Monday, July 20, 2009

Oral Legends

Oral legends are the beginning points of most genealogical pursuits. We take them with a grain of salt knowing that they must be corroborated before the legend can become history. We hope that there is enough truth in the legend as we search for evidence.

I am following several family lines each with an oral legend. However, when it comes to my Alexander line, I have a wealth of oral legends and they all contradict each other.

The facts: John Alexander and his wife Catherine lived in Lincoln County, Mississippi with several of their children in 1870. According to the census, John was from Virginia and Catherine was from Maryland.

Oral legend as told to me by my aunt Hortense: John took the name Alexander as his surname because it was Catherine's and because he had some beef against his last slave owner whose surname was Huffman. There are Huffmans living close by on the 1870 census so it kind of made sense. Still, it is conjecture not fact.

Oral legend as told by Florence Octavia Townsend in her bio: "My grandfather, John was born in Liberia and captured and brought to this country when he was twelve years old. He was a slave on the Lambright plantation in Virginia. He was sold to the Huffman plantation in Alabama. He married another slave named Catherine (originally from India) on the Huffman plantation. During the Civil War he ran away and worked for the union forces. After the war he returned home and took his wife and children to Mississippi. Because a union officer named “Alexander” had impressed him he changed the family’s name to that of Alexander. He and Cahterine had twelve children, nine sons and three daughters." Catherine is identified as black not East Indian on the censuses. I have not been able to find a Lambright or Huffman plantation yet in the named states. I have not determined if the John Alexander that I located in the Civil War records is my ancestor or not. I am dubious that someone moved to Mississippi by choice. Still, these are not facts, just legend.

Now I have been told another story by another Alexander. She said as far as she knows John was always an Alexander who lived on a plantation in Virginia called Strouder (sic). She does not know how he got to Mississippi and she never heard of John being in the Civil War.

The one constant is Virginia in this story. The rest are loose strings hanging out on my ancestry tapestry. But this is what is fun about genealogy--being a detective in my own detective story.


A. Spence said...

Looks like you have 3 Virginias, 2 Huffman and 3 Alexanders as far as comparison goes. Wow. I wish I had as many interesting stories. Unfortunately, I haven't met many people that were able to tell me much regarding their ancestry.

Jennifer said...

Keep asking around. There's always at least one person that likes to gossip, I mean talk.

Luckie said...

Wow Jennifer, sounds like you have a TRUE mystery on your hands! I joked with someone the other day that though the Ancestors have anointed us the family "Griots" & intend to share their stories with us, they still make us work for it...

Keep us posted... #2 is my favorite!:-)


Anonymous said...

Very Interesting indeed Jennifer. What a challenge that I hope you can uncover.

Anonymous said...

Hello Jennifer,

Have you gone further to see if any John Alexanders file pensions? If there are some, then you will be able to lear so much more. I did a check for you and there are 51 John Alexanders that served with the US Colored Troops.

You will be able to eliminate many of them off your list by zooming in on those who served in your part of the country. So a John Alexander who served in a South Carolina regiment for example won't be your guy. I hope your ancestor did serve and that he got a pension as it will unlock so many doors for you. Best wishes. Thanks for sharing this story!

Jennifer said...

My Alexander Family's oral legends are so tangled up. I talked to a cousin last night that says John's name wasn't Alexander during the Civil War. These legends really are like a ball of Christmas tree light. I have to unravel them slowly, following one story to prove what bits are true and which are not.

Unknown said...

Hi Jennifer, I'm enjoying the blogs! My gggf was supposedly East Indian too and I was told the surname started with the letter "A" prior to it being changed to Sartin. I only find my people in Arkansas in 1920, North MS in 1930. I've heard tales of LA, TN and Kosciusko,Belzoni and McComb, Mississippi too. Do you have many sources for info on East Indians integrating with AA's?