Taking Back What Was Once Lost

Maternal Ancestors


Luther Holt

Luther Holt

My maternal grandfather was Luther Holt (1921-1993) and he was born in Hardin County, Tennessee. I have so many wonderful memories of being with him, he was a caring and adventurous grandfather. He descends from Malinda Holt (1816-1881), a formerly enslaved woman who was my ggg-grandmother. Giles Holt was Malinda’s slaveowner; he was born in Amelia County, Virginia and later migrated to Tennessee. Malinda Holt had at least 9 known children: Thomas, Daniel, Phillip, Chana, Eliza Ann, Cyntha Jane, John Wesley, James and Elizabeth. The name of the father of Malinda’s children is lost in the annals of slavery, but I did find her headstone in Cawthon Cemetery in Hardin County which was a pretty exciting discovery. It was the oldest one there. Malinda Holt shows up only on the 1870 Hardin County census. Although her headstone lists her death as 1881, she does not appear on the 1880 census.

Malinda’s son John W. Holt was my gg-grandfather. He married Mary Garrett in 1877 in neighboring Decatur County.

John and Mary Garrett

John and Mary Garrett

John and Mary had 8 children together: Ivie, Swanson, Madelina, Roxie, Oralee, Lawson, Freddie and Troy. John W. Holt also had another son, named Hundley. My g-grandfather was their son Lawson Holt. The Holt family appears on the 1880, 1900, 1910 and 1920 Hardin County census.

Lawson Holt

Lawson Holt

John W. (and his brother George W.) are particularly well documented in the records of Hardin County. They were prosperous land owners, and very active in the African-American community. I have a wonderful deed showing three Holts (John, brother Philip and cousin Samuel C.) purchasing 200 acres of land in 1871. That’s only six years out of slavery! But life was not without racial violence; John’s brother George was lynched in 1887, an event that was cruelly announced in the paper with this sentence:

” George Holt, colored, of Sibley, met his fate by the rope route last week.”

Nevertheless, the family persevered and helped build a thriving community.

John W. Holt also owned a general store, was Postmaster of Holtsville from 1902-1907, and had a school called the Holtsville school. He died in 1925 , leaving a lengthy and detailed will, and his wife Mary Garrett died in 1932. Holtsville is still marked on many maps of the area to this day. His wife Mary Garrett was from neighboring Decatur County, and oral history says her mother was a full-blood Cherokee Indian. Her grandson recalled her “smoking those Indian pipes.” Mary had a sister named Anna Garrett who married John’s brother George. Mary and Anna descended from Mason and Rachel Garrett.They show up on the 1870 census for Decatur County. Mason and Rachel’s former owner was named Jeff Johnson, but he died shortly after purchasing his farm in Decatur County. Mason and Rachel (and their children) were left to Jeff’s brother, who was killed during the Civil War by Federal soldiers. (Note: their surname is sometimes seen as Garrard.)

Many of the Holt descendants in the mid-20th century moved North as part of the famous Great Migration. They moved to places like Inkster, Michigan, Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Chicago, Illinois. They traded in farming for the promise of factory work, which boomed during and after World War II. That’s what prompted my grandfather, Luther Holt and his wife Mattie (Springer) to migrate to Dayton, Ohio in about 1946 or so. My mom grew up in Dayton and that’s where my brother and I spent summers as children. Those are wonderful memories for me.

The Holts and their descendants have a rich legacy in Hardin County, TN all starting with our ancestor Malinda, who survived the horrors of slavery. I have a lengthier and more detailed article I did on this family that was published in a genealogical journal; if you’d like a copy, send me an email.

