Nelson and Gilly Ann Perry in antebellum Indiana

When Indiana was established as a state in 1816, its very first constitution explicitly banned slavery. Decades later, attitudes had soured. While many white Hoosiers disavowed the institution of slavery, they did not necessarily want populations of free blacks living in the state. Thus, when citizens convened for a constitutional convention in 1850, this issue was hotly debated. Many delegates, all of whom were white, expressed concern at the influx of blacks migrating to the state, particularly from southern slave states. The result was Article 13 in the 1851 Indiana Constitution which declared “No negro or mulatto shall come into or settle in the State, after the adoption of this Constitution.” A further stipulation of this exclusionary act “instructed the county clerks to notify all Negroes who were residents before November 1, 1851 to register, ordered the creation of the register of negroes and mulattoes, and empowered the clerks to subpoena witnesses and to issue certificates attesting to the registration of legal residents.”1 In addition to name, age and place of birth, these registers also listed physical descriptions of each settler. The registration certificates served as proof that the bearer was a citizen of Indiana and therefore allowed to be in the state legally, but it’s impossible to ignore that the creation of these registers served as further persecution against an already marginalized group, making them even more vulnerable in a country that was bitterly divided over the issue of slavery.

Notice alerting Gibson County citizens of the registration requirement. From the Princeton Clarion-Leader (Princeton, Indiana), May 14, 1853

On Aug. 23, 1853, two settlers named Nelson and Gilly Ann Perry registered with Andrew Lewis, the county clerk of Gibson County, and received their official registration certificates. These documents are now in the Indiana State Library’s Rare Books and Manuscripts collection. According to the papers, Nelson was 33 years old, slightly over 6 feet tall, of stout build and dark complexion and was born in Pennsylvania. Gilly Ann was 28 years old, 5 feet 6 inches tall, of light build and light complexion. She was born in North Carolina.

Nelson and Gilly Ann Perry registration certificates, Rare Books and Manuscripts, Indiana State Library (Collection S1906)

Not much is known about Nelson and Gilly Ann, but some of their life together can be reconstructed from public records.

Years before they were required to register as free blacks, they were entered in another official Indiana registry, albeit for a more innocuous and mundane reason: On July 26, 1848 they were married in Posey County. According to the official registry, Gilly Ann’s maiden name was Eddy.

Marriage record from Familysearch.com

A couple of years later, they appear in the 1850 Census living in Mount Vernon in Posey County, Indiana. Nelson’s occupation is listed as a “cooper” which is a person who made wooden barrels and tubs. They also are living with a 50-year-old black female named C. McCalister,  but no further information could be found on her. Unfortunately, it is very probable that if she registered as a free black in Indiana, it was in Posey County and that registry is known to be missing.

Census entry from Ancestry.com

On Jan. 4, 1864, Nelson Perry enrolled in the United States 28th Colored Infantry Regiment, Company D. By this stage of his life, Perry was in his 40s but still willing to serve for the Union cause. A note on his military record indicated he had been “absent sick in hospital at New Orleans, LA since 7/15/65.” He was officially discharged on Nov. 8, 1865.

Later, Nelson’s name shows up in miscellaneous military paperwork including a list of Union Civil War veterans who were given official government-provided headstones.

Headstone application from Ancestry.com. Photograph of Nelson Perry’s tombstone from findagrave.com

 

No date can be found for his death. Presumably, he died prior to 1894 since that is the date on the headstone application. He is buried in Princeton, Indiana in Gibson County.

Gilly Ann is largely unaccounted for during the Civil War years and there is no evidence that she and Nelson had children. She shows up again in public records in the 1875 Wisconsin State Census, living in Beloit, Rock County near the Illinois border. She also appears in the 1890 United States Census of soldiers and widows, again in Beloit.

Image from ancestry.com

Interestingly, the Indiana State Library was given both Nelson and Gilly Ann’s Indiana registration papers from Beloit College where, presumably, Gilly Ann had donated them for posterity.

