Breaking Down the Wall-Prologue

First in a multi-part series

I started my serious research in December of 2003.  From the beginning, my leading goal was to discover the paternity of Richard Gines of Shreveport,Louisiana, my great-grandfather.  I knew very little about him; until I was an adult, I had never heard his name. And then, over the years, my mother gradually began telling me what she knew of him–which also was not a lot.  She knew her Shreveport cousins, having spent a summer in that town as a teenager. By that time, both Richard Gines and his wife Sylvia LeJay were deceased.

One thing my mother did tell me was that her father had said that his family was either descended from “French people” or somehow associated with “French people.”  I replied that he must have been referring to Sylvia LeJay’s side of the family, which had a distinctive Huguenot name that first came to America in the 1600’s.  Mom was resolute that it was the Gines family that was French-affiliated. I didn’t want to argue with her, but I after all was the genealogist who had studied these things, not her!  So I quickly put that bit of trivia out of my mind.   I would eventually come to regret that.

I found there were folks with the Gines surname in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.  These people were both white and black, leading me to surmise that the black Gineses originally had been slaves of the white Gineses, an assumption that would be severely tested during the next five years.

Gines is a name with Welsh, English, German, and Spanish origins, depending on the particular family.  The name developed in different ways, at different times, in different parts of the world.   It is related linguistically to many other names. For example, the Welsh-English variant may be derived from the English Johns. Some scholars believe that the Welsh names Joynes and Jones are variants of Johns. The name Gines may have developed thusly:


Evidence of this appears in some early North American  public records wherein members of  a single family are sometimes surnamed differently as Joines, Joynes, or Gines.  For example, the 1787 tax records of Rowan County, North Carolina list an Ezekiel Jones, apparently referring to Ezekiel Joines.  This man’s son appears in the same records under the name “Jines.”   Other variations of the English surname include Goins, Goines, and Gaines.  (For more on the example cited, see the excellent work on the Descendants of Ezekiel Joines.

The Spanish version of Gines is Gines. The name makes its most notorious appearance in Spanish as the moniker of the ringleader of a gang of condemned galley slaves in the novel Don Quixote.  Of course, the Spanish Gines is not a homonym of the Welsh-English or German name of similar spelling.

The Maryland State Archives record one Joel Gines as the owner of 208 acres in Anne Arundel County in 1787.  The 1810 Federal Census has John Gines in Johnston County, North Carolina.  These early settlers may have come from Warwickshire, England, the county which includes Loxley (Robin Hood’s birthplace in legend), Stratford-upon-Avon (where Shakespeare lived) and, more importantly today, Birmingham.

In America today, there are at least five Gines family groups.  The Midwestern Gines families  are largely descendants of German and English immigrants in Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. Their genealogy has been well-documented by a man named Ron Gines. (Ron and his late mother, Wanda L. Gines, published a two-volume book called Our Brink Heritage ([1998] Gynzer Publishing, Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 98-71249, ISBN 1-57502-784-4), available at most libraries.)

The “LDS Gines” families are centered in Utah and Idaho. They were among the founders of the LDS community in Woodland, Utah. These families comprise the largest Gines family group in America today.  They trace their origins to the German-English Midwestern Gines family group.

The Latino or Hispanic Gines families are of two sub-groups: one is centered in the Southwest and is mainly of Mexican descent; the other is found in the urban areas of the Eastern United States, being primarily of recent Puerto Rican ancestry.

There is an Asian-Pacific Islander Gines family group consisting mainly of Filipino-descended individuals.  They are concentrated on the west coast and in Hawaii.  Like the Latino Gines families, the Filipino Gines families trace their roots to Spain.

The African-American Gines families can be found in the Midwest, the South, and Texas. States with large numbers of black people with Gines surname include Virginia, the Carolinas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

Some of the descendants of Richard William Gines of Shreveport are now located in the Midwest, from Kansas, and Missouri to Minnesota. Others of our Gines family range from Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi to Colorado.  The diaspora was, of course, part of the larger movements of African-Americans in the United States.

I started my research in a quite usual fashion–searching census records for him or for people who might be related to him.  Almost immediately, I found the 1880 census of Bossier Parish, Louisiana (adjacent to Caddo Parish which contains Shreveport).  In that 1880 census, I discovered an Ed Gines and his wife “Adlade” (as it was rendered by the 1880 enumerator).  Ed appeared to have been born in about 1859.  That, I surmised [without any other evidence] would make him of the same generation as Richard.  I developed the hypothesis that “Ed Gines” was the brother of Richard.  (He could have been a cousin, but taking a leap of faith to making him his brother set up a strong hypothetical construct which would prove useful in research).

