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14 Wharfside Street — Charleston, SC 29401
Jan 09, 2019
When you conduct African American genealogy, you must
consult oral history interviews, those you took and ones that exist before you
began. I would be remiss if I claimed to do all this research on my own. On the
Johnson-Vance side of my family, I was very fortunate to get to know the family
Frank Gilbert (1934-1999) from Florence, South Carolina. I did not know him
in this life, but I feel as if I have picked up the search for our great
grandparents on both sides Beverly and Matilda Dunlap
Vance and Andrew and
Senator Gilbert became the first African American to become
a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives from Florence district.
He served six years then in 1988 he became the first African American to be
elected to the Senate from Florence. He was an avid family history researcher.
He definitely saw himself in the life of Beverly Vance
(1832-1899) as he researched him and the riots of 1876. “This is evidence that high levels were
manifested in the great great grandfather, Beverly, a Black Republican, and…Representative
(Major) J. K. Vance, a White Democrat, during the Nineteenth Century and showed
itself again in the late Twentieth Century, 1982, with Frank being elected to
the House of Representatives and later to the S. C. Senate in 1988,” wrote Senator
Jane Smith Johnson
I would like to focus on one part of his oral history that explains what he discovered about our 2nd great grandmother, Jane Smith Johnson McCoy:
The most significant findings come as a result of family
members sharing what they remember first hand. Some are deceased now. During an
interview with William Louis
Johnson conducted by James Martin Wall, another Johnson-Vance cousin, and
myself, Bill shared with us the fact that there was a definite connection the
Johnson descendants and the Smith Plantation in Laurens County, South Carolina.
He also alluded to the belief that was passed down that the Johnson’s are
somehow related to a friend of the family, Reverend
Ulysses Rice Jr. of Washington, DC now deceased.
With Martin’s encouragement, I researched plantation owners
in Laurens County with the surname of Smith. I could not find a connection. We
decided I should trace the ancestry of Rev. Rice. Rev. Rice shared an interview
done by Pat Whitehead. Using census records, I was able to document the
ancestors of Rev. Rice.
Mary Smith are the great grandparent of Rev. Rice. I traced each of their
children and even the enslaver, John Skinner Smith, who moved Abbeville County and
settled in Laurens County, SC. I still
had no definite connection between the Smith’s and the Johnson’s. Even the
memories of those who would know has faded, so I put my research to the side.
Before 2009 while visiting with Lois and her family, Frank
Jr. and Lois shared with me two letters which Senator Frank Gilbert had
acquired as he researched the Johnson-Vance family. One letter was written by
my grandfather, Emory Wallace
Vance, Sr. in 1972. I had never seen
The purpose for his letter to Katharine
Johnson Holland was to try find out certain Smith family members who he had
been corresponding with in Laurens County, but was no longer having success
reaching. He mentions several of the descendants of Henry Smith and he also
explains to Katharine that Henry Smith is the brother of Jane, his grandmother!
The other letter shared with me was written by Katherine in
1995 to Frank Gilbert, Sr. In the letter, she explains that she tried to locate
the Smith relative who my grandfather was trying to get in touch with. She also
explains that Ernest Vance,
Sr. was the person who originally explained to her how the Smith’s were
connected and the name of the enslaver.
I instantly remembered that Rev. Lafayette Frankin Vance was the informant for his wife, Lula Johnson Vance, upon her death. Her death certificate names her mother, Jane Smith. Jane would have probably carried the surname of Smith until her first marriage. Her mother was Katie Smith, and her father was Lewis or Louis Burroughs. Jane was born about 1834, well before her parents would have been allowed to marry. Jane McCoy was Jane Smith Johnson after she married James McCoy after the death of Andrew Johnson:
Words cannot express the gratitude I feel for these interviews and letters which were shared with me. We would not know the connection between Henry Smith and Jane Smith Johnson McCoy in any other way. Oh, if it were not for that grandson who mentioned his grandmother and great uncle and his cousins in a letter before his death.
I hope you all will be inspired to
search through any letters or photographs that you too may have in your
possession which could prove vital in our quest to document our history.
I would like to find the Smith family. My grandfather tried
to contact them again after losing contact with the before he died. They are
Henry Smith’s descendants, my great great grandmother, Jane’s brother. It was
important that family stayed in contact. I will use social media as one way to
Next, I now can search for Jane’s and Henry’s mother. One
way is to search out the records of the enslaver, John Skinner Smith’s plantation.
I have been in this spot many times before, and I have successfully found my
people each time. I have wanted to document Jane’s parents since 1985. All I have is Jane’s death. So here goes.
Do you have an enslaved person whose parents you would like to find? Have you gone back over those old interviews you took? Let us know on our Facebook Group.
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