Monday, January 18, 2021

Crossing Paths


It is sometimes difficult to determine just how two people met. Take, for instance, King Stockton, current subject of our search, and the man—successful Florida businessman A. L. Lewis—who took up the project to record details of this former enslaved person's life. An entire generation—thirty six years—separated them. King Stockton was likely born in Georgia in 1830, while A. L. Lewis began life in Madison County, Florida, in 1865.

Their life's path also separated them. King Stockton was born in humble circumstances, the son of two enslaved people, one of whom we know very little about. While A. L. Lewis was also born to enslaved parents, the start of his life coincided with emancipation and eventually opened up for him opportunities, combined with his natural talents, that the previous generation certainly couldn't enjoy.

As much as I've searched for the answer on just how their paths crossed, this wealthy businessman and this humble farmer, perhaps the clearest explanation comes from the very booklet which A. L. Lewis prepared on the life of King Stockton. In his preface, Lewis explained how many "men and women have lived and died without very much thought being given to what an inspiration their life might be to future generations."

Thus, A. L. Lewis' goal "to have the beautiful characters of the men and women of their race held up before them as examples worthy of emulation" was achieved through publication of a booklet like the one focused on the story of King Stockton.

That, of course, makes me wonder whether Dr. Lewis had written any other such biographies, perhaps in a series dedicated to the same purpose. In that case, it would have made more sense that King Stockton's was just one more name among several suggested to the author. As of yet, though, I have not found any such indication.

That original booklet, as well, embeds some history in the Stockton story, making me wonder whether the nexus between the two men was not by business connections, not even by family relationships, but because of the denomination to which they both belonged: the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. After all, for sixty years, A. L. Lewis had served as Sunday School Superintendent of the Mount Olive AME Church in Jacksonville, Florida. While King Stockton spent the last of his years in the small agricultural community of Hastings in Saint Johns County, now about an hour's drive south of Jacksonville, it is possible that their earlier paths might have crossed in church affairs.

Noted in the small booklet of King Stockton's life was the detail that he grew up attending church services at the plantation where he lived, memorizing many of the scriptures that he heard repeatedly. He received an "exhorter's license" in 1853, and the narrative of the booklet explains that when "Bishop Wayman came to Florida in 1867" to organize the AME Church in Tallahassee, King Stockton was one of the members at that first conference.

That detail prompted me to see who Bishop Wayman might have been. Seeking details on the formation of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, I discovered its roots long pre-dated the Civil War. The church grew out of another organization, the Free African Society, established in Philadelphia in 1787. Bishop Alexander Walker Wayman, born a free man in 1821 on his family's farm in Maryland, became the seventh bishop of the AME Church.

In his own writings, Bishop Wayman mentioned traveling to Florida in 1867 for the formation of the Florida church, including description of the uncomfortable "car" he rode in from Georgia to the station at Live Oak, Florida—not far from where King Stockton lived at the time in Suwannee County. Though the Wayman travel account mentions the key people he met when he arrived for the conference at Tallahassee, nowhere in the book was there any mention of King Stockton nor, at that early date, any of the Lewis family.

Yet, A. L. Lewis indicated that his subject, eventually coming to be called "Father Stockton," was a preacher at the elder man's local church, well into the latter part of his life. Though re-reading the booklet did help bring some details into focus, it still doesn't enlighten me as to the connection between writer and subject of the story. While my gut take on it is that the connection is more likely to have been one of family, the more logical explanation is probably through church association. Still, no solid details to confirm which would be the answer.

Still, having reviewed the bigger picture of the history behind some of the key names mentioned, it serves to provide an understanding of the time and situation in which the no-longer enslaved found themselves during King Stockton's lifetime. For more detail on that aspect, we'll turn next to the life story of another associate of King Stockton, a man in Florida politics who started life as the kid down the street from King Stockton's home in Wellborn. Perhaps, in once again reviewing that man's history, next time we can find much more than merely a footnote.     


Saturday, January 16, 2021

Old Acquaintances, New Year's Resolutions


We may be halfway through the first month of the year, but I am still running across blog posts about New Year's resolutions—or, at least, New Year's "goals." I started posting my plans early, using the old-fashioned twelve days of Christmas to detail one genealogy target per month for 2021. It's good to have a solid outline of what we hope to accomplish for the upcoming year's research.

