Monday, February 27, 2012

More From the Rabbit Hole

Curiosity gets the better of me once again.

I recently purchased a genealogy on a cabinet card. Here's the front of the card:

As you see, it's not in great shape. Someone put a little tape frame around it that's been peeling off over the years.  The subject is an African-American man, standing in a very typical pose for the time, leaning on a chair. All mildly interesting, but here's what got me really interested in the card – the back:

Study it for a moment, then let's compare notes. It will be easier to read if you click on it.

Here's what I came up with: First, there's some faint pencil writing in the background, about the only readable parts of which are "8.95," "as is," and what appears to be a repetition of the name "Cocknell." It appears this photograph has been sold before.

Then, there's the circular "Grandfather Picture."

And finally, there's the list of names and relationships.

A list of names like this should be fairly easy to find in the census. How many Cocknell families could there be with a father named Tom, and sons named Ben, Jim, and Eugene?

Answer: none.  Back to the drawing board.

Okay, let's study the card more closely. Notice the last letter in "Father."  At least once, this person wrote a lower-case "R" that looks like an "N".

Is this family's name "CockRell" instead of "CockNell"?

Bingo!  Here's the Cockrell family in the 1910 Census of Matagorda Co., Texas.

Thomas Cockrell, the father, is 45 years old. He was born in Texas (space limitations prevent me from showing that portion of the record) and he's been married to Armitie for 20 years.

Armitie, who is 36, was born in Texas, but her parents were from North Carolina. She was married to Thomas Cockrell when she was about 16 years old.

They have three sons, Benjamine, Jim, and Eugene, aged 20, 19, and 18 respectively. The 3-3 you see in Armitie's line, just before Texas, means she had three children, all three of which are still living.  And the "Mu" you see in each record, right before the age, stands for "mulatto."

So this is "our" Thomas Cockrell and he was born in about 1865.

Going back to the genealogy on the back of picture,

because of Thomas Cockrell's age, and the chronology of the development of photography, it seems clear that Thomas Cockrell is the man in the picture, or "grandfather."  "Grandfather" is Thomas's relationship to the person who is recording the genealogy – a child of either Ben, Jim, or Eugene.

What can we learn about Thomas Cockrell? In the entire 1870 Census there is only one Thomas Cockrell that was born in Texas in about 1865; and, as it turns out, he lives in Matagorda Co.

This Thomas was 2 years old in 1870, making his year of birth about 1868, rather than 1865, and he lived with his mother, Amalia Cockrell, who was 22. The lack of other candidates, the proximity of the age, and the proximity of the place of residence all strongly suggest that this is the Thomas in the picture.

Thomas and his mother live with Richard and Nancy Cook and their daughters, Nellie and Elizabeth. Thomas's mother, Amalia, is their housekeeper. Was she also a relative, being helped with employment and shelter in the absence of the boy's father? Possibly.

Can we take this back further? Can we find out anything about Amalia?

Well, here we run into a big problem.

You may remember from the story of Victoria Leutwein that the U.S. Census began recording everyone's name in 1850; but there's an important exception to that.  If, in 1850 and 1860, you were not a free person, you were recorded in a "Slave Schedule," like a sack of wheat. No name; just your sex and your age:  two determinants of your "value".

Here's an 1850 Slave Schedule from Matagorda Co. (click on it!):

As you can see, James B. Hawkins owned two girls that were 2 years old. Either could have been Thomas's mother, Amalia. Or she might have been on another plantation. We've reached a dead end, for now.

[Just as an aside: when the newly-freed slaves were finally recorded by name in the 1870 census, Matagorda Co. seems to have an unusually high number of people who were reported as born in Africa. The legal importation of new slaves to the United States ended in 1808, but Texas was a part of Mexico until 1836. Then again, slavery was abolished in Mexico in 1829. It's curious. ]

So recapping what we know so far:  Thomas Cockrell, the subject of our portrait, was born in about 1865-68 to a former slave named Amalia. In 1890 he married a young woman named Armitie and by 1910 they had three sons: Ben, Jim, and Eugene.

To that I can add that Thomas and Armitie had two more children after 1910: Tomy in 1912 and Armanty in 1913. 

Thomas died in February 1919.

Thomas and Armitie's children had children of their own (thus the "Grandfather" on the picture]. And some of their descendants still live in Matagorda Co.

I wonder if they'd like their picture back. I'll let you know.


Chip said...

Fascinating stuff, Bob. It will be interesting to hear what the response of Thomas Cockrell's family is.

troutay said...

Great research job! Please let us know what happens.

It is always sad to me to find old tin types, etc of people from long ago. Why would their families sell them? How did they get to the antique shop? Sad. We don't seem to value family history any more.

Claudia Royston said...

It's amazing how reading about a little genealogy research can bring a whole family into your living room.

I wish I had a whole box of tin types to give you!

Ted in Virginia said...

Where do you get these census records? Is everything online?