Tag: POC genealogy

Taming the Briar Patch

Here’s My Simple New Year’s Resolution: Focus.

This is a book blog for Into the Briar Patch: A Family Memoir. By focusing on my own Southern ancestors, the book explores some blockbuster questions. The purpose of this blog is to continue digging into these questions. Here are two of them:

  • What are the psychological origins of racism for whites in this country?
  • How can racism and the trauma of slavery be further healed, with compassion and respect for blacks and whites alike?

These two questions have an “action” component for me:

Last year, with research and great help from Twitter friends, I found several living Kirven (maternal-paternal) relatives who are biracial. Some of my (white) cousins and I are waiting for their further responses to my letters and phone inquiries. Would our biracial second cousins like to meet us? I hope so. But I’m not going to pester them or rush them.

This coming year, maybe I will find living Fraser (maternal-maternal) relatives who are biracial. If so, I’ll write more letters. I’ll hope again for a meeting.

Here are two more questions raised by Into the Briar Patch:

  • To what degree are people’s moral compasses shaped by historical contexts? Does everyone have a certain “core sense” of good and bad, or not?
  • Why do good people end up committing harmful acts, while still believing in the “goodness” or justifiability of these acts?

These two questions verge upon a classic problem, the origin of evil in human beings. At the end of Voltaire’s Candide, the bedraggled surviving characters lament to a wise philosopher: “But surely . . . there is a dreadful amount of evil in the world.” Why? They ask him. The philosopher tells them to shut up and slams the door in their faces.

Right. The best response is laughter. But the mystery of evil is still out there.

The briar patch of human nature has some mighty dark places. Yet we all start as babies, by our very nature good. Go figure.

Fraser, Kirven, racism, Voltaire, human nature, genealogy, blogs

Light and Shadow

These four questions make up focus of my blog, then. I’ll be attentive to healing action, the unexpected, humor, mystery, and the good/evil paradox of human nature. I’ll look for these themes as I keep searching for my living biracial second cousins, and as I contemplate the moral views expressed or acted-on by my Kirven and Fraser ancestors in the South.

So much to research and write about, I realize. I’ll be grateful if I can tame only my small section of the briar patch of human history.

We can pick only one berry at a time. And only when it ripens.

I’ll try to post weekly, whenever I come across a new living relative, an unexpected moral insight, a curious find, a mystery, or a story that brings a smile or a tear.


Happy New Year to my readers! I’m always glad to see your comments, thoughts, and questions!














First Names of Slaves: Can You Locate Your Ancestors By Using My Ancestor’s Will?

African-Americans looking for enslaved ancestors often meet brick walls. There is no comprehensive index of African-American slave names—either their first names during enslavement or their first-and-last names when freedom finally came.

Some of the best clues to this information are in the documents of slaveholding families.  An uncounted number of slaveholder wills do identify the first names of slaves who are being bequeathed as “property.” Because popular first names can pass down through a family, it becomes crucial to know the first names of one’s enslaved ancestors—in case they re-appear on the landmark 1870 census.

Slave ancestors may also have chosen to take the surname of their owner, or a variant of that surname, when they were freed. Having a plausible theory of both first name and surname of an enslaved ancestor can help bring about revelations from the 1870 or 1880 censuses.

In my opinion, there should be a complete database of slaveholder wills online, full of first names of slaves, and well indexed. Descendants of slaveholders could join to make this happen. It would be only fair.

Until that time, we soldier on individually.

Right now I can share 55 first names of slaves from the 1820 will of my 3 x great grandfather, John Baxter Fraser (1767-1820). I discovered his will last week.

Some background: John Baxter Fraser had a plantation in the Sumter District of South Carolina. He began working the fields in the 1790s, farming inferior land and living under frontier conditions, with 2 or 3 slaves. Through settlements of his white relatives’ estates, he owned 20 slaves by 1801. He lived in a 28 x 20 foot log house, and his slaves built log houses for their families. By 1820, his wife Mary and two children had died, but he had 9 remaining children, ages 11 to 30, to whom he bequeathed his farm supplies, his land, and his (by then) 55 slaves. In his will he kept together all of the slave families whom he owned.

