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#12 Ancestors in 12 months -January, Foundations: Alex Gainer and Our Family’s Economic Foundations

Few things are more foundational than the ownership of property which can become the basis of generational wealth. There is another benefit to ancestral land ownership. Even when land does not pass into all members of the next generation, there is the tradition and normalization of land ownership within the family, which still provides a basis for a family culture and tradition of generational wealth.

My earliest knowledge that my ancestors owned property (other than the home where I grew up) came from my Aunt Lutie, my father’s older sister, Lute Williams Mann. She had been born in the mid-1890s and knew many of the paternal ancestors about whom I write. I was about seven when she first wrote down our family history for me, complete with biblical begats. As part of that story, she talked about the property the family owned in Live Oak, Suwannee County, Florida, where she was born, and spent the first six years of her life, before moving with her family to the New York/New Jersey area.

Lute Odette Williams, circa 1918, “Aunt Lutie”

As Aunt Lutie explained it to me, her grandfather, my great grandfather, Joshua W. Williams, owned a significant amount of property in Live Oak. She drew some simple pencil maps of the property in relationship to other local landmarks. Once I grew up and began my genealogical studies, I learned it was not Joshua who owned the property, it was his wife’s family, his in-laws, one of whom was Alex Gainer, his father-in-law.

Alex Gainer was married to my 2nd great grandmother, Frances. However, he was not biologically related to me. He was not my great grandmother Ellin’s father. Still, he held a position of respect and importance in our family. According to Aunt Lutie, he was born in South Carolina. I have not been able to identify his home community, however, I did note that there was a couple of appropriate age to be his parents in Beaufort, Simon and Cecelia Gainer.[i] Aunt Lutie said Alex had served in some capacity in the Civil War (most likely as a servant in the Confederate army) where he lost a leg, and he had gone to Florida at the end of the war. According to his entry in the Voter Registration of 1867 for Live Oak, he had been in Suwannee County for four months previously. Alex worked as a farmer, barber, and store owner. And he owned land. Quite a bit of land.


In September 1868, the Pensacola and Georgia Railroad sold land in Live Oak, to Alex and his stepson in-law, George Manker.[2] It was just a year earlier that the same railway company had gifted (but also received five dollars from the grantees) George and several other freedmen Lot 6, Block 41, in the town of Live Oak, for the purpose of building a school for the freedmen, where George would be a teacher.[3] Though a “gift,” there were strings. If the land ceased to be used for the purposes stated therein (i.e., a school), the land would revert to the railroad company.[4]

George Manker listed as teacher for Live Oak in Freedmen Education records

In 1870, Alexander and my great-great grandmother, Frances, were listed in the census with their son, Edward.[5] However, Alex and Frances were not formally married until 1874, when they were married by Robert Allen, minister at the Baptist Church, now called the African Baptist Church.[6] Also in the 1870s, Frances would purchase property. In 1871, Frances bought property from her son in-law, George Manker. [7] In 1874, she bought neighboring property from a Sheriff’s sale. [8] However, Alex would not purchase property again until he completed his Homestead claim in 1877.[9]

Marriage Certificate of Alex and Frances Gainer, 4 June 1874

On 11 May 1872, Alex filed his application #5609, for a Homestead claim for 39.89 acres.[10] On the same date, he swore an affidavit stating that he had filed the claim but “by reason of distance” could not personally appear at the land office in Tallahassee.[11] On 14 June 1872, there is a Receiver’s receipt for seven dollars paid to the Receiver’s office in Tallahassee.[12]

Alexander Gainer Homestead Affidavit 11 May 1872

On 1 June 1877, Alex’s witnesses, Caleb Simpkins and Robert Allen (the Baptist minister who married him), gave their testimony on behalf of his claim. [13] They testified that since 14 June 1872, Alex had

… occupied and cultivated and improved the NE ¼ of the SE ¼ of Section 26 Township 2, South of Range 13 East as a homestead from the date above continuously from the date above to the present time, and that this affidavit is made to enable him to complete his title to the said homestead…

