Saturday, March 13, 2010

17 Clues to 17th Century Sartor origins...Genealogy Sudoku

Emmitt Smith's story last night on Who Do You Think You Are was amazing. I think it hit me much harder than last week's episode because Emmitt is a real person, not an actor, and his story is so poignant. (If you missed it, or just want to see it again, you can watch it here on hulu) I was once again struck by the amazing power of identity. As he stood there looking into the woods where his people were buried I have to admit that I teared up. I know that feeling. They are there; somewhere. We can't see them, but they are there.

African American research is hard. My heart frequently breaks for my African American clients because it's so hard and time consuming, therefore expensive, and frankly rather sad. Sometimes I literally can't find *anything* about them because they just slipped through "the system" and disappeared from history leaving nothing but a memory planted in their DNA. Emmitt took my breath away when he said "we may be at a dead end; and that's not what I'm looking for, a dead end." I couldn't agree more.

I've been in Baltimore all week researching a client's family which has serendipitously coincided with my own adventure researching my Sartor family origins. Now that the project is winding down, I'm able to take a few personal days to get that ball rolling again. I'm so excited and motivated by Emmitt's story.

Much of the foundation for my work on the Sartor family comes from a book published by Juanita Sample Taylor in 1986 called The Sartor Search. I can tell that Ms. Taylor cared about these people every bit as much as I do, and I wish I had met her before she died. I also wish she had cited her sources. But I missed that opportunity, and in her defense she wasn't trained to cite sources and it was cumbersome and you have to admit it takes up a lot of time and space. Decades later we have better technology, standards published by Elizabeth Shown Mills, and we know that it's absolutely worth every inch and minute. But hindsight is 20/20. So I'll get off my source citation soapbox and get to the good stuff.

In The Sartor Search, Ms. Taylor cites a letter attributed to William Sartor born 11 Mar 1760. He (allegedly) states:

The Sartors came from Wales in 1687 to Roanoke, Va. My grandfather attended law school in (name illegible) and while there met my grandmother who, I am told was Miss Mary Gray. The Grays were very prominent people. My Mother died when I was an infant. I want the people who come after me to know this little that I have gathered. My Grandfather after marrying came to South Carolina and settled on the Broad River and turned his attention to farming. He was also in the war with the Indians. My Father, John Peter Sartor was born in 1733. He had one sister, Elizabeth.[1]

If I had a birthday cake and could really and truly have a wish come true just by blowing out the candles, I would wish for the original copy of this letter. (We'll save the genie in the bottle for a time machine. I have at least 60 more birthday wishes left in me to wish for more documents.)

But I don't have the letter. And I don't have source citations. And I don't want to think about birthdays right now. So, what I do have is a giant Genealogy Sudoku. I love Sudoku! I have broken this letter down into 17 clues. If everything is true, all the clues will line up in nice, neat columns, rows, and squares of documents, historical context, and reason. Like Sudoku, if something is wrong, it will stick out like a sore thumb and provide a "handle" for research.

So, here's what we've got:
1. The Sartors came from Wales
2. They came in 1687
3. They came to Roanoke
4. They came to Roakoke, Virginia [note that this is a separate clue in and of itself]
5. William's father was John Peter Sartor
6. John Peter Sartor was born 1733
7. John Peter Sartor had a sister named Elizabeth
8. William's mother is not named
9. William's unnamed mother died when he was a child, possibly in the 1760's
10. John Peter Sartor's father attended law school
11. John Peter Sartor's father was in the "war with the Indians"
12. John Peter Sartor's father met Mary Gray at law school
13. John Peter Sartor's father married Mary Gray
14. The Gray's were a prominent family
15. John Peter Sartor's father, after marrying, turned his attention to farming
16. John Peter Sartor's father, after marrying, went to South Carolina
17. John Peter Sartor's father, after marrying, settled on the Broad River in South Carolina

I'm not quite confident enough to call these clues evidence yet. That's coming; I need more documentation. But there is enough truth in the last few clues about South Carolina that I'm willing to accept this letter as a framework for my little Genealogy Sudoku and provide me with some structure and reasoning. You have to start somewhere, and I have as much reason to believe this letter as to not believe it. No one has provided me evidence to the contrary, so for now, these 17 clues are my foundation for researching the 17th Century Sartor origins.

I think Emmitt Smith said it best: "It's wild. It's challenging. It's heartbreaking. But just finding the information is incredible."


1. Juanita Sample Taylor, The Sartor Search (Liberty Hill, Texas: Self Published, Spring 1984), p. 6.

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