Am I Related to Nat Turner?

Tracing Your Roots: Researching a link to the man behind a slave rebellion.

Nat Turner is depicted being discovered in a wooded area of Virginia by a white man carrying a gun in 1831. Stock Montage/Getty Images

The author, Lucy Turner, claimed to be the granddaughter of Nat Turner and the daughter of Gilbert. While is it true that Lucy was Gilbert’s daughter, if one looks at Gilbert’s death certificate, as reported by Lucy herself, one sees that his parents were listed as John Turner of Virginia and Mary Moore of North Carolina. It also shows that he was born circa 1834, well after the death of Nat Turner. Although there can be errors in vital records, this does not support the claim that Lucy Turner was the granddaughter of Nat Turner.

The fact that little is known about the family of such a prominent figure in history highlights some of the biggest challenges in researching African-American genealogy before the Civil War. A dearth of reliable documents pertaining to the families of enslaved African Americans makes it a challenge to trace the relatives of Turner and what happened to them after his death.

Is Your Family Connected to Nat Turner?

Taking into account all of the unconfirmed information about Turner’s immediate family, finding definitive documentation linking your ancestors to Turner will be difficult. In light of this, you can still continue to research your own family to see if there is any association with Southampton County. Even if you cannot prove that you are a direct descendant of Turner, if you find that your ancestors were in Southampton County, it is possible that there is some association with him.

Like many slaves in the pre-Civil War South, Turner’s surname was that of his owner, Benjamin Turner. Benjamin died in 1810, but in his will, Nat Turner and eight other slaves were left to his son, Samuel. After the death of Samuel in 1822, Nat was sold to Thomas Moore. To determine if your ancestors were also once slaves for the Benjamin Turner family, you will want to try and trace your family back from your known relative Gertrude Turner.

First, try to find a marriage record for Gertrude Turner and the man with the surname “Curry” to see if perhaps it lists her birthplace and her parents’ names. If you are unable to find a marriage record, a death record may also contain this information, depending on where and when she died.

The website has an index of marriages recorded in Virginia counties from 1785 to 1940. Although this collection contains many records, it may not be complete, and therefore it would also be useful to know approximately where Gertrude was living in the late 1800s so you can narrow your search for a marriage record.

You will also want to search for records of Gertrude in the census. The 1870 census was the first year after the Civil War that all African Americans were enumerated. Finding a record of Gertrude in this year will give you an indication of where she was living after the abolition of slavery. If she was living near Jerusalem in Southampton County, it is possible that there was an association with the Turner family farm.

The 1880 census lists not only the birthplace of the person enumerated but also the birthplace of his or her parents. If you are able to find an 1880 census record for Gertrude, you can confirm whether or not her parents were born in Virginia, which will give you an indication of whether there could be a relation to Nat Turner.

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