There are times when the cosmos seems to open wide and drops a family history nugget of gold right into your lap. You kind of know when this happens. For starters, there’s the goosebumps. Goosebumps are swiftly followed by the hairs on your arms and the back of your neck standing on end. A delicious little shiver races up the spine. Gravity seems to take a short holiday. And if you’re like me, when the shock wears off, you’re left sitting in front of your PC, MAC, laptop, notebook, tablet or smartphone wearing a huge ole soppy grin.
This was me last Thursday. And even better, this experience involved one of my direct Matthews ancestors in Edgefield County, SC. This is a family that I know very little about when compared to other branches of my family’s tree. So this was something extra special.
Like any other day, I logged into Ancestry.com on Thursday. And there they were…quite a few ‘hints’ delivered through Ancestry.com. For those of you unfamiliar with the service, once you start entering in details for your ancestors in the service, Ancestry.com pings you about possible record matches for the people in your family tree. On this day there were hints for Lewis Matthews (b. abt 1824 in Edgefield County, SC), my 3 x great grandfather, and his wife, Martha Bottom, born around the same time and in the same location. This is the first time I’d ever received hints for either of them.
This was no ordinary hint. The hint pointed to me another Ancestry.com member, Mr. T. Abney, and his family tree. This was the first person I’d found who shared the same direct Matthews ancestor. The best piece of content he had was a photo of Lewis Matthews. Not only could I look upon the efface of a gentleman I’d tried to research for the past 3 years to little avail….I could see the strong family resemblance between him and my Matthews grandmother and two of her brothers.
As serendipity would have it, Thursday would turn out to be a red letter day. Thirty minutes after looking upon the face of Lewis, I found details covering his life in the book I bought last month:
So there he is, right there in the image below. On 19 January 1831, his ownership passed from Drury Matthews, who died, to Drury’s widow, Mourning (Pope) Matthews.
Now this is the first time I’ve found one of my ancestors in a slavery record. To say I experienced a range of emotions would be an understatement. I actually had to walk away for a while to gather my thoughts and grappled with conflicting emotions: joy at discovering him. Joy at discovering who his owner(s) were which would point to specific areas for further research where Lewis was concerned. And other emotions were experienced at seeing any human being reduced to a dollars and cents valuation. It’s inevitable.
In terms of US history, if you’re descended from African slaves, Irish Catholic slaves (yes, Irish Catholics were sold into slavery too in their hundreds of thousands), Spanish slaves or Native American slaves, your first experience with slavery records will be a mixed blessing. That’s just being honest. However, this shouldn’t put you off. That’s part of the family history bargain. You’re never in control of what you’ll find or what your reaction to that information will be.
Needless to say, with composure regained, I returned to Ms. Lucas’s book. I had the name of Lewis’s new owner. I was curious to see what happened to him after his sale to Mourning Matthews. Lo and behold, there he was again on page 252 of the book. On 17 February 1847, his ownership passed from Mourning, upon her death, to her daughter, Susanna Matthews Pope.
And here Lewis’s story ends, for the time being. I have yet to find anything relating to Martha Bottom…yet.
Apart from the joy of being able to put a face to a name (and I can’t really begin to do justice to that feeling), I can take some measure of cold comfort in knowing that Lewis and his family remained within the sphere of the Matthews family until the end of slavery.
Judging by his image and by two descriptions of being ‘mulatto’, this naturally raises questions about his paternity. Was Lewis a Matthews by birth or through association? Only time, or perhaps DNA tests, will tell. The adventure continues…