summerville, South Carolina.” 8

In 1995 another unsourced genealogy came out that quoted the above verbatim and then added:

“It is assumed that James Simmons was a descendant of the Simmons Family that came over from England and settled in South Carolina…. James Simmons was born Augusta 14, 1764 near Pendleton, South Carolina, married the daughter of a rice planter of Santee, near Georgetown, South Carolina.” 9

I am sure you can see the problems with these statements.  I just wanted to throw them out there.  I spoke with Mack Simmons’ daughter.  She was unable to locate her father’s notes after he died.  I spoke with Howard and John Simmons and they stated they based their findings on what Mack had written and interviews with George Simmons, a grandson of Silas Simmons.  George died in 1962 at the age of 96 (according to Howard and John).  The interviews were conducted in 1937 and in 1946 by Howard. 

If you have any questions, ask me in the comments.  If anyone can tell me where in South Carolina James and and his family were before they came to Mississippi (with proof) I will send that person a gift card to go out to dinner Smile 

1 James Simmons, Jr. Family Bible Records, 1764-1898, The Holy Bible (Philadelphia: Kimber and Sharpless, n.d.), “Family Record,” privately held by Homer Kees, (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 1979. Though there is no publication date printed, the publication date is between 1807 and 1844 when the Kimber and Sharples publishing company was actually in business [John Wright, Early Bible of America (New York: Thomas Whittaker, 1892), 123.]. The earliest entries are in one hand, the later entries are in a different hand and the latest entries are in a third hand. Per Mr. Kees, the Bible passed from James to his youngest child Charity Green Simmons who was Mr. Kees’ grandmother. He inherited the Bible from her. Author has photocopies of the pages.

2 James and Ellenor’s approximate marriage date is based on Ellenor being 18 years of age at the time of the marriage.

3 1850 U.S. census, Perry County, Mississippi, population schedule, p. 384 (stamped), dwelling 185, family 185, Silas Simmons household; digital images, Ancestry ( : accessed 10 February 2009); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm M432, roll 379.  1850 U.S. census, Copiah County, Mississippi, population schedule, p. 251 (stamped), dwelling 606, family 606, James Simmons household; digital images, Ancestry ( : accessed 10 February 2009); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm M432, roll 371. James Simmons, Jr. Family Bible Records, 1764-1898.

4 Greene County, Mississippi Territorial Tax Rolls, 1805, p. 8, line 7, James Simmons; digital images, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Family Search ( accessed 13 January 2012); citing Mississippi State Archives, Various Records, 1820-1951, box 144, series 510.

5 James Simmons (Greene County) cash entry file, certificate no. 363, St. Stephens, Alabama, Land Office; Land Entry Papers 1800-1908; Records of the Bureau of Management, Record Group 49.

6 1830 U.S. census, Perry County, Mississippi, p. 157 (penned), line 11, James Simmons household; digital images, ( : accessed 28 Sep 2014); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm M19, roll 71.

7 James Simmons, Jr. Family Bible Records, 1764-1898.  Mack Simmons, “Simmons” [manuscript of a a compiled genealogy of Silas Simmons circa 1970], preface page; copy in possession of author, 1991.  The Family Simmons Living in Perry and Forrest County, Mississippi on Leaf River and Black Creek Early 1800’s thru 1995.

8 Mack Simmons, “Simmons”

9 The Family Simmons Living in Perry and Forrest County, Mississippi


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, October 27, 2014

I’m back. So what have I been doing?

I am back on the blog after two weeks. So what all have I been doing in that time?

1) I mentioned before that I am now updating Legacy’s Research Guidance with every Legacy update. We released an update on 19 Oct 2014 and that update had 164 new sources in it as well as many broken link fixes. I am already working on the next update. I hope to have at least 300 new sources in that one. If any of the Legacy users out there would like to see a particular source added, send me an email at and put RESEARCH GUIDANCE in the subject line. If you come across any broken links please let me know. There are well over 22,000 sources in the Research Guidance already and there is no automatic way for me to find broken links.

2) I dejunked and cleaned my entire office area. I do much better working on genealogical projects when my work space is neat and organized. I had let things go a bit so this was a pretty big project. The cool, fall weather put me in the right mood.

