At some point after he arrived in Morgan County as a slave, Henry Tucker’s owner died and Henry got listed in an estate record with a value next to his name like the farm animals.
Other slaves — who were likely part of Henry’s family — also had values attached to them.
The probate record from 1859 is like many others in the Morgan County Archives, but for April Tucker, 46, it contains answers she sought for nearly two decades.
“I’ve wanted to know when and why my great-grandfather came to Morgan County,” she said, adding that the probate record “is like a pot of gold for me.”
The Tuckers, whose ancestors were in the initial wave of black families to come to the Decatur area as slaves, will gather this weekend for a family picnic at Delano Park.
April, who has been building her family tree since 2001, said the purpose of the picnic is twofold. The first, she said, is because many of the older family members have died since the last family reunion almost 40 years ago, and a lot of family history died with them.
“I don’t want this to happen again,” April said.
Second, she wants to gather the stories about the Tuckers and place them in the archives because “the state is celebrating its 200th anniversary and we have a rich history, and our gifts and talents have contributed to the city of Decatur.”
Morgan County Archivist John Allison said families like the Tuckers have been a big part of the state’s history.
“Sometimes the history is unpleasant, especially when you talk about slavery, but it’s important that we document it,” he said.
April’s journey to the probate record that got her closer to the year when her ancestors came to the Tennessee Valley started in 2001 when she worked at a funeral home and her job included preparing information for death certificates.
She was working on a death certificate for one of her mother’s friends when she realized there were things she didn’t know about her own family.
“I became very curious about who I was and where I was from,” she said.
Some of the first things April said she learned were that her father — the late Rev. Melvin Tucker — was one of 17 children and that her grandfather, Tom Tucker, who was born in 1872, married twice. She eventually learned that her great-grandfather, Henry, was a slave and the first in her family to come to Alabama.
She also learned that Henry was born as a slave in Virginia in the 1820s and died at age 109 in Dalark, Arkansas, in 1929. But like most researchers of African Americans, she had a difficult time finding any information about Henry before 1865 because slaves were considered property and didn’t have legal rights or many of the constitutional privileges — such as marriage — that generated public documents.
Slaves also didn’t have last names until after the Civil War, historian and author Peggy Towns said.
April said she also grew up in a family that didn’t “talk about family business. When I asked, they told me what happens in the house stays in the home. I was a little discouraged, but I didn’t stop asking questions.”
Towns said oral history is an integral part of family research because the stories are what make people come to life. She has researched her family back to before the Civil War, and much of the research is from stories that passed between generations.
“Oral stories give a bigger picture of what family members are,” Towns said.
April collected her first information through online research, but in 2003, the 1992 West Morgan graduate moved back to the Decatur area and started visiting the Morgan County Archives. She said older family members still wouldn’t talk much about the family, but she wasn’t deterred.
April said she intensified her search for information when she and other family members started planning this weekend's Tucker reunion.
She learned when Henry died, but it was not until this week that she learned about the probate record that listed him as a slave.
The record is related to the estate of Charles Tucker, who came to Morgan County in the 1830s after selling his property in Virginia. Charles Tucker died in 1856 and the bill of record that names Henry relates to the settlement of his estate.
Tucker’s widow — Ann Tucker — acquired four slaves in the estate, but Henry and two other slaves were sold. James J. Dinsmore paid $1,375 for Henry, the most for any of the slaves. The bill of sale, which is dated May 9, 1859, indicated that slaves were “hired out” for three years following their owner’s death.
“This is priceless,” April said about the document. “I can’t wait to share this information with the family.”