Tuesday, September 30, 2014

In Search of Victoria Ardella's Family

We all watched last week's premiere episode of Finding Your Roots. The segment featuring Courtney Vance was the most touching, as he learned a bit of the history of his father's birth mother, Ardella.

Sadly only a few facts came out from the story, of a young teenage girl, who became pregnant by someone, at a tender age. She would give birth to the son, who would be raised in the social system, living in foster homes. But who was this young girl Ardella? She was a young girl, born victim to her circumstances into a world that was not a friendly one for her.

But she was a girl with parents, grandparents and history. Much was not shown though possibly edited out for the broadcast. But for me, I had questions.

Who were her parents?
Who was the loving mother who died and left her as a motherless child?
Were there grandparents to assist in any way?
Did she have others who showed her love?

I along with several other genealogy friends from the AfriGeneas community and from the MAAGI community have had numerous conversations since the program aired about the episode. There were several clues to follow, to find a bit more detail about Ardella Vance's life, and I decided to see what I could learn.

It was pointed out that there were no details about Ardella that were found in the census, and it was noted that the only clue about her came from an article in the well known African newspapers, known as The Chicago Defender. I was able to use a database and found the same article mentioning the circumstances about Ardella. That article provided a few additional clues about this young girl, from Arkansas.

The article was written in 1932 and she stated that the young girl "Idella" as she was called, had intimate contact with a pastor of a local church and that he may have been the person who left her in a "delicate condition." The case was later dismissed, and a subsequent news article by the research team for FindingYourRoots, confirmed that the pastor's case was dismissed and it was concluded that the pastor was not the father of her child.

But there is so much more to the story.

In the article it is stated that she lived with relatives and not her parents.  It did not mention her parents, and in fact the only family mentioned in the article was an uncle, James Holman. This provided more clues as to whom she was related.

An Error in the Broadcast
In the broadcast the voice over said that there was no trace of Ardella in the Census. (Advance the broadcast to 26:13 minutes.)

On first search in the census there is no Ardella. But could this really be true? She was from the small community near Brinkley Arkansas, located in Monroe County. Since Arkansas is my home state, I was extremely curious and began to study the community. There was one cluster of Vance's that lived in that area for some time. But sure enough---there was no Ardella.

I mentioned this to some genealogy colleagues, and one of them (Sarah Cato of St. Louis) pointed out to me that her name was not just Ardella Vance, but that it was Victoria Ardella Vance. She had noticed that on the screen when the show aired. So, I re-watched the online version of the program, and sure enough on the family tree presented to Mr. Vance, her name appeared as Victoria Ardella Vance.

Image from PBS Finding Your Roots, showing Ardella's full as "Victoria"
For full image scroll to 28:10 on the broadcast. Click HERE

So I followed that suggestion, and looked for Victoria, and I was surprised to find her!

In fact she was in the census twice in the same year!

Since the voice over narration mentioned that Ardella was said to have been about 17 years old, in the 1932 article that meant that she was born about 1915. Therefore, I looked for Victoria in the 1920 census and found her there with her father, a step-mother and others.
Year: 1920; Census Place: Dixon, Monroe, Arkansas; Roll: T625_73; Page: 7A;Enumeration District: 93; Image: 765

Interestingly, also in 1920, there was another child in the same community, in Brinkley Arkansas named Victoria Vance as well. And in this household, she was a grandchild. And in addition---another tie in to the article in the Chicago Defender---the Holman family!

Year: 1920; Census Place: Brinkley, Monroe, Arkansas; Roll: T625_73; Page:7A; Enumeration District: 87; Image: 524

So the question arises---were these two enumerations showing a Victoria Vance--reflecting the same child?

Dr. Gates stated that Victoria's mother had died when Ardella was two years old, so her mother would not be present in the 1920 census. And the woman "Hattie" seen in the first 1920 census document above was most likely not Ardella's mother, but her step mother. And the same woman was only 24 years old, and had just given birth to a baby, in that census document. (The youngest child was 0 month's.) She may have been the "new wife" alluded to on the broadcast

Plus note---the first census reflecting Victoria with a father and siblings was taken on the 3rd of January, 1920 and the second census reflecting Victoria with a grandfather from the Holman family, was taken later in the same month---the 24th of January. So this is quite possibly the evidence reflecting the fact that this was the child Victoria Ardella being shuttled from household to household.

