Did My Black Ancestor Move Farther South During Slavery?

Tracing Your Roots: Clues that an ancestor may have changed his name and migrated farther south before the Civil War raise questions.

Frank Joshua Sr., son of Lucien Joshua Family photo courtesy of Renee Deshommes

Dear Professor Gates:

I am trying to trace the roots of my paternal great-great-grandfather, Lucien Joshua. He relayed to the census taker in 1900 that his parents were born in South Carolina. At the time of the census, he lived in Ascension Parish.

According to oral history accounts given by older relatives in my family, Lucien changed his name to Joshua when he came to Louisiana. My question is: Is it possible to determine who Lucien’s parents are, and how or why did he come to Louisiana during the mid-1800s? This is especially intriguing to me given that South Carolina was the first state to attempt to secede from the United States before the start of the Civil War, and Louisiana was also a Confederate state. If Lucien was born in South Carolina, why would he travel to another slave state as opposed to heading north?

A second mystery involves the 1880 census, of which I discovered someone named “Lucien Joachim.” There are several similarities that align with “Lucian Joshua,” such as age, spouse’s name and some of the children (when compared with the 1900 census). However, my great-grandfather Frank Joshua Sr. is not listed on the 1880 census (in the 1900 census, he resides in the home of his father-in-law, Prudhomme Smith).  Is Lucien Joachim the same person as Lucien Joshua? —Renee (Joshua) Deshommes

It is always good to collect as much information as you can from the records you have so you have information to compare with other records. This may help you in determining the likelihood that Lucien Joshua is the same person as Lucian Joachim.

Tallying Up the Evidence About the Two Luciens

In 1900, Lucien Joshua was living in Ascension, La., with his wife, Celestine Joshua (born about 1849), and a number of children and grandchildren, some with the surname Caesar. Celestine Caesar, who was recorded in the census as Lucien Joshua’s daughter, was born about 1876, meaning she may appear on the 1880 United States federal census. Since there are also two grandchildren of Lucien’s listed in the household with the Caesar surname, it suggests that it may have been Celestine’s married name, and that Ethel and Ethelbert are her children. You may be able to locate a marriage record for her that could reveal more about Lucien.

You also mentioned that Lucien Joshua had a son named Frank who should appear in the 1880 United States federal census. As you stated, he was living with his father-in-law (recorded here as Prudent Smith) in Ascension, La., in 1900. According to this record, Frank Joshua was born in June of 1873 and was 26 years old when this census was taken. We noted that Prudent Smith was born December of 1839 and his wife, Marline, was born in August of 1841. If both the Joshua and Smith families knew each other for a long time, it is possible that we could find proof that Lucien Joshua was the same person as Lucien Joachim by searching for those associated with him.

You had located a Lucien Joachim residing in 5th Ward, St. James, La., in 1880 who you think could be your Lucien Joshua. According to the record, Lucien Joachim was born about 1845, which would be a match for your Lucien. His wife, Celeste, was born about 1850, which is also a match for what we know about Celestine Joshua. Providing even more evidence that this is the same family is their daughter, Celestine, who was born about 1877 and is a match for the Celestine Caesar we noted in the 1900 United States federal census.

If and Why Lucien Could Have Moved Farther South

However, Lucien Joachim’s parents’ birthplace is listed as Louisiana, not South Carolina, as in the case of Lucien Joshua. There could be a number of reasons for this discrepancy, including the wrong information being recorded by the census taker in one of the two instances. It may be that your great-grandfather did not migrate south at all.

However, if he had, the move would not have been unusual, even if it had happened before the end of slavery. As Professor Gates noted in a previous column on The Root, historian Walter Johnson wrote in his book Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market that in the seven decades leading up to the Civil War, about 1 million people were relocated in the domestic slave trade, sold as labor for the booming cotton industry. Louisiana was a major destination in this internal American slave trade, which was also known as the Second Middle Passage. If enslaved, your great-great-grandfather might have been swept southward in it.

If Lucien Joshua/Joachim had been a free man of color, it still would not have been unprecedented for him to move southward in the antebellum South, especially if he were moving near an urban area like New Orleans (60 miles from Ascension Parish) that presented greater opportunity for skilled free people of color than his place of origin. Professor Gates noted this sort of scenario in “Why Did Free Blacks Stay in the Old South?” as well as the fact that more than half of the free people of color recorded in the 1860 census lived in the South, not the North.