U.S. President Andrew Jackson in 1845, months before his death
Edward Anthony, Matthew Brady/Wikimedia Commons

Dear Professor Gates:

I just discovered an interview with my ancestor in the Aug. 10, 1935, edition of the Chicago Defender, which states my ancestor Burrell Jackson was the grandson of President Andrew Jackson. It described him as an anti-lynching activist who barely escaped lynching himself. According to history, Andrew Jackson did not have children, but this interview stated it had “authentic sources” verifying that Burrell was his son.

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I know that Burrell was the brother of my maternal second-great-grandmother, Eliza Evans Jackson, who was born about 1856 in Georgia and died in 1904 in Mississippi. Their father was Stephen Jackson, born 1823 in Georgia. The Defender article states that Burrell was a native of Columbus, Ga.,“born a slave on the plantation of Thomas Stanford.” He was “carried to Mississippi in 1852.”

My own research shows that my family was in Lincoln County, Miss., in the 1870 census. They settled in Brookhaven, Miss., and that's where Burrell lived from 1910 until his death Dec. 25, 1935. He is buried in the Rose Hill Cemetery in Brookhaven, which you can find on Find a Grave. —Juan Castille

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Your ancestor sounds like quite a man in his own right, even without a connection to our nation’s seventh president. As a general, Andrew Jackson famously led American troops to victory against the British in the 1815 Battle of New Orleans (a battle won with the aid of free troops of color, as mentioned in a previous Tracing Your Roots column).

Andrew Jackson’s legacy also features the forcible removal of Native Americans from the U.S. South to the West, which included the deadly “Trail of Tears” death march of the Cherokee to present-day Oklahoma. Closer to home, he owned more than 150 slaves at his Tennessee plantation, the Hermitage.

Though he had no biological children, as you note, President Jackson did adopt several children, including his wife’s nephew, named Andrew Jackson Jr. (1808-1865), and a Native American boy named Lyncoya (circa 1811-1828), a Creek orphan he purportedly rescued during the Indian Wars he led.

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Given these facts, a possible connection between Andrew Jackson and your family is likely to come through the president’s adopted descendants or slaves. According to the article published about Burrell Jackson in the Chicago Defender, Burrell had originally been enslaved by Thomas Stanford of Columbus, Muscogee County, Ga. We decided to begin with this information in order to potentially trace Burrell back to Andrew Jackson.

Establishing the Stanford Connection

If Burrell Jackson was brought to Mississippi in 1852, he should have been enumerated in the 1860 United States Census Slave Schedule in Mississippi. Though they're not recorded by name, focusing on the age, gender and race of people in the same household can help narrow down potential entries for Burrell.

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Burrell Jackson is enumerated with his family in the 1870 U.S. census. Based on the census record, six members of the Jackson family—father Stephen, Mary (“keeping house”), and younger members Elizabeth, Burrell, your second-great-grandmother Eliza and Harriett—should have been enumerated in the 1860 U.S. Census Slave Schedule.

We located a potential match for your Jackson family in that schedule (via Ancestry.com; subscription required) under an Elizabeth Stanford of Township 18, Choctaw County, Miss. This may be a match for your Jackson ancestors because of a connection to the Stanford family that we will detail below. Though the 1860 Slave Schedule lists nine slaves belonging to Elizabeth Stanford rather than six, the genders, ages and races of six of the nine slaves are near-perfect matches to your Jackson ancestors.

Hoping to learn more about Elizabeth Stanford and a connection to Thomas Stanford of Columbus, Ga., we searched genealogies related to the Stanford family. We located a Stanford genealogy online: Descendants of Joseph Stanford of Somerset County, Maryland (pdf). We were able to locate an entry for the Thomas Stanford of Columbus, Muscogee County, Ga., on whose plantation Burrell Jackson states that he was born.

