At the reunion, as is typical of many other multi-generational gatherings, the men and boys went out to the yard while the women and girls crowded in the kitchen and dining room. While folks were "resting up" after the bountiful family meal, the conversation turned to family stories. You know the kind -- those stories designed to educate the young about how "our family" survived, prospered, suffered, and loved, as we chased the American Dream. It was then that Cousin Doris casually mentioned, "We used to be Porters ..."
These cousins were Edwards, the children and grandchildren of George Elizar Edwards and first wife Cora Kitchens and second wife Zenobia Hempstead. George's sister Lula married Lucius "Bud" Kitchens while brother Hosie married Blanche Kitchens. Three Edwards siblings married three Kitchens siblings, producing a slew of double-first cousins (not the first time for our extended Edwards-Kitchens-Abrams family, but that's a story for another time).
George, Lula, and Hosie were the children of James Archer Edwards Sr. (left) and Margaret Harris (right), both born in Georgia in the early 1840s. Lula and husband Bud Kitchens were my great grandparents.
When Cousin Doris blurted out that "We used to be Porters, but then something happened and Papa Jim changed our name to Edwards," all conversation stopped. Doris had our attention as she explained how, as a young child, she had slipped behind her father's big chair and remained hidden as the menfolk discussed family matters, including the part about being Porters. Doris was the baby of the family and so, could slip unnoticed just about anywhere. We clamored for more but that was all Cousin Doris could remember.
As the family historian, I pocketed that information, filing it away in the recesses of my brain only to be taken out and dusted several years later when I received Papa Jim's death certificate. Imagine my surprise when the informant (Papa Jim's son-in-law Willie Abrams) reported that Hugh Porter was James' father.
There it was -- Papa Jim's daddy was a Porter!
But when did the family become Edwards? Why did we become Edwards? And why Edwards?
Papa Jim was born about 1842 in Georgia and died 1924 in Arkansas. Given his light complexion, we presume his putative father Hugh Porter was white. The lack of a name for Jim's mother seems to imply that she probably was a slave -- regardless, it's clear that she was not someone about whom he had discussed with his children. Perhaps he did not know his mother.
Could there be others who went from Porter to Edwards? Among the neighbors whose offspring would later marry the Edwards kids, grandkids, etc., was John Porter, a "white" farmer from Georgia who, with wife Elvira, appeared to have arrived in Arkansas before 1860, based on the Arkansas birth of their eldest child. Surprisingly, in 1880 and later censuses, John, Elvira, and family were enumerated as mulatto or Negro. Three additional households in 1870 had Porters born in Georgia -- all were negro. Could this John Porter be a brother to James? John appears to have died before 1920 although it is likely that he died before 1914 as he does not appear in the index to Arkansas deaths that begin in 1914. The search for a death record with the hopes of identifying parents for John has so far proven unsuccessful.
Why Edwards? In 1870, Columbia County, Arkansas was home to six Edwards families headed by at least one adult born in Georgia. All of these families -- except James and Margaret -- were white. None of the Edwards families listed in 1840 and 1850 Hall County, Georgia, were slaveowners. The search for a connection between the Porters and Edwards has so far proven unsuccessful.
The Search for Hugh Porter
Surprisingly, a search of Georgia census records for 1840 and 1850 revealed only one adult white male named Hugh Porter. Hugh was born in 1786 in Pickens County, South Carolina, and secured land in Hall County, Georgia through the Cherokee Land Lottery. He died less than a month before the 1860 census in neighboring Forsythe County, where several of his children had moved. A quick review of the 1830, 1840, and 1850 censuses indicates that Hugh held no slaves. Yet, there was one Porter slaveowner in 1850 and 1860 Hall County -- Benjamin Franklin "B.F." Porter, a possible nephew or cousin of Hugh -- and he owned young black males of the ages to be Papa Jim and John Porter. At best, a possible lead. At worst, a red herring.
And Then There's DNA
Reluctantly, I decided to add Hugh Porter (son of Philip Porter and Mary Ann Smith), to my Ancestry tree as the alleged father for my James Edwards. In short order, AncestryDNA found two matches whose trees show they descend from Hugh's sister Elizabeth. These Shared Ancestor Hints looks at people in your tree from whom you directly descend (such as Hugh Porter, father to James Edwards) and finds DNA matches with others with whom you have an ancestor in common (such as Hugh and Elizabeth's parents). Imagine my happy dance -- finally, DNA proof that this Hugh Porter was indeed related to Papa Jim.
That dance proved premature as it appears that my three Edwards cousins (including Cousin Doris' daughter) who've tested in Ancestry, do NOT match these two ladies, nor do these Porter descendants appear to match each other. Wait, it gets better. Despite these two Porter descendants not seeming to match one another, when I looked at the shared matches of the matches I individually share with these Porters, I find my mother! But she does not match the Porters. Did I forget to mention that the Porters and Edwards are along my father's line? And no, my parents ancestral lines do not overlap -- only one maternal 2nd great grandparent hailed from the south, all the rest were Virginians who went to Oho, then Missouri, then Denver. My paternal ancestors all hailed from Georgia who migrated to Arkansas just before or just after the Civil War.
Were we once Porters? Likely, but perhaps not to this line of Hugh Porter. Why did we become Edwards and not Keith or Harris? What happened to prompt this name change? We may never know but isn't half the fun of doing genealogy is trying to answer such questions?
Next steps will focus on reconciling family memories with paper records and supported by DNA. Moving forward, we'll need to:
- Find out how and when James and Margaret met and married
- Dive deeper into the records and origins of the negro Porter and white Edwards families living in 1870 Columbia County.
- Examine DNA results, including a chromosome comparison, as well as triangulation via Gedmatch.
Hopefully, at a future family reunion, we'll be able to say, "I remember when Cousin Doris told us how she heard that we used to be Porters ... and here's what happened."