In honor of my 3rd great grandfather, Gabriel Neal, a former slave who is listed in the Banks County, Georgia 1867 Return of Registered Voters. For you, and all of my ancestors who couldn’t, I will honor your sacrifice by making sure our voice is heard.
I have been researching my family history for many years, yet the slave owners of my maternal Neal family line seem to be the most elusive. I followed the suggested tips to locate them: searching for other than the “Neal” surname, searching military records, Freedman’s Savings and Trust records, and searching nearby families on corresponding 1870 census records. In this series of posts titled “Slave Owner Research” I will look for clues using the methods above, follow clues in estate documents, investigate alternate surname possibilities, and finally reach out to slave owners families to collaborate and share information.
My first tip when I began looking for slave owners was to search the 1870 census for 10 pages forward and backward from my known family. I didn’t find any Neal families that matched the age and genders even remotely close. That could mean they moved to a different county after emancipation, they were owned by a different surname, etc. However, one document that I found early on was sticking out to me. I knew my 3rd great grandfather Gabriel Neal was listed on the 1867 Return of Registered Voters in Banks County, Georgia. I found a man named Thales Neal who was listed in the exact same militia district, and had been living there for the same amount of time.
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The 1860 Slave Schedule showed that he owned about 27 slaves; only a few matching the ages of my ancestors on the 1870 census. When I started researching this family even more closely I found out that Thales’ middle name was Major after his grandfather, and Thales’ father was John Mayfield Neal. They married into families of Crawfords and Littles. I would later discover the custom of taking the mother’s maiden name as the middle name.
In my own family I found similar names of Major, Mayfield and Crawford. I thought they were unusual names and I had not found any other relatives they could have been named after. Aside from being geographically close and having some possible matches in age on slave records, I had no valid source to prove that Thales Neal was the slave owner. However, whenever I found new information on Thales Major or John Mayfield Neal I felt that tingle that meant I was on the right path.
I ran into a few road blocks along the way. I searched everywhere for a will or papers for Thales Neal. He is listed on the Muster-In Roll of the Confederate 4th Cavalry (State Guards) on August 15, 1863. There he participated in Sherman’s famous March to the Sea, and was wounded during the skirmish at Griswoldville in late November 1864. He would succumb to his injuries approximately two weeks later.
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I finally located a will that was probated in February 1865, and in it he states “…I will and bequeath unto my beloved son John Nathaniel F Neal three negroes to wit Lucy Ann and her two children Floyd and Harriet. I will and bequeath to my beloved wife Therisa Neal a negro woman Mary known as the one given her by her father and all her increase…” What happened to the remaining slaves between 1860 and 1863, and why were these two women the only slaves mentioned in the will?
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I went back over the will and re-read the line that says “Mary known as the one given her by her father and all her increase”. Thales’ wife Therisa was given a slave named Mary by her father. Therisa’s maiden name was Holley, and all of a sudden I remember that my great grand aunt Clara Allen’s husband Judge was the son of Floyd Neal and Mary Holley! Could this possibly be the same Mary mentioned in Thales’ will? And could Floyd be the son of Lucy Ann mentioned in the will?
As of this point I cannot find a death date for Floyd or Mary to order death certificates, and when I do I am hoping that they will provide the answers to these questions. In my next post I will search through Freedman’s Bank records, alternate slave owner surnames and connections through death certificates.
I had a discussion with other African American genealogists about using Ancestry family trees. My opinion was that I hoped that more subscribers would make their trees public instead of private. The connections that I’ve made from researching public trees has been invaluable, and one in particular stands out in my mind. My final tribute during Black History Month is a salute to my first cousin Robert Lee Neal (1917-1987).
My grandfather’s sister told me many stories about their father Roy Neal, and even though I have no pictures of him I wanted to find any of his nine sisters and brothers. While researching the family trees on Ancestry I happened to find a connection with one of the brothers, William Neal. This was a rare occasion because most of the trees are private and don’t allow me to make sure I have a positive match. I emailed the owner and he wrote back explaining that indeed, his great uncle was the same William Neal! I was so excited to share information with him that we emailed back and forth for days, sending pictures and sharing more stories of the other side of our families. I could never find such personal information from a book or online, so to me it was more valuable than any other resource.