Witness Testimony of Caleb Simpkins and Robert Allen, 1 June 1877

It goes on to say that they were unable to go the General Land Office to give testimony “on account of distance and want of means to pay the expenses.” Thus, they gave testimony before the Justice of the Peace, “M. M. Blackburn,” in Suwannee County. They signed by making their mark. An additional sentence was added after their marks saying, “and he has built a house thereon, & cultivated about 10 acres, and made other valuable improvements.”[14]


Alexander Gainer’s Final Affidavit, 14 June 1877

On 14 June 1877, Alex made his final affidavit in support of his claim. He stated that he had settled and cultivated his claimed land since 14 June 1872, that he hadn’t “alienated” the land, that he was the sole owner, and actual settler. He swore that he bore allegiance to the United States (I haven’t seen that in other family Homestead files) “and that I have not heretofore perfected or abandoned an entry und this act.”[15] After paying an additional and final two dollars to the Receiver in the Gainesville office,[16] he received his Final Certificate #1236.[17] Notations in the file indicate however, that final approval was not until 11 May 1878 and the Patent was not recorded until 24 June 1878, in Land Record Book Volume 3, page 26.[18]

Alexander Gainer’s Final Homestead Certificate

Alex did not record the deed with the Suwannee County registrar right away. In June 1886, the Homestead claim was filed in Book J, page 288. However, in the very next entry, “Alexandre Gainer” sold to Justice of the Peace, M. M. Blackburn, the same property, for $500.[19] Alex appeared for the last time in the deed records in January 1887, when he and Frances sold property to her daughter Carry (“Corra”) Manker, widow of George Manker.[20]


My Great Grandmother, Ellin Wilson Wilkinson Williams (1854-1924)

Alex is assumed to have died sometime between 1887 and 1896, when his “widow,” Frances, sold property to James Moore and C. J. Manker, her grandson.[21] Frances is believed to have died between 1896 and 1900. She does not appear in the 1900 census. In 1901 and 1911, daughters, Carry Manker and Ellen Williams (my great grandmother) sold the property bought in 1868 by George Manker and Alex to Jesse Manker, Carry’s grandson,[22] and Mamie Edwards. [23] With that, the last of the wealth in property acquired by Alex and Frances was passed to a new generation along with the recognition of the importance of land ownership as a family value. Thus, despite the fact that none of this land was passed down to any of Ellin’s children or grandchildren, her descendants would become property owners in the communities to which they moved, creating wealth for new generations.

Eastside Memorial Cemetery, Live Oak, Suwannee County, Florida, The old Black City Cemetery is beyond the tree-line

Alex and Frances were most likely buried in the inaccessible Old City Cemetery section of Eastside Memorial Cemetery in Live Oak, where most family members were buried.


References

[1] 1870 U. S. Federal Census, Beaufort, Beaufort, South Carolina; Simon Gainer, head; NARA Roll: M593-1485; Page: 40B. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/7163/images/4275948_00084?pId=9880735

[2] Pensacola and Georgia Railroad Company to Alexander Gainer and George Manker, Suwannee County, Florida, Deed Book B, page 131. Copy in possession of the author.

[3] “United States, Freedmen’s Bureau, Records of the Superintendent of Education and of the Division of Education, 1865-1872,” database with images, FamilySearch, George Menker, Mar 1868; citing Residence, Live Oak, Suwannee, Florida, United States, NARA microfilm publications M1869. Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1861 – 1880, RG 105. (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1969-1978); roll 13; FHL microfilm 2,425,920 Retrieved from: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:Q2QP-FPL6 See also:  “United States, Freedmen’s Bureau, Records of the Superintendent of Education and of the Division of Education, 1865-1872,” database with images, FamilySearch, George Menker, May 1868; citing Residence, Live Oak, Suwannee, Florida, United States, NARA microfilm publications M1869. Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1861 – 1880, RG 105. (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1969-1978); roll 13; FHL microfilm 2,425,920. https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:Q2QP-FPB5

[4] Pensacola and George Railroad to Nathaniel Goodman, Samuel Sonesme, Lewis Fields, Alexander Oxham, and George Manker, Suwannee County Deed Book B, pages 134-135. Copy in the possession of the author.

