By Minnie K. Peebles
Both of my grandparents were enslaved until emancipation. My father only knew that his father was named Lewis Keith and that his mother was Susan Green. His mother (Susan) told him that his grandfather Green was a minister in Wake County and belonged to a family named Green. The tradition was that Grandfather Green’s master allowed him to perform marriage ceremonies for the enslaved on the plantation. Preacher Green memorized the ceremony and had the couple jump over a broom. Preacher Green could read and write, but he kept it a secret from his master.
What I had learned to this point was from oral history and tradition which had to be authenticated (documented). Following the rule given above to trace only one family line at a time, I chose to begin with the Keith line. (paternal)
I started with myself and entered my own name, birth date, and names of my parents and siblings. I located my father’s age and date of birth in the family Bible. Next, I checked the 1880 census for Wake County and found Lewis Keith and Susan G. Keith. In the 1870 census I found Lewis Keith, twenty years old, living with his mother, Rachel Keith, and with his grandmother, Hannah Keith.
My curiosity was up. I wanted to know where this boy Lewis Keith came from. As a result, I began reading Wake County wills and estate records for the surname Keith. I found that that a George Keith of Wake County had willed Lewis, five years old, to his son Lemuel Keith in 1853.
Now, I needed to know where Lewis was in 1860, so I checked the slave schedules for the 1860 census and found a Lemuel Keith owning a boy that matched Lewis’ age. In George Keith’s estate records, I found a petition which listed all of his enslaved along with their ages. Lewis was five years old; Rachel, his mother, was nineteen; Harvey, Lewis’ uncle, was twenty-one; and Hannah, Lewis’ great grandmother, was born about 1809.
My grandparents, Lewis Keith and Susan Green Keith were married in 1874 at Reverend Larry Green’s house, according to the Wake County marriage register.
I found Susan Keith listed in the Warden of the Poor Records for Wake County as receiving a bushel of corn in 1885.
Uncle Harvey, my great-great uncle, died on April 1, 1935. He was 108 years old. I remembered hearing him say once that his father was named Mackland Ward, but I have been unable to verify that. I am now in the process of checking for surname Ward in the Wake County deeds, wills and estate records, and praying that I’ll soon find a clue connecting my great-great uncle Harvey with the Ward family name. I suspect that George Keith purchased my ancestors from someone named Ward.
About the author
(Until retirement, Mrs. Minnie Keith Peebles was an archivist with the Archives and Records Section of the North Carolina Division of Archives and History, Raleigh, NC.)