Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Searching for My Black Ancestor Jonathan Butler

 The Challenge of Finding Our Black Ancestor's Origins

Francis X. Schumacher & Mary Butler
This is a photo of my  2nd great-grand-aunt Mary Schumacher nee Butler (1852-1924) and her husband.

Mary was the sister of my great-great-grandfather Joseph Butler (1856-between 1911-1918).

Mary and Joseph were the grandchildren of Jonathan Butler, a black man living in the Queen's Bush in what was then called Upper Canada (now the province of Ontario)

A Challenging Black Ancestor

It has been a challenge to research Jonathan Butler and his family.  Early 1800s Ontario records are sparse. We know that Jonathan was born somewhere in the USA circa 1790.  No specific location in the United States is known. There are no census records where his origins are noted.

We know he was black. He is listed on various tax, census and assessment records as "Negro" and "African"  We know his wife's name (Elizabeth Ginkins as seen in the adult baptism of his son Allen, my 3rd great-grandfather) but do not know her origins.

The earliest record for Jonathan is an 1834 Assessment record where he is recorded as "Negro Butler".
The last record of Jonathan is an 1840 "Census" which is really a tax and assessment record. He has not been found after that date - no death records, no burial records, no 1851 census record (although many of the 1851 census for Ontario are missing). We have found no record of his wife Elizabeth in any records of any year.

Jonathan Butler's Children

Jonathan's children are found in census records recorded as "African", "Mulatto" and in later years "White". We know from tax records that Jonathan had at least 5 sons and 3 daughters but we only know the names of two with certainty - Allen and George. Both married German women in the Waterloo area.

* George Butler (1832-1902) married Catherine Krump and had 11 children known.

* Allen Butler (1824-1872) married Caroline (Carrie) Weiss and had 8 children known.

* It is believed that Henry (Harry) Butler (ca 1829-between 1861-1871) who married a German woman named Sarah Susannah Foerch is another son

My 3rd great-grandfather Joanes Alexander Alan (called Allen) Butler was baptized into the Catholic Church January 26,1851 at St Agatha, Wilmot Twp, Waterloo Co. He was recorded as the son of Jonathan Butler and Elizabetha Ginkens. In his marriage record that same year (February 1851) he stated he was born in Toronto. 

Allen's son Joseph, my great-grandfather, is another mystery. He disappears after the 1901 census where he is found with his wife and children living in Seaforth, Huron County Ontario. His estranged wife Caroline (Carrie) left Ontario for Detroit Michigan circa 1909. Family lore said that she left Joseph after some kind of scandal was discovered and that he "went out west". He was never heard from again although our research indicates he may have settled in Manitoba near the border of North Dakota.  If his wife can be believed, he was deceased by May 1918.

The Genealogy Challenges & Unanswered Questions

We have many challenges and puzzles regarding the Butler family and my black heritage.

1. How do we find our Jonathan Butler's origins in the United States? There are so few records for pre 1851 in Ontario and we have not been able to find what happened to him after that 1840 assessment record or where he was before the 1834 one. So we only have records of him for a six year time frame. We know he was in Toronto circa 1824 when Allen was born. But where was he before 1824 and where was he from 1824 to 1834 when he acquired land in the Queen's Bush? 

2.  Where was Joseph Butler from 1901 to 1918? Was he in Manitoba? He had a brother Jacob Butler in Pembina North Dakota but we've not found any record of Joseph there. However this brother Jacob lived for several years in Montcalm, Pembina Valley Region, Manitoba. Did Jacob head there after leaving his family (or being kicked out as family lore states)? We are hoping his death record might have information on the birth place of his father Jonathan or mother Elizabeth.

If you have any suggestions or ideas for us in our search, please post them in the Comment section of this blog post. We definitely need advice on where to look next!  

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