Considering the Law

As family historians, we use various types of historical records to link generations of our families together. In doing so, we often forget that these records were not created for genealogists. Many were created as a result of laws that were in effect years ago. To complete reasonably exhaustive research, we must consider the laws that affected the geographic areas where our research subjects lived, identify what records may have been created as a result of those laws, and consult the records with regard to our research subjects.

In his article, “Free and Enslaved: John and Melinda Human/Newman of Talbot County and Baltimore, Maryland,” published in the June 2015 issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Michael Hait, CG, identified the whereabouts of John and Melinda Newman of Baltimore before their first appearance in the city’s records in 1874. He faced challenges resulting from the lack of records documenting enslaved families during the antebellum period. Like many researchers, Hait found clues in records related to slave owners. His conclusion was also dependent upon an understanding of Maryland laws and records created as a result of those laws.

Records related to the Newman family of Baltimore establish that they had children Alexina, Charles H., Emory, Walter, and Henrietta, and suggest connections to eastern Maryland, Talbot County, and specifically, Easton. No death records exist for John and Melinda Newman to help identify their parentage or origins.

Tracing John and Melinda through census records provides challenges. If enslaved in 1850, Melinda and her children would not have been identified by name in census records. However, an 1852 Maryland law required assessors to provide the names, ages, and values of slaves in tax records. That year, thirty-five-year-old “Malinda” and four-year-old “Alexene” were assessed to John Barwick’s heirs in Talbot County. Several years later, in 1860, ten slaves—some of whose genders and ages coincide with known details about Melinda and her children—were enumerated as belonging to Charlotte Frompton, previously Charlotte Barwick, widow of John Barwick.

Through studying the Barwick family and their associates, Hait identifies a candidate for Melinda’s husband, John Newman. John “Human,” who lived on the Barwick farm, executed a deed of trust to John Barwick in 1845. The deed identifies him both as John Human and John “Newnam.” Talbot County records between 1850 and 1860 reveal only one African American named John Human or John Newman. Using indirect evidence, the author connects Melinda to her husband John Newman.

To provide insight into John’s possible origins, Hait uses negative evidence from records pertaining to free African Americans. An 1832 effort by the state of Maryland to remove free African Americans from the state created a census of “free negroes” for 1832. John was of age to be included in this schedule, but was not. Also, beginning in 1806, free African Americans had to obtain a certificate of freedom to travel outside of their birth county. Talbot County records do not include a certificate for John. His absence in these records provides negative evidence indicating that he may not have been born in Talbot County, and could have moved there or been manumitted after 1832.

Hait’s argument relies on evidence compiled through studying related families and by consulting records that were created as a result of laws governing slaves and free African Americans. These records served as alternate sources to capture details about families that were excluded from other records created during the same time period. Through careful analysis and correlation, the author was able to identify Melinda of Baltimore as Melinda who was a slave to the Barwick and Frompton families, and connect her to husband John Human/Newman, who lived on the Barwick property.

  1. December 14, 2015 12:19 pm
    • December 15, 2015 1:20 pm

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