Monday, September 15, 2014

Anatomy of a Slave Narrative: The Recollections of Agatha Babino


 I happened upon one of the most fascinating short stories that I have ever read while preparing for a presentation on African American genealogy.  While searching for slave records in the Ancestry.com card catalog, I noticed that there was a database entitled U.S., Interviews with Former Slaves, 1936-1938.  I was looking for Texas examples to cite in my lecture so I began to browse the names of those interviewed in the Lone Star State.  

The name Agatha Babino immediately caught my eye.  My friend, Rev. William Henry King III, had agreed to let me use his family history as a case study for my class.  Pastor King’s mother was Madell Babino and Agatha Babino was his mother’s great grandmother.  This was one of those times when I felt that the spirits of the ancestors were calling me to uncover their long forgotten stories.

Ancestry.com user "bobknow" originally shared this to her Babineaux Family Tree, 26 Mar 2011

As I read the narrative, I was impressed by her courage in telling the details of her life.  She remembered that the slaves were given “shabby houses” built of logs with dirt floors.  She knew the names of her “Old Marse” and “Old Miss.”  Her plantation master was a “bad man” who would beat his slaves until they bled and then rubbed salt and pepper into the wounds.   Her uncle was brutally killed by the Ku Klux Klan for refusing to vote Democratic.

Mrs. Babino’s story was jam packed with names, dates, and stories which revealed a life filled with triumphs and tragedies. I felt like I was a CSI Investigator examining the evidence from the scene of a crime.  Armed with the names of people and places, it was relatively easy to find corroboration for her story in online history and genealogy.  I could not find “Carenco” but I was able to find a place called Carencro in Lafayette Parish, Louisiana.


Source Information:Ancestry.com. U.S., Interviews with Former Slaves, 1936-1938 [database on-line].


The name of her slave owner, Ogis Guidry was a challenge at first.  His actual name was Augustin Guidry and he lived in Lafayette Parish, Louisiana from 1806 to 1872.  The transcriber of the interview apparently spelled the name phonetically.  Census records show him in Lafayette Parish in 1850, 1860 and 1870.  Her father’s slave owner, was Placide Guilbeau.  The Guilbeau family history is well documented here.  

The real gem was the fact that she listed the names and birthplaces of her parents, Dick and Clarice Richard and all of her siblings.  Their names did not come up in the 1870 census index at Ancestry.com.  I prepared myself for the tedious task of scanning every name in the township where the former slave owners where residing.  I scanned ten pages after the listing for Augustin Guidry but did not find them.  I found them two pages prior.  The last name was given as Richardson instead of Richard.  Dick and Clarice were the parents and the names of the children matched with the account given by Mrs. Babino.  Now I had the ages and the birthplaces from the census to add to the family record.  This helped to uncover many more records including census and vital records in both Louisiana and Texas.

Census Year: 1870; Census Place:  , Lafayette, Louisiana; Roll: M593_516; Page: 316B; Image: 126; Family History Library Film: 552015.

The interview with Agatha Babino included many pieces which are helping to solve this “Ancestor Puzzle.”  By revealing a more complete image of the family story, we can see that there are more records to be consulted.  Mrs. Babino stated "When freedom come we have to sign up to work for money for a year.  We couldn't go work for nobody else.  After de year some stays, but not long."  The agents of the Freedmen’s Bureau encouraged the former slaves to continue working for their former masters,  The agents wrote contracts between the planters and the farm workers.  Copies of many of those contracts have been microfilmed and some have been digitized in the Freedmen's Bureau records which are online at FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com.

Pastor King attended my presentation so he could see the richly detailed picture of his family history that was emerging.  He told the audience that he was especially moved about the story of the uncle who was killed for exercising his voting rights.  He currently serves on the city council of Dickinson, Texas and has always treasured his right to vote.   Now he understood that there were profound historical reasons for cherishing his voting rights.  We embraced in appreciation for the bond we now shared.

If you would like to order a copy of my full report on this topic, please contact me through the contact box in the right hand column. 

2 comments:

  1. I am a descendant of "Old Lady Babineaux" as my Mother use to called her, she was my Mother's Grandmother. I would love to talk to you, if you are still researching this family.
    YMK

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    1. Yvonne- Please use the contact box in the right hand column of the blog to contact me. I am still researching and have compiled a paper for presentation at the Texas State Genealogical Society. The other way to contact me is to visit my profile at the Association of Professional Genealogists www.apgen.org. This profile provides my email address and telephone number.

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