Here are further ideas for anyone searching for enslaved Fraser ancestors. John Baxter Fraser also bequeathed his slaves’ “future increase” (children) to his own children, and instructed them to bequeath these slave families and their “increase” to their own children—or if they had none, to their surviving white siblings.

Therefore, until the end of the Civil War, the families of these 55 enslaved people would probably have lived with some white family surnamed Fraser (Frasier, Frazier, Frazer) either in the Sumter District of South Carolina, or wherever that family moved. Here I give the BD dates of each of the 9 Fraser children, and the probable married names of the Fraser daughters, to aid genealogical searches. I also include possible places to which each Fraser sibling may have relocated. (These relocation suggestions are from those infamously unverified public family trees, but surely every hint is welcome in a caring search.)

As it happens, one of John Baxter Fraser’s sons is my 2 x great grandfather, Ladson Lawrence Fraser (1804-1889):

Ladson Lawrence Fraser Sr

Ladson Lawrence Fraser (1804-1889). Photo owned by author.

He and his wife Hannah Boone owned a Boone-Fraser plantation, Booneland:

Booneland Ladson Lawrence Fraser Hannah Boone

Booneland. Photo owned by the author.

First Names of Slaves in the 1820 will of John Baxter Fraser, as willed to his children:

To Samuel Fraser (1790-1843): Ben, Diana her child Xury and her future increase, and the negro girl Delia my negro slaves Toney & Affy   Samuel may have been buried at Pawleys Island, Georgetown, South Carolina.

To Mary Fraser (1792 – ): Cyrus, Milly and her children to wit Amoutta, Satira, and July and my waiting Boy Primus, Lucy and her two children Labinia and Abeline  Mary may have been married to Sinclaire Deschamps.

To William Hickman Fraser (1793-1864): Caesar & his wife Dorcas, George, Liddy and her two children Lembrick and Dorcas  William may have died in Darlington, South Carolina.

To Jane Baxter Fraser (1794-1840): George & his wife Brunette, Lucy & her two children To wit Peggy & Nelson, and my negro girl Charlotte Jane may have married Thomas Boone in 1827.

To John Glasgow Fraser (1796-1860): Tome and his wife Dince & her child Heriott

To Thomas Fraser (1798-1863): Judith, Frank, Prince, Silla & her two children. Viz. Sylva and Abigail  Thomas may have moved to Alachua, Florida, and had many children.

To Robert Fraser (1800-1886): old Ben, old Suckey his wife, Tyler, Nero, Dandy, Maria and her child Argen  Robert may have moved to Bishopville, South Carolina.

To Ladson Lawrence Fraser (1804-89):  Dick, & his wife Kate, Nanny & her three children vix. Heram, Rufus, and Susanna Ladson stayed in Sumter District, South Carolina. 

To Elias Lynch Fraser (1809-51): Anthony, Ambrose, Marianne, Daphan young Suckey, and Sophronia Elias may have moved to Lancaster, South Carolina, and had a number of children by his first and second wives.

Given the terrible reality that people were enslaved and then bequeathed as property, I hope this information can help some African-Americans trace their ancestors and learn more about their families.

Sources: The full source for John Baxter Fraser’s history is Cotton Culture on the South Carolina Frontier: Journal of John Baxter Fraser 1804-1807, edited by John Hebron Moore and Margaret DesChamps Moore. This book holds some more information about the 55 enslaved people and their lives with John Baxter Fraser. It is available from the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.

The entire 1820 will of John Baxter Fraser can be found here.


*** Footnote relating to my last blog: I’ve received a brief, tentative response from my letter. My relative is considering what to do and talking the matter over with her aunt. She says she’ll let me know. I am waiting hopefully.