After five wonderful, fun years of helping African Americans find their ancestry on The Root, we are looking forward to carrying on the work of the Tracing Your Roots column through an ongoing collaboration with AmericanAncestors.org by the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Our new column will appear on AmericanAncestors.org and the related blog Vita-Brevis.org. Going forward, please send your questions about tracing your own roots to TracingYourRoots@nehgs.org.
In the final posting of this column on The Root, a birth certificate provides few answers in the search for a woman’s biological grandparents, but other documents reveal clues.
Dear Professor Gates:
My mother’s side of the family has always been a great mystery to me. She was left in foster care early in life with a family from Trinidad and Tobago, and it is unclear to me at what age this occurred. My mother’s biological parents never returned for her, and she was angry and bitter about this her entire life. She did not allow us to know anything about them, but after both of my parents passed away, I came across her birth certificate (a scanned copy is attached) under the name of Gloria Consuelo Lemoine, which let me know her correct birth date and the following details about my maternal grandparents at the time of my mother’s birth on Feb. 17, 1929: My grandmother’s maiden name was Consuelo Wynn, she was “colored,” age 31, born in Virginia, and her occupation was listed as “housewife.” My grandfather’s name was Dan Lemoine, he was “colored,” age 41, born in Virginia, and his occupation was listed as “laborer.” They lived at 222 W. 127th St., New York, NY, and they were listed as having no other living children.
The one thing my mother did share with us about her family is that they were supposedly from Martinique, although I have no evidence to support that. I am very curious to know about any maternal relatives I may have. Is there any information you can find about my great-grandparents on my mother’s side? —Valerie Turner
The birth record you sent us included several details that can be used to learn more about your mother’s parents, including a possible address. One benefit you may have is that Gloria was born close to the enumeration of the 1930 U.S. census, so it is possible that her family was residing at the same location in 1930 as they were when Gloria was born in 1929. This possibility led us to use research tools that anyone can use when they have a street address and are trying to gather information about the occupants.
We started by searching for the address recorded on Gloria’s birth certificate (222 W. 127th St.) in the 1930 federal census to see who was living there. That involves figuring out the enumeration district for the home and then browsing the records for that district to find the address. Luckily, there are tools to help with this.
The Unified Census ED Finder by Stephen P. Morse and Joel D. Weintraub allows one to put in the address to determine the enumeration district. If you wish to follow these steps on your own, start by selecting the state of New York, County of New York and Manhattan and then inputting the house number (222) and choosing a street from the list (127th W.).
You’ll notice when you do this that it returns six possible enumeration districts, but you can get more detailed results by entering the cross streets near the address. Choose to “see Google map” so that you can determine which streets are closest to the address in question. Once you see that it crosses Seventh Avenue and that 126th W. is a back street, it narrows the results to Enumeration District 31-916, which is what you’ll want to search for the record.
You can then browse the census for a record of the household. When you open the page, the search in the 1930 U.S. census (via FamilySearch; free registration required), scroll to the bottom to the link to “Browse through 2,957,015 images.” From there choose “New York,” “New York” again and then “Manhattan (Districts 0751-1000),” since you know that District 916 will fall into these numbers. Then choose “ED 916” and go page by page through the original records until you find the address.
Remember that the census takers may have walked around blocks instead of going straight down an entire street, so you’ll notice other streets named as you browse, such as Seventh Avenue and West 126th Street—but keep going. You’ll find the address 222 W. 127th St. recorded on Image 26, which records the Pontes family and a number of lodgers residing there.
Neither Dan Lemoine nor Consuelo Wynn was recorded in this household, and there was no one younger than 19, meaning that your Gloria was not residing there as an infant. A few things we did note from this record is that several of the residents were born in the British West Indies and two, Lyer R. Pontes and Elizabeth Lord, were from Virginia. These are regions known to be associated with your Gloria and her biological family and foster family. It is always good to note coincidences such as this, since they may be further clues that could help you make better sense of something as you continue your research.
