She found a photo of her great-grandmother in the records of a historic plantation house in Georgia, but little information about her life under slavery.
Dear Professor Gates:
I have located my great-grandmother Cora Lundy in the 1880 census. I would like to learn about her life before 1880 but have so few clues. She had one daughter, Annie Lundy, my grandmother. The 1880 census shows her as a widow and that her parents were from Georgia. She would have likely been born a slave around 1850-1853, somewhere in Georgia. She died Dec. 14, 1921, in Macon, Ga. I learned a few things about Cora from 1900 on, but nothing before the 1880 census record.
Through my research I have learned that she worked and lived for over 40 years at the Cannonball House in Macon. The Cannonball House is on the Register of Historic Places. Ten years ago I visited the Cannonball House and took the tour and saw the place where she lived and worked. The house is associated with the Alpha Delta Phi and Phi Mu sororities, and its restoration was funded by the Daughters of the Confederacy. The Cannonball House staff have been helpful but have little information about Cora beyond what I provided. The only picture my family ever had of our great-grandmother was provided from the records of the Cannonball House. Can you help? —Jackie Belt
The Cannonball House was built in 1853 by Judge Asa Holt. Richard Iobst’s book Civil War Macon: The History of a Confederate City describes Holt as being a planter who was “one of Macon’s best-known citizens” and supported the Confederacy. The house received its nickname because a cannonball landed in its parlor during the Battle of Dunlap’s Hill in 1864. According to the National Park Service:
During the siege of Atlanta, Union Cavalry General George Stoneman conducted a raid on Central Georgia cutting the Confederate supply line and the Central Georgia railroad. Stoneman and his troops destroyed everything in their path on their way to Macon. Stoneman’s personal mission was to destroy the city and free Union officers imprisoned at Camp Oglethorpe. Fighting took place on July 30th when Stoneman ordered the city bombarded and his troops to advance.
One of the shells fired landed in the Holt residence. However, the family survived, and Confederate troops under Gen. Howell Cobb repelled the attack by Union soldiers.
Cora’s Life at Cannonball House
Since learning more about the home’s owners can lead to information about Cora Lundy’s early life, we started our search by tracing them. Asa Holt married Nora M. Burck on March 25, 1862. In his last will and testament dated June 6, 1867, Asa Holt did not provide any details of his estate other than to say that it should go to his beloved wife, Norah M. Holt, in its entirety. Nora M. Holt married Charles Canning on Jan. 28, 1874, and the house passed into the Canning family. These are all names you will want to keep in mind during your research.
As you may know, in 1880 Cora Lundy was working as a servant in the household of Charles Canning in Macon, Bibb, Ga. She worked for this family for a number of decades: She was recorded with them in 1900, along with her daughter, Annie Lundy, and again in 1910, when Lizzie Canning was the head of household. In each of these records, Charles Canning’s daughter and grandchildren appear with the Martin surname, so it suggests that Cora was still employed by the same family when she was in the household of the Martin family in 1920.
In these records, she was residing on Mulberry Street in Macon, and from 1900 forward, the address is given as 856 Mulberry St. This is still the address of the Cannonball House today, meaning that Cora was employed in the house at least from 1880 forward. This does not mean that she was there during the Civil War or before that date.
Finding Cora—and More Clues—Before 1880
We expanded the search terms to see whether Cora was recorded under a different name before 1880. Using just the first name, “Cora,” with a birth date of about 1850 and residing in Macon, Bibb, Ga., we found her living in the household of Cherry Stubbs in 1870. Her name had been transcribed into the index incorrectly as “Sundry” instead of “Lundy,” but her age, place of birth and location are all consistent with your Cora.
Everyone in this household was African American, and all were born in Georgia. The head of household, Cherry Stubbs, was a 34-year-old woman, and 12-year-old James Stubbs was likely her son. Also in the household were a 6-year-old, Jos. A. Smith, and a 42-year-old man named Kitt Blackshear. Investigating any of these people further may reveal more about Cora. At least now you know where she was before 1880, and with whom.
We took a closer look at Cherry Stubbs, who was recorded in the household of her son, J.A. Smith, in Vineville, Bibb County, Ga., in 1900. The record states that she was born in 1837 and was a widow. She had given birth to two children and both were still living. J.A. Smith is likely the Jos. A. Smith who was in Cherry Stubbs’ household in 1870, suggesting that both James Stubbs and Jos. A. Smith were children of Cherry Stubbs.
With Jos. A. Smith’s name, we were able to locate Cherry in 1880, recorded as Cherry Sweet in Macon. Since the record states that Cherry had only two children whom we can account for in records, it is unlikely that your Cora Lundy was her daughter. However, the fact that the two women were living together closely following emancipation and remained in Bibb County for many decades suggests that they were closely associated.
You may also want to see who else shared the Lundy surname in Macon, Bibb County, in 1870. These may also be relatives or close associates of your Cora Lundy. One record we saw included a Mary Lundy and an Adeline Lundy in the household of Betsy Cherry (transcribed as “Cheny”). We noted this record not only because these individuals were in Macon and shared the Lundy surname but also because they were residing in the household of someone with the surname Cherry and had a girl in the household with the Holt surname.
Did Cherry Stubbs receive her given name from a surname, and did she have a connection to the Holt family who owned the Cannonball House? An examination of the original record reveals that this Lundy-Cherry household was directly next door to a white family with William A. Cherry as the head of household, and also next to African-American families bearing the Lundy and Holt surnames.
Was She Enslaved at Cannonball House?
To see if any of these individuals had a connection to the Cannonball House prior to 1880, let’s go back to examining Judge Asa Holt and kin. In 1860, Asa Holt was recorded in Macon, Bibb County, age 70 and having been born in North Carolina. Also in the household was Mary Holt, presumably his wife prior to Norah M. Burck. Based on the history of the house, it is safe to assume that they were living in the Cannonball House when this census was recorded. In the enumeration, Asa Holt was recorded as dwelling in house No. 718. Interestingly, on the previous page was the household of Job. H. Cherry, dwelling in house No. 715.
Based on the 1860 United States Census Slave Schedule (via Ancestry.com; subscription required), Asa Holt owned 25 slaves that year. None were girls recorded between the ages of 9 and 12 who could match the description of your Cora Lundy, but with such limited information in the record, it is impossible to know for certain whether she is excluded from being enslaved by him. We also noted that Job. H. Cherry was recorded with nine slaves in his household, and we suggest that you consider this household, too.
We also noted in the slave schedules a slave owner named William Lundy who owned slaves in Howards District, Bibb County, Ga. This area is currently a district within Macon, where your Cora Lundy is known to have lived later in life. There were also girls in his household who could be a match for your Cora Lundy. It is best to investigate all possibilities before ruling out anything.
Since Cora Lundy was not residing in the household of an employer in 1870, shortly following emancipation, it is not clear if she lived at the Cannonball House prior to her employment with the Canning family by 1880. Your best option for working even further back in time would be to search for records of the potential former slave owners Asa Holt, William Lundy and Job. H. Cherry. Land, probate, account, tax or court records for each of these individuals during slavery may include information about their slaves and may help you determine where Cora was living during slavery. Start by looking at the types of records FamilySearch has available for Bibb County.
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.
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This answer was provided in consultation with Meaghan E.H. Siekman, Ph.D., a senior 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 1 billion 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.