It was in this exchange that I found one of William Neal’s sons Robert Lee Neal. Although I learned that all of William’s sons were creative, intelligent and witty, I was drawn to Robert’s artwork and the dedication to his craft. I found magazine articles from when he was a child entering art contests, and continued through his adult years studying under famous WPA artists. Here’s an excerpt from one of the newspapers:
Another local artist who worked with one of the WPA’s most famous artists and a well-known African American Dayton painter. Neal did not live in Dayton when he was involved with the WPA. A native of Atlanta, he started painting under the guidance of the famous African American muralist Hale Woodruff. “He began his studies when he was 15, and his lessons cost 50 cents a day,” said Neal’s widow, Alberta Smith Neal. “When he was about 18, Mr. Woodruff wanted him to enter a big show, but Bob didn’t have the right clothes and couldn’t afford to attend the opening. Mr. Woodruff rented him a limousine and a tuxedo so he could go, and Bob ended up taking first place in the show-his painting was judge to be better than his teacher’s (Woodruff)”.
Neal moved to Dayton in the early 1940’s, after the WPA program had ended, but many local artists recall his stories of Woodruff and his own work with the WPA murals. “Bob was Woodruff’s understudy for the Amistad murals at Talledega College in Alabama,” said Michael Sampson, local artist and coordinator for public communication at the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center at Wilberforce University. The murals were painted in 1939, just before Neal came to Dayton, and Sampson has a copy of a letter written by Woodruff to his biographers that clearly establishes that “Bob actually did the cartoons (under drawings) for the murals, and he posed for all the hand drawings and some of the figures done in the mural.” Photographs of the mural series, titled The Mutiny Aboard the Amistad 1839, were on display in the DAI exhibition, and those who knew Neal could recognize his long expressive hands on the men in the paintings; in addition, many of the figures- and even some of the faces- share the same features of Neal’s self-portraits.
In Dayton, Neal continued to paint, and some recall his mural that decorated the Lakeside Grill (now the Crescendo) on Germantown St. The club is still operating, but the mural has been painted over. None of the local WPA artists in this article are with us today, and unfortunately, neither is most of their WPA work. Undoubtedly, not all of the work produced under the auspices of the WPA could be labeled as “great”, but the WPA and the art that it spawned is part of America’s –and Dayton’s- history, and its goal to integrate art into daily life played an important role in our public art legacy. It is ironic that, in just half a century, so much work that was intended to preserve local heritage has been destroyed and forgotten by the “future generations” which it was intended to inspire. Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned from such devastation is that it is imperative to preserve and document public art. After all, it is our public art that, in part, documents and preserves our times, our history, and our heritage.
Copyright 1998 Virginia Burroughs-Dayton Voice
In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s day I was inspired to concentrate on my own Georgia ancestors. I revisited one of the documents that I found early on in my research that shows Gabriel Neal, (my third great-grandfather), on the 1867 Return of Registered Voters for Banks County, Georgia.
“WE CERTIFY to the correctness of the above Return,”
Board of Registration
P. P. Casey
J. G, Stringer
C. W. Beal
J. B. S. Davis
Source: Microfilm, Georgia State Archives
Contributed by Jim Davis
Transcribed 2005 by Jacqueline King
Professor Henry Lewis Gates, Jr. presented a similar document to U.S. Congressman John Lewis on an episode of Finding Your Roots that brought him to tears. I also feel that same tug at my heart and sense of pride that my great-grandfather only two years out of slavery recognized the importance of his vote. I’ve stared at this document numerous times searching for a deeper understanding of what it must have meant to Gabriel and my other family members to finally be able to participate in this process.
But in 1867, what exactly was the process for newly freed African Americans?
Congress passed the first Reconstruction Act on March 2nd, 1867 which divided the Confederacy into five military districts each governed by a Union general. The first two Reconstruction Acts were followed by a series of supplementary acts that authorized the military commanders to register the voters and supervise the elections. As a result of these measures all of the states had returned to the Union by 1870.
While some sources describe that as many as 700,000 Blacks were registered by 1868, it made me wonder how many of them would cast a vote in the next election. And if they did make it to the polls, would they be educated enough to make their own choice, or were they being coerced by political agendas? Blacks would only have a short time to celebrate the Fifteenth Amendment ratified in 1870, and would soon meet with opposition from Southern states in the form of Jim Crow laws, intimidation and violence.