Along the way, though, I realized one more thing about New Year traditions: as much as we try to look forward, that New Year's day is also a call for the Auld Lang Syne. No matter how much I try to look forward to the future with this flip of the calendar's page, I can't think of next year's plans without remembering the ones who, in the past, have been part of my research collaboration.

And so, that Auld Lang Syne call brings me to the realization that genealogical research is cyclical. We work on a specific line for a while, going until we can find no further trace of documentation on our farthest removed ancestral generation, then we shift to a different project in the hopes of gaining better headway. It is sometimes only when we retrace our steps on a particular line, years later, that we recall those distant cousins who walked that same research path with us, last time we visited that particular branch of the family.

In this past week, as I review my research goals for the upcoming year, I've realized there are three people with whom I really want to reconnect. Each one of them was someone with whom was shared a robust email dialog, sometimes over months, others through the years. One particular person was one with whom I last exchanged emails almost eight years ago. Another one was someone I actually had the pleasure of meeting, face to face, as we explored whether DNA testing would confirm my hypothesis about the family connection. Yet another woman has been so very helpful in sharing information, despite our initial doubt of any connection—another surprise, demonstrated through DNA, showing us otherwise.

I have heard many fellow researchers lately mention their disappointment when, in reaching out to others tracing the same family lines, the enthusiasm for sharing information was not reciprocated. Yes, there are some who may not—yet!—show any interest in exchanging details or working together on a brick wall line. But that is not to say that is an artifact of a bygone era. While you may have to search for those who share that kindred spirit, there are genea-friends out there to be found. And, once found, to recall during those Auld Lang Syne moments, then reach out and reconnect. 


Friday, January 15, 2021

Extraordinary Man, Common Surname


When we seek to learn more about the lives of our ancestors, it is sometimes an exciting discovery to find that an ancestor's life attracted enough interest to merit being written up in publications lasting far beyond their own lifetime. That, at least, was how I felt, even though it wasn't concerning one of my own relatives, when I discovered the book about the man known as King Stockton. The nine-page booklet, though sharing stories of King Stockton's early life in territorial Florida, still left me with one question: just how did it come to be that a millionaire would choose to make an obscure preacher the focus of the booklet he had written?

At first, I assumed the connection between King Stockton and A. L. Lewis, his biographer, was through a business association. After all, Abraham Lincoln Lewis was involved in establishing a number of successful ventures, and was also known for his humanitarian efforts in the Jacksonville area. Though quite a bit was written up about A. L. Lewis' accomplishments—even his obituary appeared in newspapers from Florida up to the New York City metro area—I couldn't discern any place where his path might have crossed with that of King Stockton.

From that point, having learned that King Stockton's mother-in-law was also a Lewis, I thought perhaps there was a family connection, and decided to pursue his biographer's own family history.

Though much has been written about A. L. Lewis—even his entry at Find A Grave is informative—besides the usual accolades for his business acumen, the only family relationships mentioned were those of the relatives involved in key positions in his business, the Afro-American Life Insurance Company.

As it turns out, there were a number of trees on which included a Florida-born man by the name of Abraham Lincoln Lewis, but almost all of them labeled A. L. Lewis' parents as Author and Mary Lewis. Indeed, there was an 1880 census entry for a family of three with those names listed for the adults, plus their nineteen year old son Abraham.

Only problem with this Columbia County record: that Abraham would have been born about five years before the Abraham we are seeking. According to A. L. Lewis' burial information, he was born in 1865, not 1860.

Though I couldn't find another family with a promising entry for a son by that name in 1880, I could find an "Abram" Lewis in a family in the 1870 census for Madison County. That family, headed by South Carolina natives Robert and Judy Lewis, included children Frances, Luellen, Eliza, and, of course, Abram. A promising corroboration of that listing came from the other end of A. L. Lewis' life with one of the many obituaries published at his passing. According to the obituary published in the Pittsburgh Courier on March 15, 1947, besides his widow and sons, he was survived by one sister, Eliza Dixon of New York City.