Official documents provide merely a rough outline of the lives of Nelson and Gilly Ann. What we know about Indiana history during the antebellum era can help flesh out their story even if, ultimately, any conclusions we draw are pure conjecture. For example, we know from her registration papers that Gilly Ann was born in North Carolina. Many free blacks and former slaves migrated to Indiana from North Carolina with assistance of North Carolina’s Quaker community. Quaker led caravans – sometimes made up of hundreds of people – made the long trek west. Migrating in such a manner was a safer alternative to escaping through other means, such as the Underground Railroad, because travelers were under the protection of their Quaker traveling companions. When the caravans reached Indiana, the free blacks would either continue to head further north to Michigan or Canada or they settled in Indiana, often within or near Quaker communities. It is quite possible that Gilly Ann was brought to Indiana from North Carolina in such a caravan.

In 1848 and 1850 we know that both Nelson and Gilly Ann were in Posey County. Based on the 1850 census, we know they were living in Mount Vernon, Indiana, a town situated directly on the Ohio River with Kentucky – a slave state – nearby on the other side of the river. In September of that year, the United States Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 which further compromised the rights of free blacks in northern states and made them more susceptible to kidnapping and being sold off to southern slave owners, even if they had never been enslaved before in their life. Being situated on the Ohio River, Nelson and Gilly Ann’s home was located in an especially perilous place as bounty hunters constantly roamed the area surrounding the river looking for escaped slaves or others who they could bring in for a financial reward. Bounty hunters could abduct people suspected of being runaway slaves with little or no evidence.

Clipping from Indiana State Sentinel (Indianapolis, Ind.), Jan. 25, 1848

Living so close to the Ohio River, it is entirely possible that the Perrys were involved in the Underground Railroad to some degree and like many other free blacks were instrumental in assisting others on their journey north. However, in 1853 the couple had moved a bit north to Gibson County. Perhaps they wanted to get farther away from the Kentucky border. Or perhaps they made the move because Gibson County was home to a larger number of free blacks and had several established black rural settlements. According to the 1850 census, Posey County’s black population was 98 while Gibson County’s was 217, almost double the size. Whatever the reason, it seems to have been a permanent relocation since we do know that Nelson Perry eventually ended up being buried near Princeton, a town located in Gibson County.

While all this is merely speculation, contextualizing what little is known about Nelson and Gilly Ann from public records within the broader narrative of general U.S. history allows for a richer and more complete story to emerge. That these registration papers were saved for decades, journeyed from Indiana to Wisconsin and were left in the care of a local college only to make their way back to Indiana is remarkable and a testament that Nelson and Gilly Ann must have wished their story to be remembered.

The Indiana State Library has numerous resources documenting this period of Indiana history. Some used for this blog post are:

Brown, Maxine F. “The role of free blacks in Indiana’s Underground Railroad” (2001). ISLI 973.7115 B879r
Hudson, J. Blaine. “Fugitive slaves and the Underground Railroad in the Kentucky borderland” (2002). ISLI 973.7115 H885f
LaRoche, Cheryl Janifer. “Free black communities and the Underground Railroad” (2014). ISLI 973.7115 L326f
1. Robbins, Coy D. Indiana negro registers, 1852-1865 (1994). ISLR 977.2 I385nr
Thornbrough, Emma Lou. “The negro in Indiana : a study of a minority” (1957). ISLI 325.26 T497n
“Underground Railroad : the invisible road to freedom through Indiana” (2001). ISLI 973.7115 U55

Online resources
Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources. Underground Railroad
Indiana Historical Society: Early black settlements

This blog post was written by Jocelyn Lewis, Catalog Division supervisor, Indiana State Library. For more information, contact the Indiana State Library at 317-232-3678 or “Ask-A-Librarian.”

Dealing with difficult ancestors: Tips and tricks for finding those elusive family members

Sometimes in genealogy research, the pieces just don’t come together. No one seems to be living where you expect them to be, records have gone missing and you just can’t make any connections between generations.

Although not exhaustive, this guide introduces some search techniques that may help you find those elusive ancestors.

Write down everything you know about the person.

Writing down his or her life events in chronological order shows where you may have gaps in your research, such as census records you have not yet found. A timeline also suggests places to look for additional records if your ancestor lived through a war or other major historical event. Noting the places where your ancestor lived provides clues to the geographic area where your ancestor’s parents may be found.

Filling in those three missing censuses may well hold the key to John Whittaker’s family. Note the place of birth as Pennsylvania, meaning John’s parents lived there at some point. Also note the biographical details of marriage in a Catholic church and burial in an Independent Order of Odd Fellows cemetery.