3) I am working on a complex adoption case. I like adoption cases but they can be sticky. This one is a reverse adoption case. It isn’t the adoptee that is searching but rather one of the adoptee’s birth family members. This one requires that I interview people for more information. So far the interviews have gone well but there is always the chance I might contact someone that doesn’t want to be contacted. I have DNA cooking on this one but so far the DNA hasn’t been helpful. It appears that neither the adoptee nor any of the adoptee’s children have tested. At the point I don’t even know if the adoptee knows that he/she was adopted.

4) Another interesting one I am working on is where a wife ran off with another man leaving her husband and three young children behind (this was in 1926). Shortly after this the husband died. Two of the children were placed in an orphanage and the other one was taken in by a paternal aunt. All three children are now dead. Between the three children they only had three children of their own. I have spoken with all three and they have no information. I knew more about the case then they did. The research question is, “What happened to the wife after she left?” I want to know who she ran away with and where they went. Did they get married, did they have any more children, and when and where did she die? None of the three grandchildren are interested in taking a DNA test. Maybe that will change. The woman that ran off had 17 siblings. She is not mentioned as a survivor in any of her siblings' obituaries even though all of the other surviving siblings were. The first one was 1941 so either my person was already dead by 1941 or the family had completely disowned her. The problem with this case is that the lady most likely remarried and I have no idea what her new surname would have been. She didn’t take the children with her so I can’t track her using the children. She never contacted them again after she left. I checked the marriage records of all the counties in the area with negative results. It appears she left the area completely. Another DNA angle might be to test some nieces and nephews of the lady I am looking for but I haven’t tried to locate them yet.

5) I have been working a bit on my biggest personal brick wall. I pick this one up from time to time hoping I can find something new.  Hmmmmmm, maybe I will post the details of that case tomorrow and you guys can help me solve it.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, October 10, 2014

Off the blog for a bit

I am in the middle of a big project at Legacy and I need some time to get everything over there organized and underway so I am going to be off the blog for a bit.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Elements of Genealogical Analysis and Guide to Genealogical Writing: How to Write and Publish Your Family History

I just finished reading two books published by the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS),  Elements of Genealogical Analysis by Robert Charles Anderson and Guide to Genealogical Writing: How to Write and Publish Your Family History (3rd Ed.) by Penelope L. Stratton and Henry B. Hoff.

Elements of Genealogical AnalysisThere has been a lot of discussion about this book on Facebook and various email lists because the author does not use the terms associated with the Genealogical Proof Standard.  True, the terms are different but the content is good and I like this book.  My favorite chapter is Chapter 3, Linkage Analysis.  When you have ten documents referring to John Doe how do you know they all refer to the same John Doe?  Distinguishing between people with the same name and attributing the correct documents to each one is an important skill.  Chapter 3 discusses this.

Guide to Genealogical Writing: How to Write and Publish Your Family History – I had a hard time putting this book down.  It is easy to read because of how the information is organized and laid out.  I would trust the authors’ opinion on how to write a book because they did so well with this one.  The book addresses all of the different types of genealogical writing you might do.

Two thumbs up for both books.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Legacy announcement



Legacy’s Research Guidance will now be updated with every update to Legacy starting with the next update which is due out soon.

I am very excited about this especially since I am the one that will be doing the updates.  Access to new sources is exploding and many things that were only available via in-person visits to repositories are now available online. 

I happen to really like the Research Guidance feature. Legacy tailors the list of suggested sources based on what you have already entered and what your research goal is.  As you go through the list you can mark the suggestions as being “Done” after you have consulted them.  You can also add them to your To-Do List by clicking the “Plan to Search” button.  The To-Do task will be filled out for you.  If you know that a source isn’t applicable for this particular person you can mark it as “Ignore.”   Query-type websites will be date stamped when you mark them as done so that you can periodically go back and post a new query if needed. 

Each entry will tell you what the source is and where you can find it.  You are able to see at a glance if the source is online and if it is, you will know if it is a free site, a subscription site or a fee per document site.  Each online source has a clickable link.   If it isn’t online you will see which repositories have it along with full contact info.  There are also notes and tips attached to the specific sources as well as to the repositories if there is anything specific you need to know.  The Research Guidance is an instant research log. 

