Saturday, June 11, 2016

Adoptee Ancestors in Genealogical Research
"Dearly beloved, We are gathered here today 2 get through this thing called ..."... Genetic Genealogy. 
Welcome to the ROOTS section of my blog where I focus on traditional genealogical and DNA stories of my interest. This short  and fun   dive discusses the discovery of "adopted" ancestors in genealogical research. Dedicated to the legendary music Icon PRINCE Rogers Nelson (1958 - 2016). Enjoy: 

"I was dreamin' when I wrote this, So sue me if I go 2 fast, But life is just a party, and parties weren't meant 2 last." ...  You always party like it's 1999 when you're able to advance the family tree backward (or forward) another generation. That is, until you find yourself in 1899 and discover that your ancestor is listed as "Adopted" in a genealogical record! Have you ever unexpectedly come across such an ancestor in your research? If yes, what challenges were presented to you? Were you ever successful in finding your ancestor’s adoptive and biological family roots?  

Now remember I'm talking about your ancestors from say a century ago. Not your living or recently deceased relatives. I suspect many adoptions 100+ years ago were informal and never even made public. For African-Americans think of how the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, subsequent institution of human chattel bondage, and eventual emancipation were catalysts and a continuum for many informal adoptions of children, adults and their own family members. 

Blessedly or cursedly be damned, discovering an ancestor documented as "adopted" is actually not a bad thing. At least you know it happened. But you're also at the mercy of the record keepers and census enumerators of yore, and the latter often recorded what they saw or were told  — on-site and sight unseen. Not to mention your return to the proverbial drawing board in a hardscrabble attempt to document your "new" family branch and to recalibrate your genealogical pedigree. The good news is there's something you can do about it!

"Let's go crazy. Let's get nuts." By now I know you're wondering what does all of this have to do with Prince? ...  I can tell you now  — I won't be revealing that I'm his long lost relative. I'm just strung lovesexy for his artistry and song! So I know you'll believe me when I tell you that the musical demigod himself gave me a departing wink. And you'll soon learn why as I discuss: (1) adopted ancestors in genealogical research; (2) tips for researching adopted ancestors, and (3) a glimpse of early Americana. 

"Tell me, what's the matter with your world? Was it a boy when you wanted a girl? (boy when you wanted a girl) Don't you know straight hair ain't got no curl (no curl)" ...  I came upon the genealogical mystery of Pop Life one tense evening as I was working on building my family tree.  The date was April 21, 2016, and earlier that day the Great Purple maestro soared away like a Dove. Outside it was weeping violet tear-drops, and the moon was cast in a cherry hue. I was inside my home emotionally numb and mentally nimble. The only vices to sooth this tormented mind of mines was HIS music and working on genetic genealogy. 

I was researching one of my great-grandmother's sisters lines and seemed to have difficulty tracking her. My great-grandaunt Mabel Jackson was born 1889 in Somerset County, New Jersey. She is my maternal grandfather's aunt and one of seven daughters (11 children in total) of  Claiborne Jackson, a "mulatto" from Louisa, Virginia, and Sophia Shipley, who descends from "free people of color" in central New Jersey. Aunt Mabel was of multiple ancestries, comprising of African (Guinea, Mali, and various subcontinents), European (Dutch, British), Malagasy and Native American descent. Aunt Mabel and all of her siblings, including my grandfather's mother, inherited a maternal Haplogroup B2, which is human mitochondrial-DNA mutation type only found in indigenous Amerindians. 

