Tip 01: Enslaved and Enslavers
I know some of you are researching this. A friend and I have been working on her earliest known ancestors, the ones in the 1870 and 1880 censuses, who were born enslaved.
I had never thought much about names, but most had no surnames before 1865. Some did, of course, but many did not. So they took their own names at the end of slavery. And that is why so many of them are Tom’s sons, Thompson, Robertson as in Robert’s sons.
They also took names of famous people, i.e., Washington which is extremely common, as well as Hill, Lake etc. They sometimes took owners names. Or they pulled one out of the sky. If you can guess from the location which plantation they were on, you might look for tax records. In many states, the owners were taxed, and the individuals were listed. The names also appear in estate records also. In some locations, sale records still exist.
The US banned the import of slaves after 1810. But they were shipped all over the place. And you may find ship manifests with names of the slaves listed. I saw one for Louisiana on Ancestry. Some of the individuals had surnames, some did not.
My friend found a bill of sale in a plantation estate record for $1 so it must have been to a relative. The bill of sale names Peter and Peter’s sons Sanchez, Pompey, Cicero, and a couple more. This was dated in the 1850s for slaves born in the 1840s. So in the 1870 census, we have Sanchez Peterson, Pompey Peterson, Cicero Peterson, etc., living in the same area. And wonder of wonders, my friend has DNA matches to all these lines. I am in awe of the research she has done. She is descended from Sanchez Peterson, AKA Peter’s son. She spent months proving it.
She also has a Benjamin family. After much work, she has found them in the 1870 census with the last name Ben. By the 1880 census, they had all become Benjamins. Can we suspect that they were sons of Ben? I don’t know, but it is all fascinating.
It is mostly impossible to prove anything. But it brings her much closer to her roots which is the real point of all this research.