Tangled Roots

For African-Americans, genealogy is harder. “‘The major difference is as a white person you won’t be looking for your people as property of somebody else,’ said Traci Wilson-Kleekamp, a genealogy researcher…” Oral History is an important key. And sharing research—whites with blacks and vice-versa.

This article sparked my attention, because I’m reading a book called Slaves in the Family, by Edward Ball. Ball is the descendant of the plantation-owning Balls from South Carolina. He examines the history of his slave-owning, in his family, breaking familial taboos (one cousin told him, “What you are doing can only cause trouble!”) and breaking new ground in uniting current-day African-Americans with records of their forbears.

Here’s a short excerpt from the book where Ball visits the elderly Katie Roper and her two 40-ish daughters, Delores and Charlotte. Katie is the granddaughter of Bright Ma, a Ball family slave. Edward Ball shares information from the plantation records with them:

“The furthest back I’ve been able to uncover,” I said, “your ancestors were living on a place called Limerick plantation, at the head of the eastern branch of the Cooper River, north of Charleston, soon after the American Revolution.” I took some papers from my bag and said, “This is a list of people living on Limerick. On it are Tenah and Adonis, the most distant forebears I could identify.”

I looked up to solemn stares and flat, grim mouths.

I described what I knew of the lives of Tenah and Adonis at Limerick. Then I went over the family’s move to Comingtee plantation after the death of their owner, Old Mas’ ‘Lias.

“I can’t make excuses for it,” I said. “That’s what happened. The family was just given away.”

I came to the name Binah. The family’s oral tradition, which I had first heard in New York, mentioned Binah. But the tradition had no word about her life, and did not say where she might have lived.

“This page is a record of people born on Comintee plantation,” I said, holding a photocopy. “Binah was born there on September 8, 1815.”

“Oh, Lord,” said Delores.

There was an intake of breath in the room.

“Oh, Lord,” echoed Charlotte. “We didn’t know what—-we didn’t know where—-or the age.” Charlotte’s hornlike voice pierced the air. “All we had was a name.”

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Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on March 21, 2006 in • Personal History
2 CommentsPermalink

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Tangled Roots Indeed!
My name is Rick Lias, I’m a former TV news producer who now teaches English.
I believe my Lias clan migrated from down south
to settle in Chicago. The question we don’t know is from wher down south they originated.
Recently, I’ve been told that I may be the offspring of one Josie Lias (buried in Midway, Al.)born just 3 years after the Emancipation Proclimation. Josie spoke of her people being part of the Lias or Lyas plantation. It’s also saif the Josie spoke of the death of a master prompting the Lias family of slaves to split up into as many as three groups. I wonder if Tenah & Adonis were form Lias slaves?

Rick Lias  on 02/18  at  11:29 PM


Thanks for dropping by and commenting. The ‘Lias in this book is Elias. Elias Ball. From South Carolina, near Charleston. But I don’t think that any of the plantations themselves were named “Lias” or “Lyas”—they had names like Limerick, Kensington, Cherry Hill, Cedar Hill, Middleburg, Quenby, Cleremont, Halidon Hill, Dean Hall, Pawley and then some (I got these names from a map of the Ball family plantations that’s printed just after the title page of the book). I don’t know anything more than that, sorry.

Good luck with your search!

Susan A. Kitchens  on 02/19  at  01:09 PM

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