I hit pay dirt when I finally found Aunt Mabel in the 1940 federal census (below) showing that she is married to Emmett Washington, a laborer. He was born about 1899 and lived with my aunt in Franklin Township, Somerset County, NJ; they had one son, Johnson Washington (more on him later). However it was where Emmett was born that caught my attention. He entered this life in a most interesting place for an African-American — Minneapolis, Minnesota, the birthplace of thee Prince! Icon! Beast! Wink! 
Year: 1940; Census Place: Franklin, Somerset, New Jersey; Roll: T627_2382; Page: 19A; Enumeration District:18-21
For the record (no pun intended) Prince's dad John Rogers Nelson was born in Louisiana and travelled to Minneapolis in 1947 to be a jazz musician and used the stage name Prince Rogers. In Minneapolis he met Prince's mother Mattie Della Shaw, who also from Louisiana

There seemed to more African-Americans migrating to Minnesota than I figured. Just maybe I shouldn't really be surprised at Aunt Mabel's husband Emmett being born there too. The African diaspora is historically ubiquitous the globe over. Nevertheless I considered Emmett's birthplace rare enough for me to further look his history. Specially on a night like April  21, 2016. 

The earliest record I could find on great-granduncle-in-law Emmett Washington is the 1910 federal census (below). The record lists Emmett's birth as "abt 1899" and  he lives with his parents Sandy & Nancy Washington. At 11 years old, Emmett was already a farm laborer and apparently hired out to do work. He was able to read and write. ... Then I came upon a bigger surprise. Take a closer look here:  
Year: 1910; Census Place: Cobden, Union, Illinois; Roll: T624_329; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 0131; FHL microfilm: 1374342
The 1910 census record (and yes I always check the original copy) reveals that Emmett was the ADOPTED SON of Sandy Washington and his wife Nancy (nee unknown). Not a step-son. But an adopted son! I knew then for sure the departing wink from his His Purple Highness that I told you about earlier also meant there would be some complications. Prince was never easy!

Instinctively I checked the prior federal census to see what I could discover about the people whom nurtured and raised Emmett Washington: his adoptive parents. The 1900 federal record  (below) shows that his adoptive parents were Sandy Washington (born in Missouri), and Nancy (born in Tennessee). Whatever the circumstances, by 1900 the Washington family lived in twin city St. Paul. The Washington's had an 18-year-old presumably biological daughter and her name was Myrtle. She was came along about five to eight years before Emmett. Interestingly Myrtle was born in Illinois so her parents may have lived there before migrating to Minnesota.

Year: 1900; Census Place: St Paul Ward 4, Ramsey, Minnesota; Roll: 783; Page: 2B; Enumeration District:0091; FHL microfilm: 1240783
Of course, the Big Purple Elephant In the Room is there was no Emmett Washington to be found on this census record, even though he was born about 1898 or 1899. I suspect Emmett was some place else, perhaps with his biological parents. Maybe. The fact that Emmett is missing from the 1900 census raises questions about when Emmett was actually adopted (or fostered) by the Washington's. For good karma's sake I'd like to think the Washington's were kind people who may have become lonely after their daughter moved out. 

I also discovered Emmett Washington in the World War I draft record (below) showing his date of birth as September 20, 1898. So now we have a more precise birthdate, yet I don't know how authentic it is. On this record Emmett lists his mother Nancy Washington as his "next of kin" so we know it's the same folks. 

Registration State: Illinois; Registration County: Perry; Roll: 1614442
From the WWI draft record (above) I learn that Emmett Washington appeared to now reside in the coal-mining town of Dowell, Illinois. I assume he went there to find work after laboring on farms as child in Minnesota. This also supports my earlier notion that Emmett's adoptive parents may have lived in Illinois when they had their biological daughter Myrtle there. Here my assumption is Emmett's adoptive parents may have known people in Illinois or his father may have priorly worked there. 

In Dowell, Illinois, Emmett's occupation was not surprisingly a coal miner; he worked for the legendary Union Colliery Company of St. Louis Missouri. Emmett likely labored under notoriously dangerous conditions in Dowell's Kathleen Coal Mine (below), where over 150 miners met their fate (and you can read about one of those tragic incidents here).
Apparently Emmett Washington was a resilient soul and lucky. I assume at some point after Emmett's enlistment  into WWI he migrated to New Jersey where he met and married my great-grandaunt Mabel Jackson. 

