By J. L. Starkey
“History remembers only the celebrated,
genealogy remembers them all.”– Laurence Overmire
I almost didn’t write a 52 Ancestors post for the Long Line prompt.
I told myself that I didn’t know what to write about, but that wasn’t exactly true. In 2019, I wrote about finding my third-great-grandfather, Everett Wingfield Baugh. His ancestors liked to keep things nice and legal when it came to money and property, and their meticulous ways enabled me to trace Everett’s lineage all the way back to William “The Immigrant” Baugh of the Bermuda Hundred region of Colonial Virginia.
Tracing that long line took a little bit of creativity, a little bit of luck, and a lot of hard work. But oh, what an ancestor I found along the way. Everett’s southern roots were “Gone-with-the-Wind-deep,” but he lived a life that didn’t suit him very well, and I suspect that he felt woefully out of place in his traditional southern family.
How could that be? The Baugh family lived the American dream! They persevered, they worked hard, they…wait.
What was this?
I traced that long line with a vision of how things might have been.
But I wasn’t prepared to discover how things really were.
Everett’s Lineage, Finally Revealed
After I concluded that Everett was the son of George Washington Baugh, I reviewed land records, court cases, wills, and DNA matches to determine George’s lineage. Based on that data, I learned that he was the son of John Baugh II, a farmer who died in 1806 . John’s father, John Baugh I, died in 1761 .
John Baugh I was the son of John Baugh, whose will was probated in October 1726 . John was very concise in that 1726 document, perhaps due to the influence of his father, who died in 1687. That man was William Baugh, better known as The Immigrant to his descendants .
In a perfect world, determining my family’s connection to The Immigrant would have been the end of the story. But the records that proved this lineage told a tale that was quite different from the one I expected.
My Baugh ancestors – the settlers, the landowners, the farmers – were also slaveholders.
Clues From Milly
Though George Baugh died intestate around 1848, an 1840 indenture provided insight into his life . According to that document, in exchange for a payment of one dollar, attorney Thomas Miller managed a trust to support George’s family. According to the agreement, items in the trust were “free from all charges against the said Baugh,” but could be sold to support the family .
The first item listed in the agreement, however, was not cash, land, or livestock. Instead, item number one was “one negro woman called Milly.”
“This must be a mistake,” I thought, as I looked at the words in disbelief. “My ancestors didn’t own slaves…did they?”
It’s a question many of us have asked ourselves, and we probably all felt that same sickening feeling when we discovered that the answer was yes.
Suddenly, the narrative changed, and I decided to take a closer look at those court records.
What I discovered was horrifying.
George Baugh’s father was not a struggling Virginia farmer. In reality, John Baugh was a wealthy plantation owner whose estate was valued at over ten thousand dollars at the time of his death.
In his will, John appointed George as plantation superintendent and issued instructions for the distribution of thirty slaves. An appraisal conducted after John’s death assigned monetary values to each enslaved individual, including a young woman named Milly, who was valued at just $100.
It was not the first time I had seen her name, of course, and it would not be the last time. Between 1806 and 1840, Milly would be bought and sold at least three times, and she would later be listed as collateral in that 1840 indenture that would forever alter my perception of the Baugh family.
Tragically, Milly wasn’t alone.
They had names, and stories, and lives…all of them. There was Robin, and there was Abram. There was Nannie, and there was Hampton. There was Lucy and her daughter Charlotte; and Clarissa and her daughter Eliza. There was Aphrica, and Jude, and Kitt.
There was Dafney and her three children: Sally, Billy, and Sam. There was Judah and her three children: Patience, Verina, and Cloe.
And there was Milly, of course.
In all, there were two hundred years’ worth of names in those Baugh records. Think about that for a moment…two hundred years.
For approximately eight generations, an unknown number of individuals were enslaved at the Baugh Plantation. Those individuals were denied their freedom, their choices, and their dreams. For two hundred years, an untold number of human beings were denied the right to live the lives they deserved.
And they had names. Every single one of them.
Taking the Baugh Family Beyond Kin
“Records matter” is a phrase often repeated at the National Archives, and those words resonated with me as I wrote this post. Records do matter, and in genealogy, we tell the stories behind those records…good and bad. It’s easier to write about the good things, but genealogy doesn’t just remember those things.
Genealogy remembers it all.
Still, words eluded me this week. Regardless of what I wrote, I knew that a huge part of the story was still hidden in those records. Was there anything I could do about that?
Donna Cox Baker and Frazine K. Taylor provided the perfect answer to that question . In 2016, they created the Beyond Kin Project to “…encourage and facilitate the documentation of enslaved populations, particularly by recruiting the resources and efforts of the descendants of slaveholders.” According to their website:
“No matter how enlightened we may believe ourselves to be, nothing can elevate that enlightenment like learning to care for the people our records, histories, and genealogies made invisible.”– The Beyond Kin Project
Count me in.
There is a next step, and this year, I will take that step when I begin creating a Beyond Kin family tree for the Baugh Plantation. It will not change the past, of course. Nothing can do that. But it may change the future for descendants who are searching for answers, but instead are finding only brick walls and invisible lines.
I hope you’ll join me on what promises to be a challenging and fascinating journey.
- Virginia, Wills and Probate Records, 1652-1983, Powhatan>Wills, Inventories, and Accounts, Vol 1-3>1777-1811>digital images 393-394 of 690: Will of Baugh, John. Retrieved from ancestry.com. (See also: Powhatan County (Va.) Chancery Causes, 1782-1938. George W Baugh, etc. v. Archibald B Baugh, etc.; and Mutual Assurance Society of Virginia v. George W Baugh, etc., 1909-070. Local Government Records Collection, Powhatan County Court Records. The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.)
- Virginia, Wills and Probate Records, 1652-1983, Henrico>Will Books, Vol. 1-2 1749-1774 > digital images 365-366 of 964: Inventory & Appraisal of John Baugh. Retrieved from ancestry.com.
- Virginia, Wills and Probate Records, 1652-1983, Henrico County Records, 1714-1737 > digital images 212-213 of 548: Will of John Baugh. Retrieved from ancestry.com.
- Virginia, Wills and Probate Records, 1652-1983, Henrico County Records, 1677-1697 > digital image 200 of 650: Will of William Baugh. Retrieved from ancestry.com.
- Powhatan County (Va.) Chancery Causes, 1782-1938. Mutual Assurance Society v. George Baugh, etc. 1848-008. Local Government Records Collection, Powhatan County Court Records. The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.
- Virginia, Wills and Probate Records, 1652-1983, Powhatan > Deeds, Vol. 13-14 > 1834-1841 > digital image 501 of 576: Baugh to Baugh’s Trustees. Retrieved from ancestry.com.
- The Beyond Kin Project. The BKP, https://beyondkin.org/.