Finding a Name…And a Path Back to Africa

For a lot of families with enslaved ancestors, finding your ancestors in the 1870 can be a daunting task. A few years ago, I found an article written in Heritage Quest by genealogist Tony Burroughs describing a phenomenon in African American genealogy that would help me do just that.

What advice did I get from this article? Don’t get too hung up on the surname. 

Let me give an example from my own research, that my have revealed my first documented ancestor with ties directly to the African continent.

In a previous post, I introduced you to my 3rd great grandmother, Eliza Cade Hubbard. Her husband, my 3rd great grandfather was Richard Hubbard (1856-1936) of Noxubee County, Mississippi. In the 1880 Census, Richard lived with his wife, next door to a man, Albert Hubbard, only two years his senior.

1880 Census: District 3, Noxubee County, Mississippi, USA 

Hubert (Hubbard), Albert (26)
Louisa (21) (Wife)
Susie (6)
Bucksie (4)
Hattie (2)
Louisa (5 mos.)

Hubert (Hubbard), Richard (24)
Eliza (27)
Ivy (Ivory) (4)
Eliza (6/12)

I assumed it possible that Richard and Albert Hubbard could have been brothers. They lived basically in the same household in 1880 and both shared the same surname. I attempted to find Richard and Albert in the 1870 census with no luck. Then I noticed something peculiar.

Arthur J. Hubbard Death Certificate (1942, TN)

Albert’s son Arthur James Hubbard (1887-1942) died in Memphis, Tennessee in 1942. On his death certificate, his wife Katie gave his parent’s names as Albert Hubbard and Louise Stranum. With a maiden name for Albert’s wife, Louise, I then went to the marriage records for Noxubee County, Mississippi.

Missisippi Marriages (1800-1911) Courtesy of
The record showed Louise with a similar maiden name to the one given (Stranum was probably a mis-transcription of Trainum) but Albert’s first name was completely different!
At the culmination of the Civil War, newly freed African Americans had the opportunity to choose a surname. Some would pick the names of a previous owner, while others would re-invent themselves with new names. The 1870 census was a critical document for African American surnames, because this is the first time they ever got to choose their own. This name may have changed based on personal preference and knowledge of the census recorder who may have been apart of the same community and known the African American family to hold a certain identity.
Albert’s went by Albert Hubbard, and Albert Ramage. With both names in mind, I again attempted to find the family in 1870 and was successful.
1870 Census: Township 14, Noxubee County, Missisippi
Ramage, Matthew (65)
               Francis (63)
               Albert (17)
               Richard (14)
               Israel (20)
There was Albert Ramage and my 3rd great grandfather, listed as Richard Ramage in the household of Matthew Ramage (b. 1805) and his wife Francis (b. 1807). I have not found out if Matthew and Francis were the parents of Richard and Albert. I have assumed at this point, they are more likely grandparents given the 50 year age gap between them. Perhaps they could have also just been a host family for brothers Richard and Albert who could have been separated from their parents before or during the War. I will need further documentation and or oral history to confirm this.
After doing more research on the Ramage family of Noxubee County, Missisippi, I found that Matthew and Francis had two other children who were not living with them at the time of the 1870 census: Henry Ramage and Mariah Ramage-Calmes-Dantzler. In a 2014 visit to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in Jackson, MS, I found Henry’s death certificate.
Henry Ramage Death Certificate (1922, MS)
The informant, Charles Doss reports that Henry’s mother Francis’s (aka Fannie) maiden name was Haynes and was born in Mississippi. Yet for Matthew (aka Mat) Ramage, his birthplace is given as South Carolina or Africa!
Given the birth-date for Henry we have from the 1870 and 1880 census (about1805), it is completely possible that Matthew Ramage was born in Africa. The international slave trade was officially abolished on March 1, 1808. This means that if Matthew was indeed from the Motherland, he was taken as a young boy, surviving the grueling ride of the Middle Passage and brought to a plantation in South Carolina, before finally seeing freedom in Mississippi years later.
I am currently scouring through South Carolina estate records to find more information about Matthew, and hope that soon I will also have a solid link to my connection to him.