Family history research begins in modern times and works backwards, generation by generation. Discoveries for all American families, regardless of ethnicity, are made through census records, military papers, vital records (births, marriages, and deaths), and other documents created over a lifetime. African American family research, however, can pose unique challenges as you follow your family into the 19th Century, just prior to the Civil War.”
African American Family Research from Ancestry.com
In both the 1920 and 1940 Census, there was a Martha Latham and a Martha Hoover. In the 1920 Census, Martha Hoover is listed as the mother of the head of the household, James McCain, She was listed as a 77 year old widow at the time. In the 1930 Census, however, Martha Hoover is listed as the mother-in-law of James McCain. This brought forth much confusion because that means she is either the mother of James or Amelia. She is also listed as being 90 years old, within ten years her age jumped 13 years. By 1940, a Martha Latham appears on the 1940 Federal Census for the household of Annie Beasley, Amelia’s daughter. She is listed as the grandmother of the head of the household making her Myrlie’s great-great grandmother. Is this confusing? Perhaps this will help.
Person being researched: Myrlie Beasley (Myrlie Evers-Williams)
Myrlie’s father: James Beasley
James’ mother: Annie McCain Beasley
Annie’s mother: Amelia Latham McCain
Amelia’s mother: Martha (Hoover?) Latham
Martha is listed as being 96 years of age. The Marthas found in the 1920, 1930, and 1940 Census hold similar characteristics. They are all born between 1840 and 1845 in Mississippi. Both have resided on Magnolia Street. I kept debating back and forth in my head whether Martha Latham and Martha Hoover are the same individuals. If they are why the change in surnames? It could be Martha’s maiden name is Hoover, yet why did she happen to change it towards the mid-1900s. In the end I merged their stories together. I can always be wrong, but at the moment I see Martha Hoover and Latham as the same person. I was unable to find Martha or her husband George in the 1900 Federal Census at all and the although pieces of the 1890 remain, none are from the state of Mississippi. The good news is that I did find them in the 1870 and 1880 Census, something I was unable to do for the Flowers’ family.
When doing genealogy on African Americans, the 1870 Census is the first census to list “all” African Americans by names, yet even the 1870 Census and later censuses still undercounted blacks.
The 1870 Census included four individuals in the Latham household, George Latham, Martha Latham, Amelia Latham, and Archie Thomas. George, the head of the household, was listed as being 25 years old and mulatto. An identity that I saw change overtime to black (all members of this household were listed as mulattos). He worked as a farmer in a home valued at $100. His wife Martha was 23 years old at the time and worked as a housekeeper. Amelia was 7 and Archie Thomas was 13 working as a farmhand.
The 1880 Census included five individuals, George Latham (38), Martha Latham (35), Mealie (Amelia) Latham (18), Charles ———- (18), and David Britnal (5). The occupation of George and Martha remained the same, yet the place of birth for George’s and Martha’s parents were included—Tennessee. The two new additions to the household were Charles and David with Archie Thomas no longer residing with the Latham family. The relationship to the head of the household for Charles was not legible and for David it stated that he was adopted. I could not find David in any other censuses.
To go back to the 1850 and 1860 Census to find the Latham family is difficult and on the verge of impossible assuming that Myrlie’s ancestors are slaves, which I am quite positive they were. I searched for slave owners in Tennessee the place of George’s and Martha’s parents’ birth and there are countless slave owners who hold the surname Latham. I can only assume that the family was sold into slavery to Mississippi after residing in Tennessee, but that is simply a guess, I can always be wrong. There were no military records for George Latham and I also searched through Emancipation records, Freedmen’s Bureau records, and other black family history collections with no finds. With that I am going to close this chapter of Myrlie Evers-Williams’ ancestry to finish up the ancestry of her husband.
Honestly, I am a little disappointed , but it was well worth it in the end.
Until the next post.