In July of 2013, I went to the Louisiana State Archives for genealogical research. Fortunately, I happened to run into Judy Riffel, notable Professional Genealogist, Author, Researcher and Lecturer who I met a year or so prior through my cousin, Patricia Bayonne-Johnson.
While looking for information about my ancestors who were slaves on Laurel Hill Plantation, owned by Richard Haile & his wife, Sarah Rucker Haile, Judy helped me discover an incredible five-page document that not only linked me to ancestors I found in the 1870 Census, but also confirmed my relationship with one of my DNA cousins on 23andme.
Judy explained when researching ancestors born during slavery, if you know the name of the slave owner, a great source of information could be a succession, or probate record for the deceased slave owner and/or his/her family members. Prior to the Civil War, slaves were listed as inventory in these records when estimating the value of a person’s estate. Naturally, the only way these records are beneficial to researchers looking for slave names is if the slave owner, or his family members died prior to the end of the Civil War. First, Judy and I checked the 1870 & 1880 Census for the Haile Family, Sarah was not listed in 1870 and in 1880, but Richard was listed as a widower. We found her in 1850, but not 1860 so it was plausible that she died within that decade. We searched the microfilm and found an 1859 West Feliciana Parish Succession Record for Sarah Rucker Haile.
These first 6 images posted are copies from the original microfilm:
These next 6 images are my transcriptions of each page for easier reading:
Near the bottom of page 3, my ancestors are listed starting with my 4th great-grandmother, Julia Lee, and her children: Mary, Jim Tom, Corean & William. One of my 23andme DNA Relatives told me her 2nd great grandfather was named Thomas Lee from West Feliciana Parish. This document confirmed our relationship. Her DNA matched me and several of my known cousins. We are all descendants of Mary Lee.
This 1880 Census now makes more sense to me. At the top, my 4x GGM Julia Lee is listed as head of household (the surname “Lee” is still a mystery to our family). Next is her son Jefferson, a child not listed in the probate, but looking at his age (20 yrs old), she may have been pregnant with him when the probate was recorded. Jefferson is listed as being born in Louisiana by the notation “La,” his father born in South Carolina by the notation “S.C.” and his mother born in Maryland by the notation “Md.” I highlight this fact because it is my strong belief that Richard Haile is Jefferson’s father. On line 25, 5 rows down from Jefferson, is “R. H. Haile,” which is Richard at 83 years old. The census shows he was also born in South Carolina.
In 1992, my great-grandmother told me that her mother, Lizzie, was the daughter of “Colonel Haile.” Studying the Haile family, I know that Richard and his son Richard, Jr. both carried the title of “Colonel” so I can’t say for sure which is her father. There is a possibility that it could be another male Haile child. On Lizzie’s death record, her mother’s (Mary Lee) maiden name is listed as “Hail.” Sadly, this was an unfortunate, yet common occurrence on slave plantations where generations of slave owning males reproduced children with their female slaves. Apparently, Richard fathered all of Julia’s children because all of them list their father as being born in South Carolina.
Thanks to the probate record, I now know that Haile’s daughter who is listed below him, “M.E. Harbour” is Mary Eliza Harbour. Also, the next head of household listed, “M.W. Stewart” and his wife, “A.C.,” are Richard’s daughter (Ann Haile Stewart), son-in-law and their children.
Click here for an internet searchable list of all the slaves’ names in Sarah Rucker Haile’s Succession record for those looking for ancestors in West Feliciana Parish.