Tag Archives: slavery

Difficulties of Slavery Research – Surname TRAYNUM

Thus far, on the blog I have primarily written about my maternal line due to their long roots in the Toledo/Northwest Ohio area. For the next month or so, I intend to focus some on my paternal ancestry and on some of my enslaved ancestors on my maternal side.

This post will primarily focus on the surname TRAYNUM and a line of my ancestors who migrated to Toledo during the height of the Great Migration period (1910-1960).

My great grandfather Talmadge TRAYNUM (1907-1984) came with his family to Toledo when he was only a teenager.  The TRAYNUM family moved here primarily for economic opportunities.  Prior to moving to Toledo, they lived in Anderson County, South Carolina.  This part of my family had lived in that county since the end of the Civil War.

Talmadge’s great grandfather’s name was Pinkney TRAYNUM (b. approx 1844, d approx .  In 1870 Pinkney TRAYNUM/TRAYNHAM lived with is wife Dicey TRAYNUM and 3 children – sons Lee (b. approx 1864) and Jacob (b. approx 1866), and daughter Hattie (b. approx 1870).  In 1870 Pinkney and Dicey lived in the same family with the JORDAN family headed by Laura JORDAN and two male children – Turner JORDAN and Patrick JORDAN (Patrick was listed as being “idiotic” which may have meant he was deaf, blind or had a developmental disability).  I have yet to find a connection between the JORDAN family and the TRAYNUM family.  I initially thought that Laura JORDAN may have been a relative of Dicey TRAYNUM but I am still unsure of the connection.

I am a descendant of this family through one of the youngest children of Pinkney and Dicey.  My third great grandfather, Robert TRAYNUM (b. approx 1873, d. March 14, 1933) migrated from Anderson County, SC to Toledo, Ohio as a part of the “Great Migration” of the 20th Century.

The Great Migration is considered one of the largest internal movements of persons to have ever occurred in the United States.   Over 6 million people participated in the Great Migration.  It was characterized by primarily rural black people moving from the Southeast to urbanized Northern and Western cities.

Though the Great Migration is a fascinating historical occurrence and will be the subject of the another post in the future, this post, will be about the difficulties of researching enslaved ancestors and some strategies I use to try to overcome the barriers in this sort of research.

So far, Pinkney and Dicey TRAYNUM, my 4th great grandparents are the earliest confirmed ancestors on my paternal line (my father’s father’s line of relatives).  I initially thought it would be easy to trace this family due to the unique surname of TRAYNUM (also spelled TRAYNHAM/TRAINUM/TRANUM/TRANEM/TRANHEM in various documents).

Boy was I wrong!  This line has actually been one of the more difficult lines for me to research.

When pursuing slavery research one has to have a calculated plan in my opinion.  My first line of tackling this portion of my family tree for ancestors prior to the Civil War was to do like I did for my maternal WHITFIELD/WESTRAY line and look toward court records, specifically probate and wills issued in the county where my ancestors lived in 1870.

In 1870 Pinkney and Dicey lived in Anderson County, South Carolina.  On the website familysearch.org there is a list of databases by state and usually every state in the USA has a section for Court, Wills, Land Claims, and Probate.  I looked into Anderson County and scoured through all of the electronic records for the TRAYNUM surname and all its variations.

The only one I found was for a man named Lazarus TRAYNHAM.  Lazarus TRAYNHAM’S will listed out his slaves and named his wife and children who he willed his property (including slaves) to via this document.

None of those names match Pinkney or Dicey, nor Lauren JORDAN.  Initially I thought that maybe one of the slaves had changed his/her name after obtaining freedom as this was sometimes the case with formerly enslaved persons.  They may have always gone by a different name amongst family and the black community whereas their owners may have named them a different name that was not used after emancipation.  So, I then checked the 1860 and 1850 Slavery Schedules to see if Lazarus TRAYNHAM had any slaves who were near to age of my ancestors.

Only one male was similar in age – Alex TRAYNHAM (spelled Alx in the will).  So I looked up Alex TRAYNHAM on the 1870 Census and found that he was listed separately from Pinkney TRAYNHAM so Pinkney definately was not Alex.

I reviewed all the other wills and probate information, tax assessors records (slaves were taxable property so this is always a good resource to review when conducting slavery research), and looked through both Family Search and Ancestry.com vital statistics information for South Carolina.  All of this was of no avail.  I never found a marriage record for Pinkney and Dicey.  I have never found a death certificate for them either.  Dicey, was listed on the 1900 Census when she was over 70 years old so I was hopeful since she reached the 20th century, I would find something about her in particular, but I never have.

Unfortunately in many southern states, they did not routinely keep birth and death records until it was federally mandated by the government in the 1910s and so if Dicey died prior to that time, it would be hard pressed to find her information online.

I kept looking online specifically for many years for information about this family and am still looking to this day.

