One of the trickiest parts about tracing formerly enslaved ancestors is accounting for changed names. An enslaved person could have had multiple names over the course of his or her lifetime, depending on how many owners they had. Name changes were also common after Emancipation, when the formerly enslaved had the freedom to shed the surnames of former owners and forge their own identities. Consider the following in my family:
- My great-great grandfather was Frank Tindal before he was Frank Gilley
- My Dobbins ancestors began going by Darbins sometime in the 1880s
- My great-great grandfather Dorsey Pinkard was also known as Dorsey Pinkston, and his son, my grandpa Willie, often introduced himself as Pinkston or Pinkson
- To avoid detection after they left Alabama, some of my Whitehurst relatives dropped the “e” in the surname
- My Bryan ancestors became Bryants, and my fourth great-grandmother, once Anarky Bryan, had become Amy Bryan by 1870
And now I’ve found another example to add to the list.
For the longest time, I had been trying to find out more about my great-great grandmother Narcis Pinkard (nee Hamilton). She spent her entire life in Georgia and died in Columbus in 1934. According to her death certificate, her father’s name was Henry Hamilton. So naturally I assumed her maiden name was Hamilton.
I now know that wasn’t the case. Well, kind of.
I searched and searched and searched for a Narcis Hamilton in the 1870 Census, the only Census where she would have appeared with her maiden name. I came up with nothing. Then I searched for a Henry Hamilton and family. Still nothing. Then I decided to omit the surname and just search for first names. Instead the Hamiltons, I ended up finding the House family of Chattahoochee County, Ga. listed in the 1870 Census. The head of the household was was Henry and his wife Frances, and they had seven children: Narcissa, Amanda, Olive, Ella, Emily, Sophronia and Henry Jr. This had to be the family I was looking for, I thought. The first names and ages matched, along with the proximity to where I knew my relatives had lived.
Searching by first names again in 1880, I found the same family unit, but by this time, they were using the surname Hamilton. (By 1880 Narcissa– also known as Narcis– had married Ike Pinkard, my great-great-grandfather, and were living elsewhere in Chattahoochee County.
The Hamiltons remained in Chattahoochee County, but Henry and Frances had separated by 1900. By 1900, Frances– who by then had given birth to 14 children– was living in Muscogee County, Ga., with three of her sons., Henry Jr., Abe and Anderson.