John and Mary's Children

John and Mary’s Children


My maternal ggg-grandmother was Hannah Barnes (1856-1925). Hannah’s mother was Margaret Barnes (abt. 1829-1894). Margaret first appears on a county court record in 1838 Hardin County, Tennessee. You can read in my posts how much I love court records and this is another example of why. Sadly, the record describes how Margaret was sold to John L. Barnes for $198 because she was  being badly treated by her current owner, Washington B. Turner. She was technically a freed black. In 1840, after the court transaction, she is likely the freedwoman living in the household of John L. Barnes on the census. In 1850, her name is listed in the Barnes household as Margaret Roberts, and she apparently has several young children. By 1860, Margaret’s name has now changed to Margaret Barnes. She appears for the last time on the 1870 Hardin County census, living in Savannah, Tennessee. At that time, she still has four children in the household. Her granddaughter, Minnie Holt, later wrote in her family notes that Margaret died in 1893.

Margaret is certainly a mystery. One puzzle is the use of the name Margaret Roberts, which could indicate clues to her identity before being “owned” by Washington B. Turner. Although she is a freedwoman, sometimes freed blacks had to be bonded to some respectable white person (a form of “vouching” for them) and maybe that is what is happening here. I was thrilled in 2011 to find Margaret serving as a witness in the Southern Claims Commission records, along with her son, Campbell (more on him later). She gave critical testimony that validated much of my research.

I’m still following Washington B. Turner to find how he came to own Margaret, but he is extremely hard to research. He appears on a few deeds and is probably the “W.B. Turner” on the 1837 tax list but other than that, he’s like a ghost. He’s either gone or dead by 1850, because he is no longer in Hardin County records, and I can’t definitively tie him to the other Turners in Hardin County in the early 1800s. I also can’t find anybody who has already researched this Turner family; if I could, that would at least give me a starting point. That timeframe gets difficult because records in general just get more scarce. I also have not had any luck yet researching the Roberts surname in Hardin County. More work to do.

Margaret had at least 9 known children: Campbell, Louisa (or Lucy), Green, Samuel, Hannah, Martin, Nancy (Nannie), Martha and Alice. Daughter Lucy married Samuel C. Holt and lived in Hardin County her entire life. Samuel was very prosperous and by his death in 1897 owned over 500 acres of land. Samuel and Lucy had 6 children together. Lucy, after her husband’s death remarried William Davy in 1906. Lucy died in 1922 in Hardin County.

Lucy Barnes Holt

Lucy Barnes Holt

I discovered through county court records that Lucy actually had a son named Felix before she married Samuel Holt; he is being apprenticed out in court minutes and is referred to as her ‘illegitimate mulatto son.’

Another daughter of Margaret’s, Nannie, also lived in Hardin County and married first James Holt then Kirby Welch. Both sisters, Lucy and Nannie looked absolutely white. We know that Nannie’s father was a white man; whether or not all of Margaret’s children were with the same man is unknown. Nannie died in 1949. She had three children, only one of whom lived to adulthood–her daughter Minnie. Minnie spent many years recording historical details about her family and other families in the community that survive today. Those records were simply invaluable as I researched this family. Minnie was a historian before her time. Minnie’s daughter Nella lived in Washington D.C. and was 98 years old when I first called her and was beginning my research. She helped me and shared her family’s wonderful pictures.

Nannie and daughter Minnie

Nannie and daughter Minnie

Margaret Barnes also had a son named Campbell Barnes, who I found also in the Southern Claims Commission record. I found a marriage license for him in 1868 in neighboring McNairy County, where he married Alice Jones. I found them on the 1870 census in McNairy but afterwards, nothing. His deposition states that he went away with the Union Army, but I have not found in his name in any of the official records.

Joseph Harbour

Joseph Harbour

Margaret’s daughter Hannah (my ggg-grandmother) married Joseph Harbour abt. 1876 and they appear on the 1880 Hardin County census. Joseph was born abt. 1852, and Joseph and Hannah had two children, Odie and Doss. By 1900, Joseph and Hannah are no longer together. Joseph married another woman, Rachel Shannon in 1884. Joseph’s marriage to Rachel was not a happy one; they had a very contentious divorce in 1895. Joseph appears to be quite a character; he is charged with crimes numerous times in circuit court records in Hardin County between the years 1882-1896. From Carrying A Pistol to Attempted Manslaughter to Lewdness and Profanity, he obviously is not a pleasant man! When I look at his photograph, he looks like  a pretty rough one….LOL.