By the time of the Word War II draft record (below) and now 45 years old, Emmett was living in Franklin Township, Somerset County, NJ. He lived on Franklin Boulevard and had a P.O. box in nearby city of New Brunswick. His date of birth on the draft record is similarly September 20, but the birth year has changed to 1896 (remember previous records said 1989 or 1899). His place of birth is still listed as Minneapolis, Minnesota, so we know it's the same Emmett. His wife Mabel Jackson is on the record as "Ms. Wm. Emmett Washington." For the first time I learn the "W" in Emmett's middle name stands for "William." I also observe his first and middle names switch places (ie W. Emmett Washington vs. Emmett W. Washington). And perhaps not surprisingly Emmett continued to do the work he knew well  as a laborer for the Black Diamond Coal Company of Franklin Township.
The National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri; Draft Registration Cards for Fourth Registration for New Jersey, 04/27/1942 - 04/27/1942; NAI Number: 2555983; Record Group Title: Records of the Selective Service System; Record Group Number: 147
At this time let's return back to Uncle Emmett & Aunt Mabel's son JOHNSON Washington (he would be my 1st cousin, twice removed). I found Johnson's first name unusual because it's more commonly known as one of the top common surnames in US history. So my genealogy instincts prompted me to look for African-American Johnson’s living in Minneapolis and St. Paul during the time of Emmett's birth. This is when I found an intriguing record: the Minnesota, Births and Christenings Index, 1840-1980 (below) shows a child named “Johnson” being born on October 20, 1896. The child’s parents were Chas. B. Johnson, born in Pennsylvania, and E. C. Johnson, aged 24, bon in Indiana. Hmmm. Minnesota, Births and Christenings Index, 1840-1980 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.
Could Chas. B. Johnson and E.C. Johnson be the parents of Emmett Washington? Could this be the reason why Emmett & Mabel Washington named their son, Johnson? ... At first glance the Minnesota, Births and Christenings Index, 1840-1980 (above) lists the name of the child "Johnson," and I assume it's listed that way to reference his parents. I find it somewhat odd that this Johnson child's birthday was on the same day the 20th but exactly one month after Emmett's born-day in September. Further the Johnson child's birth year of 1896 is the same as the one listed on Emmett's WWII draft record (posted earlier).  

I cautiously speculate this record for "Johnson" is likely to be Emmett William Washington himself. Using this logic perhaps this would explain why Emmett's son is named Johnson, and Emmett's later birth information is strikingly similar to the Minnesota, Births and Christenings Index, 1840-1980. I could find no similar birth records between the years 1880 and 1900 that would fit with being Emmett being born as one Minnesota's African-American native sons just like Prince. It could all be coincidental without further research ... but that departing wink was intentional and personal. 


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"If I gave you diamonds and pearls,
Would you be a happy boy or a girl?
If I could I would give you the world,
All I can do is just offer you ..." 
... some great genealogical research gems (tips) to help you when you come across an adoptee ancestor. The obvious challenge is finding your adopted ancestor's biological roots. Will there be sufficient and surviving records? They seem to get scarcer the more we descend back in time. Can DNA testing be helpful? It certainly has helped living adoptees find their biological roots. 

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Minnesota had more than 500 adoptions between 1851 and 1881. Like other states, before legal statutes were instituted many adoptions were not "legal" and often consisted of family members, orphans and others without a biological bond. There is also a small chance a new spouse of a parent legally adopted the child upon marriage. I was sort of lucky because in this Land of 10,000 Lakes the African-American population was relatively small in the 19th century. So Emmett Washington being African-American was actually advantageous for me. Nevertheless when you do find an adopted ancestor in your research here are some useful tips to help you solve the case:

