William Graham – Alabama

header ato z 2016This is my 4th year participating in the A-Z Challenge.  I am writing about people who were born into slavery and  lived to be free, and their descendants.


My grandfather, Mershell Graham.
My grandfather, Mershell Graham.

My grandfather Mershell C. Graham did not share much information about his childhood and family. He was born in Coosada Station, Alabama about 1888.  He did not know his exact birthday and chose to celebrate Christmas day.  His parents were William and Mary Graham and he had a brother named Bill and a sister named Annie.  Aside from that and a few stories about digging sweet potatoes in the rain and sleeping outside the bedroom door of a little white girl he was servant to, I don’t know anything about his childhood.

After I started researching my family history, I wanted to learn more about my great grandparents. I was able to find Mary Jackson in the 1870 census living with her parents and siblings. So far I have not found William Graham in that census.  In looking for more information, I came across the 1860 Estate records for Judge William A. Graham in Autauga County. There were 59 names of enslaved people in the file. I thought perhaps my great grandfather, William would be among those named. Although there was a William in the list but he was 20 years older than mine.

I have found three records for William Graham, a marriage record for 1874, a census record for 1880 and an agricultural census for 1880. He appears on my grandfather’s death certificate and on the death certificates of two others who I believe are my grandfather’s siblings.  Here is what I found from those records.

William Graham was born about 1851 in Alabama. Both of his parents were also born in Alabama. On December 20, 1874 he married Mary Jackson in Elmore County, Alabama. William Bolling Hall performed the ceremony.

In 1880 the couple had two children, five year old Crofford and three year old William. William Sr. was farming. He could read but not write. Mary was keeping house. She could neither read nor write.

The 1880 Agricultural Census showed William was share cropping 16 tilled acres. He had $3 worth of farming implements and machinery and $60 worth of livestock. In 1879 the total value of all the farm products was $250.   He had a quarter of an acre in Indian corn which produced 50 bushels.  There was a quarter of an acre planted in sweet potatoes which gave him 25 bushels. William grew 16 acres in cotton and produced four bales.

His livestock included one mule, one cattle that was not an ox or a milch cow. There were 16 barnyard fowl who produced 12 dozen eggs in 1879. He also owned two other unspecified fowl. Because he was farming in shares, some of the crops went to the person who owned the land. I don’t know how much he ended up with compared to what he would have if they had owned the land.

Both William Graham and Mary Jackson appear as parents on my grandfather’s delayed birth certificate and on the certificates of Mary Graham and Abraham Graham.

Alabama did not require registrations of births until 1908. When someone who was born before that needed a birth certificate, for instance to sign up or collect social security, they had to fill out a delayed birth record and get affidavits from witnesses, or others who would swear that what was in the delayed record was true. The person then had a birth record on file and it would work just like any other birth record.  None of my grandparents or their siblings had birth certificates filled out at the times of their births so they had to get delayed certificates.

What I would like to find out about William Graham, I would like to find him in the 1870 census so that I could find out who his parents and siblings were. I would like to find later records for him, after 1880. I would also like to find a DNA connection with some of  my grandfather’s siblings descendants and/or a descendant with information that would show us our connection.

19 thoughts on “William Graham – Alabama”

  1. In school they always talk about share topping and how it was a system where the sharecropper could never break even. I always assumed that I had ancestors who experienced this, but it is an odd feeling to know who the ancestor was. And knowing that it was my great-great grandfather makes it feel much closer…much more recent.

    1. Louis Cleage was also a share cropper until he gave it up and went to working various other laboring jobs. He was also your great great grandfather, on (of course) the Cleage side.

    1. It’s possible, but I still would need to find them in 1870 together. If he was his father, where was my great-grandfather when the list that the older William appears on? Perhaps another Grahams plantation with his mother. But perhaps his whole family was on another plantation. I will have to look at the children of the Judge Graham as they were slave holders before inheriting from their father.

  2. This is fascinating. I’m editing a novel set in the late 1850s which featured both slaves and free blacks. I’ll have to browse through this blog. Great topic.

  3. One set of my grandparents were share croppers. My father and his siblings often talked about dividing the crops with the landowners. They moved from place to place, expecting the last place to be better…On the branches of my family tree where so little is known, I am also hoping to find a descendant who knows more or finds me on their DNA list and can tell me exactly how we are related…I always enjoy this series and tell myself I will do this next year. Great research.

    1. Thank’s Linda. I think I will start earlier for next year. Maybe do two posts a month and save them. This last minute researching is too hard to keep up for a whole month!

      I hope you decided to do it. Would love to read what you did.

  4. I know a Jackson family in Elmore County. Their family has lived in the Elmore County for many decades.
    I wonder if they are related to Mary Jackson Graham?
    Also, William Bolling Hall performed the marriage ceremony. He could have a connection to Josephine Bolling McCall.

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