A Hardin County Court record written in 1866 illuminates Joseph Harbour’s background. It documents “..a colored woman named Marge” apprenticing her children out to white men in the community. It names her son Joseph and his brother Alexander, who were apprenticed to Thomas Maxwell, and their brother Wesley Harbour apprenticed to Thomas’ son, Henry Maxwell. This record also gives their birthdates and the terms of their service. This is yet another example of the incomparable value of court records. I found his mother’s name, two siblings, and their birthdates all in one place.

Unfortunately, I have been unable to locate any further data about either of the brothers Alexander or Wesley. The mother Marge, likely a formerly enslaved woman, was probably owned by Elijah or Elisha Harbour who were large slaveowners in that area. I did find two women named Marge (Margaret) Harbour in the 1870 Hardin census of sufficient age to have been the mother of the three boys.

By 1900, Hannah is listed as head of household with five children: Odie, Doss, Pearl, Magnolia and Alma. Although Joseph is clearly alive, Hannah is listed on the census as Widowed which I find pretty hilarious. Perhaps a testament to how she felt about him? She also had three additional children in that census year, and I do not know who the father of those children are. Hannah remarried by 1920 to John J. Bradley (I was unable to find her in 1910), and the three daughters all regarded their mother’s new husband as their father; even on their death certificates. Just last week, I found an online transcription of  the Norwood cemetery, which I have been trying to find for 10 years in search of Hannah’s grave. The transcription shows that Hannah is in fact buried there and that she died on 7 April 1925! I love the Internet.

Hannah’s son Doss Harbour, born abt. 1878, was my gg-grandfather:

Doss Harbour

Doss Harbour

Doss Harbour was a farmer, and appears on the 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930 Hardin County census records. He was by oral accounts a hard-living, tough man. Land records show that Doss took out several trust deeds, getting credit for his crops, in 1908, 1915, 1916, and 1919. One piece of oral history has him figuring prominently in the racial violence of the times, defending the African-American community in battles with some whites, one that he supposedly killed. I am searching for more detail about this episode.

Doss had a daughter with a local woman Ada Merriman, and the infant girl was named Vannie. Doss then married Lula Harris in 1905, and Doss and Lula raised Vannie together. Vannie really regarded her stepmother Lula as her mother. I can only guess that perhaps age, or being unmarried, is what made Ada allow her daughter Vannie to be raised by Doss and his new wfe Lula. We can never knwo the true reasons behind some of the things our ancestors did. Doss Harbour died in 1943.

The picture below shows Doss with his sister Odie and his three half sisters, Pearl, Ollie and Nola (Magnolia) in 1939:

Doss and his sisters

Doss and his sisters

Vannie’s first marriage in 1921 was to Lawson Holt, with whom she had a son named Luther Holt, my grandfather. They divorced shortly thereafter, and Vannie married Elroy Roberson in 1926 in Chester County, Tennessee and had four more children: Lulapearl, Pete, Joe and Juliette. After Doss’ death, his wife Lula and daughter Vannie relocated to Dayton, Ohio where her son Luther (my grandfather) was living.

Vannie Harbour

Vannie Harbour

Vannie was a loving, soft-spoken, very gentle woman who did mostly domestic work, which was common for women of her time. She also took in boarders from time to time in her home in Ohio. She was very religious and enjoyed spending time with her children and grandchildren. Vannie lived to be 98 years old and passed away in 2001. This is where my personal memory come in. I have just a few memories of Vannie from when I was a child– like combing her beautiful long silky hair, which to a young girl seemed like something only dolls had. I remember her cooking and I also have this image of her house always being filled with kids and people. My grandfather Luther was very close to his mother, adored her, and took care of her. I am sure she was beloved by all her children.

