After reuniting with my family, we continued to explore our relationship by comparing stories and research. The connection with the Sterlings never appeared to be more than that of in-laws (i.e., Jeff’s father, Virgil and his relationship with my great-great grandmother, Lizzie Williams), but this fascinating document seemed to paint a slightly different picture.
I must preface my commentary about this 1880 Census Record with the fact that I studied this document for 5 years and never noticed what I’m about to tell you. Remember, when I first interviewed my great-grandmother, Essie, she spoke of her father George Taylor and his parents, Nelson, Jr. & Martha Taylor. Since finding the Sterlings was such a long shot, I focused on the Taylors. I found this record showing Nelson, Jr.’s parents, Nelson, Sr. & “Lytha (aka “Lifie,” Lilly” & “Lettie”) on lines 19 & 20. Notice Cecille Bryant and four of her children (Carey, Voltaire, Linda & Chris on lines 3-7.
Shortly after this, I found the marriage records for both father and son and discovered Lytha’s maiden name was “Bryant” & Martha’s was “Morgan.” At the time, I suspected there was a connection between Lytha & Cecille Bryant, but I wasn’t sure so I focused on what I knew–the Taylors. As my cousin, Shawn, can attest to, the Morgans completely overwhelmed me so I left that up to her.
After finding the Sterlings in August of 2011, this 1880 U.S. Federal Census record took on a whole new meaning.
This record (West Feliciana Parish, 4th Ward, District 199, Page 58, image 22 of 24) lists many relatives across several families (Morgans, Bryants, Sterlings, Taylors, etc).
On lines 4-6, Carey, Voltaire & Linda are listed as “Bryants” by mistake—they are actually “Stirlings” listed under their mother, Cecille’s, maiden name due to the fact that they were fathered by Lewis Stirling, Jr., son of the Wakefield Plantation’s owner and his wife, Lewis Stirling and Sarah Turnbull, as illustrated on Virgil Stirling’s death record (below).
Virgil Sterling’s Death Record
In addition, all subsequent census records list them as “Stirlings,” yet, their mother maintains her maiden name until the time of her death on Dec 15, 1920. In a recent conversation with my cousin, Kirk, great grandson of Virgil, he disclosed that his research suggests that Lewis Stirling was “never married.” Could this be because the nature of her relationship with Lewis was more than slave & owner? One can only speculate…
Third, lines 13-18 show Sarah Ann Lee, sister of Nelson Taylor, Jr and daughter of Nelson Taylor, Sr. & Lytha, along with her children–Rosa, Washington, Louisa, Kitty & Letty.
Lastly, next door to Sarah, are her parents, Nelson, Sr., & Lytha Taylor.
Of course, the first clue that caught my attention was Cecille & Lytha having the same maiden last name. Are they related? Cecille Bryant’s death records states that her father was “Virgil Bryant.” No death record is available for Lytha. My suspicion is that she died prior to 1900 when statewide death records were not recorded. Only New Orleans kept records prior to 1900.
What is known through the collective research of Shawn, Kirk and my cousin, Patricia Bayonne-Johnson (2nd great-granddaughter of Nelson & Martha), is that Lewis Sterling kept a register of births for all slaves on Wakefield Plantation and all these names and more were mentioned. My cousin, Patricia, wrote a wonderful blog detailing our tree from information contained in “The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom – 1750-1925,” a book by Herbert G. Gutman originally published in 1976. Gutman used the register as a source for some of his information. Kirk discovered the same register at the LSU Library among the Stirling Family Papers in the Summer of 2012. The registry uncovers that Cecille Bryant (b. 17 Jan 1833) & Martha Morgan (b. 8 Jul 1851) were half-sisters, born to Linda Weathers Morgan (b. 1815).
Martha is my 3rd great grandmother, thus, Virgil Stirling and his brothers & sisters would be Martha’s nieces & nephews. My great grandmother Essie Taylor and her half-brother Jeff were also 2nd cousins!!!
It was hard to wrap my mind around this for awhile, but the evidence was confirmed through DNA research. Utilizing DNA technology through 23andme.com, a privately held personal genomics and biotechnology that provides rapid genetic testing, our family discovered the genetic matches between Voltaire Stirling’s grandson, Voltaire Sterling, and my cousins Michael Taylor, Shawn Taylor, Patricia Bayonne-Johnson & Kirk Young. Kirk & Voltaire are the only ones directly descending from Cecille. Their genetic connection was expected, but to Taylors as well??? The common ancestor is Linda Weathers Morgan, however, we are still exploring the possibility of another common ancestor among the Cecille Bryant & Lytha Bryant.
On December 3, 2011, my cousin Karen Galloway, 3rd great-grandaughter to Nelson Taylor, Jr.’s sister, France (Taylor) Irvine, made an incredible discovery in the National Archives database of the Freedmen’s Bureau records. She found a labor contract dated January 1, 1867, with freedmen (sharecroppers) on a plantation known as “Mulberry Hill.” This was less than two years after the Civil War ended. The contract listed several family members:
The contract was approved and signed at the bottom of the page by Lewis Stirling. One last tidbit of information: In Part I of this blog I wrote about meeting Vernadette Taylor, great-granddaughter of Virgil Sterling She introduced me to Iantha Hutchinson, great-granddaughter of Virgil’s brother, Voltaire. His son, Voltaire, Jr., migrated from Louisiana to Oakland, California. He lived in a house next door to Sacred Heart Elementary School’s kindergarten playground and he passed away in 1978. I attended Sacred Heart from K-8. I was in kindergarten from 1977-1978. Small World.
Update: On July 4, 2013, my dad, Shawn Taylor and I were physically reunited with the Sterlings for the first time in 53 years. It was one of the most emotional days of my life!