The notion that Ed was Richard’s brother was based in part on my look at naming patterns. Richard William Gines was the father of William Edward Gines, my grandfather, who was mainly known as “Ed” or “Eddie.” My grandfather Eddie was the brother of Alfred Gines, who named his oldest son “William Edward Gines” (and my cousin is generally known as “Eddie.”). So this was an hypothesis with something of a rational basis.

So Ed Gines turned up in the 1880 census of Bossier Parish. A bit later, I found “Dick” Gines also in the 1880 Bossier census.  He was described as 20 years old. He worked as a laborer and lived in the household of one Edmond Morris, a black man from North Carolina. Dick was single at the time.

All of the foregoing I learned very quickly in 2004.  I then found Richard Gines and his family consisting of his wife Sylvia LeJay and their children in the 1900 census for Shreveport in Caddo Parish. And that’s where things stuck for the next five years.

I went to Shreveport in May of 2004 on a research trip.  I visited the parish clerk’s offices in Shreveport (Caddo) and Benton (Bossier).  I found no records relating to Richard Gines–no birth certificate, no death certificate, marriage license; nothing!  I did find records about other Gines family members but none had any information that I could discern as being about Richard Gines or his family.

I expanded my search to include historical newspapers; and again, for years, I found nothing.  I hypothesized that the Louisiana Gines family came from South Carolina,  but could not trace any individual Gines  from South Carolina to Louisiana. [One day in Washington, DC, a woman walked up to me and said, “Are you a Gines?” Startled, I said, “Yes, Why?”  She said, “you look just like my great-uncle Henry who lives in Georgetown, South Carolina!”]

The hypothesis that the Louisiana Gines family came from South Carolina  was not without a rational basis.  First, there were many Gines-surnamed people in South Carolina and there seemed to be a migration trail discernible from there through Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. Additionally, it was clear that Sylvia LeJay’s family, on both sides [LeJay and Brayboy], had come from South Carolina.  Perhaps the Gines family had been with the others, so I researched these families extensively.  I got no closer to cracking the mystery of Richard Gines.

I trolled through city directories for Shreveport for Dick Gines.  I searched cemetery records for him (although this was quite difficult and I’m certain that I missed a number of possibilities here). I looked for the Gines name among black troops during the Civil War; found several, but none put me closer to Richard Gines’ parents.

Sometimes, little things grow in significance over time.  That phenomenon certainly was at work here. In 2005, for example, I came across a census record for a  Caroline Gines, 73 years old, in 1910.  I wanted this person to be Richard’s mother so much . . . but the evidence just was not there.  I put that record aside, but kept it in mind. Then I found an Oscar Gines of about Richard’s generation. Still no connection to Richard.  Next, however, I found another Oscar Gines, this person born closely in time and space to my grandfather, William Edward Gines.  But there was still at least one link, if not more, missing.  I couldn’t even connect the two Oscars.

I had found the second Oscar Gines’ World War I draft card.  In fact I found two draft cards for him.  I noticed right away that at the time he filled out the first draft card, he was incarcerated in the NAtchitoches Parish jail and that at the time of the sceodn card, he was in the Louisiana State Penitentiary.  I was so interested in those tidbits that for months, I examined those records without noticing the home address he gave on the cards.

In 2006, I noticed for the first time the home address that Oscar Gines gave on his draft card. That address was 1540 Ashton Street in Shreveport. Well, golly gosh!  That’s the same address where Richard and Sylvia Gines and their children lived for many years!  Could this Oscar be another child of Richard’s? Could he be a nephew of Dick’s?  How could I use him to crack this brickwall? I pondered that last question for months without a clear answer.

In the meantime, I had acquired a very large database of people named Gines from Virginia to Texas and Louisiana, and all points in between.  There were Gines families in Tennessee and in St Louis, Missouri (my family is from Kansas City, Missouri–that being where William Edward Gines and Henry William Gines landed in 1920 when they left Shreveport). I also in the meantime solved a different family mystery: the maternity of my grandfather’s first daughter, Grace, who had been born in Shreveport before he came to Kansas City.

By the beginning of 2008, I was coming around to acceptance of the fact that some things are simply unknowable in this lifetime and that the parentage of my great-grandfather was one of those things.  I had learned quite a bit about the black Gineses in the United States or so I thought.

As I was learning these small facts, I was also learning bigger lessons about genealogy.  Yet, I couldn’t understand why I could not get past this brick wall.  I could go through an exemplary checklist of records I had studied . . . I felt like I had consulted nearly every source available.  The ancestors weren’t going top give up the information I wanted.

In Eastern philosophy, there is an axiom that “The Teacher will appear when The Student is ready.”  I wasn’t ready yet; that’s why I couldn’t find the answer.

Then, in 2008, the wall began to sway . . .  .

Thursday on GeneaBlogie:  The Process of Bringing the Wall Down


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