Elizabeth “Bettie” Lane Dickey, Leon County, Fla., 19—
State Archives of Florida

Dear Professor Gates:

I am seeking help to learn more about my third great-grandmother Elizabeth Bettie Lane Dickey. She was raised on Orchard Pond Plantation in Tallahassee, Fla.

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Her husband’s name was Hanover Dickey, and her mother's name was Maria Lane. Richard Keith Call (who served twice as governor of Florida) was the plantation owner of Orchard Pond when she was just a little girl. She was born in 1855.

I found the list of slave children on Orchard Pond, and her husband, Hanover, is listed. I believe I have pieced together family grouping between the census and an archived piece of paper from Richard Keith Call’s files through the Florida Memory website.

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I found a painting of Elizabeth Bettie Lane Dickey also on this website and would like to know how it came to be and whatever else that can be found out about her.

I would also like help reaching further back on her pedigree chart. I am guessing that if her family were on Orchard Pond, some may have come from Virginia along with Richard Keith Call. I found a record for Maria Lane, and she had a daughter named Eliza born 1848. There is a few years’ difference between her and Elizabeth Bettie. I'm not sure if they might be one and the same person.

Your help would be greatly appreciated. —Toni Jackson

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This would be the second column we have done this year about ancestors who may have been enslaved by Richard Keith Call, who was the governor of the territory of Florida twice: 1836-39 and 1841-44. Call was also a military veteran who had served with Gen. Andrew Jackson. Among his more high-profile engagements was the Second Seminole War. He was later an opponent of secession before his death in 1862.

As we noted in the first column, “Is My Black Family Related to a White Florida Governor?,” Richard Keith Call was one of the largest slave owners in Leon County in 1860, when he owned 121 slaves. No doubt there are thousands of people like you who may descend from those he enslaved.

Working Backward Through Census Records

To try to work further back in Elizabeth Bettie Lane Dickey’s family tree, we used what genealogists call “cluster research.” This method involves researching any of Elizabeth Bettie’s known family, neighbors or other people she was associated with during her life to discover more about her and her relatives.

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We found that there was a lot to learn from census records about Elizabeth Bettie’s relatives and neighbors. In 1920 a Bettie Dickey was the head of household at age 66 in Leon County, Fla. According to this census record, she was born in Florida, as were both of her parents. Three of her children and four grandchildren are also included in the household. Working backward, she was residing in the same location in 1910 with nine children.

The 1880 U.S. census includes a Betty Dicky in the household of her husband, Hanover Dicky, in Leon County, Fla. Note in this census that not only does the couple have two children, Cora (age 3) and Roany (age 1 month), but Hanover’s brother, Hayward Dickey (age 30), also lives in the household. Their direct neighbors are Daniel Johnson and Charles Grace. All this information can be used to help identify the correct record for Elizabeth Bettie in 1870.

None of these children listed in 1910 were born by the enumeration of the 1870 census, based on their ages, so we assumed we would be looking for Elizabeth Bettie to still be single in that census, perhaps with her mother, as you noted in your question.

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You said that in 1870 there was a Maria Lane recorded whose daughter was Eliza Lane (age 22), placing her birth about 1848. The record includes Edward Lane as the head of household, and the family was residing in Madison County, Va. This does not seem like a good match for what is known about your Elizabeth Bettie, since all the other records for her state that she was born in Florida and was residing in Leon County, Fla. (the same location of the Orchard Pond Plantation, suggesting she did not move). It would seem quite the feat for the family to move from Florida to Virginia and then make the move again in the years immediately following emancipation, though it is not impossible.

To be sure, search for other records of this family on your own to rule them out as a possibility, while also searching for other records that could be a better fit for your Elizabeth Bettie.

We had difficulty locating a good match for Elizabeth Bettie in the 1870 census, so we searched for her husband. In searching for a “Hanover” without a surname in Leon County, we located a record for the household of Chloe Dickey in the Northern Division of Leon County, Fla. In her household was a Hayward Johnson (age 19), Hanover Johnson (age 15) and a Betsey Johnson (age 15), which looks to be a good match for your Elizabeth “Bettie” Lane Dickey.

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You’ll note that Daniel Johnson is also in the household and that he was their direct neighbor in 1880, all strong evidence that this is a record for the correct individuals, particularly since the head of household had the surname “Dickey.” This record suggests that Hanover and Bettie had used the surname Johnson, at least for this record. It seems possible that Chloe Dickey was the mother of at least some of the children in the household and that she may have had children with different surnames.

