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Researching the Residents of Oakland Cemetery

In this post, Oakland Genealogist Linda Ferree walks us through the process of researching the history of an otherwise unknown resident of Oakland Cemetery.

A typical gravestone has a name with birth and death dates, separated by a dash. It would be a short tour and a bit boring if that’s all we had to tell you about Oakland residents.

Filling in that dash is what makes the person “come alive” (so to speak). The quickest results come when researching wealthy, famous (or notorious) white males. They show up in genealogical records, family histories, newspaper articles, and extensive obituaries. Less well-known folks are more challenging. Here’s how I go about researching them:

There is a modest, lichen-spotted marker sitting alone in an otherwise empty lot in the African American section. It reads, “Elizabeth Prudent, wife of W. M. Drakeford. Born March 11, 1838. Died Aug, 15 1883.” Neither white nor male…let’s see what we can find about her.

The first “hit” on is the 1880 census: “Prudence” is living with her husband William, who is a blacksmith, and children Willie, 15, Emma, 13, and Eddie, 13. Prudence and Emma are listed as mulatto, whereas the males are all listed as Black. Only the youngest was born in Georgia; the other two children were born in Alabama, implying a move to Georgia about 1868. Prudence was born in Kentucky, but I can’t find this family anywhere in 1870. Prior to Emancipation, it is difficult to find any records for African-Americans by name. I look at Freedman’s Bank records, but again these come up empty.

There is no obituary for Prudence in the newspapers of 1883. Death notices tended to be for white folks, unless the death was unusual in some way. A more general search for “Drakeford blacksmith” reveals more articles. The first one I find is from December of 1885. Son William was at a party on Christmas Eve. Some uninvited guests crashed the party and William confronted them. He was shot and died the next day.

Checking the Oakland burial index, I see that this young man is also buried at Oakland.

A Jan 1, 1885 article says the Drakeford blacksmith shop caught fire and mentions that their residence also had two fires in the past year. An article about W.M. Drakeford’s death in 1891 says that he dropped dead while out shopping, a fact noteworthy enough to make the paper. He is buried at Oakland. A legal notice some months later indicates he died intestate.

I am curious about what happened to the other two children, Emma and Edward. A look back at the Oakland index shows no sign of Edward, but Emma is there, and—oh no!—She died just two years after her mother and a few months before her brother. The Drakeford family had some hard years!

So only Eddie is left. Civil Service records indicate that he became a mail carrier in Atlanta. The City Directory backs this up, but I can’t find him on the censuses. Eventually, I found Edward R. “Doakeford,” letter carrier, and his wife Hallie in 1900. Their 1890 marriage certificate gives her name as Hattie Hill. By 1920, Edward is widowed and living in Chicago, still working as a mail carrier. I cannot find him after that. Without descendants, it appears he was the end of the Drakeford line.

Unfortunately, after all of this research, I still have very little information about Prudence herself! As author Laurel Thatcher Ulrich wrote, “well-behaved women seldom make history.”

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