The Beyond Kin Project (https://beyondkin.org), developed by genealogy colleagues Donna Cox Baker and Frazine K. Taylor, has transformed the way in which I research my enslaved ancestors.
In short, this method of adding enslaved populations of people to a family tree was a revolutionary development. You can see a real-world example of this methodology in practice on the Genealogy Adventures family tree on Ancestry below:
In the example above, you can see the basic architecture of the Beyond Kin approach. Upon her death in 1760, Mary Lucia Bull-Middleton dispersed hundreds of enslaved people (EPs) to her children. Here we see some of the enslaved people she bequeathed to her daughter, Mrs. Sarah “Sally” Middleton-Guerard. To achieve this, I created a “spouse” for Mary Lucia Bull-Middleton labeled “Lot #3 of EPs – Mrs. Sarah Guerard’s Division (1760)”. As you might guess, Mary Lucia had different “lots” of EPs. Each Lot of human beings went to a specific child. In Mary Lucia’s case, she had 4 “lots” of human beings apportioned out between her four children in her estate inventory. You can also see where I have added notes for each person that I have been able to trace from generation to generation within this enslaving family. These individual notes, hopefully, aids other researchers researching the same EPs. That’s the aim at any rate.
Adding people to the Genealogy Adventures tree in this manner helps me and the research team begin our journey in terms of uncovering family relationships that are obscured by people who are simply names on a list. In the sample above, you can see how I’ve noted that “Old Cato” will share a relationship with other Catos who are in the following two generations of Middleton-Bull-(Maj. Pierce) Butler enslaved people.
The Beyond Kin Methodology has worked so brilliantly for me in terms of researching enslaved populations of people. I have decided to adapt it in the hopes it will deliver the same genealogical insights for my ancestral families who were 1) poorly documented, Antebellum free people of color in Virginia and North Carolina; and 2) poorly documented European/European-descended colonial-era family lines who were early settlers throughout the western Virginia region (including present-day West Virginia, Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky), North Carolina and South Carolina. Of these two groups, my free families of color are up first.
I am keen to stitch together the Walden family of Virginia (Surry, Isle of Wight, and Mecklenburg Counties in Virginia as well as Bute, Warren, Halifax, and Northampton Counties in North Carolina. This research also includes the following surname variations: Waldon, Waldron, Waldren, Waldring, Walding, and Wilding. While I will use the Walden spelling, this article includes Without delving too far into my Waldren family research, I wanted to outline why this family is poorly documented. It will resonate with many readers who are researching colonial-era family lines.
Documents to-date for the Waldens I have researched in Virginia and North Carolina depict a family of modest means. Tax lists are a brilliant way to gauge the relative wealth of an ancestor. Colonial tax lists in Virginia and North Carolina typically list a couple of horses, maybe a mule or two, basic farm equipment (e.g. hoes, axes, etc.). You probably get the picture. There are no carriages or gold pocket watches, expensive jewelry, or items you would probably see in a tax list for a wealthy planter. Frustratingly, a number of Waldens in Virginia and North Carolina died intestate; without a will, in other words. Estate inventories – which should exist regardless of whether someone had a will or not – are devilishly hard to come by. In some instances, this is because these old documents have been lost or destroyed by fire.
So what are we left with in terms of paper trail documentation?
Even without a will or an estate inventory, there are other records that provide stand-alone glimpses into an overall family group:
- County baptism records
- County marriage records
- Tax lists
- Court provided freedom papers (Virginia only)
- Revolutionary War Service & Pension Files
- United States Military Bounty Land Warrants
- Land Plat maps
The first two items on the list – baptism and marriage records – show there were people with the same surname as an ancestor’s in the same county. If your family has instances of endogamy – you will want to pay particular attention to the surnames of spouses. For instance, with the Waldens in Northampton County, North Carolina, one line inter-married frequently with the Byrd, Exum, Roberts, and Newsom families while another related Walden line frequently inter-married with the Arrington, Hathcock/Heathcock, Pope, and Gray families. Sometimes, sometimes, who someone married can give us clues as to which family line they belong to. In some colonies and states, a bondman was required. This person acted as a surety for the marriage bond. If the bondsman (sorry, back then it was always a “he”) and the bride or groom shared the same surname, you will want to investigate that. The chances are very high the bondsperson with the same surname
Tax lists show other individuals with the same surname in the same county on the same Tax List data (e.g. Halifax County, North Carolina Tax List 1787). Paying close attention to the possessions each person was taxed on, and, perhaps, how close in terms of proximity their name appears on the list, there might be clues about the nature of the relationships with the people who carry the same surname.
In Antebellum Virginia, including the colonial period, free people of color had to prove their free status in the County Court. They were given a paper that included a description of the individual and why they were free. For instance, you might see a Peter Walden with details about the county of his residence, a brief physical description, and that he was free because his mother, let’s call her Sally from Charles City County, was born free (or manumitted, if that’s the case). If there are two Waldens filing their freedom papers in Surry County, Virginia in 1815 with references to a Sarah (or Sally) Walden as their mother – the chances are very high the two people were siblings.