One thing that I have found to be especially helpful in my research is the Local Histories tab.  I think that I am very well acquainted with the counties in southern Mississippi but the Research Guidance listed several books that I had never heard of.  The link to WorldCat showed me exactly where the books were located.  (You can read about how wonderful WorldCat is HERE).  When you put the Research Guidance feature together with Legacy’s To-Do List and Legacy’s SourceWriter templates you will have all of your genealogical documentation ducks in a row.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Ellis Island

The Ellis Island website has undergone a major facelift and they are adding more records (1925-1957) so a lot of genealogists have been talking about the Ellis Island website lately.  If you don’t know, the Ellis Island website has a searchable index and linked digital images to the passenger lists of the ships that came through the Port of New York.  It is a great resource but there are a couple of things you need to know before you get discouraged when you can’t find your immigrant ancestor in the Ellis Island records.

  • Ellis Island was only open for 62 years, 1892-1954.  It was the receiving station for the Port of New York.
  • Even if your ancestor immigrated during the above time span the Port of New York was only ONE port of entry.   Some of the other big ones were Boston, Baltimore, Charleston, Philadelphia, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Savannah but there were also several more smaller ports where immigrants entered.

In a nutshell, not everyone came through Ellis Island.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, October 6, 2014

We’re All Relative–well worth your time to read

I was recently introduced to a storytelling-style blog by Cynthia Berryman called We’re All Relative.  This blog is well worth your time.  Her writing style reminds me of John Colletta.  This blog gives you a good example of how to put your ancestors into context and make their lives interesting to read about.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, October 3, 2014

A bad day in the DNA world

If you had yDNA or mtDNA testing done through, you might want to read this article:

Ancestry Destroys Irreplaceable DNA Database


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Something nifty from has new State Research Guides that are nice.  Each one contains a short history, a timeline and then links to specific databases at and to other pertinent websites.  You do not have to be an subscriber to access these. 


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Southern Studies Showcase-Native Americans in the CSRA

This was the last session I attended. Ed Mann did a great job telling us about the history of indigenous Native Americans in the Central Savannah River Area (CSRA). He brought a lot of cool artifacts for us to look at. I learned a lot but two things stood out.

  • It is illegal to pick up arrowheads at Clark’s Hill/Thurmond Lake. I did not know this.  Ed said that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will take your car, your boat, your everything if you get caught. We are at Clark’s Hill all the time. I wouldn’t have thought anything about picking up an arrowhead. I personally don’t agree with this but the government and I are rarely in agreement. 
  • Bows and arrows were introduced to the North American Native Americans by the Spanish. Before that they used spears. 

This series of posts is over. I hope I have shown you how much you can get out of attending genealogy conferences. Not only is it a great continuing education opportunity, you also get to meet researchers from all over and you get to catch up with old friends.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Southern Studies Showcase-Overcoming the Roadblocks in African-American Genealogy

10483116_365909383557707_7393336667736540925_nCopyright © 2014 Elvin Thompson, used with permission

Here I am hanging out in Elvin Thompson’s class.  Nice shot of Elvin’s bottle of Sprite.  I have heard Elvin Thompson speak several times and I always learn something.  The class is actually a lot bigger than you see.  Most of the people are to the out of view over to the right.  The cool people are up front Smile  Elvin is a funny guy and if you ever meet him in person make sure you ask him about the name “Blake.”  I’ve heard that story three times and it still cracks me up.

Brick walls are brick walls whether you are doing black research, white research or any other type of research so the techniques Elvin talked about work for everyone.  Black researchers know the value of oral histories but I think white researchers don’t put as much emphasis on this.  You need to interview every person you can in your family (the older the better).  Elvin makes it clear that these oral histories will probably not be 100% accurate but they give you the clues you need to go out and find the documents.

Elvin also warns that everything is not online.  He uses church records as an example and talks about spending time in the basements of churches looking though documents that have never seen the light of day let alone been digitized and indexed.  He found some real jewels in these documents.  One thing that black researchers need to know is that slaves often attended church alongside their white owners and these white churches kept records of the slaves that attended.  It wasn’t until after the emancipation that the black churches were established.  Elvin showed that paying attention to how the slaves were listed in the attendance rolls can help you figure out the family relationships. 


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, September 29, 2014

Southern Studies Showcase-Abbeville Court Records

Dr. Connie McNeill outlined what is and what isn’t available for Abbeville County and the old Ninety-Six District (South Carolina).  Connie introduced us to the book, Abstracts of Old Ninety-Six and Abbeville District Wills and Bonds by Pauline Young.  It was published in 1950 and is out of print.   WorldCat is your friend.  There are three copies within 20 miles of me.  This book is invaluable because it will tell you the box and package number of the documents you are looking for.  The images of the documents are on FamilySearch but they are not indexed.  Knowing the box and package number will save you a whole lot of time.  To see what I mean, take a look HERE.  Do you want to try and find a probate file in there? 

