Was My Great-Grandfather Part of Civil War History?

Tracing Your Roots: Written and oral accounts leave tantalizing clues about great-grandparents who may have been born slaves.

Sherman’s March to the Sea, by Alexander Hay Ritchie, circa 1868; Joseph Wiggins Sr.  
Sherman’s March to the Sea, by Alexander Hay Ritchie, circa 1868; Joseph Wiggins Sr.   LIBRARY OF CONGRESS; COURTESY OF KATE WIGGINS

Dear Professor Gates:

I have hit a wall while researching my paternal grandfather’s parents. My great-grandparents Joseph and Queen Wiggins were from Milledgeville, Ga., in Baldwin County. They are mentioned in the [Daughters of the American Revolution] chronicles of Anna Maria Green Cook, titled History of Baldwin County, Georgia [pdf]. My great-grandparents were listed under “Faithful Negroes” in Cook’s book.

I found it interesting that the author stated that my great-grandmother was a favorite of her mistress. We discovered that Queen’s maiden name was Sanford from “Georgia Marriages, 1808-1967” records, which state that she married Joseph H. Wiggins on Dec. 28, 1873, in Sumter, Ga., even though they lived in Milledgeville. Family stories state that my great-grandmother was a full-blooded Cherokee, but we don’t have an Indian roll number to verify if she was Native American, and Cook’s book states that she was mixed. Joseph and Queen had 14 children, and my grandfather James was child No. 8.

I was happy to find my great-grandfather in the Freedman’s Bank Records, too, dated 1871. According to family oral history, he was a water boy for Gen. Sherman when he came through Milledgeville. We also found out that he had a will when he died, he owned farmland, was mentioned in the Union Recorder newspaper over a church issue and had married again after the death of Queen. Unfortunately, we can’t find him before 1871, and we can’t find Queen before their marriage in 1873. Any help tracing them before 1871 would be greatly appreciated. —Kate Wiggins

Where and When Were Joseph and Queen Born?

To move backward in time, it is sometimes helpful to move forward first. Often, searching for records of a person’s children can help reveal more information about the parent’s origins. In this case you have both Joseph H. Wiggins and Queen Sanford’s full names from their marriage certificate. With this information, you can search for birth, marriage or death records for their children that may include information on Joseph and Queen.

On Family Search, you can search just for records of children born to known parents. To do this, leave all the rest of the search fields blank and just fill in the section that reads, “Search with a relationship” by clicking on “Parents” and typing in the parents’ names. This will limit the results to records that include both Joseph Wiggins and Queen Sanford as parents.

The results for this search present death records for three of their children: Carolyn Holiday and Collie Roselina Brown, both in Chicago, and Fannie Bryant, in Howard, Mich. Three of the records indicate that Joseph and Queen were born in Georgia, but the death record for Collie Roselina Brown is much more detailed. It states that Joseph H. Wiggins was born in Milledgeville, Ga., and that Queen Sanford was born in Americus, Ga. Americus is in Sumter County. This explains why Joseph and Queen were married in Sumter. It also provides a specific location in which to search for records of Queen Sanford.

Since you are trying to work back from 1871, you could try to locate both Joseph H. Wiggins and Queen Sanford in the 1870 U.S. federal census, which you can search through Ancestry.com. This is the first U.S. census after the abolition of slavery in which formerly enslaved individuals are listed by their full names. We know that Joseph and Queen were married in 1873, so they were likely single in 1870, and Queen would probably be listed under her maiden name, Sanford. If you have documents that help you determine their birth dates, you could search for individuals with their surnames in both Baldwin and Sumter counties and provide their approximate birth dates to help limit the results. This may help if you are unable to locate them using their full names.

When we first searched for Queen Sanford, we did not locate a record, but if you search for the surname Sanford in Sumter County, it returns a record for a Seaborn Sanford, a 21-year-old black male, living in Americus, Sumter County, Ga., in 1870. Since we learned earlier that Queen Sanford was born in Americus, it seems likely that she could have been related to this man. You could search for more records in Sumter County for Seaborn Sanford; they might reveal more about your Queen Sanford.

You could also search for Joseph Wiggins in Baldwin County, Ga., in the 1870 census and provide his approximate birth date. He may be listed in the household of his parents or other relatives, or in a household where he was employed. You may also want to search for records of him in Sumter County, since that is where he married Queen three years later.

It sometimes helps to explore records that look like a close match, either to rule them out as a possibility or to determine that they might be connected to your family. Keep in mind that names were often recorded in census records incorrectly. It is also helpful to search the households surrounding a likely match to the individual you are searching for, since another relative might have been living nearby.

Can Slavery Documents Help Trace Them?

Based on the language of the entry in Anna Maria Green Cook’s book, which indicates that Queen was raised in the household of her mistress, it is likely that she was enslaved prior to the abolishment of slavery, and perhaps Joseph was, too. One resource available for locating slaves in Georgia is the Slave Bills of Sale project. Compiled and published by the African-American Family History Association, it is available digitally through the Family History Library. You could search the indexes of each volume for the surnames Sanford and Wiggins.

It is important to note both slaves’ names and the owners’ names while looking through the records. Former slaves often took the surnames of their former owners, so an owner or buyer with the surname Sanford or Wiggins in the county where an ancestor was born, or in a neighboring county, could be the ancestor’s former owner.

Was Queen Cherokee?

Your family stories tell you that Queen was Cherokee, and Anna Maria Green Cook’s account seems to confirm that she was at least part American Indian. One collection that might assist in confirming this story is the Guion Miller Roll. This is a list of Eastern Cherokees who applied for compensation as part of a judgment of the U.S. Court of Claims in 1906 in favor of the Eastern Cherokee.

Each application usually includes the names of several generations of a family. Claimants had to be members of the Eastern Cherokee at the time of the treaties in 1835, 1836 and 1845. Descendants of members of the Eastern Cherokee could also be claimants as long as they were not affiliated with any other tribe.