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Ancestry discovery: old family picture on museum commercial

June 8, 2019

GREENWOOD, Miss. (AP) — For years Anjuan Brown, a Leflore County supervisor, kept a picture of his great-great-great-grandfather, Joshua Tarbutton, in his Bible without knowing the history of the man within the antique, slightly crumpled photo.

Brown knew a bit about Tarbutton, such as that at one point he was a slave and that he had lived with Eddie Rowley, Brown’s great-grandmother, when she was young, but not much else.

That all changed one evening two months ago when Brown was watching a broadcast of WLBT news out of Jackson. During a commercial break, an advertisement for the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum came up. One image caught Brown’s attention.

“Lo and behold, I saw the picture that my great-grandmother gave me,” Brown said.

Curious, he called the museum’s archives department, which requested that Brown send a copy of the picture of his ancestor.

″‘Did you not know your great-great-great-grandfather was a slave?’” Brown recalled Joyce Dixon-Lawson, a curator of research and genealogy at the Civil Rights Museum who also works for the state’s Department of Archives and History, telling him.

He did, but there were other details Brown didn’t know that research conducted by the archives department brought to light. He also asked how the museum acquired an image of his ancestor but was told that they weren’t sure how.

Earlier this month Brown received a mailed envelope from the archives department, with copies of different U.S. Census reports, which helped Brown get to know more about Tarbutton.

For one, Brown got his ancestor’s last name wrong. Previously, he had thought Joshua’s last name was Tarbutt, rather than Tarbutton.

An 1870 census document showed that Tarbutton was born in South Carolina in 1846, making him 24 at the time.

However, an 1880 census document listed Tarbutton’s birth year as 1852, and the 1930 census listed Tarbutton’s birth year as 1858.

Brown attributes the inconsistencies to people not closely following the ages of slaves at the time.

Brown also explained that during the country’s period of slavery, South Carolina served as the point of entry for slaves brought in from Africa.

Starting in 1808, U.S. law prohibited new slaves from being imported into the country.

Slavery was outlawed in the country in 1865, meaning Tarbutton spent the majority of his young life as a slave, Brown said.

An 1880 census document showed Tarbutton living in Lawrence County, Mississippi, close to Monticello.

A 1910 census record showed that Tarbutton lived in Marion County along with Lizzie Rowley, Tarbutton’s daughter (and Brown’s great-great-grandmother), among other family members.

It was Eddie Rowley, Brown’s great-grandmother, who raised Brown when he was a child.

“She was everything to me,” Brown said.

A death certificate shows that Tarbutton passed away in Tylertown in Walthall County at age 90 on Feb. 7, 1937. His occupation was listed as a farmer.

There are still scant details about Tarbutton’s life, Brown said, such as what Tarbutton did as a slave and where he worked. Additionally, Brown isn’t sure how Tarbutton got to Mississippi from South Carolina but assumes Tarbutton was sold to another slave owner.

Brown said he’d like to know not only Tarbutton’s slave owners, but also their descendants so Brown can have a conversation with them.

Though the period and practice of slavery in the country was horrifying, Brown said, he wants to remain optimistic, happy to know that he’s been able to discover his family’s roots.

“This experience wasn’t an accident. It was something that God wanted me to know. I started getting intrigued with my roots. The more I started digging, the more I got chill bumps thinking about the blood line that’s in me and the hard times my relatives and ancestors had,” Brown said.

“It’s good finding out your roots. It’s good finding out your bloodline.”

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Information from: The Greenwood Commonwealth, http://www.gwcommonwealth.com

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