I later found that Ada Merriman, Vannie’s biological mother, married a man named Sank Seaman in 1883. They appear only on the 1910 census together with their five children: Nelson, Lee, and Ollie May. (She had two more daughters later, Rachel and Nettie.) Ada died on 13 November 1918, even though she is mistakenly shown on the 1920 census. Ada’s parents were Baltimore and Martha (Bailey) Merriman; Baltimore shows up in many of the Hardin County early records and history. Ada had many brothers and sisters, which I am just starting to document.

I love the picture below: it is my g-grandmother Vannie in grade school (actually, in the Holtsville school) in Hardin County, TN. This picture probably dates from between 1910-1915. Vannie is on the far right, the girl with the big white bow in her hair.

Vannie at the Holtsville school

Vannie at the Holtsville school


Walter Springer

Walter Springer

My maternal grandmother was Mattie Springer (1921-2001) and she was born in Hardin County, Tennessee. Her parents were Walter Springer (1888-1944) and Effie Fendricks (1898-1959). They married in Hardin County on March 29, 1910 and appear on the 1910, 1920 and 1930 census records. Sometime afterwards, the family relocated to neighboring Chester County where they made their home in the town of Henderson.

Walter’s Application for a Social Security Number lists his parents as George Springer and Lou Springer. My grandmother’s birth certificate showed her father’s birthplace as Lawrence County, Tennessee. I have yet to find any document, census or otherwise, definitively showing this George Springer so he remains one of my brick walls. My grandmother Mattie remembered his name as George Washington, which adds to the confusion. Was his last name Washington or was he called George Washington Springer? Don’t know yet.

Both Walter and Effie consistently state that their parents were from
Alabama on the census records. A 1900 census record

Effie Fendricks

Effie Fendricks

showed a Ludi Springer with a son named Walter of the right age to have been my Walter.  These Springers (Walter’s parents) have been difficult to research. I am still looking in Lawrence County, TN records for any trace of them. I just ordered tax records which I hope will uncover something more. It’s difficult when ancestors come from another state and you have no idea what county in that state to look.

Walter and Effie had 9 children, 7 of which survived to adulthood: Granville, Maxine, Arnell, Grady Lee, Mattie, George and James. Walter was a farmer and the family moved around alot, once living in a little town called The Forks and another called Hookers Bend.  Later they moved to the city of Savannah, and eventually to the city of Henderson, in Chester County, Tennessee. I found one trust deed Walter secured in 1920 where he used 1 cow and calf, 1 sow and 4 pigs, and 4 shoats to secure seed and other materials for the crop that year. Walter also worked occasionally on the steamboats that traversed the Tennessee River. He later secured what would be considered a very good job: a government job working at the Wolf Creek Ordnance Plant were munitions were made in support of the World War II.

Mattie shared many happy memories of her family. She recalled her father’s diligent prayers and the family spending lots of time at church, her and her siblings going off to school, her mother’s cooking, her siblings picking cotton, and her father’s telling the children folktales and stories.

Luther and Mattie Holt

Mattie married Luther Holt and the young couple moved to Dayton, Ohio for job opportunities. Mattie’s brother Granville was already there. After Walter’s death in 1944, Mattie’s now widowed mother Effie came to Dayton, along with two other daughters, Maxine and Arnell. Sons George and James Springer, after fighting in World War II, eventually settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Daughter Grady Lee stayed in Tennessee.

Effie’s parents were Mike Fendricks (1855-1928) and Jane Eliza Sherrell (born abt. 1862-died before 1910). As mentioned, they were from Alabama and married in 1879 in Hardin County where they appear there in the 1880 and 1900 census. By 1910, Jane had died and Mike was listed as widowed and had two daughters living with him. Three of his other daughters were married by then and lived right next door along with two sons. Jane Fendricks birthed 13 children, but only 8 survived: Mary Ella, Daisy, Ada, Effie, Mattie, Odie, Grady and John. Mike was a farmer and died Oct. 2, 1928. He is buried in the Savannah Colored Cemetery, according to his death certificate.