You noted that Hanover was recorded on a list of children on the Orchard Pond Plantation in Richard Keith Call’s personal papers. You’ll notice that in addition to Hanover being included in this list, Daniel and Hayward are also included, and appear to all be listed as children of Chloe. This would align with the 1870 census and would suggest that these individuals had lived on the Orchard Pond Plantation.

It seems possible that your Elizabeth “Bettie” Lane Dickey could be the Elizabeth included on this list of children who were recorded as a daughter of “Jane,” whose siblings were Washington and Fanny. However, the Florida Death Index states that Bettie’s death record includes her mother’s name as Maria Lane. Since this is a transcription of the original record, you may want to order a copy of the original from Leon County to see if the name was transcribed correctly.

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Also, keep in mind that death records were filled in by survivors who may not have all the correct information. You should remain open to other possibilities, since information in records can sometimes be incorrect. It is always a good idea to try to compare numerous records to confirm the information.

Checking the Records of Slave Owner Richard Keith Call

The next step for us was checking the probate file for Richard Keith Call to see if it included any information about his slaves, since his probate was dated 1862. The file is quite large and appears to address all aspects of his estate.

Interesting information can hide in probate records. In Richard Keith Call’s account records, for example, we discovered that payment was made to the doctor on Jan. 25, 1862, for a visit “through rain to boy Hayward dressing hand & meds for same.” A few days later, another payment was made to visit “boy Hayward amput finger dress hand & meds for the same.” This is most certainly Hanover’s brother, Hayward, and tells you that he had to have a finger amputated as a boy.

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Also included in the probate are “Schedules” of the enslaved on the estate at the time of Richard Keith Call’s death, which include their ages and values. “Schedule B” is for the Orchard Pond Plantation and includes familiar names from the list of family members, including Chloe (age 40) and her children: Daniel (age 15), Hayward (age 13) and Hanover (age 9). This would place Hanover’s birth about 1853 and is a good match for your Hanover.

Strangely, we did not locate an Elizabeth or Bettie on this list who is a good fit for your Elizabeth Bettie, although there is a Betsey listed under Chloe who is 4 years old that could be a match. Just because she is listed under Chloe does not necessarily mean she is her daughter, since relationships are not given, but it seems likely that they were in the same household. It could be that Chloe raised her.

Since there is not a direct match to your ancestor, the next step for you might be to research any individuals on the list who are female and are the right age to be your Elizabeth Bettie to see if her name may have changed. The numerous probate file records are browsable, so be prepared to search the index page by page.

Tracing the Story Behind the Portrait

As for the mystery of the picture you found: The best way to uncover more information about the portrait of Elizabeth “Bettie” Lane Dickey that is available on the Florida Memory webpage is to contact the repository that has it in its collection to see if it has any information on the provenance of the piece. According to the record on Florida Memory, which is the website for the State Library and Archives of Florida, the portrait of Elizabeth is part of the General Collection, Image No. N047005.

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We called the photographic department and learned that Elizabeth Bettie’s portrait is a part of its negative collection, which means it was likely brought into the archive on loan and made into a negative, so the archives no longer has the original. Luckily, there was a tiny bit of information that we were able to gather from the call, even though they do not have a lot on the portrait. According to the negative, the portrait was loaned by the John G. Riley House and is part of its collection. This helps bring you one step closer to knowing where the portrait originated.

The John Gilmore Riley Center/Museum for African American History & Culture is located in Tallahassee, Fla., and represents the lost black community of Smokey Hollow. According to the website, the Riley Archives, which includes its photograph collection, is located on the second floor of the Tallahassee Community College Library.

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According to the TCC Library webpage, the Riley Archives is a collection with a specific focus on Leon and Gadsden counties in North Florida. You could contact the archive at 850-201-6540 or call the Library Reference Department at 850-201-8383 to see if they have any further information on the provenance of the portrait of Elizabeth “Bettie” Lane Dickey. You will also want to ask about any other portraits, objects or papers that may have been donated by the same person who donated the portrait because that may reveal more about Elizabeth Bettie or her relatives.

Since it is likely that she was connected to others on the Orchard Pond Plantation, as you take what we have found further on your own, you may also benefit from researching any other individuals who are known to have been enslaved there. Some of the methods we used in the previous column seeking a connection between Charles Call and Richard Keith Call may prove helpful to you, as well.

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Good luck!

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.

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This answer was provided in consultation with Meaghan E.H. Siekman, 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 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.