Newspaper articles have the added bonus of providing a more intimate look at the ancestor you are researching. Local newspapers especially provide an important social context that allows you to better understand the society your ancestor was apart of. This is why newspaper archives are among my favorite sources to utilize when doing genealogical research.
In this blog post, I offer a couple of examples of what can be found in the newspaper archives. Our ancestors were most commonly classified in census and vital records with racially ambiguous terms whose definitions changed with time and location, such as “free colored”, “mulatto”, “black”, and “negro”. In a previous blogpost, I discuss the writings of local historian Oscar Blacknall who interchangeably used the terms “free negro” and “Indian” to describe the people in our community. Similar to Blacknall’s essays, we see that these newspaper articles reveal a lot more about how society racially classified our ancestors.
From the 12 May 1905 edition of the Warren Record in Warren County, NC, is an obituary for a man named Tom Richardson who died at the age of 70 years. In the obituary, Richardson is described as being “7/8 Indian and 1/8 Negro”. How this blood quantum was calculated is unknown to me. However what we can infer from this description is that Tom Richardson was known a person who mostly “Indian” and some part “Negro”.
The Tom Richardson (1841-1905) named in this obituary is the same man commonly known as Tom Snake Richardson and Tom Hardy Richardson. He was the son of Rheese Richardson (b. 1813) and Emily Richardson (b. 1820). Rheese Richardson was the son of John Richardson (b. 1770) and Sarah Bass (b. 1777). Emily Richardson was the daughter of Hardy Richardson (1788-1855) and Dorcas Boone (1794-1871). John Richardson and Hardy Richardson were half brothers, both sons of Benjamin Richardson (1750-1809). Benjamin Richardson is the main Richardson progenitor of the Haliwa-Saponi tribe. Sarah Bass is from the Bass family I blogged about here. And Dorcas Boone is from the Boone family I blogged about here. (Tom Richardson is also the second cousin of my great-great grandmother Virginia Richardson)
Even though Tom Richardson was known as an “Indian”, in the census he is recorded as “mulatto” from 1850-1880. And in the 1900 census he was recorded as “black”, likely because “mulatto” was removed from the census that year. Tom Richardson is also listed as “colored” in his marriage records. How Tom Richardson was racially classified in the census and vital records holds true for the next two men I discuss below.
This newspaper article I find quite interesting because it uses three different racial terms to describe C.D. Burnett. From the 19 April 1910 edition of the Raleigh Times, we read that a man named C.D. Burnett was held a on a serious charge. We don’t learn exactly why he’s being charged but that there was a rumor that he confessed to killing a white man. The article describes Burnett as a “half breed Indian, but passing for colored”. Though it appears the author of the article is making a distinction between “Indian” and “colored”, the author later contradicts himself. At the end of the article, we read that Burnett, “a negro appears to be from Orange county”. So even though the author states at the begging of the article that Burnett was an Indian, he later describes him with a different racial term – “negro”.
Charles D Burnett (1894-1965) was the son of William Burnett (1876-1938) and Roxanna Hester of Orange/Alamance Cos, NC. William Burnett was the son of Thaddeus Burnett (1853-1917) and Betsey Liggins (b. 1855). His family can be found among the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation.
In this 27 Jan 1873 newspaper article, we read that Jesse Archer (“Arche”) was captured after stabbing another person. Jesse Archer is referred to as an “Indian mixed mulatto”. “Mulatto” infers that someone has a mixed race background and the article specifies that Indian is included in the mixture. But we don’t know what Jesse’s Indian background is mixed with.
Jesse Archer (b. 1840) was from Orange Co, NC and was the son of Stephen and Lydia Archer (Lydia’s maiden name is unknown). Stephen Archer (b. 1815) was the son of Jesse Archer (1780-1855) and Patsy Haithcock (b. 1775). Jesse Archer never married and had no children that I know of, but his closest living relatives can be found among the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation.
The next two articles mention “half breed Indian” women but do not give us their names so I’m unable to identify them. However the articles are interesting and definitely illustrate that Indian people were known and living in these areas.
From the 15 June 1912 edition of the Oxford Public Ledger in Granville Co, we read that there is a “half-bred Indian woman” living in Hunt Woods and is to blame for a series of late night shootings. Hunt Woods lies on the southeastern outskirts of the city limits of Oxford, heading towards the Fishing Creek township. The Native American community in Granville Co was centered in Fishing Creek and then spread out in various directions, including towards the city of Oxford. Is there a connection between the “half bred Indian woman” in Hunt Woods and the Native American community? I cannot say, but it’ is something to look into.
In this 24 June 1871 article from the Semi-Weekly Raleigh Sentinel, we read that a “half breed Indian woman” who resides in Caswell County is 100 years old. The article celebrates her age but fails to mention her name, so I have no way of verifying who she is.
So these are just a couple of examples that illustrate the point that it is imperative to dig deeper beyond the census and vital records, to learn more about your ancestors. The information contained in the newspaper archives may be the missing link you need to take your research a step further.