Finding Documentation for Your Ancestor’s Timeline

Robin Foster
by Robin Foster
The Log Hut in Elbert County, Georgia, on the plantation of Thomas Jones, where Bishop Heard was born. June 25, 1850, Heard: From Slavery to the Bishopric, 1969, Arno Press, Inc.
The Log Hut in Elbert County, Georgia, on the plantation of Thomas Jones, where Bishop Heard was born. June 25, 1850, Heard: From Slavery to the Bishopric, 1969, Arno Press, Inc.

Now, we will take the timeline from the blog, Bishop William H. Heard’s (1850-1937) Autobiography Documents Enslavement to Bishopric in A.M.E. Church, and add resources to provide documentation for 1850-1879. You will be able find places that you can also look for the ancestors who lived in Elbert County and Clarke County, Georgia, and Abbeville County, South Carolina.

1850 – 1865: Enslavement-Elbert County, Georgia

The Research Wiki gives resources for Elbert County, Georgia. I would look at probate records for the enslaver as far back as I could go to see if my relatives are mentioned. I would then follow the probate records forward past enslavement also.

I would look at every record-type that was generated during this time period.

1868 – 1872: Republican Party, legislature, school, teacher-Elbert County, Georgia

Searching for “William H. Heard, Republican” on Google reveals books that can help me learn about black people in Georgia during that time period as well as finding more on Bishop William H. Heard:

The Way it was in the South: The Black Experience in Georgia by Donald Lee Grant – Chronicles the Black experience in Georgia from the early 1500s to the present, exploring the contradictions of life in a state that was home to both the KKK and the civil rights movement. This book has the following excerpt on page 258:

“Black newspaper cropped up all over Georgia. Prominent Republican William Pledger and William H. Heard, later A.M.E bishop and minister to Liberia, started the Athens Blade in 1879 with the credo: “The Arm of Justice — Will not Sleep.” Only twelve issues of the newspaper are extant.”

I searched next “teacher, William H. Heard” using Google search. A Class of Their Own: Black Teachers in the Segregated South by Adam Fairclough has the following excerpt on page 46:

“The Freedman’s Bureau in Georgia employed William Jefferson White, a Baptist minister and a political leader in Augusta. The bearded, beetle-browed White had the appearance of a white man, but he identified completely with the freedman. William H. Heard, the seventeen-year-old teacher who later became a bishop in the A.M.E. Church, heard White address a meeting in Elberton. It was a “political speech,” he recalled. “He was the first colored man I had ever seen who was so well educated, and who could use the King’s English readily, accurately, and convincingly. He very much influenced me and I determined from that night to be a MAN, and to fill an important place in life’s arena.”

Not only could I learn more about Bishop Heard’s early life in teaching, but I see this book would mention the Freedman’s Bureau, other black politicians, ministers, and more in Georgia and Elberton County. I could also appreciate Bishop Heard’s determination having seen a black man so eloquently address the people in the Elberton meeting.

These were only two results from a Google search. You can multiply the number of resources by looking at other results in addition to purchasing copies of each book in order to have access to the bibliographies.

1873 – 1877: Teaching, Attended University of South Carolina, Republican Party – 1876- Mt. Carmel, Abbeville County, SC

The Research Wiki has resources for Abbeville County, South Carolina so it is possible to find other documents that mention William H. Heard and the Republican party, and University of South Carolina.  I found a Catalogue of the University of South Carolina by University of South Carolina that has an entry for Heard, William Henry from Abbeville with the address 132 Lincoln St. This means I could conduct research at USC for William H. Heard.

In Senate documents, Volume 1; Volume 6; Volume 290, William H. Heard is mentioned on page 412 of South Carolina in 1876:

“Q. Was that a republican? A. Yes, sir; he is a republican. He is here. That is William H. Heard.” This means I would search this book for more mentions of Heard. This is the same book that has Beverly Vance’s (1832-1899) testimony.

1879: After Teaching and Studying at Clark and Atlanta Universities He Began Studying Law-Athens, Georgia

Black Educators and Their Schools: Quenching the Thirst for Knowledge by Michael L. Thurmond mentioned a school William H. Heard founded in Athens, Georgia. This was my first find of the Methodist Church:

“The Methodist School: Little is known about the history of this institution. It was probably founded about 1876 by William H. Heard, co-founder of the Athens Blade, Athens’ first black newspaper. The school was located on Hancock Avenue in the basement of the Negro Methodist Church. Carrie Pledge was listed in the 1889 Athens Directory as the principal of the institution. Although the exact date of its demise is not known, the Methodist School had ceased operations by 1912.”

The principal, Carrie Pledge is mentioned in the 1889 Athens Directory. The Research Wiki has resources for Clarke County, Georgia. The Athens Historic Newspaper Archive could lead to historic newspapers which would mention the Methodist School, the Negro Methodist Church, and maybe even the first black newspaper, the Athens Blade.

Sharpen the Saw

Can you see now that studying the life of a person that was in the places you have found your ancestor recorded gives you more resources that you may not have considered? With a little searching, you can uncover more than you could have imagined. We will continue to add more resources to Bishop William H. Heard’s timeline. Please share your thoughts in our Facebook group!

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