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September 16, 2011

The Challenge of Finding Our Black Ancestor's Origins

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

Mary was the sister of my husband's 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)

The lure of free land attracted Black settlers to the Queen's Bush Settlement. The community developed in the Clergy Reserve known as the Queen's Bush, which extended from Waterloo County to Lake Huron.

The majority settled in the southern half of Peel Township in Wellington County but the Queen's Bush Settlement also included the northern half of Wellesley Township and the western portion of Woolwich Township in Waterloo County. This area, eight by twelve miles in size, had a population of approximately 2,500 by 1840. Of these about 1,500 were Black settlers.

A Challenging Black Ancestor

It has been a challenge to research Jonathan Butler and his family.  Early 1800s Ontario records are sparse. What we have managed to find after searching in many old records and having the help of a very kind gentleman in Waterloo Ontario is that Jonathan was born somewhere in the USA circa 1790.  No specific location in the United States is known.

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 per the adult baptism of his son Allen, my husband's 3rd great-grandfather) but do not know her origins.

The first record we found for Jonathan is an 1834 Assessment record where he is recorded as "Negro Butler". He owns 100 acres of uncultivated land west of the Grand River in Woolwich Township, Waterloo County. His livestock consisted of 2 cows and 1 horse. Not much to start a farm but by the time of the 1840 assessment he had managed to cultivate 40 acres.

The last record found of Jonathan is this 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 husband's 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 legitimate 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 husband's 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 husband's black heritage. But our two main objectives at this moment are:

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.  We are hoping to find Joseph Butler from 1901 to 1918. Was he in Manitoba? He had a brother Jacob 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! 


Kristin said...

It's too bad there is no family story about where he came from and how he got there. Is there a local history that might mention him and where he came from and how he got there?

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

Kristin, I should have mentioned that no one in the family knew there was black ancestry. It was never mentioned. Bri's grandmother was so surprised when she found out her grandpa was black!

Great idea about local histories but sadly there appears to be nothing. That was a very early settlement time in Ontario and I think the black settlements were out-of-sight-out-of-mind

Estelle Barnes said...

Goodmorning, i enjoyed reading your posting,my family and i are going through the same problem. regarding my dads mother she is listed as mulatto in the 1880 census. her surname berniard/ bernard, her grandmother was a slave and was owned by the Francios Bernard 1843, in the parish of Louisiana, we're are seeking her mom because she is w/ a Gustave Simons as daughter @ age 16,Sarah did get married to a Parks barnes in 1883.i'm looking for her connecton too any Berniards / bernard

Kathy Reed said...

This is such an interesting topic. It can go the other way, too. We have a friend who is s very dark-skinned black man. I was searching for his family with him sitting there and they did not come up when I listed them as "black". He told me to change the search parameters to "mulatto". When I did, up they came. It was part of his family history that he was aware of. It's been an interesting journey.

Ian said...

Do your Butlers have any connection to the Butlers of Wilberforce?

I attended a presentation on this topic which was quite interesting.

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

Hi Ian. Yes our Jonathan Butler wes granted 100 acres of land in Wilberforce but it doesn't appear he ever lived there.

See yesterday and today's blog posts about the new info I've found re Jonathan.

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

Ian this is a different Wilberforce Settlement! Mine is an earlier one, opened for blacks in Oro Township Ontario in 1819


Anonymous said...

The picture is of my Grandfather and grandmother.I believe I am the oldest generation.My father Joseph Schumacher was married the second time and he is the eldest son of Francis and Mary.
None of us children knew of the African in my family although the town we grew up in did.My brother heard of a few things mentioned but never made a connection.
I had a couple cousins who knew of black in the family.I found out by accident.Thats a long story.
I saw the property that Allen Butler owned.There was no building left.
I have a pic of Allen`s wife.
I suppose there are different theories on were Jonathon came from.I have not seen the record of Allen`s birth in Toronto.Or Jonathon in PA.
What about Jonathon being with English in Toronto and acquiring the land in 1833 because of the Wilberforce act in England.His wife was supposed to be French.
Gary Schumacher

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

Hi Gary - Nice to hear from you again! We have chatted before about the family.

It is true that there can be many theories of origins but in this Jonathan definitely came from Pennsylvania. I found his certificate of character and his petition for land this year and that is where he says he is from PA.

I'd love to see that photo of Allen's wife. My email is olivetreegenealogy AT gmail DOT com

I can send you the petitions i found for Jonathan if you send me an email


Rosemary said...

Out relatives on my mom's side are from Mldmay in Bruce and Woolwich counties...
My grandmother was Mary Ellen Omesina Butler (Joseph Johnson), her dad was John Diebold Butler (Mary Smith), his dad was Johannes Butler, (Catherine Weiss) and his dad Jonathen Butler. Is this the same family? I can see some parallel and perhaps intertwining family lines - one of German Catholic descent an the other Black African according to census. It gets a bit confusing and I'm looking for documents to support identity. Its interesting none the less, for our fair skinned blue eyed family.

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

Rosemary - yes this is the same family. I have documentation so contact me privately at olivetreegenealogy AT gmail DOT com and we can talk


RL KOMPF said...

I stumbled into this family, grasping for clues about my own. KOMPF K510 .
I believe the Catherine Krump married to George (son of Jonathan) is the Catherine Kumph buried in Mornington Methodist Cemetery and that "Krump" was a repeated cencus taker error.
Name Cemetery County Township Reference
BUTLER, George Millbank Methodist Perth Mornington PH-678-4
BUTLER, Katherine (Kumpf) Millbank Methodist Perth Mornington PH-678-4
BUTLER, Lavina Millbank Methodist Perth Mornington PH-678-4
BUTLER, Leander A. Millbank Methodist Perth Mornington PH-678-4
BUTLER, Maggie Millbank Methodist Perth Mornington PH-678-4
BUTLER, Sarah A. Millbank Methodist Perth Mornington PH-678-4

My interest is in finding a connection between Catherine and my Gr Grandfather Louis Kompf (1834 - 1917) and married to Margaret Dunbar (1836 - 1917). And between Louis and the several other KUMPFs (of various spellings) that show in the records in and around Perth and Waterloo Counties in the 1850 to 1880s.

I liked your suggestion re sharing the story with the dis-interested.

Here is some of my take on that.


I think that there are three categories into which family members naturally group

I. DGARA Pronounced “ Duh – GAR – uh”

Stands for “Don't Give a Rat's Ass” OR “Doesn't Give a Rat's Ass”.

Activity Level: On the list but less than listless.

II SIB Pronounced “Sib”

Stands for “Sometimes (OR Sort of) Interested, But . . . “

Activity Level: Never offers, but may respond to pleading.

III AAH Pronounced “ Aaahhh!”

Stands for “Active AND Helpful”

Activity Level: Interested in expanding and improving the family tree and finding and meeting more cousins. Makes an effort to foster and attend family gatherings and
reunions. Thinks of 'family' as
“F A M I L Y “.

Bob Kompf
Born in Stratford, ON
Now in Edmonton, AB