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14 Wharfside Street — Charleston, SC 29401
Sep 06, 2018
Have you ever found yourself researching a person with a common name? One time I was helping someone research her family history at the South Caroliniana Library in Columbia, South Carolina. We located her ancestor’s will, and she was browsing through. When she got to where the enslaved that her family owned was listed, she called me over to take a look at what shocked her. The page was full of names of the enslaved, any every one of them had the same name. African Americans have a hard time when it comes to research.
I thought about what names they eventually took. I wondered if some of them kept their original name. I was reminded of that experience when I decided to search for John Drayton. Then, I thought about how a first name and surname for us does not mean the same for us as it does to other people. Our ancestor might have taken the name of a former owner or they may have assumed a different name because they had to have one. We cannot follow the fact that having a certain surname means that we lived in a certain place.
I wanted to find John Drayton who was born in 1850 and was married to Maria. They had children Katie, Anne, Nancy, Julia, and John. They could have had more children than that, and Maria died early leaving her husband who might have remarried.
Each person named John Drayton that I searched includes his age, when he was born, and the census year. When I found him, I highlighted the entry in yellow.
I looked for them first in 1930. Here are three John Drayton’s but not the John that I wanted.
John Drayton 30, 1870, 1930
John Drayton 35, 1895, 1930
John Drayton 47, 1883, 1930
I next tried the 1920 Census, but none of them were old enough to be the John I was looking for.
John Drayton 35, 1885, 1920
John Drayton 41, 1879, 1920
John Drayton 40, 1880, 1920
John Drayton 50, 1870, 1920
John Drayton 17, 1903, 1920
The highlighted one has me confused. John is without his wife and is listed as a widower, but the children have the correct names. The ages of the children are not right though so I am not ready to accept this one. What do you think?
John Drayton 50, 1860, 1910
John Drayton 12, 1888, 1910
John Drayton 33, 1867, 1910
John Drayton 22, 1888, 1910
Let’s look for more records for John and Maria between 1900 and 1910, to see if we can find more information that will help us sort out which of the John Draytons in the census is the one we’re looking for.
I found a death certificate for Maria Drayton, who died in 1908. The death certificate for Maria says she was living at 5 Strawberry, and it has her down as colored. That is about all they filled out on this death certificate. No parents are listed. I do want to make out what the cemetery name is so I can check for other family members.
In the 1906 Charleston City Directory, there’s a John F. Drayton and Marie living at 5 Strawberry. This is the same address as what was on Marie’s death certificate. We see that John was listed with the occupation of carpenter:
The additional information I gathered about John and Maria (Maria’s death, their address and John’s occupation) leads me to think that although the children’s ages on the census record are not correct, this likely is a record for the John Drayton family I am looking for.
I am sure this is John Drayton and his whole family. Marie is alive. We also see the address of Strawberry Lane, and John is listed as a carpenter:
John Drayton 51, 1848, 1900
John Drayton 33, 1867, 1900
The family is very young here. They are not old enough to appear on the 1870 Census. Cuffee is the brother to John, and he would be with his parents at about three years old in 1870.
John Drayton 9, 1871, 1880
John Drayton 30, 1850, 1880
John Drayton 11, 1869, 1880
John Drayton 25, 1855, 1880
I could not find John Drayton or Cuffe living in 1870. I did find a birth record for Nancy in 1879.
When searching for individuals with common names, you have to research other records to find your ancestor in more places. The census is just the beginning. The additional documents I found above helped me to narrow down the correct census record for the John Drayton I was seeking. Once you exhaust online resources you will have to go to where your ancestor lived and exhaust the resources there. Then figure out where the homestead was. Take oral histories of the elderly people who knew your family from schools, neighborhoods, work, churches, and clubs.
Here are a few extra places that may hold valuable clues:
After you go through the places I suggested, go back to the census and see if you have learned enough about your ancestor to find him in the missing census years. Can you trace back to your ancestor’s parent? Can you trace them forward to find cousins? Remember, everything you find will lead you to something else. Come over to our Facebook Group and let us know how you are doing or if you need more ideas.
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