Don’t just note places of residence. Fill in social details such as religious affiliation, political affiliation, club and society membership and other details you may know about your ancestor. These details will be useful later.

Looking at your timeline, information such as your ancestor’s birth date and place provides indirect details about his or her parents. For example, the place of birth tells you where the family was living at the time, while the date of birth tells you the minimum likely age of the parents.

Look at the pre-1850 censuses.

1840 United States Federal Census. Greene County, Tennessee. Accessed July 9, 2018. Ancestry Library Edition.

The early censuses are often overlooked because they do not provide the level of detail of later censuses. However, these records are not completely unhelpful to genealogists. If your ancestor was old enough to be an adult in these censuses, look for him or her.  Women in the pre-1850 censuses are more difficult to find, as they were not often heads of households, but they do turn up occasionally.

If your ancestor was still a child in 1840 or earlier, if you know where he or she was living in 1850 or if you know where he or she lived as a child, search the censuses in that area for individuals with the same last name. Try tracing those individuals to the 1850 census or later to see if they could be related to your ancestor. Also look at the family composition of the various households with your ancestor’s surname in the early censuses to see if there is a male or female of the appropriate age.

Make sure you have found all relevant censuses.

If you are trying to connect your ancestor to his or her parents, do not look at censuses in which he or she is a child only. Sometimes elderly parents lived with their adult children, so you may be able to find the parents there. Also depending on the census, you may find further clues concerning your ancestor beyond just age and place of birth.

Trace the siblings of your ancestor and their descendants.

Jacob Myers family tree. Ancestry.com user casvelyn. Accessed July 9, 2018. Ancestry Library Edition.

Sometimes the siblings of your ancestor provide more detailed information than your ancestor with regard to parentage. Maybe a younger sibling had a death certificate, whereas your ancestor died too early. Perhaps one or both of the parents are living with a sibling in later censuses. Another sibling’s family could have written a more detailed obituary. Looking at the siblings’ birth information can also provide evidence for other places your ancestor’s family may have lived, particularly if the family moved frequently.

Look in the county records where your ancestor lived throughout his or her life.

County records such as wills, probates, deeds and court records are full of direct and implied relationships. Will and probate records outline what happened to a person’s property after he or she died. Although many people did not write a will, most owned enough property to have the estate go through the probate process. If your ancestor died young, he or she may have left property to his or her parents. Otherwise, looking at wills and probates for individuals with your ancestor’s surname may help you to find his or her parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles or siblings.

Will of Philip Erbaugh. Clerk of Court, Miami County, Indiana, Vol. 8, p. 66. Accessed July 9, 2018. Family Search.

Deed records do not always name the relationship between the seller and the buyer, but there are some family clues to be found. If someone sells a piece of property for $1 or “for love and affection,” there is a good chance of a family relationship between the individuals.

Criminal and civil court records may note familial relationships if someone sued other members of his or her family or if a family member testified at a trial or helped to pay bail or fines. Court records are rarely indexed by the names of all involved, just the plaintiffs and defendants, so looking at cases involving individuals with the same surname as your ancestor may be necessary.

Check county histories.

Eli H. Dunn. “History of Knox and Daviess County, Indiana.” Chicago: Goodspeed, 1886.

Most county histories contain a section of brief biographies of local residents. Even those that do not usually contain information on early or prominent residents of the area. These biographical sketches provide many details about your ancestor’s life, including spouses, children, parents, career, education and social affiliations. Many county histories are available online through sites such as Google Books, Internet Archive and Hathi Trust.

Look at newspapers.

Rushville Republican, September 30, 1959, p. 8. Accessed July 9, 2018. Newspaper Archive.

As more and more newspapers are digitized and indexed, it is easier than ever to search the newspapers for your ancestor. Through newspapers, you may be able to find an obituary or death notice for your ancestor. You also may be able to find articles about religious or social affiliations. For example, if your ancestor attended a Methodist church picnic or helped out at a Masonic Lodge fish fry, he may have been a member of that church or fraternal organization. Depending on the area, newspapers may also contain information about vacations, hospital stays, weddings, funerals and many other everyday aspects of your ancestor’s life that cannot be found anywhere else.

Check online trees.

Looking at family trees that other researchers have posted online can help you to see if you have overlooked anything in your research. Try to use trees that have citations so you know where the person got their information. If the trees do not have citations, but do contain new information, think about sources that might provide that information and check them to see if you can find proof.