So as stated above, slavery research can be very difficult.  Some states, like Virginia have more online information published online (will write about Virginia ancestors in post next week), but no matter what, it is difficult and will be very time consuming.  There are a few tips I have found helpful in slavery research that are shared below:

  • Review probate and will indexes and online books (if you are not in the location where your ancestor was enslaved) to look up wills and tax records
  • If your ancestor was a slave on a large plantation, many times those plantations kept records of their business dealings and there may have been published a record of that plantation, consult with librarians and historical societies and see if you can look up a plantation history that may include your ancestor
  • Do some genealogical research on the white family who owned your enslaved ancestor, your ancestor may have been willed to a daughter who married, yet the slave kept her father’s last name after emancipation
    • On this, don’t hold any sort of crazy grudges about slavery.  Most people I know don’t, but it must be said.  Slavery existed and we can’t act like it didn’t happen.  People alive today are not the same people who owned your ancestor and they may be a useful resource in tracking down your ancestor, especially if they know of a genealogical sketch or book about their family

The most important tip is to be okay with not finding out any additional information on specific lines of enslaved ancestors.  As stated above, slavery existed and it was a system that did, indeed de-humanize individuals and not respect our ancestors as the people that they were.  Due to the attitudes and societal norms during those eras we have to come to grips with the fact that we may never know anything else about our ancestor’s lives beyond our furthest known great grandparent who was a slave.  I personally take comfort in the fact that their strength is the reason I am here today.  They did exist and I am grateful.  Be grateful for what you know about them.

The Story of Mrs. Hannah Davidson – Former Slave/Toledo Resident

The second formerly enslaved person interviewed by the WPA (see The Story of Mrs. Julia King) was Mrs. Hannah Davidson. Mrs. Davidson was approximately 85 years old at the time of her interview in 1937. She was interviewed by a person identified as K. Osthimer.

At the time of her interview, Mrs. Davidson lived at 533 Woodland Ave. Below is a picture of her home obtained from the Toledo Lucas County Public Library’s “Images in Time” collection. This collection contains many pictures of homes, businesses, and neighborhoods in Toledo from the 1800s forward. Mrs. Davidson’s home was photographed between 1937 and 1965 and the photograph was a part of a tax assessor’s records.

Hannah Davidson House

UPDATE:  I recently found a picture of Mrs. Hannah Davidson at the google news archives website.  She is pictured with another woman who is labeled as the “oldest members” of an organization.  I am thinking they were the oldest members of Third Baptist Church:

Mrs. Davidson is on the right


In the narrative, it was shared that Mrs. Davidson lived off of a $23 a month “old age pension.”  She was a boarder and rented a room in her home.  Many black Toledoans rented rooms as boarders or rented out rooms in their home for extra income during this time period.

Mrs. Davidson stated that her maiden name was Hannah Merriwether and that she had four sisters and two brothers.  Her parents names were Isaac and Nancy Merriwether.  She was born in Ballard County, Kentucky in approximately 1852.  She and her family were the slaves of Emmett and Susan Merriwether.

Mrs. Davidson’s story is dramatically different from that of Mrs. Julia King’s being that Hannah Davidson’s family did not come to the Toledo area via the Underground Rail Road as runaway slaves.

Mrs. Davidson stated that her folks were sold so many times that she “lost track” of them.  She also mentioned that she and her sister  Mary were kept over twenty years after emancipation by their slave master as slaves because the master would not let them leave.  She spoke of how she desperately wanted to learn to read and go to school but that the one black man who came to her county to teach “colored” people was beaten and run out of town by whites.  Mrs. Davidson eventually learned to read by herself with the help of WPA programs in the 1930s.

Mrs. Davidson reiterated many times about how hard she had worked her whole life.  She spoke of how one time she was so tired that she hid under a house just to take a nap and go to sleep because she was exhausted.

She also mentioned that her mother was the last slave to try to leave the plantation.  Her mother tried to take Mrs. Davidson as well but their master would not let the mother take her children.  Her mother was kicked off the plantation and Mrs. Davidson never saw her again.  Later on in life Mrs. Davidson forced her own sister Mary to leave the plantation by threatening her with a rolling pin.

Mrs. Davidson mentioned that “terrible” things happened to herself and her sister Mary.  She did not go into detail but it is well documented that female slaves were highly likely to be sexually assaulted and abused.

When she was 31, Mrs. Davidson stated that she married her husband William L. Davidson.  She stated that at the time of the interview, she only had one grandchild still living – Willa May Reynolds who was a teacher in City Grove, Tennessee.

Mrs. Davidson was a member of Third Baptist Church in Toledo.

My favorite quote from Mrs. Davidson was “I believe we should all do good to everybody.”

The idea that she maintained such positivity throughout her lifetime is a testament to the human spirit and is indicative of black American culture in regards to strength in faith and hope for the future.

I was very saddened and inspired when initially reading Mrs. Davidson’s narrative.  It is also interesting to compare the two persons interviewed in Toledo – Mrs. Julia King and Mrs. Hannah Davidson.  Mrs. King’s family escaped slavery when she was a young girl and so Mrs. King did not have to live with the trials of this horrible institution like Mrs. Davidson.  Mrs. Davidson did not get the benefit of being educated and thus could not obtain employment such as that afforded by Mrs. King’s background and subsequent work for the local government.  Mrs. King owned her home while Mrs. Davidson rented a room in  her old age.  The contrasts between the two women really do show how oppression and forced servitude and a lack of freedom can drastically reduce the opportunity afforded to one in their life.

The Story of Mrs. Hannah Davidson


William DAVISON/DAVIDSON born 9/8/1865 died 3/10/1920 (familysearch.org – Ohio Deaths 1840-2001)

George DAVIDSON born 1898 in KY, lived in 1930 in Toledo, Ohio (familysearch.org – 1930 Census) son of Hannah DAVIDSON

Wanda DAVIDSON born 1915 in OH, lived in 1930 Toledo, Ohio (familysearch.org – 1930 Census) daughter of Hannah DAVIDSON

Hannah DAVIDSON born 1852 in KY, lived in 1930 Toledo, Ohio (familysearch.org – 1930 Census)

Helen DAVIDSON died 1/18/1928 in Toledo, Ohio (familysearch.org – Ohio deaths 1908-1953) wife of George Davidson