The known marriages of Mike and Jane’s children are:

  • Daisy Fendricks m. William (Bill) Pitts, Feb. 15, 1903
  • Ada Fendricks m. John King, Sep. 2, 1905
  • Mary Ella Fendricks m. Abe Copeland, Nov. 10, 1907
  • Effie Fendricks m. Walter Springer, Mar. 29, 1910
  • Mattie Fendricks m. Bee Winn, May 24, 1919

I am still tracking all of these siblings and their children. In trying to trace Mike Fendricks’ history in slavery, I found no other individuals with that strange surname Fendricks, or any derivative of that name in Tennessee. However, I noticed that in 1920 Mike was living with a person named Dee Suggs who was also from Alabama. Mike appeared on a marriage license as a bondsmen with Dee Suggs. This connection led me to trace Dee Suggs back on the census records (since I couldn’t find any Fendricks) and I found Dee on the 1880 and 1870 census record in Lawrence Cty, Alabama. This is an example of a classic cluster genealogy approach.

Surprisingly, in 1870, Dee Suggs (Dewitt Suggs) also has another person in the household named Mike Suggs. The age matches my Mike Fendricks exactly; I believe them to be one and the same person! I believe Mike and Dee were probably brothers, which would explain their close relationship in Hardin County. Why did Mike chose to use the surname Fendricks? My working theory is that it was his father’s surname in slavery. He listed his father as being born in Washington DC, and there happened to be several Fendricks slaveowners in D.C., in fact, it was practically the only place. I am excited about this new find,

I am continuing to research the Suggs connection in Alabama. If my theory on DFee and Mike’s relationship is true, than that means Sofrona Suggs is possibly my gggrandmother!  My research in this line is now centered on her roots in Alabama.


  1. Andrea Andrea
    June 30, 2009    

    I especially loved seeing the photos and reading about your family lineage. You’ve done a lot of wonderful work.
    FYI: The surname “Springer” is very common in the parish of St. Lucy, Barbados, and the name “Granville,”was popular on the island. My great uncle was named “Granville” Kitchner Prout, but was called “Kitch.” Many of my ancestors used their middle, and not their first name.

  2. Tammy Joyner Tammy Joyner
    November 18, 2009    

    What a wonderful compilation! I feel like I know you and your family and I’ve only made it through your maternal line. Great photos. They tell so much. Thanks for sharing your wonderful story.

  3. Wilhelmina Williman-Street Wilhelmina Williman-Street
    December 4, 2009    

    Thanks so much for taking the hours to put such a beautiful display together and for sharing. I’ve just started working on my family genealogy and have uncovered wonderful facts that date back to the late 1700’s. Your work has inspired me to place my new found treasures in print. Thanks again.

  4. carole hyman carole hyman
    December 29, 2009    

    Robyn, I have learned so much from you. You should be teaching classes in genealogy in Maryland. Maybe there are others who agree with me.

  5. Ellen Carr Ellen Carr
    March 29, 2011    

    I am searching for the grand parents of Giles Holt. I am hoping you can help. I descend from them, I am 6th generation. My gg grandfather would be Giles brother Jesse. So I am looking for information on him as well as his siblings and grandparents. I can’t seem to get pass Jesse and Mary (Ward) Holt. I would appreciate any help you might be able to give to me. Thank you so much.

    Ellen (Holt) Carr

  6. Ellen Carr Ellen Carr
    March 29, 2011    

    What a great site!

  7. May 11, 2011    

    I read with great interest your historical research, Great job!

    I am looking for info and photos of Nannie Barnes.
    Around 1910.