There are many websites where individuals can post family trees, so you may need to check more than one to find new information about your ancestor. Simply searching for “[ancestor name] family tree” or “[surname] family tree” can find many trees that are publicly available.

This blog post is by Jamie Dunn, genealogy librarian. For more information, contact the Genealogy Division at (317) 232-3689 or send us a question through Ask-a-Librarian.

What do the Genealogy Division of the Indiana State Library and the popular book series “Outlander” have in common?

Would you like to learn more about your ancestral heritage? Do you think you might be of Scottish descent? Are you more than slightly intrigued with the popular historical fiction book series “Outlander,” a time-travelling series that commences in the Scottish Highlands in the years 1743 and 1946 and written by author Diana Gabaldon?  Did you know that Gabaldon included many real-life historical people in her book series? The start of season three of the hit TV show “Outlander” will air on Starz on Sept. 10, 2017 and will closely follow the third book, “Voyager,” so now is a great time to do some research.

Come visit us in the Genealogy Division of the Indiana State Library and dig into your own Scottish genealogical heritage. You might also want to come and research the many historical figures woven into the “Outlander” books. Who knows? You might find that you have Scottish Highland ancestors who fought in the last Jacobite Uprising of 1745 that culminated at the Battle of Culloden in April of 1746. The Jacobites were strong supporters of the Catholic Prince Charles Stuart monarchy. They were fighting to restore the House of Stuart to the British throne, then controlled by the Protestants in England. 1,500-2,000 Jacobites were killed or wounded on the moors of Culloden in the Scottish Highlands in a massacre that was concluded in less than an hour.

In our Genealogy Collection, I recently discovered the beautiful family tree of William Cumming and Sarah Coppage. Underneath their names and family crest it reads:

“Born in Inverness about 1725, made a prisoner at the Battle of Culloden, reached Maryland the year thereafter, married Sarah Coppage, of an old Eastern Shore family, who died in 1765, became a large landed proprietor in Frederick County, and died near the end of March, 1793, at his home in the Linganore Hills.” From William Cumming ~ Sarah Coppage Family Tree

Cumming family crest and motto

One can only imagine my surprise at discovering this family tree in our Genealogy Collection, as I’m a loyal follower of the “Outlander” books and television show where the Battle of Culloden figures heavily in the second and third books of the series. In the first book of this series, “Outlander,” it is 1946 and one of the main characters, Claire Randall, unknowingly “goes through” an ancient stone circle in the Scottish Highlands and is transported back in time to the year 1743 where soon thereafter, in order to save her life, she very reluctantly marries James (Jamie) Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. In time, she learns to love Jamie but on the cusp of the Battle of Culloden in 1746, Jamie takes his now pregnant wife, Claire, to the stone circle and makes her return to her own time, because he believes he will die on the battlefield.

Forward to the second book, “Dragonfly in Amber,” in 1968 and Claire and Brianna, her daughter with Jamie, are in Scotland piecing together genealogical records to ascertain who survived the Battle of Culloden. They are mainly searching for information about the character, Jamie Fraser, Claire’s love, who fought in this battle and was thought to have died alongside his clansmen.

Much to Claire’s surprise and shock, her research shows that Jamie was not killed on the battlefield as she had believed for the past twenty years. Thus, in the third book, “Voyager,” they conduct a deeper genealogical search into what became of Jamie Fraser. Through diligent work, Claire and Brianna discover that Jamie was imprisoned as a traitor to King George II of England, along with many other Highlanders after the Battle of Culloden. Further, they find a newspaper article written by A. Malcolm, one of Jamie’s pseudonyms, and printed in 1765, Edinburgh, Scotland. With agonizing deliberation, Claire decides to return to the stone circle to be transported back to 1765 Edinburgh in hopes of finding Jamie. This sets the beginning of the book, “Voyager” and the upcoming season three of the TV show, “Outlander.” By the end of “Voyager,” Jamie and Claire have landed on the shores of the American Colony of Georgia in the year 1767. They eventually settle in the colony of North Carolina and later in subsequent books, they become involved in the American Revolution. Not surprisingly, many of our Scottish ancestors arrived in America under similar circumstances.

So, let’s take a look at Scottish emigration to America.

