Is Your Oral History Dormant?

Did you begin the quest for discovering more about your ancestors without including your oral history?  Sometimes you come across challenges in your family history research that could be resolved by verifying information from family stories or oral history.  Below is an example of how far oral history can lead you.


Details from my first interview

Aunt Cat (Robin Foster)My very first interviewee was my Aunt Cat who was born in 1917.  I had learned a few details about my family from my grandmother, Otis E. Vance.  Unfortunately she was not able to be formally interviewed.  I knew the names of four generations of ancestors on my maternal line, but because of my interview with Aunt Cat, I was able to find the fifth generation.

Her grandmother and my 2nd great grandmother is Martha Talley.  I asked Aunt Cat if she knew of any stories of slavery in the family.  She said that her grandmother was seven years old when she was set free.  She did not live at home with her parents.  She was always more free than the other slaves.   The plantation owner’s wife took a liking to her because she was very pretty.  She kept her at home with her.


Census discovery 

I knew that the name of the plantation owner was James Anderson Tucker, and his wife’s name was Anna.  I found James and his wife on the 1870 Census in Fishdam Township, Union County, South Carolina.  Martha was 15 years old and listed as living next door with her parents:



"United States Census, 1870," index and images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 26 Mar 2014), South Carolina > Union > Fishdam > image 24 of 28; citing NARA microfilm publication M593.

It was not easy to find this census record because it was indexed incorrectly.  James’ name was indexed as G. A. Tucker.   Many names of ancestors on the 1870 Census are indexed using their first initials, but the “G” in this case almost completely threw me off.  Had I not searched using the Tucker surname only, I may have never found them.

Because I had taken the important step to search for this census record, I discovered Martha’s surname, Sims, as well as the names of my 3rd great grandparents and their children:

  • Henry & Scillar Sims
  • Nathan
  • Martha
  • Brooke


In search of the maiden name

I was curious now about the name Scillar.  I knew that must have been a nickname.  Whenever you do not know the surname of a female ancestor, search for possible death records for each of the children.  The death certificate for Martha revealed that her mother’s name was Druscilla Chick.  I did verify this with other death certificates for her children.


record-image (2)"South Carolina Deaths, 1915-1943," index and images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 26 Mar 2014), 004179139 > image 315 of 1343; citing Department of Archives and History, State Records Center, Columbia.

It was difficult to decide which direction I wanted to go at this point. I could have researched each child to find living descendants, or I could have continued working back in time to see what else I could discover.  To find out what I chose to do, you will have to stay tuned for next month’s IDG blog post.  Be sure to subscribe so that you do not miss it.


About Robin Foster

Robin Foster is the author of Citing African Ancestors, a monthly column in The In-Depth Genealogist which provides techniques and resources for researching African American ancestors. Robin is a presenter, blogger, and an expert in genealogical research in South Carolina. She also serves as a member of the FamilySearch Wiki Support Team. Visit

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