Did My Black Ancestor Move Farther South During Slavery?

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


What About Great-Grandfather Frank?

You noted that the puzzling thing is that your great-grandfather Frank does not appear in this household; however, there are three sons recorded in the household: Anatole, born about 1870; Louis, born about 1872; and Francois, born about 1879. Francois is the French version of Frank and is the closest match to your great-grandfather’s name, though he is about six years younger than he should be, according to the information in the 1900 census. Census records can be wrong about a person’s age, so looking at other records for your great-grandfather can help give us a better idea of his age and whether he could be the Francois recorded in this census.


We located Frank Joshua residing in Donaldsonville, Ascension, La., in 1910 still in the household of his father-in-law. According to this record, he was born in 1879, which would align with the age of Francois Joachim. Likewise, his World War I Draft Registration Card and his World War II Draft Registration Card both record his birth date as 20 January 1879. Census records for Frank in both 1930 and in 1940 also record his birth about 1879. Because of the combination of these records, it seems very likely that Frank Joshua was the same person as Francois Joachim and that he was born on Jan. 20, 1879. 

Based on the fact that what we know about Lucien Joshua; his wife, Celestine; and two of his children, Celestine and Frank, is a match to the Joachim family in 1880, it appears highly probable that this is the same family. To find even more evidence, there were a number of other children recorded in the 1880 census that could be traced further to see if they connected to your Joshua family in later records.


For example, there was a Louis Joshua residing in Ward 5, St. James, La., in 1900, who was born in 1872 and is a good match for Louis Joachim in 1880. Even more telling is the fact that in 1920, Celestine Joshua is the head of household in Ascension, La., with a son, Lewis (Louis) Joshua, recorded in her household, along with a number of her other children who appeared in the 1900 census record. Furthermore, Louis Joshua’s death certificate records his parents as Lucien and Celestine Joshua. This is yet another child who matches the record for the family with both the Joshua and Joachim surnames and provides further proof that they are the same people.

Gathering even more records for all the members of this family and associated families will help you further solidify that the Joachim and Joshua families are the same people. Celestine Joshua’s own death certificate records her husband, Lucien Joshua, and her parents as Cato and Hanna Smith. You could see if you can locate her parents residing close to the couple when their name was Joachim. We could not locate Cato and Hanna Smith in a census record, but we did note a number of Smiths always residing near Lucien and Celestine.


You could also work to identify any siblings Celestine may have had that you could also compare across records. You could also try to identify some of Lucien’s siblings or other relatives. In 1880, Lucien Joachim was recorded as family No. 326, and in household No. 340 was an Aristide Joachim, who was born about 1853 and would have been of the same generation as Lucien. The close family numbers indicate that they were living near each other. Aristide had his father-in-law, Joseph Magloire, living in his household at the time, which gives you yet another surname to research for a connection to your ancestors under both the Joachim and Joshua surnames.

What About Lucien’s Parents?

Based on the evidence we located, we feel confident that Lucien Joachim and Lucien Joshua were the same person. As for who his parents were, the closest match we found for him in the “Louisiana Deaths Index 1850-1875, 1894-1956” on FamilySearch was for a Lucien Joshusin, who died in St. James Parish in 1919 (not far from Ascension Parish). Remember, that a year later in the 1920 census, Celestine was recorded as a widowed head of household.


Interestingly, Lucien Joshusin’s birthplace is listed as “St. Johns,” and there is a nearby St. John the Baptist Parish in Louisiana. This is even more evidence that your great-great-grandfather was born in that state. His parents’ names are not listed in the index record, but you could order the original record through the Louisiana secretary of state to see if it contains more information. We also suggest researching all known family members, neighbors and associates, which may help you work even further back in your family tree.

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.

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.

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