Sure enough, Eliza's entry at Find A Grave also listed her parents as Robert and Judy Lewis. That confirmation, however, still did not help me connect A. L. Lewis' family with that of King Stockton's wife Louvenia. Louvenia's death certificate had listed her mother as Melissa Lewis, and a mis-labeled census entry for the 1885 Florida state census included King Stockton's mother-in-law under the same given name.

So how did they relate? At this point, I can't tell. Perhaps the fact that both families claimed the same last name was merely coincidence—the artifact of a fairly common surname. The question now becomes: if not by blood, how exactly might King Stockton have been connected to a man like A. L. Lewis? Though it is doubtful that it would be by business, there is another avenue to consider, which we'll explore on Monday.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Considering Kin


There is something quite aggravating about the concept of kin. Somehow imprecise, "kin" is nevertheless the word family historians gravitate to when no other term can convey the notion: not exactly related but, somehow, related just the same. It's a word convenient when nothing else quite fits as a descriptor, but we can't somehow contort the family tree to reveal the complex connection.

Southern relationships are sometimes like that. I suspect, in the one particular case we've lately been considering, that word may have often come in handy in sorting family ties.

In the question of just how a successful businessman like A. L. Lewis might have come to not only make the acquaintance of an old preacher like King Stockton but actually decide to write a book about his life story, I couldn't quite discover the nexus. But when I consider the little bit I've been able to determine of King Stockton's family, there may be an explanation: he and A. L. Lewis might have been "kin."

Since I know you won't let me get off so easily with such an explanation, let me lay out my case. It begins early in the life of King Stockton and his wife, Louvenia. I'll let the words of biographer A. L. Lewis explain:

It was in his early childhood that he met little Louvenia Ann Lewis, the youngest of five sisters, and at that time, they pledged themselves to each other.

Yes, admittedly, Lewis is a fairly common surname. It is quite possible that there was no connection between the two Lewis names. On the other hand, what are the possibilities that, in addition to the five Lewis sisters, there might have also been at least one brother?

Before we get ahead of ourselves with conjectures about connections, let's consider one other twist. While that may have been the report of the early years of King Stockton and his wife-to-be, let's take a look at what we can discover at the other end of life: those possibly error-ridden reports of parents' names in death certificates.

While not living quite as long as her near-centenarian husband, Louvenia Lewis Stockton died in 1925 after having lived ninety three years. What was interesting about her death certificate, though, was that it was her mother's name which was given as Lewis. Her father was listed as a Dean.

This small revelation gives pause to consider the connections lying beneath that serendipitous mention in that history journal's footnote about King Stockton in an article concerning Florida jurist (and Stockton neighbor) James Dean.

Perhaps once again, a person whom I considered a member of King Stockton's "FAN Club" may turn out to be much more than just a friend; Dean, Lewis, and Stockton may all have been kin. And if we can't discover the connection through Louvenia's own genealogy, perhaps we can learn something by exploring the family trees of those two more well-known men from Florida's history. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

What Our Ancestors' Friends Can Tell us


Do you ever stop to think what unspoken messages you send by the friends you choose? We have quips to remind us that people are sometimes assessed by the company they keep—"birds of a feather" comes to mind here—and that operative can become a device to use to our research advantage.

Those of us who have researched our family tree long enough to get stuck on what we've dubbed "brick wall ancestors" have probably stumbled upon the acronym regarding our ancestors' "F.A.N. Club." The term was coined by master researcher Elizabeth Shown Mills, signifying the usefulness of following a brick wall ancestor's Friends, Associates, and Neighbors.

As I pursue the story of the man I now know was called King Stockton, I've found there was very little recorded about his life. Thankfully—and this was the tale that first piqued my interest when I heard it as a child—King Stockton had an acquaintance who thought it a worthwhile project to publish a booklet about his life.

That booklet, as I discovered only recently, was a simple seven page pamphlet with the generic title, "Biography of King Stockton: Born a Slave, Living 100 Years." That, as it turned out, was the "book" mentioned in the stories passed down through my family—the one which I could never find in my grandmother's belongings, but which, thankfully, I was able to read, thanks to the rare books and manuscripts collection at the Rose Library at Emory University.

