Slave Name Roll Project: RELEASING: William, Mary, and Orange

Earlier this month I discovered a wonderful batch of pre-Civil War records for the counties in the western Virginia which would become West Virginia in 1863. FamilySearch’s collections of digital images have been growing at an amazing speed in recent years. Every now and then I will do fairly simple searches for birth, marriage, and/or death records in Fayette County, West Virginia, for the surname DEMPSEY. This surname is in two branches of my family tree. I am always looking for new information to possibly connect the two lines or to fill in some blanks in either line.

I was not disappointed when something new showed up in a search for births in Fayette County, (West) Virginia. The hit indicated a son born to my 3rd great-grand uncle Wilson M. DEMPSEY. A son I did not have in my database. When I opened up the details of the search results, I found the birth record was not for a son but for a slave.

“West Virginia Births and Christenings, 1853-1928,” database, FamilySearch ( : 12 December 2014), William Dempsey, 11 Feb 1857; citing Meadow Fork, Fayette, Virginia, reference ; FHL microfilm 34,485.

From experience, I know when FamilySearch shows a record is not available (see camera icon with the notation in the above image) this actually means there is no image attached to the indexed material. However, the film may be available online and browse-only. I checked their catalog for the FHL microfilm number given and found Vital statistics, 1853-1860 of West Virginia, microreproduction of original manuscripts at the Virginia State Library, Richmond, Virginia, for West Virginia counties.

I spend hours working with the browse-only records at FamilySearch. Being experienced made it easy for me to find the image to the record indexed above. This post deals with the content of the record, not how I found it. If you are interested, please ask, and I will explain how in a comment to this post.

Vital statistics, 1853-1860 of West Virginia; Film # 007499353; Calhoun – Hampshire counties; image 120 of 554. ( : accessed 10 June 2017)

The birth of William, a son of Mary, was recorded in the birth register of Fayette County. He was born at Meadow Fork on 11 February 1857. The column for the name of the father is titled: Father’s Name in full if Child be free and born in wedlock, or Name of Owner if Child born a Slave. Wilson M. Dempsey’s name is in this column as well as the column for the informant. In the column, Relationship of Informant, he is noted as Owner.

I took a bit of time to browse through the entire batch of registers for Fayette County and found another entry with Wilson M. Dempsey as the informant. This one did not turn up in my original search which made me wonder if the entire collection has been indexed. Different search criteria turned up this indexed record in the Virginia Births and Christenings, 1584-1917.

“Virginia Births and Christenings, 1584-1917,” database, FamilySearch ( : 5 December 2014), Orange Dempsy, Jun 1855; citing Loop, Fayette, VA, reference ; FHL microfilm 34,485.

This indexed record shows “Orange Dempsy” was a child of “Wilson Dempsy” and “Mary.” A closer look at the actual entry in the register shows Orange was a slave.

Vital statistics, 1853-1860 of West Virginia; Film # 007499353; Calhoun – Hampshire counties; image 112 of 554. ( : accessed 29 June 2017)

On this entry, the child Orange was born in June 1855 on the Loop in Fayette County. He was a slave owned by Wilson Dempsey. The mother’s name was Mary. The occupation of the father is blank and his residence is listed as Amherst. Another child born as a slave of another slaveholder on the same page has blanks for the occupation and residence of the father. It’s possible Amherst refers to the residence of the father of Orange, indicating the enslaved family was separated due to Wilson Dempsey’s recent move to Fayette County. Or, Wilson Dempsey had not yet moved his family and may have taken his slave(s) there to prepare for his move.

In 1840 Wilson Dempsey was recently married to Evalina Carolyn Rhodes, a daughter of Reuben Rhodes and Tabitha Rowsie of Amherst County, Virginia. In the 1840 census of the same county, Wilson was seen with his bride and two slaves, one male 10 thru 23 and one female under 10 years. In 1850 Wilson was listed as an overseer in the Eastern District of Amherst. His wife had died in the 1840s and he’d remarried. His second wife’s maiden name is not known. The 1850 slave schedule does not have a listing for him and it is unknown for whom he was working as an overseer.

Before finding the above records, we knew Wilson moved to Fayette County in western Virginia in the 1850s. The records place him in the county in 1855, either setting up his household or permanently settled.

