Slave's stories: Census records, tombstones reveal a family's roots

Published on Thursday, 19 June 2014 01:39 - Written by



or decades, all Charles Green knew about the Bunkley Cemetery was that it existed.

He said his grandfather told him about it at one time, and as a child he walked with his grandfather through fields to get to the cemetery, which is located in northwest Smith County near the Garden Valley community. But it wasn’t until recently, when he received information about his genealogy from local historian Randy Gilbert, that the 61-year-old learned the extent of his family’s history there.

Gilbert said the Green family history, through matching census records to tombstones, shows a story of slavery to freedom and allows Green to trace their genealogy back two generations before emancipation.

“I knew that it (the cemetery) was here. (However), I didn’t know precisely that the Green family indirectly was so far in this cemetery here in Garden Valley, Texas. Papa didn’t tell me in his lifetime about his grandmother and so on and so forth. … He didn’t know the history of the Green family,” Green said.

The information about his ancestors came to light about a month ago.

Sherry Kidd, archives manager with the Smith County Historical Society, said Gilbert talked with the individual who owns the property around the cemetery and started researching family and going through deeds and records.

Gilbert, who also is an attorney, found out through census reports that Green’s great-great-great-grandmother is the first to be recorded buried at the cemetery. The woman, Ginny Green, was born in 1794.

“Because slave records were so poorly kept, and census records simply gave ages and sexes, to break the Juneteenth barrier to find his family tree before the end of slavery is very, very rare,” Gilbert said. “And the fact that here’s a family that you can take back through … at a time when George Washington was president is truly remarkable.”

According to Gilbert’s research, Ginny Green was born in Virginia and apparently lived there until at least 1835 — the year her son, Reece, was born. She was in Alabama several years later, when another son, Sanders, was born.

“How they came to Texas can only be the subject of speculation,” Gilbert writes. “The Carters were all from Georgia, and the listed ages of the children in the census suggest that they remained in Georgia until they relocated to Texas in 1853.”

But a fact that is known, he wrote, is that by 1870 Reece and Sanders Green lived in the Garden Valley area. Reece lived with his wife, who was born in Mississippi, as well as his mother, Ginny Green.

As far as Sanders, he lived with his wife, Amanda, and sons, who were born in Texas, according to Gilbert’s research. Two other individuals also lived in the household.

“None could read and write, and all males were listed as farm laborers,” Gilbert writes. “What is observed is a small intact family unit, whose two … sons had been born in slavery in 1854 and 1858. It is also apparent, as the mother, Ginny, was living with one of her sons, that this was at least a second generation family as neither Ginny nor her sons, all born into slavery, had ever been separated.”

Charles Green said the majority of the Green family remained in Smith County, in the Lindale and Garden Valley area and had land that was put on record in 1865.

“It meant something that black people could buy a piece of property (and) put it in their name,” he said.

Based on the 1880 Census, Reece and Sanders Green were living in the Garden Valley area, and Reece, 44 at the time, is listed as a farmer rather than a farm laborer, according to Gilbert’s research.

“Apparently his first wife had died, as he is now married to another woman, age 36, who was born in Texas,” Gilbert writes. “Her name cannot be deciphered due to the poor writing. They have a 4-year-old daughter named Lucinda, and Ginny, his (Reece’s) mother, is living with them. None of the adults had learned to read and write.”

According to Gilbert’s research, Sanders at that time was listed as a farmer and lived in a household with his wife, as well as Sam Williams, 24, who was listed as “servant” but likely a hired hand, who knew how to read and write, and Samuel Brown, 17, who was listed as “boarder.”

“The two sons had married and were living in households adjoining their parents. Twenty-four-year-old Isaac is a farmer living with his 24-year-old wife, Clara,” Gilbert writes. “Next door to them is his brother Smith, married to Emmaline, along with their 2-year-old son, George. Smith and Emmaline were also keeping two nieces, Sally and Ida Green, ages 5 and 2, and a ‘step-niece’ whose name and age cannot be deciphered. Two other children whose last name was Brown were listed in the household as ‘boarders.’”

Ginny Green died in 1884 at 90 years old. On her tombstone in the Bunkley Cemetery are the words, “Gone but not forgotten.”

“That means a lot,” Charles Green said Tuesday as he stood by Ginny Green’s grave.

“Some of our roots started right here in Texas. Started in the 1700s and here it is the 2000s — we’re still in Texas. Lots of us are still right here in Texas,” Green added. The Greens aren’t the only family in the Bunkley Cemetery.

There are 10 listed graves at the cemetery: three with the last name Green; two with the last name Presley; three with the last name Taylor; one with the last name Mayberry; and one with the last name Ross, according to Gilbert’s research.

According to the research, the cemetery is on land that was purchased in the 1850s by the Bunkley family, one of multiple families that were slave owners in that area in 1860.

The Hubbard, Carter and Bledsoe families settled between Lindale and Garden Valley during the 1850s, and Richard B. Hubbard Jr., the son of Richard B. Hubbard Sr., who was married to Milton Carter’s sister, ended up becoming governor of Texas, according to the research.