Tracing Your Roots: Who Were My Granddad’s Enslaved Parents?

1910 census record for Frank Lockhart of Talbot County, Ga. (U.S. Census Bureau)
1910 census record for Frank Lockhart of Talbot County, Ga. (U.S. Census Bureau)

A reader encounters the proverbial brick wall that African Americans encounter in antebellum genealogy research.


Dear Professor Gates:

Please help me find the parents of my grandfather Frank Lockhart (born July 28, 1878; died March 15, 1968). At some point he married Amanda Standback, but I have not been able to confirm any records for him beforehand (though I did I see an unnamed son in a Lockhart household in the 1880 census).

I have been looking at the Lockhart Plantation in Talbotton, Ga., because so many names that I’m finding in census records for the town appear to suggest that I’m looking at Frank Lockhart’s relatives. I’ve seen a will of a David Lockhart of Talbotton, Ga.; however, I cannot connect the dots. —Gayle Jones

Like you, we noticed that less than 7 miles from Junction City, Ga., where your grandfather Frank Lockhart resided during his lifetime, is the Lockhart-Cosby Plantation. A National Register of Historic Places registration form certified Sept. 6, 1994, states that in “antebellum times the plantation consisted of 750 acres worked by 27 slaves” and “the main crops were cotton and corn.”

Currently the property consists of “main house, several historic outbuildings,” the Lockhart family cemetery and “a slave-house chimney.” The original owner is described as being David Lockhart (1800-1873), who also served as a local postmaster from 1835 to 1942. It’s reasonable to assume that your family surname might come from a connection to the plantation, though we did not find that connection in our own research. Hopefully, the leads we pulled up will help you to search further back in time to “connect the dots.”

Is “Unnamed Lockhart” Your Grandfather?

Your approach of searching early census records to find ones in which Frank Lockhart (born circa 1878) can be easily identified is the same one we took. Census records in and after 1880 list the birthplace of an individual’s parents, which can be crucial information when one is facing a problem such as this. According to the 1910, 1920 and 1930 censuses, Frank Lockhart’s mother and father were both born in Georgia.


We also looked at individuals living near your ancestor with similar surnames of known relatives, which you had done, too. For instance, in 1920, there is a man named Will Lockhart living two households away. Will Lockhart is described as having been born circa 1855, and therefore is of an appropriate age to be the father of Frank Lockhart. We suggest that you look into him further.

As for your attention to the unnamed Lockhart living in the household of Eli and Julia A. Lockhart in Prattsburg, Talbot, Ga., in 1880, we notice that this child was reported to have been born in November 1879. Given that the birth was so recent, and other documentation suggests that Frank Lockhart was born in July 1878, we wondered if his parents or whoever provided information to the census taker would be incorrect about his date of birth to such a significant degree. Consider the possibility that this may not be your ancestor, although it can’t be ruled out without more information.


Indeed, when we looked at his World War I draft card (on; subscription required), we saw that Frank Lockhart gave his date of birth again as July 28, 1878. As you noted in an email, his nearest relative is listed as Mary Lockhart of Junction City, Talbot County, Ga. We wondered if perhaps this was actually his wife, Amanda “Manda” Lockhart, but it’s still worth exploring whether she is someone else who could provide additional clues about his early life.

Other Ways to Find an Elusive Ancestor 

We then found that, according to his Social Security Death Index, Frank’s full name was Frank E. Lockhart. This is important because it is possible that Frank was enumerated in 1880 and 1900 under his middle name, which would explain the difficulty in locating him. We highly recommend that you order the original Social Security Application record for this Frank E. Lockhart, since it is likely to contain information not given in the index that was provided by Frank himself when he applied for Social Security.


The next record that could be of vital importance to determining the parentage of Frank E. Lockhart is his marriage to Amanda Standback. In order to find this marriage record, we suggest searching the various marriage record databases for Georgia available online, bearing in mind that it was said to have taken place circa 1906 (as indicated by the 1910 census).

If this marriage provides the names of witnesses or even the names of the parents of both parties, these names should be investigated in detail. Another method for uncovering possible relationships would be to examine the probate records of both Talbot and Taylor counties in Georgia for any records for individuals with the surname Lockhart.


Church records are often extremely helpful in genealogical research. There are comprehensive collections of church records that may provide some context available online that should certainly be examined, especially if you have an idea which church he would have attended.

You could also search various newspaper databases, such as (subscription required), for obituaries and death announcements for men surnamed Lockhart in Georgia to determine whether they mention a relative named Frank E. Lockhart. You could also search for obituaries prior to his death in 1968 for the children of Eli and Julia to determine whether they refer to a brother named Frank.


Using the 1880, 1900, 1910 and 1920 censuses, we determined that Eli and Julia Lockhart had the following children: Eddie, born 1875; Ella, born 1876; Berry, born 1877; unknown (possibly Frank), born 1879; Minnie, born 1887; Hattie, born 1891; and George M., born 1893.

Interestingly, the death index for Frank E. Lockhart suggests that he died in Muscogee County, Ga., and not Talbot County. You might confirm the parentage of Frank by ordering his death certificate from the state of Georgia.


Good luck in your continued search!

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 Zachary Garceau, a 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,, 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.