Thursday, December 13, 2007

Waiting for results

I've sent away for marriage records for Houston, and am hoping they will divulge some sort of magical information about the Spickernagel and Bass families.

I recently found out this year that my 4G-grandmother, Sarah Anne, whose maiden name I believed to be Compton, was actually Sarah Anne Bass. She was born around 1839 in Houston, Texas, and her mother Anna was born in 1813 in North Carolina (at least according to Anna's listing in the census. For some reason her daughters continued to place her as being born in Tennnessee in the census. Anna does list her parents as being born in Tennessee, however). She had a sister named Mary Jane who was born in 1842 in Houston as well.

Sarah Anne married Ira Compton in 1853 (She must've been really young!), but something must have happened to him, because she married a second time to Phillip A. Spickernagle in 1855. All I know about Phillip is that he was most likely born in Memphis, Tennessee around 1835, and held occupations as a painter, a steam boat mate, and then a steam boat captain by 1880. His father was John Michael Spickernagle of Philadelphia, and his mother was Mary Jane Davis, who according to Phillip's census listing was born in Georgia. I know nothing about Ira Compton.

What is interesting about Sarah Anne is her unknown ethnic background. In the 1870 Census, she is listed with her husband Phillip and her children, and they are all considered by the census taker to be white. But living just next door is her mother Anna and her sister Mary Jane. Mary Jane is distinctly listed as "mulatto," and her mother is too, though it looked like the census-taker initially wrote "W," but had a change of heart, adding a line to make the "W" an "M." Anna and Mary Jane are listed as "serving." I could bypass this as an odd little error on the part of the census taker, but because of some other curious facts, I find this anomaly hard to dismiss.

I never saw many pictures of my great-grandmother until a few months ago. My mom had told me a story about her though. Sometime in the 1950s she was asked to move to the back of a New Oreans city bus because the driver thought she was black. From what I hear, my great-grandma was pretty angry about that. I wondered why someone would make such a big supposition about someone's race without some good reason, and so I tried to pry deeper into my great-grandma's ancestry. I asked my mom if she had ever heard anything from her grandmother about her family, and the only thing my mother could remember was something about "black Dutch." What a loaded term. She also related to me that her grandmother's father had had dark eyes and dark curly hair, and her grandmother's mother was pale and red-headed. With all of these inconclusive snippets of information in the back of my mind, I began to research her background with censuses, LDS website records, and trees posted by distant relatives. This is the picture that emerged. My great-grandmother's maternal family had nothing particularly strange to be found. They were Mississippi people with names like Griffing, Flowers, Jacobs and Johnson. The Jacobs line could be traced back to Massachusetts, and the others, though largely inconclusive, showed no particularly strange ethnic attributes. On the paternal side of her family, I found that her father's father's father was from Prussia (don't know where in Prussia yet) and her father's father's mother was Alsatian. And so I turned my attention to the family of her paternal grandmother, the Spickernagles. It would make sense if the ethnic ambiguity was part of her paternal line, considering the dark eyes and hair that my mother pointed out as being her grandmother's father's defining features (and though I have never seen a picture of him, I can largely verify this by way of his WWI draft registration card. His hair is listed as black, and his eyes dark brown). Somewhere in this period, I finally saw a number of pictures of my great-grandmother, and I must say, I'm not completely baffled by the bus drivers assessment. I can say the same about her sisters and her brother. If these looks had been relegated to only one family member, I might ignore it, but because these darker looks were to be found in her siblings as well...well, what is going on here, exactly?

And so research ensued on the Spickernagles. Now, I had actually done some research on this family before this point in time, but what I had found only really pertained to the Spickernagle line, and not to the female line. My great-grandmother's grandmother's name was Mary J. Spickernagle. She was born in Houston in about 1861. Her father, as I mentioned before, had family from Pennsylvania and Georgia. But in this initial research, I had come to a halt on the line of her mother. This was due to the fact that I'd had her maiden name wrong all along. Sarah Anne Compton was really Sarah Anne Bass, but now what? Well, I found this whole mulatto thing in the census, and now I'm left wondering and waiting. Sarah Anne is probably the missing link in this ethnic quandry, and all I know of her is her mother's first name and her father's last. Her father must have died between 1842 and 1850, because he is never in the Harris county census. I'm not sure where exactly he was born. His daughters Sarah Anne and Mary Jane have listed Tennessee and Arkansas on separate occations, and so I'm left up a creek. Unless those marriage records I requested turn out to be gold. As I mentioned before though, it is most likely that Anna was indeed born in North Carolina, and so the question arises, how did she get from North Carolina to Texas? I may have found a clue of sorts.

