Say My Name

An African-American Family History

Warren, Lanier and Picking Cotten

In the case of the Warrens, I located a family in Crockett County, Tennessee, the birthplace of my ancestors, with the exact same first names and years of birth as my Warren family members according to later census records. However, on the early census the surname is Lanier. The names are George Lanier, Myra Lanier, Isaac Lanier and David Lanier. My maternal grandfatherís father was Isaac Warren. His grandmotherís name was Mariah. His grandfather was George. And he had an uncle David. This is too much of a coincidence but I also realize that everything must be completely checked out before jumping to any conclusions. This has not been verified yet. 

      Other clues in this mystery is that the Lanier family is living next door to a white Warren family, the same family that Wilma Warren Bradshaw, a first cousin of my grandfather, told me she remembered from her childhood. There were names of other children listed with the Lanier family--Moses and Jim--names given to me by Wilma. George and Myra Lanier stated they were both born in Tennessee but both their parents came from North Carolina. George suffered from pleurisy.

      Another surname discrepancy would change my maiden name from Cotten to Anderson. I am fairly certain that I have verified this fact even though I donít know the origin of the name Anderson. I knew that my paternal great grandfatherís name was Napoleon but I could never find it on any census until the 1900ís. I knew his motherís name was Winnie and I was told her last name was Dear. I found a Winnie Deer on the census for 1880 Lincoln County of Mississippi. She was listed as 45, Black, born in Mississippi and married to Osco Deer from Missouri. She had no children living with her. I went back to the 1870 census and found a Winnie Anderson living with Oscar Dears in Amite County, Mississippi. Listed with her were four children--Hiram, Richard, Elizabeth and Napoleon. They all shared the same surname Anderson. Napoleon was 14 years old--the correct age for my great-grandfather at the time. He was born in 1857 according to later census.

      I donít know when the name changed. I did discover Napoleonís oldest son, Ammon, my grandfatherís brother, lived next door to Thomas L. Cotten on 1900 census of Pike County, Mississippi. Both Thomas and Ammon were merchants. Ammon lived alone. His surname was listed as Cotten. At first I thought there was a blood tie between the two men. Thomas was ten years older than Napoleon so he couldnít be his father. Thomasí father was Joseph Cotten and he owned many slaves. I thought he possibly fathered Napoleon. After checking the 1860 slave census and consulting with Mississippi genealogy expert Sandra Craighnead, I determined that Joseph Cotten was not the slave owner of Winnie and probably not the father of Napoleon. There was definitely a connection but I have not discovered what it was as of yet.


Roadblocks on the Map

These are just examples of how difficult it is to play this name game when looking for Black ancestors. In my discussions with other persons seeking information on their relatives, I have found several instances where surnames were changed because of trouble with the law. When they migrated north, they changed their last name to give them a fresh new start.

      To make it even more difficult to locate relatives is that some people changed their first names as well. My great-great-grandmother went from Tildy to Matilda. Her daughter, my great grandmother went from Katie to Katherine. Her brother is sometimes Steave and sometimes Steven. Adding  to the confusion is the custom of many African Americans to call individuals by their middle names instead of their first name. It may be a throw back to slavery days when the master named the children one name and the parents chose  another name. For example, I went for years not knowing that my aunts Ouida and Pauline were actually Lorraine and Katherine.

      These obstacles may overwhelm you in your search. Add to this that slave genealogy cannot be done without the name of the former slave owner and that may be even harder to detect. Some of these road blocks may become a wall that cannot be climbed over. I can only encourage you to keep chipping away at the blocks. The rewards are sweet.

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