My ancestors in Banks County, Georgia were proud farmers, and even 13 years later on the 1880 census only one of Gabriel’s daughters could read and write. I believe that Gabriel took a strong leap of faith to make a better life for his children and grandchildren in signing his voter registration. In that step he would attempt to ensure his family’s freedom for generations to come.
When I voted for the first African American president in the last 2 elections I kept Gabriel and his sacrifices in my thoughts. I worked as a volunteer to register new voters, donated financially and continue to work as an advocate in Washington, D.C.
The words of Dr. King resonate also continue to resonate with me in my genealogical research. The foundation of my study requires me to “sift and weigh evidence” and to maintain a level of integrity in my work. It is therefore equally as important for me to give back, educate, and enlighten others on the joy of finding their own ancestors.
“To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.” Martin Luther King, Jr.,-The Purpose of Education
Bragg, William H. “Reconstruction in Georgia.” New Georgia Encyclopedia. 10 January 2014. Web. 20 January 2014.
I found another cousin today! I can’t say enough about my distant family and the help they have provided to link our family trees. I have a profile coming up about my cousin Robert Lee Neal, and I was able to find out so much information from his nephew on Ancestry. Today I decided to review our correspondence for any possible clues I missed. There were quite a few, actually, that rekindled my curiosity for this line that relocated to Ohio from Georgia. There were two females and I did not know if they had married, and what their new surnames would be. Looking more carefully I realized he had provided one of the surnames that I thought was a first name. After making this correction I was lucky enough to find that the husband had a very unusual first name (love it when that happens), and had a son named after him. A quick check on Facebook and BAM!!! Two new third cousin connections!! I plan on doing a post later on how I make connections to living descendants using Facebook and other resources.
In anticipation of the AAGSAR #BLOGFEST 2014 I wanted to reintroduce my family history blog and welcome any new readers who love family history or genealogy. I dedicated this to all of my African American ancestors and family who have guided me through my life journey. I was inspired to become a genealogist after seeing the picture on the left of my second great-grandmother Laura. It’s the oldest picture I have of any family member on either side of my family. My grandfather had this picture hanging on his bedroom wall for as long as I could remember. She has the same eyes as my grandfather, and I would stare into them trying to figure out what she was thinking when this picture was taken. There is no identifying information on the photo, and I could certainly try to date when it was taken by her clothing. As I got older, I felt compelled to find out more about her, her family, and everything in between.
Laura Ann Ware was born around September 1853 in Madison County, Georgia. The state of Georgia did not maintain vital records until after 1919, so I had to confirm an approximate date of birth from census, marriage, and death records.
In the 1870 census Laura would have been at least 17 years old. The only federal census I could find that showed her living in Madison County lists her in the household of Jeremiah and Martha Deadwyler. All of the children have the last name of Deadwyler, although I have no documents that support that Laura ever used that name. The date of the census is August 4th, 1870, so Laura would have still been single.
On December 4th, 1870, Laura was married to Asbury Neal in Madison County, Georgia. On this record Laura’s maiden name is shown as Ware.
In 1880, the census shows the Neal household still living in Madison County. Asbury and Laura Neal are living with their children Martha (8), Arthur (6), William (4) and Gabriel (2).
The 1900 census lists the Neal household in Banks County, Georgia. I believe the boundary lines for the county changed and that the family still lived in the same place as in 1880. Asbury and Laura are now the parents of 11 children: Willie (23), Mary (18), Francis (16), Savanah (13), Samuel (11), Roy (8), Lonnie (5), Charlie (2), and Gabriel (21). I am still curious why Gabriel was listed at the bottom of the list when the rest of the children are in age order. It suggests he is a step son or son-in-law. When I follow Gabriel to his death in Ohio in 1946 his father is listed as Asbury, but his mother is “unknown”. This also suggests that Laura was not his biological mother. Martha Deadwyler is also living in the household listed as mother-in-law.
1910 is the last census Laura is listed in. She and Asbury are in the household along with Roy (18), Lonnie (15), Charles (13), and Martha Ware the mother-in-law. I thought it was interesting that Martha is now using the Ware surname. She is widowed, so perhaps she is using her maiden name as it is shown on Laura’s death certificate.
Laura passed on October 5th, 1922 from uremia poisoning. She was buried in Hurricane Grove cemetery, and her father Russ White is named as the undertaker. Her spirit lives on in all of her descendants, and I am proud to have a photo reminder of the strength and bravery that she must have had.