  • Make time lines and profiles for your ancestor's adoptive families and known biological descendants or relatives. Research them as deeply as you can, noting locations, ages, extended family members, employment, marital statuses, race and the other identifiers. 
  • Check the adoptee ancestor's birth-state adoption history and laws. For example, Minnesota in particular has strong privacy laws protecting the interests of the "legal adoption triad"  the child,  biological parents, and adoptive parents. If the adoptive parents moved to or from another state then also research the same there as well.
  • Investigate the locality and surrounding area where the adopted ancestor was born AND raised to see if there still exists old adoption registries, orphanages, group homes, foster parent programs, maternity homes, midwife services, etc. 
  • Determine if the adoption was legal or formal. Adoptions noted in older genealogical records may not have been legal, and the state laws of the time may not have warranted any documentation or legal proof of  such an adoption.
  • Determine if existing adoption records were open (unsealed) or closed (sealed), and if  the state's statute of limitations for unsealing information on adoptees has expired. By state law Minnesota birth records are considered private for 100 years from date of birth. So today you may be able lucky enough to obtain legal records and information on your adoptee ancestor.
  • See if you can obtain a copy of the original and amended birth certificates (if either exists). Note some original birth records omit the names of the child (if one was given) or parents (as in cases of child abandonment cases).
  • Ask local hospitals if they have any old records or non-personal identifying information for the time period your adopted ancestors was born. If the hospital no longer exists then find out where this information could be archived. 
  • Search old baptismal, sacramental, Christening, and other religious records (ie Roman Catholic, Dutch Reformed records), which often have excellent information on childbirths and parental information from the past. 
  • Explore genealogical repositories, dedicated societies, libraries, civic records, court houses, and genealogical research sites (ie,, for information on your adopted ancestor.
  • Join online social networks like Facebook genealogical groups (ie DNA Detectives, Rootsweb Genealogists, Native American Ancestry ExplorerAfriGeneas African American Genealogy) to meet other people who may be able assist you with you search or looking for the same adopted ancestor.
  •  Consider reputable fee-based genealogical search services (ie LegacyTree Genealogists). 
  • Try to DNA test (ie AncestryDNA, 23andMe, FamiltyTreeDNA) the adoptee ancestor's biological descendants and living relatives. By corresponding with your adopted ancestor's DNA-tested descendants/relatives and exploring their genetic matches yas well as utilize such genetic genealogy techniques as triangulation and chromosome mapping, may help you solve the puzzle and further build your family tree.
Since this blog is a short dive and Emmett Washington represents a collateral line of my family, I've only performed limited research. Therefore I haven't been able to find more information regarding Emmett Washington or of his suspected biological roots. I'd have to do tremendously more digging to unlock the mystery of Emmett's past. So my hypotheses are speculative at best for now. However I will continue my investigation on great-granduncle-in-law Emmett once I come into contact with his relatives or descendants like his son Johnson Washington (my cousin). For  those of you with adoptee ancestors in your direct line of descent, I encourage you to liberally utilize the tips I offered. But wait, the party's not over yet ... 

"Do I believe in god, do I believe in me? Some people want to die so they can be free... ."  I began to wonder just how early African-Americans migrated to Minnesota and under what circumstances. I also wanted to know about the adversities they suffered.  Minnesota was originally inhabited by the indigenous  Dakota and  Ojibwe/Anishinaab  populations. It was created from the eastern half of the Minnesota Territory and admitted as the 32nd (and free) state on May 11, 1858, just before the outbreak of the US Civil War. 

Well it turns out African-Americans went to Minnesota even before it joined the Union. According to Morris Human Rights Commission (MHRC) of Morris, Minnesota, African-American families historically settled such areas as the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul), Duluth, Fergus Falls, Faribault, Stillwater, Aitkin County, and Redwood Falls. They fled there seeking employment and business opportunities as well as a new life free of institutional bondage. The MHRC Web site says:
"African Americans have been living in Minnesota since the early 1800s, fifty years before we became a state. Some of the state's earliest black Americans were fugitive slaves who escaped up the Mississippi River to Minnesota. About 104 black men from Minnesota served in the Civil War. In 1868, following the war, the state granted black men the right to vote."