Knowing that Abbeville County holds the old Ninety-Six records is also pretty important considering Ninety-Six doesn’t exist anymore.  It just so happens that I am working on a big South Carolina brick wall and I will need to consult Pauline Young’s book.  I am meeting two other genealogists at the Old Edgefield District Genealogical Society’s Library tomorrow (Tuesday).  If you will be in the area stop by and say hello.  We will be right there at 9:00 am when they open.  I will be using the things I learned in Connie’s presentation to help me with this case.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Friday, September 26, 2014

Southern Studies Showcase-Robeson County, NC: Lessons from the Records of Slaves and Free Persons of Color

John Smith, past editor of the Burke Journal, was the presenter for this session.  I happen to have several direct lines in Robeson County and I wanted to hear anything and everything John had to say even though my lines are white.

John told us something about the State Archives of North Carolina that is very important to know.  The Archives has filed all slave records and records of free persons of color under the Misc. section of each county.  I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t have thought to specifically look there.  I probably would have checked the Misc. category anyway just to see what was there but I wouldn’t have expected that it is the routine filing location for the records specific to blacks and free persons of color.

The second thing John told us is that even if you are doing white research you will want to consult these records because the slave owners are mentioned.   I learned this when I started reading the Slave Narratives.  Even though these would be considered records that African-American researchers would be more interested in, slave owners, overseers and persons on neighboring plantations are not only mentioned but many times they are mentioned in detail.

Here is where it gets really good, at least for me.   John is transcribing all of the records in the Misc. file for Robeson County, many of which are court records.  He told us about several cases involving slaves to give us some idea of the type of information you might find.  He mentioned TWO of my ancestors!  He talked about Joseph Lee (brother to my 5th great-grandfather) and Sarah Slade (possible 5th great-grandmother from a completely different line).  I told him I want a copy of his book as soon as it is published and I have been prodding him to get it done quicker.  He has already done seven other counties.

I routinely look at court records but would I have read through the cases involving blacks?  Probably not especially considering that these records have been segregated out by the archives.  Now I know better. 


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Southern Studies Showcase-John Lewis Gervais’ Old Edgefield Plantation and How it Solved a Major Mystery from 1775

This was the second time I have heard Dr. Robert Scott Davis speak and I wasn’t disappointed. Dr. Davis solved a brick wall that no one else had been able to crack since 1775. 

In a nutshell, some anonymous letters were published in the book American Husbandry (also anonymous).  Researchers have been trying to figure out who wrote the book since it was published in 1775.  Dr. Davis first identified the writer of the letters which gave him the clue he needed to identify the writer of the book.  This was not so easy because the writer of the book altered the letters a bit to fit his purpose.  Dr. Davis is able to explain the reason why the author did this.  The process Dr. Davis went through to uncover the story is fascinating. 

John Lewis Gervais (the writer of the letters) and the man that wrote the book (I won’t tell you his name) were both important figures not only in the history of the Old Edgefield and Ninety-Six Districts but of all of South Carolina.  You can read Dr. Davis’ article, “Mystery Book and the Forgotten Founding Father” published in the Journal of the American Revolution HERE for a condensed version of the story. 


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Southern Studies Showcase-Discovering Dave

Last year at the Southern Studies Showcase I attended the class, An Overview of Edgefield Pottery, presented by master potter Justin Guy.  It was fantastic.  Though the talk was more on the processes and techniques unique to Edgefield pottery Justin also talked a little bit about the slave Dave Drake, a master potter.  This year George Wingard, the program coordinator for the Savannah River Archeological Research Program, showed us a documentary film about Dave’s life that has already won several awards. 

Dave was born about 1801 into slavery and remained a slave until the emancipation.  Dave was unusual in that he was able to read and write.  His talents as a potter must have been respected by his owners because he was allowed to sign his name on his pots and he was even allowed to write short lines of poetry on them.  He had a special talent of being able to turn very large pieces of pottery (30+ gallons) which was not easy to do. There are no known photographs of Dave.  In 2010 one of Dave’s pots sold for $41,250 at auction.  I wonder what Dave would have thought about that.

