|My Great-Great Grandmother, Mariah Hall Conaway
Last summer this picture was shared at a family reunion. I was told that the woman in the photo was my great grandmother, Barbara Conaway. Although I was excited to see this wonderful photo. Something kept nudging me. Why did her clothes look so old? I blew the photo up on my computer and searched every detail. I compared it to another picture of Grandma Barbara. They did not look like the same person. Grandma Barbara was born in 1881 and died in 1936. Something just didn't fit. The woman in the photo appears to have light eyes, her hair looks either gray or light brown.and of course, her clothes..I had a feeling that this is was not Barbara. A call to my cousin Ann confirmed my suspicion. The woman in the photo was definitely not Barbara. It was her mother. Mariah Hall Conaway.
After my conversation with cousin Ann, my curiosity sent me back to searching for Mariah and her family. Family oral history says that she was a slave in Franklin county, Missouri. I had already found Mariah's mother, Myra Hall, and her siblings in the 1870 census. The same record that I had searched a dozen or more times. I felt sure that Mariah and her husband Curry had to be in Franklin County somewhere. There was something that I was missing. I got a tip about a research strategy for finding your African American ancestors in the 1870 census called the "Nettie Rule". After reading this article by Tony Burroughs, Finding African Americans On The 1870 Census I knew that I had to try again.
I went back and searched the 1870 census again, going back over the same census record that I had previously found Mariah's mother and siblings listed on, only this time I payed very close attention first names as well as surnames. Suddenly there, sitting at the very bottom of the page, living a few doors away form her mother and siblings, was Mariah, Curry and their young son, Joseph. Only their surname was not Conaway. It was HUNTER! I could not believe it. How in the world did I miss this! I never noticed them. I always focused on the surnames. I guess that's why I missed them. Obviously they had changed their name, as many slaves did after they were free. Next, I began searching for the Hunter surname in Franklin County, Missouri to see what I could find.
I found a will for a man named VALENTINE HUNTER. Valentine was a slave holder from Rowen County, North Carolina. He moved to Franklin co, Missouri with his wife Margaret in about 1826 bringing his slaves with him. In 1849 he left a will freeing his 13 slaves. Easter/Esther, Nice, Caroline, Curry, John, George, Smith, Mary, Ambrose, Charles, Manda/Amanda, Clinton, Sarah Ann. Could this be my Great Great Grandfather, Curry? Valentine also put in his will that after the death of his wife, Margaret, that his property be sold and the money from his estate be divided among his slaves. Did they actually receive the money? According to documents in the Missouri State Archives. All former slaves actually did receive the money that Valentine wanted them to have. I wondered..Why he would free his slaves in 1849? Even more, why would he leave his former slaves money from his estate. Many of the slaves were young children and were entrusted to the care of some of the older slaves.
I searched for Curry with this new found name, Hunter. I found him in 1860 living as a free man in Franklin county. He was living with a mulatto woman named Maria Ferguson. I wonder if this woman could be Mariah. So many questions.. who knows, maybe this is my link to all my DNA matches with ancestors from Rowan county, North Carolina and the Hunter and Ferguson surnames. My search continues..