Here is some other snapshots of Minnesota's early African-Americans:
George Bonga,
  • George Bonga (August 20, 1802 – 1880), according to Wikipedia, was "a fur trader of African-American and Ojibwe descent, and one of the first African Americans born in what is now Minnesota. He was the second son of Pierre Bonga and an Ojibwe  mother. His father, Pierre was the son of Jean and Marie-Jeannette Bonga, slaves who had been brought to the fort on Mackinac Island by their master, Captain Daniel Robertson, a British officer who commanded it from 1782 to his death in 1787. The couple were freed at his death and legally married. Bonga and his wife opened the first hotel on the island.  George was schooled in Montreal, Canada, becoming fluent in French as well as Ojibwe and English. He later became a fur trader and interpreter. He was noted in Minnesota for being, as his brother Stephen claimed, 'One of the first two black children born in the state.' Stephen also described them as 'the first white children' born there, as the Ojibwe classified everyone who was non-native as 'white.' "[You can read more about George Bonga here]. Hey, did you notice that Bonga was born on the 20th of the month, just like my great-granduncle Emmett W. Washington? 
  • A photo three African-American women at the Minnesota State Fair in 1903. They are dressed quite elegantly: Three African-American in Minnesota State Fair, 1903
  • A photo of an African-American man, dapper in a top hat and standing on wooden soapbox using a hand-puppet at the Minnesota State Fair in 1903. He must be good as he has an audience [of white men] before him: 
Library of Congress, African-American in top hat in Minnesota State Fair
  • African-American in Sports. According to the Negro Leagues Store online, "Although Minnesota never hosted a major Negro League ball club and was home to a decidedly small black population, the history of  touring 'barnstorming' black baseball teams in Minnesota is as rich as anywhere in America. From the late 1800's to the late 1940's, teams such as the St. Paul Colored Gophers (below) captivated fans of all colors. In 1909, the Colored Gophers defeated what was considered to be the most powerful Negro baseball team, the Chicago Leland Giants."
Caption for St. Paul Colored Gophers; photo above: Back row (standing), left to right: uncertain, uncertain, catcher Chappie Johnson, Phil E. “Daddy” Reid, shortstop Felix Wallace, William Binga, and Bobby Marshall; front row, left to right: Sherman “Bucky” Barton, Art McDougal, uncertain, William McMurray, and uncertain. The names of the four players not identified are Julius Londo, Robert Garrison, Archie Pate, and Eugene Milliner. [Source: Negro League Store]

Of course the land of 10,000 lakes is not without its tragedies with regard to African-American living  there in the 19th and early 20th centuries. One of those unfortunate and infamous events happened in the city of Duluth:
According to Wikipedia:
"On June 15, 1920, when three African American circus workers, Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie were attacked and lynched by a mob in Duluth, Minnesota . Rumors had circulated that six African Americans had raped and robbed a teenage girl. A physician's examination subsequently found no evidence of rape or assault. Although a few convictions for crimes related to the events were obtained, no one was ever punished for the murders."

  • In 2003 the city of Duluth, Minnesota, erected a memorial to the honorable men, who were savagely lynched:
Carol M. Highsmith - Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Collection

"When a rocket ship explodes and everybody still wants to fly
But some say a man ain't happy unless a man truly dies"
Sign O' the Times, Prince
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  1. TL, this was a very good read and very close to home for me as I am the Great-Grandson of an adopted son who I just recently learned was born in Dallas (Sallis), Attala County, Mississippi. Your vivid details and research provideo not only documented as well as validated proof, but you are teaching us all to think outside of the box! Thank You and I am now going to look at my Great-Grandfather's adopted family with more of a magnifying glass to see what turns up now. Awesome post!

  2. What a wonderful read! So entertaining yet so well documented. I really enjoyed and a great lesson in research for all of us in the process in the mysteries of searching for adoptee records and additional resources as well! Thank you!!!

  3. Brilliantly written guided information, about such a vital component of genealogical service and research. ~a grand purple salute. #workingmylines