Treasure Chest Thursday: Remnants of a Slave Name Hannah "Nelson-Singleton" Gilliam

Stories and facts about our families are handed down through written and oral history.  With today’s methods of online access to records, it has made it easier for family historians & researchers to find some documents without having to leave the comfort of one’s home.  With the documents discovered, it allows the researcher to confirm and collaborate that the stories told are accurate.

Hannah Gilliam or sister Jane B. Collins
(Gail Cully Middleton Collection)

     My mother shared with me that my Great Great Grandmother’s name was Hannah Gilliam, and she had been born into slavery.  She also shared that she was very fair complected, and that her father had been the slave owner (This has yet to be confirmed).

Hannah had helped care for her daughter Nora’s children, as Nora had many and was continuously trying to recover from one pregnancy to the next.  It was not difficult for me to find information about  Hannah during this time period (1900-1910) as she was residing in her daughter Nora’s and Son-in-law Ambrose Cully’s home in Worcester, MA.  I even made a trip to Worcester, MA to get more information on Hannah such as her place of rest.

Cemetery where Hannah and many family members are buried
Worcester, Massachusetts
     My online treasures for Hannah Cully was her death Certificate, and a Freedman’s Bank Record as they were all revealing.
     Hannah was born December 3, 1842 and died February 23, 1914.  She was married to Daniel Gilliam, and I have no idea what happened to him.
     Since I did not know what Hannah’s maiden name was, this death certificate helped me with the information that I needed.  Hannah’s father was listed as Benjamin Nelson and her mother was listed as Zara Humphrey.  I took note of Hannah’s mom’s first name as the name Zara has been handed down from every other generation.  Now that I know that Hannah’s last name is Nelson, I had further research to conduct.
     Knowing that Hannah had been born into slavery, I knew that there was a possibility for other surnames that she was connected to, and that there was a possibility that her parents had other surnames connected to them, depending on who their slave owner was.
     One day I came across information from Freedman Bank Records:  This is what I found.
Freedman Bank Records Jane B. Collins,
Hannah Gilliam’s sister
     I knew that my Great Great Aunt’s married last name was Jane B. Collins as she was the one who cared for my Great Uncle Raymond Mansfield & Nora Jane Cully when their mother died.  I had found this information in a Census Record of 1920, Worcester, MA.
     This Freedman Bank Record helped me confirm information I knew and also gave me some more info by which to research.
     My Great Great Aunt Jane was married to Joseph A. Collins.  What I found interesting is that Jane & Hannah’s parents had two other surnames I had not seen before.  Zara had the last name “Jones”..I am not sure if this was a maiden name, slave master’s surname or a married name, as I did not know if Zara remarried and carried the last name of her last husband.
     I also noticed that Jane & Hannah’s  Father Benjamin had a different surname of Ellis.

     I have listed Singleton as one of the Slave Owner’s surname’s as I have found in other documents as Hannah being listed as a Singleton.

Researching on and, I have been able to find documents by inputting surnames and locals without adding a first name. This is one way I have discovered relatives such as children, cousins, and siblings.  The document below is one I found on FamilySearch by using this method.

     I discovered Hannah had a son by the name of Joseph Daniel Gilliam and that he married a Mary Frances Boswell.  It is possible they had children, and will do further investigation so that I could possibly locate their descendants, and my cousins.

     It is to my knowledge that Hannah Gilliam never remarried and she was widowed by or before 1880.  This link “Recollections of my Slavery Day-By William Henry Singleton.” which gave me some hints and or clues that it is possible that my Great Great Grandmother Hannah had been a Singleton slave.
     Quoted from Link above, “ When a plantation changed owners the slaves changed their names. Our plantation had formerly been owned by a Mrs. Nelson, a widow. The slaves were then known as Nelson’s slaves. When Singleton married Mrs. Nelson he succeeded to the plantation and all of the slaves, including my mother, were called from that time on Singleton.”

     It is possible that my family pretty much held on to the surname Nelson and then at times used the surname Singleton.  A further investigation will be ensued.

     I feel excited that I may be one step closer in documenting My Great Great Grandmother’s life in slavery.  I hope to in the near future to go to New Bern, North Carolina for further investigation.

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7 thoughts on “Treasure Chest Thursday: Remnants of a Slave Name Hannah "Nelson-Singleton" Gilliam

  1. I am truly happy for you. The information you have been able to uncover is remarkable. You prove yourself to be a great and talented researcher. Hannah's birthplace caught my attention. My ancestor,Samuel Jones, Jr., fought in the civil war as a union soldier. He was killed in Newburn, N.C. and buried there.

  2. Thank you Kathryn for the compliment…I really take this to heart, especially from someone that is a Gifted and highly successful writer and Genealogist. That is very encouraging. I have spent more time looking at your blog and I am very impressed by its contents and I look forward to reading your Family History Memoir.

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