In the 1850 census of Harris county, Anna and her two daughters are living in the same household as Eliza Peak or Peck, b. 1812 and her children. Eliza is husbandless as well, and she was born around the same time as Anna in North Carolina, and so a possible connection is warranted. Let's just imagine for a moment that Eliza and Anna came from the same place and moved to Texas together. Eliza has four children, one of whom was born in Georgia in 1832. Her next child listed wasn't born until 1842, so we know that for some reason, the family moved from North Carolina to Georgia by 1832, and from Georgia to Texas sometime after. Now let's assume that Eliza and Anna moved their families together. They would have left Georgia and arrived in Texas between 1832 and 1839. Eliza's last child was born around 1844, and so her husband must have died about that time. Are there connections between their husbands deaths? Did they move together, and was their a reason for their quick migration pattern? I, of course, don't know, but these are things I have considered in trying to configure an ethnic background for the Bass's.

The Bass's were listed as white in 1880, white by default (blank race column means "white," I assume?) in 1850, mulatto in 1870, and are not to be found in 1860. Like I said, I would pass this off as a census-taker fluke, if it weren't for the stories and the looks of my great-grandmother and her family. But I don't think it is a fluke. Still, until I recieve records about these ancestors, I can't make many moves. I feel like I've exhausted all easy possibilities and hit a brick wall. Hopefully the archives will send me something before Christmas, and hopefully these marriage records will be as good as the ones I've seen for my Wisconsin family!


mardoogle said...

Great post! Thanks for sharing..


Thrifty Cheapskate said...

Great post , wish you would update and let us know how it turned out.

maryjane said...

I thought you might be interested in a new Genealogy TV series called The Generations Project. Its on Monday nights at 8pm Mtn Time on BYU Television.

If you don't have the channel, you can watch in online at

It's really cool, you should check it out.

Jickis said...

Hello there!

Great post!I'd like to suggest a site for those who want to start their family research:

test said...

I recently began searching for my lost brother. When we were 7 years old (we're 34 now), we became separated due to family issues. After entering my 20's, I began searching for him but the resources were scarce and quickly exhausted. Finally this year I revisited this search and found a website that aided me in every way possible. Biological Finder is a site where you can enter your information, enter who you are looking for, your last name or names, etc..., and other people signed up can see that you're searching for them, and you can see others searching for you. As fate would have it, my brother had luckily found this site a couple months earlier and like magic, we were re-united. This is a great service that I think anyone who is looking for a lost family member should explore.

Steve said...

Another resource that has just "opened up" in a big way is genealogy books in ebook format.

Amazon recently introduced its Kindle Unlimited program, which allows you to borrow and read as many Kindle ebooks as you like, for $9.95 a month. I wonder if genealogists have grasped what a godsend KU may be. Here's why:

In the genealogy section of the Kindle ebook store on Amazon, along with the how-to-climb-your-family-tree books, there's a huge number of reference and raw-data collections, from histories of specific families to ships' records, newspaper abstracts, etc. The problem with such books in the past has been that you didn't know until after you purchased one (whether a print or a digital copy) if it contained information relevant to your own research.

With Kindle Unlimited, this pig-in-a-poke problem vanishes.

Here's what you could do to further your research without gambling on books that may or may not have anything of use in them (to you). With a Kindle Unlimited subscription, you could borrow ten genealogy ebooks (the maximum allowed at one time). Then you could flip through them, or use your Kindle device's search feature, to find any information of use to you. If you don't find anything, then you can simply return them and borrow ten more.

I know that these days, there are tons of information for ancestor hunters available for free or for a subscription fee at the dedicated genealogy websites such as

But there's still a lot of data locked up in various small-press books and books by individuals writing their own family's story. Kindle Unlimited gives us genealogists a virtually cost-free way to unlock those books -- at least the ones that have been committed to ebook format (and you might be surprised how many there are).

By the way, you don't even need a Kindle device to read Kindle books. You can download a free Kindle reading app for your smartphone or laptop that will do the trick. (Also BTW, I do NOT work for Amazon.)