Not much can be discerned about one hundred years of a life from the text on a mere seven pages, let alone a life lived spanning such tumultuous times as were seen from the early years of territorial Florida through the end of slavery and the contentious times beyond that era. But we may be able to extract some inferences about King Stockton based on what we can learn about his friends and associates.

It was from his contact with one associate—Florida's pioneer African-American jurist, James Dean—that I gleaned my first clue to clinch the answer to a lifelong search for King Stockton's "book"; that was where I found the book's title in the footnotes in a history journal article about James Dean.

Impressive friend.

But the friend I was now in search of was the very one who was inspired to tell King Stockton's story: a man by the name of A. L. Lewis. Who was he?

Fortunately, unlike James Dean and his many accomplishments buried in history, A. L. Lewis was a man whose trail was a bit easier to trace. It was helpful to discover what was hidden behind those enigmatic initials: A. L. signified Abraham Lincoln Lewis. A brief entry in Wikipedia let me know that he was the state of Florida's first African-American millionaire. His success came from many ventures, most of which were owing to his ability to spot needs within his community during a time of great upheaval, and his talent for forming cooperative ventures with other astute community leaders.

Since A. L. Lewis was a businessman and chairman of the board of a life insurance company, I wondered just what it might have been that he and a minister like King Stockton held in common. What was it about their friendship? What connected them? And can we infer anything from the relationship? By the time A. L. Lewis had been born in Madison, Florida, in 1865, King Stockton was well into his thirties.

Though they both lived in the same region of northern Florida, there had to be something more that connected them. I was curious to see if I could find the nexus between the two men. I noticed that A. L. Lewis had founded what eventually was called the Afro-American Life Insurance Company in 1901, and wondered whether that detail would reveal the source of any connection. However, a fortieth anniversary publication of the company didn't provide any clues, though it did introduce me to the founding members of the board—possibly more names to add to King Stockton's FAN Club.

What I discovered by leafing through the company publication was an operation designed and maintained by a dedicated core of talented men and women, working from an early start in a new century to years after King Stockton's own passing in 1929. The chairman of the board of that company—that very same A. L. Lewis—was somehow the acquaintance of King Stockton to such a degree that he chose to publish a booklet sharing details of the elder man's life. Surely, such an acquaintance says something about the man we are hoping to learn more about.

What I couldn't find tucked between the pages of the fortieth anniversary yearbook, besides any mention of King Stockton, himself, was any way to figure out the connection between the two men. It's fairly obvious that one doesn't engage in writing someone's story without knowing at least something about that person. So how did the two get to know each other?

There was one possible clue in all this, one obliterated by the apparent success of the author's businesses: his very name, Lewis. While Lewis is a common surname, perhaps there was a connection between the author's surname and some details I had stumbled upon while researching King Stockton's family tree. As it turned out, King Stockton was connected to a Lewis family through his own wife. Perhaps the Lewis connection wasn't owing to friends or associates, after all, but to a connection with kin.



Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Beyond Just a Name


It all started with a book. No, make that a story about a book: my mother's retelling of her Aunt Fannie's spellbinding stories about life in territorial Florida, shared from a book which someone inspired and gifted to her father, my second great-grandfather William McClellan.

Though as a child, I never knew that someone's name, I still wanted to learn more about him. Finding the details regarding those who took their place in our family's story can be challenging, but it is these people—the friends, associates and neighbors—whose connections with our family can help paint the picture of what our ancestors were like.

Even before I knew his name, I always knew King Stockton was someone whose life was intertwined with my family's story, because our star family storyteller passed his stories down to the next generation. Aunt Fannie's stories were so memorable, they awoke in me, for one, a love for family history—even though I never met her, let alone the people in her stories who lived long before that. Her stories were so woven into family tradition that by the time they reached my ears, one couldn't be quite sure they were anything more than just that: stories.

To make matters more difficult for me, once I decided in my little-kid heart to pursue this story, I had no way to discover the name of this man, the one who, when he was free and could have done otherwise, chose to keep coming back to visit my second great-grandfather, William H. McClellan.