Since we did not locate your Gloria or her parents here, it suggests that they had moved by 1930. Gloria’s delayed birth certificate says that she received treatment at Presbyterian Hospital in New York City on April 30, 1929, when she was brought to the clinic, and her parents and residence were listed at that time in those records. This means that they would have moved from that address between April 30, 1929, and the date the census was enumerated, on May 26, 1930.
You could try some other search options to see if you can locate them in another record. We searched for each of Gloria Consuelo’s parents in the 1930 census, and while we didn’t locate any records for the family as a unit, we did locate some records of people who might be her parents.
The only Dan Lemoine we located in this census residing in New York was a Daniel Lemoine and his wife, Pearle, who were residing in Manhattan in 1930. According to the birth certificate, Dan Lemoine was born about 1887, and this Daniel Lemoine was born about 1893, a difference that is not uncommon between records and is close enough to be the same person. We found it interesting that his address is 272 W. 147 St. and the address on Gloria Consuelo Lemoine’s birth record is 222 W. 127th St. (each number is just one number off).
You may want to consider the possibility that the hospital record cited on her birth record may have been transcribed incorrectly or that her parents gave an address slightly different from their own. Daniel and Pearle do not have any children residing with them, and there is no sign of Gloria in their household or in the neighboring household.
This Daniel Lemoine married Pearle Smith in Manhattan on Feb. 7, 1924. This record includes both parties’ parents’ names and records Daniel’s parents as James and Catherine (Inez) Lemoine. The question becomes, who is Pearle Smith? Could this be another name for Consuelo Wynn or is this a different woman entirely? We tried to locate another record of this couple, but they do not appear in the 1940 census, so we could not trace them forward. You could try to search for Daniel Lemoine and his parents in earlier records to see if there is something in them that stands out as relating to your mother.
We also tried looking for Gloria Consuelo’s mother in 1930, hoping that Gloria might have been recorded with her. The closest match we found was a Consuelo Noll who had the same first name and was the right age and race to be Gloria’s mother. She was in Manhattan as a roomer in the household of John Bolden in 1930. This Consuelo was born in the Virgin Islands about 1898, but there is no sign of Gloria Consuelo as an infant residing anywhere near her.
We tried several search options to locate Gloria Consuelo Lemoine in the 1930 census in hopes of locating her with her parents. We tried searching for just her first name, just her middle name and just the last name with her birth date and location and did not locate any close matches. We also searched for the surname Wynn with her birth date and still did not locate anything. From what we could tell, she was either not counted in the 1930 census or recorded under a different name.
We were, however, able to locate Gloria in 1940 residing with Dorothy Gibbons, the guardian named on her birth certificate. This record states that Dorothy was Gloria’s cousin, so if that’s true, you’ll want to include Dorothy’s relatives in your searches, with the idea that they may be your kin.
If Gloria was left with relatives, it fits with a tradition that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports is more prevalent in the African-American community than in other populations: children living in formal foster care with relatives, as well as other care arrangements with nonparent relatives.
Since the record also states that Gloria was residing in the same place in 1935, we can assume that she had been living with Dorothy Gibbons since she was at least 6 years old. We also noted that Dorothy Gibbons was born around 1894 in the British West Indies. With this information, we located Dorothy Gibbons 10 years earlier in the household of her mother, Frances Hunkson.
Something you may want to note about this record is that Frances has foster children in the household: Harriet Jackson, born about 1922, and Elmer Jackson, born around 1925. Both were born in New York, but their parents were both born in Virginia, a similar claim to that made on Gloria’s birth certificate. We searched for a Gloria Jackson in the 1930 census and located three records you may want to pursue further to see if one of them could be your mother, including one at the New York Foundling Hospital.
Most of what we found probably created more questions than it answered, but we hope it shows you that you have options to pursue to try to solve the mystery. Another option you may want to consider is contacting the hospitals named on Gloria’s birth record to see if they still have records that old that may include more information about Gloria. Your best option would be to follow some of these circumstantial leads to see if you can find anything that will connect back to your mother and help answer more of your questions.
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.
This answer was provided in consultation with Meaghan E.H. Siekman, Ph.D., the genealogist of the Newbury Street Press at 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.