    I hope you can help me
    All my best
    Jonathan Kent

  8. May 11, 2011    

    I read with interest your historical researches.
    Great Job!

    I am looking fro photos and info about Nannie Barnes Around 1910.

    I hope you can help me.

    All my best
    Jonathan Kent

  9. Darryl Holt Darryl Holt
    August 30, 2011    

    Hello all, my name is Darryl Holt and I and the grandson of Clifford Holt from Sibley. I actually was brought up in sibley. My mother was Velma Holt the dauther Clifford and Sammie. I reconize some of the names. I would have loved to have came to the reunion. Sorry I missed it.

  10. November 14, 2011    


    GREAT STORY!! I like the layout of your story, the connection, and how you put a family member with each phase of this storyboard. It’s nice to see the connections you’ve made from creating this post. Thanks for sharing.

  11. November 19, 2011    

    Thank You for sharing your family research. I just recently started my own blog (well, #2) and it’s good to see so many people committed to genuine family research and being able to enjoy and share the stories.

  12. Gregory Gillis Gregory Gillis
    June 20, 2012    

    My paternal family line is from Savannah, TN. I am related to the Porter, Ward, Bailey and Gillis families from Hardin County. When Queen movie came out I was told that our family was related. Now I am trying to find the relationships. This has been helpful. Well done. Some day I’ll be able to tell the story of my family.

  13. Mozelle Simmons (maiden) Mozelle Simmons (maiden)
    August 20, 2012    

    You are so blessed to have info and photographs. I’m still searching for my father’s grandparents info Don & Lucy Simmons of South Carolina

  14. Katherine Katherine
    November 19, 2012    

    I have been struggling for years trying to figure out how to write my family genealogy with the materials that I have accumulated over the years. Excellent and I really enjoyed reading.
    Katherine Addison-Evans

  15. michelle fuller michelle fuller
    January 20, 2013    

    I am happy you are knowing your roots. A lot of people dont know where there from.Thank you to share your family history . Looking out for your book.

  16. December 25, 2013    

    I have family immediate family with the last name Springer. Big family tree the Springers are. Below is my email address.

No Pings Yet

  1. Genealogy Envy « Discovering Yesterday on October 29, 2011 at 8:44 am

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Blog Book is Here!

Reclaiming Kin Blog Book

Purchase the Book, $25 (+$3 shipping

First Time Visitor?

Welcome! Please go to the link above titled "Start Here." If you like the content, subscribe for free by adding your email address below so you can be notified of new posts.

About Me

I blog, teach, write and lecture about family history research and it's just as rewarding today as it was when I began 18 years ago. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my past and I've taken back--reclaimed- my kin and some of that lost memory.  

Post History

What I Talk About

Locations and Surnames

Hardin, Chester and Lawrence Counties, TN
Holt, Barnes, Harbour, Bradley Springer and Fendricks
Lawrence County, AL
Springer and Fendricks
Montgomery County, MD
Prather, Simpson
Somerset County, MD
Waters, Fountain, Curtis
Duval and Madison County, FL
Smith, Harris, Garner

Favorite Family History Quotes

"The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past."
-William Faulkner

"Call it a clan, call it a network, all it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one"
- Jane Howard

"Friends are God's apologies for relations."
-Hugh Kingsmill

"No matter what you've done for yourself or for humanity, if you can't look back on having given love and attention to your own family, what have you really accomplished?"
-Elbert Hubbard

"Families are like fudge; mostly sweet with a few nuts."

"If you can't get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you might as well make it dance!"

"Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city;)"
-George Burns

"Where does the family start? It starts with a young man falling in love with a girl. No superior alternative has yet been found."
-Winston Churchill

"The great gift of family life is to be intimately acquainted with people you might never ever introduce yourself to had life not done it for you."
-Kendall Hailey

"If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all the generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people."
-Thich Nhat Hanh


Show Buttons
Hide Buttons