The story, of course, begins much further back in time than King Stockton's regular visits to the McClellan home in Wellborn, Florida. Actually, we can push back one more generation, to William McClellan's mother Sidney Tison, on the eve of her 1830 wedding day at the Tison residence in Glynn County, Georgia. Though her father, Job Tison, had passed away several years before, his will had not been settled—but despite that fact, since Sidney had come of age, with her wedding and subsequent move to the McClellan homestead in Florida, she was to take along with her the "gift" bequeathed to her from his will.

That "gift" was a young mother by the name of Hester, who remained with Sidney the rest of her life. Hester, as you've likely deduced, had been enslaved on the Tison property, and with Job Tison's passing, had been "given" to Sidney.

About the same time as Sidney's removal to Wellborn, Hester gave birth to a son—the one who eventually came to be known as King Stockton. When Hester traveled with Sidney to Florida, Hester's son went with her—and the two remained for the rest of their lives in and around Wellborn.

Part of that story I learned through family tales passed down through oral tradition, thanks to some family storytellers over the generations. But because I always wanted to learn more about Hester and her son King, I eventually learned how to do genealogical research and, with digitized records becoming more easily accessible, found out a few more details about King Stockton.

Once I learned his actual name, I located him in the first national enumeration taken after manumission—the 1870 census. There, still in Wellborn, King Stockton was listed at age forty, with his wife Louvenia and six children in their household. From that point, I followed the Stockton family through each decennial record, moving from Suwannee County to Shalmanezer in nearby Columbia County in 1900, and eventually to the location of his death in Saint Johns County in 1929—nearly a hundred years of age.

Tracing anything more than that was challenging, though. I had hoped to follow his family's line through the generations—I had, after all, obtained a copy of the booklet which he had once given to my second great-grandfather so many years before, and it had mentioned nine children of the Stockton family. But where did they go? Some of them seemed to simply disappear from the area by the time of King Stockton's passing.

Finding one note about King Stockton's stature in the community was indeed a clue to guide my research in more ways than one. It was literally a footnote in a journal article which gave a glimpse of who might have been included in his "FAN Club" circles. That, in itself, provides me a lesson for what I must do in order to discover anything more about this man and his family: I'll have to widen my search circle, including looking at resources genealogists may not usually access.

That type of search can take its first cue from the very source of King Stockton's story in print: the actual author of the booklet which provided the details of King Stockton's life. For author A. L. Lewis, as a part of the Stockton "FAN Club"—friends, associates, and neighbors—would have had some reason to connect with the man whose story we are seeking. We'll look for some clues to see what the association between the two men might reveal about the life story of King Stockton. 

Monday, January 11, 2021

Stepping Into the Same Boat Again


It was two year ago tonight when, attending the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, I settled into my seat to hear the traditional Monday evening plenary speaker. That year, the presentation was slated to be given by LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson. She titled her talk, "We're All in the Same Boat Now" and called her listeners to see genealogy as a "force for social change."

Thanks to her presentation, I felt the much-needed encouragement to launch into a project I had been considering for a long time: to research a specific individual whose stories had been passed down in my family for generations. 

There was only one catch: I didn't even know this person's name.

That year, the SLIG course I had registered for was one concerning Southern research. It was the first step, I hoped, in getting closer to actually launching that research project. Shortly after that January course in Salt Lake City, I was scheduled to travel next to Florida to research a family line impacting the life of that very same mystery person.

After LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson's Monday evening presentation, I remember talking with her about my impossible research mission to find this man with no name, and how her message encouraged me to pursue that project, no matter the barriers. Within a few days, a DNA match cousin in Florida emailed me to say he believed he had the right name for my mystery person: King Stockton.

Perhaps there is some great Hand in the Sky who is coordinating the moves to ensure that man's story is told as fully as possible. Though it has been two years since our initial discussion, it turns out that LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson has returned to teach at SLIG. And I am returning this month (well, virtually) to take her course in In-Depth African American Genealogy.

That was the inspiration for selecting, as my Ancestor #1 of my Twelve Most Wanted for 2021, that very person, King Stockton. Beginning tomorrow, and for the remainder of January, I'll not only explore what else can be learned about the man, but search to see what else I can discover—especially in out-of-the-way resources—about King Stockton and his family.    

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