“Scottish immigration to the Americas during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries tended to be spasmodic and generally small-scale, with certain notable exceptions. These exceptions consisted of several attempts to establish independent Scottish colonies, and, on several occasions, the mass transportation of political prisoners.”1 History has shown that after 1747, around 1,600 men, women and children were put on ships to the colonies in America as indentured servants. William Cumming, whose family tree was noted previously, was one of these political prisoners sent to the American colony of Maryland.

The earliest known Scottish emigration to America dates to Colonial times around 1650.

“There seems to have been a continuous trickle of emigrants across the Atlantic from the mid-seventeenth century onwards to staff the tobacco warehouses in Virginia… or as felons banished to the Plantations. Economic forces generally determined emigrant routes from Scotland: Ships sailed to Georgia and the Carolinas for cotton and rice, to the Chesapeake for tobacco, to the Canadian Maritimes for timber and carried with them innumerable emigrants, many as indentured servants.”2

The Scottish people left their homeland mainly for economic, religious and political reasons.

“If the origins of your Scottish ancestors are unclear, no matter where they went, you can draw useful insights from accounts of migration to the area where first they settled. It is extremely important that you identify the ancestor(s) who made the trip, but almost as important is an understanding of the context of their migration. Knowing the place of first settlement is particularly important because its history may offer clues about the region, perhaps even the parish, of birth.”3

Back to William Cumming: In 1775 he served as a private in the Maryland Line of the Continental Army, defending his new homeland, America, against the British Soldiers and Loyalists in the American Revolution. The Maryland Line was a formation in the Continental Army. It was formed and authorized by the Second Continental Congress which met in Philadelphia, June 1775. William Cumming received a land grant for his service as a Patriot.

At the Indiana State Library, we have hundreds of books, maps, microfilm and resources available to research your Scottish ancestors and/or research and learn more about the historical characters of the “Outlander” series. We can show you how and where to locate genealogical information about your ancestors worldwide, not just in Indiana. Come in and let your origins catch up to you!

Some obvious and “not-so-obvious” historical people in the “Outlander” book series:

Prince Charles Stuart: Charles Edward Casimir Maria Sylvester Stuart, the Young Pretender, son of the Old Pretender, James III of Scotland, VIII of England. Heir to the exiled Catholic royal dynasty.
James Stuart: The Old Pretender, James III of Scotland, VIII of England. Exiled Catholic monarch.
Simon Fraser: Lord Lovat, The Old Fox
Simon Fraser: Lord Lovat, the Young Fox
Flora MacDonald: Helped Prince Charles Stuart escape from Scotland to France after the Battle of Culloden.
Farquhar (Farquard) Campbell: Highlander who immigrated to the American Colony of North Carolina.
Archibald Bug: Highlander who immigrated to the American Colonies. Presented a petition for Patent of Land, 320 acres in North Carolina, 1740.
Clanranald: A prominent Jacobite chief.
George II: King of England
George III: King of England
Comte St. Germain: A member of the French Court; a noble with a reputation for dabbling in the occult. Charles Stuart’s business partner.
Lord Kilmarnock: One of the Jacobite earls, later executed for treason.
Louis XV: King of France
Duke of Perth: A commander in Prince Charles Stuart’s army.

There’s so much more to genealogy than names, places and vital statistics. Once this general information is known about an ancestor, then it’s time to “dig into” their lives. It can be fun and very interesting to learn about the history of the time period and the places your ancestors may have lived as well as the historical events in which they may have participated. Delving into your cultural heritage might shed some light on a family custom or heirloom that has been passed down through time. Once ancestors have been traced back to when and where they departed to America, the reasons for emigrating can be studied and give a fuller picture of your ancestor’s life, and consequently, yours, also.

Learning about the “rest of the story” can practically bring one’s ancestors to life!

This blog post was written by Alice Winslow, librarian, Genealogy Division. For more information, contact the Indiana State Library Genealogy Division at (317) 232-3689 or email awinslow@library.in.gov.

1. Dobson, David. “Directory of Scots Banished to the American Plantations, 1650-1775.” Baltimore, MD. Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc. 1983.

2. Dobson, David. “Ships from Scotland to America, 1628-1828.” Baltimore, MD. Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc. 2004.

3. Irvine, Sherry. “Scottish Ancestry: Research Methods for Family Historians.” Provo, UT. Ancestry. 2003