It is said that after Emancipation freed people of color could change their name if they didn't want to keep the name of their last enslaver. Well in 1870 Martha did not change any names but in 1880 she changed her children's last name to Yeldell but kept her last name as Brooks. Yeldell is the surname of my family and since researching I have always wonder why she changed the name to that. I have been given several explanations but the one thing that sticks with me the most is she changed her children's name to their father's name but she kept her name because it was her actual maiden name. Yes I know by saying this that means that either Martha was fathered by someone in the Brooks family or one of her parents were. Do I have proof of this not yet but right now that is my educated guess.
However because this question still bothers me I often read about surname changes and I wonder what others think about how their family came to have their own surname. So this morning I came upon a repost from another facebooker/genealogical friend. She posted a blog from another genealogist discussing how his family surname came to be (http://rootsrevealed.blogspot.com/2012/04/aint-gonna-take-massas-name.html). His question was really similar to my own and although I read this blog to get his take on the name change issue it was something else that he pointed out that made my heart jump in my throat.
If you read his blog (and you really should) he realizes his ancestor's name was something different and as you read on he realizes there former enslavers name was the new name he had found. His research guides him to look at the 1850 Slave Schedule for South Carolina and this is what he finds:
"I found John & Anna Burnett residing in the Saluda district of Abbeville County, South Carolina. I then checked the 1850 Abbeville County slave schedule and found John Burnett with 18 slaves. Slave schedules only report the names of slave-owners and the age, sex, and color of each of their slaves.
Looking more closely at the schedule of John Burnett’s slaves in 1850, I noticed the unique way the census enumerator listed them in the slave schedule. An adult female was listed first with eight much younger slaves (children) listed after her. She was my great-great-great-grandmother,Flora Davis. A second adult female slave, likely Nelly, was listed next with eight much younger slaves (children) listed after her. John Burnett obviously had owned two adult females and their 16 children, collectively."It was the second paragraph that caught my attention. He talked about how the census enumerator listed the people in the slave schedule. I had my 2x great-grandmother in both the 1850 and 1860 slave schedule and I never really took notice or even knew to take notice to how they were listed. so I went back and took a look. I viewed the 1850 schedule first. Now before I go into my findings I already know you are asking the question if no name is listed like he said above how do you know that is your Martha? Well its simple she is the only female slave that matches the age she would have been during that time. So I checked the 1850 Schedule under Martha's first known slave owner Whitfield Brooks (Preston Brooks father). He was right they were listed in a unique way. They seemed to have been grouped by family. My 2x great grandmother was born about 1834 so in 1850 she would have been about 16 years old. Now depending on when her birthday was and out of the 93 slaves he owned the 15 year old girl you see below was the only one that could have been my 2x great grandmother.
All I could do was grab my mouth. The picture above did not just show my 2x great-grandmother Martha as a teenager but this could have very well been her mother and father and her siblings. My heart is racing. I checked the 1860 census and it was not listed like this. Instead they were listed from oldest to youngest. This was an amazing realization for me. I then started to look at the book the Slave Records of Edgefield County by Gloria Ramsey Lucas. I looked at all of the names of the slaves Whitfield owned when he died. His slaves did not seem to have been sold or given to anyone outside of the family. They went to his wife and sons Preston and John. There was one set that was sold to a lady by the name of Nancy Blocker but I have reason to believe she was family from something else I had found (but that's another story) and I digress.
I compared the info from the book to the 1850 Slave Schedule and Whitfield seemed to have owned two complete families (that would mother, father and children). One family (Husband, Wife & three children) were given to his son John the other (Husband, Wife & six children) were given to Preston. Researching family history is like a science project so you make several educated guesses. The family pictured above was a family of nine Mom, Dad and seven children. Preston was given a family of eight. My Martha was given to Whitfield's wife who then passed her on to Preston. It is my educated guess that Martha was given to Preston because he was already the owner of her entire family. If this is correct to my family that is reading this blog I want to introduce to you Charles, Crecy, Maria, Becky, Alfred, Sarah and Edney the parents and siblings of Martha Brooks.
Well I still haven't gotten my question answered about the name change but I think the latter will do for today.
Until Next Time...