But could there possibly more evidence connecting Victoria Ardella to the Holmans?
In other words--can it be proven that Victoria was the same "Idella" mentioned in the Chicago Defender article above? And if so--can a tie to the Holmans be confirmed in another way?

Well, I found the connection in a marriage record. 

In 1911, Todd Vance married Kate Holman. Ardella's mother was Kate. Kate Holman. I can now call her name aloud.  I could not help but find myself saying the same thing about Kate that Courtney Vance said on the program about Ardella, "Wow, that's a pretty name."

Marriage Record of Ardella's parents

Now it was pointed out that the Chicago Defender article revealed that there was an uncle called James Holman who lived in the same household. Well, in that second census document shown above, there is a young boy called James Holman living with his parents John and Pollie.These were Victoria Ardella's grandparents, the Holmans.

So within a month's time this child was living with her father and a new wife and young baby, then three weeks later, enumerated with the Holman family grandparents.

I wanted to find Katie, Victoria Ardella's mother in her life before marriage as well. Katie Holman Vance's name was never named on the program, but her name needs to be shown, and needs to be said. 

Hopefully the current Vance family was given this data.

So I went looking and I found Katie Holman, in the 1910 census, a year before she married Todd Vance. And at that time, she was living with her own parents, John and Pollie Holman. And in that household, was the younger brother James, who was later mentioned in the newspaper, as the uncle to "Idella".

(This is the document showing Victoria Ardella's grandparents the Holman family. Katie--Ardella's mother is shown as the oldest child in the household at that time. This document reflects the Holman family a year before the marriage to Todd Vance.)

By the early 1920s when Ardella was still a young girl, her grandfather John Holman died, thus leaving the Holman's now without the head of household. 

In an effort to learn more about the Holman family (Ardella's mother's side) I see that Uncle Henry was actually John Henry, and in 1917, he registered for the Draft as was required at that time.

Draft Card of John Henry Holman, son of John Holman, Brinkley Arkansas. John Henry was the brother to Kate Holman and a great uncle to Victoria Ardella Vance.

"United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918," index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1951-25075-40866-73?cc=1968530 : accessed 30 Sep 2014), Arkansas > Monroe County; Hackelton, Joseph F.-Z > image 318 of 3022; citing NARA microfilm publication M1509 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d).

My curiosity for the Holmans stemmed from the fact that Victoria Ardella did have a legacy and a family that was not rooted totally in tragedy.

It is true, that her mother died when she was young and little Victoria Ardella did get moved around. But this must be said, her trials in life did not and do not define the legacy of Conroy Vance, nor his descendants. They came from a family with a foundation. Although the tragedies in Victoria Ardella's life put her on a different trajectory path, her descendants should not feel that their legacy through Ardella's line was rooted completely in tragedy.

On significant clue comes from the 1910 census record in which Katie (Ardella's mother) was found living with her Hollman family.

In that record, using one of the tools on the Ancestry site, it was indicated that John Hollman, Katie Holman's father owned his own land. He was not a poor sharecropper at that time, but he was himself a landowner. He was his own man, carving out a living as a land owning farmer.

(Source: Same source cited in same image above.

(The fact that he owned his own land, can eventually lead the Holman family researchers to additional information by inquiring in the county court house to find out about the history of his land ownership.)

But yes, there were tragedies that the young Ardella faced, in her young life, including the loss of her son Conroy to the social service system, But that was only part of the story. And there were many other clues found in the broadcast last week that were most likely given to Mr. Vance, the guest. 

For example, Ardella had another child.

The voice over narration by Dr. Gates, mentioned that she was pregnant at 15, and we know from the articles that Conroy Vance was born when she was 17. And it appears that the researchers for the broadcast had found the other child, and in fact they had located the social security application of that older child, a male child. (See the following image.)

Image shown on PBS Program Find Your Roots.
(Ardella's first son's name is blocked out for privacy to persons who may still be living.)

The image was flashed on the screen very quickly, but I was able to see it. I have intentionally blotted out the name of the other child, out of respect for the families involved, as there are most likely other living relatives related to the first child. On that application for a social security number,  the parents are named. One can see Ardella's name faintly on the record. To the left is the name of the father, and sadly it is noted that the father of the child was a Vance. A relative of Ardella. Yes, this tender young girl was most likely taken advantage of by a relative. 

