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Overcoming Surname Changes

I have worked diligently searching my family’s history for over ten years.  I joined Ancestry in 2006 and began a more serious search.  On my father’s side of the family his roots were in Milledgeville, Georgia.  I knew that there was woman who had four children by William Steele.  There were stories of her being Native American, a mulatto, or a slave.  We thought her name was Mandy.  I took a DNA test and found out that I have no Native American blood, so the next question was—was she a slave or was she free? By finding the four children I found her real name Sarah or Sallie Keen on the 1870 and 1880 census. 

The next mystery to tackle was whether she was a slave or a free person of color.  There on the 1860 census, listed as free people of color, was a family of Brooks.  All of the family’s first names matched, and there was an additional child that I never knew existed.  Where the name Brooks came from I do not know, but I guess after the Civil War they took on their father’s last name of Steele. 

For many African Americans looking for their ancestors it should be noted that the first name and middle name of all family members are very important. This can be the key to identifying the family in situations where there was a surname change, as was the case with my family.  I even found out that Sarah’s mother changed her last name three times. Jane Mitchell, Brooks or Gilbert was a free person of color—a washer woman that lived to be 116 years of age.  She had two newspaper articles written about her as the oldest person in the county! 

Theresa Steele Page