[5] 1870 U. S. Federal Census, Subdivision 9, Suwannee County, Florida; Alex Gainer, Head. NARA Roll: M593-133; Page: 693B; Image: 522; Family History Library Film: 545632. Retrieved from: https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/7163/images/4263359_00522?pId=3484546

[6] Florida Marriages, 1830-1993, [Database with images], FamilySearch, Alex Gainer and Francis Gainer, 1874; FHL microfilm 1,940,234. Retrieved from: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:23HY-63R

[7] George Manker to Frances Gainer, Suwannee County, Florida Deed Book C, page 16. Copy in the possession of the author.

[8] Nathan H. Walker, by Sheriff, to Frances Gainer, Suwannee County, Florida Deed Book D, page 77. Copy in possession of the author.

[9] Alexander Gainer, Homestead Final Certificate 1236, 14 June 1877, Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records; Washington D.C., USA. Copy in the possession of the author.

[10] Alexander Gainer, Homestead Application 5609, 11 May 1872, Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records; Washington D.C., USA. Copy in the possession of the author.

[11] Alexander Gainer, Homestead Application Affidavit, 11 May 1872, Homestead Application 5609, Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records; Washington D.C., USA. Copy in the possession of the author.

[12] Linc Wilson, Receiver, Receiver’s Receipt 5609, Alexander Gainer, Homestead Application 5609, 14 June 1872. Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records; Washington D.C., USA. Copy in the possession of the author.

[13] Caleb Simpkins and Robert Allen, Witness affidavit, 1 June 1877.  Alexander Gainer, Homestead Application 5609, Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records; Washington D.C., USA. Copy in the possession of the author.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Alexander Gainer, Homestead Final Affidavit, 14 June 1877, Homestead Applicati on 5609, Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records; Washington D.C., USA. Copy in the possession of the author.

[16] John Varnum, Receiver, Final Receiver’s Receipt, 14 June 1877, Homestead Application 5609, Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records; Washington D.C., USA. Copy in the possession of the author.

[17] Alexander Gainer, Homestead Final Certificate 1236, Homestead Application 5609, Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records; Washington D.C., USA. Copy in the possession of the author.

[18] Land Office Card, Gainesville, Florida, Alexander Gainer, Homestead Application 5609, Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records; Washington D.C., USA. Copy in the possession of the author.

[19], Alexander Gainer to M. M. Blackburn, Suwannee County, Florida, Deed Book J, pages 288-289. Copy in the possession of the author.

[20] Alex Gainer and Frances Gainer to Corra Manker, Suwannee County, Florida, Deed Book K, page 136. Copy in the possession of the author.

[21] Frances Gainer to James Moore and CJ Manker, Suwannee County, Florida, Deed Book S, page 436. Copy in the possession of the author.

[22] Ellen Williams and Carry Manker to Jesse Manker, Suwannee County, Florida, 10 April 1901. Copy in the possession of the author.

[23] Ellen Williams and Carry Manker to Mamie Edwards, Suwannee County, Florida, 27 March 1911. Copy in the possession of the author.

2 thoughts on “#12 Ancestors in 12 months -January, Foundations: Alex Gainer and Our Family’s Economic Foundations

  1. I’m not sure I kept all those relationships straight in my mind.😉 The Homestead Act did help a lot of families become property owners. I requested some land entry records from NARA over six months ago, and can’t even get an email response. I wonder if they’ll ever get caught up.

    Loved the photo of Lute and painting of Ellin. What treasures!

    1. Thank you. Yes, they are way behind I’m guessing it may be closer to a year before you’ll hear and that will depend on how things go, i. e., any new variants.

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