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The genealogy provides the connection between Thomas Stanford of Columbus and Elizabeth Stanford of Choctaw County, Miss., and provides a potential explanation as to how your ancestors may have come to Mississippi in 1852. The entry of Thomas Stanford (1774-1839), beginning on page 43 of the family history, suggests that the Elizabeth Stanford listed in the 1860 Slave Schedule in Choctaw County could be Thomas’ widow, Elizabeth (Freeney) (Reynolds) Stanford, or his sister, Anne Elizabeth Stanford.

In 1847, Thomas J. Stanford, the son of Thomas Stanford, and others from Columbus established a textile mill in Choctaw County, Miss., which could explain why your Jackson ancestors were brought from Georgia to Mississippi. However, the Stanford genealogy does not mention Andrew Jackson or his adopted son, Andrew Jackson Jr. (who “briefly moved to Mississippi in between 1858 and 1860,” according to the Hermitage website), buying or selling slaves to the Stanford family.

To research this further, it may be beneficial to contact the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, which houses the court records and deeds of Choctaw County. Sadly, slaves were considered property in the Antebellum South, so if Elizabeth Stanford did own members of your Jackson family, they may be listed in these records in connection with Elizabeth Stanford and/or Andrew Jackson Jr.

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Meanwhile, we decided to look into whether the Stanford-Jackson connection could be made in Georgia. Probate files sometimes list sales made against an estate, often to pay off debts owed by the deceased. We searched Georgia Wills and Probate Records, 1742-1992 on Ancestry.com for a probate record of Thomas Stanford or his son, Thomas J. Stanford. We located an administration record for Thomas Stanford but could not locate an inventory or a record of claims against the estate that may provide a connection between the family of Andrew Jackson and Thomas Stanford. Ordering Muscogee County Deed Records and Mortgages and Monroe County Deeds to your local family history library may help you find a connection between Andrew Jackson and Thomas Stanford.

Finding an Unexpected Lead in Andrew Jackson’s Documents

Hoping to find members of your Jackson family, we also located the will of President Andrew Jackson on Ancestry.com, dated Oct. 30, 1845, and filed in Davidson County, Tenn. We searched the will for members of your Jackson family that may have later been sold to the Stanford family of Georgia. In his will, Jackson does list several slaves by name, such as Ned, Aaron, Hannah and Gracy, but President Jackson’s will does not list a slave with your third-great-grandfather’s name of Stephen. Jackson’s will does, however, name a slave Mary, who was given to his daughter-in-law Sarah (Yorke) Jackson, the wife of Andrew Jackson Jr. Perhaps Burrell’s connection to Andrew Jackson was through his mother.

The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s estate in Tennessee, has published a list of known slaves of Andrew Jackson (pdf). Mary, the slave granted to Sarah (Yorke) Jackson, was the daughter of the house servant Hannah. According to the Hermitage, Mary was married to a field slave named Daniel. It may be interesting to contact the Hermitage to find out what happened to Mary, if she remained in Tennessee or was perhaps sold to the Stanford family.

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Other probate records of slaveholders can often list out the names of their slaves. Unfortunately, the inventory of the estate of President Andrew Jackson states that he had 159 slaves upon his death but does not list them by name.

Though the slaves are not listed by name in the inventory of President Jackson, the record on Ancestry.com does provide a connection to Mississippi. In his estate, Andrew Jackson mentions a plantation in Coahoma County, Miss., consisting of 2,700 acres. The plantation was eventually run by Andrew Jackson Jr., though the plantation, and the slaves working there, were eventually sold.

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History does hold the records of Coahoma County, and searching these records for slave sales involving Andrew Jackson Jr. could provide a connection between your Jackson family and that of the president.

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Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and founding director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. He is also chairman of The Root. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Send your questions about tracing your own roots to TracingYourRoots@theroot.com.

This answer was provided in consultation with Katrina Fahy, a researcher from the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Founded in 1845, NEHGS is the country’s leading nonprofit resource for family history research. Its website, AmericanAncestors.org, contains more than 300 million searchable records for research in New England, New York and beyond. With the leading experts in the field, NEHGS staff can provide assistance and guidance for questions in most research areas. They can also be hired to conduct research on your family. Learn more today about researching African-American roots.