The Revolutionary War records more or less speak for themselves. I will just say the Pension Application files can be a veritable goldmine of information: documenting when a marriage occurred, where it occurred, a maiden name, and the names of children.
Bounty Land warrants will give you specific details about a plot of land an ancestor was awarded for military service – particularly in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Armed with the specific details about the plot of land an ancestor was awarded, we can try to locate a county land plat map.
Using the image above, if I was researching George Taylor (lower left on the map), I can see who the neighboring property owners were. I would pay particular attention to the Taylor surname amongst his neighboring property owners. Or surnames of people who match ancestral surnames in George’s family. Land maps are invaluable for tracing the sub-division of a property within the same family. As an example, let’s say that neighboring Samuel Johnson had married a woman by the name of Mary Taylor. And let’s say there was no record of who Mary’s parents were. The chances would be good that she was a daughter of George Taylor, who bequeathed land to his son-in-law Samuel Johnson in his will.
Applying the Beyond Kin Methodology
So why have I spent time outlining the usefulness of the documents enumerated above? You can create individual Beyond Kin style spouse labels for each kind of recordset – and add relevant individuals to each specific recordset. Following below is a fictitious example. I hope the various spouse / child / grandchild labels provide a clear enough example to give you an idea of how to add labels and then people to your family tree.
John Walden I represents the oldest known member of the family. We’ll call him the patriarch until information about his parents presents itself. All of the other Waldens in Surry County, Virginia will either lead back to him – or not if they are not descendants of John Walden. Only time, careful research, diligence (and persistence!!) will answer that question.
If the identity of an individual’s parentage is discovered, that individual is moved to his or her parents and takes their rightful and correct place within the Walden family tree. In other words, think of all of the “grandkids” listed in the image above as one huge “to-do” list. That’s the way I think of them. Each person requires investigation and research to place them within the overall Walden family tree.
Using a Real-World Examples
The top half of the image shows William Walden I with his confirmed family members. Thankfully, he died with a will. Confirming the identity of his wife and his children was very easy.
The lower half of the image lists other Waldens in Northampton County, NC. DNA matches suggest that a number of Waldens I have found are William’s descendants or descendants of William’s brothers who also moved to Northampton County, NC. For our working purposes, it’s easier and more practical to list everyone under William until each person can be researched further and moved to their correct place in the family tree. Gray Walden is listed for a simple reason, even though he was found in Indiana and not North Carolina. In a history book that had a blurb about him, his descendants stated that he came from Northampton County, North Carolina. Gray is also living in close proximity to other Waldens in Vigo, Indiana who also came from Northampton County, North Carolina. Hence Gray’s appearing on this list.
You can also use the approach for adding household information from the US Federal Census records between 1790 to 1840: those census decades where only the head of household was specifically named. Here’s an example of that:
Armistead has presented a few challenges. I haven’t been able to locate either a will or an estate inventory for him. Nor have I been able to locate either a will or an estate inventory for his wife, Winnie. With Covid-19 raging across the land, the Northampton County, North Carolina and North Carolina State Archive offices are shut to the public. Nor can I travel to North Carolina to do any in-person research. I’m still sheltering in place. The cost of obtaining copies of estate records (if they exist) and land maps would be, well, rather expensive. I am pushing the envelope as far as I can with records that have been digitized and readily available online.
Thankfully, the identity of his some of Armistead’s daughters was found fairly easily via their death certificates. Augustus was only recently confirmed as a son via DNA test results. The search continues for the names of his remaining children.
Adding information from the pre-1850 US Federal Census records, as I’ve done in the image above, is incredibly helpful. I can easily the composition of Armistead’s household in 1830 and 1840 (he was living with his parents previous to 1830). I can see the number of males and females. I can also see their respective age brackets. As I go through all of the male and female Waldens in Northampton County, North Carolina who are brick walls, I can compare their years of birth against Waldens like Armistead and his brothers to gauge where a brick wall Walden could possibly fit. I note possible fathers/parents in Ancestry’s Comment boxes.
I pay particular attention to the surnames of spouses. Again, endogamy is the reason for this. I factor in naming conventions due to the fact certain names repeat regularly down specific family lines. This family was also fond of using ancestral maiden names as first names. So men with names like Exum and Artis, and Harwood are of particular interest because Waldens married into the Exum, Artis, and Harwood families. I factor in proximity to researched Waldens in the various Census returns the brick wall Waldens were enumerated in. I want to see who they are living amongst (which includes locating land maps).
Oh yes, I also include the year of birth year range for each individual. I’ll be honest, trying to mentally work out the year range for someone aged between 44 and 99 years old in 1830 was born at 8am – with only the first coffee of the day under my belt – is a daunting task. Throwing this information into Ancestry’s suffix box makes my morning research starts far easier!
I’ll be equally honest…this methodology is working for me. It is slow work. It is laborious work. However, it is slowly beginning to pay dividends. I can’t promise it will work for everyone. But I refer to the old saying: nothing ventured, nothing gained. I do hope it works for you and leads to some sought-after discoveries. If you try it out and make discoveries – please do cycle back to this article and post a comment. I love hearing about your success stories! And we just might invite you on the show to talk about your research using this methodology.