In 1860 the slave schedule of Fayette County includes the following enslaved black persons for Wilson M. Dempsey:

  • one male age 35 (possibly the male seen in 1840?)
  • one female age 30 (possibly Mary)
  • one female age 22 (or, possibly Mary)
  • one female age 12
  • one female age 8
  • two females age 7
  • one male age 3 (possibly William)
  • one male age 1

I have known since I first began researching my 3rd great-grandfather Seaton Y. Dempsey that his brother Wilson had slaves as well as their father William Dempsey of Amherst. However, the only indication of their keeping enslaved persons had been the 1810 census for William (3 slaves), the 1840 census for Wilson (2 slaves), and the 1860 census for Wilson (9 slaves). The birth records found this month help to name at least three of the enslaved people: Orange, William, and their mother Mary.


True's statementFollowing my three part series on the slaves of my 5th great grandfather James Sims during Black History Month in February 2015 I made a commitment to write a post on a monthly basis until I’ve RELEASED all of the names of slaves owned by my ancestors or owned by persons I’ve researched who were relatives or neighbors of my ancestors. These posts are part of the Slave Name Roll Project which can be found on Schalene Jennings Dagutis’ blog Tangled Roots and Trees

© 2017, copyright Cathy Meder-Dempsey. All rights reserved.

Author: Cathy Meder-Dempsey

When I’m not doing genealogy and blogging, I spend time riding my racing bike with my husband through the wonderful Luxembourg countryside.

15 thoughts on “Slave Name Roll Project: RELEASING: William, Mary, and Orange”

  1. I would be interested in how you find these records. I’ve never had much luck finding non-indexed records on FamilySearch. Maybe I just don’t have the patience you have to search through hundreds of pages of difficult to read documents. Or are there some shortcuts I am missing?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I guess offered and my readers took me up on it. Amberly, The Genealogy Girl, mentioned that FS is adding browse-only collections at a faster pace. This means going to the catalog more often and searching for the area and kind of record you are looking for. And then before you begin to browse, be sure you know how the collections is set up and what it includes. I guess I may have to show a few examples in a post. Thank you, Amy.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is such an important mission. Your post – coupled with the recent announcement that Family Search is discontinuing microfilm distribution – is a good reminder for all genealogists to keep a close eye on the expanding online collections of digitized records. I need to go back and check my geography to see what new collections are available.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Strange how things happen. This was planned before the announcement. I am always on the lookout for new collections on FamilySearch. I believe only a small percentage of those placed online are actually listed in their New Historic Records On FamilySearch. Good luck, Michael, and thanks for commenting.


  3. Great post Cathy. Way back when (2012), searchng on Seaton Coleman, you were the one that inspired me in finding shortcuts to search FS. Now I can find wills at the drop of a hat if I can’t find them on Ancestry. Thanks!


    1. Thank you, Brian. Has it been that long since you first got in touch with me? I know I mentioned the West Virginia wills collection on FamilySearch but did not know that inspired you to find shortcuts to search FS. Maybe you’ll have some tips to add when I write about the subject.


  4. I found a piece of paper my mother wrote (Willia Johnson Ayers), niece of William Simpson Johnson of Fayette County, WV and my great uncle. It had John Brown Johnson on it and the last names of Angle, Ingram, Johnson, Kincaid, Light, Loving and Lykin. It also had J. Sharinghousen on it along with Dreama Stewart of Prosperity, WV. I called J. Sharnghousen and found out her mom was researching the Johnson family and another family from Fayette County. I called her mom and we talked and found out we were distant cousins. She has been in touch with you and we talked a lot and knew a lot of the same people. She’s 14 years older than I am and she knew all about Fayette County. Wanted to let you know we appreciate all the work you do on these projects. By the way, my sister was married to Bob Dempsey, Father of Diane Dempsey in Youngstown, OH>

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Luella was the first person who helped me with the INGRAM line. I got to meet her in person two years ago. Thank you for sharing all these familiar names. Bob Dempsey was my 1C1R. His father Clyde was my grandfather’s brother.
      Hearing from people who enjoy seeing my genealogy work is always appreciated. Thank you, Erma.


  5. Great post Cathy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the name Orange as a first name before. Hopefully his descendants will find him more easily because of your post. Isn’t it exciting how fast FamilySearch has been digitizing lately? I ordered two films recently and got a call a few days later saying that instead of making a copy of the microfilm and sending it to BYU, they digitized my film and I could find it in the catalog. I’ve given up trying to order microfilm because they just digitize them on me. No complaints here though. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I think so. But I know researchers who desperately need films to finish certification or other projects with deadlines and I don’t have that kind of urgency propelling me so I will quit making requests. I live just about 50 minutes from the FHL in SLC so I do not need to be a priority at all.

        Liked by 1 person

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