If you would like to know more about Dave and see examples of his pots, you can read:

The Ceramic Works of Dave Drake, aka, Dave the Potter or Dave the Slave of Edgefield, South Carolina by Jill Beute Koverman of the University of South Carolina.

Carolina Clay: The Life and Legend of the Slave Potter Dave by Leonard Todd.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Southern Studies Showcase-Meet the Authors

Left to right, Ellen Butler, Harris Bailey, Ethel Dailey, me, Bernice Bennett, and Vincent Sheppard.

10653579_10202968759965335_7748921395120447211_nPhotograph copyright © 2014 The Memory Keepers, used with permission

I was privileged to be the moderator of the Meet the Authors event for the book, Our Ancestors, Our Stories by the Memory Keepers; Ellen Butler, Harris Bailey, Ethel Dailey, Bernice Bennett, and Vincent Sheppard.

This book focuses on four of the authors’ slave ancestors in the Old Edgefield District in South Carolina.  The fifth author, Harris Bailey, provided the needed background information about Edgefield.  This book is a great read even if you have no African-American ancestry nor anyone in Edgefield.  Reading about the process the writers went through to discover their heritage is well worth your time. 

When I read the book one of the things I learned was that during the Revolutionary War the British promised emancipation to any slaves that escaped their owners and joined up and fought with the British.  After the Meet the Authors event I got to talking with Harris Bailey about these slaves. I was curious to know what happened to them.  Harris explained that many of these now freed slaves fled north along with the Tories/Loyalists.  Those that did received land grants in Canada.  There was a group that fled to Nova Scotia specifically and these men were not given their promised land grants.  Harris was kind enough to give me a copy of his research notes right out of his notebook so that I could do some further research on my own.

Another thing I want to mention is something that one of the attendees said (sorry, I didn’t catch your name).  He said that he loved the format of the book.  Each author had a single chapter.  He made the point that a project like this is so much more doable than trying to author an entire book by yourself.  He was hoping that other writers would be encouraged by this book to write their own collaborations so that these family stories are preserved.  I thought he made a great point.  If anyone knows the name of the nice guy wearing the glasses let me know and I will give him credit.  The authors announced that book two is in the works which everyone was happy to hear.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

Monday, September 22, 2014

Southern Studies Showcase–Ask Granny

I had a great time in Edgefield at the Southern Studies Showcase as I knew I would.  I am going to do a post for each class I took and tell you what specifically I learned from that class (just a short synopsis).


Session One – Ask Granny

I had heard of Ask Granny and I am friends with Judy Russell, the co-creator of the Ask Granny project, on Facebook but I had no clue what great things this organization does.  Judy’s partner is Greg Crane and the two of them started the Ask Granny project in 2009.   In a nutshell, Judy and Greg go out to any place that caters to seniors and teaches a class on how to fill out a 4 generation pedigree chart.  The pedigree chart is a legacy left to the senior’s family.  The senior keeps the chart along with a letter explaining the purpose.

Not only do Judy and Greg travel and conduct these sessions themselves, they will equip YOU to lead these sessions.  They will give you the tools you need completely free of charge.  The only thing they ask is that you don’t charge the seniors anything for the session and you leave the completed letters and charts with the seniors themselves so that they can be passed down in their families.  Each senior receives a notebook with everything in it.  The cost to put these notebooks together is approximately $1.00.  This would be a great project for any genealogical or historical society.  Judy will send you the directions on how to put the notebooks together as well as the printable pdf files you will need.  She will also send you pdfs for promotional materials to draw people to your classes. 

In 2011 Ask Granny was the winner of the Georgia Genealogical Society’s “Outstanding Contribution to the Field of Genealogy” award and in July 2014, they received the national “Seton Shields Grant” from the Honoring our Ancestors Foundation of Megan Smolenyak.  They have personally presented this program more than 50 times to over 800 senior citizens and have sent the free materials to organization groups in 47 states, five Canadian provinces, four cities in Australia and four UK counties.

Can you imagine where your genealogy research would be if your grandparents or great-grandparents had completed one of these packets?   I encourage you to contact Judith (Judy) Friedman Russell at to get more information about how your genealogical or historical society can get involved in presenting this program to a seniors group in your community. 

Ask Granny logo copyright © 2014, Judith F. Russell and Greg Crane, used with permission


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis