7 Generations – What’s in a Name

A maiden name is the difference between uncovering a new family line and being stopped indefinitely. My 2nd Great-grandma, Clifford Lawson’s maiden name had been buried. Although, I had identified her on the United States Federal Censuses from 1900 to 1940 none of them revealed it.

Going through Ancestry.com and other sources, the feeling was clear. I was only discovering my paternal granddad’s mother as she related to her husband, my 2nd Great-granddad, Nathan Lawson. Each search before their marriage returned, “No Results,” as if she didn’t exist until age 16 when she became his wife.

My connection to her felt like a long thin strand of cotton. A thread that provided a peephole view of information.  Each tad bit of information brought me closer to the door of her life. I couldn’t help but wonder who was my 2nd Great-grandma, Clifford Lawson? She was from Georgia. Her race was labeled as colored and she died in Wilcox county on October 8th 1944. But the most helpful information came out of her death, a certificate number.

A certificate number allowed me to search the state records for any information. But there was a catch. Some states had strict rules about who could get information. Sometimes only the next akin, husband or sibling. Sometimes record became public information 50 years after the date of death. I took my chances and made a request. It would take three months to see if anything would come out of it. But I kept searching as I waited.

I combed through five United States Federal Censuses. I learned in a fifty year span my 2nd great-grandma had 10 children (three predeceased her), Garfield, William, James, Charlie, Zeik, Nathan Lawson Jr, Shine and Re*e. Learning to read and write was a luxury for the family that worked farms in Wilcox and later Pulaski Georgia. It wasn’t until Clifford reached 52 years old that it revealed in a 1930 US Federal Census she can read and write without ever attending school.

When my 2nd Great-grandma, Clifford Lawson’s death certificate arrived, I used it to find out what her life looked like before marriage. She had four siblings and was born Clifford Westbrook in about 1872. Once her maiden name was discovered, I found her father, my 3rd Great-granddad, John Westbrook and her mother, my 3rd Great-grandma, Harriet, both who were born in North Carolina. With two new ancestors, the family tree had just opened up to a new generation of family.

7 Generations – is a blog series that digs into my family tree to consider the impact of circumstances and decisions through the generations.

Rashaun J. Allen (@rashaunjallen) received his MFA in Creative Writing and Literature from SUNY Stony Brook. He’s eyeing agents to help publish his coming of age story, Christine’s Dream – A Memoir of Love, Loss & Life. He is the author of A Walk Through Brooklyn & In The Moment and has been published in TSR: The South Hampton Review. When not writing he runs for the thrill of crossing the finish line. Find more of his work at www.rashaunjallen.com

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