One cannot help but feel compassion for this young girl who ended up so soon, in Chicago, as a young frightened mother. And she then sought safety in a place that would lead to a second pregnancy---her church.

The story of Ardella's situation attracted attention in Chicago, and it was even covered in the national press. In fact the Baltimore Afro American featured the story as well when the pastor was freed of paternity charges.

Summary of the case from Baltimore newspaper

However, Ardella's tragedy does not define the Vance family history.

The Vance-Holman legacy is a strong one and should be noted. Through Katie Holman--(Victoria Ardella's mother), that line brought a rich and strong family tradition or hard work and land ownership, and spirit of industry to the Arkansas community where they lived.

The Holman family did recover after the death of John Holman in the 1920s. And it was Ardella's Uncle James who was her largest supporter during some of the difficult years when Victoria Ardella was so young and so vulnerable.

A follow up---Ardella's first child died in 1993 in Chicago, but there is a possibility that the Vance line is still alive in Chicago. And the Holmans have a strong tie still to eastern Arkansas as well.

Though Ardella's journey was a bumpy one--her son Conroy's line continues and extends to a successful line of astonishing artists and professionals.

Somewhere out there, Victoria Ardella who died in the 1990s can look down from her eternal home, upon the following generations of grandchildren and great grandchildren and realize that all was not lost in her tragedies. 

They are successful and hopefully, she is proudly smiling, saying "look at my children shine."

I was so happy to find the names of  the parents and grandparents of Victoria Ardella, and to see her as the young person that she was when she was a young girl, full of hope and faith. 

My only hope is that she also found some joy through the years as  her life unfolded. 
Ardella died in the 1990s but through her, comes a family that is truly strong. 

Perhaps Katie Holman Vance, the loving young mother that Ardella never got to know, also smiles with her as they both watch their descendants move on taking on life's challenges with success and with pride.

Friday, September 19, 2014

One Newsaper, Two Homes

Over a year ago, I was fascinated when doing some research to come across a digitized image of a Black newspaper called the Broad Ax.  This newspaper started out in Salt Lake City, and had an amazing history from an amazing editor.

Julius Taylor was a unique man with unique ideas that covered many aspects of politics. He traveled from Virginia, to the Midwest before settling in Salt Lake City Utah in 1895. A year later he launched the Broad Ax, from his base in Utah. This is amazing since at that time, there were so few people of color in the state of Utah. It is estimated that there were less than 1000 African Americans in the state at that time. It has been noted that in 1890, the population was less than 600. (1)

Taylor was often in conflict with people of varying opinions politically and religiously, but stated in his newspaper that people of varying opinions could respond to his thoughts "so long as their language was proper, and responsibility is fixed." [2]

Taylor could be described as a man of interesting politics in many ways. At a time when most Black Americans were politically leaning to the policies of the Republican party in the late 1800s, he was one who encouraged Black readers to consider more the politics of the Democratic party. Interestingly, that shift would occur decades later in the 1960s after the Voting Rights Act. Black registered as Democrats and those with more conservative and sometimes "anti-black" sentiments began to shift in larger numbers to the Republican party. Taylor often lectured how the preferred party of the time had abandoned the Lincoln values and had shifted away in a different direction. He particularly deplored the actions of the Republican Party convention of 1896 nominated persons of all religious and ethnic backgrounds except African Americans.

Julius Taylor did become a strong voice against the lynchings throughout the nation of black people and often was a spokesperson against lynching in The Broad Ax. He also worked tirelessly to encourage the placement of Blacks in Salt Lake City city council, where he met much opposition from a strongly conservative population.

Taylor did not have strong religious feelings and often spoke against issues and conservative policies of the Mormon church and other faiths as well.

His strongest interests were continually equality for all people and the sentiment was found often in his editorials.

Three  years after publication, Taylor left Salt Lake City, and after efforts to have involvement of people of color  and relocated the offices of The Broad Ax to Chicago, where he worked within a city that had a more sizable black population. (2)


1.  Utah Digital Newspapers, Creating Citizen Historians [Link to quotation]

2, A detailed article about Julius Taylor and The Broad Ax can be found in a digitized copy of the Utah Historical Quarterly, Volume 77, No. 3, Summer 2009 p. 204.