Hydraulic Plantation: The Search for Enslaved Ancestors

Suppose that someone has traced their ancestry to John and Maria Becks in the 1870 census.  They are listed in Fredericksville Parish with six children, John, Roberta, Ada, Willard, Charity, and Simon. 

John (age 45) is a gardener, Maria (age 33) is keeping house.

Next we turn to the Birth Record Database 1857-1866 (collected by the Bureau of Vital Statistics). We sort by mother’s name and child’s name and locate a" Maria," belonging to "Mrs. S. S. Burnley" (i.e. Sarah, widow of Nathaniel Burnley). Maria has a daughter, Ada, born in 1861.  This is suggestive but doesn’t quite match John and Maria Becks’s daughter Ada who was recorded in the census as born in about 1857.

So we check the 1880 census, where Ada is 20, within an acceptable range of the 1861 birth record.
The 1870 location of the family is not helpful.

So we check to see where John Becks was immediately after the War.  The best source for this information is the Personal Property Tax Lists for 1867-1869. We sort this by last name to locate him. We find a " John Becks"  located at J. P. Railey’s in 1867 and A. J. Craven’s in 1869 (no location given for 1868).  Here is another Burnley connection.  James P. Railey married a daughter of Sarah and Nathaniel Burnley in 1866.

Next we turn to a database that the CVHR is in the process of transcribing: the county Will Book records. We find an Inventory of the estate of Nathaniel Burnley, 1860, which includes “Maria, Jno & Roberta” valued at $1,600.  There is no adult John in the inventory.  But we do find an unquestionable match with Maria Becks and her two oldest children.

Maria Becks, therefore, was a slave of Nathaniel Burnley.  She had an “abroad” marriage with John Becks, enslaved by a different owner.