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African American Genealogy: Finding Out a Little More About the Enslaver

Robin Foster
by Robin Foster
James K. Vance, 1850 U.S. Census
Year: 1850; Census Place: Saluda Regiment, Abbeville, South Carolina; Roll: M432_848; Page: 155A; Image: 316

Why would you want to trace the person back in time who enslaved your family?  Because if you know he was the person who enslaved your family, you want to follow him wherever he lived because at any time you can find out clues about your family even though you do not see their names mentioned.

I found James Kincaid Vance in 1950 with young family some time after he moved from Laurens County, South Carolina. I know that Samuel Vance, father to James Kincaid Vance gave my 2nd great grandfather, Beverly Vance, to James. James moved to Abbeville County, SC with this family. I do not know if Beverly’s mother, Marie, got to come with him before enslavement ended, but he was a “house boy” to James.

Abbeville County, South Carolina, 1860 US Census, Margaret Vaughn McKinney, Augusta, Georgia. Photo by Robin Foster.
Abbeville County, South Carolina, 1860 US Census, Margaret Vaughn McKinney, Augusta, Georgia. Photo by Robin Foster.

Now, this next thing I have done lots of times, but this is the first time I have shared it. I usually go the county library or archives when I am having trouble on a census before 1870. I look up the person in the census book. I recently bought the Abbeville County, South Carolina 1860 Census from the August Genealogical Society, Inc. I have come to know many of the families having lived there. I traced them when I was looking for where Beverly Vance could have been buried.

I also have a list of names that Beverly Vance put together. He listed the names of the men who threatened him during Reconstruction. I found most of them in the 1860 Census. It is easier now to open the book to examine the names, rather than pull them up online.

In 1860, in found James Kincaid Vance, remember Beverly would have been enslaved by him. He was hard to find which is another reason I consulted this book. His name was entered in as Joseph K. Vance. He did have an uncle named Joseph Harrison Vance referred to as Harp Vance by Beverly. Joseph was not married and lived in the area. The enumerator must have somehow confused the name.

Joseph K. Vance household, Abbeville County, South Carolina 1860 US Census, Cokesbury, Abbeville, South Carolina, page 180, line 1326, Margaret Vaughn McKinney, Augusta, Georgia.
Joseph K. Vance household, Abbeville County, South Carolina 1860 US Census, Cokesbury, Abbeville, South Carolina, page 180, line 1326, Margaret Vaughn McKinney, Augusta, Georgia.

There is an overseer listed next door. Saml. Caldwell. Next, we will take a look at the 1870 US Census to see Beverly’s family and who all is living next door to him. We will also show you where James Kincaid Vance is living in 1880 and who is living with him.

It does not seem like a lot, but when you put together different resources, oral history, and what you uncover on your own, you start to understand a little about life back then.

Sharpen the Saw

Have you ever searched the old census books? Did you notice anything more that did not stick out to you in the online census?

Have you traced the enslaver every census year? Were you able to get back to his father and mother? Have your ever found the will of an enslaver? Did it mention your family?Share your answers to some of these questions out in our Facebook Group.

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